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.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Contradictions of Modern Development

On Sunday, 5th May 2013, four Bhil tribals from the village of Mathwad died when the bus they were travelling on overturned in a difficult hilly portion of the road to their village and fell 20 metres into the valley. These people were sitting on top of the bus as it was overcrowded with people returning from the weekly market in Chhaktala village. Fifty other people both men and women have been injured, some of them seriously. The bus caught fire after falling into the ditch but fortunately by that time all the passengers had been evacuated. And on this tragedy hangs a tale of the contradictory nature of modern development.
When I first came to the Mathwad region in 1985 the first joke I heard was that the road from Alirajpur to Mathwad had been blackened with a macadamised top quite a few times on paper but it still retained the mutiple colours of a mud road because the funds had been siphoned off to colour the pockets of the contractors, bureaucrats and politicians. The lack of a proper road meant that not only was there no public transport but that higher level administrators also could not visit the area frequently because it was difficult to reach by jeeps also. The mobilisation of the KMCS first put pressure on the administration and the government to visit the area and also do something to develop the roads. However, thirty years later the road to Mathwad still remains untarred and the only difference now is that it has been given a stone top in preparation for macadamisation.
Since the road still takes a heavy toll on a vehicle that travels on it regularly there is only one bus that does two trips a day from Alirajpur to Mathwad. It is a ramshackle bus that frequently breaks down. Obviously it was in no shape to take the heavier load that was there on sunday with many people sitting on the top of the bus along with the stuff they had bought from the market. In fact even in the plains part from Alirajpur to Chhaktala there are an insufficient number of buses plying compared to the people travelling and so there are many jeeps that ply illegally and are also overloaded as in the picture below.
Thus, even on plain roads there are accidents sometimes and the poor Bhil tribals who are seen clinging on in the above picture get seriously injured or even die. There are strict legal provisions to prevent this kind of overloading and the police are supposed to implement them. However, the police look the other way after taking a bribe and allow such blatant violations to continue. The problem is that if the jeep owner in the picture above or the bus owner in the case of the bus that overturned in Mathwad were to seat only the regulation number of passengers then there operation would not be profitable. Just the economic costs of running the vehicle are so high that the fare that they would have to charge from the limited number of passengers would be exorbitant. That is why throughout the world public transport has to be subsidised. If it is not then the private operators have to resort to overcrowding to stay afloat and earn a profit.
Even with roads it is the same problem. They cost the earth to build, especially in hilly areas like Mathwad. The government does not have the resources to build good roads and of course there is the ubiquitous problem of siphoning off of funds by corrupt officials. The government does not have funds because it cannot mobilise enough taxes from the people who are mostly poor. Since all economic activities require subsidies to make them profitable obviously those who are economically more powerful grab most of the government funds and the Bhils get the least whether it is in terms of roads, transport, health or education.
All this brings the whole project of modern development under a cloud. Even its economic costs are very high even if we do not count the environmental and social costs. Those engaged in economic activities within this paradigm from the lowest jeep owners to the highest corporation chief executive officers are all bribing the regulators to allow the cutting of or total neglect of costs so as to make a profit. Thus, if modern development is to be pursued then we must also be prepared to accommodate corruption and thievery and the disasters that arise from these.
Even though on  vastly different scales altogether the overturning of the bus on the road to Mathwad is a manifestation of the same cost cutting and lack of regulatory oversight that led to the Bhopal Gas and the Fukushima Nuclear disasters.

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