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.

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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just Obeisance Will Not Do!!

The other day I was invited as a "specialist" on water resource management to participate in a brainstorming workshop along with other specialists to help chart out a course for developing a "Scientific" Perspective Plan for Drinking Water Supply for the Madhya Pradesh Public Health Engineering Department (MPPHED). I was intrigued by this stress on scientific planning and went along to see what exactly it involved. The workshop was organised by an NGO funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the Government of United Kingdom to help the MPPHED develop a plan because the latter did not have the expertise to do so. The first thing I asked the organisers is what they meant by scientific planning. The reply was that the MPPHED had said that they felt that scientific planning meant the use of satellite imagery and geographical information system (GIS) and other software to analyse the imagery and other data to design water supply systems and had asked the NGO to help them do it. That is why there was a satellite imagery and GIS expert and two geologists in the workshop. There was also an expert from the Central Groundwater Board (CGWB). The GIS expert who is a nationally recognised person who was an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) veteran also said that scientific planning in the context of drinking water supply involved analysis of satellite imagery with GIS.
I put a spanner into this by saying that scientific planning meant first identifying the problem and not deciding the tools to be used to solve it without knowing what the problem was. Only when the problem is properly identified can the methodology of finding its solution be determined. In the case of drinking water supply in Madhya Pradesh the main problem is the lack of availability of water and the MPPHED is oblivious to this and just goes on putting water supply systems of various kinds in place which either under perform or fail totally because of the lack of sustainable water sources. Most of Madhya Pradesh happens to be a naturally water scarce region because the annual rainfall is about 800 - 1000 millimeter and the terrain is hilly with an underlying basaltic rock layer that does not allow much percolation and so natural recharge is low. Matters have been compounded by the fact that heavy deforestation has taken place and so most of the rain that falls tends to runoff instead of seeping into the ground and so the unconfined shallow aquifers do not have much water. Flood irrigation of farms with ground water extracted through tubewells which has continually increased over the last five decades or so has resulted in the water table in the confined aquifers in the hard rock, accumulated over thousands of years, also being drastically depleted.
Under the circumstances a scientific approach would involve ensuring that the availability of ground water is enhanced through artificial recharge rather than use satellite imagery, resistivity surveys and GIS to identify the remaining underground water sources so as to extract more.
Importantly, another problem associated with water supply is that 95% of the water supplied becomes waste water after use and so has to be treated and disposed of properly to prevent pollution of water bodies, streams and rivers. Indeed, given the severe shortage of water, the norm these days is to treat and reuse as much of the water as is possible. For example Singapore, which has a severe water shortage being a city situated on an island, has dammed its main river and does not let even a single drop of water escape to the sea. All the wastewater is treated and reused even for drinking. Unfortunately, the MPPHED does not have any provisions in its budget for treatment and reuse of waste water and has only a miniscule 5% provision for artificial recharge. It is true that the use of satellite imagery and GIS can help in better planning but only if we know the nature of the problem we want to solve. Artificial recharge and waste water treatment and reuse are the solutions to the problem of dwindling water supply and GIS should be used to facilitate this rather than promote the further extraction of water.
I roped in the specialist from the CGWB to push for this asking him to explain in detail how his organisation had published a detailed master plan for artificial recharge for the whole country disaggregated to the district level in which the fractures had been identified in the naturally water scarce regions where such recharge could take place. However, it remains to be seen how much of this strong push of mine for truly scientific planning will get actualised.
This brings me to another issue that has dominated the news in Indore recently. This is that of cleaning the Khan River that drains the city and has become a massive open sewer as most of the waste water is released into it untreated. A petition has been filed in the National Green Tribunal bench in Bhopal for cleaning up the Khan River. The administration in response has said that it will stop the release of waste water into the River and establish sewage treatment plants (STP) and effluent treatment plants (ETP) to clean the waste water. This is the standard solution that is offered not only for the Khan River but also for all other Rivers in India including the Ganga for which after spending lakhs of crores of rupees now another twenty thousand crores have been sanctioned under the new scheme called "Namami Gange" or Obeisance to Ganga. The problem with centralised sewage and effluent treatment is that it is very costly both in terms of capital outlays and operation and maintenance costs, and so given the huge resource crunch that most States and Urban Local Bodies face, throughout the country, and most notably in Delhi, the STPs and ETPs are not being run and most of the water is being released untreated into water bodies, streams and rivers. In fact a survey conducted by the Water Resource Ministry revealed that all the saintly Ashrams along the River Ganga in the Himalayas and its foothills are releasing untreated sewage into the river. So the right and scientific approach is to treat and reuse the waste water in a decentralised manner and reuse it at least for flushing of toilets and gardening which are the two most heavy uses of potable water. It is not only unscientific but down right criminal not to do so. Most of the waste water in this country is generated by institutions or individuals that are quite capable financially of undertaking decentralised waste water treatment and reuse. But when government institutions themselves, and what is more glaring even the Indian Institutes of Technology and other engineering institutes are not doing this then it is a tall order to expect common citizens to do so.
Thus just paying obeisance to the Ganga and pouring money into capital intensive STPs and ETPs and using satellite imagery and GIS for more extraction of water without any concern for artificial recharge and decentralised waste water treatment and reuse is neither scientific planning nor a rational approach to solving the problem of water supply in this country. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Drops that will Fill the Pitcher

The work of the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (DGVK) on the education front has gone from strength to strength with many new achievements this year. The education project now encompasses the residential Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala in Kakrana in addition to the three single teacher schools in Khatamri, Chilakda and Bada Amba. Even though the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala is managed by the Kalpantar Shikshan Society set up separately to administer the school, an important new development that will be described by and by has led to the involvement of the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (DGVK) also in supporting the initiatives there.
This year too trainings were organised for the teachers in the three schools and these trainings were held in Vakner village so as to keep the content localised. The three single teacher schools have improved their performance over the past year and the details are given below.
I. BADA AMBA
There are now 70 students in the school in Bada Amba as opposed to 62 last year. The details of the total enrolment age and gender wise is given in Table 1.
Table 1: Total Enrolment in School in Bada Amba
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
Total
Boys
7
6
6
2
3
4
5
3
36
Girls
6
6
6
2
3
4
5
2
34
Total
13
12
12
4
6
8
10
5
70

The teacher supported by the DGVK, Mavsingh Vaskel, has also got an appointment as a guest teacher with the Madhya Pradesh Government Education Department and the school has been registered as a primary school under the provisions of the Right to Education Act due to the efforts of the DGVK. In fact the vigorous campaign carried out by the DGVK has resulted in as many as 30 new schools being sanctioned by the Government in Alirajpur district. As a result examinations are conducted in accordance with the directives of the Education Department and the students are graded on their performance. All the students have passed their examinations and currently there are 14 boys and 9 girls in Class One, 6 boys and 6 girls in Class Two, 7 boys and 5 girls in Class Three, 5 boys and 5 girls in Class Four and 4 boys and 9 girls in Class Five. The registration of the school with the Education Department has also resulted in mid-day meals being provided to the students by the Government. The villagers have got together and constructed a separate wooden school building. The adult members of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath sit in the school in the evenings for adult education classes from the teacher Mavsingh.
II. CHILAKDA
There are now 65 students in the school which is seven more than last year. The details of the total enrolment age and gender wise is given in Table 1.
Table 2: Total Enrolment in School in Chilakda
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
Total
Boys
3
6
14
4
2
1
1
4
35
Girls
4
5
9
3
2
4
1
2
30
Total
7
11
23
7
4
5
2
6
65
The teacher in Chilakda, Naharsingh, too has been appointed as a guest teacher by the Madhya Pradesh Government Education Department and the school has been subsumed under the Primary School being run in the nearby Nal Amba hamlet. Consequently the children here are getting their mid day meal from the Government. They have performed well in their examinations and all have passed. The current classwise student strength is as follows. There are 7 boys and 6 girls in Class One, 8 boys and 5 girls in ClassTwo, 7 boys and 5 girls in Class Three, 8 boys and 6 girls in Class Four and 7 boys and 6 girls in Class Five.
III. KHATAMRI
There are currently 32 students in the school up from 22 last year. This school too has been registered by the Government of Madhya Pradesh Education Department and a separate teacher has been appointed. Consequently the teacher appointed by the DGVK, Sena Bai, provided extra tuition classes in the morning before the start of the school at 11 am. The details of the total enrolment age and gender wise is given in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Children Regularly Attending School in Khatamri
Age in Years
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Total
Boys
2
3
1
1
5
2
1
15
Girls
2
3
3
1
4
2
2
17
Total
4
6
4
2
9
4
3
32

All the students have passed their examinations and the classwise strength is as follows. There are 5 boys and 5 girls in Kindergarten, 2 boys and 4 girls in Class One, 6 boys and 5 girls in Class Two and 2 boys and 3 girls in Class Three. Since a government teacher has been appointed separately for this school and Sena bai has expressed the desire to work in community mobilisation and not as a teacher, the tuition school will be closed and instead from the next session a new school will be started in the village of Khundi which does not have any school.
IV. RANI KAJAL JEEVANSHALA
Multigrade teaching in single teacher schools by inadequately qualified and trained teachers results in poor pedagogy and learning outcomes. That is why the DGVK established a residential school with many teachers in Kakrana village on the banks of the Narmada River in 2001. A separate organisation was set up for this so as to keep the school independent of the DGVK and its other developmental activities. However, last year Professor Swapan Bhattacharya, a retired, internationally renowned micro-biologist who had worked and taught in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Devi Ahilya University in Indore, came to know about the work of the DGVK from the internet where he had searched for a good organisation working among the Bhil Adivasis with which he could associate. He visited the Rani Kajal School in Kakrana and liked the place immensely and expressed a desire to stay in the school and give his inputs. He said that after retirement he had spent five years searching for a good institution to work in with children and he had finally found one. The only problem was that the spartan living arrangements in Kakrana where there were only a few toilets for the girl students and the guest house did not have proper electricity were too daunting for the seventy year old professor who is both an asthma and a heart patient. The Kalpantar Shikshan Trust which runs the school on a shoestring budget with some help from outside and some fees from the students had no funds to spruce up the guest house with proper toilet, electricity and water facilities. So, since the DGVK education project had a surplus due to the munificient donations received last year which were Rs 10,000 in excess of the target of Rs 2 Lakhs, funds amounting to Rs 80,000 were transferred from this to the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala for the guest house renovation and remodelling project.
Professor Bhattacharya is now in residence in Kakrana since January 2015 and has established a laboratory, library, a garden and an insect park in the school. He conducts classes for the teachers and the children and also has taken on the task of documenting the bio-diversity in the dense forest protected by the villagers through community cooperation. A new dynamism has been added to the Rani Kajal School. The following is a brief description of the plans that he has drawn up for further developing the school.
1.       Achievements of the Rani Kajal School so far:
The number of students have increased over the years. The number increased from 40 in 2001 to 211 studying upto Class Eight currently. Of late the school has to refuse a number of applicants because of shortage of rooms. Most students have pursued higher level of studies at least upto 12th Class (Higher Secondary). A few have made it to college level also and are continuing their studies. Some motivated students of the past have remained in the village and are trying their level best to keep the school running. Present students have intense interest in learning. But teaching method needs changes to go beyond rote learning.
2.       The weakness of current practices and ways to eliminate them
(i)   The most important weakness is open defecation by the boys who do not have toilet facilities. There are only 3 latrines for girls and staff members. Not at all adequate for the number of girls and staff who use them. Even the bathing rooms, only 3, are without any water taps and without doors. This is in spite of the fact that there is enough subsoil water available, being close to the Narmada and electricity is available almost 24 hrs. The cumulative effect of open defecation is an enormous health hazard. Therefore, many more toilets have to be built.
(ii)  Use of firewood from jungle on the banks of Narmada is another criminal practice that must be eliminated. They collect dry wood from the banks every 7-10 days cruising along the river to distances upto 20-40 Km. At times, not infrequently, they ask the students, juvenileand grownups, boys and girls alike in the manner of military drills to carry dry wood from nearby and distant vendors who find it an easy business at the cost of damage to the environment. The sight of kids carrying fire woods may appear amusing, but is equally dehumanising. The time wasted on such fuel collection is an enormous loss to the teaching schedules and learning time of the students. Also the effect on the health of the cooks who spend hours in the fireplace is hazardous, breathing smoke nearly the whole day. They are likely to develop serious illness in near future if this practice is not discontinued immediately. Therefore, efficient wood stoves or solar parabolic stoves have to be installed.
(iii)An extremely hazardous practice is the sweeping of the ground with broom sticks. It raises dust clouds right at the doors of their hostel-cum-class rooms to send back the dust where they spend most of the time, day and night. They fall sick very frequently and tend to play out in the open dusty fields or on denuded hillocks. This is because they don’t have any good reading rooms or play grounds to attract them.  We need to solve these problems in an integrated manner by firstly planting lawns all around and building a fence to protect them from grazing cattle, making dscent pavements for movement in the campus complex and secondly by building large reading rooms with modern facilities enjoyed by urban counterparts, at least two, to attract the students to use them. One for KG to class 3 and the other for students of Class 4 to 8. The rooms have to be airy, lighted and well furnished. The students should, even without explicit persuasion, prefer to study there whenever they wish instead of following the old practice. Later laboratories also have to be built. There is also a need for a dining room as at present the students eat in their rooms or on an open platform as shown below.


A small experiment was done recently in last three months asking the students to grow ornamental flower plants and seasonal vegetables from seeds in a small garden plot developed with soil brought from Narmada bank. Their enthusiasm was boundless. They dug-up the plot, readied itfor sowing plants. They were shown and asked to use coco-pits in seeding trays to develop plantlets from seeds and transfer these to marked tiny zones each for one student, in the garden. This was a hugely successful activity and needs to be expanded for the whole school.  Four of the students even took their plants in pots home on this vacation to show their parents and other villagers. The renovated guest house and the fenced in garden is shown below.
The children also participated in culturing butterflies, learning as these metamorphosed from eggs through their multiple instars to give birth to beautiful butterflies. We have a tiny butterfly park made within the experimental garden to exhibit these cultured butterflies.
The point is these are extremely useful science experiments right in nature. These exercises will pace up their rate of learning and with pleasure. Both the students and teachers are equally enthusiastic. Learning will be that much less of a burden from rote learnings which is the current mode of teaching in this school. So the school needs to develop larger number of plots (3m x 3m size each) to be allotted to groups of 3-4 students each for a year. They will only have to be taught some horticulture and gardening practices because most being farmers children, know rudiments of these. They can be made more technically aware of the needs of the environment conservation through these exercises. A special course can be designed for these gardening activities without employing any fresh teacher specifically for gardening.
(iv)     One factor that will certainly attract better qualified teachers from towns and cities to join the school is descent accommodation. The current staff is a motivated lot. Moved by ideology they work all the time to solve the problems of the institute while staying in dingy houses. Most of them have turned jacks of all trades for services and maintenance to run the school. They should be given better accommodation to begin with. The fresh teachers will look upon the job professionally. Being unlikely to be driven by ideological zeal, they will have to be provided with facilities comparable to those available in good urban schools. Some quarters ready to accommodate willing fresh teachers must be constructed.
(v) Lack of stable electric supply hampers all activities routinely. That includes study, water supply and whatever few essential appliances are deployed to run the kitchen. Though the availability is for 24 hours in principle officially, in practice the vagaries of the connections and variable load beyond control of the school, effectively reduces the available power to nearly half the time at best and timings are unpredictable. The Civic Administration have said that the school being private has to spend on a transformer and cable laying to officially ask for  power free of these problems.
(vi)     There is no network for use of mobiles within the premise of the school building or staff quarters. One has to go to a few specific points or go to the top of hillocks to get reasonable signals for mobile but near zero for internet. The school has to be given an internet provision urgently. This will increase the pedagogic level. The quality of both the students and teachers will be instantly enhanced beyond their expectation and encourage them to use it as teaching aid. It cannot be denied that internet is a must for education at all levels today.
There is an effort going on to get an internet hub to the school using a new technology for large areas with radio access network from service provider at Alirajpur.The distance is about 70 Km. A relay point has to be established on top of a hillock which comes on the way. This will need funding for a tower.
V. FINANCES
Clearly, considerable funds are required over a period of time to remove these weaknesses and transform the Rani Kajal School into a better one and the Kalpantar Shikshan Kendra is trying to raise them through its sources. However, the DGVK also has to contribute and so this year the target will have to be more than the Rupees Two Lakhs that was set and easily achieved last year. Instead of putting a target it would be better to keep the fund raising process ongoing and open ended so that as and when funds become available the targeted development works enumerated above can be undertaken for the improvement of the Rani Kajal School.
Rupees Fifty Thousand was carried forward from last year and Rupees Two Lakh and Ten Thousand were collected from donors this year for a total available funding of Rupees Two Lakh Sixty Thousand. Rupees One Lakh Fifty Three Thousand were spent on salaries of the teachers of the three schools and their training. Rupees Eighty Thousand were spent on the renovation and refitting of the guest house in the Rani Kajal School in Kakrana. Thus, a sum of Rupees Twentyseven Thousand has been carried forward to the 2015-16 session.
Professor Bhattacharya has now enthused the children to read books and discuss them but in the absence of a library and reading room this important activity is taking place on the porch outside the guest house as shown below.

 These children are the future of our nation as they hold the key to a more sustainable and equitable world and are like drops that will fill the pitcher.