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 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. 


lamp post said...

Rahul Banerjee said...

Thanks for the reference Lamps, but the problem in India is that the establishment is blind to the concept of treatment and reuse of waste water.