An article about SVYM, GRAAM and me in the Harvard Kennedy School magazine

November 26, 2016 1 comment
Categories: Articles in Press

Article that i wrote in Prajavani dtd 22.11.16 on Karnataka’s Health System

November 22, 2016 Comments off
Categories: Articles in Press, General

Building a resurgent India

November 16, 2016 1 comment

“There were many good things in the ancient times, but there were bad things too. The good things are to be retained, but the India that is to be, the future India, must be much greater than ancient India.” – Swami Vivekananda

India is now going through a momentous phase of transition. While we race to catch up with a world being connected seamlessly through digital technology, we can find new ideas and new ideologies bombarding us from all sides. It is at times like this that we need to pause and ask ourselves whether we are going in the right direction and at the right pace. We need to explore as a nation whether we are building our future based on the lessons of our past or are getting caught up in the mindless pursuit of mere economic growth. This is also the time for us to revalidate the relevance of the message of Swami Vivekananda and his vision for India. Vivekananda dreamed of seeing Mother India in all her glory on the resplendent throne where she rightfully belonged. If we are to go beyond the romance of this statement, we first need to understand where we are today and what the challenges are ahead of us. We also need to understand where we were in the past and what lessons we can learn from the rich history of our culture and civilisation.

India of Today: The whole country is agog with the excitement of change. Everyone seems obsessed with our growing visibility around the world and is increasingly focusing on economic growth and the trappings of visible development. We seem to be overlooking the fact that despite this constant progress and growth, 50 per cent of children under five years of age suffer from undernutrition1. While on the one hand we are making rapid strides in space and defence technology, on the other hand a large part of our rural population still lacks basic amenities, including clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. 37% of our young people drop out of school by the time they reach the tenth grade. Gender and caste inequities are very real and distressing. Despite all our scientific attainments, close to 75% of our graduating youth lack employable skills. What we are building today in our children and youth is mere cognitive growth and not the overall social, emotional, and spiritual evolution of a balanced person. As a society, we are seeing a rapid erosion of our social capital, with visible manifestations of trust deficit, lowered interdependence, and vanishing reciprocity. Monetisation has become the metric of human success and attainment, while other dimensions of human achievement are getting marginalised. While one can argue that the benefits of our growth will trickle down and most of our citizens can indeed aspire to a better life, we need to recognise the challenges ahead of us.

The Challenges Ahead: India’s progress is going to be determined by how well we can manage three major challenges facing us. The first is the increasing intolerance that we are seeing and the growing reality of religious fundamentalism. Religion has now become a political tool. Not a day passes without evidence of this threat in some part of the world or the other – whether it is India, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Afghanistan, Egypt, or the United States. The second major challenge that is becoming more evident is growing economic inequity. The gap between the rich and the poor is the widest in our recent history. The top 10% of Indians generate and control more than 75% of India’s wealth, while the bottom 20% are generating and controlling less than 1%. The increasing economic tensions are having social ramifications, and outbursts of violence are no longer the exception. The third major issue is the manner in which technology is rapidly disrupting everyday life, manufacturing, and services. This makes demands on our youth to acquire skills that are not easily available and that are out of the reach of most of our rural population. Our ability to resolve these vexatious issues will eventually determine whether we are able to place India on the world stage and give our people the life that they deserve. What can we do to confront this reality and find realistic and pragmatic solutions? It is here that the message of Swami Vivekananda and his plan for building India’s future give us a solution. Swamiji strongly believed in learning from our past in order to build our future. While he was a romantic lover of everything Indian, he was also pragmatic enough to identify the ills that we had accumulated over the years and that had to be mercilessly discarded.

Our Rich and Hoary Past: An objective assessment of the India of the past in multiple dimensions demonstrates how advanced we were as a society. The work of the English economic historian Angus Madison conclusively proves the wealth of our nation from the beginning of the Christian era up till 1600 CE. He mentions how the Indian civilisation, with its enormous intellectual, trading, and manufacturing capacity produced 35% of global GDP and was possibly the richest country in the world during those 16 continuous centuries. It was also during this time that India contributed the binary system and the concepts of algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Metallurgy and the chemical sciences were far advanced, and knowledge of astronomy, physics, democracy, and political science was at its peak. Apart from the sciences of the ‘external’, Indian scriptures were rich in their understanding of the ‘internal’. From psychology to spirituality, our thinkers made contributions that the rest of the world had yet to discover. One can safely say that this was the glorious era of Indian civilisation. The focus was on increasing the human and social capital of India. This obviously resulted in enormous economic benefits.

The Way Forward: Swami Vivekananda strongly believed in the control of man’s inner nature in order to ensure the optimal utilisation of resources and efective functioning in the external world. He could see how a colonised and conquered India had lost her moorings, and he felt the urgency to rebuild her human and social capital. Swamiji understood that a full expression of human potential would happen only when man constantly expanded his physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual capabilities. Only then could he have the capacity to lead and sustain his life. He understood that ‘education’ had to go beyond mere schooling and result in the expression of the inner perfection already inherent in man. He could also relate physical growth to mental and emotional growth. He asked young Indians to make their biceps stronger before embarking on the study of the Gita. For him, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence were as critical as social intelligence for man to progress and grow. He gave a new meaning and dimension to the pursuit of spirituality by making it practical and socially pragmatic. His call to serve the God in man as a means of spiritual evolution is possibly the most practical means of connecting man’s inner nature with the outer world. Swamiji’s message of working for the poor and the marginalised and the call for inner evolution and not an outer revolution further strengthens this argument. His thoughts on organising people and building institutions reflect the emphasis he placed on social capital. He knew that a country could not be built on sand and that democratic institutions can be created and sustained only by people of mettle.

And what India needs today is to revisit this concept of building a complete man, who can in turn create and manage institutions and thus build a great country. We need people with the qualities of compassion, humanism, a spirit of enquiry, humour, mindful existence, positive thinking and the intent to be good and do good. Imagine a nation that is led by a type of humankind that is responsible in its consumption, respectful of all of nature’s creation, constantly striving for both internal and external peace, harmony, and good will. Such a country would be wonderful indeed, where sharing and caring would be second nature to humankind and the mad rush to acquire everything for just oneself would be a thing of the past. Imagine such a nation where these self-evolved humans are interconnected and live with the awareness of mutual trust, interdependence and reciprocity! That is the social capital that India badly needs if it wants to stop hurtling towards self-destruction. India now needs a new narrative that talks about creating and expanding this human and social capital based on Swamiji’s vision. Sustainable development will then not be a mere slogan or a fashionable statement that is talked about, but a practical and realistic attempt to build this New India.  In that new vision for India, development will be seen in terms of increased security and liberty for communities and individuals.  This means that people will have the political space to voice their problems and choose the solutions that best represent them. Dominant players in development – whether they are the government, or civil society, or the corporate world—will then take the time to listen to people with respect and provide them with the platform to articulate their just and legitimate aspirations.

India needs to become a pioneer in translating this vision of development into concrete reality, where the rule of law is the norm rather than the exception, where no Indian will go hungry, where human rights are not a mere slogan but a way of life, where democratic participation is not a fanciful aspiration but an everyday expression of citizenship, and where food, nutrition, livelihood, infrastructure, education, health care, and religious freedoms are not mere political promises but entitlements of an empowered citizenry. This is the India that Swami Vivekananda spoke of—and the India that we need to create.

– Balu


The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, Mayavati Memorial Edition, Vol.6, p, 318

‘Putting tribals first’ – An article that appeared in ‘The Statesman’ on 10, Nov 2016

November 11, 2016 1 comment
Categories: Musings

The Cauvery river water dispute and beyond (part 2)

October 17, 2016 Comments off

With the skies opening up for a few days and the noise over the Cauvery water sharing coming down, life will go on as usual for most people. And our politicians, legal luminaries and policy makers will start their complex negotiations on how best to share the available water when the situation arises again, possibly next year itself.  A uni-dimensional and technical approach to solving this serious and adaptive challenge will only be a temporary Band-aid while the larger issue of scientific and comprehensive water management will be given the go by.

What should the Government then do if it has to solve the problem keeping the larger picture in mind? Will the solution work if only the govt is involved in framing it?  What about the actual user and his share of doing what needs to be done?  We also need to keep in mind the fact that we have reached the current state not just by increasing the total land under irrigation or by building dams across the river but by impacting negatively the entire hydrological cycle itself.  A recent media report citing a study mentioned how the city of Bangalore alone has lost 79% of its water bodies and had a 925% increase in concretization.  75% of the city is land paved and 98% of the lakes are encroached upon.  90% of the existing lakes are sewage fed and we still want to ensure that all the citizens of the city get safe piped drinking water sourced from the Cauvery river. This may not be peculiar to the city of Bangalore alone and most major metropolises in India suffer from a similar malady. Another report of the forest department of the Government mentions how the deforestation in the Western Ghats area is severely impacting the rainfall and water inflow into the Cauvery river and its tributaries.

Instead of merely focusing on the supply side, people and planners have to also consider the demand side issues and how to resolve them effectively.  The state needs to have a comprehensive water resource management policy that plans for afforestation, lake management, rain water harvesting structures in private and public buildings. It needs to have clear blueprint for demand side management and ensure that better irrigation practices including drip irrigation is encouraged amongst our farmers.  Famers also need to be encouraged to move away from water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane to cultivation of millets.  The state also needs to have a millet policy that not only encourages the growing of millets but also advocates it as a better and healthier calorie option for the consumer.  Apart from changing behaviors of both the farmers and the ordinary citizen, the state also needs to embark on modernizing and desilting our dams if we need to make water storage efficient again.  Though this may be expensive, experts mention that it can lead to an increase in the irrigation efficiency by 20%.  At a personal level, each of us need to remember not to keep the tap water running when we are brushing our teeth or shaving.  Having our leaky taps fixed and not using the shower for bathing are other simple but effective means to conserve water at a personal level.  We also need innovative solutions on re-using gray water, especially for toilet flushing and watering the plants etc. The demand for water is ever increasing not only because of the increase in the population but also due to the increase in the per capita consumption.  Scenes of people washing their cars, watering the streets and flooding the paved areas of apartment complexes to clean them are an everyday occurrence. Civic laws to control and reduce such wastage needs to be put in place and enforced strictly.

Mitigation and treatment strategies of the watershed and catchment areas of our rivers including the Cauvery needs to be kept in mind while addressing the larger dimensions incorporated in the hydrological cycle.   Forests are natural sponges and they help store water too. No forests mean less rain but when we have rains it also means floods if there are no trees. We also have to let the Forest department manage our forests, mangroves and swamps without any political interference.  The recent experience of flooding in our major cities should be a wake-up call to our politicians, urban planners and civic officials and they should ensure that both the inflow and outflow of our water systems and structures in the catchment area are open and free flowing.

The larger issue of Global warming and the melting of the glaciers all sound and seem distant but we need to understand how macro events are affecting our micro existence on an everyday basis.  The dictum of the National water policy of providing safe water for drinking and sanitation as pre-emptive needs after which other needs including agriculture should follow is usually forgotten in the discourse of sharing the river water.

While the demand is ever increasing, the supply is either constant or depleting.  In such a scenario, water resource management cannot be done only by technical experts alone.  One also needs to remember that it is not just quantity but also the quality of water that we use. Human behavior and lifestyle have a deep impact on this issue and we need inter disciplinary teams of sociologists, behavioral scientists, engineers, political economists, anthropologists, irrigation & water experts to sit together and look at the complexity, the interconnectedness and the multiple layers of the problem. With this background the state needs to come with a comprehensive and visionary policy that will lay the ground work for managing our water resources.  Finally, we need to bear in mind that water is indeed a limited resource and we need to use it wisely.  Or we will have only ourselves to blame.

Categories: General, Musings

RIP, Ms Anita Kaul

October 11, 2016 1 comment


Ms. Anita Kaul

With communication being what it is nowadays, my day began with a piece of bad news arriving on Whatsapp.  A friend had sent me a message that Ms Anita Kaul, one of Karnataka’s finest IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers had passed away after a brief illness last night.  This news was hard to believe (as with many Whatsapp messages nowadays) and I called up another good friend and erstwhile colleague of hers to verify.  He had just reached Delhi to be with her family and told me the inevitable.  She leaves behind her husband Sanjay Kaul and son Rohan.

Anita Kaul had retired from the IAS just more than a year ago after a long and distinguished service in the Karnataka Cadre. She was the Secretary to the Ministry of Law, Government of India at her time of her retirement, and post retirement had associated with a social sciences research organization.  I had first met her a few decades ago and was impressed with her efficiency and insightful thinking right from this first interaction.  She was with the HRD ministry of the Govt of India and had come visiting to Karnataka to launch one of her favorite women empowerment programs – Mahila Samakhya.  What left me changed was the manner in which she accepted the prevailing realities of gender imbalance and was making suggestions that were practical, embedded in the context and implementable on a large scale. Her fiery passion for improving the lot of women was only matched with her sense of pragmatism.

Her visit to our tribal school at Hosahalli when she was the head of the DPEP program in Karnataka is still fresh in my memory.  Her desire to know about all our educational experiments, her eye for detail and her constant questioning about the idea of the school’s architecture influencing the learning process was a learning exercise for all present.  My closest interaction with her was when she was the Director General of Administrative Training Institute (ATI) at Mysore.  It was during her time that this Institute along with the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) reached its peak.  The innovative programs and the impactful training sessions that she personally designed needed to be seen to be believed. One could scarcely believe that this was a Government Institution and the professionalism that every member of ATI and SIRD demonstrated was a tribute to her leadership. The next location where she left her deep imprint was in the Ministry of Planning in the Govt of Karnataka.  She tried hard to bring in evidence based policy making and rigorous program evaluations into the system but with limited success.

Every person who came in contact with her will remember her not just for her administrative brilliance but also for her humaneness, her constant concern for the common man, her instinctive ‘people-centric’ thinking and her stubbornness. Yes, she was stubbornly honest and unwilling to deviate even slightly from the path of the high standards of ethics and morality that she subscribed to.  She was also known to take thoughtful decisions, but once she had made them, would stubbornly resist changing it.  Another endearing quality of hers was the freedom that she gave everyone around her to argue and challenge her.  One could feel very comfortable criticizing her, knowing fully well that soon she would be her caring motherly self again.   Another dimension of her that people would hardly know was her concern for her aging in-law and mother.  She was always trying to be by their side and care for them during their old age and infirmity.

People like Anita Kaul come along very rarely.  Bureaucrats like her are rarer.  She set high standards not just for the IAS but for the entire development community. She was a unique combination of passion, compassion, integrity, hard work, discipline and concern for the last man on the street.  We will all miss you Madam, we pray to the Lord to give your family the strength to bear with the loss.  Let your soul rest in peace.


Categories: General, Musings

The Cauvery river water dispute and beyond…(1st part)

September 24, 2016 2 comments

The home office of the UK government has predicted that future migrations will be led not by economic reasons but by the availability of water and good weather.  Future wars have been predicted over water and its use. The recent dispute over the sharing the Cauvery waters is now clearly demonstrating that such events are no longer something that will happen in the distant future but issues that we will have to deal with, in the here and now.  The Cauvery water dispute has been simmering for over a century but we are yet to find a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution.  This issue is no longer one of mere water sharing or a farmer’s issue, but has evolved into an inter-state dispute, an expression of linguistic chauvinism and a tool for manipulative politicians.  Amidst all the noise and fire of burning vehicles, we seem to be losing sight of the larger issue of ‘water’ and how we are using it.

While it is genuinely emotional for many, I found that very few had a full understanding of what the complete issue was or the historicity of the dispute.  Trying to find a resolution without fully comprehending the problem will only leave the issue festering. The Cauvery basin is a system of rivers consisting of the Cauvery and its various tributaries such as the Hemavati, Kabini, Bhavani, Amaravati and others. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are the primary states in the Cauvery basin. However, a small part of the basin is in Kerala and, at the fag end of its course, the Cauvery delta includes Karaikal which is a part of the union territory of Puducherry. The crux of the Cauvery dispute is a conflict of interests between a lower riparian state (Tamil Nadu) which has a long tradition of irrigated agriculture by substantial utilisation of Cauvery waters, and an upstream state (Karnataka) which started late in irrigation development. However, Karnataka made rapid strides in irrigation facilities along with advantage of being an upper riparian  state which provides it with greater ability to control the flow of the river. Kerala (an upstream state with a modest demand for Cauvery waters) and Puducherry (the lowest riparian with a small demand) have subsequently become parties to this dispute.

The Cauvery water dispute has a long history and it goes back to the 19th century. The principal parties then were the Madras Presidency in British India and the princely state of Mysore. The dispute arose over objections raised by Madras to the new irrigation projects which the then Mysore government wanted to take up. The primary opposition was based on the ‘Doctrine of Prior Appropriation’ i.e., farmers from Madras were the first to use the waters of the Cauvery from the era of the Cholas, who had built an excellent irrigation system in the Thanjavur Delta, and had, therefore, acquired elementary rights over the Cauvery waters by prescription.  After prolonged wrangling and subsequent discussions, an agreement was signed in 1892 by the erstwhile Mysore State and the then Madras Presidency.

When Sir M. Visvesvaraya decided to build the Krishnaraja Sagar dam, the Govt of Madras was agitated over the size and the storing capacity of the K.R. Sagar reservoir and refused to give its consent to Mysore under the 1892 agreement. The dispute was then referred to arbitration for the final decision.  Sir H. D. Griffith, the arbitrator, gave an award in 1914 which was favourable to Mysore and the same had also been ratified by the British Government of India. The Madras government appealed to the Secretary of State for India. Eventually, the British Government prevailed upon Mysore for an amicable settlement with Madras and the agreement of 18 February 1924 was signed. Under the 1924 agreement, Mysore undertook not to build fresh irrigation projects either on the Cauvery river or its tributaries, without the prior consent of Madras. Madras also agreed not to refuse consent except to protect its prescriptive rights.  The 1924 agreement also provided for the review of certain clauses after 50 years i.e., in 1974, but the review did not take place nor was the agreement terminated or renewed.

A few years before 1974, the dispute over Cauvery flared up once again.  Mysore’s argument was that, according to clause XIV of the 1924 agreement, if the Tamil Nadu government built reservoirs on the Bhavani, the Amaravathi or the Noyal— the tributaries of the Cauvery in Tamil Nadu— Mysore would be entitled to construct offset storage reservoirs on the tributaries of the Cauvery within its jurisdiction. Tamil Nadu had already constructed reservoirs on both the Amaravathi and the Bhavani.  The Hemavathi reservoir’s potential, which  Mr Dharna Vira, the then Governor of Mysore ordered to be raised, was estimated to be 34 TMCF (thousand million cubic feet). Some leaders of Mysore also made a case for four more projects of the Kambadakadi, the Yagachi, the Lakshmana Thirtha and the Sagab Doddakere which together was supposed to create a potential of 10 TMCF. When added to 34 TMCF of the Hemavathi, it would have been 44 TMCF. They argued that if every TMCF of water upto 45 TMCF was not impounded before 1974, the control of Mysore on the water would be permanently lost.

We now need to see the dispute from the context of the realities that had changed by this time. Karnataka (Mysore) was no longer a native state under the British but stood on equal footing with Tamil Nadu (Madras). The re-organization of states brought about enormous changes in the territories of both the States which changed the equation of the riparian areas. Kodagu — which was not a party to the 1924 agreement— became a part of Mysore besides being the birthplace of the Cauvery. And Kerala— which was not a party to the 1924 agreement— became a party to the dispute.  Whether the 1892 and 1924 agreements continued in force and bound Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as successor states to the old Madras Presidency and Mysore state was also a point of contentions between the states.

In July 1986, Tamil Nadu made a formal proposal to the Central Government under the Interstate Water Disputes Act (ISWD Act) 1956 to set up a tribunal and resolve the dispute. However, the Rajiv Gandhi-led Central government dithered on setting up a tribunal and continued to favour a policy of negotiated settlement. Finally, during a hearing on a petition by few farmers’ association of Tamil Nadu to the Supreme Court (SC) of India, seeking an assurance of irrigation water from the Cauvery, the Apex Court instructed the central government to establish a tribunal within 30 days. In agreement with the SC Order, the government of India established the Cauvery Water Tribunal on 2 June 1990.  In 1991, an interim order was passed by the Tribunal in response to a plea by Tamil Nadu that since the adjudication process would be time-consuming, there was a need for some assured availability of water for irrigation in the Cauvery basin in the state. The Interim order directed that Karnataka should ensure an annual release of 205 TMCF of Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu (of which six TMCF should go to Puducherry). The Tribunal also laid down a detailed monthly schedule of releases.

In its final order that the Tribunal issued, it proceeded on the basis of an annual availability of 740 TMCF in the Cauvery on a “50 percent dependability” basis and made an allocation as follows
Tamil Nadu 419 TMCF
Karnataka 270 TMCF
Kerala 30 TMCF
Puducherry TMCF

Out of 14 TMCF left, 10 was meant for “environmental protection” and four was factored in for the “the inevitable escapages into the sea.” For years of low rainfall, the Tribunal envisaged a proportionate adjustment of the allocations. The Tribunal also recommended the establishment of a Cauvery Management Board to monitor the monthly schedules and act as a “regulatory authority”.

The present position of both the states is, to a large extent, rooted in their refusal to give up burdens of the past that they carry. Tamil Nadu revels in nostalgic imagery of an agro-civilization that flourished on the intricately complex irrigation network build by the Chola empire, and the historic head start it enjoyed on the use of Cauvery water. An emotional feeling driven by a sense of vulnerability, that it is in the mercy of Karnataka for irrigation needs, drives its often hawkish position in negotiation. Karnataka, on the other hand, feels that 1924 agreement was an unjust one forced on a weak Mysore state. It has steadfastly refused to accept the basic principle of riparian law and continues to hold a tacit position that points to the primacy of upper riparian state. Karnataka is also of the view that the explosive growth of Bengaluru into a metropolis and its ever growing water needs have not been factored in by the authorities

One of India’s foremost water policy experts, the late Ramaswamy R. Iyer suggested the following: “As for Karnataka, what is important is not the allocation of 270 tmcft to it but the fact that it has to release 192 TMCF to Tamil Nadu. In most years, the flow from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu will be higher than that figure. It is only in a year of low rainfall that difficulties may be experienced. In other words, even the release of 192 tmcft (which was earlier described as of operational significance) really means nothing in a normal year: the crucial point – and this is what has been causing all the trouble – is the sharing of water in a distress year. Here the Tribunal has offered no formula but has stated the principle of proportionate adjustment and has left the detailed management of this to the proposed Cauvery Management Board and its committees.”

One fails to understand the logic or the basis on which the Supreme court has based its recent order of releasing water while Karnataka itself is in a distress situation.  While we do seem to lack both the political and legal leadership with the vision to articulate the needs and the present situation scientifically and rationally, the citizens need to think thru alternate means of putting the demands across and clear strategies for comprehensive water use.  What the state of Karnataka needs to immediately demand is a clear and practical formula to arrive at an understanding on how water will be shared in distress years. Each state projects a figure based on what it thinks it needs and the sum of those figures far exceeds the availability of water in the river itself.  Keeping aside the emotions, the people of both states have to realize that it is bad water management and politics that has been keeping a permanent solution at bay.  Both states seem to lack mature and statesmanly political leadership with the vision to see beyond the Cauvery river.  Water management is not just about storing or releasing water.  It is not about rhetoric but doing the hard adaptive work of getting to realize that each of us have a role to play in this.

What can be specifically done to alleviate the water crisis?….to be continued in the next article
– Balu

Categories: General, Musings