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.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Drop in the Ocean

The Sahariya tribals of Northern Madhya Pradesh have been classified as a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG). This is on the basis of the fact that they have traditionally been hunter gatherers and not settled agriculturists. In 1999 and 2000 the Sahariya tribal residents of 24 villages within the Palpur Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh were displaced and rehabilitated on land outside on its periphery. This was done to free the sanctuary of human habitation and make it safe for the introduction of Asiatic lions from the Gir sanctuary in Gujarat. The wild life experts felt that there should be an alternative habitat for the lions so as to counter the danger of an epidemic wiping out or drastically reducing the lion population in Gir. However, the Gujarat government has refused to allow the lions to be shifted out of Gir so as not to lose its monopoly and the matter is now in the Supreme court.
The agricultural land that the oustee Sahariya tribals had within the sanctuary was of very good quality and was also irrigated due to proximity to the Kuno River. The relatively less numerous upper caste and OBC oustees used their social and political power to be resettled with good quality lands. However, the land that the majority Sahariya tribal oustees were given in the resettlement area is of much poorer quality and low soil depth. As much as twenty five percent of the households were given stony land that is agriculturally totally unproductive. The forest department also did not fulfill its mandate of providing irrigation facilities. Apart from this the oustees were deprived of the rich natural resource base that they had access to in their original habitat as the new habitat was a degraded one. Moreover, the original inhabitants of the area claimed first right to the NTFP in the remaining forest area further constraining the resettled population. This led to their losing the benefit of substantial earnings from collection and sale of minor forest produce. The oustees also had large livestock holdings within the sanctuary as there were ample grazing and watering opportunities there. When they were resettled they lacked both grazing and watering facilities and so were forced to leave their livestock behind. Livestock being a liquid source of capital and insurance for poor households this loss meant a severe loss of livelihood security for the oustees. The net result was that there was a disastrous overall loss of livelihood security for the Sahariya scheduled tribe and Jatav scheduled caste oustees and combined with the failure of monsoons from 2003 onwards this led to nearly a hundred malnutrition deaths in some of the resettlement villages. The government through the forest department has undertaken only piecemeal relief measures without addressing the basic lack of access to natural resources, quality agricultural land, irrigation and alternative income opportunities for the distressed oustees. Research done by Dr Asmita Kabra of the Dr Ambedkar University of Delhi shows through both qualitative and quantitative analysis that the resettled tribal households have been impacted negatively by the resettlement process resulting in their slipping deeper and deeper into poverty.
Dr Kabra is in fact the founder trustee of the NGO Samrakshan Charitable Trust (SCT) which has been working in the area since the late nineteen nineties to find a solution to the numerous problems fo the area and especially the livelihood insecurity of the Sahariyas. The SCT has implemented a comprehensive watershed plus project encompassing micro-finance, natural resource management, agricultural development and non-farm income generation through community organisation that has considerably improved the sorry livelihood situation of the beneficiaries resulting from the poor government implemented rehabilitation of the oustees from Kuno sanctuary.
The major improvement has been in the sphere of agriculture due to excellent soil and water conservation work. This year after five years of continuous drought there have been good rains and wells are overflowing because of the increased recharge made possible by systematic soil conservation works.
The traditional dry land crops that are sown in the kharif season have done very well and the farmers are now waiting in pleasurable anticipation for the rabi crops of wheat, mustard and chickpeas. The resplendent crop of bajra being taken by a farmer in Jakhoda village is pictured below.
The farmers have also used the greater water availability to cultivate small plots near their homes and here apart from vegetables and maize they also cultivate the traditional indigenous dry land crops like the fox tail millet shown in the picture below.
The comparison of the irrigation and agricultural income status between the beginning of the project in 2005-06 and in 2009-10 as revealed by the household survey conducted by the SCT give an encouraging picture of the positive impact of the land treatment implemented through the project. The irrigated area has increased from about 10% earlier to about 85% presently. There has been a ten fold increase in agricultural income. It is notable that prior to watershed treatment there was no rabi income despite there being some minimal irrigation because the drought had made it impossible to cultivate in the rabi season. However, after watershed treatment the higher amount of recharge taking place even in scanty rainfall conditions and better soil depth has enabled rabi cultivation to take place. Thus despite drought conditions persisting over the four years of the project so far the higher soil depth and moisture availability and more water in the open wells has resulted in higher agricultural production and incomes. This year being a good rainfall year the results are going to be even more spectacular. The most striking statistic is that in 2005-06, 21% of the households in Jakhoda village, 40% in Paira Adivasi village, 49% in Paira Jatav village and 71% in Agraa village had negative agricultural income implying that they were not able to recover their costs and this proportion has come down substantially after watershed treatment in 2009-10 to 8%, 1%, 30% and 8% respectively. There are households with zero income which indicates that they have not cultivated their land at all and either leased it out or left it fallow. This proportion remains significantly high at about 30% in all the villages due to lack of oxen with the farmers and the lack of money to hire tractors. The SCT has now decided to tackle this important issue by providing a tractor and diesel engine to the watershed committee in the villages to let out on a minimal rent to be decided and managed by the committee.
This just goes to show how important it is for NGOs and community based organisations to intervene on behalf of the tribals to soften the impact of deleterious development policies of the government. Unfortunately efforts like that of the SCT which also runs a very good school for the children of the area are a drop in the ocean and so most tribals are still in the doldrums. Moreover, even such successful pilot projects do not prompt the government to replicate them. The Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Programme (MPRLP) being implemented with support from the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom had approached the SCT to prepare a comprehensive watershed development scheme for the other twenty villages displaced from the Kuno Sanctuary. A very good plan was drawn up but the MPRLP did not want to implement it the way SCT had done. The SCT had spent one whole year in organising the beneficiaries in watershed committees and carried out field stone fencing work as entry point activities. This is crucial for successful watershed work as without community buy in the project tends to dissipate and under perform. However, the MPRLEP began implementing the physical works without the social mobilisation and so the project has petered out. Whereas in the SCT villages the farmers are still well mobilised and especially the women who are taking an active part in community and individual farm work. The picture below shows a woman guarding her bajra crop from the birds in Paira Adivasi village.
This post is essentially about water conservation which is one of the important factors in ensuring good agriculture and livelihood security. The theme for Blog Action Day this year on October 15th is water and beginning with this post till then all posts will be related to water and its importance for human existence.


Pradeep Joshi said...

Well projected life of displaced people from the Sanctuary. Excellent job done by Samrakshan team. Dr Kabra desreves kudos for this pioneering work.

(The meaning of "ek anar sau bimar" is not what has been said in the opening para of the article..the idiom actually means the scarcity of resources for treatment. Anar does treat illnes but you have only one Anar and so many suffering from illnesses, so the question,who should I give this to?)

Rahul Banerjee said...

Thanks Pradeep for the correction. I have changed the introductory para in accordance with it.