Development for the Common Man

When will the focus of development include the common man on the street or in the village? We have drawn up grandiose plans for taking India into the G-8, but what of those left out of the Corporate game plans? Despite making all the right noises all the way up, in favor of the common man, concrete successes at the grass roots level and proposals for others lie on the wayside, awaiting the planner and the babu's touch to enter the people's lives.

One of the major successes of the rural areas has been water harvesting. This has gone beyond the usual check dams and percolation wells to an array of innovative inventions to harness harvested rain water.

Rajasthan, a desert state has seen spectacular success in self help in water harvesting in modern times. This tradition goes back a long way in Rajasthan which has a history of rainwater harvesting, which was only wrecked by the advent of modernism.

The city of Jodhpur, bang in the middle of the desert, had never suffered from crippling water shortages forcing evacuation of its citizenry. This was thanks to the foresight of the forefathers who had created strings of reservoirs within the fort areas, some of them underground. In the historic Chittorgarh fort, there used to be once upon a time, 84 such reservoirs. They can still store upto reputedly a billion liters of rain water which often remains unutilized, while the city experiences chronic water shortage; perhaps because the current city fathers are not even aware of their hidden heritage.

Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh embarked on a copy cat campaign of maximizing the number of small check dams, anywhere and everywhere, at the village level to harvest rainwater where it fell; this revived ancient concept is opposed to the big dam concept of harvesting the water from a huge area and storing it far away from the end use area. Both have their place in a large country like India with a number of metropolises with rising water demands.

Of and on, we have talked of linking the rivers so that the perennial rivers well share their excess waters with those which are less endowed naturally. Commissions were set up to study the feasibility of the Endeavour, but those reports have to become public; river linking remains only a subject for local politicos to bring up when they run short of other topics.

Only recently a popular news channel covered an array of inventions by a single individual in Maharashtra, who has used age old concepts such as the bullock, the cycle and the garden swing, added gears and pulleys to an engine and drew up water for irrigation; as a by blow he also generated enough electricity at the individual farm level to offer lighting and other functions.

The hills of North west and the North east have any number of success stories of villages harnessing their streams with mini turbines to generate electricity for their own needs. But these will only continue to run if we rein in our forest pirates who decimate forests with the blessings of babus in the name of industrial need, never mind that the fell ling of the trees erodes soil conservation and the following monoculture of planted forests does nothing to rejuvenate the violated environment.

There is a lesson perhaps to be learnt from the tribal peoples who planted trees on top of hills and then declared those areas to be the sacred residences of gods... so that those trees would not be cut down by human greed and the watery blessings of the gods, the rains, would continue to rejuvenate their fields lower down.

Ladakh has shown the way to use solar energy to maximum benefit. But in all this, where is our dear old GOI? Babus and MLAs control the building of check dams, inhibiting self help. And solar energy for the common man is by and large, still restricted to those unwieldy dabbas brought out by the alternate energy boards' favorite companies.

The solar cooker concept is an excellent one. I have used a solar cooker for over 25 years. But that was when my children were growing and I found those four large containers could rustle up two meals for a tribe of hungry kids with minimum effort. Now that requirement no longer holds.

Working couples nowadays have one kid or no kids, their requirements is for less, for a smaller cooker, more portable, less weight and easier to handle. But the babus have forgotten the old portable models, which could be given a modern touch. They cling to their heavy aluminum monsters which do not sell and the marvel of solar cooking is lost to urban and rural India when it could do so much to improve health and nutrition while cutting down on ever rising fuel and firewood demands.

Whatever happened to India Shining? Why have solar cookers not been made standard equipment for the centers which offer lakhs of school children a cooked midday meal all over the country? And solar cookers and heaters in all the colonies which are routinely put up by state housing boards as affordable lower and middle income group housing? That too when solar heaters are making inroads in private housing already ?

Another major success story, this time from the south, is that of medical insurance for the common man. The Karnataka model has yielded good results in offering medical insurance at an affordable price to selected areas. Can this model not be replicated; the way the Anand model was replicated to generate Operation Flood in milk in the various states? What is holding back the replication? could it be the medical insurers already in the field, all public sector giants?

The lesser said about credit and banks at the rural level, the better. Their momentum has practically been stolen by the numerous self help groups which are meeting with spectacular success all over the country, very much in the manner that the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has stolen the march over the formal banking system in that country.

Instead of strengthening the self help concept and extending it; our global village oriented babus came up with farmers' credit cards, spawning a vicious circle of demands and debts which have led to farmers' suicides across the board.
The suicides result in much media attention as politicos embark on what has come to be known as suicide tourism. What is left untouched is a study into the actual cases:

Does a normal Indian farmer, usually a family man with responsibilities, just get up and commit suicide, knowing that he is leaving behind a bereaved family, widow, son, possibly unmarried daughters under a burden of debt which he, being The Man of the Family, was not able to cope with. Do those guys never give a thought to how their wives would cope with that mountain of debt if they themselves could not?

That is really hard to gulp.

Therefore, it is perhaps upto sociologists to join hands with local activists and authorities to examine the suicide case and verify the actual cause, whether it was on account of agriculture or for some other social reason, which has been placed under the convenient of a series of failed crops.

Even those found to be genuine farmer suicides, by men who did not give a damn about how their families would cope with that mountain of debt, the question arises: how did that mountain of debt rise? Did all the crops fails despite input of expensive seeds, fertilizer and pesticides or where some other expensive purchases made for which repayment shortfalls led to harassment by the credit giving organizations?

That does seem like a more likely proposition. In our times, society has devolved into a complex entity, where the male child remains a pampered one for whom expensive toys are procured, starting with toy guns and going up to motor bikes and tractors and computers and what not. The girl child buckles down to help mama in the kitchen and her studies where she wins hands down against the boys.

When she finishes studies, she will take the first available job, while brother dear awaits that babuhood or corporate employment. Meanwhile she is funding his toys, as is perhaps the wife also. And that is how debts mount up, where there is no local based self help group to keep a stern check on what the money is being spent on and demand immediate repayments. It is here that the self help groups score over the credit cards and the banks, less interest, less corruption and a camaraderie which can be stern as well.

Let us move on to education. The powers that be are engrossed in the fee structure of the Indian Institutes of Management which have become a global brand. Congratulations.

And in the rewriting of history by the previous regime. What were they doing while it was being done? Sleeping on the benches of parliament? These weighty issues are no doubt very important. They address very important issues which affect vital segments of our society. But what of the issues that address some other vital segments of our society'the children in our rural schools, those who perforce drop out at a very early stage because; one, the syllabus does not cater to their needs; two the timings do not suit their other preoccupations; three the schedule interferes with their family duties, etc etc.

All schools follow the same syllabus and regimes. No wonder villager parents are left cold by what the school attempt to instill into the children'that is when the school function at all with absconding teachers the norm rather than the exception. How about a pay hike and fresh recruitments of village level teachers?
What the village child needs to learn is more in the realm of traditional wisdoms: how to asses the weather from the clouds and the behavior of animals and birds; how to assess the crop from the weather conditions; the nature of the soil and its requirements for a particular crop; modern advances made in the area of new or old crops for a better yield with minimal input of expensive seed, pesticide or fertilizer:

Whatever happened to our traditional pesticides and fertilizers which worked well enough for India to have such a large surplus of so many crops that she became a sought after prize for the colonial invaders??

The school daily schedule does not cater to the rural child, male or female. Early mornings are busy times in the household and that is when school begins. So very often children are yanked out of school for that reason.

Then the entire school schedule for holidays does not necessarily take into account the agrarian operations. All families need all the hands possible at planting time and during the harvest. Perhaps if the school calendar were amended to take just this one factor into account, we might make a dent in the school drop out rates at the village levels.

Add to that some practical, hands-on agricultural training and see how the drop out rate plummets and we see a new breed of educated youngsters manning our fields and tractors and turning India once again into that fabled land of milk and honey.

The global village demands transport for all. What do we do with our old ones, the tongas and the rickshaws. Oxford and Cambridge has imported some for riding within the campus. Why can we not adapt these relics for use ourselves, in large complexes, within tourists circuits, in the crowded inner cities. Put in a gear or two and a little engine, our innovators are upto anything. And a fancy top and viola we have competition for the golf carts of the magnates. Less pollution, less cost and consumer friendly too.

Ah, but all these are dreams'. Any likelihood of their coming true? Someone out there, answer please.   


More by :  Kusum Choppra

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