Friday, November 25, 2016

The Haifa Port: A Mediterranean Gateway

Priya Singh

(Priya Singh is a Research Scholar at the University of Calcutta and a commentator on West Asian Politics. She can be reached at

"Israel is returning to its historic role, as a transit country, as a bridge between continents, where historic trade routes passed through." *

The Mediterranean has been in the headlines since last year. It has witnessed an assertive Russian policy, instability in the Arab world, which resulted in a massive exodus of refugees via the Mediterranean from the Arab countries to Greece and Italy. Yet, the continuous political instability, together with the economic recession in China, is likely to result in a slower pace in investment in critical infrastructure such as port facilities, in most Eastern Mediterranean countries. Nevertheless, the significance of the region in this age of heightened awareness in the strategic and security aspects of the global maritime field cannot be ignored. Non-state actors now pose a security threat to the region and even though most of the combating occurs on the ground or through aerial bombings, they have proven their capacity to attack naval platforms. Parts of the East Mediterranean sea have been subject to divergent sovereignty claims, over zones of exclusive economic interests (EEZ), e.g., the dispute between Israel and Lebanon and between Turkey and Cyprus.  The recent gas discoveries in the Mediterranean are likely to aggravate existing conflicts over demarcation of maritime borders in the region. Two of the leading fleets in the region, of Israel and Egypt have affirmed major naval acquisitions in 2015. The Israeli public has displayed unparalleled interest in diverse aspects of the sea in recent years, including plans to deepen and enlarge the volume of its existing merchant ports. It is in this context that Haifa, as a port city within Israel assumes significance in terms of offering an access to the Mediterranean.

Haifa (Arabic, Hayfa and Hebrew, Hefa), situated in the North of Israel, a thriving Mediterranean port city, is the third largest city and the main harbour of Israel. In the historical sense, the origins of Haifa date back to around 3,000 years and in terms of literary historiography, the most noteworthy allusion to Haifa is to be found in Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland, a utopian novel written in 1902 wherein Haifa is of immense consequence to the envisaged ‘New Society’ in Eretz Israel (Land of Israel). As a port city, it is the gateway by way of which the principal characters, and with them the readers, are familiarised with the idealistic society in Eretz Israel of the future. In this work of fiction, Haifa is imagined as a perfect urban space, personifying, both in terms of space and in a social context, the intrinsic worth of the idyllic new Jewish society: a fair, progressive, democratic, and multi-ethnic society deeply entrenched in the territory of the ancient land, symbolising both modernity and enlightenment. Haifa’s status as a modern industrialized city reaping benefits out of the globalisation of the twentieth century has shaped its current position and opportunities and in contemporary literature it is perceived as an embodiment of spatial and cultural heterogeneity, diversity and coexistence.

It was in the 1920s that the British Mandate began the construction of a deep water port in Haifa, and in 1933 the port was officially opened. Haifa’s strategic setting prompted the British to opt for it as the site for a number of enterprises that connected Palestine to the rest of the British Empire. The most significant being the Haifa port and the Palestine railways. The Haifa port with its deep-water harbour secured the entrance of the empire to the east, and the passage to the Suez Canal from the north. It also served to connect Europe with Palestine and the Middle East, and was the primary waterway for the transit of both people and cargo. The port personified the spirit of the city and enabled Haifa to flourish. In 1936, the city had a population of over 100,000. The port was a gateway for thousands of immigrants who fled to Israel in the wake of the Second World War. With the Mediterranean as its Western border and the eastern borders quarantined by its Arab neighbours, Haifa provided for a critical gateway to the rest of the world, and facilitated Israel’s emergence as an economic power.

The modern port of Haifa is situated in a natural, safe and sheltered bay as such there is unhindered and unrestricted entry and exit for vessels all through the year. It is in close proximity to the busiest shipping route in the world, from and to the Suez Canal. Its construction and foundation enables the shipping and transportation of all categories of ship and cargo, including docking services for large passenger liners. From the creation of the state of Israel until 2005, the Haifa Port was directly under the control of the Israeli government. In 2005, the government-owned Haifa Port Company became the official port operator. The Port of Haifa has multiple cargo terminals, and is competent to service several ships concurrently.  There is a railroad freight terminal within the port that is used for transporting goods across the country. The Haifa port is regarded as one of the favourite ports of call for the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet; accounting for approximately 50 percent of all its visits in the Eastern Mediterranean region. An average of 20 US warships, as well as aircraft carriers, stopover at the port every year, primarily to exploit the harbour’s highly rated  repair and servicing amenities. One of the unexpected and remarkable consequences of Syrian civil war has been the increasing use of Israel as a passage for trade between Europe and the Arab world.  It makes sense to use Haifa as a hub between Europe and the Arab world as the routes from Haifa in Israel to Jordan, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia are much faster and economical.  In the past, this route was used by the Ottoman and British empires till the creation of the state of Israel.

In 2012, according to a report published by the OECD, (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Haifa’s container port was ranked as the fourth most efficient port in the world. In the same year, the Israel Port Authority proposed and designed an ambitious plan for the expansion of the Haifa port at an estimated cost of approximately 4 billion US dollars. The envisaged plan aims to dramatically alter the appearance of the city and the Haifa bay albeit coming under severe criticisms over concerns regarding its environmental consequences. In May 2015, the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) signed an agreement with Israel to develop and run the new Haifa port for the next 25 years. According to the contract, SIPG will invest around 2 billion US dollars in constructing port facilities and installing equipment at the port.
Haifa in present times, like any other urban space within contemporary Israel is dealing with the complexities, ruptures and fault-lines both within the Jewish society and the sizeable Arab minority. The reality is far removed from the envisaged utopia of Herzl’s Altneuland. Yet, Haifa, the port city of Israel is perceived as an enclave that due to its inherent strategic setting epitomizes extraordinary potential, which may not be found in the rest of the Israeli space.  

 *Yael Ravia-Zadok, head of the Middle Eastern Economic Affairs Bureau in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. 

The piece on Haifa (The Haifa Port: A Mediterranean Gateway) has benefited from the research on Kolkata as a Logistical Hub with Special Reference to the Kolkata Port, by Iman Mitra. This research was part of the Calcutta Research Group- Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung research project on A Social Mapping of Infrastructure, Logistics and India’s Look East Policy that was presented at a Research Workshop on 1 September 2016 at Kolkata. The Haifa port has been dealt with in terms of its geo-political setting, history and infrastructure, which is along the lines in which the essay on Kolkata port has been structured. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Homeless Migrants in Mumbai: Life and Labour in Urban Space

Manish K. Jha and Pushpendra

(Manish K. Jha - and Pushpendra are with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai).


Labour migration from rural to urban areas is a persistent feature in India, where a substantial chunk of the migrants belonging to working classes in cities have no access to dignified housing. They conform to the definition developed by the United Nations considering a homeless person as one having no place as shelter or whose housing fails to meet basic criteria including security of tenure, protection against bad weather and personal security, as well as access to sanitary facilities, potable water, education, work, and health services (Speak and Tipple 2006). On the other hand, at least half of the migrants have become indispensible to the city’s economy by filling-in cheap labour-oriented and unskilled jobs (Mumbai Human Development Report, 2009). Owing to precarious financial conditions, poor migrants in cities are pushed to impoverished lives and homelessness.
The social cost of making Mumbai a global city is starkly evident in rising social inequality, making the disadvantaged sections of the society more vulnerable, and dispossessing the poor in the process (Banerjee-Guha, 2009). The neoliberal state apparatus is coupled with ‘bourgeois urbanism’ (Chatterjee, 2004) that informalises labour, legitimizes low wages, sharpens socio-economic inequalities and institutionalizes displacement, eviction and homelessness for toiling masses. This short paper looks briefly into the issues and experiences of homelessness in the city of Mumbai through empirical studies in different locations.

Life in a Slum: From Dispossession to Illegality

The Shivajinagar slum in M-East Ward has been an abode for evictees, displaced and relocated since 1975 and its majority comprises of victims of urban developmental projects (Bjorkman 2014:43). As an urban periphery, its swampy boundary, juxtaposed Deonar dumping ground and nearby slaughter house made their abode difficult. Indira Nagar, one such illegal settlement, is located adjacent to the dumping ground. Here, makeshift shelters built on marshy lands and garbage heaps are characterized by tarpaulin sheets, tin shades, crowded and filthy lanes, overflowing drains and the overpowering stench from the dumping ground. 
Shafina, a Muslim migrant from UP, lives here with her family in a room of 10 x 12 ft. A single room, unventilated with no electricity connection, serves the purposes of a big family while most of the household tasks are done outside. The family gets water from corporate-run business and pays Rs. 2 for every single use of private toilet. The anti-encroachment drive on an otherwise non-inhabitable land is a customary routine of BMC that demolishes shanties and confiscates all belongings. Facing constant threat of eviction, these shanty dwellers have now been organized against demolitions by NGOs. For them, demolitions and atrocities by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) along with a lack of basic amenities are major issues in their everyday lives. Here, the urban subjectivities are produced on the backdrop of processes of capital accumulation and production of urban space.

Conducting Private Life in Public

Binod and Neela, a migrant couple in their 50s, live with their family on the pavements of Mahim railway station. For them, living in full public gaze was incomprehensible earlier, but their habitation and struggles made it routine. This required integration into the “homeless street culture” (Hodgetts et. al. 2012) which exhibits living private life in public and ignoring public gaze. Rajni, a homeless at Cross Maidan, explains her sense of home and homelessness “I am here since the time I was born…the government or the people would look at us as homeless and so we are we are known as homeless.” For them, access to basic facilities is expensive, limited and comes with huge financial burdens. They have to visit nearby ‘pay and use’ toilets and developing networks with shopkeepers and guards as strategies. Urinating is done at public places and they use temporary cloth curtains to cover themselves while taking bath. Rajni explains this to be a normal, non-embarrassing experience. However, if someone stares at her, she shouts and ensures her safety.
For years, Rajni and others on the pavement have kept up the fight to keep it clean. Neela mentioned, “Many a times, drunken men try to molest women. Sometime we catch them and ensure beating but it is difficult to lodge a police complaint because of our ‘illegal’ habitation and it might lead to our insult and humiliation.” Neela’s explanation of two generations on the streets points to the structural aspects of their marginalization that is rooted in the materiality of their social existence.

Homeless Workers of Multinational Brands

The category of homeless migrants is mostly engaged in vulnerable employment, generally characterized by uncertainty and economic insecurity. Typical conditions of precarious employment are low wages, poor protection from termination of employment, lack of access to social protection and benefits, and limited or no ability to exercise human rights at work (ILO 2011). The link between precarious employment and poverty is evident in India, where about 92% of a workforce of 457 million is estimated to be in unorganised sector (Ferus-Comelo, 2014).
A study of a garment manufacturing unit in Dharavi reveals how work, workplace and shelter conjoin to extract the maximum labour from a worker and, at the same time, keep the worker homeless and precariat. The unit takes up work for multinational and big national brands and operates from a two floor chawl. Rooms are of approximately 7 x 5 feet, with walls on three sides and a shutter to lock at night. The staircase, a narrow straight iron ladder, to the upper part of the unit was through a dark, narrow lane which was very difficult to climb. After a few steps a thick rope was found hanging from the roof so that the climber could hold it for safety. The hot and humid room with no ventilation had six workers working at that time in their undergarments.
One end of the room had stitching machines while the other end had folded beds, rolled mats and personal items. This arrangement enabled the workers to use the same space for working as well as living as all of them were poor migrants unable to rent separate living quarters. The Dharavi unit is an example of how present capitalist production relies on supply of cheap labour from the rural sector. Coming from a subsistence sector they lack the capacity to bargain for fair wages and decent working conditions. However, this is hardly an issue for the state in neoliberal times which has unleashed labour reform measures in the interests of capital. Migrant labour unfailingly provides a fertile field to understand the nuances of precariety, insecurity, and struggles in the urban.


Following the economic liberalization and control by economic elites, there has been withdrawal of state from generating employment, providing housing and basic services to many and it has restricted access to affordable housing, services, work spaces, social welfare and participation that can undermine the daily living experiences of these groups and their legitimate access to city spaces. They have been further branded as encroachers, illegal, and defined as the ‘other’. Illustrations through explorations expose the homeless migrants’ everyday encounter with structural violence, which appears as a lowering of basic needs below what is potentially possible (Galtung 1990:292).


Banerjee-Guha, S. (2009). Neoliberalising the ‘Urban’: New Geographies of Power and Injustice in Indian Cities, Economic and Political Weekly, XLIV (22), 95-107.
Bjorkman, L. (2014). Becoming a Slum: From Municipal Colony to illegal Settlement in Liberalization- Era Mumbai. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research2014 , 38 (1), 36-59.
Chatterjee, P. (2004). The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.
Ferus-Comelo, A. (2014). Migration and Precariousness: Two Sides of the Contract Labour Coin. Economic and Political Weekly, XLIX (36), 39-47.
Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Aug., 1990), pp. 291-305.
Hodgetts, D., Stolte, O., Chamberlain, K., Radley, A., Nikora, L., Nabalarua, E., & Groot, S. (2008). A trip to the library: Homelessness and social inclusion. Social and Cultural Geography, 9 (8), 933-953.
ILO. (2011). Policies and Regulations to Combat Precarious Employment. Geneva: International Labour Organisation.
Mumbai Human Development Report 2009 (2010). Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Speak, S. & Tipple, G. (20060. Perceptions, Persecution and Pity: The Limitations of Interventions for Homelessness in Developing Countries. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 172-188.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Causes and consequences of migration: An Indo Bangla case

Madhurima Chowdhury

(Madhurima works at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, Calcutta University, and can be reached at

India has a long and complicated history of migration across eastern border, particularly large scale flows from Bangladesh to India. After India's independence in 1947 it has taken a political dimension, wherein documented and undocumented immigration poses threat to India's national security. India’s with border with Bangladesh is the longest among all the neighbours and West Bengal has always been at the receiving end of the Bangladeshi migrants since 1947. It is tragic fact of history that partition of Bengal was the cruellest partition in the history of the world and brought in unimaginable miseries to millions of the countrymen who had been forced to leave their ancestral homes under compelling circumstances.
Geographically, historically, and culturally, Bangladesh forms the larger and more populous part of Bengal, the remainder of which constitutes the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal. Just after partition in 1947 massive refugee migration took place and later all illegal migration was considered Indian citizen by Indian government. The most tragic part of history was the partition of Bengal in 1947, which brought about immeasurable sufferings to millions of countrymen who were forced to leave their ancestral home under compelling situations.
Petrapole is situated on the Indian side of Petrapole-Benapole border checkpoint between India and Benapole of Bangladesh near Bongaon in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Petrapole border is the only land port in south Bengal. It is also the largest land customs station in Asia. This check post accounts for more than half of the $4-billion (nearly double the trade volume with Pakistan) trade with Bangladesh. This is the largest land port of Asia. The landport alone accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh. According to study by RITES, the goods traffic is approximately 400 trucks per day both ways, while the 2006 passenger traffic was about 1,159 people per day (both incoming and outgoing). The total traffic in 2029-30 has been projected as 2,938 trucks per day and the passenger traffic by then will be 3,924 people per day. With the remote possibility of improvements in the narrow roads leading to the border, because of land acquisition problems, the focus is now on improving the rail transportation system.
There  are various factors like the economic, political and demographic reasons for Bangladeshi migration. a) Economic push factors that motivated people to leave Bangladesh have been 1) Instability and economic depression in Bangladesh, 2) Poverty, 3) Lack of employment opportunity, 4) Struggle for livelihood, 5)Forced grabbing of landed property from minority group in Bangladesh, 6)Economic insecurity. 7) Lack of industrialization.
b) Another factor motivating migration to West Bengal is demographic disproportion especially for minorities (Hindus) in this densely populated country having roughly a density of 780 per sq km as against half that number on Indian side of the border.
e) Political instability, fear of riots and terrorism in Bangladesh inhuman attitude and activities of the political leaders, domination of religious fundamentalists in Bangladesh worked as push factor, whereas Indian political patronage to the illegal migrants for vote bank has worked as pull factor for Bangladeshi migration.
f) Being cheap labour the Bangladeshis find easy acceptance as “domestic helps” in Indian homes, which keeps proliferating by ever increasing demand for domestic helps.
 g) Geographic proximity, cultural similarity, homo-ethnic climate act as a pull factor for the migrants. The study reveals that migrants contributed to fertility of West Bengal, and the reasons can be attributed to a) illiteracy of migrants b) migration by family, c) unawareness about family planning, d) lack of easy access to scientific family planning method, sexual abuse and unwanted children.
In recent years, various reports and stories have been published in newspapers and magazines in West Bengal dwelling on what is alleged to be illegal migration from Bangladesh into West Bengal. Often such reports and stories are based on hearsay evidence without support of authentic documents. It is true that presence of common border with Bangladesh all across the eastern side of the state has made it administratively impossible to keep track of such migration.
Primary sector like agriculture and forest were overcrowded by the migration flow of low skilled labourers. The agricultural sectors have improved wherever the migrants have settled; since they are hardy and tedious. Household industry, including Bidi, Pottery, Mat, Candle, Kantha Stitch, Ganjee factory, ShantipuriTant etc., has been benefitted since illegal migrants provide cheapest labour. Two factors have worked against local workers: a)  easy availability and readiness and compromising attitude of the migrant worker to work at a very low wage rate, and this is a challenge and threat to local worker, and b) general impression that the migrant workers are more hardworking. Besides, continuous inflow of migrants has aggravated the unemployment problem in the unorganized informal sector.
Deforestation, land grab, trade grab, illegal occupancy of pavement and railway platform by undocumented migrants are creating pressure on natural resources. Continuous inflow of migrants enhanced the pre-existing slum, increased the density of occupants in certain areas, which influenced the water supply, health facility, and education with utter inefficiency. Often, slum owners accommodate 10 people in place suitable for one person. In border areas, disturbances are created so that security becomes at risk. Different political parties in different periods gave those safeguards for which local administration could not impose strict law and order. With the limited resources, fund and administrative officials stated that this problem cannot be solved. Illegal migrants are illegally enrolled in voter list and used as vote banks. Indian politicians have often encouraged Bangladeshi migration to garner their votes. They are forced to involve in various unconstitutional activities at the time of election. Due to lack of good will of political leaders, it is not possible to separate them from original citizens of India.
The study of migration from Bangladesh to India or more specifically to Wwest Bengal is a very formidable task. The deficiency of data, shortage of reliable and authentic information, and the diversity of the issue creates difficulty towards computing the situation properly. Both centre and state governments of India have expressed serious concern over this continuous infiltration from Bangladesh to West Bengal. The government has come forward with various policy prescriptions e.g., border fencing, issuance of identity cards, granting work permits, etc. The West Bengal government has decided to issue identity cards to all residents since immigrants were not restricting themselves to specific districts, to stall illegal migration from neighbouring Bangladesh. The I cards mooted by the state will bear the photographs, name, age, address, educational qualification, and a caste of bonafide resident blood group and a national number. Economic cooperation through bipartite agreement between India and Bangladesh may be the best solution.

Chirantan Kumar, Migration and Refugee Issue between India and Bangladesh, Biannual Publication of Centre for Defence Studies Research & Development, Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking for Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009 .  pp. 64 – 82
Joyeeta Bhattacharya, the Diplomat, India: Resolving the Bangladesh Immigration Issue, May 27, 2014
Mohit Ray,Illegal Migration and Undeclared Refugees - Idea of West Bengal at stake, Dialogue,  October-December, 2009 , Volume 11 No. 2