Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Is there a market for supplying private addresses?

There are a few simple things that if public governance could get it right, it will pay huge dividends for citizens' productivity and convenience. Systematising addresses and providing street directions! They provide information and in the process improve coordination among the members of a society. A benchmark is this. I make a first-time trip to a new city. I rent a car with a GPS that has data of all addresses in the city. I punch in my destination adress and voila, I am all set!

About one year of my Delhi working life was spent in a place called Jia Sarai. The place is a hell-hole but you can't deny its character. What is relevant for this post is that one, it is a crowded "urban village" (read as place in a city where the usual bye-laws are not followed) and two, the place is an IAS coaching-and-residence haven. I have been surprised to hear statements that Jia Sarai throws up the largest number of IASes in Delhi. And when I came across this IAS aspirant's blog titled Jia Sarai Days, it struck a chord.

Jia Sarai is a ready residential market for students/ bachelor officials and a thriving one for IAS coaching services. However it is an architect's nighmare. First, the regulations are not suited for the residential demand there. And whatever regulations are there, they are flouted with impunity. I fear that if a fire ever struck the place, it will leave it completely gutted. Imagine the Manhattan Skyline. Now compress it in length and breadth in the space of nearly 1 sq.km. Even less than that, I guess. That is approximately Jia Sarai for you. Once impoverished residents have made a killing out of the demand for one-room residences and have become now lakhpatis. There is a whole market of eateries, cafes etc that have sprung up in conjunction.

Enter yours truly looking for a room in Jia Sarai. I go up to the first shop and ask with my city-bred experience, "So where are the brokers for rooms?" There is a silence. "Boss, there are no brokers. Those who want to rent out rooms, they just paste posters on the walls. Go around the colony and look out for posters on the wall." I was a little perplexed but nevertheless I followed his advice. However the biggest difficulty was yet to be faced. Even if you have the particular addresses on the walls, it is near impossible to locate the house. There is no system of addresses in Jia Sarai. The only way to identify is by landmarks which is usually a eatery. Or if the name of a landlord is well-known, it makes things slightly easy, only slightly. Sometimes, residents do post their mobile numbers, and then follows the process of trying to understand the exact wherabouts of the house. Tiresome!

Through the one year of my stay there, I could see residents struggling with the addresses or the lack of it.

I never got around to it but I thought of coming up with an address system or a directory for Jia Sarai. One, it will immensely help the people there and two, I could make money if I had a viable business model. The basic research would involve hiring the local post-man and a couple of students to scout the locality and map the addresses. In fact, assign addresses where they are non-existent. The next step would be to have a index of these addresses and also a map. Ads should be forthcoming from the numerous business enterprises there who are renting rooms; restaurants; coaching services etc. Additional money could be made from selling it to newcomers to the area, and the residents as well. The RoI seemed quite attractive! Someday when I am retired and bored, I will try and do something like this. It is worth doing it.

There lies the real question. Is there a market for providing this kind of service in select areas?

One may ask, why shouldn't the state do it. Let me sound out a good idea that I heard of late. The Indian police should run call-centres to not only answer distress calls but also research the data of the calls to pinpoint potential sources (areas/ nature of crimes) of trouble. What do you think is the problem with this suggestion?

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