A 15-day sojourn

– ICICI Fellow Akshay Nikam (Batch 2010-12)

I entered my hotel room on the morning of 1st Feb 2013 only to find out that my stay was arranged with 2 other mates Mr. Muhammad Helal, a native of Bangladesh working in its Education Ministry and Mr. Baswant from Pune working for CEE (Centre for Environment and Education, an autonomous body under the GOI).

We gathered to spend the next 15 days as a group to attend a CSE (Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi) bootcamp titled “Bootcamp: Where environment meets journalism”.

Not going through all the details, I will briefly touch upon the important learning’s we had and the eye opening facts we came to know:

  • We were shown a documentary made by CSE titled “Faecal Attraction” that showed the status of wastewater treatment in Delhi – the problems with illegal shanties and legal buildings sprung up outside of Delhi. We were shocked to know that only 40-50% of the wastewater gets treated the rest is dumped as it is into the Yamuna River. We saw firsthand the dire condition of the Yamuna and the decay of river eco systems.Image
  •   We visited some villages of Jaipur and Alwar districts such as Laporiya, Neemi, Thanagazi and Mandalwas to see the excellent work done on water harvesting by the communities themselves with the help of local NGO’s like Tarun Bharat Sangh and GVNML (Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal Laporiya). This was done through building anicuts (you can say nano dams) and Chaukas (Rectangle) where in a pit like structure is dug normally 20*5*2 feet to make the water stay in these pits which later gets percolated in the land increasing the groundwater level and moisture content of the soil. They had also kept a separate land and water body for the wild animals and local flora to flourish where no person from the village was allowed to enter.
  •  We visited the Jal Mahal in Jaipur. In 2004 the state govt decided to revive the lake and its palace under a PPP partnership. Thereby tender was floated and it was won by Kothari builders of Jaipur. The contract was that 40 acres of land next to the lake would be given for development of commercial activities to the builders for a 99 year lease period whereby the builder had to deposit Rs. 2.52 crore each year as a lease fee to the state govt with a built in 10% increase. The objective was to have a secure funding for restoring the lake and the palace to its previous pristine beauty and maintaining it. The Kothari builders did a fantastic job of cleaning the lake and restoring the palace. But when they wanted to develop the 40 ha of land some “so called social activists” filed a PIL against the builders calling the whole process rigged. Thereby the court has put a stay on the development work and the fate of Jal Mahal is still hanging in limbo.

  • Image

  • After getting a glimpse of the urban and rural eco systems now it was the turn of forests. We thus visited Sariska Tiger reserve in Rajasthan. The intention was to understand the forest eco systems especially the status of the villagers who were moved out of the forests. We saw core 1, 2 and 3 areas (these are based on eco system sensitivity) and some mind boggling flora and fauna. Some of the birds that we saw included Kingfisher, Pintail, Rudy shaleduck, Dabchick, common pochard, coot etc. Local trees that we identified were Peepal, Neem, Jamun, Arjun, Khejadi, Belpathi, Reetha etc.

All I can say is that this trip was one of the most memorable journeys of my life and I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to CSE for selecting me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“All one needs is the will to do”

– IFD Akanksha Srivastava (Batch 2012-13)

I work with Sahabhagi Vikas Abhiyan (SVA), a leading NGO in Odisha on the issue of Natural Farming and its promotion among  small and marginal farmers.

SVA has a sister organisation called “Banbasi Sangh”, which manages the co-operative bank  in the nearby villages. The co-operative bank is called “Matru Shakti Swayam Sahayak Sangh”. It has been operating for the past eight years and serves about three thousand households, spanning sixty villages. The bank focuses on mobilizing women and has about 80% women as employees and board members. I was recently invited to attend the annual meeting of the bank and the account holders.. I was supposed to go with some board members to the village in a Bolero.

As we started, about eight of us sat in the vehicle. I was told that some more women would join us on the way. We first success_willpower-quotesstopped after 2 Kms to pick up one member, and then again after another kilometer to pick up two more members and subsequently every few kilometres thereafter, more joined in and it never stopped. Some of these women, were also getting their children along. Eventually, when the driver declared that the vehicle was full and he couldn’t accommodate any more; there were twenty women, six children and a driver in this nine-seater vehicle. Every one accommodated others with such ease and whenever the door opened for any woman to board, the others greeted her with a smile and welcomed her to join in. No one complained about any space crunch and on the contrary talked, laughed and cracked jokes throughout the journey. I sat in the centre, on top of another lady and since I was the stranger there, most of the questions were fired at me from all directions. They were all eager to know my experience, whether I had travelled like this before and whether I liked their company or not. They included me in their ‘gang’ and translated most of their jokes in Oriya for me. It was such a delight to “adjust” with them, within the closed doors of a car.

After we reached, the meeting commenced. It was held in an open space with two huge bed sheet like covers used for shade. Many women, old and young and some with their toddlers had come from far away villages on foot to attend the meeting. They had hoped to learn something new and interesting that would help them save more money. Many members and officials spoke about the functioning and the accountability of the bank, others spoke about the necessity of savings and some about the new schemes that the bank was about to bring in. The meeting lasted for about two hours and all these women sat patiently, under the hot sun, to listen to every speaker. At the end, as the crowd dispersed, although no money or food was given to these ladies as an incentive; they still happily walked back to their homes with enhanced knowledge about their money and savings.

What inspired me throughout the day was the simple nature of all these women. They are apt at adjusting with problems and finding simple solutions. We in the cities, have moulded ourselves into over-complicating things and the slightest of discomfort becomes a bloated issue for us. Walking for miles together  just to gain a little bit of knowledge and collectively respond to issues, seems to be a farfetched possibility among urban women. These simple women inspired me to unlearn a lot of things that day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Needs v/s wants : An eye opener

–  IFD Adarsh Bhat (Batch 2012-13)

An incident that inspired me was a visit to one of the villages to facilitate PRA activities. As we were going about the exercises, the boys with China-made mobile phone blasting Hindi movie hits from the 90’s came forward and asked us how these activities were going to help them increase their income and other questions along the same line. We came up with answers for those. Then a young woman dressed in traditional one-piece sari, baby hanging off her body in a make-shift bath towel hammock, came forward to participate. Among other questions, we asked her about her annual income. She answered “Some 5000-7000 rupees.”

But it was the expression on her face that caught my attention. It was one that clearly suggested that the money really had no value in her life. She could very well do without the concept of money at all.  Later Imageon, we said that the PRA will help her see the shortcomings that exist in her society and help her improve her income and lead a better life. She had something to say.

She said in Odiya “What will I do with more money? I go collect “katho” (firewood) from the forest; we also have fruits that we get from the forest. Pumpkin grows on the climber that runs on my roof, along with other vegetables in my yard. We also have quite a few hens that will lay eggs. We get rice from our farm and sugar from the PDS shop within my 5000 rupees. My son takes the goats and cattle to graze. And I wear flowers in my hair every day from Budri’s(neighbour) garden.”

This was an inspiring moment for me because it clearly told me that I have given value to the wrong things in life. We have given money so much value, far ahead of the basic things in life. Her life was so simple and yet she was completely content with everything. One might argue saying, she hasn’t seen the world, and thus she is like a frog in the well. But I would like to ask, “Does she really need to?”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ten policies that will transform India, not in our lifetime but within the next few years- Part II

Written by :  IFD Rohan Singh (Batch 2012-13)

On Education and Innovation:

  • There are Five lakh technology students in the country, each one of them does a project but nobody knows what happens to these projects. If we create an innovation relay or kho kho, then one project developed in one college mImageay be taken forward in another, and another, till it becomes a product. Neither the problems of small sector and the informal sector are posed to the students nor do they get a chance to work with the grassroots innovators. We should connect them, mentor them, and support them. If just one per cent of the projects solved the real life problems partially or completely, we would solve at least 5000 problems per year. We need to give feed forward to them from SSIs and other social sectors. At the same, their ideas can and should go in cases where applicable, to market. We will eliminate project-writing industry, put premium on originality, and in the process create/reinforce a culture of creativity, collaboration, and compassion. Department of Information Technology, Media Lab Asia and Knowledge (C)omission may ignore it for present  but then time of such an idea has come and already a few vice chancellors of a few universities have agreed to take it forward. A few hundred projects have already been pooled through volunteer students from various IITs who have worked with me on this in past. If we allow our young minds to get satisfied with anything that is not original, innovative and creative then, all their life they would have the tendency of being satisfied too early with too little. They will also not develop sensitivity towards problems unsolved around them, in their own discipline and profession.
  • There are about 172 districts in India where the writ of the sovereign nation does not completely run. Various kinds of ultra left activists have taken upon themselves the responsibility of dispersing justice and maintaining order. Despite the fact, that violence can never achieve solution to any problem, the violence by state will also be counter –productive. Can we have an innovation insurgent programme so that having betrayed the poor people in terms of Jal, Jungle and Jamin in the fight on Jankari, i.e., knowledge rights, we don’t let them suffer. National Knowledge   (C)ommission is disengaged from the minds of majority. History will judge the morality of this disengagement.
  • In primary education, Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand started a similar search for innovations, by primary school teachers without support from the state. There is no doubt that in education, a similar transformation will take place. The only problem is Imagethat many of these solutions don’t need much money but require time. Recently, the postal department has requested IIM-A to help them develop an innovation reward system. Their first suggestion to them was to make each postman a scout for creative ideas. Imagine a map of the creative minds of this country once made and renewed every year will forever remove the stigma on inertia and conservatism on common people for all the time. At the same time, a culture of initiative, innovation, sharing and creating a common good at local level will also be institutionalized. 
  • National Innovation Foundation has pooled more than 70000 innovations and traditional knowledge practices from over 500 districts beginning with about 12000 in February 2000. How many of these innovations are known to the children in schools or colleges? How many are being tried or tested in farmers’ fields or artisanal workshops. A large number of these are open source, though for some patents have been filed and obtained in India, US and elsewhere. How can science and technology, education, culture and other developmental departments engage with creative people in the informal sector and turn around the mood of the society? The bridge between the formal and informal science is beginning to deliver results (partnership between NIF with ICMR and CSIR has delivered some useful results already). Nevertheless, a lot more remains to be done. Why should it not be mandatory for every publicly funded educational institution to engage with an informal knowledge sector of the country so that all taxpayers get their due? Since indirect taxes are regressive and they generate more revenue for the government, poorer people pay more taxes than the rich do. In addition, it will also give educational institutions to learn from the economic ‘have-nots’ and knowledge ‘haves’. 
  • Deviant research triggers lateral thinking and tangential pursuits. Can we create ten per cent allocation in every scheme for those who find problems with the existing rules coming in the way to serve larger society? We also provide incentives to reduce unit cost in every sector and try approaches radically different from what is current dogma, or ‘truth’. Pursuit of dissent, deviance, and diversity will provide a model for sustainable development. Any other mirage is misplaced. 
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ten policies that will transform India, not in our lifetime but within the next few years

Written by :  IFD Rohan Singh (Batch 2012-13)



On Government schemes and policies:

  • Recasting the employment guarantee programme structure; not just providing menial jobs. Why should 250 million people for 100 days be engaged in only menial jobs? Does not each poor person also possess knowledge? How can we build upon his knowledge about local resources, map knowledge and resources? We can definitely attempt to pool the best practices, develop products/services, market them, and create at least 25 million contemporary innovations, traditional knowledge, and skill-based entrepreneurs. Within ten years, we should not need an employment guarantee programme. Young volunteers in colleges will help in mapping the resources and knowledge with the help of these knowledge rich –economically poor people. In place of NSS ( now almost defunct), we should try to bring in National Innovation Service ( NIS) which will be  mandated to engage with 250 million poor in urban and rural areas, workers, mechanics, farm labourers and farmers,  crafts people and cultural artists.
  • Not even one percent of the savings of the micro finance groups are spent on the purchase of the product made by them. A lot of research has been done on verticals, it is time that we start doing research on horizontal markets. While I do realize the need for us to allocate part of our purchasing power for the products made by poor people (through verticals), there is a need for similar allocation among the poor people as well. Food processing is one area where traditional foods can create tremendous environmental, health and nutritional advantage. The food that rich people take is often poor and some of the food poor people consume is actually rich. Can we create demand for such foods and give impetus for creativity, conservation, and healthy consumption?

On Culture and Art:

  • There are so many renderings of Ramayana or for that matter other folktales, songs, and plays in local language for which market exists. People will listen free for 25 sec or more and then if they download, the money say, one rupee per local song will go to the artists’ account. Enrichment of cultural landscape, creation of markets for folk cultural artists and conservation and augmentation of diversity will be some of the outcomes. We need to design a portal of creative cultures in India. A large number of knowledge and culturally rich, economically poor people whose cultural skills and repertoire can enrich our life, and provide income transfer from our pocket to their pockets.

On National & International space: 

  • Grassroots to Global:  Can India take the leadership in providing low cost affordable solutions to the developing countries and provide a new model of benevolent super-power mindset. Western solutions are costly and often inappropriate. Chinese solutions are low cost but often mass manufactured within China, and therefore they meet affordability criteria but do not generate local manufacturing and entrepreneurship opportunities. India has to develop an alternative vision of providing open source solutions as a part of its diplomatic policy after compensating the creative people (through technology acquisition funds), create investment SPV (special purpose vehicle) which will invest in the small ventures in the developing countries and generate local jobs. As the income increases, it is likely that the second order needs so arising might be met by Indian companies/products and services. This will not only provide linkage between innovation, investment, and enterprise within the country, but also internationally. NIF has marketed grassroots innovation based products to all the six continents. A new model of Globalization is on the anvil.
  • Markets seldom monitor the misery. The state tries to mask it. It is the civil society and social movements, which articulate it. Every protest, whether creative or destructive is a signal of a need not met. We have to make our antenna more samvedansheel. How can we use the energy underlying in social protest movements; harness it to generate feedback and responses from the state? If we track such movements and create a national portal on social protests, we will institutionalize opportunity to learn from social dissatisfaction. No other country will do it. State will get a chance to share its response on every such response. The centralization of arena of protest will be reversed. Dissent is the salt of civic life. India alone can do it.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sofa-set sentimentalists

“Armchair critics”, “armchair experts,” these words get thrashed around a lot on people who just sit and speak about issues. Funnily, the only thing true about these terms is the “armchair,” that too may be substituted in many cases with a couch, bean bag or office-chair. Not everybody who complains is an expert or a critic. It is chiefly that they have felt something and they are expressing it. This expression could be critical in nature, suggestive, or simply negative. In essence, however, whatever opinion is voiced, it comes out of an emotion towards that particular topic, and hence the term that I chose, “sentimentalists.” All of us have been in those situations.

Cricket matches, sordid cineAccountability displays responsibilitymas, off-key music shows, and the mother-of-them-all the news debates. We spew commentary and criticism, exasperation and elation with the bleak ray of hope that somewhere, somehow these decision-makers will latch on to our freewheeling thoughts! How? Do not ask. Which leads me to the topic of this post- are we just that in essence? A sofa-set sentimentalist? An individual who too sees a soul mate in the news anchor screaming, “the nation is outraged. The nation demands an answer”?

I strongly believe not. Our daily activities may have little involvement in the democratic set up, but our right to vote, changes the equation on accountability. When there is a sense of outrage or pity or helplessness, all we need to do is clutch this pillar of right and seek to stand upright in immoral times. These drama-debates have played in the background of my dining room at home, in the common room of my hostel and at tea-stalls and remote bus stands. When we are aware that the media binds us and compels a majority of us to take note of an issue, why do we just go on an emotional outpouring? I have been in these situations myself, but when a question repeatedly torments you, you seek an answer for it. With that knowledge, we must evolve to do more than “like” a Faceboook page, sign an online petition or simply march sloganeering. I do not dismiss these acts of solidarity and opinion gathering. My suggestion, however, is to act upon the answer. Walk towards a participatory democracy armed with the rights of a citizen.

After much thought, I found truth and solace in the management principle that every responsibility must be backed by accountability for effective functioning of any system. We know that those Elected are responsible to run the nation and while we demand accountability from them for their actions, we choose to ignore the elephant sitting in our living room. We do not apply the same standards to ourselves. We too have responsibilities as Electors.  What accountability do we display? I have now understood that if the Elector displays responsibility, the elected displays accountability. And here is how!

 A leader sitting miles away is not going to hear our outcry. We can, however, in subtle and powerful ways remind them that WE ARE WATCHING. All we need to do is simply become aware of what is happening to us on a micro level. Once we are micro-empowered, tackling macro issues become a collective responsibility. If you belong to an urban area, find out who the corporator is, attend the ward sabhas regularly, and voice your grievance there and not just to your relatives over dinner. If the electorate belongs to a Gram Panchayat, then meet the ward Panch, Sarpanch or Block Development Officer and register complaints or suggestions at Gram Sabha meetings. It is important that these interactions are in a written form and not just vocal, to prove as evidence for future dealings.

This is the foundation level of participatory democracy. Going one step ahead, find out who the MLA is, what the MLA has done with the MLA Local Area Development Scheme (LADS) funds. This information is easily available on many websites including ones like www.adrindia.org, www.prsindia.org and www.governancenow.com . In absence of satisfying searches online, a Right To Information appeal can always be filed to know these details. How to file an RTI is elucidated here (www.rti.gov.in). The same questions and processes can be applied on a macro level for a Member of Parliament, the MPLADS, etc. As an elector demanding accountability, it is however foolish if we stop at this level. The real task comes at the time of voting. It is not an informed decision when you make a choice without adequate information about all the candidates in the fray. Go ahead and learn about them.

–          What is their name? What did they do?

–          Ensure that criminal records are not even a few.

–          Bank accounts and assets- how much do they hold?

–          Understand their manifesto, not what you are told.

These simple processes are much more fulfilling and satisfying than simply adding one’s name to a long-list of equally unknown signatories demanding an amendment in the constitution. We, at least a lot of friends and I, have in the past clicked one link after another just finding friends on a network. Why is it not possible then to spend just the same amount of time and clicks to find out who is running the country, the state, the constituency? Once the knowledge is acquired, speak to friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, substantiate your opinions, criticisms, and complaints with the facts of democracy. If you are a sentimentalist, build a community of near and dear ones, and disseminate the knowledge. You will know if you share the sentiments of a country soon enough. Let not the media tell you that. We can choose to be proactive than reactive. Responsible and hence, accounted to. WE can show that we are responsible for the state of our roads, our power supply, our water, and our nation. The Elected have no choice but to then follow the voice of the empowered.

If you are a sentimentalist, be proud of it, but get away from that sofa. Being a sentimentalist is much more constructive than being indifferent, because it shows that you care about the state of affairs. Now, just enable yourself to do something about it. The nation need not be outraged. However, the nation can sure demand an answer.

PS: My thoughts on this issue have been greatly shaped by my exposure to democracy and its processes at the Panchayat levels. Many RTIs and Gram Sabhas later, I am beginning to understand how even a city-zen can spruce up the efficiency of an uncaring government.

Knowledge is power indeed. Knowledge is empowering, indeed.

Written by: IFD Yashaswini KS (Batch 2012-2013)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment