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, August 25, 2014

Unequal Access to Food

One of the biggest problems facing India is that of hunger. The proportion of the population in 2010 that was suffering from under nutrition or hunger as defined by the calorie norms adopted in 1974 (2400 kcal per capita per day in rural areas and 2100 in urban areas), was an alarming 90 per cent in rural areas and 70 per cent in urban areas. Chronic hunger, especially that of mothers and children leads to stunting and wasting which severely limit the physical and mental capacities of the population. There is thus, tremendous inequality with regard to access to food in this country arising from chronic food insecurity for a majority of the people wherein a situation exists in which people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life. It is caused by the unavailability of food, insufficient purchasing power, inappropriate distribution or inadequate use of food at the household level. Food insecurity is compounded by poor conditions of health and sanitation and inappropriate care and feeding practices as the other major causes of poor nutritional status.Women in India are more severely affected by undernutrition and the reasons are multifarious and complex. They have to bear children, often in large numbers, in addition to the usual physical activity done by men. In fact in most households women have to do more physical activity than men as they have to undertake the care functions also in addition to income earning activities and are constrained by various retrograde patriarchal social norms and customs. This then affects the health of their children in the womb and immediately after birth.
Food insecurity is correlated with income poverty arising from a lack of well paid livelihood sources. This is primarily because agriculture in India is in severe crisis. Especially problematical is the fact that the production of pulses has gone down drastically to be replaced by soyabean which does not provide direct nutrition to the farmers unlike the former. While 70 percent of the population of the country resides in rural areas, the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is only 14 percent. In fact, there has been a steady decline in this proportion from 1990 when it was 34 percent while the proportion of rural population then was 74 percent. This has mainly been due to the fact that the share of public investments in agriculture, which are in large infrastructure support like the building of dams and canals, has gone down from 5 percent in 1980-81 to 1.2 percent in  2009-10 remaining stagnant at around Rs 10,000 crores annually at 1999-00 prices.
The investments that have taken place in agriculture have not yielded the desired results because of the problems arising out of the mismanagement of dam irrigation on the one hand and the consequent over dependence on ground water for irrigation purposes on the other. The biggest problem is that the canal networks in most cases are not completed or even if they are they are not lined properly and so there is either much less water available for irrigation or much heavier losses through seepage than were designed at the time of construction. There has been a tendency among water resource managers to just build the walls of the dams and not pay enough attention to building and maintaining the canal network. An assessment shows that in the fifteen year period from 19921 to 2007 there was no net addition to the canal irrigated area despite an expenditure of Rs 142000 crores on major and medium irrigation projects in this period.There is, thus, a serious over exploitation of groundwater resources as detailed by the Central Groundwater Board. This increasing dependence on ground water has resulted in an increasing inequity in water usage among the rich and the poor arising from the creation of water markets.
Moreover, this has happened at a time when the ecological sustainability of modern chemical agriculture has come into question and been further compounded by increasing economic costs. This has led to a situation where many farmers have had to give up farming or commit suicide. In fact the suicides by indebted farmers have been rising continually and the Central Government had to initiate a massive debt moratorium scheme in 2008 of Rs 72000 crores.The net result of this crisis in agriculture is that there is massive rural-urban migration estimated to be about a 100 million people annually as people move to cities and towns in search of employment. This, in turn,has fed an increasing trend of “contractualisation” of labour in industries and services with even established organised sector manufacturing firms relying more and more on contract labour as mechanisation reduces the requirement of the number of permanent skilled workers. The contract workers are paid very low wages and they have to live in highly unsanitary conditions in slums leading to a calorie consumption puzzle as they have to spend more on other social services like health and education than earlier and so cut down on their food expenses. This leads to social and industrial unrest. Matters have been compounded by the fact that since January 2008 the consumer price inflation rate began increasing from a relatively mild 5.8% and reached a peak of 16.1% in February 2010 and is still uncomfortably high at 6% mainly due to food inflation and rising prices of crude oil. This forced the Central Government to adopt a tight monetary policy and increase interest rates continually, which has led to investments and industrial output going down, affecting the GDP growth rate which has now come down to 5% from a high of 9.6% in 2010 after it recovered from the effects of the financial meltdown. Thus, overall the livelihoods of the majority are in jeopardy and both, incomes and food intake are low with 75 percent of the rural population in 2010 living on Rs 45 or less per day (equivalent in real terms to 1.25 US $ in 2000 prices at purchasing power parity conversion rates which is the World Bank's extreme poverty line and the proportion for the same in urban areas being 48 percent.
This is the context in which we have to assess the inadequacy of the Government's economic support measures for the poor. The outlay for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which has undoubtedly provided major economic support for the rural poor has gone down over the years. The other major support is the distribution of subsidised foodgrains through the Public Distribution System (PDS). However, the amount of support provided is inadequate and the system is riddled with corruption. Even though with the passage of the Food Security Act the coverage of the Public Distribution System will increase, the support to be given will be much less than what is required in the prevailing situation of low income and low food intake for a vast majority of the people. The huge crowds that line up before the PDS outlets to get the subsidised food and kerosene, as shown in the picture below, are testimony to the fact that hunger is a stark reality in India.
 One of the biggest challenges for the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath these days is to get the PDS functional. Ever since the new Food Security Act has been enacted there is a huge confusion within the system as it is being digitised. Consequently many Adivasis in the remoter villages have gone without rations for months together. As usual the staff have taken advantage of this situation to try and earn even more from corruption thant they usually do. On several occasions truckloads of people have come to our office in Alirajpur and then gone in procession to the Collectorate to sort things out. Without adequate food we will definitely not be able to leverage our demographic dividend with a hungry population.

No comments: