Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu – Part 2

I had a late evening bus on 24th night from Bangalore ( Karnataka) to go to Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). In the last minute the bus got cancelled as the buses with Karnataka Registration were not being allowed in Tamil Nadu. This was as a consequence of Karnataka declining to share the water until 28th of this month post the Supreme Court verdict.

I had taken this new masters course in public policy partly to zoom out of my present frame of reference which is established from my work at grassroots. The other reason was to work in areas of environemnt other than water. Since the Kaveri issue has resurfaced this year, it looks like water is become a centre to many crisis of our times. Some researchers and activist have been talking about the dooms day being just around the corner. Especially verdicts on water being the centre of future wars. Scholars like Peter Gleick, Asit Biswas and other have been writing extensively about crisi and how to go about it. I thought we would pick what these people say and work it out somehow.

I somehow always felt this will not be the case. We will some how figure it out, get our act as a species. No! This Kaveri/ Cauvery water issue is only making all these doomd day verdicts come true.

I was sitting one day thinking how do we go about these issues of crisis of water. I felt its quite complex the whole issue of water. Its so entertwined with every aspect of life and activities we humans conduct. To be honset we have done enough to understand the root  causes of the crisis – the loop holes in the way we address drinking waer security, the change in croping patterns and crops in the command area of Cauvery river and other water uses. In short it is flawed decissions on water usage and mismanagement of resource and also mismanagement  within institutions using the water for different purposes. There have been solutions studied and proposed to address all these matters both technicaly, and institutionally. The paradigm of integrated water resource management gives a framework to work on all issues simultaneously.

But still, Why are these solutions not picked up? Where is the inertia, what is the threat in changing to newer paradigm of operation? It feels like its in our minds. The inertia is in our heads. I wonder, how do we go beyond the finger pointing excercise and think for our own selves and look for a solution which  will make sense to ourselves in the long run too?

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

A proposition that seems to come to me again and again is that of “propaganda” as the mode of operation. Why dont we use skills of the O&Ms and Lowe Lintas kind of agenceis to work on the heads of the population to address issues of this kind? Why do we engage them to change mindset of people only to make “fairness” a fad thing or to sell chocolates? I am tempted to drop this documentary that I have been studying for the last few weeks to push the idea of propaganda. It speaks a lot on what can be done to manipulate the “crowds”. Why not use the same for a meaninful purpose. If not done responsibly this can spin out in a wrong direction and out of control. But for now this is all is coming to me as a solution again and again.

 

 

Soil Policy – I never gave it a thought!

 

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A wall of a hut made up of soil , cow dung and hay-stack, in Chattisgarh. Picture was taken in 2014

I have been working on water and sanitation for more than 8 years now. In the last two years I have been trying to go back to the larger environmental concerns of agriculture, human -environment conflict through my projects in the university and other research assignments. I am pursuing agriculture more elaborately for my dissertation for the Masters program here.

We had a speaker, Srinivasu (from Karnataka) to address the class on importance of soil and policy to manage it. I have always read and understood from farmers how important is soil to agriculture. I have always thought policies regarding agriculture will take care of soil as it is required for agriculture. And there do exist mention of fertility of soil and measures to keep it fertile and usable.

In the context of soil usage although the direct visible activity that engages in it is agriculture, but soil gathers fertility or deteriorates also because of other activities like that of afforestation/deforestation, industrial activities that involve letting out of pollutants on to land or using land surface for its activities.

We have policies for air quality and water, although we do not have much enforcement regarding quality norms in India. But nonetheless there is a policy. When I explored further into soil policy, I figured that there is soil policy in Europe but not much around this part of the world I live in.

I was aware of many things Srinivasu shared during his talk to the class. He works with farmers and to a great deal it reflected his perspective on soil. His perspective was ” what does soil mean to farmers”. And come to think of it, what will we do if the soil that is the fundamental requirement for food production is damaged in an irrevocable manner? I know, there is nothing irrevocable about the ecosystems. But still there could be a period when soil becomes so damaged (I am consciously not using unfertile) that we may have issues getting food to feed our population.

The points Srinivasu was sharing were about how organic farming is a must going forward as chemical farming that pulled this nation out of food scarcity no more can allow the soil to live. 95% of requirement of plant is made up of CO2, air and water. The chemical substitutes for macro-nutrients (N, P, K) provided by chemical farming makes up 3-4% of nutrient requirement of plant. The remaining 1% of nutrient required are micro-nutrients which were made available to plant by the ecosystem of microbes and other activities on the soil. Introduction and application of chemical fertilizers (N,P,K) in a unbridled manner on the field will kill the ecosystem that makes that 1% of micronutrient available. This 1% is responsible for the plant’s ability to hold it fruit or let it fall off early due to lack of strength. This adds clarity to my dissertation pursuit on what could sustainable farming do to soil. Not just to the farmer’s income but to long term upkeep of his fundamental resource for farming – land.

But one question most of us who are passionate about environmental conservation and sustainable living cannot answer- what will be the cost to a small or marginal farmer to move from chemical to organic/sustainable farming? How long before he breaks even? Are there policy provisions to help and facilitate a farmer to maintain his soil health. We have heavy subsidies on chemical fertilizers, but there is no such provision for farmyard manure, vermicompost and other such traditional source of nutrients. I shall try and address questions of organic farming in my dissertation, hope I could also look at soil health properly as it makes an integral part of the sustainable farming practice.

 

Forest Right Act (2006) and Compensatory Afforestration Bill (2015)

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A conveyer belt  of Vedanta that carries the bauxite, with the Niyamgiri in the backdrop. Place and date: Odisha ( October,2015)

Last year around this time I wrote a paper on Forest Right Act (2006) – The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – Who’s right and bestowed by whom? –  looking at the postivies apects regarding the  the rights that it bestwos to the tribal and indigeneous people and also the gaps in the act that dealt with the issues regarding the precedural requirment for the people to avail / assert their right. The gaps were stark especially given the sociological context and economic background of these communities. The critique was on how the act is still not rolled out completely.

The enactment of the act was an uphill task. To get this act to come into effect the biggest struggle the activitst working for these communities had was not with the industry but with  the state forest departments. All the officicals of this department form the Conservator of Forests to the forest rangers were against this act because: they did not want to let go of their turf of power, where they wielded influence.  In the garb of being custodians of forest, these department staff have been taking bribes from  ( and at times exploiting)  these tribals to gather minor forest produce from the forest they have inhabited and protected for generations together, and take bribe from the industries to allow them to do illegal activities. The allegations I make may sound quite activisty and blanket remark. But this is the experience of majority of the communities that dwell in and around forests. To descibe the attitude of the staff of Forest Department, a paper written about them in year 2000 still hold good. Donal M Schug in his paper  (Bureaucratisation of Forest Management in India) talks about the internal culture of the department and how it has only been detrimental to both forest conversation and to the communities dependent on them. And in the minds of certain other bureaucrats from other departments, like a  Rural Welfare Department office  I met in Odisha ( in Octover 2015), they think giving rights on the forest to the communities by awarding individual rights, decreases the land cover under forest. And therefore they would rather award community forest rights to the whole village rather than individual rights. Eventually move to the strategy of awarding only community forest right rather than any individual rights at all.   This attitude is only supportive to that of  the forest department’s.

It has been more than 9 years since the enactment of the Forest Right Act and during a field visit conducted 8 months ago in Odisha it was found that not all the households and commutieis have secured their rights. Gujarat is the best performing state with respect to  awarding the rights (both individual and community). The state has awarded to most percentage from the total applicants. Madhsudan Bandi in his paper looks at the implimentation of FRAs in further depth with respect to Gujarat and Chattisgarhh state.

Why is it importnat to look at the status of FRA implementation and the awarding of rights to the communities? The innate inefficiency with respect to roling out this act is a matter of seperate discussion. In this post I am trying to raise up this point in the light of the new Compensatory Afforestration Fund Bill, 2015,(known in short as CAF Bill) that was passed in the upper house (Rajya Sabha)and after it was passed in the the lower house ( Loksabha) of the parlimanent of India.

What is CAF all about, why did it come to exist?

(Excerpt from PRS Legislative Research )

Highlights of the Bill

  •   The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  •   These Funds will receive payments for: (i) compensatory afforestation, (ii) net present value of forest (NPV), and (iii) other project specific payments. The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
  •   These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
  •   The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.Key Issues and Analysis
  •   The Bill establishes the Funds for compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. However, there are several factors (other than administration of funds) which affect compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. These factors are mentioned below.
  •   A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.
  •   Procuring land for compensatory afforestation is difficult as land is a limited resource, and is required for multiple purposes, such as agriculture, industry, etc. This is compounded by unclear land titles, and difficulties in complying with procedures for land use.
  •   A High Level Committee on Environment Laws observed that quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2014, with poor quality of compensatory afforestation plantations being one of the reasons behind the decline.
  •   The Bill delegates the determination of NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) to an expert committee constituted by the central government. As NPV constitutes about half of the total funds collected, its computation methodology would be important.

There are many issues regarding the bill, starting from the understanding of the word “compensation” by it, how the compensation is calculated, who is assigned to calculate the compensation among many other things. But in the context of FRA the issue is of the rights of Forest. The CFA does not have any text regarding how is is going to be implemented without making the FRA redundant.

To summarise in short:CFA  has taken the forest rights from the tribals & forest dwellers and slyly placed it  back in the hands of  forest department.

How did it do it: In the version fo the bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha there was no rule  that acknowledged the power of the local self governing body – Panchayat or the Gram Sabha on their say in how the forest will be dealt with. This is in direct conflict with what FRA and the PESA act bestows upon these communities.

These points of concern were  raised by the opposition party  to the the finance minister and environment minster of the ruling party. Their concerns were placated by saying these will be addressed once the bill was “passed” in the Rajya Sabha.

The role of the local self governing bodies is not codified in the CFA act and the implementation of FRA is still far from complete. The attitude of the Forest department still remains that of the owners of the forest, rather than custodians. What is the government going at? Is it a game to ammend constitution and make permanent promise to marginalized lot, just to make another new ammendment that trumps the older promise? If this is some sort of a joke, it is a cruel one at that.

Food, enough and nutritious , for the producer! What about wellbeing???

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Old lady farmer from a village in Andhra Pradesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always wanted to understand why a farmer, who produces food, and his family went hungry. I found it cruel and completely unacceptable that a producer of food had to go hungry, and not even feed his children. This and the fact that they resorted to suicides is even more saddening.

I am trying to understand if  in the current world context, the problem of food production and that of farmers – soil loosing its organic nutrition ( due to use of chemical fertilizers), water scarcity, salinity increase in soil etc can be addressed by organic farming, or sustainable farming or climate smart farming.

All these words organic, sustainable and climate smart seem to be synonymous to me. But they are not to be so. I am looking up Food and Agriculture Organization documents, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement, policy documents n organic farming by many states in India. From the readings until now the following is what the picture looks like:

  1. High yielding variety of seeds actually yield high produce, but are high on inputs ( fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides  and water) compared to organic farming in certain geographies. But one of the inputs required – water is becoming scarce. Also pests are becoming resistant to pesticides and yada yada.
  2. But when the world was going through food crisis especially in the developing world in the 1960s these high yielding, high input crops helped in increasing the food produce without destroying virgin forest to expand production. At that time the input demand of the cropping did not pinch as the exploitation of resources had just began and the limits of exploitation were not known to us.
  3. There is biomagnification of pesticides ad other chemical inputs in the food produced from this method. This is harmful for health. This is true. But the gravity of the issue is something I am yet to explore.  I do not want to dwell into it without concrete proof. Nonetheless, there is a lot of hue and cry about the health effects of chemical farming.
  4. Chemical farming in short is now perceived as a problem in the world. Even agencies like FAO are proposing organic farming at large scales.(Save and Grow).
  5. Organic farming definitely has very little negative health effects as the input that goes into it is all natural. Verdi compost, cow dung, leaf mulches.
  6. But the yield of it is less than the irrigated high yield varieties. The organic produce yield is less than chemical by 9-25% according to few studies. This is only in the case of irrigated high yield fields.
  7. When it comes to rained areas, organic yields better than chemical and this is consistent with many studies.
  8. Organic’s yield is better than chemical farming even in case of irrigated field during the period of drought.

The questions that I have running in my head are:

  1. Can small/ marginal farmers actually shift to organic farming gainfully? Right now there is very little support from the governments for them. Whereas chemical farmers have input subsidy. There is no such thing for organic farmers.
  2. With very little ecosystem to support a organic farmer and his risks,is it right to push these small guys towards it?
  3. What about the yield, the high yield and GMO proponents scare the hell out of people by saying when we move to organic we won’t be able to feed the world. How true is this?
  4. Generic farmer insurance ecosystem is very bare minimum with only crop insurances made available to them. Will the existing financial ecosystem make way for organic farmers too or not?

In short does both ecology and economics suggest our move to organic or only ecology? If one can prove with numbers that its both ecology and economics, then the shift should not be that difficult.

This apart there needs to be political will to move in that direction too. Chemical fertilizer and pesticide firms have huge cloud and therefore ensure that the politicians are well taken care off. So if the science and numbers say yes, still there is this huge irrational- illogical ( for the larger nation, not the politician. For the politician it is rational and logical to gain from this disputed situation from the huge firms) hurdle to be crossed.

And yes! How can one forget the agreements we sign up to. The Agreement on Agriculture with WTO and similar such multilateral agreements we sign as a nation. They may also try to restrict us even if economics and ecology permit our organic endeavor.

So, I will share more… as I know more of it….