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Water – whose business is it anyway?

April 10, 2017 6 comments

Last week on my early morning walk, I could not resist the temptation of walking up to a middle-aged woman washing the entrance to her house. She seemed to be oblivious to any concerns of water scarcity and was pouring large quantities of precious fresh water onto the concrete walkway leading to her house.  She also seemed unconcerned by the overflowing bucket she had kept under the tap from which she was drawing the water. I succumbed to the activist in me and I asked her if she could avoid wasting so much water.  And bang came her reply… ‘Who was I to even come up to her so early in the morning and give her this unsolicited advice?  Why was I not minding my own business?  And finally, she chided me saying that it was her family which paid the water bills and it should be no concern of mine if she wasted the water or saved it’.  My mind could not stop comparing this to an earlier sight that I saw of large water tankers supplying water to households in another residential of the city a few weeks ago.  I stopped to talk to a driver of the truck who mentioned to me that he was bringing the water from a tube well on the H.D. Kote road and that he made at least 8-10 trips each day.  His concern was that the bore-well was running out of water with the advancing summer and this would affect his daily business.  Another friend who hardly notices the weather was now joyously proclaiming how happy he was sitting out on his balcony at 11 in the night a few days ago watching the skies open up and the rains come pouring down.

While what I mention seems to be an everyday occurrence for most of us, it is painful that very few understand the challenging circumstances in which we are all living.  Our reservoirs are going dry, inter-state river disputes are on the rise, our forests are burning down or are chopped up by the timber mafia, the little water we have is wastefully used, and all the warning signs that nature is sending out is blissfully ignored.  And our Governments are busy not thinking through long term solutions but are satisfied with fighting for funds for drought relief and sinking more and more tube-wells which seem to go deeper every year. In fact, one officer confided in me that drought relief is good to have every year for some of our bureaucrats and politicians.  For, after all who keeps track of the tons of desilting that is done or the watershed projects that are undertaken or the millions of trees that are supposed to be planted year after year.

With fresh water sources being less than 2% of the water available on our planet, can something be done to ensure that we have enough of it to go around and sustain life too.  And who should we hold responsible for mitigating the crisis that we have brought on ourselves.  This problem which seems insurmountable is not so difficult to tackle if we take earnest steps right away. The time to solve the crisis is now and the people to solve them are each one of us.  As a starter, we can all resolve not to use fresh water for cleaning our pavements and courtyards; have a bath from water in the bucket rather than take a shower; ensure all our taps are properly shut and are not dripping; use little or no water to clean our cars; to put up rain water harvesting structures in our homes; and to plant, protect and nurture at least 2 saplings around our house.  The Government also cannot be allowed to go unaccountable for what it is doing or not doing. We need to make sure that the forest department is held accountable not just for raising nurseries or planting trees but are measured by the 5-year survival rate of the trees that they plant. The bureaucrats and politicians need to come up with comprehensive policies that address multiple dimensions of the environment like increasing the green cover, protecting our water bodies, controlling pollution, managing waste, regulating sand mining, protecting our forests and controlling human-forest interactions.  They need to address the challenge of balancing the use of water for human & domestic consumption, agriculture & irrigation, power generation and industrial use.  More importantly the Government needs to think out of the box and explore possibilities of putting up desalination plants, setting up of recycling units for water re-usage and running campaigns for changing human behaviors, especially of people living in urban areas.  Finally, we need to remember that this battle cannot be fought alone.  No one individual or agency can do enough on their own. What we need is a concerted effort from an ecologically sensitive government, conscientious industries and a well informed and participatory citizenry.  Together, we can not only ensure we have enough water resources for ourselves but also for our future generations.  Let us start acting now!

– Balu

Read this article which appeared in the Star of Mysore on Wed, 12th April 2017  here:Water...SOM article

Categories: General, Musings

The transformation of Chikkaputti

April 5, 2017 7 comments

Many years ago, I ran chasing young Manjula (whom I used to fondly call Chikkaputti), a 7-year-old Jenukuruba tribal girl. She was determined to escape being caught and was trying her desperate best to avoid coming to our school.  Not someone who would give up easily, I went after her as she took flight into the forest by jumping over the shallow trench separating the school form the neighbouring Bandipur National Park. After 15 minutes of this cat and mouse game, Chikkaputti finally decided that she had troubled me enough and allowed herself to be caught and brought back to the school. I still vividly remember the many times we enacted this drama that would leave me bleeding from the many scratches and bruises that the local shrubs left me with.  Chikkaputti did go on to finish her schooling and outdid herself.  She was one of the first Jenukuruba (considered a Primitive and Vulnerable Tribal Group in India) persons to complete her 10th standard and was a natural artist.  She could paint and sketch astounding images, all from her memory. She decided to put on hold her studies for a few years and asked to work in our own school as a teacher.  I still remember her trying to convince me why it was important for her to work now rather than go on and study.  She wanted to take care of her single mother and her family and also save some money for her future educational needs.  After a few years, she wanted to study and we got her into a good art school in Mysore.  Dr Vasantha, one of SVYM’s friend and well-wisher agreed to play host and asked Chikkaputti to stay with her during her studies.  Chikkaputti not only went to acquire a professional qualification in art and painting but also did very well in her final exams at the state level.

Unlike many of her contemporaries who still sought the support and network of SVYM to find jobs, Chikkaputti went on to find a job as a teacher in a school in Mysuru city.  She also married a person of her choice and settled down in Mysuru itself.  It was a few days ago that she called me asking me for help. I was happy to learn that she now had 2 little children and was keen on getting her first child aged 6 years admitted to a good school in Mysuru.  Here was this young woman lecturing me on the importance of education and what a good school would mean to her child.  When I asked her to use the RTE and apply to neighborhood schools for free education, her spontaneous response was that she did not need any support or subsidy for her children and could afford to send them to school on her own. What a long way she had come indeed from her life as a rebellious young girl wanting to avoid school at any cost to finding a good school for her children, whatever the price it entailed. As I sat reflecting on her and how she had shaped her life, I was left wondering what had actually changed – was it her social and economic mobility that had changed her focus towards schooling and education? Or was it the peer pressure of her neighbors and friends who all lived in Mysore and for whom schooling was a natural step in the phase of growing up.  Or was she seeking a sense of security for her children that schooling usually brings along. Whatever the reasons may be, Chikkaputti is part of the new India that is rising.  She belongs to a generation that is no longer satisfied with the status quo and are constantly seeking to better their lives.  All people like her need are opportunities and not doles that the state thinks the poor and marginalized need.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore dated 24 05 17

Transf of Chikkaputti

Radio interview

April 2, 2017 Comments off

A friend sent me the link of this radio interview that I had given many years ago to Ms Indu Ramesh, a senior radio journalist, friend and well wisher.

Radio Interview given to Ms Indu Ramesh

-Balu

Categories: General, Musings

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

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

anita_kaul

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.

-Balu

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