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, April 1, 2019

The Wages of Idiocy


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surgical strike on black money took place through demonetisation on November 8th 2016. It was claimed that this would lead to a substantial amount of black money held as cash not being deposited and so the liability of the Reserve Bank in this regard would be cancelled out and this would accrue as a windfall dividend to the Government to pursue greater economic development.  About Rs 15 lakh crores were in circulation as Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at the time of demonetisation. In the absence of any rigorous measurement a conservative estimate is that the extent of the black economy is 50 percent of the official GDP. Thus, Rs 7.5 lakh crores was estimated to be the black money that would not be deposited resulting in a huge dividend to the government. Unfortunately, disregarding all warnings of dire consequences that would follow if citizens deposited demonetised notes of more than Rs 2.5 lakhs in cumulative value in savings accounts and more than Rs 12.5 lakhs in current accounts, people deposited all their demonetised notes and so eventually 100 percent of the notes were deposited and the Government did not get its expected windfall. On the contrary by having to print notes in replacement in a hurry to replace all the demonetised notes the Government incurred an expenditure of Rs 15,000 crores which reduced the dividend it gets annually from the RBI because of the profits earned by the latter from its money market operations.

The goal posts were then shifted and it was claimed that all those who had deposited money in excess of the prescribed amounts would be identified and prosecuted and in this way eventually the black money that was deposited would be traced. The investment in the information technology enabled wing of the investigation department of the Central Board of Direct Taxes was racheted up considerably to analyse the huge data of deposits that were coming in from the banks. As a result the following data was gleaned –

1.       18 lakh accounts had deposits of demonetised notes greater than the prescribed amounts
2.       11.44 lakh Permanent Account Numbers (PAN) were found to be duplicate and were deactivated.

After this action was taken as follows -

1.       Notices were sent to all those who had deposited more than the prescribed amount asking them to explain this and about 12 lakh people filed responses.
2.       Based on these responses notices were issued to  3,04,910 persons who had deposited more than Rs 10 lakhs in savings bank accounts and had not disclosed this in their income tax returns.
3.       As a result 2,17,557 persons filed income tax returns and paid self assessment tax  of Rs 6,514 crores while 87,353 persons did not file income tax returns at all and proceedings have ensued against them.
Thus, even if all those who haven’t filed returns are pursued and the returns of those who have are scrutinised, the total tax recovery is not likely to be more than the Rs 15,000 crores it cost to reprint the notes that were demonetised.

It was also claimed that the demonetisation exercise and the digital analysis of data has led to a larger tax base and better tax compliance resulting in greater tax revenue. The total tax recovered for the financial year 2016-17 in which demonetisation was carried out has not shown a phenomenal increase. Whereas the growth in the total direct tax collection in the financial year 2015-16 over that in financial year 2016-17 was 14 percent this growth had been achieved earlier also during the UPA regime and had in fact slumped to less than 10 percent in the first two years of NDA rule. The growth in direct tax collection the following year in 2017-18 was 17 percent but this too was achieved earlier in the UPA regime and is not remarkable. Even though there has been a significant increase in the number of tax filers and so the tax base has increased considerably, mostly they either file nil returns or they do so to get back refunds of tax deducted at source and that is why the actual tax collected has not shown a phenomenal increase.
Finally, there is the matter of greater digitisation of the economy and the claim that as a result of demonetisation India would move towards becoming a cashless economy. This has proved to be another red herring as the money supply currently is much more than what it was at the time of demonetisation and cash continues to be king.

The Black economy is thriving because the troika that is in control of the economy – businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians, are hand in glove in evading taxes. A much greater amount of black money is held in the form of fixed assets in India and abroad and in cash abroad than in cash in India. Thus, a surgical strike through demonetisation, even if it were to be successful in terms of the demonetised notes that are unaccounted not being deposited, it would neither yield much nor would it lead to a reduction in the black economy.

The biggest problem with ensuring tax compliance is that there are not enough personnel to check tax evasion. The only way to ensure greater compliance is to conduct scrutiny and search. However, this requires a lot of time and staff and that is why the self assessed returns of less than 1 percent of the total taxpayers are scrutinised and a miniscule few are subjected to searches. Even after this the tax evaders challenge the decisions of the tax department in courts and so a huge amount of tax demand is stuck in litigation. The tax evaders know from experience that the process of scrutiny is a long drawn one and that is why they didn’t heed the dire warnings of the Government regarding legal proceedings to follow and deposited all their unaccounted money after demonetisation.

Apart from the direct costs to the Government in terms of printing of new notes and the technology and human power deployed in the already over burdened tax department to trace the depositors of excess demonetised notes, the economy as a whole suffered. Initially the whole population had to line up in long queues to deposit their demonetised notes in banks and thus lost out on their regular work. The iconic photo of an old man standing crying in front of a long queue underlines this poignantly.

The banks bore tremendous costs as they had to stop all other work and involve themselves in taking in the demonetised notes and finally the Reserve Bank of India spent a huge amount of time counting the demonetised notes to arrive at the conclusion that almost all of them were deposited!!

 Especially adversely affected by demonetisation was the informal economy, where cash is the major medium of exchange and only a miniscule few transactions are done through banks. Many small businesses closed down due to lack of liquidity leading to loss of work for the poor who are mostly employed as casual labourers.  It has been claimed that India has continued to be the fastest growing major economy in the world despite demonetisation and so it is not true that the economy has suffered. But this is yet another red herring. India is the fastest growing economy because of its huge population which even if it does not work at its productive best, nevertheless contributes to the GDP in some way or other. The chai walas and pakoda sellers are all contributing to the economy even if that may not be the ideal kind of work they would like to do. So if demonetisation had not taken place the economy would have grown even faster. 
  
 All in all, demonetisation was one of the most idiotic exercises to have been carried out in recent times and the costs were borne by the economy and disproportionately by its poorest participants.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Goodbye To You My Trusted Friend


Yet another stalwart of the Bhil Adivasi struggle for rights in western Madhya Pradesh passed away yesterday on the day of Holi after a long illness that had incapacitated him for the past few years. Chhotelal Bamnia or Chhotubhai as he was popularly known was made of the rebellious mettle that has again and again produced great Adivasi fighters in this country. He was part of the Adivasi Shakti Sangathan in Khargone district and played an important part in the struggles for rights throughout the 1990s and in the first decade after the turn of the century. He was a glorious example of an organic intellectual who learnt to read and write after he became a member of the organisation and educated himself about mass politics by reading various pamphlets and documents of the struggle. He was unfortunately struck with paralysis after a severe stroke a few years back and though he recovered somewhat, he was mostly confined to his house where he could just about walk around with the help of a stick. Here I will describe in detail two of the many struggles that he participated in during his illustrious career as a grassroots Adivasi activist that will not only showcase his calibre but also highlight the kind of deep injustice that Adivasis in this country have to fight.
There was a problem of the lack of proper hostel facilities for Adivasi girls studying in his home village Katkut. The non-Adivasi headmistress of the government Adivasi girls' hostel in Katkut had been defalcating the funds meant for the running of the hostel for over a decade resulting in poor living conditions for the girl students. This affected their studies and so invariably the results in the board examinations were very poor. Some of the girl's parents were members of the Sangathan and so they had come in touch with the new atmosphere of revolt that was pervading their villages. Naturally they were affected by this and decided to do something to improve matters in the hostel. They prepared a detailed report of the irregularities and sent a complaint to the Joint Director of the Adivasi Department in Khargone in January. An officer deputed by the joint director came to investigate matters and made only a perfunctory enquiry, even going to the extent of warning the complainant students not to make any more complaints in future. The headmistress took this as a cue to start harassing the girls who had complained. Apart from berating them in the worst manner she began to deprive them of food. The girls then complained to their parents. The parents brought up the matter in the meetings of the Sangathan.
Chhotubhai and other leaders of the Sangathan, knowing that the political and administrative powers were against them decided to proceed cautiously. They first asked the girls to give a written complaint to the Sangathan and a copy to the police officer in Katkut. They then passed a formal resolution in a general body meeting of the Katkut Adivasi Gram Sabha or village general body that an enquiry should be conducted into the running of the hostel. A delegation of men then went to the hostel to enquire and investigate. The delegation members had discussions with the girls as well as the headmistress. They submitted a formal report of their findings to the headmistress and also sent a copy to the Joint Director of the Adivasi Department in Khargone recommending that he take steps to improve the sorry state of the hostel.
The girls after this decided to take over the management of the hostel themselves with the help of some of the adivasi teachers. The money for running the hostel was deposited in a bank account, which was jointly operated by two of the senior students. The headmistress used to draw out all the money by forcing the students to sign on the cheque every month. The girls then began withdrawing the money themselves and then managing the hostel activities with this money and keeping records.
All these years the headmistress had been getting away with her corrupt practices by bribing the higher authorities in Khargone and also the local political leaders. She now turned to these local leaders to get back control of the hostel funds. These leaders too saw this as an opportunity to get even with the Sangathan. They advised the headmistress to lodge a complaint with the police and then they got the police, who were only too ready, to register a false case against the people who had gone to investigate the running of the hostel on behalf of the Sangathan. A false case of having abused and threatened to kill the headmistress was framed against five members of the Sangathan. Then the police began arresting them one by one and sending them to jail. In the process they did not fail to rough up the arrested persons severely.
The women of the Sangathan then intervened. When the third person was thus arrested and beaten up, women staged a sit-in before the police outpost and prevented the police from taking the arrested person to court until some responsible officer had explained this lawlessness on the part of the police. Even though the Tehsildar and the Subdivisional Police Officer did come and assure the women that such illegal actions would not take place in the future and that no case would be registered against them for having sat in front of the police station, nevertheless a case was framed against fifteen members of the Sangathan of having threatened to kill policemen. Eventually, all the people implicated in these cases were acquitted but not before a long trial process that went on for thirteen years. The situation in the hostel improved as a result of this intervention but at a great cost.
The other incident is even more disturbing. There are various sections in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), provided to ensure public order and prevent breach of peace by criminal elements. However, these are in fact handy tools with which the administration can easily snuff out any democratic mass protest whatsoever. Theoretically, there is a division between the police who actually arrest people under these sections and the executive magistrates before whom they are produced before being sent to jail. However, in the case of controlling democratic mass protests the magistrates themselves take the decision that the leaders are to be arrested and then the police carry out these orders and bring the arrested persons before the very same magistrates who have ordered their arrest. The person arraigned has to bail himself out and after that regularly attend the court. Finally the arraigned person is made to sign a bond that in future he will keep the peace. Once a person signs this bond he automatically acknowledges that he has broken the peace in the case in question and so admits to his guilt and is considered to have been convicted. Once a person is convicted in this kangaroo court manner a few times she becomes a hardened criminal in the eyes of the administration who can then start a process under another draconian law, once again enacted for the control of criminal activity, for her externment from the district in which she lives and all the adjoining districts. Often people in mass movements have other similar false criminal cases too against them and so it is easy for the administration to pass an order of externment against an activist of the mass movements.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been jailed under such preventive detention sections of CrPC. But I have never ever signed on the dotted line saying that I am going to keep the peace in the future. The first time I was so arrested the people outside filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the High Court. I was released unconditionally after a few days and later the High Court ruled that proper procedure had not been followed during my arrest thus violating the basic principles of natural justice and passed strictures against the police for having written up a false chargesheet and against the executive magistrate for not having applied his mind to the falseness of the chargesheet and discharged us. That was the first time anyone in Alirajpur had moved the High Court against the arbitrary and illegal use of preventive detention by the administration and it created a minor flutter within the administration. On later occasions sometimes I have gone on hunger strike and on some others the administration knowing that I would not sign on any paper has released me on its own. On one occasion the Superintendent of Police of Dewas had me arrested from a bus in which I was travelling just to show me who was boss. He then sent wireless messages all around over the five districts of western Madhya Pradesh to see if there were any arrest warrants pending against me. There were none and so eventually after having kept me in custody for eight hours he ordered his henchmen to prepare a false chargesheet against me under section 151 of CrPC. I had in the meantime been continually pestering these lower level policemen to make out an arrest memorandum stating the reasons for my arrest as per the rulings of the Supreme Court. So when they finally asked me to sign on the arrest memo under section 151 CrPC after eight hours I refused to do so. This created a problem for the police and eventually the SDM before whom I was produced declared that the chargesheet against me was false and so discharged me unconditionally!
The same kind of toughness cannot be expected from Adivasis given there lesser acquaintance with legal nitty gritties. So these people invariably sign a bond stating that they will keep the peace in future and so convict themselves. Chhotubhai had been arrested many times under CrPC sections and also in other false cases under sections of the Indian Penal Code and had later signed bonds to keep the peace to secure his release. The Superintendent of Police of Khargone district put in a proposal to the District Collector listing all the cases pending against him and demanding that Chhotubhai be externed from the district. On receiving the notice the Sangathan engaged a lawyer to fight the case and made a detailed presentation listing the fact that all these cases were of old vintage and ones in which Chhotubhai was falsely implicated along with other members of the Sangathan for taking part in some demonstration or other. He had not been convicted in any of them and so he was not guilty until proved to be so. The District Collector then summoned Chhotubhai and told him in no uncertain terms that he had better give up his association with the Sangathan otherwise she would pass an externment order against him. Chhotelal not to be cowed told her that the Bhil homeland was very large extending over the four states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan in addition to Madhya Pradesh. The District Collector could only extern him from his own district and the adjoining districts not from his homeland. He challenged the District Collector to banish him from his homeland and came away with a flourish.
Just after this he took part in the preparations for the Mayday rally in Barwah and then played a prominent part in it. At the end of the rally the SDM in Barwah sheepishly handed him the order saying that he had been externed. The procedure under the law is that the person so externed has to appeal to the Home Secretary against the order within thirty days. So we prepared an application against the order and then the time came to go to Bhopal to meet the Home Secretary and give it to him. On the appointed day our lawyer suddenly fell ill and so I had to go along with Chhotubhai to Bhopal. I thought that if I were to reveal my identity to the Home Secretary then whatever little chance Chhotubhai had of getting relief would be scotched. So I asked Pushpendra Solanki, the other activist journalist in Bhopal of Alirajpur vintage who has just passed away a few weeks ago, to set up an appointment and I said I would tag along as his assistant. Pushpendra called the Home Secretary for an appointment and explained to him that an adivasi had been needlessly externed by the District Collector. The Secretary asked him to come over at once and he would look into the matter.
The three of us went off to the Secretariat. We were cordially ushered in and asked to sit down. After some preliminary exchange of pleasantries Pushpendra handed the Home Secretary the application on behalf of Chhotebhai. He started perusing it and then suddenly jumped with a start and exclaimed at Pushpendra that he did not know with whom he had got enmeshed. He said that Chhotebahi was a member of the Adivasi Shakti Sangathan and this was a dangerous organisation that was out to destabilise the state and if Pushpendra did not watch his step he might get into serious trouble. Then he said that Chhotebhai and other adivasis like him were simple people and the real culprit was Rahul Banerjee who was instigating them from behind the scenes. Then he came into his forte and told Pushpendra that I was a very cunning fellow who was secretly preparing the base for the spread of Naxalism in western Madhya Pradesh and using the simple adivasis as a front. He told Pushpendra that despite the crushing police action taken by the state by killing Adivasis a few months earlier, they had not been able to wipe out the seeds of extremism from the region precisely because of my versatile presence.
The Home Secretary, warming up to his theme asked Pushpendra to do a story on the way in which I was vitiating the atmosphere in the region by using the press and the international human rights agencies to counter the efforts of the state to root out extremism. Pushpendra then asked him for some details about me and my activities for the proposed story. The Secretary immediately sent for a file and when it was brought began reading out from it. Pushpendra told me to take down whatever was being said! I felt flattered while I wrote down all the exaggerated insurgent activity that had been falsely imputed to me. Among other things it was also written that Subhadra and I were not married and that we were only living together. What a sin. Subhadra had not changed her surname after marriage leading to the police making this deduction. Indeed Subhadra's retaining her maiden surname has led to many bizarre encounters with the bureaucracy. On one occasion when I had gone to register our names in the electoral rolls after shifting to Indore the SDM refused to put down Subhadra's surname as Khaperde. When I told him that Subhadra is an independent person and free to use whatever surname she liked he told me that I had got a golden opportunity to put such an uppity wife in her place and should jump at it and put her surname down in the electoral rolls as Banerjee! We had to go to the Collector after that to get Subhadra's surname properly registered in the electoral rolls. Even then the published electoral rolls show only Subhadra's father's first name and not her surname!
After this the Secretary said that he would call up the details of the case from Khargone and gave us a date some fifteen days later for hearing arguments. Chhotubhai then asked him to sign on the copy as proof of receipt of the application. Once again the Secretary flared up saying that he could not imagine a simple adivasi not trusting him and plucking up the courage to ask him, the Home Secretary, for a receipt. All this was my work he fumed. We came out of the office and once safely out of hearing burst out in laughter that rang through the corridors of the Secratariat. Pushpendra finally recovered and clapped me on my back and said "Rahul all your years of struggle have not gone in vain." Needless to say that after dillydallying for about two months on various pretexts, the Home Secretary finally rejected the appeal. We then went in further appeal to the High Court and after another seven months or so we had the order quashed. The High Court held that the order of externment was illegal and had violated the provisions of the externment law and also the basic principles of natural justice. We then sent a demand of justice notice to the Superintendent of Police and District Collector saying that the High Court order clearly stated that they had illegally harassed Chhotubhai and so they should give a written apology and pay compensation. There was obviously no response from the culprits. We subsequently sent applications to various authorities right upto the President of India demanding permission to prosecute the two in the courts as is mandatory under the law. Again we never received any response.
Throughout, the period of externment till the High Court order quashing it, Chhotubhai continued to stay in Katkut and work under ground. Such was the solidarity of the Sangathan that the police, despite knowing his whereabouts were unable to apprehend him. The first decade of this century was the crucial time in which many people friendly laws like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Forest Rights Act and the Right to Information Act were enacted due to the mass movements of people's organisations across the country. It was due to the committed struggles of many local people like Chhotubhai that democracy was both broadened and deepened in India as a consequence.
Naturally, the loss of such a doughty fighter has left all of us in the Sangathan distraught. He was the same age as I am and yet he is no more. That Adivasis in the western Madhya Pradesh region today enjoy greater power as a community is due to the many battles fought by grassroots activists like Chhotubhai. I rushed to Katkut from Indore as soon as I got the news as I couldn't believe that he was no more. Only a few days back I had visited him with another old friend and had a long chat. I somehow got a last glimpse as he was being taken out for the funeral in the huge crowd of people that had gathered.

To paraphrase the opening lines of a famous folk song from my school years - 
Goodbye to you my trusted friend, 
Glorious times did we together spend.  

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Another One Bites the Dust

Fighting for the rights of the oppressed is always a difficult proposition. Especially if they are Adivasis in India. So when we took up cudgels for the Bhil Adivasis of Alirajpur in the early 1980s, we immediately faced repression from the administration and the local non-Adivasi exploiters. Things were even more difficult then because the Adivasis in Alirajpur did not even know that they were citizens of an independent nation in which they had considerable rights and entitlements. So from the beginning we were on the backfoot always facing physical attacks and what was more dangerous, the sinister machinations of the minions of the State. Mostly, we used to stay deep in the jungles and come to the town only for some protest action or for placing some demands. In those days, when there were no mobile phones and internet, it would not have been possible to sustain our mass work without the support of Pushpendra Solanki in Alirajpur.

Pushpendra was a local journalist, a stringer, of a Hindi daily and as such had no income. The income that such stringers earned was from blackmailing corrupt government servants by saying that they would publish their wrong doings. Pushpendra, never did that and instead used to report the wrongdoings. One story he did was about the abhorrent practice of burying alive of leprosy patients in connivance with the police. Naturally, he soon became friends with us and took up the cause of the Adivasi fight for rights. So he became our point person in Alirajpur and provided the communication with the world at large that was so required. On our suggestion, he set up the NGO, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra and we got him a legal aid project through which he was able to take up our many cases in the courts by employing lawyers. Throughout the decade of the 1980s up to 1993, whenever the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath faced serious challenges, Pushpendra provided the crucial communication and legal support in Alirajpur that eventually helped the organisation to make a mark and considerably improve the situation of the Adivasis in Alirajpur.
After 1993, the non-Adivasi activists all moved out of Alirajpur as the local Adivasi activists like Khemla, Shankar and Kemat had become capable of running the show on their own. Pushpendra also moved out to Bhopal and became a full time journalist. He then continued to provide support from Bhopal not only to the KMCS but also to other mass organisations in Madhya Pradesh. As an accredited journalist he got a government quarters and his house in Bhopal became the rallying point of activists. He had a great knack of reporting and writing investigative pieces and soon made a name for himself, becoming an editor over time. However, given his unbending attitude towards corruption and his commitment to the cause of socio-economic justice he could not hold on to his editorial jobs and had to later survive on freelance work instead.
I am particularly grateful to him for the support he provided during the huge crackdown on our organisation in Dewas in 2001 when the government killed four of my Adivasi colleagues in police firing and packed me into prison for two and a half months. Subhadra, my wife, escaped by the skin of her teeth with our son Ishaan who was then just seven months old and landed up at Pushpendra's house in Bhopal to lie low. Pushpendra and his wife Renu gave refuge to them and then Pushpendra launched a scathing attack in the news papers against the government.
So, the passing away of Pushpendra last week in his sleep due to a massive heart attack came as a deeply hurting shock from which I have still to recover. The Government quarter he was staying in was due for demolition and was the only one that was still standing in that colony which is to be redeveloped as a swanky mall and up market residential colony. While all others being government servants had vacated their quarters, Pushpendra, had doggedly stuck on saying that he wouldn't move without getting another quarter. Probably all the tensions did him in and he lost the battle for his life leaving all of us shell shocked.
At a time when the fight for rights is on the back foot and we can only look back on those heady days of the 1980s with wonder at what we had achieved, the passing away of a brave comrade in arms from that time has left me shattered. A few years ago another great comrade from that time, Khemla, had passed away and now Pushpendra also has departed. Reminds me of the famous number by the rock band Queen, which is about comrades dying in the face of bullets of the enemy - Another One Bites the Dust. We had set out to fight injustice with great enthusiasm in our youth but have failed to achieve a just society and now one by one our comrades are leaving us. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Nothing is Easy

Why isn't solar energy spreading like wildfire in India? Because it is not easy to maintain the solar systems at peak levels. Whereas, one normally does not have to worry about grid electricity once one has a connection, that is not the case with solar electricity. Even if there is a snag in the grid electricity supply, normally a complaint with the service provider solves the problem.
First of all solar panels need to be cleaned of dust regularly. Optimally once a week in cities where dust levels in the air are very high. If this is not done then the dust that settles on the panels reduced their energy absorption efficiency. Now the solar panels are normally at a height on the roof. So this means that one has to expend considerable energy and be athletic and climb on to the roof to clean the panels. The net result is that instead of once a week we end up cleaning the solar panels that we have installed in our office in Indore only once a month and this means we are losing some of the energy production potential. In big solar parks there are mechanical cleaners but then they also consume some of the energy produced for their operation so that too leads to some loss. In most medium sized installations there are people employed to clean the panels as shown below, which then adds to the cost.
We have a passive solar water heater also installed in our Indore house. This operates by glass pipes absorbing the heat from the sun and passing it on to the water inside them which, once heated, rises up to be stored in a drum at the top. The water in Indore is hard and so when it is heated up the calcium and magnesium salts get deposited in the pipes causing scaling. This reduces the capacity of these pipes to absorb energy. A time comes when the scaling is so much that the water does not heat at all. So the pipes have to be cleaned regularly once a year to free them of the deposits. Once again this is not an easy task as the pipes are made of glass and are tightly fitted with washers. In fact an expert plumber is needed to take the pipes out and free them of the deposits. Even so one pipe at least breaks while being taken out and this raises the cost of maintenance. Moreover, the tank to scales but since this increases the insulation it does not matter that much from the heat point of view. But some of the scales get dislodged and make their way through the supply pipe to the taps and clog them up. This too requires a plumber to come and open the taps and take out the scales from them.
Life of course used to be labour intensive before the industrial revolution and the generation of artificial energy from coal and later from oil. However, a few centuries of automated living has rendered us lazy. Moreover, it is possible to hire labour to do physical work but while this labour is easy to get for conventional appliances, in the case of solar this is not so as there are very few technicians who service the small scale solar market.
Thus, implementing solar energy at the small scale level is not only costly but also complicated because there is a lack of qualified technical personnel for repair work. In the face of Government apathy for developing the small scale solar sector and its concentration only on mega solar power projects there needs to be a huge commitment towards cutting down green house gas emissions by the use of solar energy as it is both costly and full of hassles.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Road to Shangri La

The River Siang descends from the Tibetan Plateau where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo and makes its way through the steep gorges of the lower Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh before hitting the plains at Pasighat, where after it meets with the Lohit, Dibang, Subansiri, Kameng and a host of other rivers that originate in India to become the mighty Brahmaputra.
I recently fulfilled a long standing desire of mine to go up the Siang valley up to the China border to imbibe first hand the legendary beauty of this river about which I had read on the internet. Not only does the river wend its way through spectacularly forested hills but there are many places along it, where it rushes over rapids in a roar of white foam. This is what has made it one of the world's most sought after white water rafting destinations.
The lower Himalayas are not very high and the highest point on our route was the town of Migging at a height of 1000 meters above sea level. Only near this place are there a few snow capped mountains visible. This is a picturesque place with scenically situated villages on hill tops and high valleys in a very sparsely populated landscape that is heavy with vegetation.
The villagers across the river Siang, from the side on which the road is, mostly have to use suspension foot bridges made of steel wires and wooden planks to cross the river and reach the road. Since the span has to be small, the bridges are constructed near the river and so the people have a steep climb to the road above. These bridges sway tantalisingly when one walks on them.
 Initially there was only one suspension bridge across the Siang at a place called Dite Dime about 108 kilometers up the river from Pasighat on which cars and trucks could ply. Then a two lane concrete road bridge was constructed in 2009 at Pasighat. Now, on the day we arrived at Yingkiong, the headquarters of the Upper Siang district, at a distance of 130 kms from Pasighat,  a big two lane suspension bridge was opened at this town named the Byorung bridge. Earlier there was only a suspension footbridge here which can be seen at the side.

The Siang valley is mostly populated by the Adi tribes people who have their own nature worshiping religion known as Donyi Polo which are the Adi names for the sun and the moon. In the upper reaches near the China border there are Pemba tribes who are Buddhists. The people are mostly farmers and hunters. They cultivate rice in terraced fields and live in bamboo and thatch houses on stilts. The thatch is skillfully made of Tok leaves that are weather resistant. These houses stay warm during winter and cool during summer.
They rear pigs in picturesque sties that are also built on stilts and inside their homes there is a hearth that is used for both cooking and warmth. The hearth has two hanging shelves over it on which food and firewood are kept warm. The floors and walls are made of bamboo or wooden planks.
The last administrative town up the Siang valley is Tuting which is 160 kms from Yingkiong. It has an airport for the use of the army which has an extensive setup here. It also has an inspection bungalow where visitors can stay after getting permission from the administrative officer. The town is situated on the banks of the Siang but being hilly it has many levels. The last village on the China border is Gelling which is about 30 Kms from Tuting. On the way there is a fine Buddhist temple in village Bone as these areas are inhabited by the Pemba tribes people who are Buddhists.
Gelling is situated on a hill top high above the Siang and just below the spur of the hill that marks the border between China and India. A few kilometers upstream of Gelling the Siang takes a bend and enters India. Traditionally the houses were built of bamboo and thatch on stilts but like elsewhere in the Siang valley modern construction has made its presence felt in this village also.
The trip up the Siang valley was not just one of enjoying its wild beauty but also about understanding the water flow dynamics of the Brahmaputra River. The Brahmaputra river in recent years has witnessed a peculiar anomaly. While there are huge floods during the monsoons, during the rest of the year the flow becomes limited. I wanted to investigate this. I also wanted to get to the bottom of the claim made by the Indian Government's Water Resource Managers that the damming of the Yarlung Tsangpo by China in Tibet would drastically affect the flows of the Brahmaputra. I had read a research paper once that had on the basis of analysis of satellite imagery concluded that the Yarlung Tsangpo contributed only about 5 per cent of the total annual flow of the Brahmaputra. The trip up the Siang confirmed this. The river is hardly about 150 meters wide and very shallow below Gelling village with a miniscule flow as compared to the flow in the Brahmaputra plains.
Surprisingly, there is no measurement of the flow of the Siang at Gelling where it enters India even though there are flow measurement stations at Tuting, Yingkiang and Pasighat further downstream. Even so the flow measurements from these stations, which are classified data and so are not available to the general public, must clearly be showing that the flow of the Yarlung Tsangpo into India is miniscule compared to that of the Siang in India itself and even less if compared to that of the whole Brahmaputra basin.
The most important data from the measurement of the flow of all the rivers that are tributaries of the Brahamputra is that regarding their contribution to the flood flow of the Brahmaputra during the monsoons which has such a devastating effect annually. Given the steep slopes of the lower Himalayas and the huge deforestation that has taken place, heavy rains in the hilly catchments of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra are the main cause of floods. Thus, it is imperative that both natural and artificial recharge is drastically increased in the Arunachal hills for any worthwhile flood control to be possible. The challenge to implementing artificial recharge measures is the steepness of the slopes and the very sparse population in the area. Nevertheless, thought must be applied and solutions found for this problem. The higher costs involved in this will be compensated many times by the prevention of losses due to floods. Moreover, artificial recharge will ensure that there is a better flow during the lean season and so improve the possibilities of navigation and irrigation in the Brahmaputra valley much more than building dams and dredging will ever do.
The other side of the coin is the diminished lean season flow in the rivers. Whereas the Siang has a good lean season flow due to the snow melt in the Tibetan plateau and upper Himalayas, the other rivers have very low flows. Due to the huge monsoon flows these rivers have very wide beds stretching to a few kilometers in width but just after that they dry up substantially. The Lohit River has the longest road bridge across it at Sadiya measuring 9 kilometers in length while the Dibang River has the third longest at 6.2 kilometers. The Bogibeel bridge across the Brahmaputra has the second longest bridge at 6.4 kilometers. However, when we crossed these bridges on our return from the Siang valley we found the river beds to be mostly dry and in some places covered with vegetation with the water flowing in a small stream.
But the Government Water Resource Managers have turned a blind eye to this and are instead bent on building dams on these rivers ostensibly to control floods but actually to make merry from their construction. The pristine beauty of the Siang valley has no value for these and the profit seeking dam building corporations.
Arunachal Pradesh is inhabited by tribes and and strict rules that prevent people from outside the state from settling or doing business there have kept the place comparatively safe from the depredations of greed based modern development and trade. Those going in for work or tourism have to obtain an inner line permit which is given for only a fortnight and has to be renewed after that. Even then dam building has made its mark in the Subansiri river valley and may some day lay the Siang valley to waste due to the local political leadership being inclined towards it. An interesting thing that I noted was that Hindi has become the lingua franca of the state. Everywhere right up to the China border people speak Hindi and some of them speak very chaste Hindi with good diction and pronunciation. The day we reached Yingkiong there was a big public meeting of the Chief Minister and he was speaking in Hindi because his own tribal language would not be comprehended by the Adi tribes people in the audience!!!
Finally a word about the roads. While the road to Yingkiong is fairly good apart from the stretches where construction work is going on, thereafter, up to Tuting the road is atrocious. We could drive at a an average speed of 15 kilometers and hour and it took us 9 hours to cover the distance. This is indeed a pity because this road is strategically very important and there is heavy army traffic on it most of the time and also because a good road combined with good tourism infrastructure can really open up this beautiful valley which is now visited only by river rafting enthusiasts. However, it is necessary to build these roads so as to cling to the contours as much as possible because the steep slopes get destabilised by the road cutting. While going up on the first day our path up the left bank of the river was blocked by a section where a landslide had taken place and taken the road with it. We had to turn back and return to Pasighat to cross the bridge there and go up the right bank instead. On our return journey also we encountered a land slide but that held us up for only an hour or so. The land slides during the monsoons are even more severe and frequent.
Even though the road situation is poor, there is fairly good mobile connectivity in the towns and also along the route. The road condition delayed my schedule and so at Tuting I had to reschedule my return flight from Guwahati by a day. As there was good mobile connectivity in the town, I could call up the airline and reschedule my flight.
All in all the trip up the Siang turned out to be truly one off the beaten track. The author James Hilton in his novel "Lost Horizon" has written about a mystical valley called Shangri-La where people live harmoniously. The Siang valley comes close to that utopian ideal and the trip was for me the experience of a lifetime.


Monday, December 31, 2018

The Holy Trinity of our Environmentally Sinful Times

Our efforts through the Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti to battle the severe crises that face India on the three crucial environmental fronts of water, energy and agriculture went through more downs than ups primarily due to the inhospitable policy framework that prevails in this country.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the livelihoods of 60 percent of the population of the country yet apart from paying lip service the Government does not do anything to put it on a more sustainable basis by switching subsidies from chemical agriculture to organic agriculture. Consequently, farmers continue to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides to grow hybrid varieties of wheat, maize and cotton in our area even though they hardly yield any income after their harvest. And they consider our efforts to farm organically to be so much balderdash!! Obviously, we are making even more of a loss than they are but that is because there is no subsidy for organic farming whatsoever. Nevertheless, one successful initiative of ours was the cultivation of a special variety of Bajra or pearl millet that has whiskers that prevent birds from eating the ripened grains on the cobs as shown below.
Not only does this variety grow very tall and so it has a high fodder content but is also very high yielding with the cobs between a foot  and a foot and a half in length. The rotis made from this bajra flour are very tasteful. Many farmers have been impressed with this variety and have expressed the desire to buy the seeds to try it out themselves next year. So this is the first successful agricultural extension effort of the MAJLIS.
Associated with the crisis of agriculture is the equally serious problem of water scarcity. Both surface and groundwater availability is going down. The logical thing to do is to promote communitarian soil, water and forest conservation to augment water availability. However, once again the Government is paying only lip service to this. Indeed, in the matter of groundwater, which caters to most of the water needs of the people of this country the Central Ground Water Authority has come up with a farcical and dangerous notification of guidelines recently which has been ably critiqued by Himanshu Thakkar in his blog -

  • The guidelines to come into force from June 1, 2019 (why should it not be immediately implemented?). Groundwater use for Individual households for drinking water use for supply line up to 1 inch diameter supply line (Section 2.2.1) does not require mandatory rainwater harvesting. Installation of digital water meter is not mandatory in this case.
  • Section 2.2.2, applicable to infrastructure projects/ industries/ mining/ public water supply agencies for drinking/ domestic water use upto 12.5 m3/day water. They do not mandatorily require use of recycled/ treated sewage for flushing/ green belt etc. Installation of piezometers not mandatory if extraction below 10 m3/day. Installation of Digital Water Level Recorders shall not be mandatory for projects requiring ground water upto 50 m3/day in safe and semi critical assessment units (no telemetry for water use upto 500 m3/day) and upto 20 m3/day in critical and overexploited assessment units (no telemetry for water use upto 200 m3/day). No condition for compulsory treatment and recycle of sewage.
  • Section 2.3.1 for water use for industries: industries abstracting ground water to the tune of 500 m3/day or more in safe and semi critical and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited assessment units do not require water audit. Those that require water audit, need to get it done through “CII/ FICCI/ NPC certified auditors”. How can that be credible? It says “industries except those falling in red and orange categories as per CPCB” to implement Rain water harvesting. Why should the red and orange category industries exempt from Rain water harvesting?
  • Major concession: “Existing industries, which have already obtained NOC and have implemented recharge measures as specified in the NOC, shall be exempted from paying WCF. However, if the industry is going for expansion, WCF will have to be paid for the additional quantum of ground water withdrawal as per applicable rates.”
  • Section 2.3.3 for Infrastructure projects: Wastewater treatment and recycle measures not mandatory.
  • Shockingly, no impact assessment, no public consultation, monitoring or compliance mechanism for any of the massive groundwater extraction proposals, in any of the above.
  • Why should monitoring records be retained only for up to two years?
Agriculture water use: “Concerned State Departments (Agriculture/ Irrigation/ Water Resources) shall be required to undertake suitable demand and supply side measures to ensure sustainability of ground water sources. An indicative list of demand side measures is given”. CGWA could have provided more detailed and effective measures, including community governed groundwater regulation. The list given does not even include water saving methods like System of Rice Intensification or such method for other crops. In fact, community driven regulation could have been recommended for all the different user classes.
WCF = Water CON fees? The notification has no restrictions, no banned water use activities even in over exploited and critical areas, where essentially there is no groundwater available for exploitation. Everyone, including bottled water and cold drink manufacturers are allowed to extract as much as they want, even from over exploited areas, as long as they pay WCF! These are clearly not Water Conservation Fees, but Water CON Fees. “Other industries” have to pay just one fifth to one sixth the WCF compared to packaged drinking water units. The “other industries” clearly includes cold drink companies. Mining and infrastructure industries have to pay even lower, upto one third the WCF than “other industries”.
Other conditions include a strange one: “Sale of raw/ unprocessed/ untreated ground water for commercial use by agencies not having valid NOC from CGWA is not permitted.” This means that if you have valid NOC, you can sale the water to others!
The delegation of powers by the notification is clearly not confidence inspiring: “Central Ground Water Authority has appointed the District Magistrate/ District Collector / Sub Divisional Magistrates of each Revenue District and Regional Directors of CGWB through Public Notice as Authorized Officers, who have been delegated the power to monitor compliance, check violations and seal illegal wells, launch prosecution against offenders etc. including grievance redressal related to ground water.” These agencies have not succeeded in achieving regulation of groundwater, how that is going to change? What is required is a dedicated groundwater regulation mechanism at aquifer/ gram sabha/ block/ district level where at least 50% members are independent people from outside government.
When this is the kind of blindness displayed by the apex body tasked with ensuring a more sustainable use of water resources then one can easily imagine that the country is going to slide even further along the path to water doom. MAJLIS has with its limited resources initiated soil and water conservation work on the farms of farmers as shown below. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a very good programme for doing this work on a large scale but these days it has become moribund. The money is mostly spent is supplementing the Prime Minister's Rural Housing Scheme and so brick and concrete houses are getting built while the crucial work of soil and water conservation is being neglected.
Farmers in our area faced with diminishing returns on their farms are forced to migrate elsewhere for work to augment their incomes. The few farmers who are being benefited by our soil and water conservation programme are happy but there are many others who are beseeching us to initiate the work on their farms also but given the paucity of funds this is not possible. 
We also built a rain water harvesting tank in our office in Indore. We had been recharging all the rain water into the ground before. However, with the increasing withdrawal of ground water by others nearby our borewell water level has gone down and with rains being less and less the water level will go down further. Water recharged into the ground by a single house is not enough in the absence of others doing the same. So we built the tank to store water to be used in the crucial summer months when the borewell supply goes down. Our neighbours came and saw the massive tank being built underground below the car garage and said that it would be better to collectively urge the municipal corporation to extend the supply of the Narmada water to our residential layout!! Water is pumped up from the Narmada river over 50 kms away up a height of 500 meters at great expense for Indore and it is a highly unsustainable system both economically and environmentally. But since there is no effort on the part of the Government to encourage people to harvest, recharge and reuse water, an unsustainable system continues to be used.
Finally, the energy doldrums continue. The Government has refused to reimburse MAJLIS the 30 per cent of the cost of installing a solar power system in its office in Indore making one pretext or another. The solar system installed at the field centre also was refused subsidy at the outset itself. So we designed it in such a way that we could get the maximum use from a lesser deployment of panels and so cost. The big problem with solar power for irrigation is that the initial torque of the submersible pumps is very high and so requires a high starting current. While the solar panel system we had designed takes care of this current requirement between the months of February and June it begins to create problems in the rest of the year either because of cloud cover during the monsoons or due to less insolation from October to January. So we have had to replace the submersible pump with a compressor pump which requires much lesser starting current. This also was a project in itself as Indore doesn't have outlets selling compressor pumps and so it had to be sourced all the way from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Once again due to the high cost of solar power installation, the lack of maintenance support and subsidy from the Government there is very little movement on this front also. Poor farmers can't imagine deploying solar power.
Thus, despite Water, Energy and Agriculture having become the Holy Trinity of our Environmentally Sinful Times, there is very little effort on the part of the Government to stop their abuse and initiate more sustainable policies that can avert the impending doom that faces us.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Lust for Life

Long years ago I made a tryst with destiny and arrived in Alirajpur district among the Bhil Adivasis to work as a grassroots activist to redeem the pledge!! The person who facilitated this was Khemraj Choudhary who had gone there in 1982 to work for the rights of the Bhil Adivasis and had already been beaten up by the Forest Department for doing so. Khemraj hails from a marginal farmer family in Rajasthan but pursued higher education and became a student activist while in college. After that he joined the Social Work and Research Centre, which has now become the Barefoot College, in Ajmer district of Rajasthan, as a social activist. He led campaigns against the enduring problem of caste oppression of Dalits while working for the Barefoot College. However, he wanted to take on greater challenges and so he left for Alirajpur because he had heard that the Bhil Adivasis living there were very oppressed. He began organising them to fight for their rights by living among them and doing farm and labour work. That's when I met him when I reached the Barefoot College in search of my mission and after hearing his description of the work he was doing decided to tag along with him and that is how my life among the Adivasis of western India was decided.
Khemraj moved out of Alirajpur in the late 1980s deciding to return to his village in Chittor and starting work there among the Adivasis who worked as labourers in the stone quarries. Since then he has taken up many a struggle of the Adivasis and Dalits in Chittor district including the famous Khat Campaign. The casteist oppression was such in the rural areas that Adivasis and Dalits could not sit on their cots in front of their houses and had to take off their shoes when they passed in front of the houses of the dominant castes. So Khemraj launched a mass movement to stop these abhorrent practices which was very successful.
Last month Subhadra and I went to Chittor to hold one of our reproductive health camps in Khemraj's area of work and that is how I met him again face to face after more than a decade. Things had changed for the worse in the meanwhile. A few months back he was diagnosed with colon cancer which had metastasised onto his liver. Luckily immediate chemotherapy has resulted in the cancer being contained and he is in good spirits again. However, the ravages of the chemotherapy are there to be seen and he has lost his earlier strength. Yet he continues even at the advanced age of 65 to go on his daily morning walk followed by the rounds of the villages to distribute clothes and money to destitute families like a real life Santa Claus. He has not only spent his whole adult life fighting for the rights of under privileged people but is now running a hostel for Adivasi and Dalit girls to educate them and prevent them from getting married as child marriage is rampant in Rajasthan.
However, our close encounters with the village scene in the course of organising the reproductive health camp showed to what extent people like Khemraj and activists in general are marginalised given the huge barriers to justice and equality in the society and the economy. Try as we might we could not get a gynaecologist for our health camp. All the gynaecologists in the town of Chittor area engaged in private practice including the ones serving in Government hospitals. They are busy in doing caesarian sections to deliver babies or in in vitro fertilisation to make it possible for childless couples to have babies. Eventually we had to rope in a general practitioner lady doctor who had some gynaecological experience and somehow hold the camp. Casteism too is rampant as the laboratory staff who came to collect the samples refused to eat in the Bhil Adivasi home in which we had organised the camp saying that he would be ostracised by his caste if he did so. As is usual, the camp revealed that the women are mostly anaemic and suffering from various gynaecological problems. What is even more disturbing is that a large number of women tested positive for chronic typhoid. The women go to private quacks and get a few tablets and injections which do not solve their problems apart from giving them temporary relief. Thus, casteism, patriarchy and class rule all combine to keep the Adivasis and Dalits downtrodden and Khemraj's and my life long missions haven't made much of a difference.
Khemraj soldiers on regardless. He said he had initially been very depressed to learn that he had cancer. However, the huge support that he got in the form of friends coming to help him with the treatment and other contributing financially, which resulted in the cancer abating fast has filled him with greater energy to carry on he says. When in college I had read the book "Lust for Life" written by Irving Stone on the life and work of the Dutch post impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh had battled mental problems to live life to the full and paint some exhilarating pictures like the famous one below that even today light up our lives. Khemraj too displays a similar lust for life

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Whither Right to Education

According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act), all children in India are entitled to free quality education upto class eight and it is compulsory to ensure this for both the parents and the Government. Since in the case of the vast majority of people in this country it is not possible to expend substantial sums of money on the education of their children, the responsibility devolves in their case on the Government. Since education is primarily the responsibility of State Governments under the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution, it is these that have to provide most of the funds to implement the RTE Act with support from the Central Government.
The Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala (RKJS) in Kakrana village in Alirajpur district is a residential school run by the Kalpantar Shikshan Kendra that is associated with the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS). The school was set up in 2000 as an alternative to the moribund Government school system which despite all the efforts of KMCS could not be improved because of the severe lack of will on the part of the Government to increase investments in school education. There was some hope that things would improve after the passage of the RTE Act in 2009, as there was considerable hype at that time that the Central Government would augment the meagre resources being allocated by the State Governments to school education. However, those hopes have been belied and as the Annual Status of Education Reports of the NGO Pratham have consistently shown the quality of education is continually going down, especially in Madhya Pradesh.
Recently, the RKJS conducted a quick survey of 14 schools in its vicinity including itself, 8 primary with teaching up to class five and 6 middle with teaching up to class 8. Two schools among these were comparatively better funded. One was the special Government middle school cum hostel for girls in the Tehsil headquarters, Sondwa and the other the RKJS itself. While these two schools met most of the parameters stipulated in the RTE Act with regard to facilities and teacher qualifications and numbers, the situation of the others is pathetic with lack of properly maintained classrooms, toilets, playgrounds and qualified teachers. In most cases the schools are not running regularly.
What was even more disconcerting is that the data from the RKJS survey did not tally with that in the District Information System for Education (DISE) database maintained by the Central Government for these schools which latter was hopelessly wrong. The DISE website has this to say about the reliability of the data on it - "The School Data reported on this website is submitted by the School Head Master/Head Teacher through the District and State level authorities. Before data is submitted to the national level authorities, it is supposed to be first checked at the cluster level by the Cluster Resource Centre Coordinator. The MIS In-charge at the district level was then supposed to run the consistency module to check the inconsistency in the data before it is transmitted to State level authorities."  This means that the teachers are submitting false data and this is not being checked by the higher authorities before being posted on the DISE. When the data itself is wrong then there is no question of proper implementation of the RTE as the shortcomings will not surface and so will not be addressed. Thus, the DISE has a huge amount of false data on the basis of which higher level statistical analysis is done and the status of public primary education in this country continues to be moribund.
The RKJS has fairly good facilities including a library and video projection facilities in addition to the standard requirements and spends about Rs 15,000 a year per child on their education and the parents of the children spend about another Rs 5000 a year on their food. This is a very shoe string budget as the teachers and other staff work on minimum wages and the food is very simple.

Consequently, the education provided could be better if more funds were available. Yet it is one of the best schools in Alirajpur district and admission to it is much sought after by Adivasi parents who mostly migrate to Gujarat and are fed up with the dysfunctional Government school system. But this kind of one off effort by a people's organisation is not really the answer to the country's huge primary education needs which the Government should be fulfilling and isn't.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Sardar and the Dead Narmada

The Statue of Sardar Patel in the Narmada River like the Sardar Sarovar dam earlier has been constructed in violation of many social and environmental parameters. While in the case of the latter there was at least a long legal battle, in the case of the former the courts did not even see fit to entertain the petitions filed enumerating these violations. This is of course of a piece with much of the gigantic developmental follies, the so called temples of modern India, that have been erected in this country with total disregard for their social and environmental consequences. However, as a combined result of all these follies, what is going to happen is, that the Sardar from his impressive height of 182 meters is going to look on to a dead Narmada river.

When Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam with much fanfare in September 2017, he had not thought that within a few months it would prove to be a gigantic folly as predicted all along by the Narmada Bachao Andolan. There is now not enough water in the dam and the river has become dead downstream of it. A year later as he once again indulges in fanfare to inaugurate another huge folly, he will yet again be ignorant of the extent of the blunder and its future deleterious consequences.  The roots of these follies lie in the history of the faulty planning of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
A bitter dispute over the sharing of the water in the Narmada between the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat eventually resulted in a political agreement  in 1974 that the annual yield of the river available at Navagam, the site of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, should be taken as 34.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) at seventy five percent dependability. Of this 0.31 bcm was to be allotted to Maharashtra, 0.62 bcm to Rajasthan, 11.1 bcm to Gujarat and 22.5 bcm to Madhya Pradesh.  This political settlement estimated the annual yield of the Narmada at Navagam at seventy five percent dependability at a value well above the assessment by the technical experts of 27.4 bcm. Due to paucity of river flow measurement data even this lower technical estimate of yield of the Narmada river at Navagam was flawed because it was based on arbitrary assumptions for the values of the surface runoff, evaporation losses at reservoirs, return flow from upstream storages and from the groundwater aquifers and the carryover storages without doing any detailed sampling and simulation studies to properly estimate these values. 
Today, the actual flow in the river Narmada is even less. Due to secrecy maintained by the Central Water Commission about the flow measurement that it is doing, it is not possible to independently estimate what is the current flow. Given the massive deforestation that has taken place and the heavy development of groundwater irrigation in the catchment area, the flow in the river has decreased considerably from that prevailing earlier. So even though the full reservoir level of the Sardar Sarovar Dam is 138.7 m, the actual water level at the end of the monsoons is only 127 m. Thus, the dam is only half full. This was the case last year also and is likely to be the case in future too, given the much lower actual flow in the river compared to the design flow. As the flow in the canal starts for providing water to farms, industries and towns, the water level will quickly come down to the minimum drawdown level of 110.6 m and there will be little water flowing in the canal leaving the farmers in Gujarat literally high and dry. Like last year they can only look apprehensively towards a spring and summer of discontent.
What is of much greater concern is that there will be very little water flowing in the river downstream of the dam. The many dams in Madhya Pradesh upstream of the Sardar Sarovar have stored up most of the flow and that state is saying that since it is not getting the stipulated 22.5 bcm that is allotted to it, there is no question of releasing water to Gujarat!! Consequently there is almost no flow in the river below the Sardar Sarovar dam once the monsoons are over apart from the little that flows through the river bed power house after generating electricity. 
So first a huge dam is built based on unrealistic flow estimates and then a huge statue is built based on misplaced priorities and the compounded folly leads to the Sardar left surveying a dead river.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The End of A Dream

One of the last bastions of Adivasi anarchism in Alirajpur has finally fallen!! Khodamba village which had been isolated in its hilly terrain without road and electricity connectivity is now on the road map of India thanks to the Prime Minister's Rural Roads Programme. Even though the last few kilometers to the village from Vakner village still require to be topped with macadam it is possible to drive to the village on the base of the road that has already been built. Last week I drove to the village in our Tata Safari to find that grid electricity had also finally reached the village. With this has come to an end the dreams that we in the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath had once had in the late 1980s of developing Khodamba as a liberated anarchist zone standing defiantly against the ravages of centralised capitalist development.
Three decades ago both we the activists, who had renounced modern development and the people of Khodamba village, who had not seen much of it and were instead sufferers of its negativities, pledged to develop the village as a bulwark against this development based on a mixture of Adivasi and theoretical anarchism!! Those were the days when we walked on foot, had no bank accounts, had no computers and rarely visited the towns and cities unless it was to hold some protest or rally. Once we walked seventy kilometers from the banks of the Narmada River to Alirajpur to organise a sit in.
Fighting the state as we were against its unjust forest laws and the forced displacement of people for the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River it was not long before we faced the hard hand of the state's repression and were summarily dumped into prisons time and again. This by itself was not very disconcerting but what followed was. We had to fight numerous cases, sometimes all the way up to the High and Supreme Court and this cost money. Also this continuous fight against repression distracted us from our efforts to build up an alternative anarchist economy based on sustainable agriculture and village industry.
So by the mid 1990s while the villagers of Khodamba began to migrate to Gujarat seasonally to work as agricultural and construction labourers to earn more money, we activists had to use computers to do consultancies for the very capitalist system that we so loathed to get funds to defray the increasing expenses of the organisation and in the process we got bank accounts, motorised vehicles and also began living in cities. All the utopian fervour of the early years of KMCS went up in the smoke of the capitalist onslaught what with the economy being opened up for neo-liberal development from the early 1990s.
Yet, I continued to harbour the dream that one day we would be able to develop our anarchist utopia in Khodamba and the villages nearby because they continued to be cut off from the mainstream due to lack of roads and electricity. However, over the years this dream was there only in my heart as the people of Khodamba slowly became enthusiastic votaries of the fruits of modern development. Possibly if I had stayed in Alirajpur we might still have swung it in a modified way. But residing as I did in Indore all of 250 kilometers away it was not possible to initiate decentralised rural development in Khodamba.
When I drove my car to the village the other day I found the people there very kicked that the road and electricity had reached Khodamba. They were enthusiastically making plans for irrigating their lands. Like many other villages in the area, the shallow aquifer does not have much water but the deep aquifer is abundant. Now that the road had reached their village they would be able to bring in a boring machine to sink deep tubewells and then draw water from them with submersible pumps run by electricity. Mobile connectivity is still not there but one can climb up on one of the many hills surrounding the village to get that also. There were not many people around in the village except the elder ones like the old war horse Inder Singh who had grown up along with me from youth to old age. All the young people had gone off to Gujarat to labour and earn money.
Coming back from the village all the memories of those heady years of the late 1980s crowded my mind. Many young people who would come to the KMCS as interns were sent to this village to teach the children there and we used to land up from time to time to see if everything was going alright or not. The walk through the hills from Vakner used to be very picturesque. The village itself was an idyllic heaven as shown in the picture below.

 All that is now gone with the wind of modern development. It is not long before the ugly box like modern brick and concrete architecture will come to dominate this idyllic scenario now that the road has reached the village. I had ofcourse left Alirajpur two decades back and become immersed in modern living in Indore despite my dreams but the people of Khodamba had perforce remained cut off from the mainstream and so fed my utopian dreams. Now justice has been done and they too are enjoying the benefits of modern connectivity!!