Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

For Whom The Emergency Never Ended!!

Today, 25th June, happens to be the fortieth anniversary of the declaration of Internal Emergency by the Congress Government in 1975 and the curtailment of rights and civil liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. What intrigues me is that the Government of the time was able to clamp down so easily on the whole nation by incarcerating thousands of the workers of the opposition parties from the top leaders to the grassroots workers. In the absence of these leaders and workers, there was little or no opposition from the masses to the draconian regime that was let loose. I can't help wondering whether such a nationwide clamp down on civil liberties on a large scale is still as easily doable  at present. The reason is that on a small local scale such clampdowns take place all the time and Governments of all hues are able to stifle mass protest quite easily even today. The only way to counter the Government on such occasions is for leaders and workers to go underground in large numbers and carry on the struggle. There was little of that in 1975 except for a few examples like that of the venerable socialist George Fernandes.
When the emergency was lifted in 1977 and the Congress Government was thrown out in the ensuing elections there was a lot of euphoria about the earthy political wisdom of the masses and their innate consciousness about civil liberties. However, given that the voting percentage was only 60.5% and of them about 52% voted against the Congress, the actual vote for civil liberties was just about 31%!!
I was a student activist of some fringe, over ground, Naxal groups during my college days from 1978 to 1983, at a time when the Naxal movement was in disarray before it gained in power once again through the under ground armed mobilisation of the People's War Group in Andhra Pradesh and the Party Unity group in Bihar in the mid 1980s. I saw then that the level of consciousness among the masses was very low and we used to have a hard time mobilising them to protest against the blatantly anti-people policies of the Central and the State Governments.
However, this was nothing compared to the shock I received when I first came to work in Alirajpur in 1985 among the Bhils. I found that for them there had been a continuous emergency right from the time of the Marathas and then the British and their rights were being wantonly violated by the independent Indian Government and the administration. From 1985 to 2001 we fought many battles and the State always had an upper hand jailing us and even killing some of our colleagues at will. On one occasion in 2001, the State came down hard on the Bhils in Dewas district, destroying their houses and killing four of them in police firing alleging that they had defied its might by implementing the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, which makes the tribal Gram Sabha the supreme authority in its domain and this could not be tolerated. When the late Dilip Singh Bhuria, who has just expired yesterday, as the then Chairperson of the Commission for Scheduled Tribes, visited the area after this mayhem, Motia Patel asked him whether in this country the Bhils were worse than rats that they could not even have the right to live in their own houses as he sat among the ruins of his destroyed house below.
For the Bhils the emergency has never ended because it has always been there from the time of the Marathas and then the British. And also for many others who are fighting for their rights in various corners of this country or dying like nine pins because agriculture has been devastated. Invariably, except for a few glorious occasions, arrests of the leaders and the main grassroots workers used to lead to the Bhil masses losing their urge to fight against an obviously much much more powerful State. On a small scale going under ground for long periods of time is generally difficult unless the area is heavily forested. So unless this de facto emergency that stifles and oppresses the poor and marginalised in this country, of whom the Tribals and Dalits constitute a disproportionately large share, is ended, the rights and liberties provided in the Constitution will remain largely on paper.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies and Politics

Shivraj Singh Chauhan the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has claimed that he has implemented the first River Linking Project in the country by bringing water from the River Narmada to the River Kshipra and in the process ensured that the dry Malwa Plateau region now has water, water everywhere for both drinking and farming. Once again like in the case of his big mouthed boss, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's false boast about cleaning the River Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, Chauhan too is lying through his teeth!!
In the run up to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in 2013, there was big media hype regarding Chauhan having made the impossible possible by linking the two rivers and a journalist in Indore asked me to give him some critical analysis of this hype for a news story. I told him that the only way to critically analyse the project was to study its Detailed Project Report (DPR) which is a mandatory document on the basis of which sanction is granted for any project. So I asked him to get me the DPR from the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) which was the implementing agency of the project. However, try as he might, the journalist could not get the DPR and nor could other journalists whom I contacted later. Even though this is a public document that should according to the laws of the land be made open to the public for critical analysis before a project is undertaken, the NVDA has kept it close to its chest and thwarted all attempts to make it public. Why is this so? A quick analysis of the little data about the project that is available in the form of pamphlets published by the NVDA will reveal the reason.
The Narmada Kshipra Simhastha Link Project (NKSLP) is a pipeline project which is to pump 5 cumecs (5000 litres per second) of water from the Right Bank Canal of the Omkareshwar Dam on the River Narmada over a distance of 49 kms and a height of 349 metres to Ujjaini village in Indore district where the River Kshipra originates through pipes of 1.8 metre diameter. It is not mentioned as to whether this lift will take place 24x7 but it is mentioned that the power requirement is 27.5 MW and the cost of lifting the water will be Rs 118.92 crores per year. Now currently, the cost per unit of electricity for public purpose projects in Madhya Pradesh inclusive of all charges and taxes is about Rs 6 so working backwards from the annual cost figure we find that the pumps are to run 20 hours per day. This means that the total water to be supplied is 360 million litres per day (MLD). The capital cost of the project is Rs 432 crores so if one takes a twenty year time period for repaying it at 15 % interest per annum then the annual repayment instalment comes to around Rs 80 crore initially gradually decreasing to Rs 24 crores towards the end or if one equates the instalments then it comes to about Rs 40 crores annually throughout. Then there are other maintenance and operation costs apart from the electricity charges which conservatively one can take to be about Rs 11 crores annually. Thus, factoring in an optimistic 10% as losses (in reality due to inefficiency and corruption the actual losses are much more) the cost of the water comes out to be Rs 15 per Kilolitre. Moreover, the miniscule amount of 360 MLD of water will be able to provide water to only a few villages and towns and for that an additional delivery system involving more piping and tanks will be necessary at great cost further increasing the cost of delivered water to say around Rs 20 per kilolitre.This is a price that those wanting to use the water for household purposes are unwilling to pay and typically they look towards the government to subsidise it. Additionally it is totally beyond the capacity of farmers to pay this price for irrigating their farms. Also water linking of the Narmada and Kshipra basins through water pumped up by a pipeline has already taken place since 1973 when the first such pipeline was built to supply water to Indore and so defined in this way the NKSLP is not the first link as is being claimed and of course it will not be able to irrigate anything more than a few hectares of land.
So, despite the huge fanfare of its inauguration, the NKSLP is not running at the moment except for about half an hour every alternate day to keep the pumps in shape as can be seen from the photograph below.
In fact the outlet pipe shown above is only 0.5 metre in diameter even though the rising pipes over the whole distance  are 1.8 metres in diameter and this itself shows that the NVDA never had any serious intention of releasing the water into the Kshipra. The water from these tanks at Ujjaini is taken for about 7 kms by a concrete channel that is hardly 1 square metre in cross section as shown below to a tank and there the water seeps into the ground. Obviously because so little water will get lost in the highly polluted Kshipra river which has millions of litres of sewage and industrial effluents spilling into it untreated everyday from Dewas city. Also there is no question of providing water for Ujjain city where the Sinhastha Festival is to be held in 2016 unless the water is carried there from Ujjaini village by 60 kms or so of more pipelines. and pumping to clear hillocks in between.

So if the link isn't operational how is the money invested in it to be recovered? The money invested in it has itself been garnered through a financial sleight of hand. The central government has provided money to the Madhya Pradesh government under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme to construct canals of dams that have been constructed. Under this money has been released for the construction of canals for the Omkareshwar dam. Money has been diverted from that for the NKSLP by saying that it will provide irrigation to the Malwa Plateau. However, since an irrigation project has to go through a tortuous process of impact assessments and public hearings for getting sanction, the NVDA in its DPR has labelled the NKSLP as a drinking water project which according to the current rules does not require going through an environmental and social impact assessment process before sanction. This is why the DPR has been kept shrouded in secrecy so that it cannot be proved that the Government had pulled wool over the eyes of all and sundry in the pursuit of the narrow political goal of winning elections on the strength of lies.
Sanction has also now been procured from the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project for supplying water from the NKSLP to the Pithampur industrial area in Dhar district on the western side of Indore and negotiations are on with the industrial units in Dewas, which too are short of water, to supply them. Once these projects for the supply of water to industries which can foot the high price for it go on stream, the NKSLP pumps will begin to run continuously. In the interim it will remain a white elephant like many others that are there in the water sector in this country which is ruled by the whims and fancies of fools and liars masquerading as politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats. When the Kshipra basin gets on an average about 900 mm of rainfall, which if properly recharged and harvested and combined with recycling can easily meet all the household, industrial and agricultural water needs of the area, it is nothing short of criminal in the current scenario of climate change to waste so much energy to pipe water up from the Narmada. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Adivasis will not Reform!!

A common refrain that I used to hear in the early days of my activism in Alirajpur three decades ago was that Adivasis will not reform. Not only the non-tribal exploiters and oppressors but the Bhil Adivasis themselves used to tell me that they would not reform!! Of course I would have none of this and so along with other activists we launched into some very militant organising that did end in reform on many fronts and the work continues today. However, in one aspect the Adivasis indeed have not reformed and it is one that is a never ending cause for merriment for the community!! After a series of heavy analytical posts it is time for some laughter now on this blog!!!
Traditionally, Bhil Adivasi boys and girls after reaching puberty have shown great interest in eloping with each other. Invariably such elopement leads to great upheavals in village life. The elopement becomes a matter of hot discussion in both the villages or both the hamlets if the boy and girl are from the same village and there is a great tug of war between the two families over whether to convert the elopement into a marriage or to refuse to do so. Since in both cases there are financial costs involved this leads to community sittings to resolve the matter which too are great occasions for merriment. Eventually, as per the custom the boy's family has to shell out a considerable amount. However, the Bhils do not really mind this because in the process the whole community gets huge entertainment for a considerable time. Traditionally, the Bhils have many customs that make individual families hold feasts for the community and this is a way of bonding and also levelling as surpluses get expended. All integral aspects of the anarchism of the Bhils.
Throughout the last three decades, I have enjoyed the romantic sagas of the Bhils, which become merrier the more the complications. Elopements don't only take place among unmarried boys and girls as married men and women too ditch their existing relationships and elope!!
However, things have become complicated with the penetration of modern economic and legal systems into the traditional romantic life of the Bhils and so there are many distortions. Especially the law preventing marriage before 18 years of age for girls and 21 years for boys and the strict laws against rape that become applicable if the parents of the girl decide to file a police complaint saying that she has been abducted by the boy have led in recent times to the spate of elopements being stemmed considerably as families generally warn boys not to elope with girls and negotiate their marriages instead. The market economy has also raised the bride price that has to be paid and the extra fines that have to be paid for eloping. If the case ends up with the police then the costs escalate even further and so elopements have become rarer.
But Bhil boys and girls will be Bhil boys and girls and so elopement still continues. Last year the grandson of one of our Adivasi activists passed his class ten board examinations from a rural government school in third division. His father then came to us in Indore with the boy, saying that he wanted him to study in a hostel school in Indore as otherwise given his low level of academics there was the strong possibility of his opting to marry and give up studying. So Subhadra and I went around searching for schools and did a lot of running around. However, eventually the father who was doing his own searching, rejected the schools we had short listed and instead put him in a school in a village near Indore which was close to the village of his wife where the boy would stay with his wife's family. Subhadra told him that this was not a wise decision because the danger of his son losing interest in academics and instead developing romantic attraction for a girl would be ever present. But he said something about not being able to bear the cost of his son's studying in a hostel school in Indore and that was that.
Today Subhadra came to my room doubled up in laughter and said that the boy had indeed eloped with a girl. The girl is only 16 years old, the same age as he is and is from the village of his mother where he was staying and studies in the same school as he does. There was another boy from a distant village staying in that village and studying in the same school and he too had hooked up with another girl studying in the school. Given the abysmal standard of education it is not surprising that these boys and girls decided to travel on the path of romantic knowledge instead and so the two couples eloped. Our boy convinced his grandfather, our activist friend, that he needed money for pursuing his academics and took Rs 12000 from him. On the strength of this money, he and the other boy who too had wangled some money from his parents eloped with their lady loves to a rented apartment in the city of Indore about a month back.
Immediately the romantic entertainment mill of Bhil society began working and the families and villagers began negotiating. It appears that the romantic liaisons of the young ones had been common knowledge in the village and the father of the boy had been warned by his in laws that things were going in the wrong direction and he should take his son away from the village. But that did not happen and in the end the elopement took place. For a month negotiations continued and the young couples continued to live in Indore enjoying themselves. Eventually the negotiations broke down and the girl's parents filed a complaint in the police station saying that the boy had abducted and raped their daughter. The police swung into action and very soon the young ones were brought to the police station and the whole matter was resolved by the boy's father paying Rs 70,000 to the girl's parents and the police combined.
For the time being the boy and girl have been separated but that does not mean the saga is at an end. As often happens in such cases the girl and boy may elope once again and this time they may run away to a more distant location. Thus, the huge merriment that many including Subhadra and I and I am sure the readers of this post have gained from the whole episode will continue for some time. The Rs 70,000 plus the Rs 12,000 taken by the boy earlier from his grandfather will not have gone in vain as it has provided the community with entertainment of a high order. Subhadra plans to go down to the village of our activist friend tomorrow to savour in more detail this romantic saga of which we had known nothing till today, when its news spread far and wide after it reached the police station!!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is Swaraj or Self Rule Possible?

The other day I got a phone call from a friend asking me to attend a meeting called Swaraj Samvad (discussions on Self Rule) in the city of Ujjain which is about 50 kilometers from Indore, organised by Swaraj Abhiyan (SA) to chalk out a path to Swaraj or Self Rule. The SA is the organisation set up by Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan and their followers after they were expelled from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). I responded by saying that I had been sceptical earlier as to whether the AAP would be able to bring about Swaraj as it claimed and was sceptical now that the SA would be able to do so and would continue to be sceptical whether any organisation or individual can bring about Swaraj in the present milieu. Given that beginning with Gandhi, in the early twentieth century, many people in India have tried to establish Swaraj in the sense of individuals living in small communities being empowered against the centralised State and Corporate systems, have all failed, I feel that there should be deep thinking on why this is so before we begin yet again to chart out a programme to achieve Swaraj.
The problem as I have come to see it is one of garnering enough resources to fight the centralised State and Corporate behemoths. This problem was faced by Gandhi. Even when he was writing his seminal book "Hind Swaraj" in 1909, propounding his anarchist ideas, he was financed by the Tatas who were the major donors for his activism in South Africa. On his return to India in 1915 he was funded by the Birlas who remained his main benefactor throughout the independence struggle. That is why he had to jettison much of the radical anarchist tenets he had propounded earlier in Hind Swaraj and go along with a capitalist blue print for the development of India post independence.
Recently I read a book that details the history of Lenin's years in exile prior to the Russian Revolution and there too this problem of funding comes to the fore. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were funded by capitalists among others who were against the Tsar but not necessarily Marxists or Communists and in the later stages by Stalin who used to abduct and extort ransom from the oil millionaires in Baku on the Caspian Sea. In the end the Russian Revolution resulted in the rejection of soviet democracy and workers' control of industries and opted for a centralised bureaucratic managerial form of government and industrial production under the strict control of the Bolshevik Party.
Today the State and the Corporations are immensely more powerful than they were in the early twentieth century in terms of military and police power and control of the economy and they also control the media and academia which produce the dominant ideology. What do the Swarajists have to offer to the people? Very little!! If one follows the path of Swaraj then one is likely to die of poverty, hunger and disease. Livelihoods have been so compromised that the lower and middle classes who used to produce activists cannot do so any more. The funding from the capitalists goes for reformist work by NGOs to patch up the devastations wrought by the Corporations and not for overthrowing the centralised system. The lure of consumerist lifestyles which have been made very achievable and attractive through propaganda makes it difficult to get people to strive for an austere life of struggle for Swaraj.
Thus, the first and most important step, currently, in the path to Swaraj, assuming that Swaraj itself has been adequately defined by now, is to garner funds from the people who are to fight for Swaraj and not from capitalists like Gandhi and Lenin did, as otherwise the chances are high that Swaraj will not materialise. The AAP had initially been able to do this but after having come to power in Delhi and embroiled as it is now in running a highly centralised government system that is hamstrung by various legal hurdles, one is left wondering as to what it will be able to do in the long run.
As I have mentioned in many posts before, I myself have not really succeeded in securing enough funds from the people who I fight with for anarchist goals and so have not others. That is why Swaraj remains a distant dream amidst a highly centralised political and economic system controlled by a few who also control the media and academia - the means of knowledge production.
I would like to sign off with the example of the recently concluded Jal Satyagraha protest of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in Ghoghalgaon. The faction of the NBA active in the protest against the Omkareshwar Dam is also aligned with the AAP. Their fight was a typical Swarajist fight in that they were protesting against the construction of a dam on the River Narmada which was environmentally, socially and economically destructive in the long run. However, given their lack of strength the NBA was not able to stop the construction of the dam but had got orders from the High and Supreme Courts to the effect that the water could not be filled in the dam to its highest level until those to be displaced by it were properly rehabilitated. Despite these legal orders the Government of Madhya Pradesh went about filling the reservoir and so the affected people went on a protest by sitting in the dam waters. They sat for more than a month and as a result their feet became sore and began to bleed as shown below.

Yet ultimately the Government did not relent and refused to reduce the water level and only provided some flimsy assurances like they had done a couple of years back when too the NBA had staged such a Jal Satyagraha. This NBA faction funds itself mainly from contributions of those fighting against the various dams on the river Narmada and so is always strapped for funds. The alignment with the AAP has not helped much because they fared miserably in the Lok Sabha elections in which a lot of funds got drained including the personal assets of the activists and now the BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh has taken a vindictive stand given that the AAP and the BJP are fighting tooth and nail in Delhi.
Thus, given the tremendous resources at the command of centralised systems and their control of society, economy and knowledge production, it does look as if Swaraj is difficult to achieve. That of course does not mean that one should not try to achieve it. Personally, however, I would like to plough a lonely furrow in the fight for Swaraj than align with others in a movement!!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Biggest Bluff of Them All!!

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi never fails to boast about the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project in Ahmedabad as possibly his greatest achievement as Chief Minister of Gujarat in the sphere of urban renewal. It has been recognised by the Housing and Urban Development Corporation of India and the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation as an exemplary project in urban innovation and wastewater management. However, the reality is considerably different and it would be educative to analyse this project to learn how seriously flawed water management is in our country and what a great bluffer Modi is.
The most critical aspect of the project is to ensure clean water perennially in the 11 km stretch of the Sabarmati River between Subhash Bridge at the upstream end of the river as it enters the city and Vasna barrage at the downstream end where it leaves the city. The problem with this is that there is a huge offloading of untreated sewage and industrial effluents into the river from sewer lines and open streams. This was proposed to be dealt with by constructing interceptors all along the river stretch that is to be developed and then diverting the untreated sewage and effluent mix downstream to sewage and effluent treatment plants to be constructed below the Vasna Barrage at Pirana. The STP to be constructed at Pirana was to have a system to incinerate the gases and sludge generated during the treatment of the sewage to produce electricity that would not only make the STP energy independent but also provide excess energy to run pumps to pump the treated water back upstream to Subhash bridge for release into the river and have it  flowing perennially in the city stretch. This was the innovation that had heads turning across the world because nowhere else is treated water from an STP, which perforce is always located at the downstream end of a city due to gradient considerations in collecting the sewage, pumped upstream to make a river perennial.
However, this required huge investments which would have to be recovered. The best way to recover investments in an urban development project is to monetise land. So it was proposed that the Sabarmati River bed which on an average is about 380 meters wide would be constricted to 275 meters between high concrete embankments which would be able to accommodate the floods in the rainy season and the land thus freed would partly be sold for residential and commercial development to regain the investment and the rest of it would be developed as parks and promenades. Thus, in theory, the project looked a humdinger with innovative water management and good financial prospects and won accolades around the world.
However, in India there is a big gap between implementation and design. Since money was in short supply, the interceptors and the sewage lines to cut off and carry the sewage from the many outfalls and streams to the STP were given the go by and the construction of the concrete embankments were begun without these. This completely sabotaged the innovative rationale of the project as the highly polluted sewage was not stopped from entering the river and neither was there enough waste water for treating at the STP in Pirana. Moreover, the proposal of producing electricity from the incineration of gases and sludge from the STP turned out to be flawed. Only a limited amount of electricity can be produced in this way that can fulfil only part of the electricity demand for running the STP and there is no question of producing a surplus that can pump the treated water back 11 kms upstream.
Thus, there was no availability of water for making the river flow perennially and the bottom fell out of the project. As a stop gap measure water meant for irrigation of farms was diverted from the main canal coming from the Sardar Sarovar dam on the River Narmada which crosses the Sabarmati through an aquaduct just a kilometre upstream of the Subhash Bridge.  However, this water itself is very costly as the Sardar Sarovar dam has cost thousands of crores of rupees to build. Therefore, the Sardar Sarovar Nigam which runs the dam and its canals is demanding to be paid a steep price for the water it supplies to the Sabarmati River Front Project and so large amounts of water are released only on a few occasions when the Government wants to showcase the project to some visiting dignitary so as to flush out the sewage and suppress the stench as shown in the 2012 picture below by Manjil Purohit.

Due to the fact that sewage is still flowing into the Sabarmati and there is no water to make it perennial except once in a blue moon, it is stinking to high heaven and so the proposal to sell land on the river front for commercial and residential development has not really found enthusiastic buyers and consequently the financial bottom has also fallen out of the project and it is getting by on meagre grants given by the Government of Gujarat. In the middle of all this some seventy thousand poor people who were living on the banks of the River Sabarmati in slums have been displaced and relocated to far off resettlement colonies. So Ahmedabad has a beautified river front without poor people to dirty it but the river itself is still stinking with sewage and with the ever present danger of a big flood spilling over the embankments, which have  not been designed to cater for floods above 9000 cubic meters per second even though there are records of floods of 16000 cubic meters per second having taken place in the past. All in all it is a rank bad example of urban development and water resource management and so much more money down the drain, constituting one of the biggest bluffs of the century!!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

One Year of a Bluff Master!!

The din at financial centres across the world and especially in India today is that the Indian economy will probably soon be the only one in the world with a double digit annual GDP growth rate combined with a low single digit inflation rate which is a combination that is probably the best of all possible worlds in this globalised phase of capitalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government which is about to celebrate the completion of its first year is shouting itself hoarse that a combination of the dynamic leadership of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his business friendly policies has helped it to achieve this dramatic turn around from the doldrums in which the earlier Congress Government had left the country.
The reality, however, is that the dynamism in the economy has come due to the fact that inflation has been tamed as a consequence of the drastic fall in global crude oil prices. The prices have fallen from US$ 110 a barrel in May 2014 to a low of  US$ 50 a barrel and are now at US$ 65 a barrel. Since crude oil and its derivatives are so integrally a part of all sectors of the economy, its price is a significant determinant of the level of inflation. Especially so in the case of India because this country has to import about 80% of its crude oil requirements and the high price of crude further escalates the import bill and negatively affects the foreign trade current account deficit (CAD). In fact high inflation and a high current account deficit push down the value of the rupee in international currency markets resulting in higher prices having to be paid for other imports as well. Thus, the precipitate fall in crude prices has had a huge positive multiplier effect on the economy by reducing the CAD, pushing up the value of the rupee and controlling domestic inflation and so simultaneously boosting consumption and easing the milieu for investment and production. Consequently economic activity in all sectors has begun to improve and the growth rate is on the rise.
The precipitate drop in crude prices is due to international geo-political developments related to discovery of new sources of oil from shale strata in the USA and the pressure exerted by it on Saudi Arabia not to cut its production and so keep prices high but to let them fall so as to deliver a body blow to the Russian economy which survives mainly on the support from its oil and gas exports. Russia has been annexing parts of Ukraine which have a Russian ethnic majority population and this hasn't gone down well with the USA and its European vassals and so they have been doing their level best to cut the earth from beneath the Russian economy.
So if for some reason the USA feels that the prices of crude should be spiked up again the whole bottom will fall out of the Indian economy and it will be wallowing in the doldrums again despite all the chest thumping that the BJP and its bluff master of a leader, Modi, are doing at present. In fact the bluffing by Modi has been across the socio-economic spectrum from cleaning up India and especially the River Ganga, to providing financial inclusion to the poor to making India a global manufacturing hub. All hot air with little actual implementation because there is little appreciation of the technical, social and political challenges involved in making these into reality. However, since the stars have favoured him through a fall in crude oil prices, nobody can call Modi's bluff at the moment!!
The lesson to be learnt and one that should have been learnt and acted upon decades back is that India has to be weaned away from crude oil in particular and fossil fuels in general. It is eminently possible to do so by relying on solar and bio mass energy which can be produced quite efficiently in a decentralised manner and used equally efficiently with direct current technology as opposed to the present alternate current technology. However, as in much else, policy making in India in the energy sector also is cockeyed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just Obeisance Will Not Do!!

The other day I was invited as a "specialist" on water resource management to participate in a brainstorming workshop along with other specialists to help chart out a course for developing a "Scientific" Perspective Plan for Drinking Water Supply for the Madhya Pradesh Public Health Engineering Department (MPPHED). I was intrigued by this stress on scientific planning and went along to see what exactly it involved. The workshop was organised by an NGO funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the Government of United Kingdom to help the MPPHED develop a plan because the latter did not have the expertise to do so. The first thing I asked the organisers is what they meant by scientific planning. The reply was that the MPPHED had said that they felt that scientific planning meant the use of satellite imagery and geographical information system (GIS) and other software to analyse the imagery and other data to design water supply systems and had asked the NGO to help them do it. That is why there was a satellite imagery and GIS expert and two geologists in the workshop. There was also an expert from the Central Groundwater Board (CGWB). The GIS expert who is a nationally recognised person who was an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) veteran also said that scientific planning in the context of drinking water supply involved analysis of satellite imagery with GIS.
I put a spanner into this by saying that scientific planning meant first identifying the problem and not deciding the tools to be used to solve it without knowing what the problem was. Only when the problem is properly identified can the methodology of finding its solution be determined. In the case of drinking water supply in Madhya Pradesh the main problem is the lack of availability of water and the MPPHED is oblivious to this and just goes on putting water supply systems of various kinds in place which either under perform or fail totally because of the lack of sustainable water sources. Most of Madhya Pradesh happens to be a naturally water scarce region because the annual rainfall is about 800 - 1000 millimeter and the terrain is hilly with an underlying basaltic rock layer that does not allow much percolation and so natural recharge is low. Matters have been compounded by the fact that heavy deforestation has taken place and so most of the rain that falls tends to runoff instead of seeping into the ground and so the unconfined shallow aquifers do not have much water. Flood irrigation of farms with ground water extracted through tubewells which has continually increased over the last five decades or so has resulted in the water table in the confined aquifers in the hard rock, accumulated over thousands of years, also being drastically depleted.
Under the circumstances a scientific approach would involve ensuring that the availability of ground water is enhanced through artificial recharge rather than use satellite imagery, resistivity surveys and GIS to identify the remaining underground water sources so as to extract more.
Importantly, another problem associated with water supply is that 95% of the water supplied becomes waste water after use and so has to be treated and disposed of properly to prevent pollution of water bodies, streams and rivers. Indeed, given the severe shortage of water, the norm these days is to treat and reuse as much of the water as is possible. For example Singapore, which has a severe water shortage being a city situated on an island, has dammed its main river and does not let even a single drop of water escape to the sea. All the wastewater is treated and reused even for drinking. Unfortunately, the MPPHED does not have any provisions in its budget for treatment and reuse of waste water and has only a miniscule 5% provision for artificial recharge. It is true that the use of satellite imagery and GIS can help in better planning but only if we know the nature of the problem we want to solve. Artificial recharge and waste water treatment and reuse are the solutions to the problem of dwindling water supply and GIS should be used to facilitate this rather than promote the further extraction of water.
I roped in the specialist from the CGWB to push for this asking him to explain in detail how his organisation had published a detailed master plan for artificial recharge for the whole country disaggregated to the district level in which the fractures had been identified in the naturally water scarce regions where such recharge could take place. However, it remains to be seen how much of this strong push of mine for truly scientific planning will get actualised.
This brings me to another issue that has dominated the news in Indore recently. This is that of cleaning the Khan River that drains the city and has become a massive open sewer as most of the waste water is released into it untreated. A petition has been filed in the National Green Tribunal bench in Bhopal for cleaning up the Khan River. The administration in response has said that it will stop the release of waste water into the River and establish sewage treatment plants (STP) and effluent treatment plants (ETP) to clean the waste water. This is the standard solution that is offered not only for the Khan River but also for all other Rivers in India including the Ganga for which after spending lakhs of crores of rupees now another twenty thousand crores have been sanctioned under the new scheme called "Namami Gange" or Obeisance to Ganga. The problem with centralised sewage and effluent treatment is that it is very costly both in terms of capital outlays and operation and maintenance costs, and so given the huge resource crunch that most States and Urban Local Bodies face, throughout the country, and most notably in Delhi, the STPs and ETPs are not being run and most of the water is being released untreated into water bodies, streams and rivers. In fact a survey conducted by the Water Resource Ministry revealed that all the saintly Ashrams along the River Ganga in the Himalayas and its foothills are releasing untreated sewage into the river. So the right and scientific approach is to treat and reuse the waste water in a decentralised manner and reuse it at least for flushing of toilets and gardening which are the two most heavy uses of potable water. It is not only unscientific but down right criminal not to do so. Most of the waste water in this country is generated by institutions or individuals that are quite capable financially of undertaking decentralised waste water treatment and reuse. But when government institutions themselves, and what is more glaring even the Indian Institutes of Technology and other engineering institutes are not doing this then it is a tall order to expect common citizens to do so.
Thus just paying obeisance to the Ganga and pouring money into capital intensive STPs and ETPs and using satellite imagery and GIS for more extraction of water without any concern for artificial recharge and decentralised waste water treatment and reuse is neither scientific planning nor a rational approach to solving the problem of water supply in this country. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Drops that will Fill the Pitcher

The work of the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (DGVK) on the education front has gone from strength to strength with many new achievements this year. The education project now encompasses the residential Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala in Kakrana in addition to the three single teacher schools in Khatamri, Chilakda and Bada Amba. Even though the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala is managed by the Kalpantar Shikshan Society set up separately to administer the school, an important new development that will be described by and by has led to the involvement of the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (DGVK) also in supporting the initiatives there.
This year too trainings were organised for the teachers in the three schools and these trainings were held in Vakner village so as to keep the content localised. The three single teacher schools have improved their performance over the past year and the details are given below.
I. BADA AMBA
There are now 70 students in the school in Bada Amba as opposed to 62 last year. The details of the total enrolment age and gender wise is given in Table 1.
Table 1: Total Enrolment in School in Bada Amba
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
Total
Boys
7
6
6
2
3
4
5
3
36
Girls
6
6
6
2
3
4
5
2
34
Total
13
12
12
4
6
8
10
5
70

The teacher supported by the DGVK, Mavsingh Vaskel, has also got an appointment as a guest teacher with the Madhya Pradesh Government Education Department and the school has been registered as a primary school under the provisions of the Right to Education Act due to the efforts of the DGVK. In fact the vigorous campaign carried out by the DGVK has resulted in as many as 30 new schools being sanctioned by the Government in Alirajpur district. As a result examinations are conducted in accordance with the directives of the Education Department and the students are graded on their performance. All the students have passed their examinations and currently there are 14 boys and 9 girls in Class One, 6 boys and 6 girls in Class Two, 7 boys and 5 girls in Class Three, 5 boys and 5 girls in Class Four and 4 boys and 9 girls in Class Five. The registration of the school with the Education Department has also resulted in mid-day meals being provided to the students by the Government. The villagers have got together and constructed a separate wooden school building. The adult members of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath sit in the school in the evenings for adult education classes from the teacher Mavsingh.
II. CHILAKDA
There are now 65 students in the school which is seven more than last year. The details of the total enrolment age and gender wise is given in Table 1.
Table 2: Total Enrolment in School in Chilakda
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
Total
Boys
3
6
14
4
2
1
1
4
35
Girls
4
5
9
3
2
4
1
2
30
Total
7
11
23
7
4
5
2
6
65
The teacher in Chilakda, Naharsingh, too has been appointed as a guest teacher by the Madhya Pradesh Government Education Department and the school has been subsumed under the Primary School being run in the nearby Nal Amba hamlet. Consequently the children here are getting their mid day meal from the Government. They have performed well in their examinations and all have passed. The current classwise student strength is as follows. There are 7 boys and 6 girls in Class One, 8 boys and 5 girls in ClassTwo, 7 boys and 5 girls in Class Three, 8 boys and 6 girls in Class Four and 7 boys and 6 girls in Class Five.
III. KHATAMRI
There are currently 32 students in the school up from 22 last year. This school too has been registered by the Government of Madhya Pradesh Education Department and a separate teacher has been appointed. Consequently the teacher appointed by the DGVK, Sena Bai, provided extra tuition classes in the morning before the start of the school at 11 am. The details of the total enrolment age and gender wise is given in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Children Regularly Attending School in Khatamri
Age in Years
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Total
Boys
2
3
1
1
5
2
1
15
Girls
2
3
3
1
4
2
2
17
Total
4
6
4
2
9
4
3
32

All the students have passed their examinations and the classwise strength is as follows. There are 5 boys and 5 girls in Kindergarten, 2 boys and 4 girls in Class One, 6 boys and 5 girls in Class Two and 2 boys and 3 girls in Class Three. Since a government teacher has been appointed separately for this school and Sena bai has expressed the desire to work in community mobilisation and not as a teacher, the tuition school will be closed and instead from the next session a new school will be started in the village of Khundi which does not have any school.
IV. RANI KAJAL JEEVANSHALA
Multigrade teaching in single teacher schools by inadequately qualified and trained teachers results in poor pedagogy and learning outcomes. That is why the DGVK established a residential school with many teachers in Kakrana village on the banks of the Narmada River in 2001. A separate organisation was set up for this so as to keep the school independent of the DGVK and its other developmental activities. However, last year Professor Swapan Bhattacharya, a retired, internationally renowned micro-biologist who had worked and taught in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Devi Ahilya University in Indore, came to know about the work of the DGVK from the internet where he had searched for a good organisation working among the Bhil Adivasis with which he could associate. He visited the Rani Kajal School in Kakrana and liked the place immensely and expressed a desire to stay in the school and give his inputs. He said that after retirement he had spent five years searching for a good institution to work in with children and he had finally found one. The only problem was that the spartan living arrangements in Kakrana where there were only a few toilets for the girl students and the guest house did not have proper electricity were too daunting for the seventy year old professor who is both an asthma and a heart patient. The Kalpantar Shikshan Trust which runs the school on a shoestring budget with some help from outside and some fees from the students had no funds to spruce up the guest house with proper toilet, electricity and water facilities. So, since the DGVK education project had a surplus due to the munificient donations received last year which were Rs 10,000 in excess of the target of Rs 2 Lakhs, funds amounting to Rs 80,000 were transferred from this to the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala for the guest house renovation and remodelling project.
Professor Bhattacharya is now in residence in Kakrana since January 2015 and has established a laboratory, library, a garden and an insect park in the school. He conducts classes for the teachers and the children and also has taken on the task of documenting the bio-diversity in the dense forest protected by the villagers through community cooperation. A new dynamism has been added to the Rani Kajal School. The following is a brief description of the plans that he has drawn up for further developing the school.
1.       Achievements of the Rani Kajal School so far:
The number of students have increased over the years. The number increased from 40 in 2001 to 211 studying upto Class Eight currently. Of late the school has to refuse a number of applicants because of shortage of rooms. Most students have pursued higher level of studies at least upto 12th Class (Higher Secondary). A few have made it to college level also and are continuing their studies. Some motivated students of the past have remained in the village and are trying their level best to keep the school running. Present students have intense interest in learning. But teaching method needs changes to go beyond rote learning.
2.       The weakness of current practices and ways to eliminate them
(i)   The most important weakness is open defecation by the boys who do not have toilet facilities. There are only 3 latrines for girls and staff members. Not at all adequate for the number of girls and staff who use them. Even the bathing rooms, only 3, are without any water taps and without doors. This is in spite of the fact that there is enough subsoil water available, being close to the Narmada and electricity is available almost 24 hrs. The cumulative effect of open defecation is an enormous health hazard. Therefore, many more toilets have to be built.
(ii)  Use of firewood from jungle on the banks of Narmada is another criminal practice that must be eliminated. They collect dry wood from the banks every 7-10 days cruising along the river to distances upto 20-40 Km. At times, not infrequently, they ask the students, juvenileand grownups, boys and girls alike in the manner of military drills to carry dry wood from nearby and distant vendors who find it an easy business at the cost of damage to the environment. The sight of kids carrying fire woods may appear amusing, but is equally dehumanising. The time wasted on such fuel collection is an enormous loss to the teaching schedules and learning time of the students. Also the effect on the health of the cooks who spend hours in the fireplace is hazardous, breathing smoke nearly the whole day. They are likely to develop serious illness in near future if this practice is not discontinued immediately. Therefore, efficient wood stoves or solar parabolic stoves have to be installed.
(iii)An extremely hazardous practice is the sweeping of the ground with broom sticks. It raises dust clouds right at the doors of their hostel-cum-class rooms to send back the dust where they spend most of the time, day and night. They fall sick very frequently and tend to play out in the open dusty fields or on denuded hillocks. This is because they don’t have any good reading rooms or play grounds to attract them.  We need to solve these problems in an integrated manner by firstly planting lawns all around and building a fence to protect them from grazing cattle, making dscent pavements for movement in the campus complex and secondly by building large reading rooms with modern facilities enjoyed by urban counterparts, at least two, to attract the students to use them. One for KG to class 3 and the other for students of Class 4 to 8. The rooms have to be airy, lighted and well furnished. The students should, even without explicit persuasion, prefer to study there whenever they wish instead of following the old practice. Later laboratories also have to be built. There is also a need for a dining room as at present the students eat in their rooms or on an open platform as shown below.


A small experiment was done recently in last three months asking the students to grow ornamental flower plants and seasonal vegetables from seeds in a small garden plot developed with soil brought from Narmada bank. Their enthusiasm was boundless. They dug-up the plot, readied itfor sowing plants. They were shown and asked to use coco-pits in seeding trays to develop plantlets from seeds and transfer these to marked tiny zones each for one student, in the garden. This was a hugely successful activity and needs to be expanded for the whole school.  Four of the students even took their plants in pots home on this vacation to show their parents and other villagers. The renovated guest house and the fenced in garden is shown below.
The children also participated in culturing butterflies, learning as these metamorphosed from eggs through their multiple instars to give birth to beautiful butterflies. We have a tiny butterfly park made within the experimental garden to exhibit these cultured butterflies.
The point is these are extremely useful science experiments right in nature. These exercises will pace up their rate of learning and with pleasure. Both the students and teachers are equally enthusiastic. Learning will be that much less of a burden from rote learnings which is the current mode of teaching in this school. So the school needs to develop larger number of plots (3m x 3m size each) to be allotted to groups of 3-4 students each for a year. They will only have to be taught some horticulture and gardening practices because most being farmers children, know rudiments of these. They can be made more technically aware of the needs of the environment conservation through these exercises. A special course can be designed for these gardening activities without employing any fresh teacher specifically for gardening.
(iv)     One factor that will certainly attract better qualified teachers from towns and cities to join the school is descent accommodation. The current staff is a motivated lot. Moved by ideology they work all the time to solve the problems of the institute while staying in dingy houses. Most of them have turned jacks of all trades for services and maintenance to run the school. They should be given better accommodation to begin with. The fresh teachers will look upon the job professionally. Being unlikely to be driven by ideological zeal, they will have to be provided with facilities comparable to those available in good urban schools. Some quarters ready to accommodate willing fresh teachers must be constructed.
(v) Lack of stable electric supply hampers all activities routinely. That includes study, water supply and whatever few essential appliances are deployed to run the kitchen. Though the availability is for 24 hours in principle officially, in practice the vagaries of the connections and variable load beyond control of the school, effectively reduces the available power to nearly half the time at best and timings are unpredictable. The Civic Administration have said that the school being private has to spend on a transformer and cable laying to officially ask for  power free of these problems.
(vi)     There is no network for use of mobiles within the premise of the school building or staff quarters. One has to go to a few specific points or go to the top of hillocks to get reasonable signals for mobile but near zero for internet. The school has to be given an internet provision urgently. This will increase the pedagogic level. The quality of both the students and teachers will be instantly enhanced beyond their expectation and encourage them to use it as teaching aid. It cannot be denied that internet is a must for education at all levels today.
There is an effort going on to get an internet hub to the school using a new technology for large areas with radio access network from service provider at Alirajpur.The distance is about 70 Km. A relay point has to be established on top of a hillock which comes on the way. This will need funding for a tower.
V. FINANCES
Clearly, considerable funds are required over a period of time to remove these weaknesses and transform the Rani Kajal School into a better one and the Kalpantar Shikshan Kendra is trying to raise them through its sources. However, the DGVK also has to contribute and so this year the target will have to be more than the Rupees Two Lakhs that was set and easily achieved last year. Instead of putting a target it would be better to keep the fund raising process ongoing and open ended so that as and when funds become available the targeted development works enumerated above can be undertaken for the improvement of the Rani Kajal School.
Rupees Fifty Thousand was carried forward from last year and Rupees Two Lakh and Ten Thousand were collected from donors this year for a total available funding of Rupees Two Lakh Sixty Thousand. Rupees One Lakh Fifty Three Thousand were spent on salaries of the teachers of the three schools and their training. Rupees Eighty Thousand were spent on the renovation and refitting of the guest house in the Rani Kajal School in Kakrana. Thus, a sum of Rupees Twentyseven Thousand has been carried forward to the 2015-16 session.
Professor Bhattacharya has now enthused the children to read books and discuss them but in the absence of a library and reading room this important activity is taking place on the porch outside the guest house as shown below.

 These children are the future of our nation as they hold the key to a more sustainable and equitable world and are like drops that will fill the pitcher.