Sunday, December 21, 2014

Clean India Campaign - Problems and Lasting Solutions in Urban Areas

Another campaign of the government to make and look India cleaner seem to be going to dogs, literally. The campaign is blamed often as a photo-op event management than a genuine effort in cleaning up. Where do some of its problems lie and how should we overcome them?
Municipal workers dump garbage on street as animals and
rag pickers vie for it in Patna, India

1. Planning in Cleaning Up: Whereas it is easier to clean up a stretch or a road, it is much difficult to clean up a city or a town. This can only be done with micro-planning (as done for polio immunization). The point is to clean up to such a level that no one sees filth sooner or nearer. If one stretch is clean when the rest or not, the probability of cleaned up stretch getting filthier increases. Remember the "broken windows" theory, and how every sub-urban train in NY was cleaned up every night to ensure that the hooligans get fed up for writing on them. This might require high schools, colleges, non-governmental organizations, municipalities, other government officials and business bodies getting united and supporting the same. A detailed micro-plan on who would do what, where, when, and equipping them adequately with voluntary and paid-up support, where necessary. Most of this can come up through volunteerism, as for example, students and volunteers bringing in spades and brooms, businessmen supporting with trucks that can carry the garbage, municipalities and government officials supporting in additional resources, planning and monitoring. Do it in a single stretch, for dedicated hours and review it.

2. Sustain the Efforts: Cleanliness is not a one time event. It is related to daily life-cycle. First, if required, repeat the general cleaning after a month or two, plugging the loopholes. In fact, it would be easier this time as there would be less filth that what was in the first time. Sustaining the efforts means, ensuring that we generate less waste and improve processing. How can we do this:
a) Remove taxes on bio-digestors for two years: This should reduce the cost of installation of bio-digestors in all housing complexes and markets in cities and towns. Follow up with legal sanctions to ensure that every market in a town or city of more than 100,000 population, and a housing complex of more than 10 families has a bio-digestor.
b) Corporate and Educational Involvement in Drainage: Drainage in most towns and cities are done on unplanned or crudely planned engineering. Include all engineering colleges in the country to help plan drainage in cities and towns. Allow Corporates to spend the 2% of their CSR money on building drainage in the country. Remember, the too much attention on bathrooms can wait....because, it is only the filthy garbage filled areas and walls get the attention of people who go for open defecation or peeing in cities.
c) Public Partnership: Just as providing ambulances by corporates and private entrepreneurs is free from tax, give tax exemptions for public health spending by private donors. For example, providing truck to a government body to lift and carry garbage can be freed from taxes. Over a period this will get all poorer municipalities and Corporations to have adequate resources to manage.
d) Support Recycling Industry: The recycling industry is vastly unorganized till the segregation and terminal point from where materials go for recycling. Support this group by extending health benefits (as given to tea garden or mine workers), as they hand often toxic or other materials risking their health. 
e) Regularize garbage collection: In the town where I live, many families leave their garbage outside their house, not because they do not have the money to keep it with them till the garbage is collected, but because no one knows when will the garbage collectors would come! The garbage kept outside the houses fall into drains and fly in the air clogging the drain and polluting air. In Uttarakhand towns, trucks come every morning or in evenings, with a loudspeaker announcement inviting people to bring and dump the garbage. Why can't this be done across the country?
f) Make Available Easy-to-use Public Toilets: Mobile easy to use public toilets can be one of the regular features added to improving municipal sanitation services. These can be self-sustaining at a minimum cost. Adequate light, water and ease of access to public toilets is essential for improving services. For example, take a look at the public toilet at Boring Road Chowraha in Patna city. It is on the one side surrounded by vendors, and on the other side is surrounded by garbage thrown by municipal workers. Expecting someone to use it of no use.
g) Punish the Offenders: It is important that there is a system to catch the offenders. Have plainclothes men and women to catch people and give tickets on spot. This must start with innocuously dirtying people who make every place a suitable one for what is known in India as "public nuisance" - those spitting paan. Look a the way the majestic pillars of Howrah bridge had to be hidden because of the bloody spitting from the pedestrians was damaging them! Just start catching people and fine them on spot. (By the way, the way of collecting fines has to improve in India. All fines must be payable online after 24 hours of issuing the ticket.) Or, go one step further: profile those peeing in public. Do not start a huge catch on a single day as most of the times things are done. That only stops behavior till the campaign is on. Catching 10 persons in a day in a city gets people to change their behaviour than catching 500 in a day. This is because, catching 500 in a day needs huge investment of human and material resources. But catching 10 in a day can be done through normal duty. The news spreads over a period. Sustain it.
3. Beautification: As the places get cleaner it is also important to beatify them. Involvement of citizen groups, corporates and collaboration of local government are key to success in this regards. Painting and planting are two activities that can be taken up beyond the mere task to the level of aesthetically appealing. Art on public walls and staircases can be one of the tasks that can be easily given to students and institutions of art!

The whole effort might take nearly a decade. But start moving now. Involve people who can coordinate institutions to establish and execute. Include experts in micro-planning to execute macro plans. The agenda is national, solutions are local.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stampede - Can this Evil be Stopped?

Another stampede at a religious function in India (at Patna, Bihar state) has killed 33 people, mostly children and women. Religious places have remained notorious for stampedes in which simple faithful coming with piety and love for their deity have been crushed under human weight. There have been three reasons that have been the major causes of stampedes in religious places:
Structural damage - often a bridge or a stage collapses, following which people rush in concentrated directions, to save themselves. As this rush gets worse, stampede begins.
Lack of Security cover - when there are minor skirmishes that suddenly turn into major brawls, people begin to rush for cover.
Rumours arising from real / perceived / wrongly understood threats lead to excess reaction among people - The rumors may arise from events like a power failure, a sound that resembles to be like a bomb, information that some particular routes are blocked etc.

Both public and the media are making lot of noise on the Patna stampede issue. But, can someone do really something to prevent a disaster like this when such disasters happen even in a open maidan (large open ground) like the Gandhi Maidan in Patna where the disastrous event took place? Let us look at preventing stampedes from the other side around: What can stop or minimize stampedes?

ü Availability of space! Space is the key to avoid stampedes. But in a highly charged religious and political gatherings in a densely populated country like India, it is going to be an idea--only to aim at. So, spaces have to be created. The easiest logic for planning could be 3:1, where 3 is the area maximum used, and 1 being the additional space available. Thus, in case of a stampede when 20 - 30 % of the spaces become unusable, the additional space functions as the buffer to avoid or to minimize the damage caused by boisterous crowds. Planning for extra space is essential.
ü Structural Testing. Structures must be tested against pressures year after year. New structures must be put to pressure tests.
ü Educate people not to lose their cool! It is often in panic that people do such stupid things that they face Death head on. The reason why often people jump off buildings, (and die eventually) although there is help at hand is due to non-application of mind during emergencies. Presence of mind can help save many lives. Rumors and excess reaction can be avoided with education on the nature of hazard and presence of mind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Home and Far Away

There was no plan to travel to Tamilnadu till 25 Sept. But, looking at the kind of work pressure expected in November, with too many holidays and festivals occupying the last week of September and several days in October, on 26th morning we thought on ways to resolve the issue. And so, we decided to leave on a break to Tamilnadu, and then we hurried with booking tickets etc the same day. 
On 27th at about 11.00 pm, me, Shubhra and Vasudha left by car to Kolkata, and took an early morning Spice Jet flight to Chennai on Sunday, 28 Sep. We had some excellent dosa for the late breakfast and chilly-chicken along with number of other items for lunch at Seenuda’s (as we fondly call ) house. At 3.00 pm we left for Puducherry. We were asked to take the National Highway in stead of the East Coast Road that had seen some violent scenes on the previous day following the arrest of the State’s Chief Minister in a corruption case. 

On the way we had some excellently brewed coffee, witnessed a horrific accident just ahead of us when a fast moving van lost control and crashed on the road. Anyways, we reached safely at Park Guest House, where we had booked our room. We were given a room in the second floor with sea view! WOW!!!

Me and Vasu taking a walk!
After dinner and a brief walk, we took some good rest, and woke up early on 29th to witness the sunrise and chirping of birds. What a wonderful way to start the days! Usually in the morning, we took long walk for our breakfast (usually I had idli, Shubhra had dosa, and Vasu had a bit of everything, a banana and milk. We just relaxed, played and laughed....lots of fun with Vasu. In the evenings, just walked across to the beach, had snacks, dinner, and carried back loads of joy as Vasu would make everyday a memorable day with some new action of hers. 

On 1st at noon we left for Thanjavur to meet a niece of mine, and then traveled to Madurai, where the time flew so fast, in the company of my nieces, nephews, my sister and brother-in-law. Oh yes, the hotel Heritage Residency (Opp. Fathima College) was a perfect place for Vasu to have a lot more fun as she loved the atmosphere, and specially the bed, the bathtub, the Spa etc. Finally, we left on 4th morning, and reached back home on 4th Oct midnight -- full of energy and relaxed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Where is Education Heading?

13 Sep - I was traveling from Patna to Santiniketan (Bolpur) in West Bengal, India. I had a train to change at Bardhamman, and I took a local train from Bardhamman to Bolpur. At  a rural station known as Jhapterdhal and then at Banpas, I found lot of students, good number of them girls in their teens got into the train. Since the train was already full, most of these students were standing. As they were talking to another lady passenger in the train, I joined in. The students were all scheduled to get down at Guskara (after three stations), and they were going for private tuition in English. So, I asked them why they do not pay the teacher to come to their place so that so many of them need not go to Guskara. They replied that the teacher was coming from a place called Bhedia which is closer to Bolpur, and so it was some kind of adjustment that the students from all sides can come to Guskara. I also found that all the students were studying in their 12th Grade (+2 as it is known in India), and if they pass this year they will be eligible to join the college next year for Under Graduate courses. I passingly asked if they would be returning from Guskara and then would go to school. They said, "No"! When I enquired about the reason I was shocked! The girls go for the classes on every Wednesday and Saturday, and then they return to their homes by when it is 11.00, and they take breakfast and that is it! Because by then the schools have started and they cannot go to school. So, every week they do not attend classes on two days. I encountered them with volley of questions to understand further, and then I motivated them that they should write to the education department requesting that special classes for learning English be arranged so that the girls and boys need not lose two days of classes. On an average nearly 40% of school days these students were losing only with the hope of passing in English and get off to fight it out in life.

I thought that total dependence on tuition was mostly in states like Bihar. But I never thought that the situation is changing in West Bengal as well, as children are fighting to stand on to their toes to ensure continuance of their education. I am thankful to Mr. Ganesan and the teachers in my school where I did my 12th grade. They gave special classes in the morning and evening so that, though we were studying in a Tamil medium school, we could pass without having to spend additional time and money to pass in the school final exams.

Governments must take efforts to streamline education, help find alternate solutions for rural children to pass out strongly, and not be dependent on the private tuition that has become the bane of society.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Coordination Lesson from Uttarakhand

27 Aug 2014 : Today I was in Delhi to attend the United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) organized workshop on Uttarakhand Recovery Action - Lessons Learned. Since I was the State team leader for UNDMT, I got to do a presentation. I made sure that the presentation is not a regular one with too many points or writings, but that it had ample pictures that explained the status of my own experience. So, for those who would view the presentation in PDF form, it may not make much sense...but as part of presentation, it was all fun and learning, and the presentation was appreciated by one and all. The total presentation was completed in 11 minutes. Some of the photos used in the presentation have been downloaded from the Google global search.

The presentation may be downloaded or viewed at Puthumai - Uttarakhand Presentation

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Public Health : Not a Standard in Bihar

With my association with Multi Hazard Vulnerability Mapping Project supported by the UNICEF in the state of Bihar, for the first time I am staying the longest in that state. My previous stays here have been mostly for training purposes, which meant I had some clean place to stay and a bit of calmer environment on many occasions. But, now my stay in the suburban community has changed all that. I see piles of garbage all around, and people throwing out garbage with no remorse. On the other hand, I am yet to see a garbage van picking up garbage on any of the streets.  The Exhibition Road and Bailey road seem to be the only exceptions, with some level of cleanliness. Most others are stinking, in all its forms and essence. You also notice children and adults shitting all around, once you are not on main thoroughfares. 

And when it rains, I have seen the water turning into black and flooding the roads. I also noticed some of the ground floors of the high rise buildings remaining flooded. So, one needs to wade through filth to reach one's home, or God forbid, if one's house is in a low lying area in the city.

Unless the corporation wakes up to the perils of modernity, and takes up remedial measures immediately, soon the city will be gone. Public health is not a standard here. It is just a garbage to be thrown out on the street. Once the capital of ancient India is really gasping for breath, literally. 

N.B: When I go to buy milk or noodles, which are already packed in plastic, the shopkeepers warmly extend an additional plastic packet to carry even if I do not need them!  I have learned to take a bag with me. But why do the shopkeepers give away so much of useless plastic that is less than 40 micron thick, anyway?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Victims of Darkness

As the new Government in India, which had been elected so that policy paralysis can be removed and decisive action can be taken on various fronts is going about its task in full gun. The problem however seem to be is that decisive verdict given to the government seem to have been construed as handing over of power to take any decision. What is visible is very little attention to issues that go beyond the acts of government: governance, participation and protection of the vulnerable. With rise in political and gender violence across the country there has not been any credible action on that front. Several commissions have been removed or members asked to resign; but not much of alternative has been suggested. And recently, the expected judicial reforms has been hit by a plan to create judicial commissions with judiciary powers, and to be placed under the law ministry (thus curtailing the fundamentals of independence of judiciary). As this has been called into question, the Chief Justice of India has questioned the intentions based on which such decisions are being taken, as there is no supervisory control over such bodies, and thereby the perpetrator is often the supervisor. As a Tamil saying goes, it is the story of the fence eating up the crop.

In that context, the Chief Justice has quoted William O'Douglas, the longest serving judge in the US Supreme Court, "As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness".

Vigilance to protect one's own freedom is essential, or we could soon have a honored form of the mid-seventies, when personal freedom was robbed of us from many fronts. This Prime Minister is for "less of government, more of governance". But the actions of the government seem to speak otherwise. The recent guidelines to the Secretaries (To Do List) is one step on the right direction.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Marking of a Milestone

The week starting from 17th was really a busy one, as a UN team was scheduled to visit and understand how the UN Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) that I lead at the State of Uttarakhand has performed over the last eight months. Number of meetings had to be fixed with several senior officers and a separate larger meeting with NGO and Corporate representatives. The team arrived on 19 Feb noon and there were eight meetings scheduled for the day with the six member UN team divided into two sub-groups. When the day was over at 7.30 pm, it brought me so much of satisfaction as almost every officer, NGO and Corporate with whom the UN team interacted spoke about the great support they have received by way of coordination, information, quality and several additional supports. And doing it under a single umbrella  of UNDMT is again the biggest gain! The UN Team delightedly gave us a well laid out banquet at The Kalsang, a Tibetan restaurant on Rajpur road that gives some wonderful dishes from Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan and Korea. On 20th morning, we had a totally internal meeting between the UN team and me along with all the team members. The meeting went off well and at the end everyone expressed satisfaction over the way the UNDMT support has moved forward, and the new benchmarks set by the team. The UNDMT mission in Uttarakhand is expected to be completed on 31 March 2014.

Kudos to all the team members!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Never Ending Journey

14 Feb 2014 : Both me and Dr. Mathur left Uttarkashi at noon as we were warned by the District Disaster Management Officer that anytime the roads might close as landslides have begun in some places. So, were rushing to get out. We were told that we should travel through Chamba and Rishikesh, a much longer route in comparison to Musoorie, which is the shorter route to Dehradun. In about 20 kilometers we crossed Dunda and our ordeals began. Couple of landslides had just begun and we escaped them carefully.  As we crossed what is known as Dharasu Bend, Dr. Mathur told me that the worst is over – and we are now free to travel! But that was not to be so!
Just three of kilometers ahead of us at a place called Nalpaani, a landslide from a high mountain had begun almost vertically, and it had thrown much of dirt and was throwing down small rocks. One of the vehicles had damaged its windows. As more vehicles waited, we too began to wait. When for a few minutes the rains seem to withhold, the policemen who had a mini police station next to the location let first the vehicles from the lower hills to climb up towards Uttarkashi. (Did you read it correct? Yes, they let more vehicles to climb up the hill when the landslides were actually blocking the roads.) Once all vehicles from the lower hills had crossed into the upper hills, crossing past us, now it was our turn to move ahead to safety—but then came the shocker!  In line of vehicles was a loaded truck that was standing in front. With much of the slush from the active landslide already having filled most part of the road, the truck was trying to cross it. I was wondering why the police is allowing this to happen. By the time even my thinking was over, the truck had already got stuck in the slush and now it cannot be taken out! We returned back to Dharasu Bend where we had hot rice and fish curry – which was much of the solace against the cold blowing rain. We went back to Nalpaani hoping that the truck will be taken out. Hei, there is a huge earthmover that can be utilized to pull out the truck. No, it cannot be used. Reason: the earthmover had no fuel! Comedy of errors???
Attempt to pull the truck hadn’t succeeded till 5.45 pm, and it was getting dark. We began to look for a place to stay for the night. A little guest house at the Nalpaani and a smaller one at Dharasu Bend were already full with stranded people from couple of buses and private vehicles like ours. People suggested that we travel to Brahmakhal, about 15 kilometers from Dharasu Bend and leave for Dehradun the next morning through Badkot, an alternate route. So, we climbed to Brahmakhal and stayed at Hotel Dhruv for the night, after having some chapatti and vegetables for dinner.
Photo taken from outside my room of our hotel
As we woke up on 15th morning, a Saturday, we were welcomed by four inches of snow and the snowfall continued till 10.00 am. We had been badly stuck in the snows. Once the roads got better with the snow melting and people voluntarily clearing part of the roads, we took the risk of going back to Dharasu bend, as the previously planned route to Badkot had totally been closed with over 3 feet of snowfall in the higher ridges that we would otherwise have taken. We were happy by then that the rains had stopped and the roads will be opened at Nalpaani. But to our dismay, just about a mile before we reached the Dharasu Bend, the road we had taken the previous night, had closed with fall of huge rocks and boulders. Now that is what destiny would have it!

We called up few officials hoping that the road would be cleared. But nothing was happening. Meanwhile we walked down to Dharasu Bend, took lunch, carried some lunch for the driver, and then asked him to go back if the roads don’t open by 5.00 pm so that he can stay with the vehicle at Brahmakhal in a safer environment. Both me and Mr. Mathur walked and crossed the Nalpaani and another landslide about a kilometer from there, and then took a jeep to Chiniyalisaur. I decided to stay that night in Chiniyalisaur, and not take the risk of traveling late at night through the mountains to Dehradun.

Next morning at 11.00 am, the driver along with the vehicle came after all the roads were opened, and then I traveled to Dehradun and reached at 5.45 pm – dead tired. By the way: what or whom should I blame for the ordeal? The nature’s fury?  My luck? The policemen who did not follow proper order in passing vehicles? The journey that should have taken just six hours turned out to be a terror of 54 hours.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In the midst of Children

On 12 Feb I traveled in the afternoon from Dehradun to Uttarkashi. Since it was already late I preferred to stay at Chiniyalisaur, a small and beautiful town en route. I also took the opportunity to visit Mary Mata School, a high school that imbibes Christian values among students. Fr. Joey invited me to stay on that night as it was already late and in any case it would not have made much sense to travel to Uttarkashi as I was to visit next morning Dunda which is closer from Chiniyalisaur than Uttarkashi.  We  took a walk to the Officers’ Recreation Room where some boys were playing table tennis. Boy! I too started playing table tennis after 15 years….! The boys in their late teens and early twenties were playing very slow, and I told them how the game must be played faster, and I played faster! I ended up losing the first game at 13-21, the second I lost at 19-21, and the third I won at 21-14! Impressive! The boys appreciated that at my age I had the power to play the game after a decade and a half.
On 13th I spent the whole day in several field visits and meetings – and the height of the day was the visit to Gunalgaon village supported by Mata Amritanandamayi Math Trust (MAMT) where I spent some time at the Anganwadi (ICDS center) with 3 – 5 year olds checking how the education and health services are met for these children. A few of those children were very talkative and started climbing on me, sitting on my lap… I took the opportunity to check if the children are able to recognize the Tabs that  MAMT has provided to the anganwadi for educational purposes. I also asked the teacher to demonstrate how she teaches the children. There were issues in the way she was teaching. I took those issues up with the MAMT volunteers who were accompanying me.

On 14th morning I woke up to heavy rainfall lashing through the mountains. It had turned to be extremely cold in comparison to the previous day. Luckily, I did not have to walk out for breakfast, as the hotel where I was staying did not serve food. A friend, Mr. Stephen was kind enough to bring some homemade parathas and tea for me and Dr. P.D.Mathur who heads the coordination efforts in the district. And thus began the ordeal of a journey that lasted from 6 hours to 54 hours!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Animals or Men?

I am deeply intrigued by a story that I was following on news in the last week. (A portion of it can be viewed in this Times of India article. In short, a cooking gas delivery guy befriends a young lady who has newly got married six months ago and has shifted from Uttar Pradesh state to Mumbai saying that he too is from the same State and is in Mumbai for livelihood. (In India cooking gas is delivered in cylinders, approximately once a month.) That means he had met her a maximum of five times, by when he comes to know that her husband goes to work and she is alone during the day. On the eventful day he comes with another delivery man mentioning that they have come to check if there is any gas leak, and they want her to get the Gas Delivery Book, where they want to make an entry of their visit. As she gets into their personal room to get the book, the men pounce on her, gag her, rape her and threaten to kill her. She pleads to be left live saying she will not inform any one. And at last they leave the beleaguered woman who passes out. The men loot the house, take valuables and gold, and escape. 

When the woman wakes up she calls her husband and informs him of the ordeal, and he in turn approaches the police.  Both the men are behind bar now. 

Why do people think that any "safe" place is a place to "attack" another? Why do we treat a place that is safe for one is unsafe for another? How can a home that is to be the safest place for a woman become unsafe in the presence of delivery boys? Indian laws need to change. This is not just a rape, but also is using one's official work for the purpose of perpetrating a crime. 

The government is speaking about having security guards and security cameras in all the ATMs to make people feel safe. But we don't need ATMs to feel unsafe. We can just be unsafe at home! The perspective needs to change. It is not the places that perpetrate a crime, it is the criminal mind that nourishes it. Unless we identify such and treat it with effective law enforcement, we might just not change. By the way, I am not sure if this woman is the first victim of these two criminals. May be there are others as well, and victims of such violence need to speak up.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Week

The last week has been one of the most hectic weeks I had in terms of networking, organizing and analysis. The week started with organizing for some high profile visits that are due in mid-February. On 4 Feb there is a Coordination Meeting to be organized between more than 12 Government departments involved in livelihood enhancement and civil society organizations engaged in livelihood and economic recovery in the state. There was also a visit for couple of days by Mr. Vijay K who is documenting the involvement and impact of UNDMT in Uttarakhand. And finally, being end of the month, as the reports started flowing in, doing a lot of data analysis. On an average I was writing 20 mails and was receiving about 35 mails in the official ID for Uttarakhand that I use, besides the scores of mails that I get in my personal ID. 

It was also a week where I could feel that things are moving much faster that I can imagine in few sectors as work has started getting implemented by various organizations, and good number of activities are getting completed. Oh yes, the much awaited news (though I would have personally preferred this to happen in April or May after the national elections) came that the Chief Minister of the state has resigned, and the new Chief Minister took charge on Saturday, 1 Feb 2014 evening. This may have further implications as some officials may get transferred, which may be for good or worse, but will take time to get the ball rolling. 

To top it all, I also got to meet one of my teammates : Mr. Praveen Pawar. He is an amazing person....we always make fun of him asking him to stand the elections from Rudraprayag, and he is sure to win! Not just the officials and civil society know him, even the community has begun to recognize him. He is one damn good guy I have in the team. As we spent the morning together, he had some serious questions that kept lingering on - which certainly had to be answered by himself to himself. I was able to help him and get to know himself better. And that made me feel so close to him. Thank you Praveen for being a wonderful friend.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Disaster Recovery: Responsibility of Neighbor

It is much easier during emergencies for many Good Samaritans to pop up from nowhere and support the people in distress, and often these Good Samaritans are some good neighbors. As the time passes and the recovery and reconstruction begins, I have noted some strange human behavior taking over the genuine humaneness of persons, a behavior that goes beyond the ethereal. I have heard of persons who have allowed their land to be used freely, in spite of their own land or person loss in the family, so that other families who have lost their land may have a place in which they can set up a temporary tent as long as the "refugee's" house comes up. This is one of the most sublime of all. But the other side is also true. When the person who has lost his house, now has got compensation from the government and some money to build the house needs land for constructing a house looks for land, even the cost of bad land (risky and vulnerable land) price has gone up. A friend was telling me on Monday, in some villages the cost of land has gone up so much so that people cannot afford to buy the land, or if they buy the land, they cannot build the house!

So, there is demand for more money by way of compensation or support! Where will this circle end? In most disaster places I have noticed that the price of land going down, and it is true that the price goes up during reconstruction, usually due to the additional money coming in by way of wages and new employment opportunity created. But, price of land going up through the roof....a plot costing 400,000 rupees on a barren hill, which would require land and soil treatment besides any construction can take place.... Well, that is legalized robbery of different kind. Unless human tendency to support, serve and love remain, the vulnerable will continue to look for the most vulnerable locations to live with vulnerabilities and risks.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Disadvantages of the Underdogs & Few Successful Political Underdogs of India

In spite of reading Malcolm Gladwell's several books, some of them - several times, still one question remains in my mind. Why don't all underdogs outgrow to take on the Goliaths? What limits their advantages that they continue to suffer, can't think out of the box, and do not use unconventional methods to take on the powerful? Why don't they grab the opportunity as often as the advantaged do?

These questions kept pricking me as I was lying with bad cold, cough and fever in the second week of January. Is the the culture and social conditions that limit them? They probably do, and often possible. Social upbringing, cultural legacies borne and the weight of conditioned social controls can have long standing impact on persons who have often lived a subdued life of an underdog. But, such conditions also have had the opposite results! It is in such conditions often rebels thrive on, thinking totally out of the world comes up. Do economic situations have an impact limiting the free thinking of the supposedly misfits in society? It is possible that, even a great thinking may not have the relevant opportunity for want of economic security to overcome the hurdles. So, what we have is a mixture of Opportunity, Ability to utilize the opportunity, Environment that facilitates the ambiance to generate new ideas or use such opportunities. These three things Ability, Opportunity and Environment - even if one of them misses out, underdogs remain underdogs, or may even be pushed to the level of a street dog.

Let us look at the much talked about how the Aam Aadmi Party moved so quickly to pick the power in Delhi. The environment was ripe with rampant corruption and angry people around; Opportunity comes in the form of the RTI act that throws up many skeletons and the fast by Anna Hazare who calls for Jan Lokpal (Anti-corruption agency); and the Ability comes in the form of uniting the angry folks, giving a vision through a TRP hungry media, showcase participatory approach as a new medium of decision making, and break away from the shadow of Anna Hazare into a political movement. If we look at the case of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, she too was equally the same. When she broke away from the Congress, she was certainly an underdog, struggling to generate support for her fledgling party. The snubbing came after she joined hands with BJP. Learning the lesson she fought single minded nearly for a decade: rights of the farmers, poor, women (Maa, Maati, Manush). And slowly she gathered momentum. The opportunity came in the form of Singur and Nandigram. She grabbed on that. The environment was ripe : the stronghold of CPM was breaking with more and more of independent electronic media coming in the late 1990s and from 2000 - 2005, which needed more and more to show, the CPM party's hold on its comrades was slowly loosening as Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who is a very eminent and extremely good man, was putting people's free thinking and growth ahead of party, which led to increasing gap between the party and government. And finally, we cannot forget her ability to hold an army of men and women together, take the battle to the Lion's den without fear. 

In the South, the Dravidian movement is one of the most successful very early successes of similar kind, that was built on Anti-Brahminical and anti-Hindi agitations, that brought the Dravidian parties to rule in the state of Tamilnadu, and for the last 50 years, no other national party could set their foot, even after the original Dravidian party, the DMK, an off shoot of the atheistic Dravida Kazhagam has broken several times. Some underdogs have  the capacity to grow into mammoths.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The 400th Post, Some Maps and Books

This is the 400th Post in my blog, and the first in 2014. I did not expect 2013 to be such a dull year in terms of the number of postings. And the way it started and with so many activities happening around, I had wished that 2013 would have one of the highest number of posts. But, on the other hand, I got so engrossed with so many good things, bad things and works that are intended to bring relief and solace to millions, that I had no time to sit and write the blog itself. The reason is the engagement in other social media. In spite of the little time only that I spend on the social media, because they give a sense of having got in touch with friends and colleagues at the end of the day, one begins to feel that...Well, I wanted to say, I have already said it in my Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Google+. When you have so many options, and that you can post it in Google+ or in LinkedIn and remain connected to others via the tabs or the smartphone, why should one need to sit down to write a blog of this kind?

In the last few days, I spent a bit of time with remote support from the staff of Center for Knowledge and Skills in preparing two sets of maps. The first was a simpler one : updating the mangrove forest plantation of Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD) in the Sunderbans. After the last mapping of areas in April 2013, TSRD had undertaken forest plantation in areas that had not been covered. 128 acres have been covered in the period from April to Nov 2013. Thank you TSRD for giving the opportunity once again to CKS for doing the mapping. The other mapping for which I took the help of CKS was using a lot of data and information available about Uttarakhand, and make the maps and information speak upfront. A few of these maps are available in 

I also took the opportunity to read a few books late at nights. Some of the good ones that I got hold of are from Malcolm Gladwell....and enjoying reading them, starting from "Outliers", "Thinking without Thinking"....etc.