Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Data Trauma

I have initiated a process of bottom up people's planning within an integrated water resource management framework in the Man river basin which is a sub basin of the Narmada river basin in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. As part of this process I wanted to first do a longitudinal study of the development that has taken place in each village of the basin based on the detailed data that the patwaris or the village land record workers annually collect and send to the land record department at the district headquarters in Dhar. On enquiries I found to my surprise that these reports are used to prepare aggregate data and then just stacked haphazardly and after a few years thrown away due to lack of space. Thus what I had thought would be a goldmine of information on the historical development of land and water resources in villages actually does not exist because most of the data collected since independence by the patwaris has been thrown away and the more recent data is kept in such a haphazard manner that it is not possible to retrieve them. I was later told that in most cases even the current data is not sent to the land record office and only the aggregate over a revenue circle which may have as many as four hundred villages is sent.
I then went to the district statistical office to see if the aggregated data was available over the past fifty years or so. To my surprise I found that here too after a lot of searching the officer could give me one annual statistical handbook for the year 1990 and the current one of 2006. From 2000 the data is being entered by the district statistical office in Dhar in a computerised tabular format and then print outs are being taken to print a few copies. But surprisingly no back up of this final tabular format is saved for future reference. Instead when the time comes for filling up new data the old data is just deleted and the new ones entered!
The government data system notoriously lacks in accuracy and authenticity. It is jokingly said that the patwari does "khatia girdavari" - he sits on his khatia or cot in his house and completes his girdavari - the work of noting land, water and crop related records by jotting down whatever the village patel or headman and chowkidar or guard tells him. Nevertheless these records remain the only source of detailed land distribution and use, water use and cropping pattern and yield data. For instance a recent human development survey sponsored by the UNDP only asks whether the respondent has land or not and nothing about how much land exactly and whether it is irrigated and if so how much. Now this kind of superficial data is of no use for project planning purposes because we need detailed land distribution, land use, water use and cropping pattern and yield data.
Unfortunately these important data are not being stored and consequently not being analysed. So we cannot quantify what development has taken place at the village level over the past sixty years even though the data for each year was collected because this data was not properly stored. Moreover, aggregation over administrative units like development blocks and districts camouflages the disparities in development between the upper classes and the marginalised sections like the adivasis and the dalits. This kind of lackadaisical attitude towards data storage is nothing short of criminal negligence. The Dhar district Land Records Office has just one computer and it is mostly being used as a high end type writer!
There is an urgent need to set up good computerised systems for the proper storage and analysis of the huge amount of data being collected annually by the patwaris if proper planning is to be done. This has to be a decentralised system with computers at the lowest sub-tehsil level where the data collected by the patwaris and validated by the villagers has to be entered. These computers then have to be linked to the District and upper levels right upto Delhi so that at a click detailed historical and current data for any village can be available to anyone who desires to use them.
I must say I was shocked at the state of affairs prevailing in the Dhar district headquarters despite this district having won an international prize for computerisation of governance in the form of the much touted "Gyandoot" programme.
There is also a need for improving the quality of the government data system by empowering people to understand and then validate this detailed system. Instead of khatia girdavari we have to have gram sabha (village general body) girdavari.


Anonymous said...

like you drove on borrowed bicycles as you could not afford anything more,(ha, the story would have been different if you had had the mula to choose from!) likewise the little boy. if you had had conversation with him alongside clicking photographs - (the photos are stories by themselves - good take! ) he would have had no clue of climate change and what not - such subjects are for those 'arrived' with better choices on hand or better still for those learned lot like you who can engage in them out of luxury of time. Given a choice, perhaps the young boy would have preferred a petrol puffing two-wheeler to rush back to handle a few more tasks (we are not discussing child labour are we?)

well, with your given story one can surely conclude: lesser the growth (economic that is) the better stays environment. You may not then get a chance to be nostalgic and romantic of your bygone eras though!

Rahul Banerjee said...

i have restricted myself to the motorcycle and not bought a car which i can do now that i am financially stronger and still ride on a cycle so its not a question of the moolah here. earning the moolah itself has been necessitated by the fact that the state does not want to allow the adivasis to live in peace and so has foisted numerous false cases on them and me.
the photo was taken by a journalist and published in a newspaper so there is no question of my talking to that child. as for the abstraction of this story by connecting it to climate change that is a standard intellectual practice and so if you castigate it then you will have to castigate all intellectualism. even that of the likes of Buddha and Jesus because they too told stories and drew morals from them.
what is the harm in being romantic and nostalgic. i know many who have both renounced and denounced their earlier activism and are living comfortable lives without worrying about the fate of the poor. i have continued to engage with the fate of the poor and the repression of the state even if at a reduced level from earlier due to the force of circumstances.
at least you have reached the right conclusion and that is that there should be lesser economic growth for environmental sustainability.