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.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Survival Edge Technology

Decentralised and communitarian work in soil and water conservation, sustainable agriculture, afforestation and renewable energy needs to be done extensively if the human race is to survive the deepening water, food, energy and climate crises. Moreover, since these crises most affect the poor who live on the edge of survival in rural areas, the decentralised communitarian technology required to mitigate these crises can appropriately be called Survival Edge Technology. However, implementing this is easier said than done. Primarily because of the dominant view, that work at the cutting edge of technology requiring highly centralised systems and huge investments will alone be able to address these problems, without much action to ensure community participation in the implementation of time tested and simple decentralised technologies, some of which are as old as human civilisation. The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (MAJLIS) is working in all these areas and detailed below is the complexity of the problems that are being faced as revealed over the past six months of work at its Climate Change Mitigation Centre in Pandutalav village in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh.
The major problem at the centre and also nearby areas is the lack of water. The underlying rock structure is such that the aquifer does not have much water. A bore well sunk to a depth of 130 meters yielded very little water which was just about enough to provide drinking and washing water but not enough for agriculture. Open wells nearby had some more water at lesser depths ranging from 5 to 10 meters and so we decided to dig one. There is a local technology for digging open wells in which a motor run winch draws up the dug up mud from the well bottom as shown below.
After some digging the soil gets hard and so it becomes time consuming to dig it with pick axe and shovel. So dynamite has to be used to blast the hard soil. In this too a local technology is used in which a compressor mounted on a tractor is used to drive an air drill to make the holes in which the dynamite is inserted as shown below.

There was no sign of water though and so the well had to be dug to a depth of 23 meters before some water was struck. At this great depth it became dangerous to dig any further as the sides of the well were collapsing every time blasting was done as shown below. Indeed the diameter of the well had to be reduced from about 19 m depth onwards due to this danger of the sides collapsing. Eventually the digging was stopped at 23 meters depth where hard rock was struck. The important thing to note here is the variability of the water bearing aquifer in the area. Whereas within a radius of about 300 meters there were other wells which had water at about 10 meters, the well at the centre struck water at 23 meters which is a whopping 7 stories deep.

Then the work of building the circular reinforced concrete side wall of the well began. Once again local technology was used. Flexible steel shuttering was used to construct reinforced concrete circular rings in situ and a funnel and pipe assembly was used to pour the concrete into the shuttering as shown below. 

Eventually after a long effort spanning six months and much labour, the well was ready but with only a little water at the bottom. However, it held the promise that there would be more water during the agricultural season.

Given the low availability of water, soil conservation work was also done on the farm. The farm sits astride a drainage line that slopes away from the well. So a earthen bund and tank has been built above the well to harness the water from the water shed above it and recharge it into the ground. A pond has been built below the bund and next to the well to catch the overflow and seepage from the bund. The slope of the farm has been reversed towards the pond and the well by building a gabion retaining wall, involving the tight packing of stones in a wire mesh, at the boundary and filling it up with gravel and topping it with clayey soil from a nearby tank as shown below. In this way water availability of the farm has been increased through soil and water conservation measures.

All this of course has cost a lot of money. And there lies the rub. In dry land and hard rock areas which are naturally water scarce and cover 70 percent of the country, soil and water conservation work requires considerable amount of money which the poor living at the survival edge cannot afford even if they know the technology required for it. Unfortunately, the government is more interested in grandiose plans like linking rivers to harness flows, which are going down by the year due to massive deforestation in their catchments, rather than invest in communitarian soil and water conservation and afforestation measures to increase the recharge of water into the aquifers and increase water availability. The fatal fascination for centralised cutting edge technology rather than for survival edge technology that has been the bane of development the world over has resulted in those living on the survival edge continuing to face the increasing threats of climate change without adequate mitigation and adaptation measures. 
 The farm is also running on solar energy. The technology for this of course is not local and has to be sourced from outside and in this also considerable investment is required which is once again beyond the reach of the average farmer. Yet again the government has not shown much interest in promoting decentralised renewable energy despite the fact that it is running up huge losses in supplying thermal power through centralised grids in rural areas due to high transmission and distribution losses.
Sustainable agriculture with indigenous varieties and organic farming processes is practiced on this farm which relies on mulch from the nearby forests which are being protected through communitarian fencing and regeneration efforts and composted farm residue to round off the climate action programme. An effort is being made to spread this form of farming and once again due to lack of government support which mainly goes to the unsustainable chemical agriculture,  not much headway is being made. Subhadra tried to sell the indigenous seeds conserved on the farm in the weekly markets but with little success.
 The problem of water scarcity has become very acute in urban areas also and so there is a need for decentralised water conservation measures in cities. To this end in the office of MAJLIS at Indore rainwater harvesting, recharge and wastewater treatment and reuse are being done so that the office is self sufficient in water. It also has both active and passive solar energy with net export of surplus renewable energy to the grid. Once again this requires considerable investment and the government is not providing enough support to these decentralised renewable energy efforts to make them more wide spread. The office also has fruit trees and vegetables are grown in the garden. The drumstick tree that dominates the office building is very popular with people living in a radius of 2 kilometers and its leaves, flowers and fruits are consumed with enthusiasm. The office is covered in creepers and has good cross ventilation so that it remains cool in summer and saves on energy required for cooling.

Thus, even though communitarian implementation of decentralised survival edge technology is the need of the hour both in rural and urban areas, there is not much progress in this direction due to governmental apathy and preoccupation with impracticable centralised solutions and it is left to lone and marginal efforts by NGOs to implement it. Anyway, the MAJLIS climate change mitigation centre at Pandutalav village is now a demonstration farm and training centre on how survival edge technology can be implemented.

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