Discussing – “The meaning of Development” by Dudley Seers

The development Jigsaw puzzle

Since the past few months the time I spend visiting development projects implemented by NGOs in the field has gone up considerably. And with various observations from the field there are many questions that keep haunting me. They quite literally haunt me.

When I changed tracks 6 years ago to quit an IT job and change my field of work from Bioinformatics to Environment  it was in search of solutions for the problems that were staring at me with their huge wide eyes. As any 20 something year old is, I was naive to believe these problems had solutions and simple ones. They just needed people to come in and work on them. Its 6 years into this field and working, I feel that even my understanding of the problem is still incomplete. So I have been reading papers and essays and books ( trying this , but reading whole books on these subjects is quite overwhelming  by economist, sociologist and social scientists. This is to help me understand the jigsaw puzzle that development is and how each of the blocks fit and interact with each other to make the bigger and complete picture of development.

Of the many problems I face when I do my field visits  or go to conferences , the agendas are very clearly set. And all the observation in field and conference discussions and discourses follow that fixed agenda. But the issues that we look for and discuss about do not stand in isolation and there are in-numerous factors that determine solving the issue. In spite of being aware of this, I feel there is not much time spent on those interconnectedness of issues and factors that have indirect impact on the issues. And when  I sit down and try to map out the interconnectedness and see for myself how will a particular issue get solved , I get lost.  One of the papers I read was The meaning of Development by Dudley Seers. This was written in the year 1969. This paper has helped me sort out some of the issues I had in giving myself a perspective.

Reading this paper has helped me understand the following:

  1. What was the idea of development in post second world war world?
  2. How was it measured  ( it was national income then)?
  3. Logical analysis and prioritization  of laundry list of factors that needed to be met for a country’s development to be measured.
  4. And a discussion on pitfalls of existing ways of measuring development.
  5. What should be considerations to measure the development more comprehensively?

Dudley Seers’s work is   forward and advanced for his times. All the observations and discussions that this paper deal with still stand fit for the issues we face in India. If such papers were authored in 1969, why are we still grappling with the same set of issues this paper discusses. Why is this paper still relevant? Either we have not moved forward at all or the magnitude of the problems discussed is so unfathomable to solve them in 4 decades after this paper was written.

* And one  interesting thing about this paper is that  many cases and instances sighted and used in this paper of from Indian studies esp. from Indian Institute of Statistics and the NSSO. 


A conversation [1]: with an auto driver

Here is a conversation I had with an auto driver in Poona:

Me: Take me to Pashan ( from Aundh) around 4 kms distance
Auto driver: It will be Rs 80, madam
Me: Its double of what it should cost, bhaiya! I wont pay you that much.
Auto driver: I have come all the way  back without savari, madam.
Me: What bhaiya, you will get a savari. I won’t pay you more than Rs 40.
Auto driver: Go find someone else madam.

I think to myself – “These auto drivers,  so full of attitude. They will sit idle, but will take a savari for the right price”. I eventually get another auto (after 4 0r 5 autos turn me down) that took me to my destination at Rs 60.

Similar episode repeats on my way back from Pashan to Aundh to take a bus back to Mumbai. This time the conversation was very colorful.

Me: I have to go to Aundh bus station. How much will you charge?
Auto driver [2]: It will cost you Rs 100, madam.
Me: What? Its more than the double of what it will actually cost. 
Auto driver [2]:  if you can pay, come on board madam.
Me: Its not like this in Mumbai, your neighboring city. Auto drivers take what ever happens to be the meter charges.
Auto driver [2]: I will take you for Rs 70, nothing less. 

Too tired I board.

Me[2] : What is your name, bhaiya?
Auto driver[2]: Bala Saheb ( thats the nick name of the famous politician of the state Maharashtra  who had just passed away, this is was an intended pun at me…)
Me: Why are you mocking at me, and why is so pissing if passengers asks you to ply at meter rates.
Auto driver [2]: You passengers want us to charge you the meter rates. And you compare what Mumbai people charge. In mumbai CNG is avaialble at Rs 47/Kg. In Punaa we have to pay Rs 67/Kg.  In Mumbai they charge Rs 10/km and we have to charge Rs 8/km. There are enough pumps in and around Mumbai to supply CNG to Auto drivers, we have to go long distance to fewer pumps that stock it. Food prices in Poona are more than what it is in Mumbai. And we do not get so many savaris like Mumbai autowalas get. So what do you expect? We charge you by meter. How do we do it?

A regular assumption I do when it comes to new places are as follows:

  1. If the city / town is small the food must cost us less.
  2. Renting a house should be easier and cheaper.
  3. Auto rickshaws should charge you not more  than what they charge in bigger cities.
  4. People are less grumpy, less stressed out and so more pleasant.
  5. Of course population density is less and so it is called a town or a smaller city.

I did not fact check what Auto Driver [2] said. He just made me look beyond the factors that I consider to do my own calculations in a new city.  And this also reminded me of a conversation I had with @tiwarisac . I was all praises for the Mumbai auto rickshawalas. Their not charging their passengers more than the meter, how no auto driver jumps another to get a passenger. I have always been impressed with the discipline and unity of the auto drivers. One cannot find a culture like this in any other city.

I thought it was the ‘culture of auto drivers’  and a ‘mature union’ in Mumbai, that made them the way they are. Like @tiwarisac said, it is a necessity that the drivers be disciplined and united. And a place like Mumbai, with such dense population, it works for every driver’s economic benefit. In smaller places like Poona it is difficult for the drivers to be like the drivers in Mumbai.

My snap judgement on a girl child’s life in a village

Today work took me to Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh. My primary job is in environment and many times it to understand, estimate or find solutions for drinking water and sanitation (WATSAN) problems. But like someone sane once wrote (read it one of the essays of This will make you smarter) if one really wants to be fruitful in any of their ventures, it is a good to engage in other areas different from what one does every now and then. And this brings in some fresh perspectives to one’s work. That has been my experience also.

So last weekend I was at a conference on ‘Work,Health and Rights’ organized by Medico Friends’s Circle. This conference majorly covered the following topics : Operation Health, Universal health, Women’s health  and rights of each groups the conference dealth with. Each one of these areas were categorically discussed about and analyzed using many lenses. One of them which I have always kept away from, but could not allow it pass in this conference was the strong ‘cast’ lens. Some detailed discussions on this conference ( here ). I have never been able to understand how one has to see any issue in India through the ‘cast’ lens when we do not want that lens to exist any more.

My experience today made me realize how the lens is still relevant and how using this lens also does not allow it to be made redundant in out society.

Penumacha village, Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, India

This is Divya, who worked in the neighborhood of the RO plant I visited.

Divya peeping from the wall and smiling, like any kid of her age will.

The RO plant I visited in this village was built from contribution of an internation NGO, a nation NGO and a local donar. This local donar is a businessman. His contribution is the piece of land on which the RO plant is built. Why did he donate piece of land to this RO plant? He did it because he wanted to do ‘something good’ for his village. The water quality in the village did not have any kind of serious contaminants and most people from the village live and work in bigger cities like Vijayawada or Hyderabad. But before even I asked why this plant or reasons for such a big plant, a field operator would mention “the SC (Scheduled Cast) population of the village is high”. But the SC community hardly use this water purification facility because they do not want to spend Rs 3/ 20 liters of water everyday.

Walking out of the plant I saw Divya,  and asked the operator if  she was the neighbor’s kid. I found out that she works at their place and she belongs to the SC community. She had dropped out of school in her 8th standard. The reasons why she was working in this house: her mother was ill, father had passed away and brother married off. So she had to work to take care of her mother.

Something quite striking about the situation: this donor wants to ‘do good’ for his village so he gets an RO plant that hardly gets used by the village and especially the poor (SC) community. He employs this child who is 13 or 14 in his own house to do household chores. Although I do not know the entire circumstances in which Divya ended up working in his household, I am quite tempted to make a snap judgement about this observation.

May be Divya is doing good in their house, may be she is doing her education in correspondence or she is getting some vocational skills  built along with working in this rich household. But the cynical me feels that all these thoughts are ‘wishful’.

The snap judgement: Upper class people in general would love to ‘do good’ to the larger community ( read it as lower class = SC/ST/BC/OBC..etc). But they want to do it as a token to either make themselves good or to just show the larger community that they are well meaning. For them to be continuing to ‘do good’ these cast communities should remain as lower class people. 

Krishna river, Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in Guntur – Field Observations [1]

I am on my field visit to monitor drinking water supply plants in this region. As I move in the region there is a constant company of two water bodies: the Krishna river and Nagarjuna Sagar canal. Both these water bodies have enough water in them except for few dry patches. In the past this region seems to have been relied on using wells and ponds as source of water for agriculture and domestic needs.

But most of the villages I visit do not seem to use pond water or well water for their purposes. Some villages still use pond water though. Others pump the groundwater for their uses.  The ground water predominantly in this region has high TDS ranging from 600 -1800 in value and some bit of fluoride contamination.

All this while I had few questions:

  1. Why did people resort to Ground water from ponds?
  2. There is this huge river and a irrigation canal all across, why not use that water as a source for their drinking and domestic purpose ( ofcourse after purifying it by some means)?

Here below are some photos of Krishna river from Guntur district and Nagarjuna Sagar dam. Have a look at these pictures, they may give you some clue to answer the 2 questions I had.

The reason that I share here are primarily based on my observation and interaction with people in villages. The scientific review or verification of these observations is only half way through.

Krishna River , Guntur District , Andhra Pradesh

Krishna River, Rudrapuram, Guntur district. The water here is high on salinity due to its proximity to Bay of Bengal

Eutrified Nagarjuna Canal

Men fishing in dried up canal

Garbage heep in Nagarjuna Canal

Why did people resort to Ground water from ponds?

All the villages that I visited have ponds. Some of them use it for drinking water purpose, some do not use it for the drinknig water purpose. All the ponds have very high turbidity. They were visibly polluted and eutrified also. Both high turbidity and eutrification could be due to the fertilizers runoff to the ponds from fields around and also due to other anthropogenic activity on the site, like cleaning vessels, washing clothes and bathing and carelessly throwing plastic into the ponds.

Earlier when the population was less and very little fertilizers/pesticides were used, ponds could handle the pollution from anthropogenic activity. But today the case being otherwise, they no more are able to handle the pollution loads and thus highly deteriorated.

There is this huge river and a irrigation canal all across, why not use that water as a source for their drinking and domestic purpose ( of course after purifying it by some means)?

This village from where I took the river’s picture Rudrapuram is not even 2 kms away from the Krishna river. It has been 4 days since government supplied water to this village ( from a neighboring village). But people have their own little hand-pumps to draw groundwater. I was quite intrigued by this phenomena.

We have heard of stories of women walking miles and miles to fetch water. But people here are not interested in Krishna water.  An elderly man ( 70 yrs old) shared that is because the water in the river is brackish. Salinity from the Bay of Bengal ingresses into the river water, this salinity is high during the high tides and low during the low tides. But the water is not potable at all. When asked about his childhood, this man shared that, people did consume the river water at least half of the year. But it is no more potable through the year.

The next source, the Nagarjuna irrigation canal why not this? 

When I sees lush green paddy fields ( it consumes a lot more water than any other cereal), I assumed that there must be enough water for people to be able to farm rice. That water is from the Nagarjuna Canal. From the images above one can estimate what is the quality of the canal water, and how well maintained the canal is. The canal in parts is eutrified, in parts filled with garbage dumps ,in other places silted and dry. People at the most use it to clean themselves after their morning ablutions nothing more than that. Whereas the same canal water 30 years ago was used by the same villagers for potable use ( after settling the turbidity using alum). And  I really doubt the efficiency of this canal in servicing irrigation needs too.

So with all the resources that could have been source polluted or destroyed, the only source remains to be ground water.  Many organizations are doing a quick fix solution to provide access to drinking water by purifying groundwater using RO technology. But how long will this last?

The problem is not salinity in river water, or eutrification in canals and ponds or high TDS in ground water. The problem is much bigger and much complexly connected to many other human activities, issues and resources.  How do we arrive at how to address these set of issues, its a little overwhelming to even look at the problem in its full context, leave alone the solution.

From experiences in the past we have come to realize : the grand solutions to address irrigation issues with dams are not solutions, neither are the linking of rivers. The solution can not be too small also, because it is difficult to address the complexity of the problem with small scale solutions.  Most of us know what the solution to the given situation is. It will be a beautiful composite ‘framework’ with ‘regulators’, ‘community’,  ‘participatory planning’ , ‘decentralized systems’ and ‘local and traditional systems’. But what is the size of this solution- what is the geographical spread of the solution, what is the level of participation and how decentralized should it be , remains to be answered.

Nalluri Nagendramma , Andhra Pradesh

Nalluri Nagendramma on Flickr.

Nalluri Nagendramma, a refreshing face from the field.She is simply beautiful,energetic,has not let age weigh upon her.
And I couldn’t stop smiling at her and literally went over and touched her feet and hugged her. She dint have any teeth. She lives alone in her village, rather happily. 🙂 Isnt she beautiful!

Her face dint allow me to get to work before I edited and put it up on flickr. There are some faces, which compel you to just work on them and her face is one of those few faces.

Chilly, wintery , rainy day in Delhi

Never seen Delhi in such weather. Its cold and raining. People dressed up in layers to bat the not so cold winter. Off the compound walls of the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station are trees withered off their dry leaves, some have new leaves sprouting in fresh florescent greens. 

I get on stairs to get out of station,as I look at the scene, at the platform I alighted from has a Rajdhani and neighboring one also has a Rajdhani waiting to leave for Bhopal. 

Image credit : Vishal Khare

This entire setting feels like Temple Meads railway station of Bristol, UK.

Temple Meads, Bristol

Temple Meads, Bristol

I am seeing too much of another country in everything in this journey. May be its the diffused winter sky ( with no sun on the skys) that I remember from few days in London. Is it because of the winter or is it Pico Iyer ( whom I have been obsessively reading since a week) or is it that because I had a lovely time in London, I am projecting it in this travel as well. Well! what ever it is, this is my experience this time in Delhi. 

Traveling the rails again!

I am on a trip again crisscrossing the country for 15 days at least. My first leg Mumbai- Delhi , on a Rajdhani. 

If you are traveling Indian Railways, its best to be on a Sleeper coach. One need not pick up a book or even chat with fellow passengers for entertainment. One just needs to keep ones eye open and there is enough happening around. One will see a milie of crowd board on and off the train doing short distances to get to job or get home from job. Many hawkers selling things from groundnuts, fruits, vegetables to keychains, pirated DVDs to what not.( this Railfanning post does a a good description of what happens in these coaches).

But when one has to get to a place in time, you take these fast trains like Rajdhani or Durantos. Traveling in a  Rajdhani means we can not travel sleeper class. This compromise is agreeable because of the huge clean glass windows that these trains come with ( other AC coaches in mails, expressed and super fast trains have tainted windows and many times cracked too). 

Traveling this time to Delhi was different. I have never done the Mumbai-Delhi route before. The route is – Mumbai – Gujarat- Rajasthan – Western UP- Delhi. Although most journey was in the night, the parts in the day light were delightful. 

During the day, the way a big city like Mumbai quitens and gets into the background from Andheri to Virar and further and then comes another industrial town Vapi, Surat and then I sleep off…. Wake up to the desert meeting the sky at the horizon and then green fields with fog on top of them and then entering the dense settlements of Western Uttar Pradesh and then into Delhi. Phew, there it ll ends.

As I travel more and more, one thing that I have to come to understand of me is that – The sheer experience of movement or state of motion, be it in a walk, run,swim,cycle,car,bus,cycle,train except areoplanes gets me goin and a stillness within emerges.

This post to the Railways, that has made motion across the country possible to the 1.2 billion Indians.