The Other Vidarbha

When villagers are free to do what they want

Jaideep Hardikar of DNA reports something that P Sainath somehow manages not to (linkthanks Neelakantan). A village in Vidarbha that refused to take up the UPA government’s “debt relief” measures and…is doing rather well for itself.

The Girata SHG, to which he’s a mentor, is imitating his mode—farming and live stock management that reduces risks and shields them from volatilities. “We transport milk in autorickshaws to Washim, where we sell it,” informs Prakash. The dairy collective clocks a monthly income of Rs4 lakh with a net profit of Rs1 lakh, which is shared equally by its 20 members. That comes to a modest Rs5,000 a month-per head or Rs60,000 per annum, in addition to the returns from agriculture. Each member contributes Rs100 to the collective as his monthly saving. Thus the 20 members save Rs2,000 every month, or Rs24,000 annually.

A majority of the villagers are now linked to this activity. Now, the neighbouring 23 villages have decided to follow the model, with Girata as the epicenter. “We’ll increase our production, form a 23-village federation, and diversify into processing,” says Prakash. The collective that owns an autorickshaw, a tractor, and a deep-freezer now wants to buy a van with a chiller for better milk transportation. The SHG has also set up an outlet at Washim to sell milk to consumers. Two women’s collectives of the village have taken on the responsibility of keeping the financial records of the village dairy. [DNA]

Imagine the UPA government’s policy initiatives had focused on building good roads and reliable power supply instead of seeing the problem as one of “debt”.

The Girata initiative is an experiment—it’s too early to tell whether it will succeed. But what it shows is that people take the initiative to help themselves. Imagine the government stopped discouraging from doing so.

Related Links: Vidarbha whodunit; half-baked solutions; and Suvrat Kher’s post on groundwater management that was published in Pragati.

Groundwater management and farmers’ suicides

Poor management of groundwater resources contributes to agrarian distress—but is anyone listening?

Over at Reporting on a Revolution, Suvrat Kher throws more light on an angle that is almost entirely missing from the national discourse on farmers’ suicides.

…if the wells themselves are dry then there is no backup for failed rains. A Tata Institute of Social Sciences report on farmer suicides found that farmers had little or no groundwater available to them during times of rain failure. A combination of complex hydrogeology and poor management of groundwater resources has exerted a powerful influence on the lives and livelihoods of Maharashtra farmers.

(Tushaar) Shah makes the following recommendation for complex hydrogeological terrains:

What hard-rock India needs is a new mindset of managing dug wells as dual-purpose structures, for taking out water when needed and putting water into the aquifers when the surplus is running off. Recharging aquifers needs to get the first charge on monsoon run off. Unfortunately, government planners give it the last priority.

Water available for recharge is estimated after allowing for the requirements of existing and planned surface reservoirs. This is absurd in a country where 70 percent of irrigated areas and 90 percent of drinking water needs are met from groundwater.

Is the government listening? The Prime Minister of India’s special relief package for Maharashtra farmers wants to attack the problem on a broad front which includes tinkering with the economics of cotton farming, encouraging a diverse array of crops and reducing dependence on pesticides and fertilizers. But water underlies any successful agricultural strategy. In terms of water it lists irrigation development as the only long term solution to the water problems faced by farmers and doles almost 10 times more money to irrigation development than to watershed development. Irrigation development in the language of the government of India means canal irrigation (read mega infrastructure projects) and not local groundwater irrigation.

This despite the revealing statistic that even though thousands of crores of Rupees have been spent on canals, they irrigate just about 15% of arable areas over the landmass of India and marginal farmers and farmers with small landholding benefit most not from canal networks but through groundwater irrigation. [Reporting on a Revolution/What’s with the Climate]

Goodbye cotton, hello soyabean

The rational farmers of Maharashtra

Just how does P Sainath position facts that show how Maharashtra’s farmers are capitalising on the opportunity created by rising global foodgrain prices? Oh, by saying that they are replacing one type of volatility (planting cotton) by another (soyabeans).

After pointing out how farmers are reaping the benefits of growing soyabeans, he goes on to point out the risks of growing soyabeans, and the dangers of planting the same crop season after season. As if there are crops that somehow defy these risks.

Mr Sainath, unsurprisingly, fails to underline three really important points: first, that given a chance, farmers can help themselves by taking advantage of available opportunities. Second, information about prices, weather and market conditions enabled this. And third, following from the above, just letting them do what they like (and not placing value judgements on what they should grow) is the best solution.

Related post: Rising foodgrain prices present an opportunity for Indian farmers

Attack of the belittlers

But who is opposing the parochial reductionists?

Tarun Vijay is right on the ball on the nature of the threat posed by the likes of Raj Thackeray.

A polity that draws sustenance from a fractured society and from reductionism become more rewarding than the all-inclusive embrace; the fallout is bound to reach us in various extremist forms, divisive polity being one of them.

When a narrow, shrunken vision is preferred over a national outlook and national perspective, the Raj Thackerays emerge winners. What’s the difference between a Raj making Indians fight with other Indians and a UPA government sowing the seeds of distrust and hate among Indians on the basis of religious reservations for one community and assaulting the faith icons of the other? Or for that matter, ULFA in Assam killing Hindi-speaking Indians and outfits like Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad murdering Hindu Indians in Jammu and Kashmir? Someone shoots from guns, another uses a microphone and the third does it by abusing constitutional authority. The result is identical – India is bruised and shrunk.

They are the reducers of an idea called India. Unfit to be called Indians yet they use the democratic freedom and the egalitarian values enshrined in the constitution. They reduce Shivaji to a Maharashtrian leader, nay a Maratha, and over and above a Kurmi icon. The caste and vote machine is their nation, the rest is wasteland. [TOI]

Here’s the challenge: everyone knows the proper response to Raj Thackeray’s actions: violence and the incitement to it should not be tolerated. In a country where police complaints can be lodged against those who offend one group or the other, it should be rather straightforward to arrest Mr Thackeray for going beyond mere offence. [See Offstumped’s take]

The question is this: who will bell the cat? Most political parties—in government and in the opposition—have ridden to power through “divide and rule”. You see it in the political response to Mr Thackeray—politicians claiming to represent ‘North Indians’ are threatening to respond in kind.

No one, it seems, is batting for India. The good news, though, is no one sees young Mr Thackeray as anything but a thuggish troublemaker staking a political claim.