Archive for November 2008
Inertia is inevitable. But when pushed beyond a certain limit the overcoming of inertia is also inevitable. Bringing as many members of the community to overcome their inertia at the earliest is one of the challenges that movements and organizations face in mobilizing communities. Typically the poor and marginalized sections of a community are affected much harder and much earlier by adverse conditions. And many a time they would have given up the fight against the injustice long before the better off in the community begin to feel the pain.
Industrialization of Gujarat has been on for more than a few decades now. While the much talked about entreprenuerial talents of Gujaratis is one factor driving the industrialization, but the state administration’s ‘industry first’ policy is like in no other state in India. Incentives in tax breaks, cheap land and water, regulatory mechanisms designed to promote industry, and lax enforcement of laws have ensured unhampered industrial growth. The cost borne by the local communities because of these policies is evident across the countryside. I remember, back in 1999 when driving the family’s Maruti van from B’lore to Gujarat, south Gujarat was the region with colorful rivers and streams. It was sad to see that even in 2008 the water bodies were magenta, red, indigo, grey, yellow and many other colors. While there’s spectral diversity, they all shared one feature – there were one or more industrial estates not too far from the water body.
Effluents from one such industrial park flows out in a pipe to be discharged into the Arabian Sea. The fishing community saw a change in the quality and slowly the quantity of their catches. Fishing communities are typically somewhere near the lowest rungs of the caste as well as the economic order, and those in Southern Gujarat are no exception. They were not able to mobilize other sections of the society and at the end of the day decided to fish a little further out in the sea. The beaches soon became stinking toxic yards and the occassional leak here and there started bothering people living close to the pipeline. They were too few and could not muster enough resources to change the situation. After a few years now, the govt. has started laying another pipeline to deal with the expanding industries and their wastes. The new pipeline is being laid right behind a colony of holiday houses of very influential Mumbai based professionals from families with notable ancestries. They are up in arms now and want to do something about the greyzone in the waters at the end of the pipeline, which can apparently even be spotted when flying above the region in commercial flights.
A new phase of the struggle has started. It is to be seen whether the mobilization gains enough momentum to be able to get the govt. to accept that something needs to be done. I am not sure if it will … infact I won’t be surprised if a few months down the line, the pipeline(s) are re-routed through the backyards of someone less powerful.
Soon after I started reading about alternative farming, I came across online conversations and discussions talking about Bhaskar Save’s efforts in Umergam. After reading his open letter to Dr. Swaminathan, of the Indian Green Revolution fame, laying out the reasons for the current crisis amongst farmers, visiting his farm and meeting him became a ‘must-meet’ stop. While planning the Maharashtra-Gujarat leg our travels, we were planning to meet two octagenarians – Datyeji, a noted alterative energy, construction and water resources expert, and Bhaskarbhai. A couple of weeks before we could reach Mumbai, Datyeji passed away. Meeting Bhaskarbhai in this round of travels became all the more important for us even if the meeting would be a short one. Thanks to Bharat Mansatta, of Earth Care Books, and our good friend Sreedevi, we visited Bhaskarbhai’s farm as we started our post Deepavali travels.
Umergam (a.k.a. Umbergam, Umargaon, and variants thereof) is a good five hours from Dadar. It is located in the southern most part of Gujarat and given the low taxes and other incentives for industry in Gujarat, it has seen a steady industrial growth for a few decades now. The area is very fertile – numerous rivers flow down from the hills on the east and into the Arabian Sea in the west. Being a coastal settlement, it is also a reasonable sized fishing township. The growth of factories and industries had been eating into the farming land and a few years ago threatened the fishing community as well when a port was proposed to be built to further ‘develop’ the area. A joint effort by both farmers, fisherfolk, and enivronmentalists resulted in the shelving of the project. I had known about the Anti-port struggle, but unfortunately was not able to plan meeting with Abhabhen and others into the itinerary.
Umbergam receives about the same amount of rainfall as Mumbai does, if not more. Bhaskarbhai’s farm, Kalpavriksh, is located a few kilometers out in the village of Deheri. Bhaskarbhai has been farming here for more than five decades now. He follows natural farming practices and reminded us a few times that it is more like do-nothing farming. Dominated by fruit trees and fed on their biomass, the farm is a beautiful example of how one can make a profit using natural farming techniques. Seeing the rows of carefully spaced composting biomass, water channels and different trees, I could clearly understand why the octagenarian Bhaskarbhai was referred to as India’s Fukuoka!
After the initial few years of watering and bringing in biomass, the fruit trees do require close to zero farming attention. It would take a small effort to maintain the water channels and pile the biomass at the right location every now and then. It was a great experience meeting Bhaskarbhai and hearing from him about how the farm grew to its present state. I wish we could have seen his method at a slightly younger stage … unfortunately, we could not visit Sanghavi Farms.