Saturday, December 31, 2011

WANTED: Doctors for Rural Outreach from Your Desktop

CKS is planning to start a rural outreach program using electronic media for medical consultancy in 12 villages initially. The plan is to reach out to the under-served communities of 12 very poor rural areas by bringing doctors closer to them using modern technology and on-line connectivity. Importantly the doctors need not move from their desktops, and they can do this service on a voluntary basis, without any remuneration, by sitting in front of their internet connected computers. All that we require from the doctors is a weekly two hours of committed time for a poor village, and CKS will take care of bringing the patients "on-line" for the doctors. Minor ailments can be consulted upon and answered by the doctor, and the major sicknesses will be referred to for further medical observation or visit to a physician.

Any doctor interested in and willing to support this initiative may write to us at We would be happy to get in touch with you and explain to you the process. Once again, note that all that is required of a doctor is just two hours from the doctor's heavy schedule once in a week. That's all that can make a difference


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Marketing the Disabled

Since there is a large fair in Bolpur on the occasion of Christmas,known locally as "Poush Mela", I went to see the fair. It was pretty large and well managed. As I was walking in, due to the crowd that was jostling from every side, I was looking ahead and walked, trying to avoid as much of pushing as possible. Suddenly I tumbled on something, and I almost fell over. When I looked back, I was shocked. There was a woman, on a wooden bed of about 1.5 ft wide, 4 ft long and about 1 ft high. The lady had just two limbs. Soon, as I walked around the fair, I saw at least three more persons, with one or two limbs missing in similar "beds" just in the middle of people's way. Certainly they could not have come there by themselves. So who brought them in? I began to ponder! And who is gaining out of bringing them in and taking them out? Something is really messy there, in this land of Rabindranath Tagore, just within the university complex started by the national poet. It is shame that people are marketing disability instead of giving dignity to these people. Someone should take action against this sheer shameless marketing of people's disability. This is nothing less than generating a beggary market. Hope the Chairman of Bolpur Municipality, the law enforcement authorities and the University administration is listening. And before we end, being the eve of Christmas let me wish everyone  
Very Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whose child is it, anyway?

On 20 Dec evening I went to a fast food restaurant that is close to CKS office for picking couple of parathas for dinner. I have visited this place several times. But that day I saw a young lad of about 12 years old doing odd jobs at the restaurant. The social worker in me woke up. Usually I do not eat in places where they employ children. Since I had already given order for the food, I took the opportunity to educate the manager of the restaurant. As the discussion went on one more gentleman to joined towards the end. The discussion went this way: Puthumai: Sir, may I speak to you something? Manager: Yes Puthumai: It is about the little lad working here. Manager: (agitatedly) So, what? Puthumai: The boy looks too small to work in the restaurant. You know that no child below 14 years is allowed to work in any commercial or domestic establishment in India? Manager: (angrier now) So, what do you want me to do now? Shall I send him away? Then he will go around stealing things. He will start snatching from people's necks (gold chains). He will come and steal from your house! Why don't you take him to your house, feed him, clothe him and educate him. I have no problem! Puthumai: (changes the strategy) No, my point is not that you are doing something wrong. I wish to tell you that in case of a raid you could be caught for employing a child! Manager: Ha... I know all the officers. They come here. They sit and eat out here. The Food Officer once asked about a boy I had employed. I told him I shall meet him at his home. And I took the boy to him and I told him to keep the boy, feed him and educate him. That's it! Will he? No! He just let me go! Puthumai: I see! Where does this boy hail from? Manager: (with a softened tone) He is a tribal boy. Look, his father had three children. And he has left them, and is living with another woman. What will these children do? Start stealing? This boy was working with me for a few days. Then because he was naughty, I sent him away. And he started stealing petty things around. And one day the police picked him for snatching a woman's gold chain. They beat him and they sent him back, because there is no point in pursuing the case for police! What will they do with him? Sent him to juvenile home? There are too many there, already. And pressing a case against him is useless for them. Then again I brought him here. At least he gets to eat here and gets some small amount of money. And learns the job! Can the government give job or teach job to everybody? Puthumai: No, that is not possible. Manager: Exactly. And if these boys are not engaged, then they will become Maoists! A customer: What did you say? Manager: What else? It is easier for the politicians to speak all big things. But can they do it? Can they educate and feed all children in the country? What is the perceptional rule in the country? Tribals are Maoists, Muslims are Terrorists! That's the perception going on.... Puthumai: Well, Sir, I need to go. But it was interesting to talk to you. See you. Good night. Manager: Good night. I began to wonder on my way back - With the Food Security Bill on the anvil in the Indian Parliament, and the Right to Education Act in place already, can we really change the mindsets? Can we really change the life of Indian children's destiny positively? Can the governments really take up these practical issues seriously? Or, are we going to be consigned to the fate of having millions of children like this one in the land of Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen growing up uneducated, less fed and with no social respect for himself?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kids Have it Big

Sunday, 18 Dec 2011. Location Aminpur, near Bahiri, a little known tribal village near Bolpur. We three of us from CKS reached the village in the morning, and the children and villagers had been informed that there will be a small sports event in view of the Christmas and New Year on the anvil. We were delighted by the enthusiasm of children and the time went flying! In about three hours with the children and some of the villagers, we had won their heart, and they loved the fun. The winners were given prizes. There was an interesting twist in the games. Except for two of them, all others had some mental exercise along with the physical game. For example the little kids while running a 100 meter race had to stop at 50 meter point, identify the animal in the picture, write it in Bangla language and then complete the race. The older ones had a simple mathematical calculation to complete in a 200 meter race! This made it more interesting for children as the competition became a learning point as well. 

A week back, a drawing competition had been held as well for those children who are getting special educational support from our organization, and those children too received prizes. The joy is in giving. As the saying goes, the smell of a flower remains in the hands of the giver.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Largesse of the Government

The deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor has crossed 170 and still some are battling against death. The government of West Bengal has announced an ex-gratia of 200,000 rupees for the bereaved families. On 9th Dec 2011 after the major fire in AMRI hospital in Kolkata too the government announced similar grant. I wonder from where does this money come from. I have no problem in giving out the money, but my question is from where is this kind of money being generated? Before we discuss this, the death toll in the hooch tragedy has gone well past the total deaths due to Cyclone Aila in 2009. Only 139 persons died in the aftermath of cyclone Aila; but this tragedy has killed more than 170 people. Should we call it a disaster?

Now, about the money. AMRI is a hospital for the rich, of the rich, and by the rich. I am not sure if some of these families whose loved ones died in the fire really require this 200,000 rupees that comes from the government. The other question is, if people die drinking spurious liquor, and their families get 200,000 rupees, will this event become a tipping point, and the situation escalate that the poor think that they can die drinking spurious liquor, and their families can get the money, and live happily ever after?!!! We are walking on a very fragile paradigm. Secondly, what is the source of money that the government is giving out? If it is money of the general public and that of the tax payers, I am against. it. If AMRI authorities are at fault, the government must realize the compensation from them. Let them take 500,000 rupees per each patient. No issues on that! Let them take over the entire land and the building, and pay for damages. That would be exemplary, honest in every way, and not impinging on the money for development. In the case of the hooch tragedy, the government must attach the properties of all those involved in production, sale and permitting such sale. I might sound harsh. But unless exemplary punishments burn a hole in the pockets of these people, it would not be an example. 

There is something called Law of Torts. This is hardly used in India, although it exists. It is simply the law relating to civil damages. The only civil damage cases we see are some big politician asking for money from media houses for a perceived damage to their supposedly good name. We must take this further. Civil damages must be compensated, but the damager, and not by people's money. For heaven's sake, will someone say this to the Chief Minister, please!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Worst Continues....

The deaths due to the hooch tragedy (drinking of spurious liquor) mostly by the poor, rickshaw pullers, daily laborers etc has spirally as if we are watching a cricket match! The deaths that started on Wednesday have continued through Thursday, and by evening 6.00 pm we have 131 confirmed deaths! What a shame! 

Last week we lost over 90 persons in fire and this week due to liquor! All because someone is negligent, and the system is corrupt. I feel ashamed at times that we have not been able to save the lives of people who trust the government to protect them. The honorable Chief Minister has ordered an inquiry into the deaths. But what will they look into? Who were the culprits who were selling liquor? And who were the people who drank from them and got sick and died? If this is the point of reference then this inquiry will not serve any purpose. The inquiry should cover: how did these teams of liquor sellers continue to get patronage? Who was patronizing them? At what cost? For how long? Where else this is going on? And then, put them all behind bars, and make them culpable. It is not enough to bring in cases of culpable homicide. They must be charged with culpable homicide amounting to murder.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spurious Liquor Claims 34 Lives

According to breaking media reports in another kind of tragedy in West Bengal, in one of the worst hooch tragedies, at least 34 people died and over 100 were admitted to hospitals on Wednesday after drinking toxic liquor at Mograhat in South 24-Parganas district, West Bengal, India
CNN-IBN reports: "Thirty-four people died and over 100 were admitted to hospitals at Diamond Harbour and Sangrampur complaining of severe stomach ache, vomiting and loose motion after consuming the liquor", SP Lakshmi Narayan Meena said.
Four persons were arrested in connection with the case, Meena said. Angry locals smashed the liquor dens. Sunderban Affairs Minister Shyamal Mandal said medical teams were rushed from Kolkata while some of the victims were brought to city hospitals for treatment.
The state government announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of those who died.
Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee announced the compensation in the assembly"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tide, Wind and Rainfall Information

Center for Knowledge and Skills had inaugurated the Tide and Wind Information System (TWIS) on 6 August 2011.. The system brings down scientific information on Wind Speed,  probability of rainfall and quantity, and height of Tide on a daily basis for two days in advance in simple language that people can understand. The information comes with a color coding system so that people can be forewarned in case of a natural hazard. Specifically it uses a Manually Operated Display Board for giving out the information. The initiative that started in G-Plot in the far off Patharpratima block of South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, is now getting replicated in Brajabhallavpur in the same block. We are glad that Concern Worldwide came forward to make it a part of Early Warning system for the community in those remote villages. The project is being funded by DIP-ECHO and executed by Sabuj Sangha. At Brajabhallavpur 5 boards will be set up in five different locations benefiting hundreds of people who travel by boats and who frequent the local markets each day. In all, now in 8 locations the display boards will be functioning within this month. Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) is happy to be the technical partner in providing and sustaining the information flow to the community.

Smoking Doctors

At last the home truth is out. What do you do with the fire alarms in a hospital if the doctors smoke? Switch it off! This is what had happened in AMRI hospital in Kolkata. As mentioned in my story Hell of Fire a fire that broke out in that hospital had consumed more than 90 persons since the early morning of 9th Dec 2011. The initial inquiry shows that because there were several doctors who did not adhere to the national law against smoking in public places (hospitals are considered public places), the hospital management had to keep the fire alarms switched off so that people will not be disturbed too many times, and the doctors can smoke and do their duty freely. 

I believe, the doctors have a moral responsibility in this incident, and must be held culpable. Unless the smoking doctors are not punished, it is not going to send any serious signal to any doctor who smokes in work places. This is time for teaching people. Along with the management action must also be taken against such doctors because of whom the alarms were switched off.

Knowing that the doctors are a big lobby group, they may stop working! The government must invoke Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), if doctors resort to such. One thing is clear. This scar of the fire cannot be healed unless it teaches everyone a true lesson, including those in government.

On the Shores of Digha

On 5 Dec morning I traveled from Bolpur to Digha via Durgapur, picking in the ABSK team on the way. We were traveling for a training of Block and District Coordinators of the Polio Eradication Project supported by UNICEF and CORE India, of which I am the State Emergency Response Coordinator. 

A very long and tiring journey followed as we traveled through Purulia and West Medinipur districts. The road between Durgapur and Kharagpur, and between Belda and Digha via Egra was extremely bad. We reached at 5.30 pm.  As I reached the trainer team and I had to sit down to plan for the rest of the days. 6th and 7th December went very quickly as we mazed through the training module. I had two sessions in which I shared my views on Strategic Planning and Working Together through two animated stories. It was very interesting for all.

On 6th evening we also managed to walk down to the sea shore that is so crowded even in this non-tourist season, The unkempt roads, the poorly lit, shabbily kept shops and eateries are miles from making this destination into a good tourist destination. The way back was worse! Our vehicle kept getting a flat tyre repeatedly. We had to stay at last in Kolkata on 7th night, and travel back on the early morning of 8th. 

Overall, the training went good. The journey wasn't.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hell of Fire

A fire that broke out in a prestigious hospital for the rich and famous in the heart of Kolkata, known to all as AMRI hospital had a major fire breaking out on 9 Dec early morning and ending up killing 93 people, including 4 staff, and the rest being patients who came to the hospital to get well! RIP.

The government is blaming it on the hospital not having followed safety norms. The directors of the hospital are put behind bars and charged with homicide not amounting to murder. The government says they are revising policies relating to safety standards. But who shall bell the cat? In the case, the cat is the government. The disaster management department and fire services department have less interaction, and in spite of the fact that the civil defense department, the fire services department and disaster management department are under the same minister, the coordination has been less than expected. The State Disaster Management Authority is less than functional. At this point one thing must be said: it is time that all these three departments are merged, as all the three of them look into emergency situations.

The media reports say that the initial fire tenders went to the hospital to put out fire without any hydraulic ladders that can reach them at least to the fourth floor of the building. Whom to blame it on? Fate? Or, callousness? The ladders reached two hours late.

Finally, what about the hospital staff on night duty. The fire reportedly started around 1.30 am. But the security staff did not allow anyone to get it to help them, nor did they call for any assistance. This is absolutely unethical, unlawful, and amounting to murder. And must be treated as such.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dry and Long - Huge Rainfall Shortage in India

Northern India in general is going through a long dry spell. The report of the Indian Meteorological Department has shown that there has been a huge deficit in this year's rain fall. Whereas the usual North-Eastern monsoon period for western, eastern, north and north-eastern states of India stretches from 1 June to 15 October each year, the South Western monsoon starting from 1 October to December facilitates rainfall in the east coast of India. Looking into the available data and maps, the early rainfall in June was excess in many states, and normal in July. But, after that there has been a huge drop in rainfall. Though the cumulative rainfall for the period looks normal in most counts, in actual terms there has been very little rainfall since August in most states, and huge deficit in north-eastern states. 

The data available till date for the October to 7 December 2011 period shows further deviations, as the state of Andhrapradesh in south, several northern, north eastern, eastern and western states are under severe shortage of rainfall. The Gangetic belt is showing signs of stress as the average rainfall shortage for this period is above 80% in most cases. Although not much of rain is expected during this period, it is important in terms of agriculture, arrival of winter and warding of pests! The lack of rainfall has the potential to push up input costs on agriculture for small farmers who hold less than one acre of land, and increase debts for medium farmers who often take big loans. This could also hit production of vegetables, cereals and pulses of the winter crops and summer crops. On the one side the winter has set in very late. On the other side, the Indian agricultural industry is looking at deep drops in the coming summer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Body Shop and Animal Testing

Early morning I had reached Mumbai airport to leave for Kolkata. As I looked around for gate A7 in terminal 1A, I found next to it a shop called the "Body Shop". It had a lot of things that the affluent need for pamper their bodies. I was looking around to see how many things are there in life without with I still remain contented. As a background of the shop there was a huge wallpaper which had these words, "Against Testing Animals".  "What does this mean?", I asked the lady who was "manning" the shop. She said she didn't know....may be it had something to do with the commitment of the company against testing of animals for medical research and cosmetics etc. I began to wonder then what are we supposed to test on? Humans? 

How can we test on humans for possible adverse impacts of medicines in research? How can we test if a medicine would work or not in the first place? Not utilizing animals for tests in certain critical areas can actually push certain researches backward by decades. 

I believe Body Shop did not educate its staff as well on what else is in the shop, other than the materials that they were selling for the well-being of people who can afford. The philosophy behind it, literally, is however not the appropriate one per se.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sphere - Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

The new Sphere Handbook released in April 2011 has several new insights and better view of the crisis situations. The fundamental approach in the book is to look at standards in humanitarian response from the perspective of affected population, in stead of the humanitarian agency, as previous two versions of the book had done. The book also has the revised Core Standards, Protection Principles and several other new features. The Key Action in every standard is really a good guide for organizations to understand what type of activities can be taken up and the Guidance Notes are elaborate and well-written.

I am in Pune since last Sunday to understand and learn this wonderful document, (I have been trained in the previous versions of the book twice before.) under the guidance of two senior trainers in RedR India. The four days long training which started on Monday has helped me understand the new standards in emergency response and how the assessment and response mechanisms can be improved, better coordinated and response to the needs of people can be with strong humanitarian imperative. Thank you RedR India!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Singing a New Song

There is too much of hue and cry about this song “Kolaveri di”. I listened to it thrice in YouTube, and added to the already 12.2 million hits in just about two weeks. It is neither a song nor a prose. It is not even worth a song that can be “sung” in bathrooms. Yet it seems to have an untold mystique to raise something deep down in the mind of people. It seems to have certain elegance and simplicity, and yet complex enough to play a tongue twister. Unless you know how Tamils use the “U” sound in most of their words, you cannot appreciate the rhythm of it. It just lets to tap your legs and enjoy the beats. Its just a group song. It is written in group, sung in group, danced in group. The meaning of the song makes no sense, well, hardly any sense. But who said any song should make any sense? Did someone say, music is a matter of heart and not of meanings?

Power and the Powerless

A few kilometers south of my home town in Tamilnadu lies Kudankulam. Not the most picturesque spot. But, as you travel along the coast from Tiruchendur to Kanyakumari, via Uvari, you just cannot miss this little village dotted by palm tress that scale high – Idinthakarai. And as you reach Idinthakarai, from your vehicle you can see the sea, and move down, Kudankulam is visible. Kudankulam is less populated, and is now the place of controversy. People of Idinthakarai, led by some local nonprofit organizations, people’s groups and supported by church leaders are fasting and protesting the Nuclear Plant that is under near completion in Kudankulam. The construction has been on there for more than six years, and the land acquisition and initial preparation of the place had started long before that. But there was hardly any muffle. There was no objection to the land acquisition or building till date. But, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan changed all that. People feared the safety of the nuclear plant. Someone poured oil into the fear, and soon the people were ignited. Protests, hunger strikes, road blockades followed. Still the stand off continues.

Lots of efforts have gone in: the former president of India, a nuclear scientist himself, visited the place and spoke to villagers; both the central and state governments sent several teams. No one seems to be listening….why?

  1. Predominantly Christian community that lies along the coast did not get much job opportunities in the power plant.
  2. Due to the construction and need for technical people, due to need for large number of work force, including cheap labor, there is huge influx of people from several northern and eastern states of India. This has lead to : decrease in labor cost in the area. Tamilnadu laborers charge higher than those from outside.
  3. There is a fear of increased crimes with sudden “disturbance” social fabric of the society which is now suddenly multi-lingual (from colloquial Tamil)
  4. Till last six months the DMK ruled which had huge support among the Christian minority, and the Kudankulam power plant was a brain child of DMK government. Besides that, any little dissatisfaction in the community was immediately responded to by the DMK government. But, on the other hand, the present incumbent, ADMK, is seen as anti-Christian in general. (This could be a reason why the agitations are being held within church complexes and supported by church leaders.)
  5. The cost of food supplies and other items have gone up, since the settlers from other states are moving in. Because these people are salaried, as central government employees, they are able to pay. But the poor of the area, the fishermen and the palm candy making agricultural community are not able to afford at the cost. This increases dissatisfaction.
  6. And finally, no one has guaranteed 24x7 electricity supply to these villages, as nearly 50% of electricity will be sold to other states, and rest will go to feed the State grid. The people of the area need fish processing, cold storage for fish packaging and transport for export to other parts of the country and globe. This need of the people has not been responded to.
So, the powerless have become powerful: by using their right to protest. And the powerful are not able to add power to the national grid. Powerless have their own ways of lighting up power !