On the rental of infrastructure: some follow-up thoughts on the Hyderabad UID Scandal

The Hyderabad scandal I posted yesterday involved a former employee of IL&FS getting hold of his ex-colleagues’ laptop, offering him a portal into the virtual world of Universal Identification and allowing him and his confederates to add duplicates to the de-duplicated world of Aadhaar. IL&FS is, apparently, one of the many private entities that has taken on the registration of persons under UID. But it is much more.

IL&FS at work: the Visakhapatnam Industrial Water Supply Project

I’d like to pause here and to look at IL&FS as a new kind of entity in India and in the world. Before yesterday I admittedly knew nothing about the corporation, so as ever with this project my learning curve will be steep. I’ll begin, simply, by examining its own self-presentation online, and framing some questions.

IL&FS is Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited. Infrastructure as a duration has become among the most critical sites for anthropological reflection in our time, from the operations of Halliburton remaking the scale and temporality of the production of war, humanitarianism, and drug distribution in Kristin Peterson‘s work to the work on the productivity of infrastructure breakdown and interruption by Brian Larkin. What I mean by infrastructure as a duration extends beyond the “lifetime” of infrastructure: we are told, in the United States, that our infrastructure is “crumbling”: the nation itself as a promissary form is linked to this figure of duration. Larkin’s work frames infrastructure, as I read him, in the duration of constant breakdown: the power supply going out, the grid collapsing. Peterson links the destruction of infrastructure in West Africa due to the structural adjustment and austerity regimes imposed by global banks to the new replacement, temporary infrastructure provided by corporations like Halliburton that enable drug distribution under current humanitarian internationalism.

And here, its ubiquity brought into the the newspapers through a scandal, we have infrastructure within the duration of the rental form: the lease.

So at the outset, the very emerging terminology of infrastructure as that which is leased to the state, and as a corollary of the state as that entity constituted through the sequential payment of rent on the “value-added” development/privatization of its own [public] capacities, territories, and populations to corporations, is to me extraordinary. But of course, none of this is literally extraordinary.

Let me look briefly at the website:

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) is one of India’s leading infrastructure development and finance companies. IL&FS was promoted by the Central Bank of India (CBI), Housing Development Finance Corporation Limited (HDFC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI). Over the years, IL&FS has broad-based its shareholding and inducted Institutional shareholders including State Bank of India, Life Insurance Corporation of India, ORIX Corporation – Japan and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.   IL&FS has a distinct mandate — catalysing the development of infrastructure in the country.  The organisation has focussed on the commercialisation and development of infrastructure projects and creation of value added financial services. From concept to execution, IL&FS houses the expertise to provide the complete array of services necessary for successful project completion: visioning, documentation, finance, development, management, technology and execution.

The focus here, within the duality of the promise of “value-added” profits and the fulfilling of a developmental “mandate,” is on “successful project completion”: on efficacy.

Organisationally, the IL&FS Group has evolved along routes perfectly configured to business requirements. Technical support and service groups provide specialised expertise. Project development and sectoral companies house the ability to seed initiatives and carry them through to completion. Strong core skills – key to successful project development and project financing across sectors – have been developed within the Group. These have aided IL&FS in spreading its expertise across a variety of sectors, nationwide.

The biological language–perfect evolution and viral spread–is perhaps notable.

The rest of the site directs one to myriad IL&FS projects. We–well, I–still understand far too little. And the relation of infrastructure leasing to Aadhaar has yet to be spelled out.

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One thought on “On the rental of infrastructure: some follow-up thoughts on the Hyderabad UID Scandal

  1. This post for me critically rehearses anthropology’s uneasiness with the politics of development/modernization/democratization in a way that still allows us to move forward. As someone moving forward through the anthropological works on India as a unit of study, this is a glimpse of the last page of the book on knowledge and expertise in India as it is being written.

    A dinner conversation in Fiji yesterday centered around the idea of corruption and the different ways it is experienced here, in India, and the United States. Perhaps it is a hangover of pessimism from yesterday, but after digging around in the backgrounds of the board of IL&FS (Managing director here: http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=1497742&privcapId=35346852&previousCapId=1518058&previousTitle=Polaris%20Software%20Lab%20Ltd.) I can’t help but be skeptical about the regimes of expertise that enabled IL&FS to be involved. Perhaps IL&FS is a choice because of what the state imagines will occur after the completion of the UIDAI? I am not well versed enough with center-state relations in projects like this, but I wonder about the tensions that may or may not arise in the awarding of contracts for the UID in this vein, and the terms and conditions of what is leased and how more generally.

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