Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Rural, still far from being Digital

When the tall tress of our village situated in the Western Ghats got entangled into the over head electric wires, we were without electricity for over twenty hours. Highly understaffed, the MSEB personnel told us that they were switching off the mains till we trim the trees. Young and able men of our village climbed the many rain soaked slippery tress in the blink of an eye.

 Cutting Tree to Free the Electric Wires. Photo: Nandini Oza

They cut the entangled branches using axes and koytas with utmost precision of each stroke that landed at the exact place the previous strike had made a cut in the tree or a branch. The cutting of the branches had to be done skillfully so that these did not fall on the wires. The whole operation lasted for three hours while it rained and gusty winds blew. 

Three wire-men arrived with just a ladder and climbed the cement pole to accomplish the rather tricky operation of joining the wire in midst of a downpour. The youngest of them, a young man was on the top of the cement pole for over an hour and he said he does this low -paid difficult job in the hope he will be made permanent some day. The cement poles are particularly dangerous as these are brittle unlike the metal ones he said.

Wire-man sitting on the electric pole. Photo: Nandini Oza

All of us ended the operation by eating leaf – cup full of fresh honey from the two honeycombs that had fallen with the tress-  at the cost of the honey bees sadly. 

Fresh Honey from a Honeycomb. Photo: Nandini Oza

Fresh Honey in a Leaf-Cup. Photo: Nandini Oza

My job in this was to coordinate the operation. My reward, enjoying the rains, and discovering the many mysteries of the Western Ghats.  


Sunday, 1 April 2018

Gujarat Model- Water Woes and Farmer Woes

Two news items in today’s Saurashtra Samachar (2-April-18) drew my attention and I wish to share the same for wider readership. This is mainly to highlight the Gujarat model of development and its impact on common people and farmers. Excerpts from the Gujarati newspaper translated here:

 1. The caption under the photo of a the long queue of girls and women with their water pots, reads:

 “This is not a picture to frighten but to open our eyes... the women of the Tava Village in the Kavat Taluka of Chhotaudaipur [Gujarat], are having to run hither and thither for water. There are only two bore wells for a population of 1500 villagers. However as the ground water table has gone down drastically, the bore wells are operational only for 15-20 minutes. Along with women, little girls have to run here and there from one bore well to another for water...only ten to twelve pots of water are available. Most return back disheartened. There are twenty seven hand pumps in the village and an over head tank of 30 thousand liters and yet the water tank has not been filled even once...”

[ this news is particularly significant as the Chotaudaipur area of Gujarat is predominately a adivasi/tribal area and close to the Sardar Sarovar Dam site, one of the largest dams in the country inaugurated by the Prime Minister in 2017 with great fanfare with a promise of water for everyone across the state of Gujarat right up to the far away Kutch and Saurashtra. But people close to the dam are deprived of water for even domestic use!]

    2. The second news : "Heavy lathis on farmers...Friction between ten thousand farmers and the police..:

 “ ... Police fired 50 tear gas shells when farmers protested the taking over of lands acquired twenty two years ago by Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL). Officers of the GPCL and the police came to the villages Badi-Padva to take over lands acquired twenty two years ago in the Ghogha Taluka of Bhavnagar district [Gujarat]. Over ten thousand farmers including women of twelve villages assembled to protest the taking over of the lands...To control them, the police lathi charged and fired fifty tear gas shells. Police have detained fifty farmers including five women and five students... seven hundred police belonging to Bhavnagar, Botad and Amreli had reached Badi Padva to take over lands acquired twenty two years ago. Before this, the collector had announced the closure of internet services in the area. The villagers had assembled in lager numbers to oppose the police who had come to take over the lands. Two thermal plants are being started by GPCL for which   2059 hectares of lands from twelve villages were acquired between the years 1984 to 1997. However the possessions of the lands were not taken. As per the 2014 law, if the lands are not taken over within five years of acquisition then the farmers have to be returned the lands...The leader of Khedut Sangharsh Samiti (Farmer Struggle Organisation), Kanaksingh Gohil said that:
'if lands acquired from farmers are not taken over within five years, the farmers receive the lands back as per the new law of 2014...We are going to file review petitions in the High Court and the Supreme Court soon. Under such circumstances to snatch away lands from the farmers at gun point is inhuman and unjust...'"

In the meantime readers must have already seen photos of women struggling for drinking water in Morbi, Gujarat in the Indian express today. For those who may have missed:



Thursday, 15 March 2018

Startling news: RO-RO Ferry, Ghogha - Dahej (Gujarat)


Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi  likes to inaugurate projects and at times even before they are fully completed. The inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) just before the Gujarat assembly elections in 2017 is one such case. The canal network of the SSP is yet to be completed. 

Another project which was inaugurated  by Mr. Modi just before the Gujarat elections in 2017 was the Ghogha Dahej RO-RO ferry service. The inauguration of the ferry service was done with great fanfare and the project called the dream project and an invaluable gift to India:

However, startling facts regarding the ferry service have been reported by one of the leading newspapers of Gujarat, Saurashtra Samachar dated 14-March-18. I translate important excerpts from the Gujarati news paper for wider readership here:

OBSTACLE: There is a requirement of hundred meters channel for the ferry as against which only fifty meters has been constructed.

"Ghogha –Dahej ferry service in danger due to problems in dredging.

"The sand excavated by dredging is being dumped just nearby.

"The problem of silting in Ghogha and Dahej has become dangerous.

"Saurashtra Samachar, Ground Report:

Ro-Ro ferry, Photo: Financial Express

"Bhavnagar: To start Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project Ghogha- Dahej RO-RO ferry in April, the joint secretary of Shipping Ministry has taken to task the officers of GMB (Gujarat Maritime Board) and has given an ultimatum to complete all the works by 31st of March. However the reality is absolutely the opposite.

"In order to navigate the RO-RO ship, a five meter deep and hundred meters wide navigation channel is required. By 13th of March, out of the hundred meters channel, only fifty meters of channel has been completed. Besides, as per the agreement contract, the sand excavated by dredging which had to be dumped five kilometers inside the sea, has been dumped just nearby. Because of this, the navigation channel is getting more dangerous.  Four meters high heaps of sand and hard creta have been created just close to the water due to which the natural flow of water has been obstructed. And experts are voicing fear that in summer sea currents  more severe than the ordinary will be experienced in this channel. Due to financial problems between the GMB  and the contractor, the work had become slow and its direct impact is being seen on the project.

"Ro-Ro ferry as decided is of the size of 23 meters, and as per the rules, the width of the channel should be four times more than the ferry but that has not happened.

"Violation of Environmental Clearance too has taken place:

"Concerned ministries of the Central Government had given necessary permissions for dredging for the Ghogha-Dahej, Ro-Ro Ferry service and some conditions were imposed.  The environmental clearance given was for the dredging of four million cubic meters. Till date dredging of 3.70 million cubic meter has been completed and yet out of a hundred meters of channel, only fifty meters has been completed. Dredging work on both sides, at Ghogha and Dahej remains to be completed. Under such circumstances there is clearly a possibility of the violation of environmental clearance. Besides this, once the channel is completed, survey will have to be carried out by National Agency and then navigation chart is to be prepared, and accordingly the work of installing boya remains to be done.”

As I write this, I am reminded of the serious concerns raised by experts about the rush to commission a NTPC project in Uttar Pradesh in which forty two workers died due to a blast. 


Thursday, 25 January 2018

In Memory of Indutai Khanolkar

Indutai was different, very different. Parents of not all middle class activists in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) were happy that their well educated daughters and sons left lucrative careers to be a part of a people’s struggle, where there was not only no income but personal risk too- risk of facing state repression, jails, and attacks by political goons. But Indutai not only supported her daughter Medha Patkar lead the NBA but she faced the many added challenges that Medha took upon herself like indefinite fasts and jal samarpan. This was possible only because Indutai was as much a political activist in her own right as she was a mother. But today when Indutai is no more, I sit back and think how tumultuous it must have been for her to balance her political ideology with her feelings as a mother. Indutai did it with resilience, insulating the NBA from her turmoil in those trying times. 

Indutai Khanolkar. Photo Source: FIRSTPOST

Indutai was as much an active part of the NBA as the hundreds of supporters of the struggle from outside the submergence zone who worked for the movement tirelessly with utmost commitment and zeal. It was because of ardent supporters like Indutai that the NBA spread far beyond the banks of the River Narmada. 

After having retired from the postal department in the year 1987, Indutai dedicated her life to the issues of women as part of the organisation Swadhar. Her own upbringing was amidst Rashtriya Sewa Dal. Her husband Late Shri Vasant Khanolkar, was a well known trade unionist. With such background it is not surprising that Indutai was herself an active member of NBA and visited the Narmada valley often particularly when the villages were facing the threat of eviction or submergence. In those days roads and transport was poor. She took many arduous journeys through bumpy roads, rickety public transport and often on foot to reach the remote submergence villages in the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges to be with the people of the Narmada Valley struggling for their river and survival. Even at an advanced age, she lived like any other in the villages, even in those areas which had no electricity and/or occupied by police threatening people to move out. Coming from Mumbai it must have been hard but she was so much at home whenever she came that it felt she was herself a resident of the Narmada valley. 

I will always remember her quiet but stead fast, ever so helpful presence not only in the Narmada valley, but also in many of the NBA programmes, fasts, indefinite sit – ins and dharnas in the cities too. In the early and mid nineties NBA had a full-fledged office in the city of Mumbai run by senior activists like Lata P M, Ganesh, and so many others. Indutai took up many of the responsibilities of NBA that typically spilled over out of the office and she was available 24x7 for any help that was required. Indutai’s own house was often like an extended office. 

 I wish to recount one incident narrated by Keshavbhau Vasave, a senior Adivasi leader of NBA which will vividly describe the diverse roles Indutai played in the movement. Originally told in Marathi, I translate some excerpts from Keshavbhau’s interview for wider readership. Here Keshavbhau talks about his ordeal when he went to Mumbai in the early nineties from his far away remotely located forest village Nimgavan on the banks of Narmada to get his passport issued. Keshavbhau as one of the founding members and leaders of NBA was chosen to go to Sweden to receive the Right Livelihood award on behalf of NBA along with Medha Patkar. Keshubhau shares:

“...After I was selected to go abroad I reached Mumbai to stay for a month to get my papers ready. I went to every office to get documents... While issuing passport the following question arose:

 ‘While going abroad, on your way and in case of an accident [death], your body will be reached to Mumbai. At whose house should it be reached in Mumbai? ...You belong to Dhule district. Who should it be reached to at Dhule?’[1]

“I gave the address of Dashtrath Tatya at Dhule.

 “[While in Mumbai] I was given place to stay at the Yuva[2] office. I was staying there alone...After reaching there [Yuva office] different kinds of scenes began to float before my eyes.  Since a month I have left my wife and children and have come to Mumbai. I have to go abroad. I have to accept the award.

“But where is your body to be reached?’

 “After having been asked this question, I was reminded of it constantly- even in my sleep. After that, I thought, there is nothing wrong if I do not go. I have left my small children [back home] to come here [to Mumbai]. If something untoward will happen on the way, nothing of me will remain.”

It is interesting that when such thoughts were going on in Keshavbhau’s mind, his reference point in Mumbai was Indutai. This was often so with many other NBA activists also. Keshavbhau further narrates: 

“Instead of that if I will cheat upon Medhatai’s mother and go away [back home] – what harm is in it? I picked up the phone and called Medhatai’s mother and lied to her- ‘Aji, I have not come prepared to go abroad. My clothes, etc are all at home. I had come to get my passport done. I need to get my clothes. So I will go home and come back’.

“‘No! No! Medha will surely be angry with me. You cannot go’, this is what she [Indutai] said.

“‘I will go today and return tomorrow or the day after’, I was saying this [to Indutai]. I was not able to concentrate. I was weary of staying in Mumbai for a month. I was spending days eating vada-pau.

“‘Okay, will you return day after tomorrow morning...If you will not return, Medha will definitely scold’, she said.

“‘Aji, please send a boy here. This is because I have not seen the ST stand’, I said. Immediately in no time, a young boy came and reached me to the ST Stand...”

This is how Indutai played so many different and important roles in the NBA and supported the many activists and activities of the struggle. For all of us who have been a part of the NBA, she will always be remembered as one among us and also as a very brave mother. Very brave indeed.

Today, Narmada Bachao Andolan loses yet another of its members in Indutai and we salute her.

[1] Possibly these questions were asked in those days while issuing passport to those not familiar with “main stream” languages.
[2] The organisation Yuva has been one of the main supporters of NBA and played a very important role in the struggle particularly in its formative years.