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, December 31, 2018

The Holy Trinity of our Environmentally Sinful Times

Our efforts through the Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti to battle the severe crises that face India on the three crucial environmental fronts of water, energy and agriculture went through more downs than ups primarily due to the inhospitable policy framework that prevails in this country.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the livelihoods of 60 percent of the population of the country yet apart from paying lip service the Government does not do anything to put it on a more sustainable basis by switching subsidies from chemical agriculture to organic agriculture. Consequently, farmers continue to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides to grow hybrid varieties of wheat, maize and cotton in our area even though they hardly yield any income after their harvest. And they consider our efforts to farm organically to be so much balderdash!! Obviously, we are making even more of a loss than they are but that is because there is no subsidy for organic farming whatsoever. Nevertheless, one successful initiative of ours was the cultivation of a special variety of Bajra or pearl millet that has whiskers that prevent birds from eating the ripened grains on the cobs as shown below.
Not only does this variety grow very tall and so it has a high fodder content but is also very high yielding with the cobs between a foot  and a foot and a half in length. The rotis made from this bajra flour are very tasteful. Many farmers have been impressed with this variety and have expressed the desire to buy the seeds to try it out themselves next year. So this is the first successful agricultural extension effort of the MAJLIS.
Associated with the crisis of agriculture is the equally serious problem of water scarcity. Both surface and groundwater availability is going down. The logical thing to do is to promote communitarian soil, water and forest conservation to augment water availability. However, once again the Government is paying only lip service to this. Indeed, in the matter of groundwater, which caters to most of the water needs of the people of this country the Central Ground Water Authority has come up with a farcical and dangerous notification of guidelines recently which has been ably critiqued by Himanshu Thakkar in his blog -

  • The guidelines to come into force from June 1, 2019 (why should it not be immediately implemented?). Groundwater use for Individual households for drinking water use for supply line up to 1 inch diameter supply line (Section 2.2.1) does not require mandatory rainwater harvesting. Installation of digital water meter is not mandatory in this case.
  • Section 2.2.2, applicable to infrastructure projects/ industries/ mining/ public water supply agencies for drinking/ domestic water use upto 12.5 m3/day water. They do not mandatorily require use of recycled/ treated sewage for flushing/ green belt etc. Installation of piezometers not mandatory if extraction below 10 m3/day. Installation of Digital Water Level Recorders shall not be mandatory for projects requiring ground water upto 50 m3/day in safe and semi critical assessment units (no telemetry for water use upto 500 m3/day) and upto 20 m3/day in critical and overexploited assessment units (no telemetry for water use upto 200 m3/day). No condition for compulsory treatment and recycle of sewage.
  • Section 2.3.1 for water use for industries: industries abstracting ground water to the tune of 500 m3/day or more in safe and semi critical and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited assessment units do not require water audit. Those that require water audit, need to get it done through “CII/ FICCI/ NPC certified auditors”. How can that be credible? It says “industries except those falling in red and orange categories as per CPCB” to implement Rain water harvesting. Why should the red and orange category industries exempt from Rain water harvesting?
  • Major concession: “Existing industries, which have already obtained NOC and have implemented recharge measures as specified in the NOC, shall be exempted from paying WCF. However, if the industry is going for expansion, WCF will have to be paid for the additional quantum of ground water withdrawal as per applicable rates.”
  • Section 2.3.3 for Infrastructure projects: Wastewater treatment and recycle measures not mandatory.
  • Shockingly, no impact assessment, no public consultation, monitoring or compliance mechanism for any of the massive groundwater extraction proposals, in any of the above.
  • Why should monitoring records be retained only for up to two years?
Agriculture water use: “Concerned State Departments (Agriculture/ Irrigation/ Water Resources) shall be required to undertake suitable demand and supply side measures to ensure sustainability of ground water sources. An indicative list of demand side measures is given”. CGWA could have provided more detailed and effective measures, including community governed groundwater regulation. The list given does not even include water saving methods like System of Rice Intensification or such method for other crops. In fact, community driven regulation could have been recommended for all the different user classes.
WCF = Water CON fees? The notification has no restrictions, no banned water use activities even in over exploited and critical areas, where essentially there is no groundwater available for exploitation. Everyone, including bottled water and cold drink manufacturers are allowed to extract as much as they want, even from over exploited areas, as long as they pay WCF! These are clearly not Water Conservation Fees, but Water CON Fees. “Other industries” have to pay just one fifth to one sixth the WCF compared to packaged drinking water units. The “other industries” clearly includes cold drink companies. Mining and infrastructure industries have to pay even lower, upto one third the WCF than “other industries”.
Other conditions include a strange one: “Sale of raw/ unprocessed/ untreated ground water for commercial use by agencies not having valid NOC from CGWA is not permitted.” This means that if you have valid NOC, you can sale the water to others!
The delegation of powers by the notification is clearly not confidence inspiring: “Central Ground Water Authority has appointed the District Magistrate/ District Collector / Sub Divisional Magistrates of each Revenue District and Regional Directors of CGWB through Public Notice as Authorized Officers, who have been delegated the power to monitor compliance, check violations and seal illegal wells, launch prosecution against offenders etc. including grievance redressal related to ground water.” These agencies have not succeeded in achieving regulation of groundwater, how that is going to change? What is required is a dedicated groundwater regulation mechanism at aquifer/ gram sabha/ block/ district level where at least 50% members are independent people from outside government.
When this is the kind of blindness displayed by the apex body tasked with ensuring a more sustainable use of water resources then one can easily imagine that the country is going to slide even further along the path to water doom. MAJLIS has with its limited resources initiated soil and water conservation work on the farms of farmers as shown below. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a very good programme for doing this work on a large scale but these days it has become moribund. The money is mostly spent is supplementing the Prime Minister's Rural Housing Scheme and so brick and concrete houses are getting built while the crucial work of soil and water conservation is being neglected.
Farmers in our area faced with diminishing returns on their farms are forced to migrate elsewhere for work to augment their incomes. The few farmers who are being benefited by our soil and water conservation programme are happy but there are many others who are beseeching us to initiate the work on their farms also but given the paucity of funds this is not possible. 
We also built a rain water harvesting tank in our office in Indore. We had been recharging all the rain water into the ground before. However, with the increasing withdrawal of ground water by others nearby our borewell water level has gone down and with rains being less and less the water level will go down further. Water recharged into the ground by a single house is not enough in the absence of others doing the same. So we built the tank to store water to be used in the crucial summer months when the borewell supply goes down. Our neighbours came and saw the massive tank being built underground below the car garage and said that it would be better to collectively urge the municipal corporation to extend the supply of the Narmada water to our residential layout!! Water is pumped up from the Narmada river over 50 kms away up a height of 500 meters at great expense for Indore and it is a highly unsustainable system both economically and environmentally. But since there is no effort on the part of the Government to encourage people to harvest, recharge and reuse water, an unsustainable system continues to be used.
Finally, the energy doldrums continue. The Government has refused to reimburse MAJLIS the 30 per cent of the cost of installing a solar power system in its office in Indore making one pretext or another. The solar system installed at the field centre also was refused subsidy at the outset itself. So we designed it in such a way that we could get the maximum use from a lesser deployment of panels and so cost. The big problem with solar power for irrigation is that the initial torque of the submersible pumps is very high and so requires a high starting current. While the solar panel system we had designed takes care of this current requirement between the months of February and June it begins to create problems in the rest of the year either because of cloud cover during the monsoons or due to less insolation from October to January. So we have had to replace the submersible pump with a compressor pump which requires much lesser starting current. This also was a project in itself as Indore doesn't have outlets selling compressor pumps and so it had to be sourced all the way from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Once again due to the high cost of solar power installation, the lack of maintenance support and subsidy from the Government there is very little movement on this front also. Poor farmers can't imagine deploying solar power.
Thus, despite Water, Energy and Agriculture having become the Holy Trinity of our Environmentally Sinful Times, there is very little effort on the part of the Government to stop their abuse and initiate more sustainable policies that can avert the impending doom that faces us.

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