Field work and its shades of emotions

Field Work, interviewing a natural farmer in his shop, while he sells his non-chemical vegetable produce from his small outlet in Tanjavur

Interview with Murugan, a natural farmer in his vegetable shop

I usually try to keep my emotions aside when writing posts here at the TMN wordpress. But I have been flooded by many emotions during the field visit and also day after it. But I think emotions have been fundamental in most of the decisions I have made , especially regarding my career, work or study. I have never been practical , i.e. I never calculate “return on investment” on any activity of my life. Field visits have always made me more sensitive. But this time around the experience was very intense. I don’t know why! I am  unable to point to, what is ,what is it that I am experiencing. But , back in the city listening to myself complaining about the weather and other petty things , I  feel irritated. I want to hold on to those feelings evoked in the field even in my very urban and comfortable surroundings. I also feel lost in the city and there is a deep yearning  to  go back to places of feeling sensitive and being receptive and taking things as they come with little judgements.  This is a repetitive experience. I am trying to write down here to reflect, become aware and be conscious of the internal process.

I am back from the field visit from south of Tamil Nadu, in Thanjavur, I am lost. Its been more than 10 days away from this city and I feel lost. I am frozen. Going into field and begining work in different geography and in the rural setting happens quite seamlessly. But the switch from rural to urban settings takes effort. A conscious effort. At least one day goes in trying to understand the trouble in switching to the routine of the city.

As I try to gather myself to do work and study, I am trying to catch hold of some of the myriads of feelings that have engulfed me.

The lady : This time around in my field visit for my dissertation I had a lady volunteer come along with me from the day one until I finished it to help me get to all the farmers I had to interview. She was doing such efficient coordination, my work got done seamlessly. I was weighed down by the sense of gratitude towards her, the way she took interest and facilitated in meeting the farmers. I was so weighed down by this help of hers, I cried. I cried thanking her by the end. Just the way she was, made me wonder , if I will ever be like her ever. Offering to a cause with such dedication and intensity although it may not mean much to me. It looks like she was having a beautiful experience just being involved, although the task she was up to may or may not be of much consequence to her endeavors.

It was hot and satisfying:, 40 degree Celsius in the region, we were on a motorcycle, going from farmer to farmer meeting, interviewing and taking notes. It was tiring, physically fatiguing. On top of this I was also menstruating in this period. This was making the effort even more physically taxing. But I was satisfied, by the end of everyday, I was dead from work . What better way to end a day other than getting worn out by work!

The farmers:  were so generous with time and their offering us food, whatever they had to eat themselves, coconut water, buttermilk, bananas, and what not. This was as a part of interactions for my research where I am trying to understand the math of what farmers earn from toiling on their small land in a year.  I have not known anyone of them from before, this was the first time I am meeting them all.But without fail every one of them was offering something for us to eat or drink. One farmer meets me in between selling his fresh vegetable produce and answers my questions in the gaps between his customers, handing us some bananas to in between all the questioning. Another mechanic-farmer meets us in between his shop hours and answers patiently and shares his passion for the farming and pulls out and shows excitedly book by Fukuako’s natural farming, saying he wants to move to that form of farming next.  These people have small pieces of land,  3 acers or 4 acers. Not much really. But they have a passion to do something right. They are patient enough to share their experience between their business hours too.

Some of us may want to rationalize their willingness to meet me as a “small town phenomenon” or a “village phenomenon” where people from these regions are happy to meet us because we are from the “CITIES”. But this rationalization of the behavior can’t explain all aspects of their behavior, but the element of curiosity alone.

The hosts: I was living in a household of a doctor-teacher couple, who hosted me and took care of me so well. This is the first time I am meeting them. When in field, all of us know, a place to rest and write by the end sometimes is a luxury. They gave me a room for the entire period of stay. They were happy to host me, just because I was studying farming and its viability etc. Again I was feeling overwhelmed by the ease with which they let me into their house and handed me their house keys without batting an eye lid.

This is a repeated experience with my work, especially in rural areas. People are generous and welcoming and caring. Whereas they need not be this way. There is certain amount of guilt for getting the hospitality from the people who are vulnerable than myself. I don’t know if I can really work towards addressing even part of ONE of the issues they face.

Can I be at peace if I get all this support for my field work by paying up the services I received from the lady, farmer to the hosts? I don’t think so, even then  I can be at peace. Even I were to pay for all these services, their way of being kind and generous in non material aspects cant be paid for at all, this was the majority portion of what these people offered.These people are doing whatever they are doing without any expectation.

When I turn back look at all my visits in the past, I see there are so many people, so many of them who have made my work happen seamlessly over the years. I am weighed down heavily by all their support over these years. I don’t know, how to go abut this feeling. The feeling of indebtedness, the feeling of guilt of not having done enough, the feeling of wanting to do all the wrong right.

All of these feelings eventually are forgotten when the awkwardness of the cities is eroded by daily living in it. I wish I don’t forget the generosity of all the people and just do my work even more sincerely and meticulously and be of some consequence to all the effort and help offered by so many people. I want to wake up everyday with a sense of gratitude and love and devotion to all of the people who have come to nurture me in so many ways. I would rather want this sense of gratitude to drive me to do my best, to do what is possible.  I sincerely want to give my best. Lets see how long this bout of gratitude from the field remains.

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Nepal, my Observations

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A school under reconstruction post the 2015 earthquake, photo from a visit in  Feb 2017

I have been thinking to write my thoughts about this country Nepal. I have visited this country number of times for different purposes- treks, pilgrimage, family trip and just as a youngster with cash enough to explore a new country which suited my pocket.  Because of all these visits I have always been dove-eyed about this country. I have always appreciated warm, strong , welcoming Nepalese people and have been awed by the strength of the hill people.hey fly through the hills while we plain people huff and puff.  The tile and brick  building architecture, the streets of Thamel with all the gears- name any company from across the globe, the old ways of greeting people, the culture of following the old hindu calendar, the apparent harmonious presence of hinduism and buddhism and what not.

While a colleague here writes about the policy landscape of the country, I would like to reflect on seeing this country while traveling around on work.

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Durbar Square, Feb 2017

Most development work driven by grants: I am living in India, a developing nation or a middle income country based on which ever terminology one wants to use. I am looking at Nepal from a lens that is not developed but not really “under developed” as well. It was quite fascinating to see that the sizes of the budgets; to lay roads or water pipelines; for this country mostly comes from multilateral grants rather than their own tax payer money. Also the quantum of operating budget the government departments responsible for delivering basic services is too low. The 4 way junctions have boards saying ” From the people of Japan”, the main highways that act as arteries to the country is from Japan International Cooperation Agency, some water project in the hills is from a Norwegian fund, the main outer ring road of Kathmandu is from a world bank money and built by a Chinese company. Restoration of earthquake affected architecture is also supported by some Japanese funding.

Election driven by international aid: May be its my ignorance about LDCs, but this one came as a surprise to me. Yes, I have read about external funding of elections in Sudan, but I never expected this to be the case for Nepal. What will be the percentage of democracy that will pan out with a country’s election being funded by external agencies. These agencies are not answerable to any people of any other country too. This is influencing  the country’s fate at a very different level with no accountability or answerability by these agencies.

Tourist driven: For me it is interesting to find snickers, variety of international brand of beers, and many other international products find their way from Kathmandu, Pokhara and all the up to Annapurna Base Camp and all the villages that dot the trekking routes. The trails to treks are well paved, exactly they are all paved with well laid stones all the way to the camps. If given a chance they will pave it with the stones even up to the hostile peaks of Himalayas. Although tourism contributes to less than 5% of the economy, there is a heavy focus on this sector.

Upper himalayan region bias vs Terai region ( more like the plain regions): In India the development and attention of the governments usually is more to the plain regions than the hill regions. I always thought the reasons for this could be : logic of number of people reached with a given budget and easy of implementation. In the case of Nepal the focus is upper Himalayan  communities and the communities in the Terai region are neglected.  This challenges my understanding, and makes me wonder why? Few of the reasoning why this could be from what I observed are:

  • First one, Nepal and its image to the granting/aid agencies is that of the Himalayan country, so agencies want to fund the so called Himalayan areas , which are difficult to work in too. “A village nestled in some high hilly region, where some meaningful work got done” makes a pretty picture.
  • Second one, because the hills are what tourist get to, the government also wants to pay attention to the upper regions first.
  • The terai region people have little  representation in Kathmandu, in the government, in the aid sector. The number of aid agencies working in Terai region is far less than the ones working in upper Himalayan region.  Thus funds do not get channelized to this region.

Natural disaster distracting long term development work: Himalayas is one of the most volatile of geographies. Natural disaster of some form or the other keep happening all the time. The country has almost no contingency plan to address disasters if and when they happen. This haphazardness actually stalls and affects the other development work that should have been continues in spite of the disasters. The bandwidth allocation of work gets skewed with most of the money and human resource getting diverted to address effects of natural disaster and the other unaffected  regions hence suffer.

Aid sector is mature, but is driven by funders at every level: In a LDC its not a surprise that aid sector and INGOs are present in good numbers and almost work like governments and are mature in their operations. But the INGOs drive every aspect of all the programs they implement through local NGOs. There is very little capability with the local NGOs.They only do the job of taking orders and doing whatever is told to them by their funders.

Heavily primary sector driven : The country has almost very little secondary or tertiary sector. Most of their vehicles ( cars, trucks, bikes, vans ) come mostly from India and China and people end up paying almost 100% import duty on it.

Air pollution in Kathmandu

Air pollution in Kathmandu is just out of control: Kathmandu’s air is now rated one of the most highly polluted in the world. While on one side the city establishment is rushing to finish the 15 year old Melamchi water supply  project , on the other side the Chinese company is rushing to finish paving the outer ring roads. I keep wondering and worrying about  what is going to come of generation of toddlers who are born and raised in such dusty conditions early in their life.

In short, after visiting this country on work, I don’t know if I can still be dove-eyed about it all and enjoy the snow peaks like my friends who visit this country for its natural beauty and adventure sport. But, having visited the country enough number of times in my twenties, I would like to see it stabilize and achieve better living conditions for its people.

Liberal Democracy-Ecological Conciousness -Ecocentricism

Examine the notion that liberal democracy curtails emergence of ecological consciousness in the society. How can ecocentric critical mass evolve out of these limitations?

Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism.

The word to be further detailed and cloosely looked at in that definition  is classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedom

A very individual centric approach of the liberalism when tries to impose on the democracy , trying to still hold on to the democratic principles it becomes quite a confused concoction. “Economic freedom”  aspect of classical liberalism, especially is the one that on the face is in compliance with democracy, but definitely is that one which will infringe upon the “economic rights” that democracy as a form of governance  bestows upon its people.

In my opinion the “classical liberalism” and “democracy” have their own bits of contradictions. If these ideologies are put together to form liberal democracy. The liberal aspects of classical liberalism – especially the individualistic aspects mask the community/ commons aspects of democracy. And therefore the liberal democracy is loaded with individualism as a way of existence. In this paradigm of thinking a human being becomes centre to his own ways of thinking and living. Its a paradigm of exclusion , where one wants to be “different”/”special” and differentiated from the other. This mode of operation pushed for a a self centered mode of existence.

Ecological consciousness to come from the inside requires a very evolved and sensitive selves to see the other lives equal to that of our own human life. Or it comes from a very logical and rational understanding that our lives depend on whole lot of things that stem from the earth, air and water and all these elements themselves too. This makes sense even in the individualist paradigm. But the individualist paradigm has a limited understanding of what is best for individuals. That is, the consumeristic attitude propelled under this ideology has only allowed a very limited expression of individualism. A complete expression of individualism in the most evolved form will be in line with the approach an ecologically conscious person would approach the ecology. The understanding of the ecological dependency of the human race is still as the complex mesh of dependency and causation is still beyond our understanding. So the logical mind of the people who believe only in human wellbeing is difficult to be convinced.

At some level if the sense of mortality, fragility of our lives  prevails on individuals along with a sense of  the scale of existence we exist becomes clear to us, there is possibility that we live more gently. Our interactions with our fellow humans and the environments we live in will become gentle. At some level in today’s time when we people  ( especially the urbanites) seem to hardly have any connection with the land, water, air that breaths life into us. And we think its our jobs, the money we earn and the gadgets we carry is our world. We seem to forget the fragility of life due to the improved quality of life that we urbanites) enjoy.

The question of how can ecocenticism evolve in this context? Can it be systemic or should it be from the people? It is very difficult to get something changed t systemic level given the mammoth size of systems. Whereas at individual level the number of units (people) that require change is millions and billions. But what is possible by individuals who are interested in ecocentric perspective?  If anything is possible it is only at the level of effecting other individuals. There needs be effort people to understand and empathize with humanity and the world. There needs be a sense of home when it comes to this planet. And this when achieved there will be no need to tell anyone about not destroying the planet. SO the ecocentricism requires an inner awakening of the human population. Reestablishment of the connect to mother earth.

So in short it needs to be a grassroots movement to achieve this ecocentricism. About the context of liberal democracy, it will play out well if the people who are part of it are sensitive and conscious of their responsibilities they owe to this planet.

Ideologies – Are they a requirement for one to do what is necessary?

This will be the last post that I would submit to the course on Democracy and Ecology. I found this course quite revealing. It exposed me to issues I have not known about and some other issues from different perspectives.  This course is the only one in the entire Masters program that has exposed me to the most of outside world through expereiences shared by real people form different walks of life. This was especially valuable during the time when I conciously holed myself inside a place to just push myself to read and write. This course brought the world into the classroom.

One of the agendas of the class seemed to be that to push us all to have an ideological position.  Another very senior professor in the course also thought that one must have an ideological positoin.Few of the friends in the class say that my ideological position is ‘left of centre’. I somehow am not covinced enough about this whole concept of having an ideological position. At some level it feels like one is so lost in the idea that one forgets the reason why idea or an ideological position emerged in the first place?

The dictionary meaning of it is :

“a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”

I have heard the right side of the ideology ( both cultural and economic) I have issues with them, when taken to extreme we have failed states and fundamentalism taking a fullswing position, which is quite scary. I have also heard the left side of the ideology  and I have issues with them too, they want everything to be equal, we humans are not made equal. We are unique, capabilities are unique to each one and in an attempt to equality and equitablity one can not stiffle the capabilities of individuals. USSR was a classic story of such failure. And China cant be an example of left as they left behind their left past long ago and are more capitalist than we are. And the violence that emerges from both sides is so not worth it.

Why not we function on the fundamental principles as a society rather than obsess with ideologies? Why not work out of humanity? It is so difficult to keep the personality aside and just do what is needed at that point in time. Can compassion not be the driver of all the work? Social democrats like Ambedkar also seem to have certain baggage along with being anhilator of certain evils like caste system. There are aspects of all the lefts, rights and centre ideologists which are perfect to address certain issues from certain realm. Why not do  what is right according to what the situation demands?

 

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.

 

 

Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu

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Kaveri Pipeline work. Courtsey: BWSSB.org

The water dispute of Kaveri between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is more than a century old. Somehow the issue is racked up only in period of scarce monsoon. Else both states sit quiet and continue to do what they were at without giving a hard look at what are they are doing with their agriculture. 

There have been many agreements between the states, tribunals set up to resolve issues, and supreme court intervening in the case and giving some random judgements without much scientific reasoning. These have been during the periods of distress again. 

When I looked at this issue in 2008 I thought we could solve the matter with tribunals. But when I look at this matter again – the canvas looks much different. The legal aspects and general managerial aspects of the canvas were then not quite clear. But now there seems to be a nuanced understanding. First of the legal aspect of it – why is there no judgement / tribunal verdict on water sharing specific to “rainfall shortage years” or “distress years”? If the clause and details of the hearings were based on scientific studies conducted on the basin, one can come up with the possible sharing quotas based on the yearly rainfall that the basin sees. Second is, why are both states not seeing that- the paddy ( in Tamil Nadu) and sugarcane (in Karnataka) are not the crops one would grow using a non-perineal river source. There as a reason why raggi was grown so prolifically in these parts of the country. Raggi and other millets did not need so much water like paddy or sugarcane needs.

Also, another matter is that of the classic conflict between upper riparian and lower riparian states. The upper riparian state like Karnataka always have the control of – how much water they CHOOSE to give, and lower riparians have to seek courts and tribunal’s intervention to get water to meet their state needs. 

When I spent sometime this morning looking at the tweets from kanadigas on the #cauveriverdict, I could only laugh at their ignorance. On both sides there are farmers, both sides need water for drinking water purpose. It is not easy to say who is correct or not. While Karnataka has around four major rivers flow in its state, Tamil Nadu’s rivers are not as many. The Kaveri that is damned in Karnataka is not even serving all the four districts equally. It is Bangalore that gets most of the Kaveri when developed in stage I, II and III. This without rectifying the 65% unaccounted for water loss ( through rusted, old pipelines built by British) in Bangalore is not a fair argument. Bangalore’s lakes which were augmenting the water requirements of the city are fast vanishing to meet the real estate needs of the city. Had the lakes been in place, the pipelines in good shape and compulsory rainwater harvesting done by all, the dependency of  Bangalore on Kaveri/Kabini would have been reduced substantially. This would have eased the conflict too. While the larger managerial issues are never addressed, all people do by the end of the day to go on strikes and burn public properties to make their point and get what they want. This is no rational way to arrive at any solution. 

Situation in both the states , its political response and people’s response is quite saddening and disappointing to the least! 

PS: I am a Tamizh. So read this article with a pinch of salt. 

Passion -> wrong parallels, But do no good for none of the lines compared!

At Rio Olympics this time India was made proud by its girls- Sakshi -a wrestler, a Sindhu -badminton player and Dipa – a gymnast. After all them came back to India their respective states awarded them plush cash awards etc. And the world famous Sachin Tendulkar gave them all a BMW each. The badminton player Sindhu was awarded by two telugu speaking states a total of Rs 250000000. And a plot of land and yada yada!

In a discussion around these gifting by the states there were two strands of discussions. One where some of the collegues were seeing this gifting and celebration of these players as a cover up by the Sports Authority of India on its poor effort in training our players. And one of the other story from Rio of our marathoner, Jaisha, from Bangalore, how she was not even provided water during her run was atrocious.

Another comparison of the limelight and money received by Sindhu was compared to what is happening to women laborers from in and round the city Bangalore. These laborers coming from neighboring villages and to sell their vegetables in wholesale market ( K.R. Market) here in Bangalore. The struggle they go through is now is being added up due to the non-functioning Aadhaar (Universal Identification) machines’ iris detectors. Therefore, these people have to go to office of Bangalore One to verify their identity every month before they can access the provisions made available for them at the state run Ration shops- Public Distribution System. And comparing what is state is inflicting on them to how it celebrates its “super celebrities” ( a new word for meet to!).

I have two fold issues with the second type of comparison. I must admit to have made such absurd comparisons in the past. And quite passionately at that. I will ask all those people who quip and criticize capitalism – ” do you have a mobile phone”.  This is not right. It is confusing one ways how a product is made available to masses (by capitalism) to the only means of producing it.

The first reason why I have this problem is: This is same as to do with my complaint towards the Copenhagen Consensus that was put together by Bjorn Lomborg. Best economist from around the world come together to prioritize the most pressing problems of the world. Put in an oversimplified manner, what they said is malaria needs to be prioritized over climate change. And climate change can wait for a couple of years to come. Therefore, monitory allcoation to malaria to be 100% and climate change zero%. So comparing the state spending on sports person is not something that can or should be compared with a daily wage earner or laborer. The state’s responsibility to its citizens, especially the poor ones, is non-negotiable. At the same time, to encourage sports and take good cre of its sports person is a necessary responsibility too.

Secondly, by comparing a sports person to a wage laborer is one is , in policy parlance, drawing false parallel. That is comparing apples and oranges. By doing this – one is neither making a strong case for improvement of living conditions of the laborers or the condition of sports in India. It is just making it all sound like- we are in a bad country where is possible. One needs to be clear and precise in deciding the boundary of a problem’s context. The boundary should good enough to understand an issue in its entirety  but not too broad making it difficult to arrive at any actionable plan to address the matter. By comparing a Sindhu to a daily wage earner we do justice to neither the state of sports in the nation nor to the daily wage earner who struggles a lot to make her ends meet.

To be honest, these parallels are drawn from a place of passion to deliver justice. to undo the wrong done to vulnerable sections of the society. But it is ineffective in pursuning the system or the individuals in it to look at it with an intent to address the issue if we make the case this broad.

That, That!!!

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.

 

Field visit- a joke on folks who are visited!

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A set of school kids engaged in making quill greetingcards post school hours to raise funds for their community work. Location: Agra slums, 2013

Field visits (of sociological nature) , from my limited understanding, were a part of Masters in Social Work (MSW) courses alone in the past. Nowadays its mandated for program that study Development, Public Policy and others dealing with matters of public or social nature.

The whole idea of field visit and exposures is to help people see from real close quarters what it means to – live under certain conditions, do a particular job, and understand many aspects of their lives. It is to de-number the identity of the people whom we statistically study from census data or quantitative reports. It is to see them as peolpe like you and me.  When I started to do these  field visits it was as a part of my Master’s theisis to understand the impacts of a marine engineering project on lives of fisher community. Since then I have been learning and absorbing everytime I go into the field. These visits have helped me bridge the knowledge gap I have due to irregular readings. More than this, they have helped me stay more rooted, human and reminded me about the values like humility (Not that I claim to be humble all the time, I do tend to have my own streaks of arrogance now and then, 😉 ). A field visit can be to a village, surban slum, a factory floor, a manufacturing unit, some local organization or school or any place that is relevant to study that one is engaged in.

As a part of this course there was a mandatory month long field visit in the first year.In the second year of the course few electives have field visit as part of thier curriculum. I am writing this post to just reflect on the attitudes some of us have towards these visits, and how it is uselesss for people with certain attitudes to make such visits.

During the first visit of mine as a part of this course, the attitude certain members of the team visiting exhibited was that of entitlement. It is as if, just because you are from a city ( which in the heads of the visitors is a proxy for developed) the vilagers should be obilidged to share information about all the things we vistors question. This is pretty evident from the way we sat, questioned and interacted with people. It is amazing how we would want to pay and stand in quess to go to some places and act all civilized and nice, for instance a famous pub in a city. At the same time when we are recived with warmth and given the space to interact, we act all bossy and cocky. The villagers/laborers or slum dwellers have no reason to spend their valuabel time in talking and providing information to you. Our research and study is useless to their lives, if anything they are doing favour on us by sharing about their lives.

Similarly when few of the classmates came back after visiting a labor union organization, their remark  about the life of an indiviudal shared is  – “it sounds like a hindi soap opera” or mock at the fact that, now they may be assigned a project to write a biography of the live of the lady who shared her life story with them. Another set of smart alec from the class  want to practice their ability to argue and debate with these poeple by asking “smart theoritcal” questions on gender discrimination – about not having a “single” male members on the organization board. This is being asked to a woman who has  just shared her life story on the kind of  discriminations done to her by men all her life.

I have felt quite sad seeing the way these people go about doing their field visits. I dont mind if one doesnt like to do field visits. Its ok to not like it. But when engaging with it , the attitudes that these folks carry is not right. The attitudes of – carelessness, of disregard, of disrespect and of lack of sensitivity. This is sad, utterly sad. I am not excluding myself from this. There have been times when I have also been careless, I have my share of faultlines too! I am taking an opprtunity to reflect on myself and other in this program with respect to these attitudes.

Why is their experience of life, be it difficulty or struggle less valuable than our own struggle to study late nights to get good grades? Why is their life less important than our lives? If we all cannot appreciate an individual sharing their lifestory with us and if we can not respect them just like we will want anyone else to do to us, what policies will we create? What public policy professional will we become?

The idea of these visits and interactions is to atleast have a peak into the lives of those individuals differnt than us. We most of the times visit people who have lesser social and economic capital than us. Experineces shared usually are about their struggles-matters that are quite close to their hearts and minds.  Fieldworks of social orientation are sledom on rich lives. Just because these people are weaker, should we be careless about it? Simply asking.

No point being a gold medalist or knowing all the books. By the end of the day experience of our lives is enrichened not by our shopping experineces, or moments of arogance or ruthlessness but by the number of moments of gratidue, happiness and humility.

Outsourcing governance- Is the new “inn” thing? – Parastatals

In the class on democracy and ecology, I have always had an alternate possition from that of the course instructor. While he upholds the constitution ( although he is not a lawyer, but still! ) above everything, I feel there have be changes in ways of state’s doing business in the context of the larger world.  While I had my reasons to question his point of views, I did agree to his reasoning in certain matters. One of them is the case of parastatal agencies.  The funny thing is when I did agree with him this time, he was unable to see it as he is tuned to believe that I wont agree with him.

Parastatal agencies , what are they? They are agencies that “aid” state in doing its job well by doing certain specific , specialized jobs that generic state can not be expected to do. For example an ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation)is a parastatal agency. At the same time a KUIDFC (Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development & Finance Corporation) is also a parastatal agency. And there exist other parastatal agencies that are neither an offshoot of government bodies, nor are non-governmental organizations. They are somewhere inbetween. They ( in the name of helping the state) play the role of state and also not stay answerable to the public that has elected its local representatives – councilors/ corporators / MLAs.  There is a requirement for a parastatal agency like a ISRO to provide and implement experitse, as it is a very specialized task. Whereas requirement of a KUIDFC does exist too, but to provide expertise through advocacy but not implementation. Why this distinction?

Because:

  1. The activities that KUIDFC plans/implemented are constitutionally mandated by the Urban Local Bodies to do it by themselves , on behalf of the citizens of the urban area. 
  2. Also agencies like KUIDFC are given the trump card to override these constitutionally guaranteed powers vested with the ULBs. (See image below , snippet from KUIDFC-Municiapl corporation contract).
  3. KUIDFC then takes loans from IFIs (International Financial Institutions) on behalf of the city corporation and further imposes the rules from the IFIs on the city and in this process also changing the laws and policies of the state.

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The KUIDFC atleast is a parastatal agency constituted by the state, they can be questioned at some point by the state.

There are other type of parastatal agencies that are set up by  influencial citizens “to do good” for the larger city. In the case of Bangalore one of them is Janagraha. Janagarha, one of the urban specialist NGOs is one example. Bangalore has a handful of such influenctial agencies. I have worked for one of them in the past ( I guess!). The point is all of them intend well, but why are they bestowed with powers that are mandated to the state bodies? Why are they given them without being asked to be accountable for the same?  The questions raised by the instructor were pertinent- why is  a Janagraha a signing authortity for the city plans that cities were supposed to put together under JNNURM?  And who funds these agencies? Do these organizations even know the landscape of politics and governnance? They do not engage with areas that are asthetically not apealign for them in their “citizen engagement assigment” they assign themselves. Like the BATF did not want to engage with the slum board as it ” is a political cesspool” while doing the City Development Plan for the BDA.

It definitely is not a bad idea to have parastatals help state in an advisory role, but they definitely can not be engaged to “do” things without being held accountable.

Also another intersting thing about Bangalore- there was a report commissioned under Kasturirangan on how the Bangalore metropolitan should be governend. But is not available on any goverment website but on archive.org.- https://ia801001.us.archive.org/18/items/DrKasturiranganCommitteeReportOnBBMP/Dr-Kasturirangan-Committee-Report-on-BBMP.pdf

Why???

That, that!!!!