Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Addressing the 'trust deficit'....

All NGOs work for some cause. 
And their funding is under scrutiny. 
The government or its designated department gives approval after ensuring the legitimacy of the cause. 
At the time of registration, let the govt provide a seed fund, open the NGO's account in a chosen bank, and announce that the NGO can seek funds from anyone who wishes to support the cause. 
The funds would be routed through only this account. Can't transparency be ensured this way? 
And political parties also can be considered non-governmental organizations!
".... foreign funding of NGOs is dwarfed by other foreign money coming into India. Of this, the amount used for potentially questionable purposes is about 13 per cent. Let us look at another set of issues. All organisations working in society need to be transparent and accountable, including NGOs, whether domestically or foreign funded. The RTI tries to do that for the government. But beyond the NGOs, corporates and the government, there are political parties and religious organisations. 
The Supreme Court has admitted a petition saying that India’s two major political parties, the BJP and the Congress, receive illegal foreign funding. Like other major democracies, India also does not permit political parties to receive foreign funding. But no notice has been issued by the government to the political parties. One of the parties said they have returned the money, and the matter was laid to rest after that. Would other organisations, including the corporate sector and the NGOs be permitted to respond similarly? The political parties have also violated the RTI Act by refusing to comply with CIC orders. 
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Government has passed an ordinance that an FIR cannot be filed against legislators and senior officers without prior approval to avoid frivolous allegations. But there is no protection for ordinary citizens against harassment whether by the police, income tax or other authorities. The police investigate allegations against themselves and give themselves a clean chit. There is no remedy for citizens who need some permission from the government and there is no reply for months or years. The government has publicly used the phrase ‘tax terrorism,’ but has so far done nothing to protect the citizen. It is well known that several religious organisations and their affiliates receive foreign funding. Those that indulge in anti-national and subversive activities will not be affected by the new FCRA rules — their work is underground.
So we see a trend where government officers and elected representatives, political organisations and some religious organisations and affiliates are protected, but others are harassed. This is in line with some of the erstwhile Communist countries, such as Hungary and Russia, which are also clamping down on NGOs getting foreign funding. Interestingly there is no such clampdown in the West. Are we moving towards a free market economy along with totalitarian controls? The major reason that is offered for these controls is that sometimes NGOs indulge in activities that are “detrimental to national interest, likely to affect public interest, or likely to prejudicially affect the security, scientific, strategic or economic interest of the state.” This was the classic language used by the British colonials in order to justify new laws and regulations aimed at curbing civil liberties. This is not to say that no NGO ever does anything wrong. If they break the law, they should be brought to book. There are more than adequate laws to ensure that this happens."

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ruralize, don't urbanize! Why do we clone our cities?

A few years ago, living in Thiruvananthapuram and watching the city - a lovable overgrown village really - burst at the seams, these were thoughts that i had shared (see Stop the cloning of cities) - Indian cities have been trying hard at developing into clones of big cities across the world, and succeeding. (Aside: In the matter of solid waste management they are just clones of each other). Bangalore was a laid back garden city till about a couple of decades ago, even though it was the aerospace-cum-electronics hub of India. If we put together all the pros and cons of living comfort, standards of living, and quality of life, we will find that the present Bengaluru has unfortunately lost its overall charm. 
We have let globalisation and technological revolutions invade our urban spaces and our mind spaces so much, and at too fast a pace, that entire sections of urban residents have forgotten to pause, look around, smell the earth, and think of whole lots of other people to whom globalisation has meant deprivation, more financial burden and regress. 
Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) is a uniquely endowed, endearing, overgrown village. But it is increasingly obvious that this city is also hurtling down the ‘progress and development’ path blindly, with foolhardy zeal and no imagination whatsoever. Think of the city 20 to 30 years from now: only more glass facades, more high-rise match boxes marring the green skyline, and humongous concrete masses looking down on snarling traffic, tempers adding heat to treeless avenues... 

Mahatma Gandhi is said to have termed the city of Trivandrum as “Evergreen city of India”, blessed as it is with plenty of tree cover, and nestled on small hills between the Western Ghats and the coast. 

It is evident that with globalisation, newer technologies and industries invade and take over / overtake the very thought processes of a city and end up thrusting a narrow concept of development. Prosperity and well-being of a city starts to be measured against such yardsticks as ‘world-class’ infrastructure and the upward mobility of city residents. The public have also been manipulated and steadily moulded to believe in advertised images and perceptions of what is desirable. The unnatural creation and projection of images of perfection and desirability by the media, advertising, marketing firms, and authorities who tout ‘global standards’ delude the masses into believing that their locality and the city will attain that kind of picture-perfection - if they have wider roads, bigger buildings, more indoor comfort and malls in which to ‘chill out’. (Parks and gardens aren’t ‘cool’ enough, you see). 

If you stand on a stretch of MG Road, you can easily forget that it is MG Road, Thiruvananthapuram; it could be MG Road, any other city. Do we need that kind of development that swallows a city’s original character? Nearly all of India’s metropolitan areas and urban spaces have gone that way. Cities have expanded to encompass suburban areas and have become nightmares to residents and the already (mostly) clueless administrators. Delhi’s tentacles extend to several sub-cities, Mumbai grows into the sea leaving its heart far behind, Chennai pincodes have grown to 600117 and Bangalore’s now joyless veins clutch outer villages. Why is Ananthapuri being compelled to follow those models? 
Heritage structures and rich, green spaces on Government-owned land should be left intact, preserved for posterity while possibly serving some public purpose. All the remaining green and open spaces within city limits – precious few of them – should serve as well-maintained oxygen pockets. 
We need to reclaim, revamp and take care of public places that had had grandiose plans bestowed on them by successive Governments. 
Why can’t we - concerned city residents – play a role in defining our vision for the city, guided by the principles of aesthetics, abundant local wisdom, heritage preservation and Nature conservation? 
In this context, it is good to note the introduction of programmes like the new Urban Design Master’s course offered at the CET, Trivandrum. Let us hope that such courses inculcate a holistic, long-term vision for cities. The budding future town planners should realize that there is much more at stake than the fortunes of the brick and mortar industry. 
A city’s growth lies not in numbers of Big Retail, multiple ‘brandnamas’, outsize cars, cooler and swankier malls, but in the numbers of residents who feel proud and happy about the right things – health, clean air, welcoming public places, mind-invigorating outlook of fellow-citizens. We must preserve what is left of the city’s character. Even if it means calling a stop to mindless real-estate expansion and ridiculous numbers of car dealerships.
"Unless citizens are motivated to live in ways not imagined before, the death of Indian cities will be rapid"
Gautam Bhatia writes in "The city's bleak future": "The Indian city’s undisguised fawning and mimicry of Western models bodes ill for an urban culture steeped in an altogether different life and pattern. Stockholm and Berlin may present a cohesive picture for initiating a computerised smartness into Indian urbanism, but they can hardly be imitated wholesale. When 60 per cent of the citizens are without local housing or access to municipal utilities, 40 per cent move about as pedestrians, with a third of those without conventional livelihood, the needs of urbanity are closer to those of Lagos or Cairo than of European or Chinese cities. A more generous and open-minded comprehension of traditional town structure by the government can provide a constructive direction to the country’s urban future."
Let's stop looking at cities as the 'engines of growth', because, these engines are adding to pollution at unmanageable rates. The government must ponder over former President Dr APK Abdul Kalam words written in the book 'Ignited Minds': The developed India will not be a nation of cities. It will be a network of prosperous villages empowered by tele-medicine, tele-education, and e-commerce....The political leaders would be working with the zeal born of the knowledge that the nation is bigger than individual interests and political parties. This attitude will lead to minimizing the rural-urban divide as progress takes place in the countryside and urbanites move to rural areas to absorb the best of what nature can give ..."

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Of "Jellicut" aka "Pulikulam" & "Palingu" & the entire imbroglio

Some amazing facts here - From Jellicut to jallikattu 
"It is only the Jellicut (identified as Pulikulam) that has been described scientifically (between 1870 and 1930) as a “small bull specially bred for bull-fighting/taming in the Tamil region“, according to the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh."
i read the piece with great interest. Scientific management is one logical route to protecting native breeds and all of the so-called IP, though i prefer to term it knowledge base instead. One experiences mixed feelings on learning that a few other countries have recognised the unique traits of native Indian breeds, and taken efforts at tapping the preferred qualities for better results; beginning with the fact that “American Brahman” is “the first beef cattle breed developed in the US”.
 
Here are a few questions that occurred to me as a layperson, following the dismaying developments of the past few days
1. Are there clear indications about the A2 milk Vs A1 milk? In Delhi, i have seen sachets marked as ‘A2 milk’ being marketed.
2. If a NZ-based company can file for patents based on ‘A2’, why have Indian companies not seized the initiative?
3. Do humans need to produce and consume such enormous amounts of milk and other dairy products at all?
4. Why won’t youth get together to protest the plastic and polythene that is discarded all over, and which our cattle ingest routinely?

The author has rightly highlighted the importance of scientific management for protection of native breeds and indeed for the preservation of the immense traditional knowledge base. This is important in view of the challenges posed by climate change and the known resilience of native flora and fauna. A holistic approach is necessary to address all the issues. 
Also, while a seemingly unbiased youth-led movement is largely good for society, we must watch out for attempts to mislead, and attempts at diverting the focus away from genuine societal concerns. For this, we need articulate public figures who can talk to the youth in the jargon which they can listen to, understand and come up with well-considered responses. 
 
i’d just like to insert a couple of words in the concluding statement: “Only science sans human greed can ensure commercial viability and enduring pride in our native breeds”.
Perhaps it won’t be long before the phrase post-truth gets associated with the jallikattu imbroglio currently panning out in TN.
 
No public figure has found the initiative to speak in a language that the youth would understand, and it’s a tragedy that none among the youth is able to articulate at all.
 
What we see in the Parliament, assemblies, news rooms ... is what we see on the roads too. More of emotions and instant opinions, and no intelligent discussion or informed debates. 

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MGIIREPD to MGICCC to MGIUS

On Gandhiji's birthday in 1992, the Govt established the  Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Integrated Rural Energy Planning and Development (MGIIREPD) - with a view to “TAP RENEWABLE ENERGY TO THE FULLEST” and with a mission to Combat Climate Change and develop it as a “CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE” especially related with Strategic Knowledge Centre. 

The Institute - obviously set up by the Govt of the day - was renamed as Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Combating Climate Change (MGICCC) through an office order - perhaps intentionally - 30 Jan 2009. 

As given in the website, "The main objective of the Institute is to organize the Training Programmes for Government, Public Sector and Private Sector Officials in the areas of Pollution Control, Waste Management, Bio-diversity, Greening, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Climate Change and Clean Development Mechanism. Institute is tasked to conduct Education and Mass Awareness Programmes for School Children, RWAs and Rural Women and Extension activities in the field of Climate Change and the Applications of Renewable Energy Sources by the Govt. of Delhi and conduct R&D work in collaboration with Institutions, Colleges and Universities. In view of the above set broad objective and climate change agenda for Delhi (2009-2012), MGICCC has inter-alia been mandated to pursue the following tasks as a strategic knowledge centre.

  • To oversee the use of biofuel by the government in some applications and to encourage restaurants to sell their waste fat and oil to an agency which can convert this into biofuel in collaboration with the Department of Environment, GNCTD and Delhi College of Engineering(DCE)/Delhi Technological University(DTU).
  • To launch and conduct a massive campaign of awareness about the NAPCC (National Action Plan on Climate Change) and about Delhi Government targets for the NAPCC. To achieve this objective, a comprehensive process of education and awarness involving every citizen of Delhi like communities, NGOs, Schools and Colleges, is to be initiated.
  • To prepare background paper and hold conference to increase awareness and response of the public. Discuss the impact of use of biofuels and other stringent fuel quality norms and their effects.
  • To hold discussions and seminars on the problem to find a solution and create a knowledge base about the problem of mercury in CFL lamps.
  • To start a pilot project for manufacture of small facility for biofuel and see how it can generates employment for small scale sector by involving industry and hotels and restaurants and other study institutions in collaboration with the Department of Environment, GNCTD and Delhi College of Engineering(DCE)/Delhi Technological University(DTU).


Whether or not anyone worked toward these noble goals, an RTI may reveal. But Mahatma Gandhi lives on though, in yet another name proposed in July 2012 along with a revamping of the  institute. 

Check it out here.

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