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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Fight for Subsidies

Capitalism from its inception has survived on subsidies contrary to the much vaunted and popularised myth that it thrives on profits earned from competitive market economics. The biggest subsidy is of course the expenditure by the capitalist state in maintaining the army, police and prisons because it is inconceivable that the exploitation of the masses and the wealth accumulated from it can be safeguarded by the capitalists without the help of these three institutions. More generally the expenditures on the judiciary and bureaucracy also are subsidies that bolster capitalism. Overall these expenditures, along with those on physical and social infrastructure, by the state also serve to push up demand for goods and services and prevent the market from collapsing due to the rapacious and often unprincipled profit seeking by capitalists.

Since subsidies are so important for the profitability of economic activities there is always a fight going on between different sections of society for these subsidies as the resources of the government are limited at all times. Especially so in the case of the governments in the states in India which have limited fiduciary powers as compared to the Central Government. Generally it is the industrial class that garners most of the subsidies and the farmers the least. In fact farming in India, following the global trend has sought to be industrialised and subsidies have been given for this. Unfortunately, unlike in the industrialised countries, in India, a vast majority of the population still lives in rural areas and has farming as its mainstay. The subsidies for industrial farming with external inputs like chemical fertilisers, cheap or free electricity, cheap bank loans, hybrid seeds, pesticides, herbicides and free canal water are mostly hogged by industrial units producing these inputs and to a lesser extent by the bigger farmers with the small and marginal farmers getting very little.
Since the 1990s with neo-liberalism gaining in strength in this country, the subsidies and public investment in agriculture and the flow of cheap credit to it has gone down drastically and this has severely affected the profitability of the sector. Most farmers big and small have been hit by this. While the small and marginal farmers also double up as labourers in agriculture or in industry and construction to somehow make ends meet, the bigger farmers have found their incomes squeezed without many alternatives. Some have switched to high value vegetable cultivation, horticulture and floriculture but in the absence of adequate cold storages, post harvest processing and market linkages, most farmers are not earning as much as they want to and in many cases are making losses. A major problem is the decreasing availability of water both due to failed or inadequate monsoons and the rapidly diminishing ground water store.
This is the context of the farmer agitations that have swept across the country over the past few weeks and especially in Madhya Pradesh. Over the past decade or so, the Madhya Pradesh Government has provided cheap electricity to farmers by providing hefty subsidies and also ignoring the extensive power theft by the latter and this has led to a spurt in Rabi production. The higher production has led to lower prices for their produce in the absence of purchase by the government at remunerative prices. The big farmers have decided to hit back and launched agitations to demand that the government hike its subsidies to them further. Demands include, cheap credit, waiver of loans, procurement at remunerative prices and of course free electricity.
There are two main problems with this. The first, which is insoluble within the present paradigm of agriculture, is the unsustainability of water intensive agriculture which has sucked out most of the water in deep aquifers collected over thousands of years. The second is the precariousness of the Madhya Pradesh Government Finances. The public debt of the Government already stands at Rs 1.8 Lakh crores currently which is a high 25 percent of GDP  and it has now agreed to shell out even more to pacify the farmers to the tune of Rs 30,000 crores in the form of procurement at remunerative prices, cheap credit, compensation for crop loss and even cheaper power. It has also to foot another enhanced subsidy bill in the form of paying salaries to its staff in accordance with the 7th Pay Commission recommendations which will amount to Rs 20,000 crores. This has led to concerns being voiced by industrialists in the state that they will lose out greatly on their share of subsidies!!!
Thus, modern industrial development, and especially agriculture, is facing a double whammy in the form of environmental and financial unsustainability and the ongoing fight for subsidies between various sections of society is queering the pitch for capitalism in India considerably.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Vanishing Skills

Six months of rigorous work later, the Women and Environment Centre of Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti is finally up and ready for operations in Pandutalav village. It has been built with a combination of modern and traditional Bhil Adivasi technologies with the latter prevailing over the former as can be seen below.
The main obstacle to making the building totally traditional was the lack of timber. So a traditional timber house was bought from an Adivasi family but a large part of the timber columns had rotted below the ground. So eventually the walls had to be built of brick, stone and cement and that is how modern construction came in. However, the layout and design is still the same as the original house that was bought and the wooden beams and columns inside the building which take the central roof load have been exquisitely carved with traditional motifs as shown below.
The timber work including the carving has been done by traditional Adivasi carpenters and one of them, Dharasingh, is shown below putting final touches to the timber structure of the verandah.
The roofing is mostly of local tiles called nalia which have been made by local potters and also some Mangalore tiles. They require special skills for placement on the bamboo and timber support structure and once again there are specialists who do this work as shown below.
Finally, the flooring of the building is with a mud and cow dung mix which too requires special skills to apply and Budibai along with her team of women has accomplished this work.
Given the fact that Adivasis live at subsistence levels and use natural resources minimally, they have traditionally developed building technologies that are cheap and local resource based albeit labour intensive. They are also adapted to the climate. The nalia tiles used in the main building roof are arranged is such a way that they provide an air cushion and so in summers the houses remain cool and in winters they remain warm and so there is no need for costly ventilation and heating.
Unfortunately these traditional technologies and the skills required for their application are gradually vanishing as the much more expensive modern technologies are being promoted by the Government through its housing schemes that provide grants to the poor for building their homes. These schemes compulsorily mandate the use of bricks, cement and steel while at the same time not providing enough money for such construction. So Adivasis end up building small houses of cement and steel that are extremely hot and cold in summer and winter respectively and also do not have enough space for living and farming activities. Many of the Adivasis of the area who came to see the building expressed surprise that it had been built in the traditional style considering the fact that Majlis had enough financial resources to build a cement and steel box!! Little do they realise that the six months of hard work to build the centre have been an extremely rewarding experience for Subhadra and I. We realised how very skillful the Adivasis are and how hard working. We worked along with them whenever time permitted and could not help but deprecate the fact that our modern skills fetch us much much more money than the traditional skills do for our Adivasi workers and craftsmen who built the centre and were much more skillful and hard working than us. Incidentally, we paid the statutory minimum wages for unskilled and skilled labour, which are much more than what these people get when working for others in the area.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Looming Disaster!!

Taxation of goods and services is one of the most vexing problems of late capitalism. These taxes lead to both an inflationary push and a distortion of the market mechanism. However, given the fact that laissez faire free market capitalism left to its own devices tends to collapse, there is a need for the capitalist state to step in both to regulate the destructive profit making logic of capitalism and also to boost demand through investments mainly in infrastructure and military spending and in providing public services and social safety nets. All this cannot be done without taxes and so they are there along with a huge bureaucracy involved in garnering these taxes.
Taxes are of two kinds – Direct and Indirect. Direct taxes are those that are levied on the income earned by individuals and corporations while indirect taxes are those that are levied on goods and services produced in the country and imported from abroad. Generally Direct taxes are said to be progressive because their incidence is greater on those with higher incomes. Indirect taxes are paid by all at the same rate when they purchase goods and services from the market, regardless of their income and so are deemed to be regressive as they put proportionately a greater burden on the poor. Also due to their inflationary and market distorting character indirect taxes are less welcome than direct taxes. However, since direct taxes alone cannot garner all the revenue required to run the capitalist state, especially in developing countries like India, where for a variety of reasons the direct tax base is comparatively small, indirect taxes have to be levied.
Over the years since independence, as the production of goods and services expanded, the indirect tax structure became very cumbersome not only with a plethora of different taxes for various goods and services but also an almost similar number of exemptions, surcharges and cesses. Matters have been complicated in India by its federal political structure wherein the states and centre tax the citizens separately and so the indirect tax structure became extremely complicated leading to huge problems in tax administration and large scale tax evasion and avoidance. Indeed the evasion of indirect taxes leads to concealment of income and so adversely affects direct tax collection also. Consequently over the past two decades there have been efforts to simplify the indirect tax structure to make it both more simple and more bouyant. The latest in this tax reform process is the impending implementation of the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be levied on goods and services produced within the country. It is being claimed by the Government that this will significantly ease the problems of tax administration and also smoothen and expand the economy as popularised by the slogan – one country, one tax and one market. Let us critically analyse whether this will indeed be the case.

The cardinal principle of indirect taxation is that it should have ideally just one rate or at the most two, regardless of the nature of the goods and services to be taxed. This is because the moment there are multiple rates, the scope for lobbying and litigation to decide which goods and services fall in which category increases and tax administration becomes complicated and costly. Any benefits that are to be provided to any sections of the citizenry for various reasons should not be through differential indirect taxes and exemptions but through subsidies to the parties concerned. Any restrictions that have to be imposed on the sale of particular goods and services which are harmful, like cigarettes and pan masala, can be done by imposing higher income taxes on the profits of firms producing them rather than by higher separate indirect taxes on their sale which will have the same effect of pushing up the prices of these goods to discourage people from buying them. In this way the lobbying is deflected away from tax imposition towards the provision of subsidies as it should be and tax related litigation, which now clogs the courts of this country, is avoided altogether and there is very little distortion of the market due to taxation. The huge bureaucracy that is presently involved in indirect tax administration with its attendant costs, thus becomes redundant and can be gainfully redeployed to ensure higher direct tax compliance. Moreover, since tax evasion and avoidance become near impossible in a single indirect tax regime it becomes extremely difficult to conceal incomes and so the direct tax base and volume too increases substantially.
However, the problem in India's case is that it has a legacy of a huge number of rates, exemptions, cesses and surcharges and a federal political structure wherein the states and centre both have fiduciary powers to tax the citizens separately. The states, moreover, have much more limited fiduciary powers as compared to the centre and so are always constrained for resources and at present heavily in debt and sorely dependent on central grants. Since the central grants come in small tranches and late, the states are reluctant to give up whatever little fiduciary powers they have, especially the right to tax the sale of their three highest revenue yielding goods – land, petroleum products and liquor. Consequently, the GST as it stands today not only has four slabs of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent for various kinds of goods and services but also a special rate for Gold at 3 per cent and land, petroleum products and liquor have been kept out of its ambit allowing the states to continue to tax them at their will. Some goods have been exempted from indirect taxes altogether. Moreover, there are various cesses and surcharges and so effectively there are more than ten rates and the claim that the new GST regime will be a simple one tax one is an out and out falsehood. It is slightly simpler than what prevails currently but it is not simple in itself!!
The reason that is being advanced for having different rates for different goods and services is that these goods and services are used by different categories of people and so to reduce the burden of taxes on mass consumption items like food which are a major component of the expenditures of poor people these should be either exempt or have low rates. But this is a false logic and in effect leads to complications which result in higher costs for the people resulting from tax evasion and higher tax administration costs. As I said earlier, any benefits that need to be provided to the poor or other sections of society should be done through subsidies and not through market distorting differential indirect taxation.
Then there is the concern of the states of their revenue shrinking due to the loss of their independent fiduciary powers. This issue could have been addressed by making an assessment of the total revenue that is garnered by the centre and the states from taxing different goods and services as this data is there with them. Then through mathematical procedures a single tax rate could have been worked out for all goods and services that would yield the same total revenue as is being garnered currently and a formula worked out for sharing this revenue in the same proportion as it is being shared between the centre and all the states at present by iterating the formula over the tax revenue data over the past decade or so. There is anyway a provision for the compensation of states for any revenue loss under GST from the levels prevailing currently, primarily because of the fear of manufacturing states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Punjab that they will lose revenue since the GST is a consumption tax that will be levied at the point of sale. This compensation provision could take care of any anomalies in the revenue sharing results arising from the formula. Over time as the bouyancy of the taxes increases substantially due to almost hundred percent compliance under the new single tax regime, the sharing formula could be revised through consensus between the centre and the states.
Since there are now still a number of tax rates effectively amounting to more than ten in the new GST regime, there is also going to be in place a very complicated system of tax administration for this which is internet and computer based in a country which has very poor internet connectivity and low computer availability and literacy in most areas including in cities and towns. To make sure people do not evade taxes an input tax credit system is going to be implemented which will work as shown in the graphic below.

In the above graphic we ignore for the time being the tax that the manufacturer has paid on the goods and services procured by him and assume they are a part of his selling price of Rs 100. He adds Rs 5 for GST at 5 per cent and sells the product to the wholesaler for Rs 105 and uploads the invoice for the same to the Goods and Service Tax Network (GSTN), the internet based software that is to keep all the tax data, with which he is registered. Every month the manufacturer pays the total tax that he has collected from his sales in accordance with the invoices he has uploaded on to the GSTN to the tax authorities. The wholesaler on his part sells the product to the retailer at Rs 120 and adds Rs 6 for GST at 5 per cent. Since he has already paid Rs 5 of the tax to the manufacturer he can claim the tax credit from the invoice that has been uploaded onto GSTN by the manufacturer and will pay only the net GST to the tax authorities. The wholesaler too immediately uploads the invoice onto the GSTN. The retailer sells the product for Rs 160 and adds a tax of Rs 8 at 5 per cent when selling to the consumer, who, thus, pays the full tax. The retailer too pays only the net GST to the tax authorities after uploading the invoice of sale to the consumer onto the GSTN.
In theory the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer will all demand that not only they get tax paid invoices from their vendors but that these are also uploaded on to the GSTN by those who sell to them because otherwise they will not be able to claim tax credits and will have to pay the whole GST themselves. However, this will be very difficult to implement on the ground for the following reasons.
1. Presently most of the business in this country is done without paying taxes and issuing tax paid invoices and so to expect that people will all of a sudden begin doing so from July 1st 2017 is a bit of an exaggeration. Primarily because once tax paid invoices are issued these will enhance the turnover and profits of the company and make them liable to paying greater direct taxes.
2. Given the huge number of rates, exemptions and surcharges, businesses the format for invoices and the process of their uploading to GSTN is complicated and so these businesses will have to invest in computers and become computer savvy to be able to issue tax paid invoices and also upload them onto the GSTN. There is also the need for good internet connectivity. The uploading to GSTN has to be done through service providers who have been appointed for the same by the tax authorities. However, at the moment the number of such service providers is woefully low. In the absence of good data connectivity and adequate numbers of well equipped service providers, the uploading of invoices will be a problem. 
3. Given these problems, businesses with annual turnover of Rs 20 lakhs in most states and Rs 10 lakhs in the northeast have been given the choice to not be registered with the GSTN. Businesses with annual turnover of Rs 20 to 75 lakhs will not have to pay taxes in accordance with their sales or upload and record their invoices onto the GSTN but will have to pay a lumpsum tax on their declared turnover. However, these exemptions will complicate matters further. Larger businesses of annual turnover greater than Rs 75 lakhs which have to upload their invoices will have to pay the whole tax on the sale of their products including the tax on inputs not paid by suppliers who are not registered on the GSTN and they will have to also upload the said tax details on GSTN so that their customers can claim the input tax. This means on the one hand that the big businesses have an added burden of preparing invoices for their input purchases from small businesses and uploading them onto the GSTN and on the other hand paying the tax, known as reverse charge, not paid by their vendors who are exempted from doing so. Moreover, since a lot of these small businesses have been evading taxes both indirect and direct, they can merrily continue to do so as they do not have to upload their sale invoices onto the GSTN. All this could easily have been avoided if there had been just one rate of tax for all goods and services and so even small businesses could have been registered on GSTN and made to upload invoices and pay taxes as the procedure would be very simple and could be done from mobile phones through suitable apps designed for the purpose. They would just have to enter the amount of the transaction without giving details of the nature of goods and services sold as all are to be taxed at the same rate.
4. Finally, a lot of over and under invoicing goes on presently to evade taxes and often goods are transported in amounts which do not physically tally with the invoices. To check this malpractice, eway bills have been introduced in the new GST regime. An eway bill corresponding to the invoice generated has to be prepared and uploaded for transport of goods between any two businesses whether physically proximate or not. These eway bills can be checked at any time during the transportation of the goods to verify whether they correspond to the actual goods being transported. Once again the preparation and uploading of these eway bills is going to prove a great challenge and given the fact that these eway bills have specified timelines within which they are valid there is bound to be chaos in the transportation of goods. If there is a single rate of tax and all businesses big and small have to pay this tax and be registered on the GSTN, then the scope for tax evasion is almost nil and there is no need for a complicated eway bill system.

Thus, given the multiple tax rates, exemptions and surcharges, the unpreparedness of the GSTN to handle the huge amount of invoices that are going to be uploaded, the reluctance of people to record their transactions and so increase their recorded incomes and the liability to pay taxes, the exemptions given to small businesses to not be part of the GSTN and the chaos that will rule in the transportation sector due to the eway bills, The GST rollout on July 1st 2017 is bound to be an unmitigated disaster initially and will cause an even greater disruption than demonetisation did!!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Final Challenge

Possibly the greatest saga of anarchist people's struggles against the power of the capitalist state in independent India has now reached a critical stage. The Supreme Court in a judgment delivered on February 7th 2017 had ordered that the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSP) on the River Narmada in Gujarat would be finally closed on July 31st 2017 thus impounding water in the dam upto the full reservoir level. The gates had been installed but could not be closed because there were a few families in Madhya Pradesh who had not been rehabilitated properly and they had filed a complaint in the Supreme Court for redress. This was because in the original judgment of the Supreme Court in 2000, on the petition by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) against the construction of the dam, there was a rider that the construction of the dam could take place only if those affected by it were compensated in accordance with the provisions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award.
This award most importantly stipulated that the project affected farmers whose land was to be submerged were to be provided with a minimum of two hectares of irrigated land and other facilities in a place of their choice. Since this was a contentious issue the construction of the dam proceeded slowly as and when the affected people were rehabilitated to their satisfaction and the NBA did its best to bring to the notice of the Supreme Court from time to time any violation of its orders by the Governments of India, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The final push for the installation of the gates of the dam was given by the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as one of its first decisions after coming to power at the centre in 2014. Even so about 700 families remained in Madhya Pradesh who had not taken any compensation whatsoever because suitable land had not been provided to them and there were another 1500 families who had taken some compensation but had issues with what they had got. The Supreme Court finally disposed of the case by ordering that the 700 families who had not got any compensation whatsoever would be given Rs 60 Lakhs while those who had taken some compensation would be given Rs 15 lakhs less what they had already received. All these payments would have to be made by July 31st 2017 and the gates closed after that.
While this was a fairly good bonanza for those who had not taken any compensation or land, thousands of landless families of agricultural labourers or those engaged in other non-farm occupations were left high and dry. The Gujarat Government consequently welcomed the order as it said that the total compensation burden would be only about Rs 600 crores or so and the benefits would be much more. That is even though the overall benefit to cost analysis of the dam, as it stands today, is negative but a lot of benefits are not accruing because the gates cannot be closed and that is a sore point with the Gujarat Government which has already spent many thousands of crores on the project.
The NBA, which had used the legal channel to bolster its mass struggle since 1995, and had quite doggedly stalemated the dam, brought up the issue of the lack of fair compensation for the 18000 or so families who are yet to be rehabilitated but who are not farmers. The NBA has been mobilising people in the valley and outside across India and the world ever since the recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue of lack of justice for the vast number of non-farmer families. Another rally for the valley, possibly the last one of many such rallies held earlier throughout the over three decades of struggle, will begin from tomorrow June 5th 2017, which incidentally is world environment day, to mobilise opinion against the threats being issued by the Madhya Pradesh Government to the people in the valley to vacate their lands and habitations before July 31st 2017 and the possibility of huge police force being deployed to carry out these threats.
That the struggle has sustained for such a long time has been due to the tireless and brave efforts of a number of people under the leadership of Medha Patkar. One such stalwart who has been with the NBA almost from its inception is Devram Kanera in the picture below.
Devrambhai is now in his sixties and suffering from many ailments but that has not in any way reduced his vigour in fighting the dam. He has given up everything and lived for the struggle. He is an affected farmer who is going to lose his land and long back he gave up farming to become a full time activist living a life of struggle and hardships. He still tries to break through police barriers during protests much more vigorously than activists many years younger to him. One by one many of his comrades have accepted compensation and given up the struggle but not Devrambhai.
The long struggle over three decades began initially as a demand for proper rehabilitation in accordance with the NWDT award but it soon became clear to the NBA that the SSP was both financially and environmentally unsustainable and had been foisted on the people on the basis of a faulty cost benefit analysis that inflated benefits and underestimated costs. Thus, the struggle soon became one to stop the dam altogether. Due to the petition in the Supreme Court in 1995, the work on the dam was indeed stayed for five years before the Supreme Court allowed its construction again on the condition that proper rehabilitation of the project affected people was done. As a result over the years most of the people affected by the project who were farmers were rehabilitated with alternative land and other facilities or were given monetary compensation so that the rehabilitation process for this dam, even if still deficient, is without doubt the best for a large dam in this country. In the process of struggle, the NBA was able to mobilise people from outside the valley in India and abroad and raise awareness about sustainable people centred development globally to become an iconic mass environmental movement of global proportions even if still being rooted in the Narmada valley.
However, given the power of the state, the situation has now become very critical. The Supreme Court has washed its hands off the case and is not likely to entertain any further petitions. If there are some people who have not been paid the compensation ordered by it then at the most the court will ensure that they do get the compensation but it will not stop the closing of the gates of the dam and so full submergence will in all probability take place soon. So the landless labourers and people of other non-farm occupations will have no option but to move out without fair compensation.  Thus, a mass struggle that has achieved much for the people in the Narmada valley and for the country as a whole by questioning destructive modern development and unsustainable water resource management, is now faced with a final challenge.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Price Demonetisation?!!

The least that one would have expected from the Government is that it publish a detailed report on the amount of money in the form of demonetised notes that has been deposited and the distribution of the money according to the size of the deposit, deposited above the Rs 2.5 lakh limit by savings bank account holders and above the Rs 12 lakh limit by current account holders. One would then be able to make an assessment of the economic efficacy of the demonetisation exercise in unearthing black money. After all the Reserve Bank of India spends Rs 20,000 crores every year in replacing old notes with new but it had to do this in just three months time due to demonetisation. So roughly Rs 15000 crores more had to be spent in one quarter than is normal and this can be taken to be the administrative cost of demonetisation and subsequent remonetisation. So far, according to the Income Tax Department, it has been able to unearth undisclosed income of Rs 9334 crores only. This too has come through searches and seizures which are a part of its normal work and not automatically due to demonetisation.

The Income Tax Department has for quite some time before demonetisation asked banks and financial institutions to report high value cash deposits above Rs 50,000 which can only be made against Permanent Account Numbers (PAN) and cumulative annual cash withdrawals of over Rs 50 Lakhs from current accounts. This is to keep track of the black money which is continually circulating in and out of the banks. That is, there are privately held stashes of black money with people but parts of it continually go into banks and cash from banks come into these stashes as part of economic activities as it is inefficient to hold the black money in a dead storage. Similarly the Income Tax Department has asked for all high value purchases, especially of property, cars etc and foreign trips to be reported. People have found ways to get around this, primarily by registering multiple PANs and using shell companies to layer their financial transactions. However, with powerful data analysis tools it is possible to track all these also. What is required for this is human power to track all these potentially black money generating transactions. Indeed, demonetisation by itself did not yield anything and it is only through tracking of the deposits made above the limits, that unaccounted income is now being unearthed but that too in a trickle compared to the huge estimates of black income of Rs 60 lakh crores, assuming conservatively that the black economy is 50 percent of the GDP. Even compared to the amount of black money in circulation of about Rs 7.5 lakh crore at the onset of demonetisation, the amount of unearned income revealed is a pittance. Now duplicate PANs and shell companies are being weeded out but this could have been done earlier also instead of launching the demonetisation exercise and wasting money on it and inconveniencing the public with the huge disruptions caused by it.
Under the Operation Clean Money exercise following on demonetisation, about 18 lakh accounts were identified with excessive deposits of demonetised notes above the permissible limits though the Government in its wisdom has revealed neither the total amount of money so deposited nor the distribution by amounts deposited. Since the Income Tax Department does not have adequate personnel to track all these deposits, it followed the electronic route to get responses from these account holders explaining their deposits and about 9 lakh have filed responses. After further scrutiny the Income Tax department in the second phase has now zeroed in on just 60,000 of these account holders as being high risk persons who will find it difficult to account for their deposits. If the data being reported by banks and financial institutions for quite some time now regarding high value cash deposits and withdrawals had been diligently tracked, all these suspect account holders and many more could have been unearthed.
The conclusion is that demonetisation was an unnecessary and costly exercise which by itself has yielded very little and whatever little it has yielded is through diligent tracking which could have been done earlier also and which has now become the norm but as before is hampered by the lack of adequate staff and other resources. Especially since demonetisation has had little impact on the generation of black money which is going on apace and had started immediately with the new notes that were released to replace the demonetised ones.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fifty Years of the Green Revolution

There is much celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Green Revolution in Indian Agriculture, which is said to have saved India from food insecurity and hunger. However, a review of the whole process leading to the sordid reality that prevails today will indicate that exactly the opposite is the case - the Green Revolution has devastated Indian Agriculture in the long term while providing bumper harvests for a few decades initially.
The vast majority of farmers in India cultivate small plots of land on terrain that is unsuitable for flood irrigation and they have traditionally been driven by the desire to produce for subsistence rather than for profit. They have over thousands of years developed a system of agriculture that makes the most of the locally available resources in terms of seeds, organic fertilisers, soil moisture and natural pest management. This led Sir Albert Howard, the pioneer of modern organic farming, who did most of his work in Indore, to remark some seventy five years ago, “What is happening today in the small fields of India ... took place many centuries ago. The agricultural practices of the orient have passed the supreme test, they are as permanent as those of the primeval forest, of the prairie, or of the ocean”. The clever use of rotation of a bewildering variety of crops ensured that despite flood and drought some part of the harvest was always saved. Famines occurred not because of the failure of agriculture but because of socio-economic factors such as excessive levies by kings and colonial rulers or due to usury and hoarding by moneylenders. Indeed the levying of excessive taxes and usury have been a severe constraining factor on the development of agriculture all over the world from ancient times and in India this was intensified greatly because the moneylender doubled up as the tax-collector also, resulting in one Bhili proverb that goes - " I love the Sahukar (moneylender) so much that I have given him a fat belly"!!
Thus, what was necessary after independence in India was to remove the obstacles in the path of development of this traditional agriculture and strengthen it with further research, extensive land reforms, cheap institutionalised credit and market support. Studies have shown that the indigenous agricultural practices of India, which have been honed by farmers over the centuries, are as productive as the high yielding hybrid seeds and artificial input based green revolution agriculture. But this was not to be because the Americans had in the meanwhile since the nineteen thirties devised a new model of industrial agriculture in which hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, big dam irrigation and machines were used to ramp up agricultural production with huge state subsidies which eventually went to the multinational corporations (MNC) which not only supplied these inputs but also owned most of the farms and traded in the outputs. So farm gate prices remained low leaving the actual small farmers who had always struggled against usury, like elsewhere in the world, no alternative but to gradually sell out and become unemployed leading to tremendous destitution. Moreover, the post World War II urgency to sell the excess production of fertilisers, pesticides, tractors and trucks arising from the reorientation of production in industrial manufacturing plants from explosives and armoured vehicles, necessitated the replication of the American agricultural system worldwide.
Initially, immediately after the second world war, the USA was faced with the problem of reorienting the production of its massive war oriented industry and agriculture. This was done on the one hand by making civilian cars, trucks, planes and cargo ships instead of armoured vehicles and on the other by transforming the explosive manufacturing units into fertiliser and pesticide producing units. Obviously so many cars, planes and ships and so much fertiliser and pesticide could not be consumed by the Americans alone and so the high flying consumerist lifestyle of cars and private jets and heavy eating of processed meat and cereals was spread all over the world and a market created for these products. Cattle can eat much more cereals than human beings and so the people of the developed world were encouraged to eat the former and the people of the poorer countries were fed the excess cereals resulting from increased use of fertilisers and pesticides along with the cattle.  A significant development was the worldwide adoption of soybean at the behest of the Americans who pushed its exports and cultivation through cheap aid to developing countries so as to provide cheap feed for beef production and also cheap edible oil for processing this food into ready to eat marketable forms. Thus an artificially highly productive and environmentally unsustainable agricultural system was established worldwide backed by massive state subsidies. A golden era of capitalist development, booming on the production and sale of the "world car" and the "world steer" by MNCs, ensued in the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties. 
So at the behest of the research foundations set up by American multinational corporations and with financial support provided by the World Bank and the money from the exports of American wheat to India, which were recycled for this purpose, the American agricultural pattern was promoted with the introduction of foreign hybrid varieties of wheat and rice as green revolution agriculture in the late nineteen sixties in a few irrigated pockets in the country, leaving the majority of other areas literally high and dry. The Americans forced the Indian government to forcibly sideline Indian agricultural scientists who had developed indigenous strains and opposed this introduction of foreign hybrids and instead the reins of Indian agriculture were handed over to their stooge M S Swaminathan who pushed chemical agriculture into India with gusto. This form of agriculture has now become problematical throughout the world because of reasons to be discussed a little later and can be continued only through the provision of massive state subsidies to the MNCs that produce its inputs and trade in its outputs. A similar state of affairs prevails in Europe. In this way the comparative advantage that the third world countries have in the agricultural sector is not only neutralised but the excess production thus achieved in the developed countries is dumped in the third world countries devastating their agriculture. In fact the current Doha round of trade negotiations of the WTO has brought out as never before the hollowness and hypocrisy of the WTO’s claims of promoting “free trade” and it is deadlocked at the moment because the developed countries are refusing to reduce subsidies given to their chemical agriculture.
In India too the subsidies to agriculture far exceed the budget expenditure on it. When the additional subsidies being given in the form of free or cheap electricity and free water from dams and for the procurement of the produce of the farmers at artificially supported high prices is also taken into account, the long-term economic un-sustainability of this agriculture is inevitable. Unlike in the USA, a greater proportion of the subsidies in India are going to the actual farmers big and small. The pursuit of economic liberalisation from the nineteen nineties and financial constraints, forced the Indian Government to drastically reduce the quantum of subsidies in agriculture, investment in irrigation, price support and budgetary support for cheap institutional credit to the farmers. This withdrawal of support came precisely at the time when green revolution agriculture was beginning to fail. The main problem with artificial input agriculture is that there is a natural limit to the artificial inputs that the soil can take and so the amount of fertilisers, pesticides and water to be applied goes on increasing while the yields go on falling and sometimes the crop fails altogether. Consequently the economic costs go on increasing while the realisation of the value of agricultural products in the market does not keep pace. Inevitably this leads to farmers falling into the clutches of sahukars and spiralling debt. The crisis has now assumed serious proportions with thousands upon thousands of farmers having committed suicides, sold their lands, houses and even their kidneys. Things have come to such a sorry pass that forty percent of the respondent farmers expressed the desire to give up farming and take up other professions in a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation of the Government of India in 2003.
The tremendous economic and political power of MNCs like Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Dow and Bayer, which are directly or indirectly in control of the input industries, the agricultural processing industry and marketing entities that make up the agriculture cum food chain has meant that instead of turning to more sustainable agricultural practices the crisis in modern agriculture is being sought to be solved through the application of even higher and far more costly bio-technology. This involves further state subsidies given the higher levels of funding required for the expensive research and application techniques involved and also uncharted environmental dangers resulting from gene tampering. The American MNCs' maniacal obsession with promoting more and more beef eating worldwide as the panacea for the ills of the inevitable market slumps that hound capitalism has now manifested itself in the development of genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormones to push up beef production which has driven the cows also mad! The continuing loss of natural bio-diversity, the concentration of genes of landraces in the hands of MNCs and patenting of life forms by them have together created a serious danger of the future of the planet being permanently mortgaged to their greed for profits.
While the Americans have become obese from this over consumption of beef and are suffering from a number of physical and mental disorders as a result, the Bhil adivasis in Madhya Pradesh have become proportionately under nourished so as to be able to provide for this overeating of the former. With the reduction in the acreage under coarser cereals and pulses which have been replaced by soybean and the greater monetisation of the rural economy, the marginal adivasi farmers have had to buy their food from the market instead of getting it cheaply from their farms and this has reduced their nutritional levels well below healthy standards. Thus, they have become sufferers of the problem of chronic hunger that today engulfs the poor in much of the developing world and even in the developed countries because the shrinking of livelihood opportunities has meant that they are not able to earn enough to buy wholesome and adequate food. So the supply of cheap food to all, which is a basic requirement of running a capitalist economy is in jeopardy because nature has been ravaged beyond repair by the artificial input based agriculture for profit that has been intensively practised since the Second World War.
The biggest problem arising from the adoption of green revolution agriculture, however, has been that of the increasing scarcity of water. Most of the water needed for irrigation in India is being provided by groundwater extraction and this has led to a situation of "water mining" wherein water collected in the deep confined aquifers over hundreds of thousands of years were used up in the space of a decade and large parts of the country have been facing a ground water drought from the nineteen nineties onwards. Since then there has been less and less ground water available for not only irrigation but also for drinking and the cost of its extraction is continually going up. Big dams, however, are the environmentally and socially most harmful component of the green revolution package and have come in for serious criticism in recent years and dam construction has been totally halted in the developed countries with some dams even having been broken in the USA to limit environmental damage. The World Bank, which has been a major funder of dams worldwide, was forced by public criticism arising from the fiasco of its funding of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to constitute a World Commission on Dams to review the performance of big dams, which has submitted a comprehensive report. The report brings out the fact that the benefits in terms of irrigation and power gained from big dam construction have been at an unacceptable and unnecessary higher cost in terms of environmental destruction and human displacement. There has been lack of equity in both the distribution of benefits and costs with the poor having lost out on both counts. Considering the increasing importance of conservation and harvesting of water resources the WCD has recommended that in future people’s participation in these processes should be made mandatory so that more effective and less harmful solutions to the problems in this sphere can be worked out.
Worldwide there is a burgeoning movement in ecological farming combined with local area watershed development that has come up as a reaction to the deleterious effects of modern agriculture. This movement is theoretically underpinned by the green ideology of development in harmony with nature and in accordance with its own leisurely pace. Many localised efforts have thrown up viable solutions to the intransigent problems created by unsustainable agricultural production and inequity in the distribution of benefits and costs of water resource development. In the western Madhya Pradesh region too there have been successful localised experiments in this sphere and a blueprint for the development of sustainable dry-land agriculture backed up by local area watershed development involving the poor in project formulation and implementation has been drawn up. Indeed the same M S Swaminathan who played the Trojan Horse role for American MNCs in initiating the Green Revolution is now one of the foremost votaries of sustainable agriculture and he says in an article in a business magazine that he had told the Indian Science Congress held in Varanasi in 1968 that, "Intensive cultivation of land without conservation of soil fertility and soil structure would lead to the springing up of deserts. Irrigation without arrangements for drainage would result in soils getting alkaline or saline. Indiscriminate use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides could cause adverse changes in biological balance and lead to an increase in cancer and other diseases through toxic residues present in grains or other edible parts. Unscientific tapping of underground water would lead to rapid exhaustion of this capital resource left to us through ages of natural farming. The rapid replacement of numerous locally adapted varieties with one or two high yielding strains in large contiguous areas would result in the spread of serious diseases capable of wiping out entire crops ...... Therefore, the initiation of exploitative agriculture without a proper understanding of the various consequences of every one of the changes introduced into traditional agriculture and without first building up a proper and scientific training base to sustain it, may only lead us into an era of agricultural disaster in the long run, rather than to an era of agricultural prosperity". 
That M S Swaminathan could foresee the dangers of what he was initiating so clearly and comprehensively and yet pursue this course shows how diabolical a person he is!!  A Faustus who sold his soul to the American devils and devastated Indian agriculture. The Green revolution that went Red with the blood of farmers. Even now he and the government pay only lip service to sustainable agriculture while still subsidising heavily green revolution agriculture. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Summer of Love

This is the golden jubilee year of the "Summer of Love" that took place in San Francisco in 1967 and changed American and World culture irrevocably, even though the summer itself fizzled out within two months. There had been simmering a rebellion against the conformism of mainstream US materialist and commercial culture among the youth which had begun with the beat generation in the late 1950s. As Timothy Leary famously said "turn on, tune in and drop out". And thousands of young men and women indeed did that, chucking their studies and work along with their formal dress to wear bizarre costumes, keep long hair and smoke drugs with LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) being the main hallucinogen and they zeroed in on San Francisco. The summer of love was also made possible by the sexual revolution started by feminists who successfully opposed the ban on abortion and popularised the use of pills to prevent pregnancy and so freed women from the fear of getting pregnant and having to bear children endlessly. Women thus rebelled against their perception as mothers and home makers and decided to enjoy their sexuality as much as men did theirs.
The Haight Ashbury neighbourhood in San Francisco was the nerve centre of this anarchist and Dyonisian rebellion. An anarchist group called Diggers provided free food and medicines with funds sourced from willing contributors. The mainstream media publicised the initial gathering and this led to youth from all over America converging in thousands in the neighbourhood which extended to a few blocks. Some fantastically talented musicians who lived nearby like Jerry Garcia of Greatful Dead, Janis Joplin and the rock group Jefferson Airplane participated full tilt and a new genre called acid rock inspired by music played after taking LSD emerged. The Beatles too, far away in London, composed a number "Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds" to commemorate the summer of love.
However, after about two months the utopian frenzy began to die down as those contributing funds began to tighten their purse strings leading to the Diggers winding up their free food and medicines programme and the huge influx of people created sanitation problems leading to the outbreak of diseases and within two months the people had dispersed.
While, in terms of anarchist rebellion against capitalist and statist domination, the summer of love did not achieve much as the student rebellions that followed opposing the Vietnam war too were eclipsed with time, it did initiate an era of women's sexual liberation from the tyranny of motherhood and patriarchy that has continually gained in strength thereafter.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Work Well Begun

The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti or Society for Respect for Women and Earth and known by its acronym Majlis which in turn means a collective, was formed by Dalit and Adivasi women of western Madhya Pradesh in 2016 to advance the two most neglected causes of women's empowerment and conservation of the environment. The organisation hit the ground running and has implemented a few important projects in accordance with its charter and here is a brief report of the first year of activities.
Gynaecological Health Programme for Urban Poor Women in Indore
The programme consists of a preliminary baseline survey to assess the felt needs of the women regarding their reproductive and gynaecological health and the various barriers they face to achieving a healthy status. While this survey is conducted, discussions are also held about these barriers to health and the offer is made from Majlis of holding a health camp which is to include clinical checkups by gynaecologists, laboratory tests and provision of medicine, all done free of cost to the women. After this a first health camp is held and then a follow up one fifteen days later. This whole process takes a month in one slum.
Even though all girls and women who are menstruating and those who have had menopause are provided diagnosis and treatment, for the purposes of research, only married women who are still in the menstrual age group are considered. The preliminary results of the intervention for the first 150 women to benefit from the programme are described here in brief. They show the devastating status of women's health in the slums in Indore and the cost effective way in which a well designed programme can bring about substantial improvement in the situation.

The initial five tables below present a comparison between the National Family Health Survey IV 2015-16 (International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, 2016) data for urban areas of Madhya Pradesh and that from the Majlis sample to situate the latter in the larger context of the state. Table 1 below provides a comparison of the demographic indicators that are common to both the surveys .
Table 1: Demographic Indicators (% of respondents)
Sl. No.
Sex Ratio
Women 15-49 years who are literate
Women with 10+ years of schooling
Women 20-24 married before 18 years
While the sex ratio is better in the Majlis sample than in the NFHS IV sample, the literacy and education levels are much poorer for the Majlis sample and the proportion of women in the 20-24 year age group who have been married before reaching the legal age of 18 years is more than double and this affects the reproductive health of women adversely. Thus, overall the Majlis sample has a worse demographic profile than the NFHS IV.
The comparison between the Drinking water, sanitation and Cooking Fuel situation is given in Table 2 below.
Table 2: Drinking water, Sanitation and Cookiing Fuel Indicators (% of respondents)
Sl. No.
Good Drinking Water Source (Piped Treated Water Supply)
Good Sanitation (Toilets)
Clean Cooking Fuel (LPG or Electric)
The NFHS IV sample has a higher proportion of households with a Good Drinking water source and clean fuel while the proportion of households with good sanitation is almost the same for both samples and so in the case of these indicators also the Majlis sample overall has a worse situation than the NFHS IV sample. Especially noteworthy is the very poor situation in the slums in Indore with regard to water supply which is a major cause of ill health.
The comparison of the indicators related to pregnancy and childbirth are given in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Pregnancy and Childbirth Indicators (% of respondents) 
Sl. No.
Contraceptive use among 15-49 years
Mothers with full Antenatal Care
Institutional births
Total Fertility Rate (children per woman)
Mothers who received Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) cash
Average Out of Pocket expense for delivery (Rs)
The Majlis sample has much poorer values for all the indicators with the economic values of out of pocket delivery expense and cash support under JSY  being particularly disadvantageous.
The comparison of the reproductive health indicators is given in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Reproductive Health Indicators (% of respondents) 
Sl. No.
 Women who are anaemic
Women of  15-49 years who have undergone examination of cervix
Anaemia due to factors like overwork and malnutrition are the bane of women in India and there is an epidemic of Vitamin B12 deficiency which directly contributes to anaemia. The Majlis sample has an alarming proportion of 76.4 % women who are anaemic much more than the NFHS IV sample. While many women suffer from gynaecological problems and especially erosion of the cervix, very few ever get themselves checked up by gynaecologists. The Majlis sample had only 4.1 % women who had had their cervix examined and these were all those who had had hysterectomies.
The indicators of women's empowerment are given in Table 5 below.
Table 5: Women's Empowerment Indicators (% of respondents) 
Sl. No.
Married women who have experienced spousal violence
Women who own house
Women with Bank A/c
Women who use Sanitary Napkins
While with regard to owning of house and having bank accounts the Majlis sample is more or less on par with the NFHS IV sample, the situation with regard to suffering spousal violence and the use of sanitary napkins is much worse for the Majlis sample.
Thus, overall the women who have been chosen for the gynaecological health programme by Majlis are in a very disadvantageous situation as compared to the NFHS IV survey results, which themselves paint a very sorry picture of the status of women's health in urban areas of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore the implementation of the current programme by Majlis is eminently justified.
During the preliminary survey the women were asked whether they were suffering from any of twenty specific women's health problems that most commonly afflict women.  92.6 per cent of the women reported reproductive health problems with an average of three different complaints per woman, with some having as many as ten complaints. 96.3 percent of the women said that this was the first time they were revealing their gynaecological problems to anyone as they did not feel that they could speak about them to anyone.
Table 6 below gives the summary of the results with the proportion of women suffering from the most prevalent complaints as reported by the women themselves.
Table 6: Proportion of Women Complaining of Various Health Problems
Health Problem
Waist Pain
Vaginal Problems (Discharges, itching, swelling etc)
Urinary  Tract Problems
Menstrual Problems
Proportion of Women with complaint (%)
Proportion of women who complained of dizziness is very high at 64.9 percent which correlates well with the proportion of women who were tested and found to be anaemic which is 76.4 percent. A very high proportion of 71.6 percent of women complained of waist pains which generally arise from a combination of anaemia, overwork and problems of the reproductive tract. The proportion of women reporting vaginal problems which mostly arise from lack of menstrual hygiene was 44.7 percent which correlates well with the proportion of women who use cloth washed and dried in the shade during periods which is 59.5 percent. A very high proportion of 49.9 percent of the women reported having menstrual problems which too arise mostly from a combination of anaemia, overwork and lack of menstrual hygiene.
The summarised results of the clinical examination and laboratory tests are given in Table 7 below.
Table 7: Proportion of Women Diagnosed with Major Gynaecological Problems
 Gynaecological Problems
Cervical Problems (erosion, cysts, hypertrophy etc)
Vaginal Problems (discharges, itching, eruptions etc)
Urinary Tract Problems
Menstrual Problems
 Proportion of Women Affected (%)
A very high proportion of 67.6 percent of the women suffered from cervical problems like erosions and cysts and as much as 30 percent had serious problems requiring cauterisation and repeated medication. This is something that the women did not know about at all as they had never had their cervix examined by a gynaecologist. Many of these women also had vaginal problems and on the whole 49.1 percent of women were suffering from these. The proportion of women with urinary tract and menstrual problems was less than what they had reported in the survey because at the time of clinical examination they were not suffering from these problems which they do from time to time only.
Clinical diagnosis and laboratory testing of blood and urine samples are quite costly if done individually but since these were done in bulk, the costs came down by as much as 60 percent. Similarly medication for cervical and vaginal problems is quite costly if branded medicines are used. However, generic medicines were used in the camps and sourced at wholesale rates through bulk purchase and so the medicine costs were only about 15 percent of the retail value of branded drugs. All the women were cured of their problems over the month's time in which they were diagnosed and treated. Some required hospital procedures such as cauterisation. There was one woman who had stitches in her vagina which had not been removed after delivery a few years ago. She was repeatedly complaining of pain in her vagina but had never visited a gynaecologist afterwards. Some women had to be given intravenous iron drips as they were highly anaemic.
Clearly, the women had poor gynaecological health mainly due to inability to articulate their problems and get access to good reproductive and sexual health services and prevalence of malnutrition and overwork, which are all due to a combination of poverty and patriarchal oppression.
We have already seen that there is a high level of gender based violence. The survey also revealed that other indicators of women's disempowered status were equally bad -
1.     The gender division of labour is highly skewed for this sample with 81.8 percent of women doing all domestic work.
2.     The proportion of women who said that their men decided when to have sex and they had no say in the matter was very high at 90.4 percent. 
3.     The proportion of women who had some knowledge of governnment schemes favouring women was only 31.8 percent.
4.     The proportion of women with knowledge of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was only 33.8 percent.
Meetings were held with the men also as without their cooperation, the women would fall back into ill health. In many cases the bacteria, fungi and viruses that cause vaginal infections in women are there in the penises of men also but do not affect them. Thus, it is necessary for the men also to take the medicines so that both are disinfected. These meetings with the men revealed that they too were unaware of the complexities of the reproductive tract problems of the women. In some cases the men were themselves suffering from infections of the penis but were too shy to go to a doctor for treatment. Thus, these meetings served the purpose of raising the awareness levels of the men.
The total cost of the month long intervention in one slum including the preliminary survey, the clinical diagnosis, laboratory tests, medication and documentation and analysis is Rs 50,000 catering to about 60 women. Thus, for an average cost of about Rs 800 per woman, complete diagnosis, testing and curative treatment is provided which would have cost the women at least Rs 3000 if they had tried to do it individually. Moreover, in most cases, the women do not have access to gynaecologists for their own problems even if they have the money due to lack of awareness. This programme of Majlis is consequently not only very essential but also a high impact one. The programme is financed by individual donors through crowd funding on the internet and thus provides for flexibility and innovation in its implementation.
The question naturally arises as to why the Government, which can get the clinical diagnosis, laboratory tests and the medicine at even cheaper rates than an NGO like Majlis, isn't providing this important service to the women. The survey revealed that let alone provide these gynaecological services, it is not even providing properly the safe motherhood services which are such an integral part of its family welfare agenda. Gynaecological health problems lead to both economic loss through inability to work and mental stress due to illness. An adverse gender division of labour, lack of sexual rights and domestic violence further queer the pitch for most women. Under the circumstances a more effective Government programme of reproductive health and women's empowerment would reap huge benefits in terms of economic and social progress for the society.
  Solar Electricity in Kakrana and Indore
This month of October 2016 was an extremely satisfying one a decentralised solar electricity system was installed in the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala school in Kakrana and another along with a solar hot water system in the office in Indore.
Ever since Germany began investing in solar energy in a big way about a decade ago the efficiency and longevity of solar photovoltaic panels has increased greatly with a corresponding decrease in their cost. Moreover, the charge controller device too has evolved. Earlier charge controllers would just direct the solar direct current to the storage batteries and then an inverter would convert the direct current from the batteries into alternating current to be delivered to the load leading to a 20 per cent loss of power in the storage process. However, now there are prioritiser devices which during the day send the direct current from the panels directly to the inverter and through it to the load and only store the excess charge in the batteries for the night. Thus, there is an increase in efficiency due to these prioritisers also as even during the day solar power can be used to reduce grid power consumption without the use of batteries. 1000 watts of electricity from the panels can typically produce 5 kilowatthours (units) of electricity per day.  The cost of installation for this inclusive of panels, batteries, power controlling units, electricals and set up is about Rs 100,000. Currently the going rate for retail low tension electricity supply is Rs 7 per unit inclusive of taxes and duties. Thus assuming that the inflation rate of the cost of grid power is equal to the commercial interest rate on the investment and so cancel each other out and that there is a replacement cost of batteries every five years for about Rs 35,000, it will take roughly ten years to recover the initial cost of installation of the solar system and the battery replacement. Thereafter, for the next fifteen years or so, assuming the life of the solar panels to be twentyfive years, the cost will be only that of replacing the batteries every five years.
The economics of solar power are therefore not very encouraging even now and it requires huge subsidisation to popularise it and this is what Germany has done in a big way, given the benefits in terms of climate change mitigation. In India there is talk of subsidies but it is very difficult to actually get them. The subsidies are not given to the consumer directly but to the suppliers and given the culture of corruption in this country this leads to siphoning off of the subsidy and the supply of substandard solar systems to the retail consumer. There is not much support from the government to grow the market for decentralised solar systems either and so it is difficult to find reliable suppliers. The big corporate players in solar energy are not really interested in customising systems to the needs of small users. Especially ones like the Rani Kajal School which have special needs due to their location and the abysmal quality of grid power. After several fruitless interactions with the big corporate players, we finally ferreted out a small supplier in Indore, Dynamique Electronics, being run by a young electronics engineer named Ankit Verma. He has just started out about an year ago and is very hands on and innovative. Unlike the large corporate players who only want to sell their standard systems, Ankit was open to customising for our special needs. So together we designed a custom system and ordered its components from different suppliers so as to get the best quality and efficiency suited to our needs.
As with most other technical projects over the past year or so in the Rani Kajal Jeevanshala, like buying a second hand SUV, constructing a water supply and sanitation system and setting up the internet, the solar power installation too was beset with problems which required out of the box thinking for their solution and provided a good learning experience for all concerned. The critical thing is to connect the panels properly to the batteries and the power controlling unit. Initially Ankit had not come down to do the installation as we decided to do it ourselves so that the staff and children could understand the whole set up as shown below.
However, even though everything was connected properly and electricity was being generated by the panels and sent to the power controlling unit, it was not recognising this power. The problem turned out to be the batteries. Such is the low offtake of decentralised solar systems that solar batteries are difficult to find. Solar batteries are different from the standard inverter batteries because they have to accommodate the frequent charging and discharging that takes place in a solar power system. The batteries that we got from one of the standard companies were low on water and charge. So they needed to be charged properly and so the system did not work initially. So Ankit had to come down to Kakrana and then this was diagnosed and the batteries charged and the system is now working. This just shows how difficult it is to get decentralised solar energy going in the current context.
In the office in Indore there already was an inverter backup. So 500 watts of solar panels were installed and a prioritiser added to this system to generate 2 units of solar electricity per day. However, to utilise this properly some load management is required. The heavy loads like the refrigerator and water pump can be run only during the day when there is good solar power as otherwise they drain the battery very fast. So timers have been installed to allow the running of these loads only during the day when there is solar power supply. A solar water heating system has also been installed in Indore. The technology for this too has improved considerably and it provides water at 70 degrees centigrade in just three hours and then stores it in an insulated tank for use at anytime. In this way this Diwali is going to be a climate conscious one for us in Kakrana and Indore!!
Sustainable Agriculture in Pandutalav
The farm of the organisation in Pandutalav village in Dewas district has a limited supply of water from a borewell. So the organisation has customised the Rabi sowing to suit this lesser water availability. Not only have the seeds of wheat, linseed, masoor and gram been sown at one feet distance from each other, watering is also being done through a small pipe only at the roots of the plants in limited quantities. This has resulted in more tillering in the case of wheat and more robust growth in the case of the other crops. Since the plants are at a distance from each other, there is space for a bicycle hoe to be driven between them for turning the soil and killing the weeds as shown in the picture below. In the background are perennial redgram plants around the borewell which are also minimally watered so as to ensure that they produce redgram throughout the year for use as vegetables.

This was followed by weeding around the plants and then a special organic fertiliser called Jeevamrit Ghol was applied. This fertiliser is prepared by fermenting a combination of cow dung, cow urine, gram flour and jaggery and then diluting it and applying it to the roots of the plants.
These processes require more labour but they produce more wholesome food with a lesser amount of water. Unfortunately there is no support from the Government for this kind of agriculture and so farmers in general are not prepared to adopt it. The organisation is implementing this as a pilot to promote sustainable agriculture and tackle the serious problems of water scarcity, malnourishment, illness due to pesticide and chemical fertiliser infested crops, soil, water and air and the looming crisis of climate change. The schematic diagram for this programme of climate change mitigation to be implemented in Pandutalav is given below.

 Women's Empowerment Centre in Pandutalav
A women's empowerment centre has been set up in Pandulatav village where trainings are to be conducted for women in various aspects of gender theory and action. This centre will also function as a hostel for girl students studying in the Government High School in Pandulatav and provide them with extra coaching to help them with their studies. Girls from distant villages often drop out after their middle school because of the great distance to the nearest high school. To help girls who are good at academics to continue studying in high school despite their villages being far away from a high school this facility will be provided. The centre is a mix of the traditional Bhil Adivasi architecture with some modern elements and has been built by local masons and carpenters.

The roof tiles have been made by a local potter. These days no one opts for these tiles as they prefer corrugated asbestos or iron sheets or machine made tiles. The potter was also reluctant to make the tiles and had to be paid a premium to make them. The wood craftsman sculpted the pillars out of wood for the interior shown below.

 Future Plans
The aim is to develop replicable models in all the spheres of action of the organisation. The model for reproductive health rights and health has been fairly well tested and honed and will now be tested in rural areas also around the centre at Pandutalav. The climate change mitigation and sustainable agriculture work has just been started and will take some time to develop into a replicable model including a viable renewable energy set up. The work on girl's education has not yet begun and will ensue from the next academic session in June 2017. With the work well begun there is every possibility of the organisation doing robust work in its chosen fields of gender rights and ecological sustainability. The final picture below depicts Aladibai, a board member of Majlis and Subhadra, the chairperson, testing out a new hand made flour grinding stone housed in its hand made wooden base.