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LAND RIGHTS Recent change in laws governing YOUNG SCIENTISTS Six scientists of Indian origin

land can further alienate tribals in Jharkhand p16 whose works received global acclaim in 2016 p52

1-15 JANUARY, 2017


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Wear your concern T-Shirt ad.indd 2 22/12/16 12:39 PM


January 2, 2017, is the 15th death anniversary of Anil Agarwal,
founder of the Centre for Science and Environment and
Down To Earth. This year, as India steps up its sanitation
campaign, we bring to our readers a selection of his
writings on the subject

Karachi's Gandhi: the sanitary before India—perhaps the biggest ever. Sanitary
revolution conditions in urban India are appalling and fast
THE LATEST census has revealed a dramatic becoming worse. Most state and city governments
increase in India’s urban population, especially in no longer even pretend to manage the problem.
the population of its big cities. In 1981, there were An official in the Union Ministry of Urban
12 million-plus cities, there are 20 now. By the end Development told us that except for the major
of the century it is estimated that India will have metropolises, there were no funds to build new
the world’s largest urban population. Managing sewerage systems.
the needs of this urban population in a cheap and So what should be done? Without claiming to
effective manner will be an enormous challenge know many of the answers, we would suggest that

1-15 JANUARY 2017 3

03-05Editors.indd 3 23/12/16 1:18 PM


Pakistan’s Akhtar Hameed Khan’s approach be toilets and, thus, stop polluting the Ganga and
tried out. Give people the power to construct and other rivers? It is indeed quite silly to keep
manage urban services. To do this, participatory polluting the rivers first with our sewers and then
institutions will have to be developed at the go around cleaning them, whereas human night
mohalla level. soil can be recycled as manure. Cities can, in fact,
5 May, 1991 become major human sources of manure and
therefore, a source of nutrients and not just a drain
on Indian croplands.
Investing science in mud, sewers 2 August, 1992
and bikes
WE MUST find socially appropriate technologies
for our urban settlements. Can we think in terms Planning for a mega-city
of mud buildings instead of brick and cement TO CITE just one example, a substantial part of
buildings? Can we think in terms of Delhi’s water ends up in flush toilets. The huge
Why composting toilets instead of volume of wastewater thus generated demands
sewers and flush toilets? Can massive public investments in sewage treatment
don't we think in we think in terms of facilities. Polluting technologies are usually
terms of composting bicycles instead of cars? cheaper because they externalise the health and
toilets and, thus, stop These technologies resource management costs onto the society and
will be both the public. Flush toilets which use more water are,
polluting the Ganga and equitable and thus, more expensive than those which use less
other rivers in India? It is sustainable for our water. Is there not a need to reverse this price
indeed quite silly to keep society. mechanism so that customers find it advanta-
Let us take the geous to purchase more environment-friendly and
polluting the rivers first question of cost-effective technologies? Can Delhi impose a
with our sewers and then housing. Both progressive and high sales tax on all flush toilets
go around cleaning them, bricks and cement which use more water than those which use less?
are extremely There is clearly a need to look at all natural
whereas human night energy-intensive resource-using and polluting technologies in
soil can be recycled materials and demand this manner.
as manure mining the land. Even the Can we also learn from the experience of
bulk of our urban population Chennai and Chennai Refineries and create
cannot afford the cheapest, low-cost ªsewage marketsº in Delhi and the National
brick and cement building. Why don’t we think in Capital Region? Chennai’s acute water scarcity
terms of mud buildings? Surely science and has forced the refinery—which needs a regular
technology can improve mud buildings. supply of processed water—to actually buy sewage
The question of sewers is similar. This is a from the city’s municipal corporation and then
technology that emerged during the colonial treat it, at its own expense, to obtain water. This
period in Europe. In India, however, its capital- experience shows that Delhi need not look to the
intensity means that access to it is impossible. central government or any foreign donor for
Nearly a third of our urban dwellers have no access reducing a large part of the current pollution load
to toilets, a third only to bucket-type latrines and a on the Yamuna. Industries can be made to invest
third to sewers. Even this last third is largely not only in treating industrial wastewater, but also
serviced by community toilets. In most Indian domestic wastewater. It all depends on the pricing
towns sewers are underutilised or choked. and availability of water.
Why don’t we think in terms of composting 31 January, 1997


03-05Editors.indd 4 26/12/16 12:23 PM


Thumbs up to conserving water and sanitation technology, based on the

flush toilet and sewage system, would make full
our rivers cost pricing of water and sanitation services
THE GANGA Action Plan was mainly conceived unaffordable by most in the urban South. It is
to deal with the municipal sewage flowing into important to recognise that private sector
the Ganga. Industrial sewage treatment was involvement cannot be only in the water supply
supposed to be managed by the individual business. This is just one small and profitable
firms. But a number of economic problems part of the water business. The real cost is in
were not adequately addressed. Treatment cost taking back the sewage and treating it to the
is high and many municipalities are not able to quality needed for disposal in water bodies.
afford the costs. If the municipalities cannot This is the real ªdirtyº business. We know that
pay for the operational costs of these treatment sewage and drainage costs can be as high as 5-6
plants, river conservation programmes will times more than the cost of water supply. And
only demand perpetual subsidies. with increasing chemical pollution,
Only a very small section of the country’s water treatment costs are only
urban population benefits from sewerage going to increase.
systems and this section consists of the richest The political political
urban people. There is no reason that the economy of defecation economy of
government should subsidise this section. The is such that no
defecation is such
high cost of sewerage systems means that only a democratic
small fraction of India’s population will benefit government will that no democratic
from them. A large proportion of the urban accept the hard government will accept
population in India still uses the open fact that it
the hard fact that it cannot
environment for its ablutions. cannot ªaffordº
It is an ecologically mindless technology to invest in `afford' to invest in modern
too. Firstly, large reservoirs have to be built or modern sewage sewage systems for its
large amounts of river water have to be diverted systems for its
citizens. Instead it will
to supply cities with water that can be flushed citizens. Instead it
down toilets and, then, this water accumulates will continue to continue to subsidise
in the form of concentrated sewage, flows into subsidise the users of the users of these
rivers and destroys the rivers. these systems, in the name
It is, therefore, important to take a of the poor, who would not be
long-term view of India’s strategy for human able to afford the systems otherwise.
excreta disposal. Various alternatives are being It is important to realize that almost all users of
tried out in different parts of the world, which the flush toilet and its sewage system are the
do not use any water, or use very little water. rich in our cities. Our political system today
Current research expenditures in this area are literally susbidises the rich to excrete in
next to nothing. convenience. In fact we get a double subsidy.
15 August, 1997 The logical policy would be to accept the
cost and then impose differential pricing so
that while the rich pay for the cost of the
Water: industry's new pet capital- and resource-intensive sewage and
THE SIMPLE assumption of private sector waste disposal technology, the poor pay for the
proponents is that if water is correctly priced, it cost of their disposal system, which is invaria-
would facilitate private investment and solve bly connected to the seweage system and hence
the water crisis in the developing world. This low cost. But this is easier said than done. 
argument has many holes. Firstly, current 15 November, 2001

1-15 JANUARY 2017 5

03-05Editors.indd 5 23/12/16 1:18 PM

Uploaded by: @UPSCMagazines



EDITOR Sunita Narain
Anil Agarwal
`A unique cropping system'
MANAGING EDITOR AND PUBLISHER Down To Earth speaks to Vijay Jardhari,
Richard Mahapatra a Tehri Garhwal-based farmer and head
ASSOCIATE EDITORS of non-profit Beej Bachao Andolan,
Vibha Varshney, Archana Yadav, S S Jeevan about Baranaja, a mixed crop farming
MULTIMEDIA EDITOR Arnab Pratim Dutta practice in Uttarakhand. Baranaja is
CREATIVE DIRECTOR Ajit Bajaj mainly used to grow kharif or summer
crops, which mostly include millets and
Anupam Chakravartty, Jitendra Choubey,
pulses. Baranaja ensures that the right
Kundan Pandey, Rajeshwari Ganesan, amount of nitrogen is retained in the soil
Shreeshan Venkatesh, Karnika Bahuguna and, thus, maintains soil health. Other
COPY DESK benefits include climate resilience.
Snigdha Das, Rajat Ghai, Jemima Rohekar, Baranaja, thus, provides food security
Aditya Misra, Rajit Sengupta, Deepanwita
Niyogi, Aakriti Shrivastava, Priya Talwar, to farmers.
Subhojit Goswami
Chaitanya Chandan, Shri Krishan,
Raj Kumar Singh, Tarique Aziz, Ritika Bohra,
Abhishek Vaishnav Amma's far-sightedness On web
PHOTOGRAPHER Vikas Choudhary Celebrating the
PHOTO LIBRARY Anil Kumar which subsidised canteens diversity of
WEB TEAM Rajendra Rawat, Jaidev Sharma were opened across the mountain cultures
PRODUCTION state; the Cradle Baby
Rakesh Shrivastava, Gundhar Das Scheme which fought against On Facebook
the skewed sex ratio; and Nitrogen pollution:
Srikant Chaudhary, Rakesh Nair
Bhaskarjyoti Goswami, Sunny Gautam rainwater harvesting, which the forgotten
INFORMATION AND RESEARCH SUPPORT Down To Earth takes a look at helped alleviate Chennai's element of
Kiran Pandey the major welfare schemes water scarcity. The schemes, climate change team implemented by late Tamil though critiqued as populist,
Nadu chief minister eventually resulted in Tamil On Twitter
Chandra Bhushan, Anumita Roychowdhury
J Jayalalithaa. Among them Nadu having the best socio- Amma, we want
Vol 25, No 16; Total No of Pages 80 are Amma Canteen, under economic indicators in India. some more
Editorial, subscriptions and advertisements: Society for
Environmental Communications,
41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area,
New Delhi 110 062, @down2earthindia @down2earthindia
Phone: 91-11- 29955124,
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All rights reserved throughout the world. Reproduction
in any manner is prohibited. Printed and published by
Richard Mahapatra on behalf of Society for Environmental
IN CONTEXT 157,000 in 1985 to 97,500
Communications. Printed at International Print-o-Pac
As Down To Earth enters its in 2015. The giraffe's IUCN
Limited, B-204, 205, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase I, New
25th year of publication, we Red List status has jumped
Delhi-110020 india and published at 41, Tughlakabad bring to you glimpses from
Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 062. our archives two places, from ªLeast
To subscribe, sms 'dte Subscribe' to 56070 Concernº to ªVulnerable to
or visit extinctionº. Down To Earth
Jyoti Ghosh
Grace under fire had highlighted the decline in The giraffe, an icon of 2015: ªGiraffe numbers have
FOR SUBSCRIPTION CONTACT Africa's savannahs, is taken a dangerous plunge
K C R Raja rapidly heading towards over the years without
COVER DESIGN Ajit Bajaj extinction, according to the attracting as much attention
International Union for the as other equally threatened
Down To Earth editorial does not
Conservation of Nature (IUCN). African mammals such as November, 2015). With IUCN's
endorse the content of advertisements In the past 30 years, giraffe lions, rhinos and elephants.º findings, our worst fears have
printed in the magazine numbers have plummeted (ªNeck deep in troubleº, 16-30 come true.


Give the Donald a chance
This refers to the cover story ªHow Trump happenedº (1-15 December, 2016).
There is apprehension in certain quarters in America and in the rest of the world
that the US may plunge into an uncertain future with President-elect Donald
Trump at the helm. It is, however, too early to say so because Trump's gracious
victory speech clearly reflects his optimism to govern the US by taking everyone
along with him while vowing to ensure that none would be victimised on grounds
of race, religion or nationality. Let us give him a chance.

Consumer's call Conserve water

This refers to the edito- This refers to ªA long walkº
rial ªGopichand's healthy (16-31 March, 2016). With
choiceº(16-30 September, each passing day, we ob-
2016). Why should we blame serve that water is becom-
Down To Earth welcomes celebrities for endorsing ing the biggest casualty of
letters, responses and harmful soft drinks? Instead, the modern development
other contributions from a mandatory warning, process. Rain, rivers and
readers. Send to Sunita similar to the one on tobacco wells have been human-
Narain, Editor, Down To products—ªDrinking this ity's traditional sources of
Earth, 41, Tughlakabad beverage causes obesityº— fresh water. Global warming
Institutional Area, should be attached on soft upsets natural patterns of
New Delhi - 110062. Email: drink bottles, whether big court. She/he should decide. rainfall. Rivers are slowly or small. The ball should be PRABHAKAR killed at their sources by
moved into the consumer's RAMAKRISHNA the steady destruction of

1-15 JANUARY 2017 7

07-09Letters.indd 7 23/12/16 12:36 PM


forests and construction of Meat gall that when there's so much

big dams. Wells lose water This refers to the opinion research being done on the
due to overuse of ground- piece ªTrouble with vegetar- benefits of vegetarian-based
water. Development cannot ian fascistsº (16-30 Novem- food, the author still has the
be reversed. But technology ber, 2015). It is one of those gall to back a meat diet.
could be reoriented to serve typical elitist environmentalist PADMAVATI
the dual purpose of conserv- articles, where one compares VIA EMAIL

ing water and regulating its oneself to an ape while not

use. Leaving aside global living like one. We can't use Hanuz Dilli dur ast
solutions, we should think all the luxuries of modern life The Delhi administration,
of doing something about and yet not look at less cruel instead of pointing its finger
this issue at the national and methods to feed one self. elsewhere, should work
regional levels. And one always benefits by sincerely towards reducing
VINOD DIXIT eating a plant-based diet as pollution caused by its own
AHMEDABAD much as possible. I am aghast sources (ªEnough is enoughº,
Yes, of course. So much time has passed. know that the victims have been left to
But the site of the disaster still has not their fate.
been decontaminated. At least that should RITE SH ANAND
have been done.
RAY EVANS Despite his actions having caused so
Have the authorities much misery, no Indian government was
The government—both Central and state, able to catch, apprehend and extradite
failed the victims of the the Supreme Court, Parliament—all Warren Anderson back to India. Letting
Bhopal Gas Tragedy? have failed the victims of the Bhopal Gas him escape itself shows the culpability of
Tragedy, without a doubt. certain sections of the authorities. What
PAWAN KUMAR more proof is needed to show that India
has indeed failed the Bhopal Gas
When after three decades, there is not Tragedy victims?
even a shred of appearing to be sorry, you MANZUR ALI


07-09Letters.indd 8 23/12/16 12:36 PM

16-30 November, 2016). The introduction are taken. The steps must be taken with cityº, which has the latest facilities like
of the odd-even rule for vehicles, which the consesus of all political parties to power supply and housing for instance,
was tried sometime back, did make solve Delhi's pollution. Important steps causes more trees to be cut. If there
some impact in reducing air pollution can be shifting all thermal power plants is such public apathy, then scenes like
but this is not a permanent solution. The in the city to distant locations, convert- the ªpost-apocalypticº one (as Down To
only solution is the public transport sys- ing some of them into nuclear power Earth calls it) on October 31, 2016, will
tem of buses and metro rail that need to plants, developing sustainable solar en- be the inevitable result.
be expanded substantially. That would ergy, enforcing segregation of household JAYANTA TOPADAR
also reduce traffic congestion. We need refuse, developing hydrogen-fuelled DHEMA JI

experts to suggest practical ways of vehicles and banning fire crackers.

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1-15 JANUARY 2017 9

07-09Letters.indd 9 23/12/16 12:36 PM



Anupam Mishra nurtured India's environmental movement
and environmentalists

NUPAMJI WAS the last of that generation that
taught India its politics of environment. He
was the man who went to Chipko, took Anil
Agarwal, founder editor of this magazine, to
Chipko, and brought back the story that the movement
was not about trees but about the political determina-
tion of people to fight for the environment because it was
a matter of their survival. He made us understand the
true politics of environment, which is the politics of the
poorest in this country, their knowledge, forgotten and
neglected, and how that has to be part of development.
I remember vividly, as if it were today, my journey
with Anupamji and Anil into the desert of Rajasthan.
We were travelling in Anil’s red Maruti car, and the three
of us stopped on seeing a flying saucer-type image in the
desert. They got off from the car and talked to a person
from the nearby village and found out that it was not a fly-
ing saucer, but a temple of modern India. It was a water-
harvesting structure built in a way to collect every drop
of water received in that water-scarce area. From there,
I know, Anupamji did not look back. He had brought
us to show the work of a young activist in Bikaner, who,
he said, had been doing remarkable work to protect the
grasslands for cattle. This activist, who, we learnt, was


Shibu Patwa, has continued his good work and is one of
those gems that Anupamji had found. Anupamji’s en-
tire journey was to locate the gems of India: people who
were doing work without fame, without noise, without
any fanfare, just real good work. Anupamji found them,
nurtured them and worked with them. Today, many ac- A N U PA M M I S H R A ( 194 8 -2 0 1 6 )
tivists, including myself, can look back at our journey and
see what an important role he played in our lives. How he needed to be taught because that story teaches us about
cautioned us and advised us, how he made us stay true the need to rebuild a resilient, caring and humane socie-
to our mission. He was the guiding philosopher that we ty that would once again build its water bodies.
all need in our lives and I know of countless grassroots I remember, he used to narrate stories about a sex
activists in this country who are what they are today be- worker who built tanks in Rajasthan, about a Maharaja
cause of Anupamji. and a trader who too built tanks. For him it was always
But his most important achievement, I believe, will about people.
remain the work he did on tanks in India. If you look at Anupamji has taught us that the environmental
the two books on the subject by him, they are not about movement is not about technology, trees, tigers or bees.
the structure of the tank, but about the society that made It is only about people and the humanness of society. If
the tanks. For him it was the story of the society that we want to remember him, let’s remember that. 


10Obituary.indd 10 26/12/16 11:56 AM



River wild Silent forest Food safari Chipko Scarlet land
A trip along the The lush Silent Valley Rajasthan's Thar revisited Chhattisgarh's
tempestous Kosi in Kerala hides many desert has an exciting Four decades after Bastar region has
river in Bihar reveals secrets in its wet array of traditional ªChipkoº, two districts other sides to its
a landscape of green depths 30 foods difficult to find that took part, show story than just the
contrasts 24 in urban areas 35 differing trajectories 40 red menace 45

Raising a stink Innovation
Levels of methane have risen Down To Earth
alarmingly in recent years profiles Indian-
due to human activities, says origin scientists
a study felicitated in 2016


A father dies OPINION56 Encouraging
Anupam Mishra, who Open theft biotheft?
nurtured many of India's Jharkhand allows Scrap model Biodiversity meet puts off
environmentalists, is no more the use of tribal India needs decision on benefit-sharing from
land for non- to develop an digital gene sequences
agricultural effective system for
purposes disposing of end-of-
life vehicles


Giant killer You are fired WITH SUBSCRIPTION COPIES
Cancer is the second leading
cause of death worldwide, The government's P L A N E T P E O P L E P O L I T I C S

according to a new report
drive hits job
security hard

Supplement Editor: Souparno Banerjee
Tongue equals mind? Copy: Arif Ayaz Parrey
The theory that animals' ability to talk is tied Design: Ajit Bajaj, Ritika Bohra and Surender Singh
Illustration: Sorit Gupto, Tarique Aziz and Ritika Bohra
to their cognition is to be challenged

11Contents.indd 11 26/12/16 11:57 AM



A Good Addiction

2 0 1 7

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Global methane emissions growing POINT

A N I N T E R N A T I O N A L study has
revealed that while carbon dioxide
emissions have flattened out in recent
years, global atmospheric levels of
methane are increasing faster now
grew precipitously in 2014 and 2015.
Concentrations in 2014-15 shot up by 10
or more parts per billion annually. This is
in stark contrast to the early 2000s when
methane concentrations crept up by just
The capacity of the Kamuthi solar
than at any other time in the past two 0.5 parts per billion on average each power plant in Tamil Nadu, the
decades. According to the research, year. Agriculture, increasing livestock world's largest. It started operations
methane concentrations in the air and fossil fuel exploration could be the on November 30, 2016
began to surge around 2007 and reason, say scientists.  Source: Adani Group

1-15 JANUARY 2017 13

13-15The Fortnight.indd 13 23/12/16 12:36 PM



FOR A CLEANER TOMORROW Women of Salvahan village in Himachal Pradesh's Mandi district check the water in a village tank. The women are
members of a self-help group that works to keep the village clean. Their group has been formed as per an initiative by the district collector under
the aegis of the Swachh Bharat Mission. They are required to do at least two sanitation activities in a week which could include anything from
checking samples of drinking water, sweeping roads to segregating waste into recyclable and organic constituents and managing dustbins.

Squid may become Delhi's mohalla clinics popular

favourite UK meal among residents: Lancet
as seas warm up BRITISH MEDICAL journal,
The Lancet has noted that the
Delhi government's mohalla clinics
T H E T R A D I T I O N A L British fish supper could scheme of walk-in clinics in the
be replaced by squid as waters around the island city's neighbourhoods —which
grow warmer, say government scientists. Fisheries aims to provide better primary care
data has revealed that squid and warm-water fish coverage in the national capital—
such as sardines and anchovies were flourishing is proving ªpopularº with residents.
around the North Sea. Squid are now being The journal's report said that Delhi
caught at 60 per cent of the North Sea's survey has a fragmented healthcare system
stations, compared to 20 per cent in the 1980s. run by multiple state and Central services, with potential for referral
Meanwhile, cold-water fish species like cod are government agencies, municipal linkage, and make it all affordable
heading north, towards Norway. Currently, squid corporations, as well as private by reducing indirect costs like travel
catches off the UK are exported. But John Pinnegar players. Although mohalla clinics and lost wages,º said Chandrakant
of British government agency Cefas, which has have added another layer to the Lahariya, a public health specialist
been monitoring North Sea fish populations for existing system, they offer key involved in designing the concept.
more than 100 years, told the British Broadcasting advantages, the journal said. ªThey There are 106 mohalla clinics in
Corporation that British consumers were likely to provide an assured package of Delhi and 1.5 million patients visited
switch over to squid in the future.  services, facilitate access to basic them in the past year. 


13-15The Fortnight.indd 14 23/12/16 12:37 PM


I N FO C U S I N CO U RT On December 7, the Centre told the Delhi High

Court that it had decided to allow the continued
Goodbye Garden City On December 2, the National Green
Tribunal (NGT) banned the use of
use of 51 of the 67 pesticides that have been
banned globally, based on the
disposable plastic in Delhi with effect recommendations of an expert panel. It also
from January 1, 2017, and directed the informed the court that of the 51, the status of
city government to take steps to reduce 27 pesticides would be reviewed in 2018.
dumped waste.
On December 2, the Odisha
On December 14, the Gujarat government filed a suit in
High Court issued notice to the Supreme Court under

the state government, Article 131 of the

seeking details of authorised Constitution against what
leases and steps taken for it called ªChhattisgarh's
stopping illegal mining of illegal action in
sand in riverbeds across unilaterally planning and
If the Karnataka government's latest bill gets the state. Delhi constructing projects and
the governor's nod, Bengaluru could lose its Gujarat barrages in the upper
status as a ªGarden Cityº. On December 2, the catchment of the
Bombay High Court Maharashtra Mahanadi Riverº. It sought
The Karnataka government has decided to granted permission to Odisha an injunction on the
reduce open spaces and parks to 10 per cent the Mumbai Telangana projects.
of the area in future layouts. The Karnataka Metropolitan Region
Urban Development Authorities Bill also seeks Development Authority On December 14, NGT restrained the state
to reduce the area to be earmarked for civic to cut mangroves as government from proceeding the Palamuru
amenities to just five per cent. part of the Mumbai Rangareddy Lift Irrigation Scheme till January
Trans Harbour Link that 17. The court's order came after a petitioner
Environmental activists have demanded a
will connect Mumbai convinced it that the government did not have
change in the rule to increase open spaces to
with Navi Mumbai. forest clearance for the project.
15 per cent in private layouts to be on par with
layouts formed by government bodies. SO FAR...
Total cases on
The ruling Congress party has, however, environment and SUPREME HIGH NATIONAL GREEN
defended the plan saying it is to help make COURT COURTS TRIBUNAL
development tracked
owning land more affordable. since January 1, 2016, 100 145 671
Activists and opposition parties are now till December 14, 2016
exploring various options to try and stall Compiled by DTE-CSE Data Centre. For detailed verdicts, visit
amendments to the bill.

Reindeer `shrinking' due to climate change V E R B AT I M

A BRITISH study has revealed that the average

weight of reindeer is shrinking due to climate change.
Between 1994 and 2010, the team behind the study
tracked reindeer in Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic,
catching, marking and measuring 10-month-old
calves every winter and returning the following year
to recapture and note the animals' size and weight. ªThis `financial
By the time they reached adulthood, reindeer born
Pokhran' will bring a
paradigm shift, but it
in 2010 weighed just over 48 kg, compared to 55 kg
requires a very
for those born in 1994—a drop of 12 per cent. The different mindset to
researchers blame climate change for the shrinking understand and
reindeer. With warmer winters in the Arctic, there articulateº
is more rain, which falls on snow and freezes. The ice prevents reindeer from getting to the lichen, a Ð S Gurumurthy, rss
fungus, which comprises the bulk of their winter diet and for which they usually forage in the snow. ideologue, on
The reindeer starve, aborting their calves or giving birth to much lighter young ones.  demonetisation

1-15 JANUARY 2017 15

13-15The Fortnight.indd 15 23/12/16 12:37 PM


People of no land
Jharkhand's decision to HE JHARKHAND government has
achieved what even the British
Ramgarh, Hazaribagh and Khunti districts
in August and October, in which eight people
allow the use of tribal rule could not—complete alienat- were killed and over 20 injured. The Amen-

land for non-agricultural ion of the tribal population from

their land. Amendments to the Chota Nag-
dments regularise the Ordinances and are
waiting President’s assent to become a law.
purposes could lead to pur Tenancy Act (cnt Act) of 1908 and the
Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (spt Act) of
“We don’t know where we will go,” says
a visibly worried Gangia Devi, 65, sitting in
mass displacement 1949, passed on November 23 by the Jhar- the courtyard of her house in Baseria village
khand Legislature, allow use of tribal land of Hazaribagh. Flanked by mountains on
JITENDRA | jharkhand for non-agricultural purposes by the gov- three sides, the village does not have an
ernment. Earlier, the government could take accessible road. Her village is one of more
over land only for public welfare activities. than 20 villages that have to make way for a
In May this year, the government issued 1,980 MW North Karanpura Super Ther-
the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act 1908 (Ame- mal Power Project being set up by the Nat-
Mother of Pawan Kumar of Hazaribagh ndment) Ordinance and the Santhal Parg- ional Power Thermal Corporation (ntpc) at
district's Sonbarsa village. Pawan was
killed in police firing on October 1 ana Tenancy Act 1949 (Amendment) Ordin- a cost of R15,000 crore.
during protests against changes in laws ance, which led to widespread protests. Gangia Devi belongs to one of the 10
governing tribal land in Jharkhand There were three incidents of police firing in families of the Oraon tribe who live in the

16-18Governance.indd 16 23/12/16 2:27 PM

village. In the past 55 years, these families Section 13(A) in the spt Act by the Amen-
have been relocated twice for “developm- dments allow the state government to frame `Rethink the
ental” reasons. Both the times the families
were not rehabilitated by the state and had
rules from “time to time” for non-agriculture
use of the land in the given geographical

to find a new home on their own. areas. Experts say the changes allow easy
“In 1959, we were displaced from transfer of land through the backdoor. “The
chief minister of Jharkhand,
Ranchi after our land was given to the Heavy use of ‘time to time’ wording clearly shows
says the
Engineering Corporation. We shifted to malafide intention of the state government.
changes in the
Patratu, 40 km west of Ranchi,” says Dinesh For instance, two years from now the gover-
Chota Nagpur Tenancy
Minj, a resident of Baseria. “The second time nment might decide that a hotel is needed
we had to move was in the 1970s for the for the development of an area, and sell land
Act and the Santhal
construction of Patratu dam and we moved to a private developer,” says Stan Swamy, a Pargana Tenancy Act are
to this village. But only 10 families shifted to Ranchi-based social activist who works for against the will of the
this village; the rest moved to different areas tribal rights. people. Excerpts from
in surrounding districts and have been the interview
separated for good,” he adds. In the name of investment
Minj says he now understands why the These changes, the state government says, How do you see the
government has not been issuing residential will improve the investment climate in the proposed changes?
and income certificates to them since 2008. state. Jharkhand is organising Global All the proposed chang-
“We have already been made homeless in Investor Summit Jharkhand 2017 in Feb- es are against the will of the people.
official records,” he says. ruary. The chief minister himself has been The government has been taking land
The preparation to evict them started doing road shows in Mumbai, Bengaluru, even without amending the Acts. The
after 2004 when the Union government Hyderabad, Kolkata and Delhi since Sep- tribal people are not against construc-
allocated ntpc captive coal blocks for the tember and has boasted of having a “land tion of railway lines and six-lane roads.
power plant. But instead of resolving their bank “of 334, 207 hectare (ha) in 10 districts People even made sacrifices by giving
problems, on November 2, Jharkhand Chief of the state. This is almost 5 per cent of total their land at low rates.
Minister Raghubar Das asked his party area of the state and more than twice the
members to convince the people that the area of Delhi. The land pieces include But you were the first chief
Amendments are for their own good. Now government land and forest land in cities minister to propose changes in
the President of India has to give accent to including Adityapur, Bokaro and Ranchi, these Acts. How are these changes
these Amendments before they get implem- and the Santhal Pargana Industrial Area. different from yours?
ented because Jharkhand comes under the “These belong to the government and I always preferred to take the people
Fifth Schedule of the Constitution which were listed on the website of the land into confidence before passing a law.
provides for the administration and control revenue department in April this year for You should know their basic needs.
of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes. industrial use,” says Rajeev Ranjan, Direc- Why are people of Jharkhand afraid
tor, Department of Revenue and Land of giving their land? They would rath-
What has changed Reform, Jharkhand. Top officials of the state er give their life. A treatment without
Under the spt Act, no transfer of urban or government have contacted 45 foreign correct diagnosis can kill the patient.
rural land is allowed. It can only be embassies and even made trips to many Acquisition of land by the government
inherited. The cnt Act is a little more lenient western countries to invite investments. As and private players at cheap rates
and allows transfer of land within the same per the government’s estimates, the target is
for mining will cause mass displace-
caste and geographical limits, but with the to attract investments of around R2 lakh
ment without adequate compensa-
approval of the district collector. But the crore by the summit.
tion. Time has come to think over the
Amendments allow the use of agriculture Moreover, addressing industrial tycoons
proposed changes. Methods used for
land owned by schedule tribes, schedule during road shows in Mumbai in Sept-
acquisition and compensation ear-
castes and other backward castes for ember, the chief minister claimed that the
lier cannot be applied now. No one
industrial and commercial purposes. The state has acquired an additional 71,000 ha
wants to give land. We have to think of
addition of Section 21 (B) in the cnt Act and after the amendment of the cnt and spt Acts,
says Swamy.
a new approach. Many decisions of the
Supreme Court and high courts also
Jharkhand is organising a Fudging the records said that there should be participation
global investor summit in Swamy, who has studied land records of of land owners in the profit. I do feel
February. The chief minister several districts of the state, says, “In Khunti there should be 50 per cent of part-
nership of landowners in the mining.
has boasted of having a land district, for instance, records show that
Then no one will protest.
bank of 334, 207 ha in 10 practically all the land, except the family-
patta land, has been marked as gairmajurwa For full interview, log on to
districts of the state (“land without a labourer” or government

1-15 JANUARY 2017 17

16-18Governance.indd 17 26/12/16 12:22 PM



Lost ground
From the colonial times,
governments have encroached
upon the land rights of tribal
population living in eastern India
Santhal tribes in western part of what
now constitutes Jharkhand revolted against
the exploitative British rule after decades
of suffering

After the uprising, a separate district created
by Act XXXVII of 1855 to appease Santhals and
to give them a sense of security. Their land
will never be transferrable, says the order

Two Scheduled Districts—Chota Nagpur
and Santhal Pargana—created in Bengal
presidency after another uprising
A protesters' camp destroyed by the police in Chiru Barwadih village of Hazaribagh
Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act) passed land). But there can never be a gairmajurwa roads, hospitals and schools if we did not
to prevent alienation of backward castes land in villages of Khunti district because all give our land?” he asks.
and tribes. The Act was prepared by the villages are designated as Mundari Khu- Swamy estimates that around 20 per
J B Hoffmann, a missionary who spent more ntkatti in government records. These are cent of the area that now constitutes Jhar-
than a decade studying the land governance the villages that have been inhabited by khand has been diverted for development
system of the Munda tribe people of the Munda tribe for ages. They of mines and dams since Independence.
1938 either belong to individual families or the “Around 1.6 million ha of the state’s total
First Amendment of the CNT Act. It allows village community.” area of 8 million ha has been diverted since
transfer of tribal land within police stations “Last year the state government started Independence. It has caused displacement
among tribal people as gift, sale or transfer a scheme to make developmental plans at of around 4 million people,” he says. The first
the village level and panchayat levels and chief minister of Jharkhand, Babulal Mara-
1949 engaged with people. This allowed the gov- ndi says that there is a need to rethink the
Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPT Act) ernment to survey the area at micro level,” acquisition method. “Methods used for
passed says Faisal Anurag, a Ranchi-based jour- acquisition and compensation earlier can’t
nalist, writer and activist. But people invol- be applied now. No one wants to give land.
1969 ved in the process now realise that all this We have to think of a different approach,”
The CNT Act amended second time to allow was being done to find out the details of Marandi says.
compensation of usurped tribal land. This community land, rivers and forests. Eighty-eight-year-old Johan Nag of
encouraged encroachment of tribal land by “We were so excited about being part of Bichaguttu village in Khunti district says
non-tribal people, who were not removed the planning process and helped in filling up that his grandfather, who fought along with
but escaped by paying for the land they the survey documents,” says Sameer Tapon, Birsa Munda, a tribal leader belonging to
encroached on a tribal youth from Khunti, who is on the the Munda tribe, against the repressive
1990 run after police booked him for protesting British agrarian policies, told him that
CNT and SPT Acts included in 9th Schedule against dilution of the cnt and spt Acts. Birsa foresaw this scenario. “Never be
of the Constitution to exempt them from Another tribal activist, Tarkan Munda of complacent about your rights. This battle
judicial review Kurapurti village in Khunti, says that they would have to be fought again and again,”
have given up their land for construction of Nag quotes Birsa Munda in the words of his
2016 hospitals and roads but still the government grandfather.
CNT and SPT Acts amended to allow non- says they are hindering development. “How The prophecy, it seems, has come true. 
agricultural use of tribal land did the government make all the four-lane @journojitendra


16-18Governance.indd 18 23/12/16 12:37 PM

19Azim Premji ad.indd 19 22/12/16 12:40 PM

About a million people live

on the Kosi floodplain between
two embankments. Here the Kosi
is constantly depositing sand at
some places and eroding land
at others

20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 20 26/12/16 2:59 PM


We all are on an eternal journey. Why does the earth have more
flowering plants than non-flowering ones? How did Americans come
to know about Indians? How did the earth make the transition from a
carbon dioxide-dominant atmosphere to an oxygen-driven one,...


20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 21 26/12/16 11:47 AM


...making life possible? Why do the actions of a few women in a remote Indian
village become a statement on unique Indian environmental consciousness?
There are millions of such questions that we raise every day. We have found
answers to most of these questions. But who exactly found the answer for us?
There are individuals and innumerable endeavours that constantly search for
answers to millions of such questions. And what is common among them is a
simple but profound activity: journey.
Everybody makes a journey. Knowingly or unknowingly. But it is not a
sovereign individual activity. Every journey has an impact and it contributes
a bit to unravel part of our mystical existence, an inherently ecological
experience. If the bees and birds didn't make their journey, we wouldn't have
had more flowering plants. We call it the process of pollination; the birds and
bees wouldn't have done it deliberately except for their simple pursuance of
food. But it led to a fascinating world of flowers and the great human desire
to colonise the knowledge. Similarly, at the bigger landscape of the universe,
if the solar systems didn't travel, thus, embarking on a journey
to be deciphered billions of years later, life wouldn't have
Every journey has happened on earth.
an impact and it
contributes a bit to Thus, journey is not simply travel with a beginning and an
unravel our mystical end, and, of course, an objective. Our every step is somehow an
existence, an unacknowledged tug in the process of evolution.
inherently ecological In this special edition of Down To Earth, our writers have
tumbled into this world of journeys. Being a development and
environment fortnightly, we need not undertake a journey as
a tourist like many of us do during holidays. But what our writers have done is
to trace back journeys of significance in various ecological regions. One way,
they are the chroniclers of great journeys that fascinate, and have arguably
redefined our perceptions of many things. For example, the Chipko movement
in the Himalayas. It was a 20th century journey of women who just wanted
to tell the world that they have certain rights they don't want to part with. How
it came to be known as an environmental movement is the journey our writer
has tracked.
For a country with 65 per cent of its population below the age of 35, this
special edition is crucial to understand how the contemporary discourse
on development evolved. For our readers, it is a journey to know of others'
journeys, still ongoing, that have impacted our lives. So, it is not only that
we all undertake a journey, but we are also companions in everybody else's
journey. We call it the ecosystem.


20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 22 26/12/16 11:47 AM


Rivers mirror
our lives. As
with rivers, we
have to remove
the constricting
of “learning”
that shrink our
horizons to allow a
natural flow of life

We believed that
people in the harsh
land of Rajasthan
must be spending
long hours in search
of food. But their JEMIMA ROHEKAR
journeys are short Silent Valley National Park
and they preserve reinforces the fact that forests and
the food to last the their resident biodiversity are our
whole year greatest wealth

A movement
cannot have an
impact until
people realise
the need for it.
But once the
objective is
achieved, people
may forget
why they had
embarked on it. So
a movement must SRESTHA BANERJEE
never cease The people of Bastar seem to
nurture life in death. One can
paint tombs so beautifully
only if there is hope

1-15 JANUARY 2017 23

20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 23 26/12/16 11:47 AM


Through a
narrow path
An engineering folly unfolds over a week-long journey along
Bihar's Kosi river, a tempestuous tributary of the Ganga

The Kosi carries a large amount

of silt and sand. The sediment
deposited on the riverbed
impedes its flow, so it frequently
erodes its banks and carves a
new channel

20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 24 26/12/16 11:47 AM


STAND OVER the Kosi barrage in Nepal that
Kosi squeezes the river to a kilometre’s width as
Supaul if between two fingers, just before it enters
Bihar. On one side, a few fishermen are
Saharsa catching fish in its slaty water. The fish, no
Khagaria bigger than the size of a palm, twist and flip as they
BIHAR are removed from the fine net and tossed into the
boat. On the other side, boatmen are collecting
wood that has drifted there from the forested hills
of the Himalayas.
It gives me a kind of thrill to be aware that
the water flowing under my feet carries snow-
melt from peaks as high as Mount Everest and
Khangchendzonga. The Kosi originates in Tibet.
Even before the Himalayas rose 70 million years
ago, the Kosi’s tributaries flowed into the prehis-
toric Tethys Sea. The Himalayas gave it a catch-
ment of amazing diversity. Ajaya Dixit, a water
expert in Nepal, explains it thus: “As the crow flies,
about 150 km from north to south the catchment
covers six geological and climatic belts varying in
altitude from 8,000 m to just 95 m: the Tibetan
plateau, the high Himalaya, the midland hills,
the Mahabharat range, the Siwalik range and the
Terai ... Eight peaks over 8,000 m high, including
Sagarmatha [Everest], are in the Kosi catchment as
are 36 glaciers and 296 glacier lakes.”
It is a large catchment and the hills are mostly
loose soil. When it rains this soil is easily eroded
and quickly carried down steep slopes. As the river
debouches from the foothills, 50 km upstream of
the barrage, it spreads the silt and sand in the shape
of a huge fan. This megafan, about 180 km long and
150 km wide, is the floodplain I intend to traverse
along the Kosi in north-east Bihar.

`Wrinkles on the forehead of pleasure'

Today, the river is confined within embankments
built by 1959 to prevent floods. The earthen bunds
extend like two long arms, 10 km apart, on both
sides of the river. Every kilometre, spurs jut out from
the bunds to protect them from the Kosi’s current.
We enter Supaul district. It is late October.
Bright green paddy fields, dotted with thick
clumps of bamboo, extend for miles outside the
embankments. In ponds formed by undrained
water, women and children are scooping out clay
to give a fresh coat of mud to their houses before
Diwali. Some are drying pater (reed) or dragging
soaked patsan (jute plant) out of the ponds. For a
good stretch west of the main stream, one can see
vast expanse of kans (wild sugarcane) in full bloom. 25

20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 25 26/12/16 11:47 AM


Ghonghepur village of Saharsa The idyllic picture is distorted as soon as one appeared, this region was prosperous. Rivers of
lies outside the western
embankment of the Kosi, yet begins talking to the people. In Supaul town close milk, not water, flowed here. The Kosi brought
for most part of the year it to the river, I ask an old man, Ramesh Jha, about his in its wake epidemics. If a person would die there
remains surrounded by water.
A large area between the Kosi memories of the river. He sings me a song. would be no one to throw away the body.”
and its tributary Kamla Balan Haral-bharal chhal chhai baag-bageecha “After the embankments were built, it turned
is waterlogged, though it is
"protected" by embankments Sona katora khet into a jail. Earlier, the water would come and go.
Dekh-dekh mori aafat e hai The land remained fertile. Now even those who
Sabre baalu ke dher have 50 bigha land inside the embankments buy
(Orchards full of greenery food from the market.”
Fields, a bowl of gold “Where is pleasure? Wrinkles have appeared
In no time, to my misfortune, on the forehead of pleasure.”
All turn into heaps of sand)
The song goes on recounting the miseries in- Life between spurs
flicted by the Kosi. It is a testimony to the destruc- A little north, in Kalyanpur hamlet of Saraigarh
tive power of the river notorious for flooding and Bhaptiyahi block, Poonam Devi is trying to rescue
frequently changing its course. The Kosi proba- some rice from half-ripe paddy in her courtyard.
bly carries the maximum amount of silt after the The Kosi is eroding the land she has leased for
Brahmaputra in India, Dinesh Kumar Mishra, an farming between the embankments, devouring
engineer-turned-flood control campaigner who the crop along with it. So she brought the paddy
has studied the rivers of Bihar for decades, had told home before it was ready for harvest. “Now it will
me. The sediment deposited on the riverbed im- go to the cattle,” she says, gathering the rice on the
pedes its flow, so it frequently erodes its banks and ground and keeping the stalks aside. “The Kosi
carves a new channel. In just 225 years between leaves gashes in the land as deep as one-and-a-
1723 and 1948, it swung 160 km westwards. half bamboo poles. As the water recedes, as much
Jha is 80 years old but his memory is as vivid as a katta (126 sq m) of land falls into the water
as spring. He recalls that the Kosi began flowing at one go.”
through Supaul district in 1938. “Before the Kosi Kalyanpur lies between two spurs on the eas-


20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 26 26/12/16 3:00 PM


A market in a hole ALONG THE TRAIL

The region is criss-crossed by embankments. From A curious fact: The
Saraigarh Bhaptiyahi one can see two more Kosi is formed by the
embankments within the embankments. Called merging of three major
guide embankments, these were built to direct the riversÐSun Kosi, Arun and
river through a narrow channel under the Kosi TamorÐwhich are older
Mahasetu, a 2 km-long bridge. The Kosi’s than the Himalayas.
tributaries have their own embankments. Hopping
from one embankment to the other leaves me For the palate: The region
disoriented. But Upendra Singh Kushwaha, a social is known for fish and
activist who is accompanying me, is keen on
makhana (fox nut). One can
sample a variety of small
showing me a market surrounded by embankments.
and medium fish, pothi,
He has a small paunch, dark face and an enthusiasm kauwa, singhi, maangur,
that comes from mingling with the masses. kabai, tengra, or dal
On reaching Nirmali, I understand why he makhani (not butter but fox
wanted me to see the market. Said to be the biggest nut). They can also watch
market in Supaul, it was protected by throwing a how makhana is grown and
ring of embankment around it in 1956. Today, the processed.
market looks like it is holed up in a ditch. The sand
brought by the Kosi and its tributary Bhutahi Balan Good time to visit: After
has raised the ground level outside the bunds. Dussehra in winters when
Kushwaha makes us descend into the hole to see a
water begins retreating.
Expect greenery and clean
relic of a railway station inside till our vehicle gets
air since industry is absent.
stuck in its narrow street. When it rains, the water
has to be pumped out of this hole.

tern embankment. “My parents’ village is outside Islands in a lake

the embankment,” she tells me. “I was 16 when I got As I enter Saharsa, bamboo becomes sparser.
married. Now I am used to living close to the river.” Paddy is gradually replaced by weedy grass and
She is now 30 and has five children. Her husband is water hyacinth. Waterlogging becomes worse.
away in Delhi, doing odd jobs as a labourer. Along both the embankments extend 3-4 km-
As it gets dark, cfl bulbs are switched on in wide strips of marshy land. Cattle are kept in jumbo
her house. Walls are of unplastered bricks and the mosquito nets. People have perched their houses all
roof is of bamboo. The floor is a raised platform along embankments and spurs.
of compacted river sand. The house is neat and This is where river engineering has gone horri-
orderly. I ask her if I can see it from inside. Her face bly wrong. The silt deposited over half a century
lights up with a smile for the first time during our between the two embankments has raised the
conversation. The entrance hall has a mosquito riverbed. From the embankments it is evident to the
net on a takht (wooden platform for sleeping or naked eye that the river is flowing at a higher level.
sitting). Two curved bamboo trays for winnowing As a result, the river water seeps outside through
called soop are tucked into the bamboo ceiling. the embankments, while rainwater and streams
This room opens to the inner courtyard on the outside cannot enter the river. Rather than draining
other side. This courtyard is surrounded by a the area, the Kosi is sending its water back into it.
temple hut, a storeroom, a kitchen and a bamboo Two men from Kosi Sewa Sadan, an ngo, take
wall. The temple is clean but bare. It has no idol or me to the fields around Mahishi village outside
photo, only one earthen storage vessel over which the eastern embankment that were once called
she lights an oil lamp. In one corner she has grown sonbarsa, meaning rain of gold, because of the
brinjal and bitter melon. In the outer courtyard, on
one side is a large hall, where her family sleeps along
with the cattle. All this goes under water during In some folk songs the Kosi is portrayed as a
the rainy months of July, August and September. beautiful maiden who asks her lover to join
“Then, we climb on to the embankment. We cook, her army. He has a huge spade, suggestive of
eat and sleep there.” the deep gashes the river makes in the land

1-15 JANUARY 2017 27

20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 27 26/12/16 3:00 PM


bumper harvest. “You look at the fields. It is all nearly the size of Patna! “To my mind people living
grass, not paddy. Cattle that eat this grass fall sick. in this area would be in hundreds of thousands,”
Fish in this water are diseased,” they say. “Once says Rajendra Jha, secretary of Kosi Sewa Sadan.
there used to be so much maize here that you could
not take care of it. Now maize just refuses to grow `Like the tongue between 32 teeth'’
here.” Earlier, people would also sow different An equally big mass of humanity is trapped
varieties of rice for different levels of inundation. within the two embankments of the Kosi. Mishra
It is worse outside the western embankment. estimates that more than one million people in
Here a vast area is trapped between the Kosi and about 380 villages are living in the belly of the
its tributary Kamla Balan. Although this area is Kosi. The river is constantly shaping the landscape
protected by the embankments of both the rivers, there, eroding land here and depositing sand there.
drainage and seepage are worse here. Fields are in I request Rajendra Jha to take me inside. In his
waist-high water through which people are moving heyday, Jha had negotiated the surrender of several
in boats. It appears like a big lake with islands of dacoits in the region, so he knows the area well.
villages. One such village is Ghonghepur. It is a From Baba Karu Dham near the eastern
small settlement of unkempt bamboo huts and embankment in Mahishi, we board a teak boat
some pucca houses, close to where the embank- double the size of a sedan. The boatman cranks the
ment ends. Mohammed Yunus, an old man, insists diesel engine and it starts with a loud sputter. With
we sit in the boat and see the village. He shows us the warm sun on our back, we head towards a huge
houses recovering from water that has just receded. sand bar across the muddy river. In 10 minutes we
Mud-coated bamboo walls have sagged at places. A are there. Two-three other boats have also arrived,
man is feeding chopped water hyacinth to his cow. each packed with about 20 people with their
He knows it is bad for the cow but says, “What else bundles of grass and bicycles. One even carries a
motorcycle. Past the fields and kans shrubs, we
reach a village called Baghaur. Most houses are
Earlier, people had different varieties of thatched, made of bamboo and mud.
paddy for different levels of inundation. We meet 83-year-old Jagdeesh Singh. He is tall,
They say the Dasharia variety would grow well-built, hard of hearing but with good memory.
30 cm overnight, with rising flood water He says he used to live close to Baba Karu Dham, 3
km away. The river began devouring the land in the
can I feed it? This is what grows all around.” late 1970s. “Each time the river eroded the village,
A woman in a veil tells me all the houses in the we shifted a little away from the embankment.
village were in waist-high water for three months Between ’77 and ’87, we shifted five-six times.”
during monsoon. “Even the chairs in the school More people join us. They say the sand bar is a
were in water.” From October the water starts huge island, 5 km wide and 25 km long, surrounded
receding, but the fields remain under water till by the river’s streams. More than 100 villages are
January-February. This leaves very little time to perched on it. Baghaur has one primary school and
sow crops. “So what do you do for livelihood?” I an anganwaadi. But it does not have a health centre
ask. “Don’t you see around? What can one do here? and electricity supply. Some have installed solar
Most just go away to find work elsewhere.” I look panels with government subsidy. Government
around. Most of the men around me are old, past offices, the police station, banks, all are outside.
the age when they could be useful as labourers. “Our life is like the tongue between 32 teeth,”
Bihar has the highest rate of migration to says one of them, Chanchal Kumar Singh. “To go
other states in India. As per one estimate, 4.5 to anywhere we have to cross the river. During the
5 million Bihari migrant labourers work in other rainy season the river swells 2.5 km wide. It is very
states. A good number of these come from the Kosi inconvenient to travel to anywhere.”
region. “Earlier, there was seasonal migration to “You can’t even approach the police if you need
tea gardens in Assam and Calcutta. It was not like protection. This emboldens the rogue elements.”
today when the entire village or members of every “The water pumped from bore wells has so
family leave,” Mishra tells me over the phone. “I much iron that you cannot drink it.” Singh quickly
have noticed migration of this kind since 1964.” orders a boy to fetch a glass of water from a hand
Data collected by him shows 306,200 hectares pump. “You see the yellow water. Even the glass is
(ha) of land is waterlogged along the Kosi. This is corroded. If you wash clothes with it, they too turn


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yellow.” He then shows us his homemade water

purifier. It is a cylindrical metal container filled
with sand and charcoal. Singh has fitted a tap near
its bottom. It filters 40 litres of water in a day.
In the adjacent Birwar village we hear the same
stories of displacement. We head for the nearest
ghat. To reach there one has to cross three small
streams, so we take off our shoes, fold our pants and
sink our feet into the muddy be. At the ghat about
two dozen people are waiting for the boat. After
five minutes of sailing, the boat runs aground in a
shallow area. The boatman and three passengers
quickly jump out and start steering the boat from
four sides. Soon as the boat is eased off, the boatman
restarts it and takes us to the embankment.
Kosi, two bridges stand like ghosts. Parts of them This bridge built to connect
The river has lost its character’ have collapsed in the middle, disrupting the only
Saharsa and Khagaria collapsed
in 2010. Another bridge built
A few kilometres downstream, on the other “safer” road link between Saharsa and Khagaria. The first close to it was also washed away.
The Bagmati was made to flow
side of the embankment, a group of women is bridge was made in 1991. Before that the Bagmati into the Kosi at this point, but the
clamouring to get into an overloaded boat. They had been flowing a kilometre away from the Kosi bridges could not withstand the
current of the two rivers
want to cross a stream, which cannot find its way and would join it a little downstream. To cut the
to the walled Kosi, to reach Belwara rehabilitation cost of building the bridge, its length was kept
village. As the name of the village suggests, people short and the Bagmati was made to flow into the
from within the embankments were resettled there. Kosi at Dumri. But the concrete bridge could not
The sluice gate built to allow the stream to join the withstand the strong current of the two rivers and
Kosi was blown away by the force of water during several of its pillars were washed away in 2010. The
the 1984 floods. “People were badly cheated in the government then built another bridge, reinforced
name of embankments. Many were resettled in a with steel, close to it. It too collapsed in 2012.
way it did not help. Others lost their land to water- When all the engineering failed, boatmen in
logging. These embankments are ticking bombs. Beldour struck upon the idea of joining their boats
They can go off anywhere,” warns Rajendra Jha. together to create a makeshift bridge. They, then,
The Kosi has breached its embankments eight laid a platform of bamboo poles over big boats the
times, causing big floods. In Supaul, Kushwaha size of a truck. The bridge is ready in January and
had shown me a place near the international border dismantled by the end of May, so I cannot see it. But
from where the Kosi had started flowing in 2008 I meet Bajrang Saini and Kare Saini, who led the
after breaching its embankment in Nepal. It looked boatmen, at Dumri Ghat. Bajrang Saini is a man
like a huge roller had moved through the fertile of about 50 in a lungi and a check kurta. He has
countryside. All through its 3 km-wide path the plied boats all his life up to Farakka, so he knows
river had uprooted the trees and left sand in its wake. many boatmen. He says he collected boatmen from
“The biggest loss is that the river has lost its as far as Bhagalpur who plied their boats on the
basic character which is to drain its catchment,” Ganga. Building the bridge takes 20-25 people and
Mishra says. He has calculated that the total land as many days. “The first year we made a bridge of
trapped between the embankments and lost to 42 boats at a gap of about 4 feet (1.2 m). We realised
waterlogging is 426,000 ha. “In other words the the gap was too wide, so next time we doubled the
Kosi embankments that were meant to protect number of boats and tied them at a gap of one foot
214,000 ha of land against recurring floods in the (0.3 m),” says Bajrang Saini.
river now threaten just double that area,” he writes We cross the river along with our Scorpio on a
in his book on the Kosi, Trapped Between the Devil boat run by a diesel engine.
and Deep Water. Now we head for our last destination Kursela
in Katihar district. Here, after covering nearly
A bridge of boats 700 km, the Kosi, both mother and dayan
We are now in Beldaur block of Khagaria district. (malevolent female spirit) to its people, quietly
At Dumri Ghat, where the Bagmati meets the disappears into the Ganga under the bright sun.

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After driving through the

buffer zone, one arrives at
the gate to the core area.
Beyond this lies a forest
with an evolutionary age
of at least 50 million years


Sounds of silence
A trip to Silent Valley is a lesson in the history of environmental
movements and biodiversity

INCE THE day I was assigned to write place or character; an animal; or a former prime
Silent Valley about Kerala’s Silent Valley National minister. Only two names inspire the imagination:
National Park Park, a 90-sq km stretch of tropical the Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarakhand
evergreen forest tucked in the Western and Silent Valley.
Ghats, I have been asked a question In a booklet titled “Storm Over Silent Valley”,
over and over again: why is it called Silent Valley? It senior environmental journalist Darryl D’monte
is a peculiar name in a country like ours. There are notes its widely accepted etymology. The valley was
more than 100 national parks in India, most of originally known as Sairandhri, another name for
them named after either a physical feature like a Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. And the river
river or a mountain; a historical or mythological flowing through it is called Kunthipuzha, after their


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mother. When an Englishman, who discovered Kozhikode. When he visited the forest, he realised ALONG THE TRAIL
this virgin forest in colonial times, found that that that building a dam would be nothing short of a How to visit: Most
there was no white noise of the cicadas after dark, blunder. “The forest was impenetrable and largely visitors opt for a day trip
common in other forested areas, he renamed it the undisturbed. If the dam had been built, it would to Sairandhri, which is a
Silent Valley. have started degrading the forest system slowly and short distance into the
we would have lost the entire forest over a period of core area of the national
A special forest no one has heard of time,” he adds. park, and a 1.2 kilometre-
Silent Valley is one of India’s few rainforests. The idea for a dam had taken root in the 1920s. trek to the banks of the
D’monte writes that it would be more correct to The natural drop of the Kunthipuzha river, as it Kunthipuzha. For a closer
call it a shola forest, a type of vegetation found only flows into the plains, is the highest in Kerala at 857 look, check the Silent
at the base of valleys in the western hills of south metres, making it the ideal site for a hydropower
Valley official website
or call the forest office
India. Surrounded by high ridges, the forest is deep project. After Independence, multi-purpose river
for details about longer
and virtually impenetrable. So secluded is Silent valley projects became a top priority to fulfill nature camps and walks.
Valley that there is no written record of any human the country’s requirements for irrigation and
habitation in its core area. While there are some electricity. So much so that by 1979, Government Local festival: Standing
tribal settlements in the buffer zone, the mere fact of India had invested nearly 14 per cent of the total out among the softly
that the forest is unspoilt by humans is enough to planned expenditure on dams and canals. One of rolling hills is the sharp
raise my suspense. I am also eager to visit the site these projects was in Silent Valley; a 131-metre- triangular Malleswaram
of the first and most bitterly fought environment v high dam, which would generate 240 MW of Mudi, the highest peak
development debate in India. electricity and irrigate 10,000 in Attapadi near Silent
I arrive in Coimbatore, hectares of land in Kerala’s Valley. Every Shivaratri, a
Silent Valley group of Kurumba tribals
Tamil Nadu, and decide to Palghat and Malapuram
hire a taxi to Mukkali, the
is a shola districts. The project was,
make the hazardous
base camp of the Silent Valley
forest, a type however, never to be.
trek up the mountain to
of vegetation worship Lord Shiva. Only
National Park, around 62 km the tribals are permitted
away. Armed with a 20-word- found only at the One of a kind on the mountain and they
strong Tamil vocabulary base of valleys Back in Coimbatore, I finally return with holy water for
generously sprinkled with in the western find a taxi driver who offers the rest of the tribe.
English, I start asking around hills of south to take me to Mukkali by
for a way to the park. But India. It is deep following the route on Google
the mention of Silent Valley and virtually Maps. Soon enough, we are
invites raised eyebrows and going up and down winding
casual shrugs from taxi drivers roads in the countryside
and shopkeepers alike. No one from Tamil Nadu to Kerala.
has heard of it before. I thought that the city’s taxi Banana, coconut and areca nut plantations line
drivers would be used to a steady stream of tourists the road, protected by electric fencing to keep
and nature enthusiasts headed for the national elephants from destroying the crop.
park. They are not. I cannot blame them though. My visit to the national park is scheduled for
Eleven years ago, I spent three days reporting on the following day, and I am anxious to meet my
tribals as a student in Attapadi, within a whispering guide, Mari, a 42-year-old tribal watcher popularly
distance of Silent Valley. Apart from a passing known as the “encyclopaedia of the Silent Valley
reference to the forest, I had then remained largely National Park”. He has been working with the Park
indifferent to its momentous environmental since he was 15 years old, guiding forest officers,
history. With so much written and spoken about botanists, zoologists, photographers and tourists
this forest, why is Silent Valley still unknown to or through the verdant labyrinth. He has only a little
underappreciated by people? Is the valley’s silence formal education and speaks almost no English,
a boon or a curse? but is well-versed with the scientific names of
“I first heard about Silent Valley in 1972 innumerable species of plants, animals, birds and
when a newspaper article announced the Kerala insects. A recipient of awards for his conservation
government’s plan to build a hydropower project work, Mari had also been invited by England’s
over the Kunthipuzha,” says M K Prasad, one of Prince Charles for a meeting on a visit to Kerala.
the pioneers of the Save Silent Valley movement. At the forest office in Mukkali, just as I
He was then a teacher of botany at a college in am about to leave for my accommodation at

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Silent Valley abounds Bommiyampadi about 13 km away, a mini bus in the forest, among other predators. Though the
in types of mushrooms,
each looking stranger
pulls into the gate. Staff members, who have dense forest makes wildlife sightings rare, Silent
than the other. (Right) already heard that I am looking for Mari, start Valley’s most famous residents do not disappoint
Of the more than 100
species of orchids in
calling out to me, “Madam, Mari! Madam, Mari!” us. Perched on the branches on the way is a group
Silent Valley, the forest Out steps a tall, slender man with eager eyes and a of Lion Tailed Macaques (ltm), a primate classified
department has grown
five species on a single
polite smile. Mari has just returned with a group as “endangered” by the International Union
stem near the watch of tourists from the Park, their faces glowing from for Conservation of Nature (iucn). The animal
tower for the benefit
of visitors
the treasures they have seen. I say namaskar to him had become the mascot of the Save Silent Valley
and someone steps in to translate. “I learned about movement in the 1970s and 80s, with protestors
the forest’s species from many Western botanists arguing that a hydropower project would destroy
and zoologists who visited Silent Valley through the ltm’s habitat and severely diminish its
the years. I find it very interesting,” he says. “The numbers. The Malabar Giant Squirrel and the
irony is I do not know what many species are called Nilgiri langur also make an appearance. All three
in Malayalam as no Malayali ever taught me.” animals are endemic to the Western Ghats.
Mari has inherited a precious legacy. His father, Charming as they are, the real magic of Silent
Letchiappan, was one of the three “unofficial Valley lies in its smaller or not usually noticeable
guides” who had helped conservation experts habitants. At one point, we stop to admire a
study the uniqueness of the forest at the height of 200-year-old jackfruit tree. It still produces fruits
the Silent Valley dam controversy in the 1980s. for elephants, ltms and birds alike. I crane my neck
The next morning, our jeep represents a full to see the tree top, but it is too tall and the canopy
house—the driver, Mari, Beat Forest Officer Ameen too thick to see through. Trees grow about 30-45
Ahsan S, a couple of friends from Coimbatore to metres tall in a tropical rainforest and the canopy
help with translation, and myself. As we drive is so thick that it takes rainwater at least half an
into the forest, we are surrounded by a riot of hour to percolate down the three to four layers to
green. Mari points to camera traps fixed to tree the ground, says Ameen. As we walk some of the
trunks and Ameen informs us that these traps way, I point at everything I have not seen before
have recorded the presence of five tigers. There and pat come the common English and scientific
are also leopards and at least two black panthers names from Mari. Trees, ferns, leaves, flowers,


20-34Cover story-Journey.indd 32 26/12/16 11:48 AM


of India findings indicated that Silent Valley could


turn out to be a major potential reservoir for agents
of biological control, given the presence of many
predator and parasite species.
We pass by a few wild pepper trees. In the
committee report, the Botanical Survey of India
had noted that the Silent Valley plateau was home
to wild relatives of domesticated plants, including
cardamom, pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon
and beans, among others. As it has remained largely
protected from human influence, Silent Valley is
a thriving gene bank, which might one day come
to our rescue if we were to lose our existing crop
varieties to diseases and resistant pests. Since 1984,
when the national park was formed, experts have
discovered many new species of plants, amphibians
and insects. Thus, the forest, with an evolutionary
age of more than 50 million years, is possibly home
to thousands of as yet undiscovered species.
As we stand atop the Park’s 30-metre-high
watch tower overlooking the valley, clouds flow over
the hills, thickly carpeted by trees and grasslands as
far as the eye can see. It is the last week of October
and both Mari and Ameen are worried that it has
not been raining as expected. “Deficient rainfall
has reduced the forest density. The germination
of seeds has been affected and undergrowth has
also reduced. The flow of water in streams is lower
than usual,” they say. (By December 21, when the
mushrooms, spiders, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, magazine went to press, the October to December
lizards…Mari knows them all. He explains their rainfall in Kerala was 61 per cent below normal.)
features and also identifies birds by their calls. Mari points to the area where the dam was to come
A viper snake is curled along the road, its colour up four decades ago. What would have happened if
such that we would have walked right by if Mari and it had come up, I ask. “…then these hillsides would
Ameen had not pointed it out. They guess that it has have been covered with hotels and restaurants,” he
probably just eaten and is not likely to move much says. “Only a murderer can try to spoil this forest. It
for a long period of time. We are no doubt relieved. cannot be the work of a sane human being.”
A few hundred metres ahead, a large serpent eagle
sits on a branch in the shade of the thick canopy, A movement is born
its watchful eyes taking in the surroundings. One Botany teacher M K Prasad had also foreseen the
slowly realises that the forest is a hub of thousands impact a hydropower project in Silent Valley would
of interdependent and coexisting habitats. have. Home to 1,000 species of flowering plants,
The 1982 report of the joint committee chaired 107 species of orchids, 100 ferns and fern allies,
by M G K Menon, which assessed the potential 500 species of butterflies and moths, 292 species
ecological impacts of the hydropower project, states of birds, among others, the Silent Valley forest
that Silent Valley has a high level of species diversity. was teeming with life. He wrote an article in the
With 118 vascular plants of 84 species in just 0.4 journal of the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad
hectares of sampled area, the report quotes studies
which show that the species diversity of Silent
Valley is similar to that of the tropical rainforest The species diversity of Silent Valley is
of the Barro Colorado island in the Panama canal, similar to that of the tropical rainforest
considered worldwide as a prototype for measuring of the Barro Colorado island in the
plant and animal diversity. The Zoological Survey Panama Canal

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(kssp), a people’s science movement of which he area of the forest (830 ha) and tried to convince
was a member. The article was against the project the public that there was nothing special about
in its entirety and received a huge response. Soon, the Silent Valley forest. The Save Silent Valley
the issue began to be discussed in the media movement, which by then counted professors
and public meetings. Organisations such as the and scientists among its supporters, refuted their
Bombay Natural History Society, Friends of the claims. This only pushed kseb to try harder. Prasad
Seen from the Trees Society, and wwf also started supporting the says that except the Hindu and the Indian Express,
30-metre-tall watch
tower in the core protest campaign. kseb was able to buy out or influence all English
area is a plaque The Kerala State Electricity Board (kseb) did and Malayalam media into supporting the dam.
commemorating the
formal inaugration of everything in its power to change the narrative in It accused Prasad of being an agent of the United
Silent Valley National its favour. It argued that the project would provide States. “I once received an anonymous letter from
Park by then Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi electricity to power-deprived northern Kerala, that someone claiming to be an employee of the kseb,
on September 7, 1985 the dam’s reservoir would submerge only a small warning me not to accept an invitation from their
employees’ union to visit Silent Valley to seek my
advice. It claimed that the plan was to get me killed,”


Prasad recalls calmly. He did receive an invitation
soon after, which he declined.
Meanwhile, the government formed com-
mittees to study the impact of the hydropower
project on the forest’s ecology. While one commit-
tee suggested safeguards, which the Kerala gov-
ernment readily accepted, another led by then
agriculture secretary M S Swaminathan recom-
mended that the project be scrapped. When Indira
Gandhi was re-elected as the prime minister in
1980, she asked Kerala to stop work on the dam
until the impacts of the project could be thorough-
ly reviewed. It culminated in the formation of the
M G K Menon committee. Its report said that the
830-ha area that was to be submerged was an
“important example of genuinely intact ripari-
an system”. It added that the dam would result in
“reduction of habitat size and species diversity”,
enhance the extent of disturbance to the ecosystem
and give humans access to Silent Valley.
The hydropower project was finally scrapped
and declared a national park on November 15,
1984. It was a watershed moment in environmental
history. “Nature conservation was largely limited
to afforestation before the controversy. But the
movement gave birth to the idea of carrying out
an environment impact assessment of every
development project before being given a go-
ahead. Public hearings also became a must. I was
fortunate to be associated with such a movement,”
Prasad says.
As I leave Prasad’s home in Kochi in a cab,
the driver and I talk about actor and demi-god
Mohanlal’s latest blockbuster. When I tell the
driver I am visiting Kerala on an assignment to
cover Silent Valley, he looks at me in the rearview
mirror and asks, “What is Silent Valley?” 

1-15 JANUARY 2017

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Shaitan (left) and Moti play

A fruitful journey
with wild tinda fruits at a
farm in Godaro ki Dhani in
Bikaner's Bhelu village

A food safari in the desert of Rajasthan reveals a variety

difficult to imagine in cities

HE TERRAIN is just what we expected: region. In the three-day trip, we hope to find out
harsh. Sandy soil covers the rocky how people, who have occupied the area for
earth as far as the eye can see. The centuries, have devised innovative ways to find Bikaner
road that takes us to the interiors of food in this harsh environment. But kikar is an
Kolayat tehsil in Bikaner district is invasive tree that even goats do not consume and Jaisalmer
flanked by kikar trees (Prosopis julifera) and aak aak is known more as medicine than food.
bushes (Calotropis procera). This does not sit well We enter Godaro ki Dhani in Bhelu village,
with our story. We are in Rajasthan to find out some 90 km from Bikaner, with some trepidation.
about the traditional food or desi khana of the Godaro ki Dhani, spread over 80 hectares (ha), is

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The importance of traditional foods fruits are enough for a crop for the next year.
can be gauged from the fact that Besides kaachar, the field has succulent
kakadiyas (Cucumis melo variety momordica),
the trees and their fruits and seeds
which Babu Ram offers us while we walk under
have different names the sun. Shaitan and Moti hunt down some
fruits of wild tinda or tindsi (Praecitrullus
owned by four brothers. One of the brothers, Babu fistulosus) for us.
Ram, greets us from a chair where he is busy peeling They tell us that the tinda fruit is preserved by
a small, striated fruit. He is surrounded by charpais cutting and drying. The dried vegetable is normally
(cots) that are covered with the peeled fruit. cooked when there is a shortage of food. The family
The sour fruit, which he calls kaachar (Cucu- then takes us to a neighbouring field to show us a
mis melo variety callosus), belongs to the melon kumbat tree (Acacia senegal). The tree, which fruits
family. It is used in place of amchoor (dried in summers, has only a few green beans hanging
mango) in the region. Babu Ram sells the dried from its spiny branches. The beans are consumed
fruit to traders who powder it and sell it in cities. green and its seeds, called kumatiya, are boiled and
The powder is called kachri. On our request, he preserved. There is a bush of bor or ber (Ziziphus
takes us to the fields where the wild kaachar vines mauritiana) right next to this and the ripe red
grow. We are accompanied by two young family fruits are offered to us.
members, Shaitan and Moti. Babu Ram tells us On our way back to Godaro ki Dhani, we rest
that the plant easily grows in the field as each fruit under a khejri tree (Prosopis cineraria) and watch
of kaachar has hundreds of seeds that grow pro- a woman collect guar (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba).
fusely in the next season. This means that just a few Buddha Ram, the eldest of the four brothers,

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brings water for us and narrates stories of how the The family says they are shifting to commercial ALONG THE TRAIL
bark of the khejri tree used to be milled and used as cultivation for higher profits. This year, they expect Places to visit: Thar
flour during famines. The bean of this tree, called to earn as much as `5 lakh from groundnut alone, Desert is the 17th biggest
sangri, is still consumed widely in Rajasthan. in addition to `50,000 from guar. The traditional desert in the world. The
Buddha Ram invites us for lunch and as kaachar is likely to contribute only `3,000 and its extinct river Saraswati
we wait for the food, we eat more kakadiya and seeds, `5,000 to the family’s income. is said to have passed
wild matira or watermelons (Citrullus lanatus). After the sumptuous meal, we travel to the through this desert.
Matira, which is used by the family as a vegetable, nearby Nokhda village, which is known for the Efforts have been made
is not as sweet as the watermelon we get in the thorny ker tree (Capparis decidua). We meet
to demarcate the path of
the river and around 14
cities. However, the succulent fruit is extremely 50-year-old Narayan, who has been trading in
wells have been dug in the
refreshing under the afternoon sun. We also enjoy ker fruits for the past 30 years. The women and villages, including some
freshly roasted peanuts, which we had collected on children in the region normally collect the fruit in Jaisalmer and Bikaner.
our way to Buddha Ram’s cottage, along with tea from the tree, which grows in the wild. Narayan, Carbon dating shows that
that is sweetened with jaggery. one of the four people in the village who buy ker the sweet water of these
For lunch, we eat a spicy guar sabji, a kaachar from these collectors, says he pays `60 for a kg of wells is 8,000-14,000
sabji, along with large bajra (millet) rotis and curd. the fruit. He adds that the fruit is treated with salt years old. The Desert
Our meal is made up of ingredients that are integral water for a few days to remove the bitter taste, after National Park has sea
to the rain-fed agriculture practised in the area. which it sells for over `100 a kg. The buyers sort shells and fossilised tree
But the family is slowly shifting to commercial them according to size (the smallest ones are most trunks that indicate the
farming of groundnut, which has become possible expensive as they do not have seeds). In fact, all of
geological history of
the area.
after the family installed a tubewell on their farm. these traditional foods require processing before
Last year, the family had experimented with onion. they can be stored. Kumbat, sangri, ker, gunda Best time to visit: If you
(Cordia mixa) are boiled before being dried and are on a culinary journey
stored to reduce cooking time and, in some cases, and want to taste food
to remove the bitter taste. found in the wild, visit in
Nokhda residents introduce us to several other the summer months till
traditional foods. One of them is bhurut (Cenchrus the end of September.
biflorus), whose seeds used to be earlier milled and However, all traditional
consumed as flour during famines. Then there is food is preserved and is
the phog tree (Calligonum polygonoides), which available round the year.
does not grow in the area. The fruit and flower of
the tree are used to prepare raita and spicy kadhi
during the summer season. We are told that phog
trees grow around Jaisalmer.
Next day, we enter Jaisalmer and drive down
to Chundi village, which is about 17 km away from
the city. Interestingly, twenty-five-year-old Khevra,
who owns around 200 ha of land, tells us that he
has never heard of phog. His kitchen, however, is
well stocked with other traditional foods. He has
seeds of tumba (Citrullus colocynthis), a fruit that
is normally used for feeding animals. His wife tells
us that the seeds, which are boiled and made fit
for human consumption, are added to bajra flour,
which is used for making rotis. She says adding
tumba makes the roti crunchy and increases its
nutritive value. The family then shows us about
10 other local ingredients from their kitchen. The
importance of the ingredients to the family can
A woman carries guar
be gauged from the fact that 9-year-old Mahipal
plants at a farm in hurriedly takes the packets inside when some
Godaro ki Dhani. Guar younger children from the family start playing with
is a popular vegetable
in Rajasthan them. Khevra fondly talks about the sweet fruits of 37

35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 37 26/12/16 11:51 AM


Twenty-five-year-old peelu (Salvadora oleoides) and wild mushrooms among the very few in the region who still depend
Khevra from Chundi
village in Jaisalmer that grow in the sand dunes after the rains. The on traditional foods. Bhora Ram, a Chundi resident
district drives us to his mushrooms are a delicacy in the area and are in his twenties, says it is easier to buy vegetables
land to show khejri trees
dried and milled to make flour. While we did from the market as collecting local vegetables from
not get a chance to see or taste the mushrooms, the wild is time consuming. “It is easier to buy a
studies by researchers in Jodhpur reveal that as kg of mushroom for `200 from the market than
many as 48 types of mushrooms can be found in collect them from the wild,” he says. We then meet
the Thar Desert. Bhagwana Ram, who introduces us to some more
We then accompany Khevra to his field in a traditional foods from the area. He tells us that seeds
tractor trolley to see his khejri tree. He practises of a shrub called lana (Haloxylon salicornicum)
rain-fed agriculture, but makes more money can be used to make rotis and that ker, which
from selling sand from his land. It is evident that is bitter in taste, can be used to make laddus.
the knowledge of traditional food in the family is He speaks passionately about traditional foods
gradually decreasing. For instance, no one in the and promises to cook them the next time we visit
family knows that pods of kheep bush (Leptadenia the region.
pyrotechnica), which is growing all over his field, The next day we travel to Jodhpur to meet
can be used as a vegetable. The family only uses the S M Mohnot, director of the School of Desert
thin branches of this bush for thatching huts or Sciences, who is surprised that we managed to find
during last rites. so many varieties during our journey. “Traditional
Next, we visit Beldaro ki dhani, a colony of foods do not provide substantial support to the
stone workers just five km away from Chundi people now. They are just remnants of what
village, and realise that Khevra and his family are used to be palatable some 100 years ago.” They
are now consumed mostly in dhanis (cluster of
huts) as these are far from the market. He points
Kumbat, ker and sangri are more expensive out another reason for the waning popularity of
than onion and potato. Some traditional these plants. Kumbat, ker and sangri are more
foods are as expensive as dry fruits expensive than onion and potato, some being as


35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 38 26/12/16 3:02 PM


Traditional foods helped tide over famines

Rise in commercial farming is eclipsing the importance of traditional foods
have helped the people of Moth beans
Rajasthan survive famines for Dried kaachar
centuries. They are, in fact, woven
Matira seeds
in the colourful tapestry of the Moong
people's pastoral life in the state.
Their importance can be gauged
from the fact that the trees and Kumatiya
their fruits and seeds have
different names, depending on Sangri
their physical attributes.
The pod of khejri is called
sangri, dried tinda is called
phophaliya, flowers of phog tree
are called phogalo and seeds of Guar Kaachar
kumbat are known by a variety of
poetic names such as kumatiya,
lehariya, papri and chapatiya.
But this beautiful association
between traditional foods and the traditional foods. In fact, several of traditional foods is going down have survived because of their
Rajasthani people is fast fading. In of the traditional foods are no because there has been a rise in cultural significance. For example,
April 2016, 19 districts of the state more consumed in the state. Seeds commercial farming in the state, panchkuta, a mix of sangri, ker,
reeled from severe droughts, but of bhurut and bark of kheri are thanks to the Indira Gandhi Canal gunda, kumatiya and kaachar, is
the people did not fall back on just two examples. The importance project. Just a few famine foods still prepared during weddings.

expensive as dry fruits. Production has gone down fairs.” Ojha adds that the traditional varieties have
as on the one hand, these plants are being cut the additional benefit of being organic. “We are
and on the other hand, new seeds are not finding planning to set up solar dryers to ensure the quality
suitable space for germination. A piece of land that of these products. We are encouraging farmers to
yielded 100 kg of the product 50 years ago barely ensure that native trees and plants remain part
provides 10 kg of the traditional foods now, he says. of the farm.” He adds that a single khejri tree can
The process of collection, processing and storing increase a farmer’s earnings by as much as `10,000
is also time-consuming. He adds that this is not a year. Besides, crops grow better under the tree and
the case with all traditional plant varieties. For its leaves can be used as fodder.
example, while sangri, ker and kumatiya are still After the three-day journey through traditional
being collected, varieties such as phog, tinda and foods, we are back to the restaurants of Jodhpur
kheep are slowly disappearing. serving alu poori and chowmein, a representation
Arvind Ojha, chief executive and secretary of of the standard restaurant food in places like Delhi.
the Urmul Trust in Bikaner, says certain local food It reminds me of what Kheraj Ram of Nokhda
varieties are making a return because of tourism. village said that as far as food is concerned, Delhi
“Guests want to taste traditional foods and we is a city of fakirs (paupers). City dwellers cannot
see a big commercial scope here. We are trying to even imagine the wide variety of traditional foods
popularise these foods among our self-help groups. that grow wild in Rajasthan. Our only fear is that
For example, we have created awareness about the rural people of Rajasthan too might soon lose
how guar phalli can be dried and sold as a spicy their traditional recipes. 
snack from the desert. It is already being sold in @vibhavarshney

1-15 JANUARY 2017 39

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Cheta Devi from the Mandal valley in Chamoli

district. Earlier, she would leave home at four
in the morning to collect fodder from the steep
mountainsides and return by noon. These days she
collects fodder from the forest people have grown
next to the village and harvests nutrient-rich
napier grass planted along her farm

35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 40 26/12/16 3:02 PM


Uploaded by: @UPSCMagazines

Embrace of Chipko
Impacts of the Chipko movement are visible in Chamoli even
after four decades, but Tehri Garhwal has taken a different turn

OMEN IN the Himalayan villages egalitarianism is almost absent. The movement has Tehri Garhwal Chamoli
hugged trees, braving the axes inspired eco-feminism in India and worldwide,
of loggers with government but has it brought liberation to the women of
permits, and stopped the Uttarakhand? How does the present generation
clear-felling of mountain relate to its forests? And has the government
slopes. This simple but effective way of protest that changed its attitude towards forests?
marked the Chipko movement and its protagonists All these thoughts keep popping up in my UTTARAKHAND
has always intrigued me. Now that I am heading for mind as the taxi crosses the Ganga at Devprayag
the birthplace of the movement, a small town called and starts following the meanders of one of its
Gopeshwar, anticipation and excitement sweep headstreams—the Alaknanda. We pass a few
over me. hamlets nestled in the valleys created by its
The taxi I boarded from Rishikesh soon leaves tributaries. Houses here are located halfway
the crowded plains behind and starts climbing the between the fields below and forests above.
steep incline. The road bends and curves at every The landscape begins to change as we enter
possible angle, offering glimpses of the mighty Chamoli district, bounded by Tibet in the north.
Himalayan range. I start getting goose bumps Mountains become taller, forests denser and
when I realise that guardrails are missing on roads steeper. The sun is about to set when I
portions of the road that clings to the edge of a cliff. spot Gopeshwar. There I meet Chandi Prasad
About 10-20 metres below, the Ganga flows in the Bhatt, the founder of the movement that swept
opposite direction with all its force. I try not to let Uttarakhand, then part of Uttar Pradesh, in the
any negative thought cross my mind and shift focus 1970s. The movement for the first time catapulted
on the assignment at hand. the environment into political discourse and has
More than four decades have passed since the shaped the understanding of environmentalism in
Chipko movement was born in March 1973. It was India. But Bhatt prefers to introduce himself as a
primarily a peasant’s movement and at its heart worker of the Sarvodaya Movement that worked for
was a Gandhian philosophy: self-sustenance of universal progress. He asks us to take a tour around
villages. But most villages in Uttarakhand continue Gopeshwar and villages in the Mandal valley—part
to depend on the money-order economy. In fact, of the Alaknanda valley—the next day before he
a staggering 3,600 of the state’s 16,793 villages could explain the impact of the movement.
have turned into ghost habitations as people are
abandoning agriculture and migrating to towns. Women turn over an oak leaf
The other aspect of the movement, which brought Located at an elevation of 1,550 metres, Gopeshwar
it glamour, is that it was largely led by simple, town, with a population of 100,600, spreads across
uneducated women who spent most part of the day the mountainside. Rows of houses and trees are
fetching water from distant streams and foraging neatly arranged along a steep, winding, litter-
for firewood and fodder from steep mountainsides. free tar road. In fact, in a sharp contrast to most
In Reni village near Joshimath, women under the Indian villages, almost all habitations in the valley
leadership of 50-year-old Gaura Devi, drove out the appear clean. “People here do not litter as they feel
lumbermen. This is no mean feat in a society where responsible towards nature,” says Bhupal Singh

1-15 JANUARY 2017 41


Negi from Gopeshwar, who participated in Chipko trees he planted in 1973. “The forest belies the forest
as a student and has since accompanied Bhatt in department’s claim that oak can be grown only in
his mission. the high altitudes of the Central Himalayas.”
Just below the town is a village of 300- The passion for growing oak forests among
odd households, also named Gopeshwar. It is the hill communities reminds me of what Anil
surrounded by a thick forest of banj oak (Quercus Agarwal, the founder editor of Down To Earth, had
leucotrichophora), an evergreen tree native to mentioned in one of his articles: Oak leaves give rise
the Central Himalayas. “The village women have to a nutrient-rich, water-absorbing humous. An oak
raised this forest,” says Negi. Inspired by the Chipko forest, therefore, holds on to water for a long time
movement, the women planted the saplings on the and releases it very slowly, giving rise to perennial
barren village common land in the early 1980s and streams and rivulets. This is the reason hill village
formed a committee to nurture them. Today, none communities have come to be established around
of them is alive. But the saplings have grown into oak forests over the ages. Lal cites one more utility
12-18-metre-tall trees and allowed several other of oak forests: once oak took roots on the barren
trees, shrubs and grass to grow underneath. Negi land, plants like malchhada, khinda and kunja
says young women from the village now take care regenerated on their own. Leaves of these plants
of the forest. They pool funds to repair the stone mixed with dung act as a pesticide.
wall around the forest meant to prevent cattle from On the way, we stop by Kunkuli village.
straying into it. Two of them take turns to guard Located along the Balkhila river, a tributary of
the forest every day. “This forest now fulfills all our the Alaknanda, this village looks straight out of
needs. No woman in the village has travelled to a storybook. It has a natural oak forest right next
other forests in the past 25 years,” says Chandrakala to it and farmlands along the river. At a tea stall,
Ash tress stand tall in
the forest next to Mandal
Bist, a committee member. I meet a farmer and ask how he treats the forest.
village. Residents of Residents of Papdiyana village have a similar “We have not touched it since 1983,” says Sarvendra
the village staged the
first Chipko movement
oak forest to show off, which they have raised under Singh Bartwal, who retired as a postmaster three
in 1973 to save trees the guidance of Murari Lal, another lieutenant of years ago and has since been working on his fields,
that Allahabad-based
Symonds Co wanted to
the Chipko movement. At 83, Lal uses a walking growing three crops a year. “Our day-to-day needs
fell to make sports goods stick but can quickly climb the hill to show the oak are met by a forest that we have grown on the

35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 42 26/12/16 11:52 AM


village common land. Today, the two-hectare patch is the transformation we had strived for. We ALONG THE TRAIL
has medicinal and aromatic trees, such as large wanted people to realise the importance of trees Local food: Eat at local
cardamom, soap nut and mentha, and plants like and environment in their lives so that they can dhabas. They serve freshly
bhimal (Grewia optiva) and kachnar (Bauhinia protect it long after we are gone. Four decades ago, plucked wild vegetables
variegata) that provide palatable fodder.” when I was young and Gopeshwar a small village, and other local favourites,
Bartwal leads me to a group of women, who are women in the region would not speak out. Today, such as ragi (finger millet)
leaving for home after spreading manure on their they take all decisions related to forest and village or barley chapatti, kulath
fields. Among them is Kanta Devi, who headed governance,” says the 83-year-old Gandhian, his
(horse gram) ki dal and
jhangora (barnyard millet)
the village van panchayat (forest council) twice eyes lighting up. “Even the forest department has
ki kheer.
since 2002. She tells me how the lives of women changed its attitude. Earlier, chir pine constituted
have changed for better since the village grew its 90-95 per cent saplings in the department’s
Local festivals: People
own forest. “Earlier, women in the village would nursery. Chir pine is commercially important but
worship goddess Nanda
leave home around 4 in the morning and return by does not benefit soil. In the past 10-15 years they
Devi in a three-week
11 am. These days they collect leaves, dropped twigs have not had chir pine in their nursery.” festival, Nanda Devi Raj Jat,
and grass from the new forest and spend more time The impact of Chipko is palpable across the celebrated once in 12 years.
with their children,” says Devi, who also plays an valley. A study by the Space Applications Centre of The festival is prominent
active role in anti-liquor campaigns. the Indian Space Research Organisation, Ahme- around Mount Nanda Devi
The road leads to the forest of Mandal village, dabad, in August 1994 shows that between 1972 and its sanctuary. Another
where people under the leadership of Bhatt had and 1991, at least 5,113 ha of forest has been raised festival, the Uttarayani fair,
staged the first Chipko movement. Ash trees stand outside the reserve forest boundary and in the held on the occasion of
tall in this mixed forest at an elevation of 2,280 vicinity of villages, in the watersheds of Nagolgad, Makar Sankranti in January,
metres. Only a few beams of Amritganga (Balkhila), Mena- is used as a platform by
social activists who set up
sunlight penetrate the thick gad and Kalpaganga and other
camps in the fair ground to
canopy. These are the trees The word watershed of the Alaknanda.
publicise their agenda.
Allahabad-based Symonds Co originally This is 9.6 per cent of the
wanted to fell to make sports used was total watershed area. Of the
goods. When Bhatt’s coopera- `angalwaltha', forest raised 1,854 ha has been
tive organisation Dasholi Gram meaning exclusively on the barren land
Swaraj Sangh (later renamed of the villages.
embrace. It was
Dasholi Gram Swaraj Mandal,
dgsm), set up to generate
later popularised No forest, no gain
employment, learned about
as `chipko' The impact of Chipko fades as
Symonds’ intention, it organi- we leave Chamoli. Slopes look
sed the residents of Mandal, under their headman increasingly bare as we pass through Pauri Garhwal
Alam Singh Bist. They resolved to hug the trees to and head towards Tehri Garhwal district. Vast
prevent felling. Bhatt later tells me that the word he stretches of chir pine dominate the landscape. At
used originally was the Garhwali “angalwaltha”, or places deep gashes run up the sides of the
embrace, which was later popularised as “chipko”. mountains. Bhatt’s words ring in my head: “Only
“No one had to hug the trees. The mere threat was forest cover can prevent landslides.” At several
enough and Symonds had to return empty- places, farmlands are lying fallow.
handed.” “People here are losing interest in agriculture
On the way back we meet Kalavati Devi—the and forests,” Aaranya Ranjan of Uttarakhand Jan
fierce leader of Bacher village who in the 1980s Jagriti Sansthan (ujjs) in Jajal, Tehri Garhwal,
forced the government to provide electricity to her tells me over the phone. ujjs was founded in 1983
remote village, campaigned against alcoholism by a group of veteran Chipko activists who wanted
and fought against timber mafia. “Forest is like our to make agriculture profitable. “Agriculture is no
child. We protect it with our lives, be it from timber longer profitable due to attacks from wildlife and
mafia or fire,” says Kalavati Devi, now 63. For the changing climate, while forests are out of bounds
past four decades women have been heading the for people,” he adds. This not only fuels large-scale
van panchayat. “We do not trust men with forests,” migration but makes forests vulnerable to fires.
she says. This year, for the first time, Bacher has Earlier, people would regularly take their cattle
elected a man to head the van panchayat. for grazing into the forest and collect litter from
I meet Bhatt at dgsm the next day. “This the forest to use it as bedding material and green

1-15 JANUARY 2017 43

35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 43 26/12/16 11:52 AM


manure. Now it remains accumulated in the forest abandoning agriculture and migrating to towns.
and helps spread the fire.” “We are trying to make agriculture profitable
To understand the matter better, we visit for farmers by spreading the message of bba.
Vijay Jardhari in Jardhargaon. He had joined the But people are leaving villages because of lack of
Chipko movement under Sunderlal Bahuguna educational and healthcare facilities,” he says.
when it spread to Tehri Garhwal in the late 1970s. A major impact of the Chipko movement was
Today, he is busy promoting traditional crops that that it prompted the Union government to amend
are resistant to climate change impacts under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and introduced the
the movement Beej Bachao Andolan (bba). His Forest Conservation Act 1980, which says forest
courtyard resembles an exotic nursery, where a land cannot be used for non-forest purpose. The
tomato tree from the Northeast and a variety of same year, in another historical order, commercial
basil plant greet us. “People protect forest only green felling was banned in forests above the 1,000
when they have ownership over it,” says Jardhari, metre altitude. “All these laws ensured conservation
citing the example of the forest next to his village. of forests but also disassociated people from
“It was completely degraded before the 1980s. forests,” says Anil Prakash Joshi of Gaon Vachao
Inspired by the Chipko movement, we constituted Andolan in Uttarakhand.
a van suraksha samiti, which planted trees and Self-sufficiency of villages is one area where the
nurtured the forest. The committee employs two movement has failed, admits Shekhar Pathak, a
guards for `300. Eventually, all varieties of trees historian with in-depth knowledge of Uttarakhand
came up. A few streams now flow from the forest. and founder of People’s Association for Himalaya
Today, people depend on the forest for herbs, fodder Area Research. People in the hills depend on
and tuber. So when the forest fire of 2013 started forestry, animal rearing and agriculture. “We
spreading, people from the village rushed to the wanted to reconstruct the economic activities of
forest and cleared the fire line. People in several people by providing them training in toy-making
villages like Patuli, Lashial and Kot who have and temple crafts. This was the objective with
grown their own forests acted the same way.” which Van Nigam (forest corporation) was set up in
Chandi Prasad Bhatt,
the founder of Chipko
Sarvodaya worker Dhum Singh Negi, who quit the 1975. But its activities are now limited to felling
movement. He believes his government job to join the Chipko movement and distributing timber,” says Pathak.
that every village
should have a forest
and went on a fast to save Advani forest, close to the However, he thinks, the movement is far from
of its own Hemal river, feels sad that people in the region are over. In Chamoli, dgsm continues to organise
plantation programmes on barren land through
eco-development camps. To reduce pressure on
forests, it grows commercially important plants
in a nursery at Bacher and supplies the saplings to
villages. “The rate of survival of saplings planted
by dgsm is up to 90 per cent, whereas the survival
rate achieved in government plantations is 10-15
per cent,” says Pathak. dgsm has also introduced
nutrient-rich fodder napier grass (Pennisetum
purpureum) in the seven years in 23 villages across
Mandal valley and is promoting iron ploughs.
Tehri now witnesses a second wave of the
movement under bba and ujjs. In Dehradun,
Chipko activists have set up Himalaya Action
Research Centre that trains farmers in organic
farming and micro-enterprises.
As I leave for Delhi, I remember Bhatt’s words.
Every village should have a gram van, the village
forest. Research shows that a forest of 50 hectares
can generate enough fodder in six months and
help the village earn `10 lakh a year. This is both
economic and environmental gain. 


35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 44 26/12/16 3:02 PM


Sita, a resident of Parapur village

in Dantewada district, says that
the village has not received any
developmental benefits despite
being just a few kilometres from a
mining township


Bastar beyond
Such is the obsession with Maoists that no one is paying attention
to health and education in this ancient and beautiful land

OR ALL of us in the 21st century, Bastar fruit-bearing trees and medicinal plants appear.
CHHATTISGARH is a landscape of forests, tribals and a Posts of the Central Reserve Police Force are
bloody battleground for security forces visible within short distances of each other. People
and the armed insurgents known as generally refuse to go to these places after daylight.
Maoists. One way, it is a landscape We were also warned.
of perceptions. Unless one ventures into this area “Aap ko dar nahi laga yahan aane mein”
Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. (Didn’t you feel scared coming here)?” asks a clerk
From Jagdalpur to Dantewada, the road at Dantewada District Collectorate as I approach
meanders through dense sal forests. Often wild him for a meeting with the District Commissioner.

1-15 JANUARY 2017 45

35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 45 26/12/16 11:52 AM


ALONG THE TRAIL On seeing two women—my colleague and I—in The red irony
Local food: The people south Bastar, this was the first question that came Early morning we set out to go to Bacheli, one of
of Dantewada are mainly to his mind. Insurgency raging in the Bastar forests the two most important iron ore-mining sites of
non-vegetarian. However, for the past decade has created an atmosphere of the National Mineral Development Corporation
leafy vegetables such as lal fear. Uneasy conversations of conflicts, guns and (nmdc) in Dantewada. Bacheli lies in the foothills
bhaji and khatti bhaji are arrests are common. The lush green Dandakaranya of the Bailadila Range, an ecological hot spot and
eaten as accompaniments forests and the serene streams somehow fail to famous for its high-quality iron ore deposits. The
to rice. Liquors such as paje relieve the nervousness. corporation has been mining iron ore in Bailadila
(a non-toxic, home-made The word “dandakaranya” roughly translates since the early 1960s. At present, it has five
liquor made from water to “the jungle of punishment”. Folklore has it that operational leases spreading over 2,553 hectares
and cooked rice), sulphi the forests were home to many deadly creatures and of forested area. In 2015-16, it earned a royalty of
(collected from a tall palm-
exiled people. The reputation endures. Its people `577 crore. Last year, the earning was `953 crore,
like tree) are popular in the
region. today seem to be living in exile. Even though rich in says District Commissioner Saurabh Kumar. The
beauty, resources and tribal culture, the forests are district has enjoyed such handsome earnings for
Local festivals: infamous as “maoist-infested”. years now.
Celebrations are typically Of the many fallouts But the richness of the red
oriented around nature of insurgency a critical one ore has escaped a large section
and harvest, such as pane is the way it has affected It is arguably of the population here. On the
pandum (before sowing the lives of some of India’s the place main road through Bacheli,
paddy seeds in May and poorest people—the adivasis a signboard boasting “Indian
giving thanks for the new where one can
predominant in this area. Coffee House” points in the
crops in November) and experience
Stories of their everyday life, direction of nmdc township,
gadi pandum (before
their needs and aspirations
pre-agriculture a pocket of affluence. Just
picking the mahua flower).
have been subsumed into life. The forests on the other side, a few
the dominant narrative of host tribes kilometers inside, people walk
insurgency. Pressing issues like the Gonds, a considerable distance for a
of malnutrition, healthcare, who do not pot of water.
clean water and education have a word for A common sight in
have largely remained on the `future' and Parapur, a sparsely populated
sidelines. Our journey through `breakdown' tribal village in Bacheli, is
Dantewada, is to walk through women with handis (pots) on
the sidelines. their heads going to fetch water.
Nande is one of them. Unable to speak Hindi, she
First sprouts of life communicates with us through gestures and with
But first, a short ecological history. Bastar’s geog- the help of a local person accompanying us. Every
raphy is its history. Apparently, some three billion day she and many others walk a long distance to
years ago life took shape here. The plant and tree get water.
species we see now are ancestors to the first sprouts Only about two per cent of the rural households
of life in what we call India. It was still a separate have access to treated tap water in Dantewada.
geological plate and India at that point of time did As per official data, 84 per cent households in
not look like what it is today. The tribals were not the region “rely” on hand pumps. But the hand
there but the plants and trees were busy preparing pumps we come across in the village are mostly
the ground for them to appear much later. non-functional. Wherever the hand pumps
Bastar has that fabled Abujmarh, or the un- are functional, people are apprehensive of the
known hills, covered with 3,900 square kilome- quality of the water. They fear the reddish water
tres of forests. It was only in 2009 that the govern- contaminated with iron ore. Instead, Nande and
ment opened access to these hills. They were out others rely on spring water brought by pipelines.
of bounds since the 1980s. It is arguably the place
where one can experience pre-agriculture life. The 10 km walk to see a doctor who may
forests host tribes like the Gonds, who do not have not be there
a word for “future” and “breakdown”. Many of the We are sitting in the office of Gramoday, a non-
tribes have numbers only till seven. It is a life that profit that has been working on health issues in
existed more than 10,000 years ago. Dantewada for the past 13 years. Gouri Shankar,


35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 46 26/12/16 3:03 PM



along with 10 others, works here. “The interior and with anganwadi workers in Dhurli village. People in the region do not
trust the quality of water in
villages are particularly cut off from the health To compare my experience with statistics, the hand pumps. Instead,
centres,” says Gauri Shankar. In villages such as I look up the Rapid Survey on Children by the they rely on the stream
water brought by pipelines
Kamalur and Jherka in Bacheli, people have to Ministry of Women and Child Development. In
walk more than 10 km to reach the primary health Chhattisgarh, about 38 per cent of tribal children
centre (phc). The villages close to the town centre below five years are underweight, while 44 per cent
are comparatively better off—nmdc hospital is suffer stunted growth, it reads.
nearby and the walk to the health centre is 4-5 km.
Asish Bose, a health consultant at the district Home is where the school is not
hospital, acknowledges the critical shortage in We stop by a small school in Ronje village, just
health infrastructure. “From basic services such outside the town, around 10 in the morning. Boys
as having trained personnel to give anaesthesia at and girls in white and blue uniform have gathered
the district hospital to the very limited resource on for classes. A student of Class viii, Taravati lives with
the ground such as the primary health centres, the her distant relatives in Ronje so that she can attend
challenge is multifaceted,” he says. A survey of the school. Her village does not have a school. “Most
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare done until students live in hostels to study,” she says.
2015 underscores this. Dantewada has only 11 phcs Staying in school hostels set up by the
for a population of 533,638, of which 82 per cent government in and around the bigger villages and
is rural. This means there is roughly one phc per town centres is an accepted way of life for many
48,500 people. Even these few centres rarely have children in Bastar today.
full time doctors. Schools in interior villages are sparse. “Even
Equally challenging is the health and nutrition where there are buildings, a major problem is the
support to children and women in the villages. availability of teachers,” says Trivendra Kumar
“While there are anganwadi centres, nutrition Nirmalkar, a teacher at the prathamikshala (pri-
education among the workers and the monitoring mary school) in Netapur, a village of about 150 fam-
of nutrition and growth are not up to the mark,” ilies. Literacy rate in this village is abysmally low—
says Seema Kunjum, who works on health issues just 12 per cent. Small wonder, the school has two

1-15 JANUARY 2017 47

35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 47 26/12/16 11:52 AM


Gondi language. The cabins began appearing in


Dantewada since 2011 to provide “secured dwell-
ings”. Made of mostly bamboo and wood, these res-
idential schools have facilities for students of first to
eighth grade. “There are now 17 such schools with
about 500 seats each,” says Praneet.
The safe havens for children are being created
at a distance, so children have to leave home.

Hope in the graveyard

The gloomy statistics notwithstanding, the people
here must be cherishing hope. A striking thing
about the tribals is how beautifully they paint their
life after death. In the graveyards in the villages and
along the roads, some of the tombs, particularly
of tribal leaders or significant people, I presume,
have rich and detailed engravings—their portrait,
politics, favourite habits.
They seem to nurture life in death. One can
paint death so beautifully only if the life is rich, if
there is hope.

An opportunity?
The conflict in the Bastar region is also a conflict
of resource rights. For years people in this region
knew that the resource beneath their land is of
someone else: sometimes the state, sometimes the
mining corporation. They felt alienated, suffered
unequal development and fought for their rights.
Students from faraway teachers and just 22 students. Finally, the government has recognised the
areas attend this middle
school in Ronje village of Middle schools are a bigger challenge. “Typic- right of the people over resources. To this effect, in
Dantewada. Schools are ally, children have to walk about 5 km to reach March 2015, Parliament passed an Amendment to
sparse in interior villages,
so children have to leave middle schools. In the hilly terrain that is difficult,” the Central mining law, the Mines and Minerals
home for education Nirmalkar says. “Another problem is that children (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957. One
drop out of school by the time they graduate to mid- of the key provisions of the amendments is the
dle school,” adds Praneet, a member of Bachpan institution of District Mineral Foundation (dmf),
Banao, a non-profit working on child education a non-profit Trust, to be developed in all mining
in Dantewada. The teachers in these schools are districts of India. dmfs are meant as a vehicle for
mostly non-tribals from other places. They teach ensuring that the benefits of mining are shared with
in Hindi. They do not know the Gondi and Halvi the people of the region. They must address crucial
languages that the children speak. This hinders human development factors such as nutrition,
learning and also creates a sense of uneasiness. healthcare, clean water, sanitation, education.
Nirmalkar thinks education is a distant invest- Mining companies will have to give dmf a share of
ment for the people in tribal villages whose imme- the royalty they pay to the state government.
diate concern remains livelihood. “As the children For the government this is a momentous op-
reach the age of 10 or 11 years, they are typically portunity to reach out to the remote parts of Bastar.
directed to work that can support the family in- It is an opportunity to seek a renewed contract with
come,” he adds. the people of the region, an opportunity to write a
One phrase that comes up often in our convers- history of renewed hope. I leave with the hope that
ation with government officials and members of someday I would come back to Dantewada when
education non-profits is “pota cabins” (portable the first question to me would no more be about the
cabins). These are places that provide food and fear it evokes. 
education. “Pota” also means “stomach” in the @sresthab


35-48Cover story-Journey.indd 48 26/12/16 3:03 PM

Without oxygen
S C I E N T I S T S H A V E found bacteria
that existed two billion years before plants
and trees, which evolved about 450 million
Cancer calculus years ago. They discovered these microfossils
preserved in a layer of hard silica-rich rock in
About 17.5 million cancer cases and two separate locations in the Northern Cape
Province of South Africa. This discovery could
8.7 million deaths globally in 2015 help reveal a diversity of life and ecosystems
that existed just prior to the Great Oxidation
Event, a time of major atmospheric evolution.
Geology, December


No safe level
EVEN CASUAL smokers are at an
increased risk of early death. Researchers
have found that people who consistently
smoked an average of less than one cigarette
per day over their lifetime had a 64 per cent
higher risk of earlier death than non-smokers.
Those who smoked between one and 10
cigarettes a day had an 87 per cent higher
risk of earlier death than non-smokers. The
risks were lower among former low-intensity
smokers compared to those who were still
smokers, and the risk fell when they quit at
an early age. JAMA Internal Medicine,
December 7


LOBALLY, CANCER is the second leading cause of Precipitating gloom
death worldwide, says a new report that used INCREASED PRECIPITATION induced by climate

vital registration system data, cancer registry change could make waterbodies murkier.
incidence data and verbal autopsy data. Between 2005 and Researchers, who analysed 5,000 lakes in
Wisconsin, USA, found that nearly a quarter
2015, cancer cases increased by 33 per cent; the odds of
of them had turned darker in the past two
developing cancer during a lifetime are 1 in 3 for men and 1
decades. They did not just identify the
in 4 for women; and, the most common childhood cancers trends in water clarity (an indicator of lake
are leukemia, other neoplasms, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, health) but also how the landscape and the
and brain and nervous system cancers. While prostate climate interacted to determine year-to-year
cancer was the most common in men (1.6 million cases); fluctuations. Limiting farming to 10 per cent
tracheal, bronchus and lung (TBL) cancer was the leading of the riparian buffer zone around a lake and
cause of cancer deaths for men. Breast cancer was most the streams flowing into it can improve water
common for women (2.4 million cases) and also the leading clarity. Ecological Applications, November 17
cause of cancer deaths in women. JAMA Oncology, December 3

1-15 JANUARY 2017 49

49S&T Bytes.indd 49 23/12/16 12:38 PM



Scientific stutter
Do animals have a language, and hence a mind,
of their own?

HY IS that we humans have the gift of the gab to mimic human speech.
while monkeys and apes, our closest cous- This view is supported by primatologists such as
ins, can only manage gibberish? A wide- Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology of Emory Uni-
ly held view is that their voice box is not so- versity. In his recent book Are We Smart Enough to Know
phisticated enough to articulate sounds the way we How Smart Animals Are?, he argues: “Even though lan-
can. Darwin, however, suspected it had to do with their guage assists human thinking by providing categories
primitive cranium. A new study, published in Science and concepts, it is not the stuff of thought. We don’t ac-
Advances, that explored the phonic repertoire of a long- tually need language in order to think. With animals, the
tailed macaque supports Darwin’s hunch. Evolutionary situation is similar.” American philosopher Jerry Fodor
biologist William Tecumseh Sherman Fitch III from echoes Waal’s view: “The obvious (and I should have
the University of Vienna and neu- thought sufficient) refutation of the
roscientist Asif Ghazanfar from claim that natural languages are the
Princeton University trained the medium of thought is that there are
monkey to do a wide variety of oral non-verbal organisms that think.”
gymnastics—yawning, eating, winc- While conceding that we are
ing, screaming, et cetera, and made the only species endowed with lan-
a video of it. guage, he goes on to describe many
On careful analysis, they found examples of non-verbal communi-
to their surprise that there was noth- cation from the animal world, such
ing, at least in theory, in the anato- as signaling of bees or the hand ges-
my of the macaque’s vocal apparatus tures of apes, and argues that the ru-
that would come in the way of it talk- diments of what defines human—
ing like humans. So the only reason politics, culture, morality, and, in
it cannot, they concluded, was that our case, language—are also pre-
its brain is not hard-wired to make discrete sounds like sent in other species.
vowels and consonants. This of course raises the even more intractable ques-
In other words, primates, and for that matter most tion of whether animals have consciousness. Just as Waal
animals, do not have language because they don’t have dismisses the link between language and cognition as a
the mental corkscrew, so to speak, to open the bottle of “red herring”, many biologists now believe it is time we
language. Fitch says their findings also suggest that an- took out the spanner of consciousness from the works of
thropologists should stop looking at fossil record for ev- thinking, for we don’t even agree on what consciousness
idence of when our ancestors learned to speak, as all of is. As the Oxford zoologist Antone Martinho, who suc-
them had the speech hardware. Instead, he argues, we cessfully trained his ducklings to appreciate concepts of
should be trying to figure out when we acquired the ge- “same” and “different”, says, “If my ducklings do “think”,
netic software necessary for activating the vocal machin- whatever that might mean, the best evidence for it is the
ery. Some linguists believe the study could even account fact that vertebrate brains are broadly more alike than
for the slight differences among various languages with they are different… It is only a muddling of the distinc-
respect to qualities like timbre and cadence, as different tion between consciousness and cognition…that forces us
voice boxes could potentially give rise to different tongues. to play down the intellectual prowess of our companion
However, not everyone’s convinced about the study’s species. We would do well to break this habit.”
chief claim that primates cannot talk because they cannot But while this would be sweet music for the ears of
think. For instance, in July this year, Durham University animal rights activists, the real challenge is to instill this
researchers trained, for the first time ever, an orangutan new thinking in the popular imagination. 


50Hedgehog Tales.indd 50 23/12/16 12:38 PM


Green Masterpiece by
Airports Authority of India
he New Integrated Terminal Building at
Vadodara Airport was dedicated to the Nation
by Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of
India in the august presence of OP Kohli, Governor
of Gujarat; Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Gujarat;
P Ashok Gajapathi Raju, Union Minister of Civil
Aviation;Jayant Sinha, Union Minister of State for
Civil Aviation; NitinbhaiPatel, Deputy Chief Minister
of Gujarat; Rajendra Suryaprasad Trivedi, Minister
of State for Sports, Youth Cultural Activities(I/
C),Pilgrimage Development, Government of Gujarat;
RN Choubey,Secretary Civil Aviation; Dr Guruprasad
entire terminal and Sky lights follow the geometry of
Mohapatra, Chairman, Airports Authority of India
the trusses, further opening the structural framework
(AAI), among other dignitaries.
to allow natural light to permeate the terminal. The
The New Integrated Terminal Building has the terminal building is equipped with state-of-the art
GRIHA features to reduce resource consumption passenger-friendly facilities, such as Common Use
and greenhouse gas emissions. It has LED Lighting Terminal Equipment ( CUTE); Check-in counters;
with sensors, Low VOC Paints (Volatile Organic Reserved Lounge; CIP Lounge; Glass Cleaning
Compound), Low heat gain Glazing, Rainwater System in Air & City side façade; Escalators;
Harvesting, Energy Efficient Chillers, Cavity Walls, Elevators; Baggage Handling System; Inclined Arrival
Usage of Fly Ash Bricks, Re-use of treated water Baggage Claim Carousels; Central Air-conditioning;
(600 KLD STP), Double Insulated Roofing System Public Address System; Intelligence Addressable
VFDs (Variable Frequency Drive) for High Capacity Fire Alarm System; Flight Information Display System
Motors. Moulded or pressed articles of sugarcane (FIDS); CCTV for surveillance; Sewerage Treatment
bagasse pulp or other fibrous cellulosic material have Plant with Zero Waste; Rainwater Harvesting; Energy
been used as decorative material. Efficient Glass; a unique Food Court outsideTerminal
Building & Car Parking, etc. The new terminal, to a
The building creates a bold and continuous great extent, caters to all passenger facilities,
aerodynamic form. It is a sleek contemporary be it comfort, convenience, aesthetics,
structure which has a huge archway that wraps the eco-friendliness, and so on.

1-15 JUNE 2014 51

51AAI Advertorial.indd 51 22/12/16 12:41 PM




UMEET WALIA is renowned for his
work in nano-electronics. He
specialises in the use of metal

In 2016, many Indian- oxides for developing high-

performance electronic devices.
origin scientists This year the mit Technology

made it big and got Review listed him among the

“10 Innovators Under 35”. Walia
international acclaim teaches at the Royal Melbourne
Institute of Technology. Recently, he
for their work. From was part of a team of researchers who
inventing binoculars found that the performance of mobile
phone cameras and solar cells could be
which rapidly calculate RAMESH RASKAR boosted by the use of sound waves to

the prescription Cutting-edge technology controllably change the electronic

properties of materials.

for eyeglasses to ORN IN Nashik, Ramesh Raskar is “My work focuses on fabricating
an associate professor at the
microscopes made of Massachusetts Institute of
paper, these scientists Media Lab.
Technology and the head of mit
Raskar invented the EyeNetra,
have kept the spirit which allows eye testing in remote

of discovery alive. locations. EyeNetra is a small binocular

device that snaps onto a mobile phone.
Snapshots of six While looking into the binocular, the user
can quickly calculate a prescription for
scientists eyeglasses. This eliminates the need for
VAISHNAVI RATHORE expensive diagnostic tools and is already
being used in the US, Brazil, and India. He
has also used femto-photography to
capture images around corners.
Raskar has helped teams in
Kumbh Mela by providing a technology
that displays the heat maps of crowd ultra-thin layers (thousands of times
movements. This can be used for thinner than a human hair) of metal
crowd control. He has also developed a oxide materials and tailoring them for a
system to detect impending epidemic range of functionalities in three key
outbreaks in real time and a camera that areas—to develop wearable sensors for
allows users to read pages of a book healthcare monitoring and harmful gas
without opening the cover. detection; an electronic chip to store
The future applications of his and recall events from the past,
work include avoiding car collisions mimicking the functionality of the
at blind spots, detecting survivors in human brain; and, high speed
fire and rescue situations, and nanoscale transistors that can operate
performing endoscopy and medical at speeds faster than the current
imaging to eliminate the need for an silicon-based electronic technologies
X-ray. Raskar was awarded the 2016 and result in energy efficient, ultra-fast
Lemelson-mit Prize, which celebrates electronic devices,” Walia told Down
outstanding inventors. To Earth.


52-53Science.indd 52 23/12/16 2:43 PM

Theoretical physics RAGHAVAN

Ovarian cancer research
E WAS awarded The World

Academy of Sciences Prize DOCTORATE from the University of
2016 for his contribution to Calicut, Pradeep Chaluvally-
theoretical physics. Shiraz Raghavan was given the 2016 Liz
Minwalla studied at the Indian Tilberis Early Career Award for
Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and his commitment to ovarian cancer
got his doctorate from Princeton research. He teaches at the Medical
University, New Jersey, usa. He now College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
teaches at the Tata Institute of Chaluvally-Raghavan’s current
Fundamental Research, Mumbai. research focus is on the role of non-coding
“My research focuses on obtaining a genetic aberrations in ovarian cancer.
better understanding of the “Since the cancer cells grow faster than the
MANU PRAKASH dynamics of gravity (related to black body’s own healthy cells, it is important to
Low-cost scientific tools holes) and quantum field theories understand the precise mechanism that
and their interrelation. My research tumour cells employ to proliferate and

ANU PRAKASH invents tools to pushes the boundaries of knowledge metastasise to distant sites. My research
do field science that are both and has no immediate practical will help develop agents that would target
low cost and powerful. His applications,” Minwalla told Down the tumour cells without affecting the
Foldscope is a microscope To Earth. “My goal is to obtain a normal cells in the body,” he told Down To
made out of paper and a glass bead for complete understanding of the Earth. We hope our studies will help
a lens and costs less than a dollar. It physical laws that underlie the improve the quality of life of patients
has been distributed to more than universe, which are probably suffering from breast, ovarian and other
50,000 people in 135 countries. unattainable in entirety,” he adds. gynaecological malignancies, he adds.
Foldscope has been used for
projects to explore diseases in bees,
documenting pollen grains in urban genetic mechanisms that control the
landscapes, mapping biodiversity of formation of perception, language,
microscopic organisms, detecting learning and memory.
Her current research focuses
cervical cancer and teaching hygiene
on genetic ‘knockout’ mice, rnai,
and sanitation.
embryonic stem cells, tissue culture,
Born in Meerut, Prakash is an
and molecular biology approaches
associate professor of bioengineering at to address questions of the
Stanford University. He has been listed as development and evolution of the
one of the 23 candidates for MacArthur brain. In her work on mammalian
Fellowship 2016, popularly known as nervous system, Tole discovered a
“genius grant”. He has also been designing master regulator gene that controls
tools to track and detect mosquito species. how the brain’s cortex hippocampus
This would enable communities to and amygdala develop.
combat mosquitoes on a largescale and Her work throws light on what
track the vectors for some of the most exactly happens when things go wrong
deadly diseases. during the intricate process of building
Prakash has also developed a
SHUBHA TOLE the brain. These disturbances can
computer that works by moving Genetics cause neuropsychiatric disorders such

as autism and epilepsy.
water droplets. The goal is to make HUBHA TOLE is part of the Asian
At present, she teaches at the
computers control and manipulate Scientist 100 list for 2016. This Tata Institute of Fundamental
physical matter. The immediate list is compiled by combing Research, Mumbai. Tole is committed
application of this innovation may involve through scientific awards and to education, public outreach and
turning the computer into a chemistry breakthroughs across the region. mentorship and wishes to groom
and biology laboratory. Her lab is interested in the young scientists. 

1-15 JANUARY 2017 53

52-53Science.indd 53 23/12/16 2:43 PM



A Nelson's eye on digital biopiracy

Biodiversity meet puts off decision on benefit-sharing
from digital gene sequences

HERE WAS a lot of good news pouring out of ital biopiracy. This is a cbd loophole which allows compa-
Cancun after the 13th meeting of the Conference nies to access gene sequences of plants and seeds on the
of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Internet and then use them in various ways, including by
Diversity (cbd) ended on December 18 with a re-creating physical dna via synthetic biology techniques,
yard-long declaration that covered just about every is- without the consent of biodiverse countries or commu-
sue dear to conservationists. The declaration, named nities from where the genes originated and without any
after the Mexican city where cop13 was held, outlines a benefit-sharing. Information that originates in a coun-
plan to restore the ecology and improve conservation— try’s plants, microbes, animals or fungi are being com-
which might sound suspiciously vague—but has more mercially exploited through the Internet without any
than 70 detailed decisions on a host of problematic is- benefits flowing back to host nations.
sues. These range from management of pollinators and The developed world put up a formidable front, rang-
tackling invasive species to the sustainable use of bush ing from the European Union and Canada to Australia,
meat and bringing biodiversity values into national ac- arguing that digital sequences should remain open and
counting systems. free. In other words, companies
So there was gush. cbd should be free to bypass cbd and
chief Braulio Ferreira de Souza specifically its supplementary
Dias believes the Cancun agreement on access and benefit-
Declaration and the ªpowerful sharing that’s enshrined in the
commitmentsº made at the Nagoya Protocol.
High Level Segment meeting While developing countries
are a strong signal that coun- wanted digital gene sequences
tries are ready to achieve the and other genetic information
Aichi targets. This ignores his TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE that is increasingly available dig-
secretariat’s warning issued itally to come under the ambit of
earlier that two-thirds of the 20 globally agreed goals to Article 10 of the Nagoya Protocol to stop biopiracy, rich
address biodiversity loss, that is, the Aichi biodiversity nations, which house the large biotech firms, wanted the
targets, are way off the mark and unlikely to meet their discussions to be taken off the table. Fortunately, a com-
2020 deadline. But then, cbd needs to look on the bright promise was hammered out around a proposal made by
side even if habitat and species loss continues unabated. Namibia which was strongly backed by South Africa,
Even more sanguine was Erik Solheim, executive di- Kenya, Brazil and Malaysia to take the gene sequences
rector of the UN Environment Programme, who thinks issue out of the synthetic biology agenda item and es-
that “for the first time we are really speaking meaning- tablish it as a decision under a new cop13 agenda item. A
fully to one another about the real value of biodiversity clear timeline has also been laid out for a process to ar-
to tourism, to agriculture, to forestry, to fisheries— to the rive at a draft resolution to be placed before cbd mem-
very lifeblood of our economies.” In the midst of all this bers at Sharm el Sheikh where the next cop13 will be held
hope and cheer, a new rift opened up at Cancun between two years hence.
the usual parties: developing countries, which are the re- Too late for developing countries? Possibly, since the
positories of mega biological diversity and rich nations, loophole will allow biotech firms to continue their use of
which want to use these resources without sharing ben- gene sequences without let or hindrance. And who knows
efits with the countries that have nurtured the resources. if there will be agreement in Egypt in late 2018 while the
cop13 was notable for dissension on a new front: dig- world turns a Nelson’s eye on digital biopiracy. 


54Patently Absurd.indd 54 23/12/16 2:02 PM


About the Environmental Governance Group

Environmental Governance Group at CSE is plan and building capacity at the level of policy

engaged in capacity building, research and makers, industry representatives and urban local
advocacy for environment protection. The major bodies for better compliance, monitoring and
work of the team includes - developing policies/ enforcement.

Manager/ Work Profile Required Skills

Deputy The selected candidates are expected to
contribute to capacity building programs
apart from research and advocacy work.
 Research and analytical skills and a good
hold on report writing;

 Good oral communication and networking
Specific tasks include:  Ability to work in a team to meet deadlines;

 Research on policy matters and  Creative thinker and ability to innovate.
contribute to capacity building programs;
 Analysis and interpretation of the data/
information as required for specific
Qualifications and Experience
research work; Bachelors in Environmental Engineering or

 Preparation of reports, communication Masters in Environmental Sciences or equivalent,
materials, and other publications as with a work experience of 5 to 10 years in the
necessary; field of environment and social work.
Governance  Communicating and networking with a
wide range of stakeholders for effective
The designation and salary would be
commensurate with qualifications and

Group of CSE) advocacy;

 Travel as required for the work.
experience of the selected candidates. The
position is based in New Delhi.
Please send in your applications to
latest by 20 Jan, 2017.
41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi-110062
Ph: 91-11-29955124/ 6110 / 6394/ 6399; Fax: 91-11-29955879

D O W N T O E A R T H • B O O K S • F I L M S • T- S H I R T S • B A G S

the new refreshed revitalized



41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi-110062
Ph: 91-11-2995 6110/5124 Fax: 91-11-2995 5879
Email: Website:

55CSE store half ad.indd 55 22/12/16 12:41 PM


By 2025, the number of End of Life Vehicles in India
is estimated to reach over 21 million. Here's how we
can manage them efficiently and effectively



56-57Opinion.indd 56 23/12/16ISTOCKPHOTO
2:03 PM
VER THE last decade, India recorded one of the highest stance, in countries such as Taiwan, China and Singapore the aver-
motorisation growth rates in the world. There were over age life of a vehicle is 10 years or in terms of the kilometres driven,
200 million motorised vehicles registered by 2015. It is whichever comes first. This needs to be incorporated in the regula-
estimated that more than 8.7 million vehicles reached tory framework for accurate assessment of a vehicle.
the End of Life Vehicles (elv) status in 2015, out of which about 83 On the supply side, there are many challenges—high invest-
per cent would be two-wheelers. And by 2025, the number of elvs ment costs for establishing reverse logistics networks; the cost of
is estimated to reach over 21 million. Moreover, the recent ban on the quality assurance test equipment; or, the fact that some prod-
diesel vehicles by the National Green Tribunal implies that more ucts may not have been designed to be dismantled easily for re-
vehicles will soon end up as elvs. use. These factors can fail the business case for reuse, remanufac-
At present, such vehicles usually end up in the unorganised sec- ture and recycling. There is also an urgent need to formulate rules
tor. Here, after dismantling, the auto components are either refur- which mandate automobile manufacturers to frame the Standard
bished or sent for recycling. But the efficiency of material recovery Operating Procedures (sops) to dismantle every model and type of
is quite low as workers are not trained and lack the requisite equip- vehicle, which would encourage them to reconsider the material
ment to dismantle and recycle the auto components. while making new automobiles.
While some aspects of elv recycling are addressed by the ve- The sops could then be shared with the semi-formal sec-
hicular and environmental policies as well as in the waste man- tor, which would enhance the efficiency in the recycling process.
agement rules, there are other aspects that are yet to be covered by Streamlining the unorganised sector is extremely important.
existing laws. The Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) recent- ais 129 standards need to be incorporated in the regulatory frame-
ly issued guidelines to regulate the sector in an environmentally work to ensure compliance by the unorganised sector, where most
friendly manner, recommending a system of “shared responsibil- of the recycling is done. But the material recovery rate in this sec-
ity” involving all stakeholders—the govern- tor is low, and compliance with ais 129 will help
ment, manufacturers, recyclers, dealers, in- A mechanism needs to enhace material use efficiency.
surers and consumers. The guidelines also be put in place that offers Further, the non-availability of facilities
state that if large quantities of metal and oth- incentives to garner the such as the National Automotive Testing and
er materials present in elvs are salvaged or support of both consumers r&d Infrastructure Project in each hub does
recycled, it can once again be used by vari- and manufactures for not serve the requirements of small and me-
ous sectors, thus reducing the demand for dium-sized auto component manufactur-
the effective management
virgin raw materials. ers. Such centres are critical to train person-
of End of Life Vehicles nel who could then dismantle scientifically,
Building a business model thereby leading to better resource recovery.
A viable business model calls for putting in place the right incen- Before the government implements the National Electric Mobility
tives and disincentives that govern the consumption and lifestyle Mission 2020, it needs to set up high-grade recycling units to re-
behaviour of citizens, fostering international cooperation, and set- cover lithium, cobalt and other metals used in traction batteries,
ting up of a regulatory framework to implement the model. which is important from an ecological point of view.
But there are many problems. The Automotive Industry
Standard (ais), 129, defines elv as a vehicle which, at the discretion Step-by-step
of its last owner, is ready to be scrapped. But since the scrapping al- Vital ingredients need to be developed to make this business model
lowance is minimal, many vehicle owners do not discard their vehi- a viable one. First, the setting up of collection centres, which would
cles when the government timeline expires. They, instead, sell their collect vehicles from owners and carry out the deregistration pro-
vehicles in rural areas or to the second-hand dealers. cess. Second, the setting up of de-pollution centres to remove haz-
For recycling to become a reality, incentives need to be provid- ardous materials from the vehicles. It will also be their responsibil-
ed in the form of paying the last elv owner a salvaging price accord- ity to safely dispose the harmful materials.
ing to the value of the elv. Here, the extended producer responsi- Third, shredding centres should be set up, which would segre-
bility framework should be embedded within the ambit of shared gate materials for recycling. Automotive shredder residue should
responsibility, as propagated by the cpcb guidelines. So far, the ais be sent to incineration plants for energy recovery. Lastly, vehicles
129 does not provide guidelines for a “take back system”. about to be scrapped often have reusable parts. These parts can be
separated at the de-pollution units and could be sold to retailers or
Possible routes to used-part dealers. Importantly, a mechanism needs to be put in
It is important to make the customer aware of the danger—envi- place that offers the right economic incentives to garner the sup-
ronmental, legal or related to misuse—of using the services of the port of both consumers and manufacturers for the effective man-
unorganised sector, and provide them world-class services at their agement of elvs in India. 
doorsteps. Also, the very definition of elvs in India leaves a funda- The author works with The Energy and
mental impediment—defining the average life of a vehicle. For in- Resources Institute, New Delhi

1-15 JANUARY 2017 57

CKPHOTO 56-57Opinion.indd 57 23/12/16 2:03 PM



Modi's surgical strike on jobs

Demonetisation has deepened the gloom on India's
employment prospects which have been shrinking

AUTILYA, WHOM the Bharatiya Janata Party had been given what can only be called scary news. A
(bjp) sets so much store by, would not have ap- study by a Delhi-based think tank had warned that em-
proved of the way Prime Minister Narendra ployment was shrinking continuously with as much as
Modi has gone about with demonetisation. The 550 jobs disappearing every day in the past four years.
fountainhead of statecraft in ancient times would have The Prahar study capped the gloom that set in when data
been appalled by the frequent changes in policy. Kautilya, released by the Labour Bureau in early 2016 showed only
better known as Chanakya, decrees in the Arthashastra, 135, 000 new jobs had been created in 2015, compared
his celebrated guidebook for rulers, that the one quality a with 419,000 in 2013 and 900,000 in 2011.
ruler should always follow is to be well-prepared, wheth- The only hope is that the current layoffs are tempo-
er the task is big or small. “Planning is the light that shows rary. Once enough cash is back in the system—and here
the path in darkness,” says one of his aphorisms. again we have different estimates of when this will tran-
And there are other injunctions that the bjp strong- spire—the economy should start looking up. But such
man has overlooked in his headlong rush to junk over optimism is hard to sustain since the Reserve Bank of
86 per cent of the currency in circulation. Kautilya says: India (rbi), followed shortly by the Asian Development
“A work which is obstacle-ridden Bank, has pared India’s growth
should not be started. One who forecast by half a percentage be-
knows (opportune) time accom- cause of the disruption of eco-
plishes the task. One should com- nomic activity in recent weeks.
mence a work after understanding And can we any longer trust
the country and the consequences.” rbi? The figures of cash infusions
That is pretty close to the bone al- that it has been putting out sim-
though written some 22 centuries ply do not tally. Either the bank-
ago. As we come to the end of the 50- ing system is suffering a shortfall
day period sought by the prime min- of `5,000 crore or a whopping
ister to get the cash situation back `56,000 crore, according to the
to normal, what is most worrying is different numbers of new curren-
the impact of the chaotic demoneti- cy notes the central bank has been
sation on employment and the economy. Already under claiming to have put back in circulation. Sharp eyes have
severe strain, the job market has gone into a tailspin in also noticed that the august rbi has been editing and ex-
the past seven weeks, bearing out the dire prediction of cising official figures on its website. Not at all a reassur-
worthies such as Amartya Sen and Manmohan Singh of ing situation.
the impact on the economy. Adding to the uncertainty is the protest announced
Reports have been pouring in daily of the different by bank employees who have been bearing the brunt of
sectors where workers have been laid off in the wake of the strain caused by the chaotic demonetisation. The de-
Modi’s war on cash. Textile units in Tamil Nadu, con- mand of the bank staff—adequate supply of cash to all
struction in northern states, jute workers in Bengal were branches along with transparency in numbers—makes
all being laid off apart from tens of thousands in small it clear that the new rbi governor is out of his depth in
and medium enterprises (sme). The sme sector employs managing the cash flows.
40 per cent of the workforce. This makes one recall another of Chanakya’s sutras
Three weeks before Modi made his so-called on governance. “Everyone should be yoked to task for
ªsurgical strikeº on black money on November 8, India which he is fitted.” So apt now. 


58Last Word.indd 58 23/12/16 2:27 PM


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