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.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Ignorance is Bliss

 The Brahmaputra River Basin is one of the most problematic in India. The problems are as follows -

1. There are huge floods during the monsoons that regularly wreck havoc every year.

2. There is water scarcity and sometimes drought in summer.

3. The main stem in the form of the River Siang originates in the Tibetan plateau which is in China and so there are concerns with regard to China building dams on the Tsangpo as the river is known in Tibet and reducing the flow into India.

The problem of floods has been there from the beginning because the basin receives heavy rainfall during the monsoons amounting to 3000 mm or more per annum. However, over the years increase in human population and anthropogenic activities in the basin, especially in the upper catchments of the basin in Arunachal Pradesh has led to huge deforestation, soil erosion and runoff. Moreover, even though most of this rainfall was always concentrated in the monsoons, of late the frequency of heavy storms and cloudbursts has increased resulting in heavier runoffs. The net result is that there are heavy floods. The approach of the water resources department has been one of ignorance. Ignorance regarding the basic dynamics of the river. A river depends heavily on its underlying hydrogeology. The precipitation during the monsoons gets recharged into the ground by the forests and their underfloor, filling up the aquifers during the monsoons. These aquifers then release their stored water throughout the year as base return flow that keeps the rivers flowing. Therefore if due to deforestation natural recharge into aquifers is reduced then not only are there floods but also the flow dries up during the rest of the year and in extreme cases there are droughts in summer. Moreover, due to soil erosion the sediment load has increased constricting the river channel and leading to erosion of the banks and the widening of the river. So all the rivers that contribute to the Brahmaputra have wide river beds which overflow during the monsoons and are dry afterwards. The three longest river bridges in India are all across the Brahmaputra and its tributaries, the Dibang and Lohit and are 6 to 9 kms long.

What is the plan to tackle this problem that the ignoramus's in the water resource establishment, including those in the Centre for Brahmaputra Studies in the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati have drawn up? It is the usual one of building several big dams for storing the excess water in the monsoons for flood control and to build embankments on the sides of the rivers to contain the river flow. While control of floods through dams has turned out to be a failure globally primarily because the valleys in the upper reaches of rivers are narrow and so do not have much water holding capacity as compared to the monsoon flow, the mighty Brahmaputra has repeatedly breached the embankments. So even if only one dam is under construction so far on the tributary Subansiri in Arunachal Pradesh, this along with others that are proposed are not going to control floods in any big way. Instead, as was the case in Kerala a few years ago, during heavy and unprecedented downpours the extra water released from the dams tend to aggravate the floods. 

Another daft proposal is to link the Brahmaputra to the Ganga and thereafter to the southern rivers under the river linking project. The problem with this is that there is a huge ridge between the Brahmaputra and Ganga valleys and then again there are huge ridges between the Ganga valley and the southern river valleys. These ridges cannot be crossed by gravity flow. Linking of rivers is feasible only when the valley are in parallel with a ridge running between them. Then one river can be dammed in its upper reaches and the water can be diverted from it through a canal by gravity to the other river down stream. This is what has been done in the case of the Narmada and the Sabarmati river valleys in Gujarat. However, this is not possible with the Brahmaputra and the Ganga river valleys because they are not parallel.

The third problem of China building dams on the Tsangpo and reducing the flow into India will be environmentally damaging to the river but it will not affect the flow significantly because the Tsangpo contributes just 5 percent of the total annual flow of the Brahmaputra which is mainly made up of the monsoon flow from its tributaries arising in Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan.

Therefore, the thrust of flood prevention should be in ensuring afforestation and artificial recharge through soil conservation measures in the hilly catchments so that as much as possible of the monsoon precipitation is recharged into the underground aquifers. This will also ensure year round flow in the river and solve the problem of droughts in summer. The most rational way to conserve and use water resources in a basin is to do it in the watersheds in situ as far as is possible. Planning should start from the uppemost ridges and work down to the drainage line. This is a challenging task because of the steep terrain and it involves community participation by the people living in these hills. However, investment in such natural and artificial recharge programmes are much less than that required for building dams and embankments and also provides livelihoods to the people and conserves the environment. 

Unfortunately, the ignoramuses who control the water resource management in this country are loathe to give up their idiotic privileges and powers and so they have now embarked on a rafting expedition down the river from the place where it enters India from China to the place where it leaves India to enter Bangladesh to study the sediments and see if they cannot be used to build roads along the banks of the river!! 

Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise as the poet Thomas Gray wrote.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Ambedkar of Modern Indian Science

 The Golden era of modern Indian Science in the first three decades of the twentieth century had a Dalit star also in the form of Meghnad Saha. His contribution to astrophysics, made while he was still in his twenties, was path breaking, as it made it possible to study the spectra of radiation from the stars to know more about their composition. So important was his contribution that he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1927. He rarely specifically raised the issue of caste oppression, even though he suffered from it to a great extent throughout his life, as  he believed that this would be better overcome by the spread of science in Indian society and so he strove all his life to achieve that.

He was born in a village, in what is now Bangladesh, in 1893 in a poor Dalit family. In those days there was no free schooling and so his father, who was a small time grocer, was reluctant to send him to school. However, a relative provided some help and he went to school first in his village and later in Dacca and thereafter got scholarships on the basis of his excellent results to study mathematics in Presidency College in Kolkata. He switched to physics after completing his masters and thereafter went to the United Kingdom for further studies and research. After coming back to India he got a job as a teacher in Kolkata University and began working in the area of astrophysics making seminal contributions in that field. He was of the opinion that path breaking fundamental research in science can only be done if the scientists made their own research equipment instead of importing them from abroad. This brought him into conflict with the Nobel Laureate C V Raman who not only opposed sanction of university funds for his instrument making but even prevented the American Nobel Laureate physicist, Robert Millikan, from giving funds to Saha. So Saha accepted the offer of the University of Allahabad to head its department of physics and began his research and instrumentation there. The mass spectroscope that he built there is still in use today. 

Throughout his school and college days Saha had often to suffer untouchability and this continued even after he became a teacher and researcher. He had a particularly tough time in Allahabad because of the greater casteism that prevailed there as compared to Bengal. So unlike other Indian scientists he did not remain content to do scientific research only but drawing from his own difficult experience of school and college, began working to popularise teaching and research in science. He said that given the very low level of education right from schools to colleges, India had a very poor scientific base and human power and this could be rectified only by universalising state sponsored free quality education. He believed that the problems of social and economic oppression and the medieval mindset from which they emanated could be eradicated by the spread of science education at all levels even more than by social and political mobilisation. He also believed that modern industrial development would be necessary for removing poverty but cautioned against a total discard of the traditional methods of agriculture and rural cottage industry.  To this end he founded The National Institute of Science in 1935 and began publishing the journal "Science and Culture" to propagate his views.

Right from his school days he was involved in politics and he took part in the freedom movement and was rusticated from school on a couple of occasions. However, his excellence in studies got him admission in other schools on both occasions. After coming to Kolkata he got involved with the "Anushilan Samiti" which was bent on armed insurrection against the British. Later, he dissociated himself from this organisation because he disliked the casteism that was rampant in its leaders. Instead he joined the Indian National Congress and began lobbying within it for modern industrial development as opposed to Gandhi's insistence on village industry. He said that while village industry and traditional agriculture would have to continue and be modernised but without modern industrial development, India would fall behind even further from the rest of the world and would not be able to eradicate poverty. So he prevailed upon Subhash Chandra Bose to constitute a National Planning Committee (NPC) within the Congress in 1938 with Jawaharlal Nehru as the Chairperson. This NPC, which had scientists, industrialists and economists, including the Gandhian J C Kumarappa, as members in it, drew up detailed reports for comprehensive planning covering all sectors for self reliant development, which would also ensure the improvement of the economic condition of the masses. Saha was well aware of the fact that industrial development invariably resulted in displacement of people and caused misery to them and so advocated that people living in proximity to the sites of industrial plants must be taken into confidence and compensated and rehabilitated well by the state.

However, after independence the NPC reports were sidelined and instead the recommendations of the "Bombay Plan" proposed by a group of Mumbai industrialists which stressed on Government investment in industrial development at the expense of the masses, who were to be exploited to contribute the surpluses for this development, was pursued. Saha found that his proposals for self reliant development based on a massive expansion of science education to create a wide scientific and technological base were rejected. The industrialists were only interested in earning super profits from the opportunities for import substitution created by tariff barriers and not in ploughing those profits back into research for self reliant developmentt and this greatly disgusted him. Unfortunately, despite many letters written to Nehru criticising these retrograde developments, he could not influence him to adopt his suggestions. 

Disillusioned by this, like Ambedkar, he resigned from the Congress and stood for election to the first Lok Sabha in 1951 from the Kolkata Northwest constituency. Unlike Ambedkar who too stood for election from a constituencly reserved for the Dalits in Mumbai and lost, Saha won with a huge majority against the Congress candidate from an open constituency. He  continued his crusade for the spread of scientific education and self reliant technological development in Parliament. He said that the policy of funding exclusive research centres and laboratories while depriving the universities of adequate funds for carrying out research and the lack of a policy of building instruments for conducting this research in India itself, would result in a slow growth of science in India. Later developments have borne him out as India has not been able to produce even one Nobel laureate after independence, has a very low patent count and none of its universities feature in the top two hundred in global rankings. People of Indian origin who have won Nobel Prizes or gained international renown in scientific research, have done so while working in universities abroad. He also suggested that all agreements for building modern steel mills, fertiliser plants, thermal power plants and the like with foreign firms must include a technology transfer cum training component so that India could develop its own expertise in these fields. This too was ignored. He died a disappointed man in 1956 from a cardiac arrest.

Thus, Saha, like Ambedkar, was a crusader for the establishment of an oppression free modern India but unlike the latter he believed more in the power of science than in political organisation and struggle for achieving this. While Saha is well known as a giant of modern Indian science, very few people know that he was a Dalit and that he was perhaps the greatest visionary of modern development in India whose ideas were ignored. Indeed I too came to know that he was a Dalit only last year on reading a book on the history of Indian science. Unfortunately, Saha was unable to get implemented his path breaking ideas for building a self reliant and oppression free India and so we as a country are still languishing at the bottom of global rankings in many per capita human development indicators. 

Postscript: There seems to be some confusion with regard to Meghnad Saha being a Dalit because the surname Saha in Bengal is used by both the Savarna Vaishya caste and the Dalit castes. What adds to this confusion is that Saha's father Jagannath was a small time grocer which is what the Savarna Sahas are - a trader caste. There is quite a bit of evidence that Saha faced untouchability right from school to the time he was a professor in Allahabad. However, while this is enough to say that he was certainly not a Savarna, it is not conclusive evidence that he was a Dalit as the Brahmins practiced untouchability against other backward classes also sometimes. However, since the Sahas in Bengal are either Vaishyas or Dalits and since it is confirmed that he was not a Vaishya, so it can be inferred that Meghnad Saha was a Dalit. Matters have been compounded by the fact that Saha himself never discussed his caste background except in some Bengali articles that are difficult to access now. Moreover, as a matter of principle, Saha did not register himself and his children as Scheduled Castes after independence because he felt that he had overcome his caste disadvantages through his scientific prowess and he had said that that was the best way to achieve social justice.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Bhil Adivasi Mobilisation for Climate Action


Tribal Development in India has been problematical from the time of independence. This has been due to a conflicting situation arising from the opposition between the traditional community based subsistence economy of the Adivasis and the modern market based growth oriented thrust of the mainstream economy. The challenge for the State has been to integrate the Adivasis into the modern economy in a manner that was beneficial to them. This has generally not been possible because the Adivasis have lacked the requisite skills for this and the government system for equipping them with these skills has malfunctioned. Moreover, in order to save on the costs associated with modern development the Adivasis have often not been recompensed and rehabilitated properly for the displacement that they have had to face as resources have been extracted from their traditional habitats.

Not surprisingly this has led to dissatisfaction on the part of the Adivasis. This in turn has given rise to outright political revolt, rights based New Social Movements of Adivasis and also an emergence of Non-Governmental Organisations for bringing about better tribal development. Decentralised and local community controlled development has been acknowledged as a major desideratum for tackling tribal deprivation by scholars. With the award of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences to Elinor Ostrom in 2009, even mainstream economics has come to acknowledge the importance of collective action for the management of common pool resources. This has also gained in importance currently because of the benefits in terms of mitigation of climate change that such communitarian natural resource management can achieve. The collective action undertaken by the Bhil and Bhilala Adivasis in West-Central India to secure their rights and entitlements and in the process mitigate climage change are detailed here.

2. Traditional Bhil Society

The Bhil Adivasis in West-Central India have traditionally had a communitarian culture based on a subsistence livelihood pattern that ensured sustainable use of their natural resource bases. The important characteristics of traditional Bhil society are as follows -

1.      Habitations of small communities linked together by strong kinship ties

2.      Customs of labour pooling in all social and economic activities

3.      System of interest free loans in cash and kind

4.      Minimal interaction with the external centralised trade based economy

5.      High dependence on forests for daily as well as agricultural needs

6.      Social customs that ensured the redistribution of the surplus of individual families among the community

There was thus a minimal role in this society for accumulation, trade and monetary profits and so it continued for ages at a low level resource use equilibrium. However, Bhil society is patriarchal like others and so women have to bear the double burden of poverty and patriarchal oppression.

3. Colonial Dispossession

The Maratha invasion of the region in the late eighteenth century and later the advent of the British colonialists in the early eighteenth century the situation changed drastically. The penetration of the modern market economy and the settling of non-tribal peasant farmers began in the Bhil areas. This put the Bhils in a precarious situation with the beginning of a process of alienation from their natural resource bases and their integration as ill paid debt ridden labourers in the centralised market economy.

The British enacted the Indian Forest Act in 1865 and took vast areas of community forests out of the control of forest dweller communities and handed over their management to the Forest Department created by it and this was the single most debilitating development for the Adivasis in India. Even though this act was implemented only in the provinces directly controlled by the British it nevertheless provided the new direction of commercial exploitation of forests to forest management in the Princely States that largely ruled over the Bhil areas and so they too were adversely affected.

4. Post Colonial Situation

Ironically, the coming of independence aggravated the livelihood situation of the Bhils instead of  improving it. Most of the Bhil areas that were under the governance of Princely States prior to independence were assimilated into the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and the Indian Forest Act (1927) (IFA) was implemented. Vast areas of forests which were earlier still being managed by the Bhils with the Princely States only nominally in control, were converted into Reserved Forests.

The Bhils mostly were illiterate and so did not understand the legal procedures for conversion of their habitats into Reserved Forests and so lost most of their lands.  Under the IFA, the government “can constitute any forest land or waste land which is the property of Government or over which the Government has proprietary rights, a reserved forest, by issuing a notification of this effect”. Settlement of rights was not carried out and large areas remain unsurveyed even today. The history of forest management thereafter has been one of continuous deprivation of the Adivasis and is briefly described below followed by a description of the failure of economic and social development schemes in Tribal areas.

4.1 Disempowerment and Maldevelopment of Bhil Adivasis

The situation of the Bhils was made worse by the fact that government services like education, development extension and health have not functioned properly and so the Adivasis have been deprived of the welfare benefits that they were entitled to under various schemes. Finally the patriarchal nature of Bhil society led to the burden of increasing poverty due to wrong development policies falling disproportionately on the women. The necessity of bearing more children to get male progeny has also led to a population explosion, increasing pressure on the natural resource base.

4.1.1 Decline of Local Self Governance - The most debilitating phenomenon immediately after independence was the marginalisation of the customary community based local self governance systems of the Bhils. The third tier of Panchayati Raj was not set up and instead the power in rural areas was transferred to the bureaucracy and especially the Forest Department and Police. The Forest Department staff took undue advantage of the restrictive provisions of the Indian Forest Act to demand bribes from the Bhils to allow them access to the forests without which they could not survive but which had become legally proscribed. The Police interfered with the traditional communitarian dispute resolution mechanisms of the Bhils and instead forced them to report their problems to the Police leading to unnecessary arrests and litigation.  Even though the Bhils elected their own representatives to the state and national legislatures due to the policy of reservation this did not translate into power for the Bhils at large as the elected representatives went along with the overall policy of marginalisation of the Adivasis.

As a result, the general Bhil population was completely disempowered and left at the mercy of the bureaucracy. This disempowerment is the root cause of the mal-development of the Bhil areas. The specific micro level needs and aspirations of the Bhils have not been articulated and so macro level development policies that have been pursued have been inimical to them.

Thus, the actual state policy that evolved for Bhil tribal areas was as follows - “ top priority has been given to a programme of rapid industrialisation and extension of means of communication to the most interior regions. Our firm view is that the development of land and agriculture alone will not be adequate for the rehabilitation of the tribal communities. Agricultural land is insufficient and cannot serve the needs of even half the tribal population. The tribal areas are rich in industrial and power potential. There is no reason why in the wider interest of the nation and in the long-term interest of the Adivasis themselves, industries should not be developed and localised in tribal areas”. 

4.1.2 Industrial Development versus Tribal Development - The assumption that industrial development in tribal areas is in the long-term beneficial to them has been proved to be totally fallacious. Invariably Adivasis are not rehabilitated and compensated properly for the loss of their traditional livelihoods and neither they are trained to gain employment in the new industries that are set up. The industrial areas set up on tribal lands in West-Central India are an example of this. The government provided cheap land and other subsidised infrastructure to the industrialists along with tax-holidays but the displaced Adivasis were given only pittances as compensation. Not being educated or skilled they did not get any of the permanent jobs that were created and are even today working as casual labourers. Pithampur, Indore, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Surat and Kota, which are the main industrial centres in West-Central India in fact draw in Bhils from the whole region as casual labourers.

The other fallacious assumption is that agricultural land was insufficient to provide suitable livelihoods to the Adivasis. Inadequate attention was paid to developing the productivity of dryland agriculture on sub-optimal soils in upper watersheds on which the Bhils are dependent. Instead stress was put on developing green revolution agriculture on the plain lands with irrigation and chemical inputs. This was totally unsuitable to the hilly dry land farms of the Bhils. Today the green revolution technologies are proving to be unsuitable for the areas where they were started off with in the 1960s in Punjab and Haryana primarily due to soil quality degradation and lesser and costlier avialability of water and chemical inputs.

A resource conservation policy for land, water and forests, a research and development policy for the traditional organic agriculture of the Adivasis and appropriate technology for processing agricultural and forest produce combined with a vibrant local government system with a clear gender focus to counter the internal patriarchy of Bhil society would have worked wonders if it had been implemented. Appropriate education and health systems incorporating tribal knowledge would have been a bonus that would have produced a new generation of Adivasis able and ready to take on the development challenges faced by their community. This was not done and so the human development indices in the Bhil tribal areas have remained the poorest in the country.

5. Mobilisation of Bhil Adivasis

The Bhil Adivasis of West-Central India began mobilising from 1970s onwards primarily for their basic constitutional rights. Later this movement spread to include the integration of the Bhils into the modern market system without exploitation by moneylenders, traders and corrupt government officials. Currently the umbrella organisation of Bhil Adivasis in West-Central India is the Adivasi Ekta Parishad.

The introduction of the special Panchayat Raj for Scheduled Tribal areas under the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act 1996 (PESA) gave a boost to the work of mobilisation. The provision in PESA Act that the tribal Gram Sabha is to be the final arbiter on all issues of local development and that this Gram Sabha could be as small as a hamlet of a village made it easier to implement development programmes. Often it is not possible to carry the whole village together on some development programme because the tribal hamlets of a village are situated at a distance from each other. Another law that promises to have far reaching consequences is the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006 (FRA) which gives rights to the land that the Adivasis have been cultivating and also community rights to the forests in which they have been residing. Finally there is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which if properly implemented can in addition to providing employment to the Adivasis also improve the natural resource base of their habitats.

The specific mobilisational strategies adopted that have got the people to act collectively for getting their entitlements and the conservation of natural resources for climate change mitigation are –

  1. Problem analysis workshops in which the people have participated in open discussions to pinpoint the problems they were facing.
  2. Legal and rights training workshops in which the people were taught the basics of the liberal democratic framework.
  3. Collective Action for assertive rights through public demonstrations and sitins.
  4. Revival of traditional labour and resource pooling customs.
  5. Special women's meetings to get them involved in resource conservation work and also public demonstrations and also counter the internal patriarchy of Bhil society.
  6. Legal and policy advocacy to change the laws and rules in favour of the Adivasis.

6. Gaining Access to Forests and then Conserving them

The mass mobilisation began with the problem of ensuring access to the encroached farms of the Adivasis in the reserved forest. As a solution to this problem it was decided to protect the remaining forest area and prevent it from degradation. This was done to counter the claim of the forest department that the Adivasis were destroying the forest. Consequently, social protection of the forests to ensure their regeneration was undertaken. Small groups patrolled the forests by turns through a labour pooling system. The fodder generated from such protection is cut and bought by the members at the end of the monsoon season and the money thus generated is kept in a fund for carrying out plantation work. This forest protection has considerably increased the availability of fodder, fireweood and non-timber forest produce in the study watershed and this has especially benefited the women and children who are the main collectors of forest products. It may be mentioned here that tribal children treat the collection of forest produce as a playful activity and it is not labour for them. This is how they come to know their natural environment. Greater fodder availability has facilitated goat and buffalo rearing and so increased the supplementary incomes from animal husbandry which provides an insurance against livelihood shocks to the tribal households. It is not possible to quantify the increase in forest product availability because of a lack of records but people say that they now enjoy much greater forest product availability and have bigger herds of goats and cattle than earlier.

7. Soil and Water Conservation

The villagers organised themselves into small groups of ten to twelve farmers each who then pooled their labour and cooperated with each other to perform their agricultural operations together and also undertake soil and water conservation activities. This was a revival of the traditional labour pooling custom of the Bhils called Dhas. In this system people used to work together to do agricultural operations on each others' fields, build each others' houses, and improve the quality of the farm fields through soil conservation work. However, this traditional labour pooling custom is dying out because of their integration into the mainstream money economy and the exploitation by the forest department staff.

A major feature of this cooperative soil and water conservation work is the participation of women in it. As is well known the ravages of natural devastation caused by bad development are mostly borne by women. Consequently it is not surprising, that when offered an opportunity to cooperate to reduce their drudgery, women come forward enthusiastically. This has not only ensured that women have participated in the community actions and improved their status in society but they have also as a result, changed the gender relations at home.

The intensive soil and water conservation work and the forest conservation have together ensured that both natural and artificial recharge in the watersheds have increased considerably and as a result the streams are flowing throughout the year. The farmers have used this enhanced water availability to cultivate dryland varieties of wheat which require less water. The greater availability of animal manure has resulted in the farmers using treated organic manure in larger quantities and improving the quality of the soil. The soil and water conservation work has also ensured the greater availability of soil moisture and so double cropping has become possible even without irrigation in some of the upper fields where a crop of gram is taken. In some cases the kharif jowar crop after being harvested, regenerates to give a small rabi yield from the soil moisture.

8. Implementation of the FRA

The FRA has been plagued with problems right from the beginning. Even though the Act was passed in 2006 it took another year for the Rules to be framed and passed by parliament. Even after that Governments have been very tardy in setting in motion the process for application and verification of the rights of the Adivasis. The people have had to organise many demonstrations to first get the process started and then for it to continue. The people have also pro-actively used the MGNREGS to carry out soil and water conservation works on the lands for which they have gained lease rights under the FRA.

An associated achievement of the people is their success in getting the proposal by the Government to set up a Wild Life Sanctuary in the Katthivada Forest Range of Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh cancelled. Under the provisions of the PESA Act and also the Wild Life Protection Act any displacement of people in a scheduled tribal area has to be sanctioned by the Gram Sabha. Hard mobilisation by the people forced the Government to implement this provision and the Gram Sabhas unanimously rejected the proposal because of its many infirmities and it had to be shelved. This is the first time that a proposal for a Wild Life Sanctuary in this country has had to be shelved due to strong legal and mass action by the Adivasis.

9. Conclusions

The most important achievement is that the Adivasi Ekta Parishad has been able to inspire the Adivasis to assert their identity and clearly demarcate their sovereignty over their habitats. The laws and rules for utilisation of the forests were that laid down by the government and administered by the Forest Department and were not matched to the local needs and conditions. The Adivasi Ekta Parishad succeeded in mobilising the people through regular meetings and trainings to stand up for their rights against the forest department staff and design their own rules for governing the use of the collective natural resources. A section of the people initially braved the opposition of the traditional Patels who were agents of the Forest Department and even went to jail fighting for their rights and established the organisation. Once the organisation was established and natural resource conservation work began, the benefits began to flow and this acted as a reinforcing factor in the continuation of the process and so later even the Patels, who were initially opposed to the process, later became a part of it.

The mobilisation process resulted in a fairly strong people's organisation spread over the whole of the Bhil Adivasi homeland and the people were able to ensure that the Forest Department was forced to allow them to manage their common resources according to their own rules. The monitoring of the forests as well as the soil and water conservation work is done by the people themselves and that is why the system has worked very well for over three decades. The people have developed a system of sanctions beginning with fines for small infringements of the rules and going upto ostracism for more serious violations and this is administered by the people themselves. The traditional community conflict resolution mechanisms of the Bhil Adivasis have also been revived and these are also working very well.

However, unless the government ensures a participatory framework of rule making and monitoring at several levels it is difficult for a people's organisation to build up a larger movement of conservation. Since the government through the forest department and police has actively opposed the people's mobilisation it has taken place only in isolated patches in the Bhil homeland. The laws and policies that favour Adivasis are not implemented primarily because most people are not aware of these provisions and the Government is not serious about them. The Adivasi Ekta Parishad by raising the awareness of the Adivasis in this regard has brought about a positive transformation in West-Central India. Thus, despite its limitations, the mobilisation process described above has ensured justice for the Bhil Adivasis and provided them with a better livelihood situation while simultaneously making a significant contribution towards climate change mitigation.


Monday, October 12, 2020


The Scheduled Tribes constitute about 8 percent of the population of India. They are at the bottom of the pile as far as human development indicators are concerned. Especially deprived and oppressed are tribal women who have to bear the double burden of poverty and patriarchy. Therefore, a programme of development to address this problem based on a detailed analysis of it is very essential.

1.            The Problem

1.       Tribal Development in India has been problematical from the time of independence. This is due to a conflicting situation arising from the opposition between the traditional community based subsistence economy of the tribes people and the modern market based growth oriented thrust of the mainstream economy. The challenge has been to integrate the tribes people into the modern economy in a manner that is beneficial to them. This has generally not been possible because the tribes people have lacked the requisite skills for this and the government system for equipping them with these skills has malfunctioned (Rahul, 1997).


2.       Consequently, The Scheduled Tribes in India score the lowest on human development with low values for income, health and education indicators. Their extreme deprivation results in them having to migrate seasonally and also in further destroying their immediate habitat leading to even more poverty and deprivation (Banerjee, 2003). Thus, tribal development that is sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the tribes people is beneficial to society not only by making the tribe more self reliant but also by conserving the environment which has become important due to the looming problem of climate change (Banerjee, 2010). Well designed development interventions can not only help the tribes people to improve their lives in a sustainable manner but will also enable them to provide essential eco-system services which will mitigate the harmful effects of the carbon emissions resulting from cities and industries.


3.       Tribal societies are patriarchal and as a consequence like for other underprivileged communities, the burden of this mal development falls disproportionately on women due to the feminisation of poverty (UN Women, 2020).


Scholars and practitioners of tribal and communitarian development have suggested the following measures to tackle these problems -

·         Decentralised and local community controlled development has been acknowledged as a major desideratum for tackling tribal deprivation (Sharma, 2001).

·         With the award of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences to Elinor Ostrom in 2009, it has come to be acknowledged that collective action is the best option for the management of common pool resources (Ostrom, 1990).

·         The benefits accruing in terms of mitigation of climate change from such communitarian natural resource management and sustainable agriculture in rural areas compensates for the emissions from the urban and industrial areas (International Institute of Sustainable Development et al. 2003).

·         The income and time poverty faced by women can be effectively tackled by increasing the agency of women in designing and implementing development programmes and this also results in more equitable and sustainable development (UN, 2019)

In India agriculture directly or indirectly provides livelihoods to 60 percent of the population and so the problems of this sector are most relevant. Specifically the problems of agriculture with regard to aggravating global warming are as follows (CGIAR, 2020) -

  1. Carbon dioxide emissions from the heavy use of gasoline-powered agricultural machinery that modern techniques require.
  2. Carbon dioxide emissions from the deforestation and burning of land to convert it for intensive agriculture.
  3. Loss of soil and forests as carbon sinks. Natural vegetation acts as a huge reservoir, soaking up atmospheric carbon, as does the soil. Destruction of the plants and the disruption of the soil that occurs when land is converted to agriculture decrease the available of these sinks, meaning more carbon is left in the atmosphere. Conventional farming techniques also increase soil erosion and the leaching of soil nutrients, which decrease the use of soil as a sink. Rough estimates are that man-made changes in land-use have produced a cumulative global loss of carbon from the land of about 200 thousand million tonnes.
  4. The use of synthetic fertilizer releases huge amounts of N2O – it is the single largest source of N2O emissions in the world. The application of fertilizers accounts for 36% of the total emissions of N2O. According to the IPCC, if fertilizer applications are doubled, N2O emissions will double, all other factors being equal. Since regular applications of fertilizer are an integral part of modern farming, and as the developing countries adopt more of these industrialized agricultural practices, this is a realistic situation. Remembering that N2O has over 300 times the warming potential of CO2 and can stay in the atmosphere for about 120 years, the effect on global warming could be devastating.
  5. Methane released from animals and manure piles. Manure storage and treatment systems equal 9% of total CH4 emissions and 31% CH4 emissions from the agricultural sector.

 Apart from this the indirect contributions of modern farming are even greater. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizer is one of the most intensive energy processes in the chemical industry, which itself is a primary energy user globally. Add into this the need for the fertilizer to be transported to the farmer, and we find that synthetic fertilizer is the largest producer of CO2 emissions in the agricultural industry – even considering all the tractors and equipment belching out exhaust fumes. The use of synthetic fertilizer tends to acidify the soil, which then requires the application of lime to balance the pH; manufacture of lime also produces CO2 emissions. Finally, synthetic fertilizers suppress the soil’s natural micro-organisms that break down methane in the atmosphere, which leads to higher levels of methane than otherwise. The soil micro-organisms are largely responsible for controlling soil temperature and water run-off, production of vitamins, minerals and a host of plant hormones, not to mention that soil micro-organisms provide much of a plant’s immune system so reducing their population is harmful. Thus modern agriculture is unsustainable from the point of view of its harmful contribution to global warming and reduction of biodiversity and organic soil fertility (Shiva, 1992).

Simultaneously economically too this modern agriculture is proving to be unsustainable. The main problem with modern artificial input agriculture is that there is a natural limit to the artificial inputs that the soil can take and so the amount of fertilisers, pesticides and water to be applied goes on increasing while the yields go on falling and sometimes the crop fails altogether. Consequently the economic costs of providing the inputs go on increasing while the realisation of the value of agricultural products in the market does not keep pace with this rise in input costs. Inevitably this leads to farmers falling into the clutches of moneylenders and becoming enmeshed in spiralling debt. Matters have been compounded by the reduction in the availability of cheap institutionalised credit and various kinds of government subsidies for fertilisers, water, diesel and electricity, credit and research which even now amount to about Rs 5 lakh crores annually in India while it is as much as $ 20 billion annually in the USA. The economic crisis in agriculture has now assumed serious proportions with thousands upon thousands of farmers having committed suicides, sold their lands, houses and even their kidneys (NSSO, 2005).

Another problem arising from the adoption of modern agriculture has been that of the increasing scarcity of water. Most of the water needed for irrigation in India is being provided by groundwater extraction and this has led to a situation of "water mining" wherein water collected in the deep confined aquifers over hundreds of thousands of years were used up in the space of a decade and large parts of the country have been facing a ground water drought from the nineteen nineties onwards. Since then there has been less and less ground water available for not only irrigation but also for drinking and the cost of its extraction is continually going up. Big dams, however, are the environmentally and socially most harmful component of modern agriculture. The World Commission on Dams reviewing the performance of big dams brought out the fact that the benefits gained from big dam construction have been at an unacceptable and unnecessary higher cost in terms of environmental destruction and human displacement (Dharmadhikari, 2005). There has been lack of equity in both the distribution of benefits and costs with the poor having lost out on both counts. According to the Falkenmark Indicator of water stress, India is a water stressed country as the water availablity is only 1400 m3/year/person whereas it should be 1700 m3/year/person. In fact many areas in India are water scarce as the water availability there is less than 1000 m3/year/person (NIti Ayog, 2019).

Additionally, modern agriculture drastically reduces the agricultural bio-diversity with its stress on mono-cultures. For example in the western Madhya Pradesh region there has been a reduction in the acreage under coarser cereals and pulses which have been replaced by soybean.  This combined with the greater monetisation of the rural economy has forced the marginal adivasi farmers to buy their food from the market instead of getting it cheaply from their farms and this has reduced their nutritional levels well below healthy standards. Thus, they too have become sufferers of the problem of chronic hunger that today engulfs the poor in much of the developing world and even in the developed countries because the shrinking of livelihood opportunities has meant that they are not able to earn enough to buy wholesome and adequate food (Dreze & Sen, 2013).

Tragically, this march of modern chemical agriculture has marginalised women completely. Settled agriculture began after the neolithic revolution about 10000 years ago most probably due to the selection of seeds of edible cereals done by women from the wild grasses (Lerner, 1986). However, once surpluses accumulated thereafter women were gradually pushed into a secondary status in society by men without rights to land and other means of production. With the advent of mechanised chemical agriculture this marginalisation of women assumed greater proportions and their say in the conduct of agriculture reached rock bottom (Agarwal, 1994).

2.            The Solution

Research has shown that organic arable production is about 35% more energy efficient, and organic dairy production about 74% more efficient per unit of output than non-organic production (Smith et al, 2015). Organic farming, by definition, prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizer, using instead a limited amount per hectare of organic matter and knowledge of soil biology. Since the pH of the soil is not disrupted by organic farming techniques, the use of energy–intensive lime is also minimal or non-existent; again contributing to lower CH4 and CO2 emissions compared to modern external input farming techniques. The use of organic matter also increases carbon content in the soil, storing up to 75 kgs of carbon per hectare per year. Organic farming uses nitrogen-fixing plants as cover crops and during crop rotation, which help to fix nitrogen in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Also through bio-gas plants the methane generated can be channelised for cooking and generation of electricity instead of being released into the environment. And finally, organic farming techniques maintain soil micro-organisms and so help in oxidizing atmospheric methane. The combined effect of all the different benefits of organic farming produces a Global Warming Potential that is only 36% that of modern external input farming.

Organic agriculture with indigenous seeds is, moreover, less water intensive. Thus, the virtual water embedded in these crops is less (Hoekstra & Chapagain, 2007). Consequently, this kind of agriculture also greatly reduces water use and relieves water stress.

Therefore, sustainable internal input agriculture is more energy, water and nutrient efficient and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than modern external input agriculture per unit of crop produced, which is a crucial parameter, given the need for food production to feed the world’s population. It is also community dependent rather than market dependent and so will revitalise the local economy. Last but not the least it opens up huge possibilities for women to play a decisive role in agriculture and so in society. The schematic diagram of sustainable agriculture is shown in the figure below.

3.            A Development Programme

A development programme based on these principles is proposed to be carryied out in a remote area around Bisali village, in Udainagar Tehsil of Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh. This area has been chosen because there has been tribal community mobilisation for sustainable development here for more than two decades. Especially of importance is the fact that there is in the area an independent Bhil Tribal women's organisation Kansari Nu Vadavno (KNV) that has done path breaking work for establishing gender equity. Thus, there is a vibrant community based on trust in the area which is very essential for implementing a sustainable agriculture project against the tide of the dominant chemical agriculture.

1.       The overall framework for the development intervention is that of achieving sustainability and equity for the tribes people through organic agriculture and natural resource management which will also mitigate climate change at the global level with the use of Survival Edge Technology. This is an assortment of simple technologies that can be implemented by communities through collective action to mitigate the agriculture, water, energy and climate crises that face humanity and with the agency of women in its planning and implementation (Banerjee, 2020).

2.       Farmers will provid part of their land for conversion from chemical to organic agriculture. The parameters on the basis of which the farmers will be selected are as follows –

·         The farmer household is inclined to try out sustainable agriculture

·         The woman of the household is active in the Kansari Nu Vadavno so as to ensure that she has agency in the implementation of the project.

·         The household has enough irrigated land so that they can spare 1 acre for the project.

3.       These farmers will be provided with financial support to make this switch that will compensate them for the capex required for implementing soil and water conservation measures on their farms and also the possible initial loss in production. 

4.       The crop choices are made keeping in mind both the need to provide proper nutrition to the farmers and also enable them to earn a good income in the long run once the farms are organically certified and their produce can be sold at a premium in urban and foreign markets.

5.       Free ranging homestead poultry and goat rearing are profitable occupations for tribals due to a ready market for chicken and goats. However, they are plagued with the problem of diseases which wipe out the birds and goats from time to time. So a programme of vaccination and medical care is provided.

6.       The need for making the project self sustainable eventually has been taken into account and so the farmers are trained to take on the responsibility of the operations from farming to documentation to marketing and no staff are employed in the project.


This development project, while putting the livelihoods of the tribes people on a more environmentally and economically sustainable footing and establishing gender equity in the community, will also enable them to provide eco-system services which will benefit the whole of society through the mitigation of climate change. The most important aspect of this project is that it is designed to make the tribes people self sufficient over a period of time and does not envisage providing them with doles indefinitely. This will be a pilot project based on the experience of implementing survival edge technology for the past five years at the centre set up for the same in Pandutalab village in the project area. It will provide evidence for large scale development planning. Thus, in the long term the project will lead to a wider implementation programme as shown below –

 4.            Marketing Strategy

There is a farmer consumer network organised by the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) which depends on trust to ensure that products sold have been produced without the use of chemicals. Subhadra is an active member of this network and at present connects producers and suppliers. Therefore, the produce of the farmers in this project is sold at a premium through the OFAI network. Thus, the farmers are getting a better price than the local market and also some of the investment of the project is being recovered. Eventually, official certification will be obtained and this will result in better ability to tap niche clientele.


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