Saturday, September 25, 2010

Suggestions for Risk Reduction

I traveled a lot into the Sunderbans and in Paschim Medinipur, one of the most backward districts in West Bengal (currently known for notorious attacks by the left wing extremists, known as Maoists). In my travels I found two of the benefits intended to help the poor have not done good. I wish someone takes note of them: a) Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister's Rural Roads Scheme). This is supposed to help the backward villages to get connected through a metal road with the nearest State or National Highway, so that they can be linked, and receive benefits of transportation and communication. While working on the Chaulkuri plan in West Medinipur, people said that the contractors do not want to do the road work because carrying cost is so high that they do not benefit in any way. I realized it badly while visiting villages in Sunderbans, where the roads are mostly brick-laid, or just mud roads, although the villages are densely populated. There is a need to review the "per kilometer" cost approved within the scheme. b) My second observation, which I had indeed observed long ago, and I begin to feel the difficulty of the people as I work more and more in the deep villages of the Sunderbans is to revamp the Rural Ambulance Scheme. According to the project, an ambulance jeep is provided to the local primary health center or to a non-profit organization, either from the government directly or through Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), so that the jeep can be used for transportation of persons in serious illness or emergency for medical care. But, the people in Sunderbans are living in islands. There are hardly any roads, and even the brick-laid roads are just about 2 meters wide. Secondly, most islands do not have hospitals! So, how to transport these people? By a jeep? What these people need is high speed good boat ambulances that can take them from one island to another, or to the main land for emergency care and services. May be I should start acquiring one or two and show how it can be used. Any one listening? (I had the experience of driving a speed boat around Tapps island, in WA.... Ha... I saw so many speed boats there. I should steal a few! Ha...ha...ha...)

Planning for a Village

Part of August and a large portion of September: I spent time in Sabang block of Paschim Medinipur district. UNICEF asked me to help the local panchayat to help them plan for development and disaster risk reduction. While working in Raiganj I have seen how my staff used to be involved in preparing some disaster related plan. Some of them were accepted by the local government (called panchayat), and some were not. Often those were "0" budget plans, which did not involve any financial commitment from the local government. But, now, I am making a very detailed plan running into its 30th page already, with lots of data. Hah...talking of pages! Do not be afraid. It is all in simple boxes covering tens of subjects within seven major category. (I can not share the plan now with anyone, as this plan is to be accepted by the government at the local level and at the Block.) The acceptance of the plan would mean, the government is willing to act on the plan. I am really happy with the way it has come about. Soon, it should be ready: with some GIS maps, beautiful graphics, and excellent suggestions for development. Thanks to all of you for waiting so patiently!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I believe, it was some time in the year 2003, there was a big noise in Raiganj and its surroundings about a sadhu coming down from the Himalayas, and going around the cities and country side in India. And then one day, while I was on my motorcycle, I found a great crowd of about 600 – 700 people following a naked man who had his hair flowing, walking stiff, with only a small trishul in his hand. There was a group of police men surrounding him, with another lot of police following on two vehicles. This is a man who had forgotten everything, and had no botheration about his nakedness being known to the world. He is Buddha, in a sense. But did he need so much of protection, if he had left everything? I wonder. Now, contrast this with what I saw on 14 Aug 2010 morning, the eve of Indian independence day. I was rushing in and out of Howrah railway station to look for a local train to go a little known village called Chaulakuri, in Sabang block of Paschim Medinipur district. I was on a mission, as UNICEF has requested me to support their partner non-profit organization to help them develop a detailed village disaster management plan. As I was getting out of one gate of the station to go to another gate of the station, I saw a plainclothesman was beating a young man who was naked, just a skeleton covered with skin, barely in his twenties, crumbling, and trying to hide his nakedness on the floor against a wall! It was so pathetic to see that the plainclothesman was beating him, and trying to push him out. I had nothing with me. I opened my briefcase, took the simple towel I had, and threw it on the man. I had to rush to catch the train! The people waited there. And here is a man who needs attention. In a dilemma, all that I could do was just that. To hide his shamelessness.

But why was the policeman in plain clothes beating him up? I could never answer this to myself. May be he should have walked with a sign of religion in his hand….and walked straight with a garland on his neck!

Our country is full of hypocrisy. And religion and authority have grown to support it.