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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What about Smart Villages?

There is currently considerable excitement over cities in India becoming smart but in all this euphoria as always the long suffering villages are getting short shrift. This despite the professed intention of both the Prime Minister and his Information and Technology Minister of making digital India a reality. The situation with regard to internet connectivity is generally dismal even in cities. For instance despite living in a city like Indore I do not have broadband connectivity through an Optical Fibre Cable land line. Even though initially I had access to internet broadband through a Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) landline connection it would break down so frequently that I had to discontinue the broadband and retain only the telephony option which still breaksdown frequently. I then switched to wireless broadband through a dongle and have switched three service providers which all promise 3G speeds in excess of 5 mbps but in reality serve only about 0.5 mbps with great difficulty. I had 3G on my mobile also but that too most of the time served only 2G speeds as low as .25 mbps and so I have switched to 2G. Mine is not an isolated experience but the norm as any discussion on internet speeds will have all the participants roundly cursing their respective service providers and all of them have invariably switched across the spectrum a number of times without much difference in the poor quality of service received. This is the level of chicanery being practiced by internet service providers whether in the Government or the Private sector in cities. Under the circumstances it is unlikely that our cities will ever become smart!!
However, the situation in villages is even worse. I had to shift to living in a city in 2000 because of the need for internet access and even today I cannot go back to living in a village as I would like to because of this lack of internet connectivity. Recently, a retired professor of microbiology has started staying in the residential school we run at Kakrana. He says quite rightly that in today's age schooling is incomplete without access to internet. So we started scouting around for ways of overcoming this problem. Our researches revealed that the cheapest way to do this is by the use of a technology that is called wireless hopping. Very simply it means the signal from a point where internet access is available through OFC landline is transmitted by radio frequency to another point at a distance which does not have it through antennae which have built in radio transmitters and receivers. This can be used to hop over distances as large as forty kilometers with the only proviso that there should not be physical obstacles like hillocks in the radio frequency line of sight. Even this can be overcome by providing repeaters at these points. This has been tried out all over the world and it is a very good and cheap technology but requires a little technical maintenance from time to time.
Ideally BSNL should take up this technology and spread it widely in remote rural areas to provide internet access to the whole of India much more cheaply than through OFCs. In fact in the few places that this technology is being used in India people are doing it on their own by using BSNL landline points and they have proven the technology to BSNL. Yet it is a commentary on the cussedness of the Government system in India that BSNL has not rolled out this technology widely despite it having a huge commercial potential.
We are now trying to implement this wireloss hop ourselves with the help of some people living in rural areas who have done it themselves and will probably have internet running in Kakrana soon. But the point remains that this should have been done by the Government in the same way as it should provide decent primary education and primary health care to remote rural areas. But in the same way as education and health are in the doldrums in this country so also smart villages will remain a distant dream for some time to come and the prospects of smart cities aren't too bright either!!! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Elusive Right to Livelihood

One of the most inspiring personalities I have met was Mama Baleshwar Dayal. Originally from Uttar Pradesh he came to Bhabra village in Alirajpur district in the 1930s, at the invitation of the mother of the martyr of the freedom movement, Chandrashekhar Azad, to organise the Bhil Adivasis for their rights. He was able to put together a militant movement of the Bhils against both the Princely States of the area and the British colonial rulers, mainly centred around the right to own and cultivate land as the primary means of livelihood instead of being serfs of the feudal lords. The long struggle of the Bhils under the banner of the Lal Topi Andolan or Red Cap Movement, which got its name from the fact that its members wore red caps to signify their adherence to socialism, convinced them and their leader Mamaji that with the coming of independence they could immediately seize the lands of the feudal lords and finally win the battle they had been fighting for so long. Imagine their surprise when they were summarily bundled into jail by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for doing so. In fact Nehru clamped down hard on all land to the tiller movements across the country in the immediate aftermath of independence using the draconian preventive detention laws of the colonial period which continued to be in force. Finally, a rightist like Chakravarty Rajagopalachari had to intercede with a socialist like Nehru to get Mamaji and the Bhils freed after eight months. These initial black portents of a betrayal of the masses were confirmed when the Constitution that was adopted in 1950 and that came into force in 1951, relegated the right to work, education and health which together constitute the right to livelihood, to the Directive Principles of State Policy which were not justiciable and so unenforceable.
In fact this was of a piece with what the nascent Indian capitalists, who had all been collaborators of the British during colonial rule, while at the same time exerting influence over the Indian National Congress because of their money power, had in mind for independent India. The capitalists looking ahead to the situation that would prevail after independence had come up with a national plan in 1944, popularly known as the Bombay Plan, which spoke of both strengthening their ties with imperialist capital and at the same time of protecting the Indian market from predatory penetration by the latter (Thakurdas, P et al, 1944, A Brief Memorandum Outlining a Plan of Economic Development for India, Mumbai.) The Bombay Plan also envisaged the rapid development of basic infrastrucure through heavy state spending garnered from exploitation of the labour of the masses and the vast natural resources. It specifically mentioned that the state must intervene to maintain law and order and restrict individual freedoms given the possibility of dissent from the masses against such a policyNo wonder then that G.D. Birla the doyen of the Indian capitalists gloated at the time of independence, "We have embodied large portions of the 1935 Act, as finally passed, in the Constitution which we have framed ourselves and which shows that in the 1935 Act was cast the pattern of our future plans"!(Birla, G D, 1968, In The Shadow of The Mahatma, Mumbai, p. 131 quoted in S. K. Ghosh, 2001, The Indian Constitution and Its Review, Research Unit for Political Economy, Mumbai.) Consequently, not only was the Right to Livelihood not granted in the Indian Constitution but "One of the striking features of India's new Constitution is the continuity with British-Indian practice. Approximately 250 articles out of 395 were taken either verbatim or with minor changes in phraseology from the 1935 Government of India Act and the basic principles remained unchanged"Brecher, M, 1959, Nehru: A Political Biography, London p. 421 quoted in Ghosh Op. Cit.)
Thus, it has been a long battle over the past seventy years or so in independent India for the right to livelihood which has still not been achieved. The Lal Topi Andolan and Mama Baleshwar Dayal all fell by the wayside in this battle as did all the variants of the Communist and Socialist parties. In various places small mass organisations have taken up this battle since the 1970s and in the end with the turn of the century we saw the enactment of some legislation towards guaranteeing a modicum of the right to livelihood through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act and the National Rural Health Programme and now the National Food Security Act. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath too has done its bit towards mobilising people in the sporadic battle for a right to livelihood over the last thirty years and so when these new legislations came into being the organisation put in a lot of effort to try and get them implemented well. However, from the beginning there has been a lack of provisioning of adequate funds and functionaries to effectively implement these legislations and so even with the best efforts the impact has been marginal in ensuring livelihoods and food security. 
Many organisations throughout India, like the KMCS, have tried to improve the implementation of these legislations in the face of governmental and administrative apathy but success has been limited.
I had the opportunity, recently, to visit once such organisation, the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan, working in a few districts of North Bihar near the border with Nepal. I was invited to conduct a workshop in political economy for the members of the organisation. Even though it was a long haul from Alirajpur, I agreed to go there because I wanted to see an organisation that was still young and full of energy unlike our own KMCS which has become old and lethargic!! There was a time when we used to have regular monthly workshops on various aspects of political economy and political strategy but since the turn of the century all that has become history and now the KMCS is just a programme based organisation going through its motions without much intellectual churning except in the sphere of promotion of Bhili culture. The last time I had conducted classes in political economy was in 1998 almost two decades ago despite the fact that my knowledge and understanding of the workings of the global capitalist system have increased considerably since then . 
My hunch was well founded and I met up with a group of enthusiastic men and women both old and young who were very excited about fighting for their rights. The JJSS had evolved from campaigns for the implementation of the MGNREGA and is a trade union with active village level members who both paid their membership dues and contributed their time and labour to establish the organisation as a grassroots political force. In the face of the apathy with regard to implementation of the MGNREGA and other laws and policies which together can ensure a right to livelihood the JJSS has carved out a space for itself in the region. Surprisingly in the eight years or so of their existence they had never had a workshop on political economy!!! Yet they had gone from strength to strength even though the funds and functionaries provided for the MGNREGA implementation had gone down and serious problems had cropped up with regard to getting work under it and getting paid once the whatever little work was sanctioned was completed. I extracted a promise from them that they would have at least one workshop every month as without political analysis it would be difficult to sustain the momentum of the organisation in the face of the concerted onslaught of late capitalism. The workshop ended with an analysis of how financial capital had now become all powerful and controlled the global economy, polity and the infotainment industry to the detriment of society, economy and environment at large.
On the one hand I was rejuvenated to find a grassroots organisation that was so full of life and fighting against heavy odds to establish the right to livelihood and on the other hand I couldn't help thinking how little power they had in comparison to the crooks in Wall Street who are hell bent on depriving the masses of a decent living and nature of a renewable future. May Day is nigh and there will undoubtedly be many rallies and programmes and the JJSS too has a public event scheduled. The KMCS celebrates its annual Jungle Mela about the same time every year in which along with the right to livelihood, the issues of tribal identity and culture and the conservation of nature are highlighted. However, as long as finance capital rules the globe, the right to livelihood will continue to prove elusive for the vast majority of people on this earth. While those struggling for the right to livelihood are dispersed and do not have the resources to build up a concerted unified challenge, those bent on denying this right are well organised and flush with the funds they have looted and are continuing to loot.
The MGNREGA, the Right to Education, the Food Security Act and the National Rural Health Mission have ever since their introduction provided a tenuous plank for mobilisation even with their minimal fund allocations but without a larger political mobilisation based on intensive political education of the masses it will not be possible to sustain these struggles or carry them to a higher level. There is a need for more political workshops but no resources for them. I went all the way from Alirajpur to Araria in Bihar on resources garnered from elsewhere but I cannot do so again and again. In fact I cannot conduct such workshops on a regular basis in our own Alirajpur among the members of the KMCS!!!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Jacobinism in the time of Revolution

One aspect of most initially successful revolutions is Jacobinism - a tendency among a coterie that is the vanguard of the revolution to kill those who do not agree with it not only from among the overthrown establishment but also from the revolutionary formation. Beginning with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England which pre-dates the French Revolution of 1789, which was followed by the rule of the Jacobin club from which the term originates and up to the later even more massive Russian and Chinese revolutions there has always been this Jacobinistic tendency of the ruling coterie to put to death or expel those who dissent. This, tendency becomes even more pronounced if the revolutionary formation happens to have charismatic leaders. Somehow, the principles of grassroots democracy and justice which inform the revolutionary formations during their struggle phase and which form a significant part of the goals of the revolution, are sought to be discarded by the leaders of the revolution once they are in power. Eventually this leads to the defeat of the original goals of the revolution.
This denouement was especially marked in the case of the Russian revolution. Immediately after the revolution, the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) led by Lenin still had to contend with the white counter revolutionary challenge sponsored by the western capitalist nations and so perforce had to implement a "military communism" of hard rationing supervised by a bureaucratic state apparatus so as to be able to produce the weapons and armour necessary to win the civil war and maintain the supply chain to the cities and towns. The Bolsheviks had eagerly hoped that the Communists who had some mass following in Germany would sooner or later bring about a proletarian revolution in that industrially more advanced country and so provide material and moral support thereafter to the precariously poised Russian revolution. However, these hopes were dashed as the ill planned and ill timed Spartacist uprising of the German Communist Party was ruthlessly crushed in 1919 and put paid to the hopes of a more broad-based communist capture of state power in the advanced capitalist countries leaving the Russian communists to fend for themselves.
So by the time the Russian Communists overcame the counter-revolution by 1920 through their own devices, the nascent industrial sector in the largely agrarian and feudal economy of Russia was close to dissolution. The biggest problem therefore was how to revive industrial production in particular and the economy in general and "catch up" with the western industrialised capitalist nations. This is when the Bolsheviks decided to put socialist ideas on hold and instead adopt capitalist management techniques in the factories to revive production and also allow market forces to play so that the vast middle peasantry of kulaks could be included in the process of rebuilding the economy through the continued exploitation of the landless serfs who were converted into badly paid wage labourers. The anarchists who were in control of a large number of the workers' soviets and trade unions argued that the responsibility for the organisation of production in factories should be that of the freely elected workers' soviets and trade unions and this policy should be followed in the rural areas also. They argued that the workers had borne much hardship during the fight to overcome the counter-revolution and they should now reap the benefits instead of being subjected to more deprivation. Instead, they pointed out, bourgeois elements, which had no sympathy with the revolution had infiltrated the factory management, the bureaucracy and even the party during the earlier phase of military communism and were sabotaging the revolution. Dissatisfied by their living and working conditions the workers and peasants began to go on strikes in February 1921 demanding a more open democratic dispensation.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks would have none of this, however, as it constituted a challenge to the authority of the Bolshevik party and the tight control over the government, that it had developed in the course of the civil war. They advanced the need for maintaining party unity as an excuse for clamping down on the burgeoning open debates and the formation of factions representing alternative viewpoints so as to maintain their monopoly of power. Thus arguing speciously that the proletariat in Russia was not advanced enough to be able to control the economy and government on its own and so needed the party to guide it, Lenin came down hard on the anarchist opposition. Punitive action was begun against the striking workers in Petrograd and Moscow. As things came to a head the naval unit stationed at the port of Kronstadt near Petrograd, which happened to be aligned with the anarchists came out in support of the workers' demands. This unit had earlier played a crucial role in the victory of the Bolsheviks in the revolution of 1917 as the professionally trained core of the final military assault on the seat of bourgeois power, the Winter Palace in Petrograd and so commanded immense respect among the working masses. The situation worsened as workers and peasants all over the country joined the workers in Petrograd and Moscow in demonstrations protesting against the bureaucratic and military control of the economy and polity. The Bolshevik government resorted to police and military repression to suppress this opposition. The sailors of Kronstadt mutinied against the Bolshevik government demanding an end to centralised party control of the economy and greater freedom of decision for the workers and peasants. So the Red Army in full force under the command of Trotsky was sent in to deal with them on March 7th 1921. After putting up a brave fight for ten days those anarchist sailors were massacred to the last man. It was given out by the Bolsheviks that these sailors were counter-revolutionary agents bent on sabotaging the proletarian revolution. With that the Russian revolution began its descent into bureaucratism and eventual dissipation.
Its not surprising, therefore, that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too is following a similar path. Of course the coming to power of the AAP in Delhi is not a revolutionary occurrence in the strict sense of the term but its landslide legislative victory won by the voluntary contributions of time, skills and money of lakhs of people against the huge power of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is akin to a revolution in many ways. Also since it does not have control of the repressive arms of state power in the form of the police and the military it also cannot carry out the kind of murderous purging that the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks did. But once again the way in which dissidents who raised foundational points regarding inner party democracy and justice have been booted out of the main decision making bodies of the party smacks of the same kind of impatience with grassroots democracy and the right to dissent as displayed in the earlier revolutions. In AAP's case, the pitch is even more queered by the fact that Kejriwal has an overwhelming presence and has dominated the electoral campaign and so now has tremendous mass support within and without the party as compared to the dissenters who do not have the same charismatic presence or mass support. 
The experience of the Russian Revolution and the more recent upheavals within the AAP should make us ponder about the inherent incompatibility of  grassroots democracy with running a centralised government with the aim of providing equality and justice in a world controlled by capitalism. It must be remembered that right from the mid 1650s capitalism first in its mercantilist form, then in its industrial form and now in its financial form has been in the ascendant, severely limiting the possibilities of pursuing equality and justice for the masses. The AAP Government in Delhi is severely handicapped in terms of resources and power to be able to fulfil its promises of providing free services and corruption free governance as were the French, Russian and Chinese revolutionary governments before them. In such situations earlier during the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions the ruling coterie tended to stifle dissent and demands for greater democracy even when these demands emanated from a much larger section of the revolutionary formation than it has done in the case of the AAP. After all an overwhelming 75 per cent of the National Executive Council of the party voted in favour of giving the incumbent group the upper hand in deciding the affairs of the party and most of the others abstained. (Even though it does look superficially as if the party is a one person show, there is in fact a fairly big grouping of leaders around that one person and so it should be treated as a group). In all such instances the coming to power takes place after a hard fought struggle and those who have led that struggle are naturally very possessive about the victory and the power gained. There is no doubt that Arvind Kejriwal and his close aides who have fought the notoriously unwinnable, because of the money and muscle power involved, first past the post elections as candidates promising clean governance and free or cheap public services against the corrupt might of the BJP, have achieved a singular victory and so are concerned with delivering on their promises. Since their task is cut out given the limited resources of the Government they head, they have thought it prudent to get rid of those who are raising points of procedure and principle. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to buck the historical trend of Jacobinism, in the earlier such ascents to centralised state power by radical political formations, eventually biting the dust at the hands of capitalist manipulation!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Money, Money, Money, its a Rich Man's World!!

The British faced with militant protests from Adivasis all over India against their policies of intruding into the latter's territory to appropriate the abundant natural resources there, were forced to back pedal in the twentieth century when the national freedom struggle was also gaining ground. So in the Government of India Act of 1935 the British introduced some provisions to safeguard the rights of the Adivasis in the North East and also in Central India. These provisions were later included in the Constitution of independent India as the Fifth and Sixth Schedules. The Sixth Schedule is for the special governance of the Adivasi areas in the North East and the Fifth Schedule is for the special governance of the Adivasi areas in eastern, central, western, northern and southern India in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. The more important provisions in the fourth and fifth sections of the Fifth Schedule are as follows -
4 (1). Tribes Advisory Council - There shall be established in each State having Scheduled Areas therein and, if the President so directs, also in any State having Scheduled Tribes but not Scheduled Areas therein, a Tribes Advisory Council consisting of not more than twenty members, of whom, as nearly as may be, three-fourths shall be the representatives of the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of the State: Provided that if the number of representatives of the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of the State is less than the number of seats in the Tribes Advisory Council to be filled by such representatives, the remaining seats shall be filled by other members of those tribes. 4 (2). It shall be the duty of the Tribes Advisory Council to advise on such matters pertaining to the welfare and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes in the State as may be referred to them by the Governor.
5 (1). Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, The Governor may by public notification direct that any particular Act of Parliament of of the Legislature of the State shall not apply to a Scheduled Areas or any part thereof in the State or shall apply to a Scheduled Area or any part thereof in the State subject to such exceptions and modifications as he may specify in the notification and any direction given under this sub-paragraph may be given so as to have retrospective effect.
5 (2).The Governor may make regulations for the peace and good government of any area in a State which is for the time being a Scheduled Area. In particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing power, such regulations may –
a) Prohibit or restrict the transfer of land by or among members of the Scheduled Tribes in such area;
b) Regulate the allotment of land to members of the Scheduled Tribes in such area;
c) Regulate the carrying on of business as money-lender by persons who lend money to members of the Scheduled Tribes in such area.
5 (3). In making any such regulation as is referred to in sub-paragraph (2) of this paragraph, the Governor may repeal or amend any Act of Parliament or of the Legislature of the State or any existing law which for the time being applicable to the area in question.”
Thus, theoretically it is possible for the Governor of a State, on the advice of the Tribes Advisory Council consisting mainly of the Adivasi Members of the Legislative Assembly of the state, to prevent the application of or repeal of such inimical statutes as the Indian Forest Act and the erstwhile Land Acquisition Act which have been the two most harmful laws for the Adivasis after independence. The most important aspect of these provisions is that the Governor may implement them so as to ensure "peace and good government" in Adivasi areas as the framers of the Constitution felt that this could be possible only if the Adivasis were allowed to develop according to their own laws and customs. However, this has never happened because it is not a binding provision and only a suggestion which finally has to depend on the executive for its implementation.
Consequently, there has been neither peace nor good government in Adivasi areas. The history of the past seventy years or so after independence is replete with innumerable struggles of the central Indian Adivasis against the injustice meted out to them by the Indian state through the ruthless implementation of the Indian Forest Act and the Land Acquisition Act and the cynical non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule mainly because the Adivasi MLAs belonging to the mainstream parties have never stood up for their people and have instead gone along with their immiserisation.
However, a new dimension altogether was added to this sordid history recently in Madhya Pradesh. Some Adivasi MLAs moved a resolution before the Tribes Advisory Council that the law that prevents Adivasis selling their land to non-Adivasis be repealed. Their argument was that due to this law in Adivasi areas the price of land was depressed below what it should be because Adivasis were mostly not in a position to offer high prices for land as compared to non-adivasis. This demand from the MLAs has arisen mainly because in Adivasi areas the towns and market places are expanding and rich non-Adivasis are coming in to these market areas but are unable to buy land. So they have to take possession of the land under lease. Since they cannot own the land, the non-Adivasis pay a lesser sum to the Adivasis from whom they have taken the land on lease. These Adivasis residing near the towns and market places are mostly those who have become rich either by getting permanent jobs in government or by becoming contractors, traders, bootleggers, gunrunners and corrupt politicians. These are the Adivasis who are the most articulate and also the leaders of their people. However, their interests are totally at variance with those of the poor majority who are desperately trying to hold onto whatever little land they have and have been helped in doing so to a large extent by the law preventing alienation of Adivasi land by non-Adivasis. Mostly they have suffered at the hands of the State which earlier used the Land Acquisition Act to dispossess them unjustly by offering pittances as monetary compensation. However, now with the Land Acquisition Act amended and the new law having stringent provisions for land acquisition the price of Adivasi land has gone up significantly and the land sharks among the Adivasis who are also MLAs want to cash in on this opportunity regardless of what it will mean for the vast majority of their people. Eventually the resolution was negated in the Tribes Advisory Council because the Chief Minister, who is a non-Adivasi incidentally, was advised by his legal staff that such a repeal of the law providing against land alienation was constitutionally not possible and would be immediately struck down by the Courts as being unconstitutional. 
This episode succinctly underlines how the power of money has overwhelmed the Adivasi leadership and they have lost complete sight of the welfare of their poor fellow Adivasis. The Tribes Advisory Council in Madhya Pradesh, instead of moving a resolution to repeal laws like the Indian Forest Act has instead moved one to repeal the law that prevents Adivasi land alienation!! Another episode recently drove home to us the huge obstacles that money has created to Adivasi mobilisation for Rights. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has been able to maintain a presence in these sordid times because of the hard grassroots mobilisation put in by the full time activists in the early years in the 1980s and 1990s. However, these activists have all now reached middle age and it is not possible for them to do the same kind of daily mobilisation work in the difficult hilly terrain any more. Only on some special occasions are they able to undertake  rigorous treks across the hills as in the picture below which shows Shankar and Subhadra climbing up a hill on their way to the Jungle Mela in Chilakda in 2014.

Try as we might we have not been able to develop a new generation of activists from among the Adivasis because the youth prefer to go away to Gujarat to labour in the farms and construction industry where they earn anything between Rupees three hundred and nine hundred a day depending on their skills. In the early years we had worked on shoe string budgets unlike now when we have some funding but even so we cannot pay the full timers the kind of money that can be earned in Gujarat. Mostly we now have part timers who put in a few days of work in the field for the organisation at about Rupees three hundred to Rupees four hundred per day. As a consequence the mobilisation work is going on in fits and starts and lacks the kind of consistency that it requires.
To get around this problem we decided to hike the rate to Rupees five hundred a day and sent out a call for applications for an activist to stay in our field headquarters in Vakner in the Vindhya hills bordering the River Narmada and work full time from there. Initially there was a good response both locally and from applicants from other places as far as Bhopal and Gwalior. However, when we said that the selection process would involve a hike in the hills to a village that does not have road, electricity or mobile connectivity the number of candidates who eventually landed up for the interview were just three - two non-Adivasis and one Adivasi!! After the trek to Khodamba and various village meetings all the three candidates said that they would not take up the post as they would not be able to live and work full time in the remote fastnesses of Vakner. The culture of earning easy money and spending it on consumerist goods and services has become so rampant that the hard thankless work of mobilising Adivasis for their rights and entitlements does not find any takers among today's youth. The huge amount of money moving around in the global economy and being used cleverly by the rich and powerful to entice people into pursuing consumerist lifestyles has significantly reduced the potential for bringing in a more equitable and sustainable socio-economic paradigm.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Seventy Year Old Dynamo!!

Swapan Bhattacharya the retired micro-biologist who has decided to stay at the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala in Kakrana has gone from strength to strength. Apart from taking up the onerous task of training the teachers to teach science and mathematics better and teaching the children himself he has set up a library with many books in Hindi. The children take out the books from the guest house cum laboratory cum library where Swapanda stays and read them in the verandah in front as shown below
The children have been inspired by the reading to translate the stories and poems they read into their own Bhilali language so that they can read them to their parents. Some children have been inspired to write their own stories and poems. The makeshift laboratory that Swapanda has set up with a kit developed by the EKLAVYA science teaching organisation has become very popular. The children and teachers both now understand the scientific principles they are studying much better.
Being a botanist by initial training Swapanda has been studying the flora in the forest that has been protected by the villagers of Kakrana nearby. One day he went on a long tour of the hilly forest along with his young friends underestimating the vast area and the hilly terrain. He somehow made it back but that has not deterred him from planning more visits.
He has also started a new garden in front of the guest house. Here is what he has to say about it - "The children of the Kakrana primary school- Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala- grew the saplings from the seeds in trays with cocopit. They also made the garden.  We got the soil from the Narmada river bank because  the land is devoid of nutrients. Since cattle are let loose by the villagers they are a nuisance for unguarded farming and gardening. So a bamboo fence was made by Gulab and Dhani, who work for the school. "

The tending of the garden, the reading of books from the library, doing experiments in the laboratory and studying the textbooks all takes place together in a happy multi-tasking mode of pedagogy that has galvanised the learning experience in the school.
There is a discordant note however in this otherwise well orchestrated symphony of learning. There is no internet connectivity. There is some mobile connectivity atop a hillock near the school where people have to climb to make phone calls. Swapanda found that smartphones got a weak internet signal via the phone network and so thought that possibly a dongle would also work. He bought a tent and got it set up on the hillock so that he could spend time there accessing the internet.
However, the data connectivity is so weak that the websites don't open and only emailing is possible and that too with much difficulty. This is a serious problem in this day and age when quality learning is next to impossible without the internet. In the sense that the tribal children will be severely handicapped in their efforts to make a place in a modern world which is increasingly wired. Since there is little possibility of the wireless connectivity improving in such a remote location any time soon the only other option is to get internet through satellite. But this is an expensive proposition as both the capital investment and running costs are high with the VSAT option. Access to internet through a satellite phone is a cheaper option comparatively but it is restricted by the fact that the Department of Telecommunication of the Government of India doesn't give permission easily for the use of these phones. So this is an appeal to those who are in the know for some solution to this problem of lack of internet connectivity in this remote location.
Swapanda is the best thing that could have happened to the school in Kakrana. He is a veritable dynamo despite his advanced age of seventy plus. He says that the clean environment and the simple food of Kakrana has solved many of his health problems like constipation, respiratory afflictions and hyper tension and he is much fitter than he was in Indore earlier.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Great Toilet Hoax!!

We have had a decade and a half of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) of the Government of India since 1999 to stop the practice of open defecation and increase the use of toilets which were used by only 29 percent of households in the 2001 census and this proportion improved marginally to 33 percent in the 2011 census. In rural areas the proportion is even lower being below 20 percent. Generally, those associated with implementing the TSC, the governments at the centre and the states, international agencies like the World Bank and the United Nations and various international and national NGOs have waxed eloquent about the huge funds spent and the villages covered, including the announcement of thousands of villages as Nirmal Gram or open defecation free and fully toilet provided. However, they have not paused to think that why despite such a huge campaign the proportion of open defecation continues to be so high. Therefore a critique of this programme is in order.
The main thrust of the TSC has been to build pit latrines. Typically the double pit latrine shown below is considered to be a cheap solution to providing toilets being economical both in money terms and in the use of water for flushing. When one pit becomes full it is covered and the other pit is used. The pits are made big enough so that it takes eight months to a year to fill so that by the time one fills up the faeces in the other filled pit decompose into manure and can be emptied into the fields to be used as such.
However, there are various problems with these latrines that have to be taken care of. The first one is that of the stench from the pit and so it is necessary to have a vent pipe that will release the gases generated during anaerobic decomposition of the faeces in the pit above the roof level. Secondly, the superstructure should be well built and spacious enough for people to be able to sit comfortably in the toilets. Thirdly, the latrine has to be at least 50 metres away from a drinking water source or an open water body. This is because the effluent that leaches into the ground from the pit has a high pollutant level with a Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) of 700 mg/litre required for oxidising it and this requires at least 50 metres of soil distance for the bacteria in the soil to oxidise the harmful pathogens. Also these latrines cannot be used in areas where the water table reaches close to the surface during the monsoons because then the effluents will directly leach into the ground water seriously polluting drinking water sources and open water bodies. Finally, there is the problem of the social taboo against cleaning faeces which has condemned a set of people in this country to do this task for generations on end. Taking out the manure from the filled pit is a heavy task and it is considered socially dirty and so it is unlikely that people will do it.
All these problems have come to the fore in the implementation of the TSC. The funds sanctioned for the construction of these latrines were low and became even lower due to the inevitable corruption and so the end user got a toilet with a small superstructure over an equally small single pit without any vent and so in most cases these toilets were never used as the people preferred to go out into the open. Even if some people did use these toilets for some time, once the pit began filling and the stench increased they were forced to desist. In some places, where the toilets have been built properly by some NGOs who have put in more funds in addition to those provided by the government, the problem of cleaning the pits cropped up after some time. Finally nowhere in the literature on TSC is there any discussion of the adverse effects that these pit latrines, when they function, have on the groundwater. If there are a number of such pit latrines in close proximity in a congested village then it can easily be imagined what this concentrated effluent discharge into the ground will do to the quality of the water being accessed from open wells and handpumps nearby. These wells and handpumps are rarely tested for the purity of their water. Thus, in an attempt to solve the problem of sanitation, the problem of the supply of potable drinking water is aggravated, especially during the monsoons when water borne diseases are rampant. There are no studies of the incidence of water borne diseases in localities where a large number of pit latrines are functioning. In fact this is a central problem of our country that household sewage whether from poor families or from the very rich is mostly released untreated into the environment causing a serious problem of water pollution throughout. That there are no studies whatsoever to determine the adverse effect on water quality and public health that these pit latrines are having is in itself an indication of the level of pre-meditated sophistry of those who have pushed these ill designed and even worse constructed pit latrines as viable toilet solutions here in India. The thrust is only on constructing thousands of toilets and not on ensuring that they are of good technical quality and social acceptability for them to be used regularly. Now these pit latrines are being built nineteen to the dozen in high water table areas in Bihar and Bengal and in some cases the effluents are being released directly into the numerous water bodies that are used by the residents for bathing and washing. This great toilet hoax is now going to be multiplied many times with the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Campaign).
The first thing that has to be realised is that it is not enough to build a toilet but it is necessary also to ensure that it is designed well and the effluents are properly treated. The technically sound decentralised system is the septic tank plus soakpit combination which is shown below. The wastewater from the toilets coming in at the inlet goes through two chambers which reduce the BOD from 700 mg/litre to about 250 mg/litre at the outlet of the septic tank. This water is then passed through brick crush and sand and leached into the ground by which time its BOD level is about 30 mg/litre which is the permissible level for release into the ground. Here too there is the caveat that there should not be an open well within 10 metres of the soakpit and that the water table should not rise to the level of the sand during the monsoons.

However, this costs three times more than the double pit part of the pit latrine even if it is built to cater to five toilets together. It also requires more space which is often at a premium in congested localities. There are various innovations that can be done to reduce the cost and space demand and increase the treatment efficiency of this system so that the effluent water can be recycled for flushing and irrigating the kitchen garden instead of being soaked into the ground. Even so this will require much more funds than the laughably low amounts that are currently sanctioned for toilets for the poor. Many toilets in this country in fact are serviced by septic tanks and in a majority of cases these tanks are poorly built because of the cost involved. Here too there is the problem of the tanks filling up after sometime and the accumulated sludge having to be removed. Though in one innovation in which air is pumped into the second chamber through a vacuum pump and bubble diffuser combination this last problem can be solved as the process of digestion becomes aerobic instead of anaerobic and so much less sludge is generated and most of it is pulverised by the mechanical stirring of the water by the aeration and goes out with it into the soakpit. This, however, requires some energy to be used for the aeration. If aeration is used then the effluent from the septic tank has a BOD of about 50 mg/litre and this can then be exposed to the sunlight in an open tank for further treatment and then reused for flushing and gardening.
Traditionally people have preferred to go out in the open to defecate because it is cheaper and requires less water and is free of social taboos with regard to cleaning the faeces and in an uncongested rural surrounding may be hygienic also if the defecation is done at a large enough distance from habitations. However, with the increase in population, open spaces have become limited and shrub land has also been brought under cultivation or habitation and so often open defecation takes place in a concentrated location leading to sanitation and health problems. The biggest productivity loss in the country is through sickness due to water borne diseases and this arises from untreated household wastewater and faeces being released into the environment. This problem is not there in rural areas only but throughout the country with the capital city of Delhi being the biggest polluter of open water bodies despite having close to 40 percent of the country's sewage treatment capacity.
So instead of tomtoming the success of the TSC and seeking to replicate its devastating real failure through a much larger Swacch Bhatat Abhiyan it would be better to assess what is needed in technological and social terms to make going to toilets acceptable to people and then investing the resources required for this instead of perpetrating possibly the greatest public investment hoax among the many that have been foisted on this country by its idiotic politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats since independence. People will first have to be shown the results of the tests on their water sources and studies of the incidence of water borne diseases and convinced that they are losing massively due to water borne diseases which can easily be stopped by adoption of proper sanitation and waste treatment practices. Since the multiplier effects of a healthy population are huge, the government has to spend money to make proper toilets for the poor who cannot afford to do it themselves and also to convince people of the need for sanitation instead of just beaming advertisements on television channels. Currently, as mentioned earlier, all toilets in this country, not just the atrociously built pit latrines, are contributing to water pollution because of a lack of application of mind to the problem which is being masked by a penchant for false publicity. And the international agencies are complicit in this black comedy.