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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Feminist Conclave

The other day the farmer who takes care of Subhadra's plot of farm land in her absence called to say that the corn on her farm had become ripe enough to be roasted and eaten. An elaborate ritual is held by the Adivasis when the corn reaches this stage before they eat it. Subhadra too wanted a celebration of the first corn that had ripened on her farm. So she decided that she would invite her comrades in arms in the battle for women's rights in Indore to the first roasting and eating of the corn. As soon as she called up her activist friends a major problem arose - how to go to the farm?!! The farm is fifty kilometers away from Indore and all the three different roads leading to it have to cross the Vindhya hills and descend into the Nimar plains and requires expert hill driving skills. While Subhadra and three of her friends drive cars in Indore city, none of them had ever driven a car down and up a hill road as would be required to go to the farm. Subhadra had on a very few occasions driven to the farm and back but with me around and on this occasion I was persona non grata being a male!!!
One lady who is particularly militant and also an examiner of women drivers who are being trained by an NGO to take up driving as a career declared that she had many more battles to fight in the struggle for women's liberation and she did not want to die early in an accident while driving up and down the hilly roads!!! She discouraged all the others who Subhadra had contacted and by late night everyone had backed out considering the trip to be a risky enterprise. However, Subhadra did not get to know of this because her cell phone had been rendered silent by her son Ishaan who regularly uses it for accessing the internet. This is because he does not have a smart phone as Subhadra has said that he should concentrate on his studies instead of surfing the net on a phone. So Subhadra got to know of the sabotage to her plans only in the morning when she put the phone back on full sound. She scolded her son and then finally gave in and asked me to buy him a smart phone so that he did not tinker with her smartphone and mess up her plans!!! Patriarchy insinuates itself in a myriad ways!!!
Subhadra was not one to give up so easily, however, and so she began phoning up her friends again in the morning. She played a master stroke by getting in touch with two young women who had graduated from the driving school. Even though these women too had never driven a car up and down a hill road they were keen to get the experience of doing so to add to their skills as drivers and enhance their careers. So finally after a lot of hemming and hawing Subhadra and six other women including the two young drivers set off in two cars from Indore through the picturesque Vindhyas for a feminist conclave to celebrate the first corn on her farm.
The corn grown organically on the farm is of an indigenous variety and so was delicious. A fire was lit and the corncobs fresh from the plants were roasted on it and eaten with gusto while discussing the pros and cons of the fight for women's rights.
  Finally the group made their way back to Indore in the evening along a less travelled hill road that went past a beautiful lake filled with lotus flowers and ensconced among resplendent forested hills.
So the feminist conclave did take place amidst the glory of nature, due to Subhadra's resolve, despite the many hidden ways in which patriarchy seeks to keep women chained to their fetters.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Respect for Women and the Earth

Sick and Tired of male dominance, including that by her husband Rahul Banerjee, in both the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath and the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Subhadra has revived the women's rights organisation Kansari nu Vadavnu and set up a new NGO Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti to pursue the establishment of women's rights in earnest. Kansari nu Vadavno in the Palvi dialect of the Bhil language means Felicitation of Kansari who is the Goddess symbolising the cereal jowar or sorghum which is the staple food of the Bhils. The phrase is taken from the epic myth that is sung when the Bhils celebrate the festival of Indal which is a thanksgiving to nature for having provided them with a bountiful harvest. Even though the Bhil society is highly patriarchal it has many powerful Goddesses like Kansari and Rani Kajal and the name seeks to enthuse the Bhil women to emulate the power of these Goddesses in real life to establish the rights of the women. Set up in 1997 KnV had become moribund lately due to the fact that its agenda of women's rights had taken a back seat. It has now been revived and is asserting itself once again. Since mass organisations by themselves these days find it difficult to operate just on the basis of members' contributions, an NGO also has been set up to garner funds for the mass mobilisation activities named Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti or Majlis for short. Majlis means assembly, in this case the assembly of empowered women and the whole name of the NGO can be translated as Society for Respect for Women and Earth. The word Lihaaz means respect and the word Jagat meaning the earth is taken from the famous first stanza of the Isavasya Upanishad which advocates a sustainable use of the earth's resources and roughly transliterates as follows -
The entire universe is pervaded by the supreme spirit, primordial nature and the earth have been gifted by it, partake of these without craving for others' wealth.
One of the thrusts of Majlis is to revive sustainable agriculture and the control of women over the traditional processes that are a part of this agriculture. Since this is a tough task and since it has to be done on the ground, Subhadra has bought a piece of farm land and is practising sustainable agriculture on it. The diverse crops have begun to ripen and the first crop of fox tail millet has already been harvested. Soon pearl millet, maize and sorghum will come in also. Sustainable agriculture means that the post harvest processing should also be sustainable and traditional. So Subhadra decided to use the hand operated stone grinding assembly called as ghatti in Bhili to make flour for rotis and broken cereals for porridge. She has sourced the two stones used for grinding and then got the wooden frame called thaala in which the stones are placed, custom made by a Bhil carpenter.  Today Aladibai Bhargav a veteran of many mass struggles for women's rights and an executive board member of both KnV and Majlis came to our house in Indore to help Subhadra set up the whole cereal grinding assembly and teach her how to use it. The picture below shows the "resource person" Aladibai explaining the set up to Subhadra.
Adjusting the whole assembly is a tricky business. The upper stone has to be balanced over the lower stone using a wooden lever assembly in such a way that the gap between the two is approriate for grinding or breaking the cereal. the size of the flour grains or broken wheat particles will depend on this gap and so it is crucial. Aladibai set up the system for Subhadra. The wooden frame has some intricate carving work and it has been made totally by hand and is an excellent specimen of Bhil craftsmanship as shown in the picture below which is a close up of the ghatti and thala as Aladibai is testing it to grind some broken maize after setting it up.
Finally after Aladibai was satisfied with the set up and the way the ghatti was spinning round and grinding the maize she asked Subhadra to try her hand. While Aladibai had been grinding effortlessly Subhadra was soon perspiring from the effort. Nevertheless she gave it a determined go as seen in the picture below in which she has her jaws set!!
The wooden leverage system requires an earthen floor to work properly so that the friction keeps the levers in the right place. On the polished stone floor in our house the levers slip out under the dynamic impact of the stones grinding. In two years time we will move to our village base and there the ghatti will function in full glory in the earthen house that we propose to build there.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Internet and Creativity

The internet has fired the imagination of the teachers and students of Rani Kajal Jeevan Shaala in Kakrana. Initially they tried their hand by uploading photos and sending them to others in the outer world as there was some glitch with typing. These photos are just fabulous and give us a sense of the richness of the environment in Kakrana. The first photo is of a king sized lobster shown below.
Before the Sardar Sarovar dam was built there never were any lobsters in the river Narmada in Kakrana. However over the past decade or so these lobsters have made their way almost a hundred kilometers up the Narmada from the Arabian sea, climibing up the spillway of the dam and have made their home in the river in Kakrana. They are frequently caught by the Adivasis like Ragliya above who have now become expert fishermen.
The next photo is of vegetables being grown in Rani Kajal Jeevan Shaala. Over the past year or so the school has gained tremendously in dynamism and one of the new projects was to grow vegetables in the one acre kitchen garden of the school. This has been immensely successful as the teachers and the students have immersed themselves in the kitchen garden as is evident from the picture below.
The children and teachers have also beautified the campus with flower plants of various varieties which have now begun flowering. There is a tank in which lotus flowers had been planted after they were brought from Toran Mal in Maharashtra which is the highest point in the Satpuras to the south of Kakrana across the Narmada River. One gorgeous flower is shown below.
Later when the typing facility became functional there have been a spate of posts from the children to the Facebook Page of the school While Jyoti Solanki who passed out from class eight last year, which is the highest class of the school, has posted a mythical story in Hindi about how the village of Kakrana got its name, Pratap Padiyar a student of class eight has posted a translation of a play in Hindi into his mother tongue, the Palva dialect of the Bhili language, which is possibly the first ever Bhili literature on Facebook. More such creative work is afoot and will soon be available to the world at large due to the internet being operational in the school.
This is what had made us so desperately try to get internet to Kakrana and it is indeed very satisfying to see it produce such a great surge of creativity in so short a time. Digital justice and the cause of child rights have been eminently served by this endeavour.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Challenges of Home Schooling

A friend after reading my previous post about the Sonejis, where I had described how Subhadra and I had, unlike the Sonejis, decided to move to a city to educate our son Ishaan in a school, commented that this was a very unradical admission on my part!! This has prompted me to do a detailed post on home schooling and why we couldn't do it ourselves.
Home schooling is undoubtedly the best way to educate children to grow up to challenge the present destructive system. However, it requires a tremendous commitment and discipline from the parents if this is to be done properly. Either one or both the parents have to give time to schooling the child. In our case this was not possible. Primarily because both of us were activists who did not have any fixed working hours and also frequently went to jail. Once Ishaan was born Subhadra had to give up on activism for some time to tend to him and I had to shoulder the responsibilities of our organisation and also earn money. Moreover, Subhadra who was a high school pass out only decided to use the opportunity of tending to Ishaan to begin her graduate studies through distance education which was a huge challenge for her. Just a few months after Ishaan was born there was a massive crackdown on one of the organisations with which we were associated which hiked up the legal expenses tremendously necessitating me to do greater consultancy work to earn money. So unlike the Sonejis who had stabilised their agricultural lifestyle on their farm and could both give enough time to teach their children, we were in a very topsy turvy situation ourselves and so we decided to move to the city and opt for traditional schooling for Ishaan. Of course this schooling is of a very low standard and does not impart a very good education. So both of us have given our inputs in Ishaan's education over and above that he has received in his school but we could not have done only home schooling.
There was another aspect that Subhadra pointed out. She said that when it came to earning money through consultancies I had to fall back on my school and college education and the brand value of being an IIT graduate. Even the work that we do is recognised because of the publicity that I have succeeded in giving to it and this would not have been possible without the skills that I gained through my formal school and college education. This is an important point because effective activism cannot be carried out without adequate funds. The Sonejis were concerned with living off their land at subsistence levels and were not into activism that requires mass mobilisation, legal action, publicity and the like. At that point of time we did not have any such agrarian plans and neither did we envision that our son would take to a rural lifestyle like we had done. Thus, we shifted to the city and opted for school education for Ishaan, supplemented by our own inputs.
Our colleagues in the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Amit Bhatnagar and Jayashree Bhalerao, decided to start a residential school for Adivasi children in Sakar village in Barwani district in 1996. They brought up their two children, Revli and Sarang, along with the Adivasi students of that school which was an innovative one in many ways. So in a way they were home schooled!! Their school was only upto class eight. After that the students joined traditional schools with a few continuing in the Adhaarshila school as teachers while studying for their secondary and higher secondary level examinations. After class eight both Revli and Sarang opted to go to traditional schools as they said that they wanted to see what that education was like. That was the end of their home schooling.
Our son Ishaan has seen our work and life at close quarters and he knows that we are anti-establishment people. On most days the discussions in our home are anti-establishment with the American neo-imperialists coming in for the severest of critiques regularly. Yet he has decided to become a computer scientist and one from an IIT at that. Thus, he now has no time for a broader education and is solely focused on getting a good rank in the IIT entrance examination one and a half years hence!! The value that the IITs had had in our time when one got the best technical education at a dirt cheap price has become considerably eroded because even better education is available free online while the IIT education has become prohibitively expensive. However, this argument doesn't seem to hold water with Ishaan and he insists that he doesn't want to follow an anti-establishment path like we have done. So instead of reading Hemingway and Marx like I did in addition to science and maths when I was in high school, he spends his time solving math, physics and chemistry problems only!! This is what made me comment in the earlier post that possibly home schooling would have been better for him. However, Revli and Sarang, despite being home schooled in a bucolic environment have been influenced by the strong consumerist socio-economic trend of the world in general to opt for a life in the mainstream so the challenge of preparing our children for an anti-establishment outlook, given the strong consumerist propaganda that is being beamed at them is a big one.
The Amish community in the USA is an agrarian community which has schooling only upto class eight as it feels that is all that is necessary to lead an agricultural lifestyle. They have an astonishing retention of 95 per cent and only a very few opt out of the community to join the mainstream. The Amishes of course are a religious sect and have a strong belief sytem backed by a self sufficient economic base. So unless we have a strong belief system and a self sufficient economic base to back it up it is difficult to retain children in an anti-establishment mode once they grow up. The Sonejis, have such a system albeit only for their own household. Whereas, Amit and Jayashree don't have one as they are dependent on donations and funding and so are we. In my case, I am even more of an anomaly as I earn most of my money by doing consultancies which are dubious from the point of view of anti-establishment doctrine!! So it is not surprising that our children have given short shrift to our anti-establishment life styles and chosen to pursue careers in the establishment!!
This brings me to the content of the education that is being provided in the schools we run for the Adivasi children. This is mainstream but with a smattering of anti-establishment critique in it. For instance the children grow their own vegetables on the farm in the schools as shown below. 

The curriculum has a strong link to the local society and economy. But at the end of the day we have not been able to produce many anti-establishment proteges from these schools. Primarily because we have not been able to set up a system that can challenge the mainstream in all these years of activism. We had started off with such a dream but it did not materialise because we didn't have the strength to establish an alternative socio-economic system in the face of the powerful consumerist capitalist onslaught, which through direct to home television and mobile content propagation has reached every nook and cranny of this world.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Back to the Village

Smita and Dhirendra Soneji gave up their jobs as professors in an engineering college in Ahmedabad and moved to Sakva village among Adivasis in Narmada district of Gujarat in 1986 three decades ago to live at subsistence levels on a two acre farm. They produce their food from the farm and process some of the herbs and fruits into medicines to earn the little money that they require for clothes, books, travel and the like. For their energy needs there is gobar gas, solar power, wind power and pyrolysis of agricultural and wood bio mass. All waste is recycled. They have to work about four hours every day to ensure that the farm produces at its peak. Most of the agro and food processing work is also done by human power and some bullock power. Some of this work is critical and it has to go on without interruption. For instance when we visited the farm in the morning Dhirendra was using a piece of tin and a stick to create a sound to shoo away the birds which were trying to eat the grains from their standing crop of bajra or pearl millet as shown below. So he continued to do this while at the same time talking to us as we walked up and down his farm with him.

This was a particularly important piece of work because on our farm in Pandutalav village too the birds are feasting on our crop of diverse kinds of millets and since we don't stay there we are losing a considerable amount of the crop. If there are a lot of farmers sowing millets then this problem is not so acute but with farmers in Sakva like elsewhere having largely given up sowing millets shooing away birds is a must for the Sonejis who have to survive on the crop unlike us!!
The Sonejis have two sons who have grown up on the farm and have been homeschooled. They don't have university degrees but they know many things about farming and food processing. The elder son Vishven has designed an oil extracting machine that is operated by hand. It not only extracts all the oil from groundnut, sesame, linseed, mustard, neem and the like but also leaves the seeds intact after extraction to provide a high protein food. Thus, with the help of this machine one can assure oneself of pure cooking oil in this age of adulteration.
This too is very important. Subhadra and I were living in a village when our son Ishaan was conceived. Unlike the Sonejis we decided to move to the city because we felt that was the only place where he would get a good education. We compromised on many of our principles and have only now begun planning to move back to the village in a year or two when Ishaan goes to college. In the process of getting the education our son has launched himself in pursuit of a mainstream college education in engineering!! Thus, it is important like the Sonejis to reject the mainstream education altogether if we want the new generation to challenge the present system of centralised economic development which externalises social and environmental costs in search of economic profit. The Sonejis are alone in their effort as they do not attempt to build up a social movement but they are a living testimony that it is possible to live at subsistence levels doing agriculture and food processing on a two acre farm and lead a good life.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Water and Electricity Blues

Agriculture needs water. Indeed it is the biggest consumer of water in India. So when Subhadra bought her piece of farm land she had to see how to get water to it. We took a hydrogeologist to the farm and he said that the underlying rock strata were not water bearing ones and we would get only a little water from an open well and probably none from a deep borewell. The problem was that even an open well would have to be of at least 10 meter diameter to give enough water for at least one irrigation which is what would be required as Subhadra was going to practice less water use agriculture. The farm is small and so digging a 10 meter well would reduce the area even further. Eventually after a lot of thought she decided to take the risk of sinking a borewell postponing the digging of an open well to the time when she could get possession of some more contiguous farm land in the near future. Luckily the borewell yielded a little bit of water. Enough that is for one irrigation and watering of plants through a drip system.
Then the problem started. Initially we put in an old submersible pump borrowed from another farmer that was of low power and it would draw water very slowly at a rate equal to the rate at which water was flowing into the tube well and so things were alright. A tank would be filled up on top of a hill and then water would be taken by gravity for watering the plants. Then the farmer who had given us this pump decided to take it back for his own farm. So we bought another pump. This one was a high power pump. The farmer from whom we had bought the land and who takes care of the farm on a daily basis said that with a high power pump the extra drawal of water would slowly increase the flow into the well. Though we said that this is unlikely he said that there had been innumerable such instances in the area and this should be tried out. Despite our misgivings we bought a high power pump and our travails started. The farm is situated about 250 meters from the nearest electricity pole. Since the supply in the main line itself is weak from the grid, the electric line to the pump when it is in the hole about 80 meters under ground a further 330 meters results in a huge drop in power over this distance. The earthing too in the transformer on the main line was not proper. So the heavier pump that we had bought did not work. We had a pump mechanic make some changes to motor and the pump began working but it would finish off the water in the well in just a few minutes and then draw in sand and choke itself!! The farmer who was handling the pump in our absence did not understand this and kept putting on the motor to make it run and it got burnt in the process!! We got the motor repaired but once again the farmer in his pursuit of the non-existent burst of water flow tried to run the pump even after the water in the well had finished and got it burnt again!!! Finally now the farmer has reconciled himself to the fact that there is only a little water in the well and we will have to adjust to that.
This farmer looks on bemused as Subhadra practices her bio-diverse agriculture and talks of making do with only a little water and planting dry land wheat, gram and amaranth in the coming winter season with only one watering or may be no watering at all. He is crestfallen that the borewell has not yielded enough water for him to be able to sow water intensive hybrid wheat on his farm next to ours!! We have done considerable soil and water conservation work on our farm so that not even one drop of water and soil leaves it. So there is considerable soil moisture conserved and in all probability the winter crop can be sown without any initial watering and will only require some sprinkler irrigation later on if at all. The output of such dryland winter agriculture however is less than the heavily watered and chemically fertilised hybrid cultivation because that is what the soil can sustainably deliver. Farmers traditionally understood this but that understanding has now gone due to the past five decades of chemical agriculture pushed with heavy subsidies. Now chemical fertilisers, water and electricity have all become expensive and scarce and agriculture is collapsing. Farmers, are still desperate to produce the same yields and are catching at straws instead of going back to holistic and sustainable agriculture because the government is not providing subsidies for doing so.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Recipe for Disaster

Prem Singh is studying industrial engineering in a premier government engineering college in Indore city and is in his final year. He is the youngest son of Aap Singh who is a Barela Adivasi farmer residing in Kanad village of Dewas district. A few days ago in another post I had written about how Aap Singh with the help of his son Prem Singh had put together an aeration system in his home to store onions in the hope of getting a better price later. Prem Singh had put to good use his theoretical studies as an industrial engineer to help his father. However, even though he is a student of science first and that of technology afterwards, so specialised has all education become that his knowledge of basic medicine is poor. So when he was taken ill with a bout of high fever combined with vomiting and diarrhoea he first went to the dispensary in his college where he stays in the hostel. The person in the dispensary too, despite being employed to take care of the health of students neither had the knowledge nor the medicines to treat Prem Singh and so he was shifted to a nearby private hospital. The doctor at the hospital, a senior physician, immediately put him on various antibiotics injected intravenously diluted in normal saline. Various tests were also conducted on him. However, neither the fever nor the diarrhoea was controlled even after two days.
Aap Singh on coming to know of this came rushing to Indore and on seeing his son in bad shape argued with the doctor to discharge him as he did not have any trust in his treatment. He said that even the quacks in his village could treat fever and diarrhoea better and they would do it for a few hundred rupees instead of the thousands he was charging. A heated argument ensued that continued for a few hours but eventually Aap Singh had his way and Prem Singh was released. As it was already evening, Aap Singh called me and asked whether they could spend the night at our house before going home. I told him to come home. I went through all the diagnosis, tests and prescriptions and found that apart from having a low haemoglobin level of 10 mg per litre there was not much else wrong with Prem Singh. True he had fever but it was not very high and he was going frequently to the toilet to relieve himself because of loose motion. The doctor while discharging him had given him antibiotic and antacid tablets and paracetamol. Only an anti-diarrhoeal was missing. I told him to give him these medicines and gave an anti-diarrhoeal from our stock. By next morning Prem Singh had recovered and in the afternoon Aap Singh took him home to his village on a motorcycle!!
This whole episode brings out the total disarray in which the health system is in this country. Prem Singh was most probably affected by pathogens in the drinking water in his hostel. Why was he affected while other hostelers were not? It might be because he is anaemic. Anaemia reduces the power of the immune system of the body to resist pathogens. Be that as it may, the illness was not very serious and with proper medication would have subsided within a few days. The dispensary in his college did not have the basic medication for fever and diarrhoea. The specialist doctor of the private hospital that he was taken to administered medicines through intravenous drip despite Prem Singh being fully capable of taking them through the mouth. The two days in the hospital cost him 7000 rupees and even after that he was cured. The administration of medicines through intravenous injections diluted with normal saline had become an irrational bane of treatment in this country as shown in the picture below.
 Intravenous injections should be given only when a person is unable to take food or medicines through the mouth due to a serious medical condition. But nowadays these are administered at the drop of a hat and people too demand that they be given these drips as they feel they are more potent!! So powerful is this myth that we find it extremely difficult to convince people to take simple medicines orally. Aap Singh after coming to my home first asked me to get a doctor to come and put his son on an intravenous drip. It took some hard talking to convince him that his son was not seriously ill and that tablets taken orally would cure him as they did within the space of a few hours.
Thus, the poor in this country are caught in a deadly pincers of malnutrition on the one hand which reduces the power of their immune system and makes them vulnerable to disease, an almost non-existent public health sytem, a rapacious private health system practicing irrational medicine  and a lack of knowledge of basic medicine. A student of engineering who has great innovative power in his field does not know anything about basic medicine and that shows how lopsided our education sytem is. With neither health nor education we have a recipe for disaster.

Monday, August 22, 2016


1. Rationale for Tribal Development
Tribal Development in India has been problematical from the time of independence. This has been due to a conflicting situation arising from the opposition between the traditional community based subsistence economy of the tribals and the modern market based growth oriented thrust of the mainstream economy. The challenge has been to integrate the tribals into the modern economy in a manner that was beneficial to them. This has generally not been possible because the tribals have lacked the requisite skills for this and the government system for equipping them with these skills has malfunctioned. Moreover, in order to save on the costs associated with modern development the tribals have often not been recompensed and rehabilitated properly for the displacement that they have had to face as resources have been extracted from their traditional habitats.
Not surprisingly this has led to dissatisfaction on the part of the tribals and its expression as outright political revolt and a further destruction of the natural resource base. The negative outcome of this is instability in tribal areas and a big loss to the nation in terms of natural resources destroyed. Thus, tribal development is necessary for social justice, political stability, economic redistribution and environmental sustainability. How is this to be achieved and what will be the gains? The answer is –
  1. Decentralised and local community controlled development has been acknowledged as a major desideratum for tackling tribal deprivation (Sharma, 2001).
  2. With the award of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences to Elinor Ostrom in 2009, it has come to be acknowledged that collective action is the best option for the management of common pool resources (Ostrom, 1990).
  3. The benefits accruing in terms of mitigation of climate change from such communitarian natural resource management in rural areas compensates for the emissions from the urban and industrial areas which cannot be totally nullified (International Institute of Sustainable Development et al. 2003).
2. Need for NGO intervention
However, the tribals being mostly illiterate and economically poor lack the capacity to counter the atomising influence of the centralised governance apparatus that tends to increase their deprivation through acts of omission and commission as we have seen. Consequently they need to be guided in their attempts to secure justice and development by trained social workers who can formulate appropriate strategies and supervise their implementation.  Thus, NGOs have to put in efforts along with the tribals to ensure collective action. One such NGO is the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra and its sister organisation the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath which have been operating among Bhil Tribals in the district of Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh since 1987. The organisation has promoted community based soil, water and forest conservation among the Bhil tribals resulting in augmentation of the natural resource base in 12 watersheds in the district. In the process 5000 hectares of land has been treated with a voluntary contribution of labour of 15,00,000 human days over a twenty five year period. Over the past three years the organisation has stepped up the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme by putting pressure on the government bureaucracy to provide employment on demand to the people. The practice of the bureaucracy is to discourage people from demanding work and then they provide work at their own whim and fancy. The Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra has mobilised the people to demand work formally and then pushed the administration to provide the work demanded which is much more than would have happened in the normal course of things. Thus, now thousands of more humandays are being invested in natural resource conservation.
3. Importance of Quantification and Systematisation
Just effecting mitigation of climate change and improvement of livelihoods is not enough as the gains must be scientifically quantified. Some of the work done thus far has been documented by the organisation as in the work in the Attha watershed (Banerjee, 2010). However, this documentation is only of the amount of work done and the increase in forest cover, irrigation and soil depth. For systematic quantification detailed measurment of the livelihood situation and the soil, water and forest resources is necessary both at the beginning of the intervention and at the later stages(Tiwari et al, 2011).  The need for rigorous quantification also arises because these eco-system services, as they are called, do not enter the market and so are not automatically valued in the economy in money terms like other services that are marketed (Behera et al, 2011).  However, given the importance of such services in the present global context of climate change, there are policy measures being adopted to pay the people, especially tribals and among them women who render such services. Consequently, a new organisation Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (The Society for Respect for Women and the Earth) has now been set up to specifically work on gender and environmental issues in a focused manner. Undre this a Climate Change Mitigation Centre has been set up in one village, Pandutalav, in Dewas district, to systematise the work in the spheres of livelihood enhancement, eco-system services and gender equity leading to climate change mitigation. The schematic representation of the work of this centre is shown below.
4. Agro-processing, Marketing and Credit Support
Given the low per household private and common land availability in tribal areas, even after the best forest, soil and water conservation work cannot ensure sustainability of livelihoods without added incomes from value addition in agro-processing and subsequent marketing (Banerjee, 2003). This requires cheap and easy access to capital and credit support which is rarely available from institutionalised sources. That is why there is a need to initiate thrift and savings groups among tribals and link them with banks for leveraging their meagre savings for greater capital and credit support. Various cooperative value addition and marketing methodologies can then be explored to diversify the household income base. An added advantage of this is that the women can be made the main actors in these programmes leading to women's empowerment and greater gender equity.
5. Watershed Plus Pilot
The above scheme of systematic livelihood augmentation and climate change mitigation combined with agro-processing has first to be tried out as a pilot in one watershed. Experience of decentralised watershed management has shown that the optimal size for this is a milliwatershed defined as being of size between 1000-10000 ha area (Tideman, 1996). The process of climate change mitigation and livelihood augmentation has to start with a rigorous baseline survey of the watershed to determine its present characteristics. Once this is done, this data can then be used to design the detailed interventions required and the time frame in which they have to be made. The villagers and especially the youth will have to be involved in this baseline data collection. Apart from this the data regarding the geo-hydrological status of the underlying rock structure will have to be collected with the help of a geo-hydrologist. Remote sensed images of the watershed will also have to be studied. Once all the data has been digitised and analysed it can be entered into a GIS and superimposed on a remote sensed image of the watershed for further analysis. On the basis of this a detailed intervention plan can be drawn up involving soil, water and forest conservation measures, changes in agricultural practices, generation of renewable energy, micro-credit programmes, gender sensitisation, processing and marketing of farm produce and primary health services.
5. Resources Required
The village level data collection and data entry should cost about Rs 2,00,000. The geo-hydological survey in a remote area could cost Rs 1,00,000. The GIS analysis and plan preparation including detailed design of conservation structures will cost about Rs 2,00,000 including the purchase of remote sensed images. Another Rs 1,00,000 would be required as administrative, travel and coordination costs. The total baseline survey and project planning cost is thus Rs 6,00,000. The rule of thumb climate mitigation costs in hilly terrain are about Rs 15000 per hectare and so for a watershed of about 1000 hectares the cost would come to Rs 1.5 crore over a period of about five years. Another Rs 0.5 crore would be required to implement the renewable energy component for a total investment of Rs 2 crores. Thus, the total baseline survey and project planning cost is around 3% of the total project implementation cost.  A rigorous plan developed along the lines described above is a must as it would be able to quantify in monetary terms the benefits that are to accrue from eco-system services offered and thus justify the investment in the watershed. Moreover, as explained earlier, systematic quantification is also necessary for establishing the project as an example to be replicated.
Banerjee, R . Status of Informal Rural Financial Markets in Adivasi Dominated Regions of Western Madhya Pradesh, Working Paper No. 2. Mumbai. Department of Economic Analysis and Research, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, 2003.
Banerjee, R. The Importance of Activist Mediated Collective Action for Tribal Development. Delhi. Indian Statistical Institute, 2010 (
Behera, B., Mishra, P. & Nayak, N.C. Payments for Environmental Services: Issues and Implications for India. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVI No.20.
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), International Union for Conservation of Nature andNatural Resources (IUCN) and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Livelihoods and Climate Change: Combining Disaster Risk Reduction, Natural Resource Management and Climate Change Adaptation in a New Approach to the Reduction of Vulnerability and Poverty, Canada: International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2003.
Ostrom, E. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1990.
Sharma, B. D. Tribal Affairs in India: The Crucial Transition. Delhi: Sahayog Pustak Kutir Trust, 2001.
Tideman, E. M. Watershed Management: Guidelines for Indian Conditions. Delhi. Omega Scientific Publishers. 1996.
Tiwari, R.,Somasekhar, H.I., Ramakrishna Parama, V.R., Murthy, I.M., Mohan Kumar, M.S., Mohan Kumar, B.K., Parate, H., Varma, M., Malaviya, S., Rao, A.S., Sengupta, A., Kattumuri, R. & Ravindranath, N.H. MGNREGA for Environmental Service Enhancement and Vulnerability Reduction: Rapid Appraisal in Chitradurga District, Karnataka. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVI No. 20.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Biodiverse Agriculture

Subhadra bought about an acre of land last year in Pandutalav village in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh with the idea of pursuing bio-diverse agriculture. The land has a hilly portion and a plain portion. The hilly portion was cut a little bit and the excavated soil was used to level the plain portion further including filling up a gully that was there in it. Then fertile soil from a tank nearby was transported to the plain portion to level it further. Stone bunds were placed on the edges of the land to ensure that all water remained in the farm. Biodiverse farming involves not only sowing a variety of crops but also having forested land nearby for a variety of trees, shrubs and grasses to produce enough bio mass for mulching. There are close to thirty different types of cereals, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables on this small farm and the first crop that will ripen in another ten days or so is rala or fox tail millet as shown below.
The Bhil Adivasis tradtionally had bio-diverse farming and so some part of the harvest would always come in regardless of whether there was more or less rainfall. There were also forests nearby which provided the mulch and the bacteria to enrich the soil. The aim was to produce for subsistence rather than for the market taking only so much from nature as they could give back to it. However, with aggressive promotion of chemical mono crop agriculture the traditional system is in decay. Nothing can exemplify this more than the fate of Aapsingh and Dunibai of Kanad village. Buoyed up by the high prices they received in 2014 for a few quintals of onion that they had grown that year, they decided to sow onions on as much as 5 acres in 2015. Other farmers too across the onion belt of Madhya Pradesh did the same. So when the onions were finally harvested there was a glut in the market and the price of onions came crashing down to just 25 paise a kilo. Aapsingh and Dunibai had already spent some fifty thousand rupees on the cultivation of onions and had a bumper crop of 40 quintals of onions which at the 2014 prices would have fetched them rupees one lakh sixty thousand which would have been a handsome profit. But since the prices had crashed in 2016 they would not even recover the transport cost of taking the onions to the market. They did not have the money to put their harvest in a cold storage and wait for the prices to rise again like some of the richer farmers were doing. Then their youngest son who is studying to be an industrial engineer hit upon an idea to create an aeration system to keep the onions from rotting in their home and two of his older sons who are employed in the army and the police agreed to fund this idea and so they have implemented an innovative onion storage system. This involves putting in a drum with perforations in the middle of the onions and driving air through the drum into the onions with a heavy duty fan. The picture below shows Dunibai alongside this aeration system installed in their house full of onions.
The whole house is smelling of onions and Aapsingh jokingly says that they have become onions themselves in the process. Whether Aapsingh's gamble will pay off or not depends on how the harvest will be in Maharashtra this year. If the harvest creates a glut once again, then the price of onions will remain subdued and eventually Aapsingh will be forced to throw away his onions despite his heroic efforts to salvage something from them. Aapsingh and Dunibai have been able to bear their travails with smiles because they have two sons in well paying Government service as otherwise they would have been on the verge of committing suicide.
Thus, for biodiverse organic agriculture to make a come back, there has to be a drastic change in agricultural policy providing support to it instead of chemical monocultures as at present.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Women Who Need No Protection

Today is Rakhee, a festival of the Hindus in which women tie rakhees on the wrists of their brothers asking them to protect them in times of trouble. However, in recent times women have become quite capable of protecting themselves and taking a lead in economic, social and political matters. Especially so since the passage of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, 1992 in India mandated one-third reservation for women in the three tiers of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) which has since been hiked to 50 per cent. Women have overcome adverse societal structures such as, gender discrimination, caste dynamics, low literacy and patriarchy, amongst others and become politically empowered as a consequence of this opportunity that they have got.  However, this process is not smooth and it also requires training of the women. There are many organisations engaged in providing training to the elected women representatives (EWR) of PRIs to overcome the challenges that face them in the performance of their duties. The Hunger Project India (THP) is one of them. It  aims to "strengthen the role of elected women representatives in grassroots’ governance so that they are able to exercise leadership within their constituencies and practice gender responsive governance and transformative leadership based on the principles of human rights and social justice".
Despite over two and a half decades having elapsed since the passage of the constitutional amendment there are very few large scale impact assessment studies of the performance of the EWRs. I had the privilege of being associated with one such study commissioned by THP where I designed the assessment and did the analysis and report writing - "The aim of this outcome assessment study, has been to measure key capacities like the leadership of the EWRs, gained by the training and capacity building provided by THP, through the five years of their tenure. The study, has been conducted in the state of Madhya Pradesh, one of the seven working areas of THP that received consistent funding from 2009-2014.The logic underpinning this assessment is that the increased capacities of the EWRs as a result of the trainings received from THP should help them in performing effectively within their constituencies. In-depth interviews have been conducted with EWRs, who have been active members of THP’s intervention through the entire project cycle. One of the major contributions of the study has been the designing of a multi-dimensional Composite Capacity Index (CCI) that measures the capacities of EWRs, in the five domains of leadership abilities, confidence, status in households, knowledge regarding their roles and responsibilities and issues that they have taken up in the tenure. Along with that, the study also analyses the performance of the EWRs in terms of the benefits secured by them in their respective constituencies. A control group of EWRs have been selected for the purpose of the study to compare the performance of THP trained EWRs, in these aspects. Finally, the study also calculates a Return of Investment from the trainings conducted by THP in the state, through the entire election cycle".
 The study shows that the comparative performance of the THP trained EWRs with the control group provides evidence of the fact that training and capacity building form an important part of the functioning of the PRI representatives. With the training that is disseminated by THP through the entire five year tenure, the THP trained EWRs not only report higher values of capacity indices but also have benefited a larger percentage of households within their constituencies. Thus, not only have the women demonstrated enhanced leadership qualities, but also have been able to channelise these abilities towards the empowerment of the community.