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, March 22, 2016

Remembering the Summarily Jettisoned Dublin Principles

The serious and growing threat to sustainable development arising from misuse of fresh water leading to its pollution and scarcity was comprehensively discussed for the first time at the International Conference on Water and Environment organized by the World Meteorological Organization in Dublin, Ireland in January 1992. The conference, attended by water resource experts from over a hundred countries, put forward four guiding principles for concerted action to ensure sustainable use of water resources known as the Dublin Principles that have since come to be universally accepted as the basis for all future governance in the water sector -
Principle No. 1 - Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment
Since water sustains life, effective management of water resources demands a holistic approach, linking social and economic development with protection of natural ecosystems. Effective management links land and water uses across the whole of a catchment area or groundwater aquifer.
Principle No. 2 - Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels
The participatory approach involves raising awareness of the importance of water among policy makers and the general public. It means that decisions are taken at the lowest appropriate level, with full public consultation and involvement of users in the planning and implementation of water projects.
Principle No. 3 - Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water
This pivotal role of women as providers and users of water and guardians of the living environment has seldom been reflected in institutional arrangements for the development and management of water resources. Acceptance and implementation of this principle requires positive policies to address women’s specific needs and to equip and empower women to participate at all levels in water resources programmes, including decision-making and implementation, in ways defined by them.
Principle No. 4 - Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good
Within this principle, it is vital to recognize first the basic right of all human beings to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price or even free if they are so poor as to be unable to pay for it and thus its basic nature as a public good. However, the past failure to recognize that there is also economic value of water, especially by the rich and powerful, has led to wasteful and environmentally damaging uses of the resource. Managing water as an economic good to be paid for by those who can afford to in addition to its being a free public good for the poor, is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources.
The Dublin Principles, combined with the concept of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), which is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems, provide a comprehensive framework within which to address the problem of unsustainability of water use.

Lack of a Vision of Water Sustainability

However, these principles have been wantonly violated by the government in India in a manner that seems to indicate that the government agencies are not aware of them at all. The major consequence of this has been that traditional communitarian practices with regard to soil and water conservation, especially among the Adivasis, have decayed and a culture of unsustainable water consumerism has set in. Consequently, with regard to water use and governance, people are mostly of the opinion that water should be made available in some way or other for agricultural, industrial and domestic purposes and are not overly concerned about the sustainability of water use. There is little enthusiasm for the traditional communitarian labour intensive and resource conservative practices even if these are to be supported by government subsidies. Such is the hegemony of the idea of modern development that even when one version of it fails people still feel that a newer version based on newer, more energy intensive technology supported by higher government subsidies will succeed much like a gambler who despite losing continuously because the cards are marked against him pins his hope on yet another try with the same deck of cards.

Lack of People's Participation

There has been considerable work done under various schemes like the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Development Mission (RGWM) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in the sphere of watershed development. But this has remained restricted to the physical works without much involvement of the people in communitarian practices that can improve the water availability and use on a sustained long term basis. Moreover, a serious problem in both the RGWM and the MGNREGS is the tremendous delay in the payment of wages which puts people off from participating in these schemes. Often the MGNREGS has been coupled with schemes for digging of dug wells. This has led to the indiscriminate digging of dug wells with little regard to water availability and many of these wells go dry in winter or are unable to provide enough water for irrigation. An analysis of the MGNREGS and Panchayati Raj as they have evolved reveals the difficulty of people’s mobilisation for water governance. The Gram Sabha should be the most powerful body at the village level. However, the reality is quite different. The elections to the Panchayat Executive constituted by the directly elected Sarpanch and the Panches or ward members ensure that it is this body that holds the powers and in most cases Gram Sabhas are not held at all. Development works are carried out arbitrarily by the Sarpanch under the directions of the Panchayat bureaucracy and in many cases the accounts are maintained without transparency. In urban areas the participation of the common citizens is even less due to larger constituencies.
Into this the MGNREGS has now been dovetailed. The same corrupt nexus of elected representatives and government staff that bedevils the functioning of public services at the central, state and district levels has now manifested itself at the panchayat level. Ingenious methods have been found to circumvent the latest provision of making payments of wages directly into the bank accounts of the workers by roping in the bank staff also into the system of graft. The Sarpanches and Panches along with the Panchayat Secretaries have become considerably more powerful by feeding on the MGNREGS funds and are bent against the holding of Gram Sabha meetings. 

Improper Interpretation and Implementation of IWRM

The World Bank is a major inspiration for water resource development and governance across the world and it has provided considerable technical and financial support to the kind of unsustainable water resource development that is current worldwide in violation of the principles set forth in IWRM. Once the Dublin Principles became widely accepted, the World Bank, perforce, had to subscribe to them and so it came up with a new water resources management policy. While continuing with its thrust on large projects there was a greater stress than before on recovery of capital investment and Operation and Maintenance expenses of these projects through greater involvement of the beneficiaries in the management of the distribution system. So all lending was made conditional to the charging of irrigation cesses and the implementation of participatory irrigation management for ensuring their collection. Simultaneously, there was a push for IWRM ostensibly for ecological sustainability through rationalisation of surface and groundwater usage in a holistic basin wide approach but more importantly, to try and ensure that electricity supplied for groundwater irrigation was also charged at rates that were economically sustainable for the power generation and distribution companies. There was little appreciation of the fact that over four decades of unsustainable water use had made it impossible for the farmers both rich and poor to bear the present full economic costs of water.
The Ministry of Water Resources in India followed suit and constituted a National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development in 1996 which submitted its report in 1999 which too recommended that ongoing projects should be expeditiously completed and water charges should be raised and their collection facilitated through implementation of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM). Consequently the focus was directed on more efficient delivery of water and an Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme was initiated in 1996 and PIM took off in a big way from 1997 onwards. The crisis of groundwater too received attention and as a corollary the sore point of non-recovery of electricity charges from farmers. 
The National Water Policy of 2002 incorporates the Dublin Principles and tries to strike a balance between the need for greater public investments in the water sector and cost recovery, between the need for adequate supply of water for various uses and the requirement of environmental sustainability, the need for greater involvement of people in water resource management, the need for complementarity between land and water use especially with regard to augmentation and use of groundwater and the importance of good data collection and analysis for consistent planning and management of water resources. However, in practice there is hardly any awareness or implementation of this policy at the ground level. The concern is only for creating more structures big and small. The “Master Plan for Artificial Recharge of Groundwater in India” prepared by the Central Groundwater Board which gives detailed state wise plans for surveying and using underground aquifers for storage of monsoon rainfall through appropriate artificial recharging techniques involving the direction of surface water to fractures in the hard rock is gathering dust without any takers. Instead, the dominant view is that large scale river interlinking should be adopted to even out water scarcity and surplus problems between river basins.

False Promotion of a Water Rights Framework

There is a proposal for the introduction of water rights and recovery of costs through appropriate pricing and creation of water markets. The creation of water rights is based on the principle that it is possible for the Government to create individual rights over a public good through legislation and then apportion these rights to a set of people. Thereafter, trading in the market place, it is argued, will ensure an equitable and efficient use of the public good. This is the principle for the apportioning and trading of pollution permits in the United States of America under the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the carbon credit trading system set up under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2009). However, even theoretically there are several problems in this because this holds only in a perfect equilibrium market situation where there are only two bargainers. When there are many bargainers and they have different endowment levels with regard to other resources, then this system does not work as the apportionment of rights suffers and the markets also tend to malfunction. Moreover, in the case of water, for apportioning of rights to be possible first there must be an accurate estimation of the amount of water available for apportioning. This is a highly problematic area in India where data regarding water availability is scanty. The ownership of land is highly skewed and tends to distort the economic and political power structure and this too will affect the apportionment of water rights and trading.
Also given the long history of free or subsidised supply of water, electricity and other inputs and the overwhelming dominance of external input agriculture, it is very difficult for any Government in a democratic set up to impose an actual cost based trading system for these inputs. Thus, in reality this system of creating institutions for apportioning rights in public goods and creating markets for trading in them has not worked very well anywhere. In the water sector in India, where there is practically no effective regulation and most people source their water directly from nature in an informal water economy, despite over a decade of implementation of IWRM, the results are not very encouraging.

Introduction of Direct Cash Transfers

There have been suggestions, on the basis of the fact that the actual loss to the economy is much greater than the actual amount of the subsidies due to inefficient use, leakages and theft that these subsidies encourage, that the subsidy amounts should be directly transferred to the beneficiaries while letting the prices of water, diesel and electricity be fixed at levels that cover the actual cost. This is similar to the direct cash transfer approach being advocated as being a more efficient method of subsidising the poor than the MGNREGS and which is now being tried out in bits and pieces across the country. Even though this is quite appealing at an academic level, there are many problems with its implementation, not the least being the ingenuity of politicians and bureaucrats in subverting any scheme. How far they will be successful with agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, water and electricity is a matter to be seen.

Fostering Communitarian Natural Resource Management

The foregoing discussion makes it abundantly clear that ultimately competent natural resource management can take place only if there is conscious community mobilization at the grassroots level in support of this. Even markets by themselves cannot function equitably and efficiently without proper regulation. Macro-level policies that have fostered bad governance and market failure have also led to the decay of communitarian management of resources and especially those of land, water and forests. Given the lack of vision and commitment in the government and the bureaucracy, good water management will have to be attempted at a decentralised level by communities themselves. Especially as such communitarian water management will also have a mitigating effect on climate change and make the communities eligible for environmental credits.
One of the foremost votaries of such communitarian approaches to the management of common pool natural resources, Elinor Ostrom, has been awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for the Economic Sciences in 2009 thus putting the imprimatur on the validity of this approach. However, as has been amply demonstrated by the failure of most attempts to get people organized at the grassroots, people’s mobilisation for alternatives in the face of government and bureaucratic apathy and opposition is a difficult task. Thus, alternative water governance experiments should first be taken up in places where there is already people’s mobilisation of a high order so as to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach while simultaneously advocating and campaigning for a drastic change in macro level policies. Some of these experiments like those of Tarun Bharat Sangh in Alwar district of Rajasthan and the Hiwre Bazaar Panchayat in Maharashtra have already become famous.
One such area in the western Madhya Pradesh region is Alirajpur district where the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) has mobilized the local Bhil Adivasi population on rights issues for close to three decades. Apart from rights-based mobilisation, the KMCS has taken up soil, forest and water conservation work on a large scale through voluntary participation in defiance of the negative attitude of the government and the bureaucracy and the results are evident. The stream running through village Attha, has water flowing perennially even though there are as many as seventy motor pumps on the stream drawing water from it for irrigation as shown in the picture below. 
In the light of the insights gained from the present research, detailed geo-hydrological investigations should be carried out in such a sub-basin and alternative water utilisation plans for agriculture and bio-mass development should be drawn up and implemented as a pilot which can then be projected as a replicable prototype for adoption by others.

Water Sensitive Urban Design

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) is defined as an approach to urban planning and design that integrates the management of the total water cycle into the urban development process. It includes:
·         Integrated management of groundwater, surface runoff (including stormwater), drinking water and wastewater to protect water related environmental, recreational and cultural values,
·         Storage, treatment and beneficial use of runoff,
·         Treatment and reuse of wastewater,
·   Using vegetation for treatment purposes, water efficient landscaping and enhancing biodiversity, and
·   Utilising water saving measures within and outside domestic, commercial, industrial and institutional premises to minimise requirements for drinking and non drinking water supplies."
Thus, by reusing stormwater through appropriate water harvesting techniques involving both surface and aquifer storage and the treatment and reuse of waste water, primarily in a decentralised manner, the need for expensive and wasteful drainage and water supply systems is reduced considerably. The design of buildings is done in such a way as to save on water use and increase water storage and reuse. In the process the environment is also conserved as extensive soil conservation and plantation activity is undertaken in the unbuilt environment. This can bring about substantial benefits at less cost compared to further investments in centralised solutions that rely only on technological fixes for water supply and waste water management problems. In the urban water management context this involves an optimal use of local groundwater and surface water sources and where feasible, recharging and reuse of storm and waste water.

Recommendations for Achieving Water Sustainability

On the basis of the foregoing discussion the following recommendations can be made for achieving water sustainability -

1. Farms have to be assessed for their soil quality and suitability for various kinds of crops and research, credit and marketing support provided for cultivating them. All of these are crucial as without a reorientation at the policy level it is very difficult to initiate changes in cropping practices at the ground level. Currently there is a woeful lack of data, research, credit and marketing support with regard to water conservative crops in the basin in particular, and the country as a whole in general.
2. There is need for calculating the "virtual water" embedded in a particular crop being produced in an area. Even though there are some problems with the calculation of virtual water at the moment these can be overcome to reveal a true picture of the water embedded in different types of crops and this can be used as an advocacy tool to convince people to change consumption patterns towards lesser virtual water crops so that the demand pattern for crops also changes and it becomes easier to ensure more sustainable water use in agriculture.
3. Measures have to be taken to increase the sustainable water availability through soil and water conservation and afforestation and reduce water consumption through greater reliance on the use of in situ soil moisture. The MGNREGS is the best option for ensuring this. So steps have to be taken to improve its functioning and make it realise its goal of conserving and enhancing the natural resource base of the basin. Specifically the Gram Sabhas have to be empowered both financially and technically to plan and implement these natural resource conservation and management projects and also take part in data collection and impact assessment. The help of knowledgeable NGOs with experience in water resource management can be taken to operationalise such a people oriented water management exercise to ensure its success.
4. Active participation of citizens and especially women in the design, implementation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems must be ensured.
5. Biomass-based local farm manuring and energy production has to be encouraged to reduce fertiliser application, enhance soil quality and soil depth and water retention and reduce use of fossil fuel based energy. In the initial stages this also needs to be provided grant support as a considerable amount of labour has to be expended in this activity. This too could be included under the MGNREGS.
6. All of the above have to be combined in an integrated plan at the sub basin level so as to optimise sustainable resource use while at the same time ensuring a decent livelihood for the people. Thus, there is a need for the design and implementation of such plans on a pilot basis with grant support involving the Panchayat Raj Institutions, Government Departments and NGOs, and this should be followed up with wider policy level changes once these plans have been locally validated.
7. Serious thought has to be given to the methods in which grant and subsidy support are to be given to farmers and the poor, including those involving direct cash transfers so as to ensure that leakages do not take place and the market can function in an efficient manner to allocate scarce resources while at the same time promoting communitarian natural resource management and sustainable agriculture.
8. There is considerable scepticism regarding the equity and feasibility of the cap and trade mechanism for combating climate change, nevertheless, in the near future this is going to be the way forward. The United Nations has initiated a programme for transfer of funds for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries and associated efforts to conserve, sustainably manage, and enhance forest carbon stocks. Measures should be adopted for registering the programmes above under this scheme for providing direct support to resource conserving communities.
9. A Proper inventory of the Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) systems in towns and cities has to be prepared including both surface and ground water and the storm and waste water disposal systems. Currently there are radio frequency sensor based instruments and computer softwares available to accomplish this quite easily. Only then can an authentic water demand and waste water and storm water generation scenarios be chalked out for planning of services.
10. The use of WSUD principles, which have now been recommended by the National Mission for Sustainable Habitat also, should be used to design hybrid ground cum surface water systems of water supply. These should be augmented by storm water recharge and waste water treatment, reuse and recharge done in a decentralised manner. These hybrid systems will be much more sustainable in financial, social and environmental terms than the wholly centralised systems being used at present. The centralised systems should be used only where necessary to provide services to the congested poverty pockets where there might not be space available for decentralised solutions.
11. Instead of relying on taxes, user charges and grants to fund hugely expensive centralised systems, theses alternative systems would put the onus on the more affluent citizens, corporations, private commercial establishments and government institutions who are in possession of a considerable portion of urban land to tackle their water supply and waste water disposal needs in a decentralised manner from their own resources. This would then free the government resources for provision of free or subsidised WSS services to the poor and the lower middle class who are not in a position to pay for them wholly. 
To conclude, water, in the short term, is a public good in the sense that it is non-rival because consumption by one person does not reduce the possibility of consumption by another person and it is also not possible to exclude people from using it. That is why the market fails when it comes to the allocation of this resource and there is an over exploitation in the long term as has happened all over India. The profligate use of water for short term gains in agricultural productivity and industrial activity has jeopardised the long term environmental and economic sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, industry, and energy production. There is thus a need for sustainable water management to ensure through a judicious mixture of regulation, imposition of taxes, pricing of water for those who can pay for it and communitarian sharing that this vital resource is properly utilised. Both macro and micro level changes of a drastic nature in line with the neglected Dublin Principles are necessary to bring about a more equitable and sustainable water management regime in the country as a whole.

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