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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Where will the Money Come from?

A few days back an activist friend of mine sent me a slew of proposals that he had drawn up for ensuring funding for his ongoing projects, asking my opinion on their feasibility. While some involved raising funding from the Government some others involved running his project as a business proposition. In both cases I pointed out that a project like his that challenges existing power structures is unlikely to get funding from the Government or be successful as a business proposition. For a business proposition to be successful the customers of a service must be able to pay for it to cover its costs at least, if not provide a profit but projects to improve the status of the poor cannot get the latter to pay for the service provided because they do not have the wherewithal to do so. Therefore, most projects for the poor run on donations from individuals or funding agencies which eventually are part of the capitalist system of profit making and so while they can provide some bandage treatment to relieve poverty they cannot challenge the basic tenet of profit making and rent seeking that powers capitalism and entrenches poverty not to speak of fomenting mass murder and mayhem.
So how have challenges to capitalism been funded and what have been the results of such challenges in the long run? The initial grand system changing challengers like Proudhon, Blanqui, Saint Simon, Marx and the like all hailed from the middle or upper classes and either survived on donations from the wealthy or conducted businesses themselves which were at variance with what they preached. Consequently they did not get very far. The Paris commune of  1872 was the first socialist Government to come to power and it lasted just two months because it did not have the funds to withstand the onslaught of the Capitalist French State which it had displaced. The Bolsheviks, who brought about the revolution in Russia, learnt their lessons from the failure of the Paris Commune and immediately took control of the state apparatus even though they were in a minority at the time of the October Revolution in 1917. Prior to that the Bolsheviks depended on individual donations from wealthy sympathisers and robberies, kidnappings and various other skullduggery to garner funds. However, to remain in control of the State apparatus they initiated an authoritarian system which was far removed from the ideal of proletarian freedom that they had initially spoken about. In fact the Soviet Union deteriorated into a State Capitalist system within a decade of the revolution. Most socialist revolutions following this were also flawed by the use of force and dubious funds.
The less said about the more passive brand of social reformers the better. Not just the modern ones like Vivekananda and Gandhi, but even people like the Buddha were all supported in their endeavours by well heeled power brokers of their day and so in the end were never able to challenge the systems of power which they ostensibly set out to change. Thoreau, who is feted by anarchists the world over for his advocacy of individual and small community freedom used to depend on the income from a pencil factory and mine in which he exploited his his employees to provide him with income to pursue his anarchist dreams. Anarchists like Kropotkin, Bakunin and Tolstoy were all princes or well to do people and anyway they were mainly theoreticians with limited activist programmes.
Then there is the trade union movement. Initially it fought its battles with the contributions of the workers and that remained the trade unions' main source of funds. When initial gains were made and job security gained in the organised industries and services these trade unions became restricted to themselves instead of using their funds to further trade unionism in the unorganised sector. Currently capitalism has reinvented itself in such a way that production and services can be outsourced at the drop of a hat and the power of trade unions in the organised sector and so their finances are on the wane. The unorganised sector remains as weak as ever and is dependent on doles and philanthropy.
Since I have found that our own mobilisation work among the Bhils requires funding from capitalist sources and so is circumscribed by it in many ways I have been reading up on how various so called great social reformers and revolutionaries have funded their work and have found that in every case they have had capitalist funding in one way or the other and so in the end have not been able to mount the challenge to capitalism that they initially proclaimed as their goal.
In 1993 it became clear that the KMCS could not continue on ad hoc funding anymore given its spreading work. There was a debate within the organisation as to how to garner funds. While I advocated doing consultancies and accessing grant funds through the NGO Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra which we had registered earlier, others demurred and said that we should try for donations from individuals who felt that our work was worthwhile. I let the others have their way and left to pursue my own work elsewhere funded by consultancies for such dubious organisations as the World Bank and various US Foundations. Eventually the donation route did not yield much and DGVK had to be used for accessing grant funding. We have been able to retain some amount of independence and a radical programme because we access only minimal funding and still rely greatly on the voluntary contributions of time and labour of the Bhil members of the KMCS. However, even so our work is quite far from being a challenge to Capitalism because the members of the KMCS today are reconciled to making a place for themselves in the prevailing capitalist system rather than fight it to accord with the intellectual predilections of some of their activist colleagues!! Moreover, those in the KMCS who had objected to accessing grant funding now ask me to garner funds for them despite my telling them that the sources of these funds are dubious in ideological terms!!
The Aam Aadmi Party has provided a new model where they have garnered online donations and voluntary contributions of time and labour from ordinary people. They succeeded in coming to power in Delhi with a landslide victory on the back of these. But whether they will be able to sustain this model in the face of attacks from the State and Capitalists remains to be seen. However, since Arvind Kejriwal seems to think that he has single handedly brought about the AAP miracle there are already signs of his megalomania written large on the way the AAP is operating in Delhi!! There are many movements, some totally anarchist, others socialist and yet others a mixture of the two which are afoot across the world against capitalism but as far as I can see none of them are anywhere close to posing a serious challenge to the dominance of capitalism and the main reason is the lack of funding.
There are a lot of people writing all over the place that with the coming of the internet there is the possibility of challenging capitalism through decentralised mass action but this is so much poppycock. The internet is not only controlled by capitalists and the State but it and all communications generally are diligently monitored by their intelligence agencies. The other day I did an internet search for flights from Indore to Ahmedabad on Google. After that I have been continually getting adds in Gmail and in Facebook offering great deals for Indore to Ahmdebad flights!! That is the level of surveillance that is taking place and so the prospects of a challenge to capitalism are indeed dim. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Megalomaniacs and Compromisers All!!

I have just finished reading two new biographies of Lenin which cover his life from birth to death in some detail based on research on new material made available from archives that have been opened up in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The striking aspects of Lenin's character and life that are revealed in these biographies are as follows -
1. He used to believe that what he understood about politics and economics was right and would engage in heated debates to assert this even if reality may belie his interpretations.
2. He was prepared to tweak his interpretation of orthodox political and economic theory if it seemed to him that the attainment of some practical goal needed him to do so. Thus, there was a serious gap between what he preached and what he practised.
3. He had no respect for democracy and justice and was ever ready to manipulate people and situations so as to be in control of his party and state. Especially after the seizure of power in the October Revolution, which itself was done through military action by his Bolshevik party which was in a minority even among the various socialist factions, he used terror and military action to suppress other socialists who were more numerous than his own Bolshevik faction and also the workers and peasants who did not agree with his policies and programmes. And what is even more interesting is that all the other members of the Politburo, the highest decision making body of the Bolshevik party, too were megalomaniacs like Lenin with scant regard for democracy and justice!!
4. He had a fierce hunger for power and would brook at nothing to achieve his goals.
5. He thought nothing of making compromises with those on the other side of the ideological spectrum to gain money for his party. Thus, after the February Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks were funded heavily by the Germans with whom Russia was at war and this helped the former to increase their propaganda work among the workers in Petrograd and arm their militia prior to the October Revolution.
6. Given the fact that the Bolsheviks did not have enough skilled people to run the Russian State, Lenin thought nothing of inducting people from the old Tsarist bureaucracy into the party as long as his overall control over it remained secure. In the process he had no compunction in crushing the workers and peasants soviets which were demanding control of their factories and farms.
7. Eventually with the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921, Lenin had to give way to peasants and allow them to produce and trade independently because of the impending collapse of the agricultural system in Russia, but even so this was a strategic retreat because of the inability of the military and the secret police to enforce total nationalisation of farming through terror. Later when the Bolsheviks were in a more secure position and the Soviet Union had bolstered its economy, Lenin's successor Stalin, resorted to even greater repression to nationalise farming forcibly in the 1930s.

Lenin, being a votary of dictatorship of course had little compunction in the use of arbitrary State power to suppress dissent, but even within overtly liberal democratic dispensations, State power is used, even if less arbitrarily, to further the political and economic goals of leaders who see themselves as being right in their interpretations of society and the economy even if they fly in the face of reality and those dissenting have to face oppression. Throughout the twentieth century the power of centralised States has increased considerably vis a vis the individual citizens even in liberal democratic dispensations and the might of the State is used to crush dissent. The control of these centralised State systems can only be possible by winning elections through organisation in centralised political parties. Invariably these political parties are led by power seeking and concentrating leaders who are not much different from Lenin in their megalomaniac and compromising tendencies, even if they may not resort to direct terror due to the legal provisions that prevent overt dictatorship. Any political party requires a considerable amount of funds both for its day to day activities and for fighting elections. These funds are mostly acquired from Capitalists and so the latter have a major say in the determination of the policies of the State. So like Lenin, the leaders of democratic parties too tend to be ambivalent of the source of their funds. In the end the masses, the ordinary citizens, end up having little say in the affairs of the State even in liberal democratic dispensations.
Even within smaller organisations fighting the centralised State apparatus for the rights of citizens, there is the tendency on the part of megalomaniac leaders to brush aside dissent.  It is very difficult to actualise true democracy where there are no leaders and only citizens. One is left wondering if the anarchist goal of decentralised communitarian consensus based social, economic and political arrangements will ever be possible to actualise on a large scale.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Rule of Law is not for the Tribals

There are many good laws in this country for the protection of the Tribals but the problem is that they are not implemented and the Tribals continue to suffer illegal displacement and harassment in the modern Indian State's pursuit of capitalist development. Those who try to help the Tribals to get the laws implemented in their fight for justice are also persecuted. Here is a report from the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) about the way in which the Tribals in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh and the activists helping them are being harassed -
NTUI National Secretary Roma and All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) National Committee Member Sokalo who were arrested in Sonebhadra on 30th June 2015 have been remanded to a further 14 days in judicial custody.
Comrades Roma, who is also Deputy General Secretary AIUFWP and Sokalo were arrested from the AIUFWP office in Robertsganj on 30th June as they were preparing for the rally of the All India People’s Forum on the basis of three First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged by the Police, with neither of them named in any of these. The charges against them are false, fabricated and politically motivated. Subsequently arrest warrants were also issued against two earlier FIRs that had never been pressed.  In the course of the last fortnight bail has been obtained against two of the five FIRs being pressed.
The AIUFPW has been at the forefront of the struggle for land rights of the people threatened with displacement by the Kanhar Dam project. This arrest is the fallout of the incidents of police firing on peaceful protestors against illegal land acquisition for the Kanhar Dam project. Uttar Pradesh Police fired indiscriminately on several hundred dalits and adivasis, including large numbers of women and children, on the morning of Ambedkar Jayanti (14 April). Several women are injured. Following this, false cases were filed against countless unnamed persons. Four days later, on 18 April, there was a second instance of police firing in which once again several people were seriously injured and some of the key activists of the movement arrested. Those arrested are yet to be released. Despite there being court orders, including from the National Green Tribunal, against the persistence of land acquisition in scheduled areas, the Government of Uttar Pradesh has pursued and targeted activists who are protesting its illegal actions at Kanhar. 
Apart from being illegal the actions of the Uttar Pradesh government are duplicitous. The Samajwadi Party, the party currently in government, has opposed both the Land Acquisition Ordnance and the bill before parliament in the JPC.
Speaking to the several hundred members of the AIUFPW outside the court today, Sujata Mody, National Secretary, NTUI said: ‘the NTUI will leave no stone unturned to ensure the early release of Comrades Roma, Sukalo and others while continuing our fight against the land acquisition bill’.  Com. Sujata and Supreme Court Advocate Rajat Kumar were in Mirzapur yesterday to meet with the comrades in the district jail there and at the court in Robertsganj today.  They also met the District Magistrate, Sonebhadra District, to press for the early release of the comrades.
The NTUI secretariat at its meeting decided at its meeting in New Delhi on 10th July 2015 that:
·         It will launch a bulk text message (SMS) campaign to the District Collector, Sonbhadra on every date of court hearing. This was carried forward today by some 200 comrades of our Mumbai affiliates most notably the Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sangathana (KVSS).
·         The Secretariat reaffirmed the commitment to the AIUFPW that it will co-ordinate with all affiliates to ensure the success of mass action that it calls for and
·         The Secretariat will co-ordinate with other support organisations in Delhi to immediately file complaints with the National Human Rights Commission and the National Women’s Commission.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Recently a Phd student did a preliminary study of the areas of influence of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in Alirajpur to see what made small mass organisations like this tick. As an initial exercise she did some interviews with some of the veteran grassroots fighters of the KMCS. The foremost among these is Dahelibai of Attha village who is seen below leading a rally of the KMCS in Alirajpur even though now she is close to seventy years of age.
Dahelibai and her husband Lalia were landless in the late 1970s because they had been prevented from cultivating their ancestral land by the Forest Department after the area was declared to be a Reserved Forest under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927 which had a colonial vintage having been carried over after independence instead of being abrogated. Since the Attha village was in the Mathwar princely state before independence, there were no land records and no demarcation of forests as elsewhere in British India where the Indian Forest Act and the Land Revenue Code used to prevail. However, after independence gradually all the princely state areas in Madhya Pradesh were assimilated into the modified British Indian system and in the process many tribals across India were dispossessed of the lands they were cultivating. Daheli and many other Bhil tribals in Alirajpur too suffered the same fate. Since they could not survive without cultivating land they did it by bribing the forest department officials and often had to bear severe beatings also.
By the early 1980s things got very difficult as the bribes and the beatings increased manifold and it became almost impossible to exist. On one occasion Daheli's husband Lalia was so severely beaten up that he bled from his anus for days on end and could not get up from bed. Then in 1983 Khemla Aujnaharia, a Bhil tribal activist who had fought many battles against the police and the forest department in Alirajpur was invited along with some non-tribal activists who were working with him to come and help the Mathwar tribals. Thus began the struggle against the forest department which later evolved into the KMCS.
Daheli led from the front in this struggle. She mobilised the women of Attha and they went and confronted the Forest Department staff when they came to beat their men. She led other women to come out of their homes and go to Alirajpur to participate in rallies and dharnas to highlight the oppression of the forest department. These struggles along with that of many other tribal people across the country finally resulted in the Forest Rights Act coming into force in 2007 and now the tribals in Alirajpur have legal title to their land.
Daheli has not only fought the State for her rights but has also mobilised the women of her village to protect the forests. They regularly go out on patrols to guard the forest as shown below. The forest is now lush green and since other villages in the watershed have also followed this practice, the stream running through the village has become perennial.
  Daheli is not content with just protecting the forest but has been a driving force behind soil and water conservation also. She has been instrumental in the revival of the traditional labour pooling custom of Dhas in which people get together and work on each others' fields to do agricultural work. Many stone bunds and gully plugs have been built to conserve soil and water and create more agricultural land as shown below.

Even though both KMCS and Dahelibai have lost a considerable amount of their militant dynamism of the early years, the fire continues to burn in both. Those initial struggles have ensured that the people these days lead much more secure lives and they are mostly in control of their village resources. Also by migrating to labour in Gujarat off and on they are able to earn extra income which results in cash in their hands and better food, clothing and housing. But this is not the only things we had in mind when we started fighting all those years ago. Daheli and all the rest of us had dreamed of tribal self rule. However, that has remained a distant dream due to the increasing power of capitalism. We need many more Dahelibais among the new generation now for that dream to be realised.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

For Whom The Emergency Never Ended!!

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies and Politics

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

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Adivasis will not Reform!!

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is Swaraj or Self Rule Possible?

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

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Biggest Bluff of Them All!!

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

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

One Year of a Bluff Master!!

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