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Stuck Between a Rock & a Hard Place – Life of farmers in Amreli, Gujarat

Antara Vats, Arjun Anand, Lakshay Narang and Raj Shekhar visited Shiksha Ane Samaj Kalyan Kendra in Amreli district of Gujarat for fieldwork as part of the curriculum of Masters Programme in Public Policy.

“Everyone believes that the ‘Gujarat Model’ is successful; it is anything but that” exclaimed Magan Bhai, as he shuffled through his newspaper. It was late in the afternoon and we were hosted by Magan Bhai and his wife at their nine-hectare farm. The farm and the village – Govindpur – were on the outskirts of Gir National Park due to which a welcome cold breeze swept across the farm every now and then. We tried not to be out in the open during afternoon, as the temperature in Amreli district – our home for three weeks – used to hover around 40 degrees Celsius. But here we were sitting under a tree, sipping hot tea and having wild kakdi. “It rained for twenty days in July and it hasn’t rained since” sighed Magan Bhai’s wife. Both of them were in their late sixties and surprisingly the only ones working on the farm. Deficient and inadequately spread rainfall during the monsoon combined with emigration of landless labourers to cities had severely affected farmers. The unviability of agriculture due to the uncertainty of monsoon, that multiple government irrigation plans aim to correct, had forced farmers and labourers to find other forms of livelihood. In villages we visited, young boys and girls were sent to cities to learn new employable skills but the older generation stayed back because their “life was their land and they didn’t know any other way of life.” These farmers were trapped; on the one hand they had modern irrigation equipment, institutional support and bigger farms than the national average; and on the other they were still dependent on rainfall.

Over our three weeks in Amreli we came across a situation that is not highlighted much in the mainstream discourse around Indian agriculture. Farmers in the three blocks (Khambha, Una and Jafarbad) were, according to me, in a phase of transition. Their agricultural practices and objectives had moved on from mere sustenance but had not achieved complete commercialisation. Farmers used modern equipment and employed best practices like using Bt cotton seeds, drip and sprinkler irrigation, leveraging government schemes like Soil Health Cards and many others. They grew cotton, groundnut, onion, tomato and peanuts, all with huge potential in the food processing sector. Yet, modernisation seemed unable to remove the severe consequences of deficient rainfall. Irrigation facilities should enable such farmers to break away from the uncertainty but falling levels of groundwater, increasing salinity in groundwater and inadequate water harvesting initiatives posed modern challenges. Similarly, they had access to pesticides but changing preferences and increased awareness of the harmful effects of pesticides forced farmers to limit the use of pesticides or move towards organic farming. Organic farming fetches higher prices but the overall production falls and the domestic demand for organic agro-products is still in its nascent stage. The farmers lack the capacity to tackle these new challenges because successive governments focused on providing subsidies instead investing in agriculture (Kapila, 2016).

In response to these modern problems farmers mobilised to form farmer producer companies (FPC). Its objective was to increase their bargaining power, swell their profits, adapt sustainable agricultural practices, and fully develop the supply chain. The organisation we worked with – Shiksha Ane Samaj Kalyan Kendra –has been actively involved in mobilising farmers, creating capacity and raising awareness among farmers to form FPCs. Gujarat has one of the most thriving producer-company ecosystems in the country with many private players participating and supporting these initiatives. A federation of all FPCs of Gujarat – GujPro – is one the most successful federations in the country. Through FPCs, farmers are being encouraged to move towards food processing. However, some structural issues plague FPCs as well. Major investment is required in storage and transportation facilities to fully leverage the benefits from food processing. The government has dragged its feet over the same for years now. Similarly, food processing requires investment in processing units; credit availability to such FPCs is not easy to come by as banks remain reluctant to lend. Thus, the burden again falls on the government.

We saw that farmers are willing to come up with new forms of organisations to get around the structural problems in agriculture. The most pertinent structural problem is with respect to agricultural GDP, which is affected majorly by three factors: public and private investment over the years; relative price incentives for agriculture; and rainfall. Public investment in agriculture declined after 1991 but then picked up again from 2002 to 2012. There are scores of studies that have shown the positive correlation between agricultural growth and public investment. However, nearly 85 per cent of the investment in agriculture is by private sector mostly in “labour saving machines and water-saving equipment” (Kapila, 2016). There needs to be a long-term policy for the agricultural sector, as short-term benefits like subsidies have left farmers completely dependent on the government. For the realisation of increasing farmers’ income, standard of living and decreasing their dependence on government (read Gujarat Model) political and other vested interests have to be curbed. Until then, farmers of the country would find themselves in a similar limbo like the farmers of Gujarat.

(Lakshay Narang is a student of the 2018-20 batch of Masters Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He can be reached at lakshaynarang@nls.ac.in)

Bibliography

Kapila, U. (2016). Indian Economy Performance and Policies . New Delhi: Academic Foundation.

Gujarat, G. (2009). Statistics. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://dag.gujarat.gov.in/Statistics.htm

Srinivas, N. N., & Mehta, P. (2018, July 13). Agriculture investment: Time to cultivate a visible hand. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/agriculture-investment-time-to-cultivate-a-visible-hand/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transforming Cities through Social Urbanism: Medellin, Colombia’s Alejandro Echeverri speaks to Lokniti

Lokniti Editors Sanjana Patro and Srilakshmi Nambiar in conversation with Mr. Alejandro Echeverri, on Medellin Colombia’s social urbanism. 

The city of Medellin in Colombia was a drug trafficking hub from the late 1960’s till the early 1990s. A contraband economy, paralysis of justice and a mismanagement of the security apparatus led to a rise in crime and violence, especially in the barrios (neighbourhoods) of the city. These unsafe barrios gave Medellin the tag of the ‘Most dangerous city in the world’. The city’s economy was also grappling with high levels of inequality.

However, things began to change for the better in the 1990’s, with the help of strategic policy intervention called ‘Social Urbanism’. This process included strengthening the state machinery and public services. Special thrust was given to improving public transportation in the city. The metro lines and cable cars provided the much needed  link between the northern hilly areas of the city to the plains. It also focused on active community engagement, along with bringing together academics, the government and experts from various fields.

An architect by training, Mr. Alejandro Echeverri was closely associated with this transformation of Medellin. He has served as the director general of the Urban Development Company from 2004- 2005 and the director of urban projects for the Mayor’s office of Medellin from 2005-2007 under Mayor Sergio Fajardo. He is currently a professor of architecture at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Among his many architecture awards, his work with Mayor Fajardo in urban renewal won them both the Curry Stone Prize for Transformative Public Works from Architecture for Humanity in 2009. Their urban renewal projects have been praised not just for revitalizing poor neighborhoods but also for the quality and innovation of the architecture itself.

In this interview with Lokniti, Mr. Alejandro Echeverri shares his experience and answers our questions around the parallels that he sees between India and Colombia and the ideas that India can borrow.

 

Q1. What is social urbanism? How did this concept evolve in the case of Medellin? 

A1. The history of social urbanism is related to planning and urban design in Colombia. It is used to describe the process that happened in Medellin, after the crisis of the 1980’s and 1990’s which was dominated by high levels of inequalities in the barrios or the neighbourhood. The government was exploring policies which would work towards greater social justice to counter the high levels of inequity that was prevalent. In this context, social urbanism grew.

In 2004, the government was looking at methods to combine public policy and strategic implementation, particularly in conflict ridden areas. Issues such as ways to combine urban design, landscape design, with programs focusing on culture, education, and economic activities were also explored. Hence, they started the ‘URBAM Project’, to design and apply public policy in a specific territory. Inclusion was the most important part of the agenda, and leadership came from the government. The experience came from a practical reality and the experience they had initially in the government. Real transformation was achieved as a combination of several improvements like the physical space and lives of the people.

 

Q2. The “ambition to control” drives planning exercises which are centralised or top-down in nature. However, as you pointed out earlier, strategic planning and pragmatic efforts can counter such tendencies. How does this manifest itself in the frame of social urbanism?

A2. Social urbanism is more connected with action and implementation. It is a combination between the improvement of the physical space of the city with an improvement in the quality of the life of the people. It belongs more with the history of the people, their personal experiences, and how the people could be a part of those processes. So this is not a policy that came from far, or a top down approach. Since implementation is very important for any policy, one thing that is strategic is how to coordinate different institutions of the government in the strategic territories that they select.

It is improvement not only in housing, public space, and public transport system in terms of public transformation, they were also trying to improve the quality of education, focus on policies which improve  inclusion and diversity, and improve capacity of children and the people. Thus, it is a holistic approach.

 

Q3. In Colombia the ‘Empresas Públicas de Medellín’ (EPM) is a public utility company providing water, domestic gas and electricity in the city. However, in India we have seen public-private led partnership or private sector sharing space with the public sector. How has Medellin been able to sustain its public sector?

A3.In Colombia and Latin America, in the 1960’s and 1970’s all public services used to belong to the government. But in the 1980’s and 1990’s with the notion that everything has to be privatised, Latin America went through a vast change, where the public services went to private owners.  One of the reasons could be because many of the public services were very inefficient. However, in Medellin since the public sector was extremely efficient, they were never privatised. The main reason can be attributed to people. These public entities had really good managers and they managed to protect the companies from external politics. The public servants had technical capacity to deal with any crisis at hand.

 

Q4. What ideas or recommendations would you give for having the same model in India?

A4.There is no ideal model. However, Medellin could help like an example if you could understand how things and processes happen, and each case has different realities and singularities. Both countries share a lot of things- problems and opportunities. We have to understand how to work simultaneously to solve both formal and informal problems, and thus it is necessary to put intelligence into practice. This intelligence should have the capacity to innovate and give rise to the belief that problems can be solved.

Both countries have high levels of inequalities, there is a high process of migration, and they settle mainly in the periphery of the city, as a result of which informal rings appear. There is a need to have greater proximity with reality. Colombia has very fragile politics and there is a high complexity of things. Additionally, in the case of Colombia, they had the case of violence. These complexities permit us to innovate in a lot of things. We can reframe the concept of planning and give this concept more proximity to reality, and thus combine planning and action.

A lot can be learnt through pilot projects, which then can be implemented at the national level if required. It is necessary to engage the community at each point. Moreover, citizens participate in these things if they find spaces to collaborate and to develop dialogues and some processes. It is necessary to take impartial decisions and to improve the politics, as such a system will help to  sustain innovation.

(Sanjana Patro and Srilakshmi Nambiar are  2017-19 participants of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at sanjanapatro@nls.ac.in and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively)

 

No wasteland in India, only wasted land: Jairam Ramesh

Sowmini G Prasad

Jairam Ramesh speaking on the New Draft National Forest Policy and the Deteriorating State of Environment in India in Bengaluru on 13th April, 2018.

Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)

Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and former Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) (independent charge), spoke on the new draft forest policy and the deteriorating state of environment in India in an interaction organised by the Environmental Support Group and Actionaid Association (Bangalore). The interaction, a question and answer session, covered a wide range of issues. However, this blog post focuses mostly on the discussions held around the new draft National Forest Policy, 2018 (NFP), the Forest Rights Act, 2006, (FRA) and the importance of institutions like the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Parliamentary Standing Committees.

On the new draft NFP, Mr. Ramesh was of the view that while there are certain elements of continuity from previous policies, there are certain significant departures as well. The new draft NFP, uploaded by the MoEFCC for public comments in March 2018, has been criticised for its attempt to shift the approach to forestry in India – specifically, from a local community and ecology-centric approach emphasised in the 1988 policy – to one on timber and forest-based industries (The Wire 2018). While the requirement to maintain one-third forest cover in the country as per NFP, 1952 continued into the NFP, 1988, it has received additional focus in the new policy as forests have been recognised to act as huge carbon sinks. However, he did admit that the policy gives an idea of the government’s thinking on forests and environment, as the departure from the previous policies can viewed to be geared towards a business led GDP growth. The thrust on forestry in the new policy can be seen to be driven by two forces – one, to meet the COP21 commitment on increasing the carbon sink through a faster rate of increase in forest cover and two, with around 40 percent of India’s forest cover considered to be degraded, it opens up an opportunity for participation of private sector, satisfying its long standing demand to create captive plantations for wood-based industries. On the issue of grassland ecosystem not finding place in the current policy like the previous policies, he admitted that the progressive loss of grasslands is a great tragedy and attributed it to the spread of agriculture and irrigation. He also pointed to how for many years grasslands have been considered as wasteland and that in reality there no wastelands in India, but only wasted land. Addressing apprehensions on the potential of the policy to change or water-down existing legislations in the long term, by changing the definitions of forest areas which are protected under current legislations for example, he pointed to how the government cannot meddle with the definitions too much and that the forests were a state subject.

On FRA and its objectives, Mr. Ramesh spoke about how the legislation is an important instrument which can aid in redressing historical injustices meted out to the forest dwelling communities and how it can be used to deliver justice in the future as well. The objective of FRA is to recognise both individual and community forest rights. While around 14 lakh families have received individual rights, he mentioned how there has been a failure to recognise community forest rights. He pointed to the existence of a fear, especially in the forest department, that granting community forest rights might lead to a sudden empowerment of community-based institutions like the gram sabhas. He quoted the transfer of rights over revenue from such forest land from the forest department to the gram sabhas arising from a situation of recognition of community forest rights as an example of the source of such fears. However, he stressed on the importance of having gram sabhas as the pivotal point of community rights. He gave the examples of Jamaguda village in Orissa and Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra where community forest rights have been successfully recognized to emphasise that not all hope was lost. On the arguments that the FRA is in conflict with the need for maintaining sacrosanct spaces for wildlife, Mr. Ramesh highlighted the importance of the legislation and the need for a consultative process. He also added that any project in a forest area cannot be cleared unless the rights have been settled, pointing to the fact that on account of this requirement, many mining and coal projects had to go through a due diligence process. He emphasised that the key is to recognise due rights of the forest dwelling communities, make them partners in regeneration and conservation of forests, and where necessary, provide them with viable and attractive options to relocate.

The third issue that Mr. Ramesh stressed on was the role of institutions like the National Green Tribunal and the Parliamentary Standing Committees. On NGT, he spoke about the importance of ensuring its independence and maintaining its control outside the reach of the government. He spoke about this in the context of the provisions contained in Finance Bill, 2017 which sought to give the power to appoint NGT members to a government appointed nominee, while the NGT rules provide for such appointments to be made by a committee headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge (The Hindu 2017). He added that NGT is a people’s institution and that it has brought environment related grievance redressal closer to people through its dispute settlement mechanism. He also stressed the importance of having forums where elected representative come to the people to hear their voices. In this context, he spoke about how the standing committee of the environmental ministry can play a significant role through its powers to review policies and call for evidences, including the suo-motu power to call for a review.

Finally, on the difficulties that the environment ministry faces in carrying out its tasks, he spoke about the importance of balance in decisions relating to environmental conservation and how economic growth cannot be dismissed. While India has good policies and legislations, he pointed to weak and sometimes missing enforcement and the need for people holding political power to walk the talk on environmental decisions.

References

Agarwal, Sushant. 2018. National Forest Policy Draft 2018 Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The Wire. 02 April 2018 (https://thewire.in/environment/national-forest-policy-draft-2018-takes-one-step-forward-two-steps-back). 

Rajagopal, Krishnadas. 2017.Govt.’s response sought on Jairam’s plea over Finance Act. The Hindu. 04 August 2017 (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/govts-response-sought-on-jairams-plea-over-finance-act/article19429207.ece). 

(Sowmini G Prasad is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sowminigprasad@nls.ac.in)


Image source – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/land-acquisition-act-will-help-tribals-and-farmers-jairam-ramesh/article5182406.ece

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan: Road to Reform

Sumit Jain was part of the University contingent that visited Bhim, Rajasthan in October 2017 to work with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan as part of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy course. He reflects on the concerns with the social security mechanisms in the country.

Flaws in the PDS

Government of India operates Public Distribution System (PDS) in synchrony with state governments in order to provide food security to the people of India. Making Aadhaar mandatory or availing subsidized ration has augmented corruption even further. Point of Sale (POS) machines at fair price shops (FPS) have started failing terribly. Though the government claims the biometric machines will help in eliminating corruption, the exact opposite scenario has taken place on ground. While previously the dealer was apprehensive of getting caught in case an investigation took place, now he/she can conveniently deny ration to a family under the garb of the POS machine not recognizing his or her fingerprint (there exists a parallel mechanism where the dealer can still provide a family with ration, if his/her fingerprint failed to match). In a FPS in Sangarwas panchayat of Beawar, the Sarpanch was openly defending the dealer who had denied ration to a family for last five months. When we tried to contact the panchayat sahayak regarding the same, he was dismissive of villagers and blamed them for their condition. Sarpanch, babu, dealer and Aadhaar –these entities which were entrusted upon to make the system work – have become the very reason for its failing.

Loopholes in MNREGA

Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.

While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) looks good on paper, situation on ground is appalling. Bureaucracy has found ways to block the implementation of this scheme at various junctures. For example, construction sites tend to deploy a large number of NREGA workers. Given the kind of work, labourers are expected to work in a group of five. The Government servants take advantage of this loophole by denying work to people who approach them in the individual capacity. If that was countered by any chance, the payment of the wage is done on the basis of task and not on the number of hours worked. This has again led to a peculiar condition where the officer present at the construction site would find some or the other fault in the work done and deduct the already meagre wage. This has led to massive frustration among the workers who are willing to work hard but even then not given their own share of the wage.

National Social Assistance Scheme and its impact

Pension amounts in various states are mentioned below –

Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.

For a lot of families who have no one to support them, this pension is the only source of income. However, all is not green in such schemes as well. Take the case of old age pension scheme, a person is entitled to increased pension of 750/- INR (previously 500/- INR) as he/she attains the age of 65. But due to lack of awareness, people involved in disbursing and delivering the pension try to pocket that extra 250/- INR. We found a lot of cases where people had attained the age of 74-75 and were still receiving 500/- INR as pension.

Talk with Aruna Roy

The NLS group of interns also got an opportunity to interact with MKSS pioneer Ms. Aruna Roy. Through her conversation she shed light on her experience in civil services and the rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. Service rules are framed in such a manner that only conformists can survive. Any attempt to reform the system is not taken well by the political establishment and every attempt is made to nullify that step.

She also discussed various aspects of public policy, her stint as a ‘professor of practice’ at McGill University, Canada and how the domain is evolving in various parts of the world. She paid focus on how the civil society plays an important role in the Indian context keeping the democratic values alive and acts as a pressure group on the government. She also laid emphasis on the importance of protests and described taking part in them as imperative for policy students.

NLS interns with Aruna Roy

As mentioned at various places in the report, it is the information gap and lack of awareness which is the root of all problems. While the government legislation has empowered the people with legal rights, the ones who are empowered are unaware of it. It also seems that government has intentionally left this information gap so that they can alter the public opinion as and when required. It is this information gap which the civil society needs to fill. One way to go through this is by organizing meetings and taking the public in confidence. MKSS is doing a great job in this manner and more such groups should come up. Another possible way to curb this problem is by providing consultancy to the government in such a manner that they see their benefit in informing people about their rights. How that would be done in a convincing manner is something all of us have to find out.

(Sumit Jain is a participant of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached sumitjain@nls.ac.in)

Melghat: From Crisis to Cure

Nissy Solomon was a part of the group that visited Melghat, Maharashtra in the month of October, 2017 to work with KHOJ in pursuance of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy programme. She highlights the issue of malnutrition and its impact in the region based on her interactions with the local community and other stakeholders.

Students meeting community leaders at Payvihir village, Melghat, Maharashtra.

In the southern offshoot of Satpura hills, nestled amidst forested mountains is situated the region of Melghat. While it is known for its pristine mountains, it has also been infamous for a high number of deaths due to malnutrition. The severity of it has been under the scanner since 1993, following a Public Interest Litigation filed by activist Sheela Barse in the Bombay High Court. Despite steps undertaken by the government and initiatives by voluntary organisations, the problem of malnutrition continues to persist.

The sustainable development goals that aim to end poverty by 2030 highlight the element of nutrition being central to holistic development. Concerns of nutrition arise not just from sufficient dietary intake but from a host of interconnected processes like education, health care, employment, sanitation, connectivity, and more. In other words, there exists a complex interplay of factors which is poorly understood. In the context of Melghat, a detailed study exhibits that malnutrition is multifaceted and it is both a cause and an outcome of other problems plaguing the region.

According to official government figures, child mortality in two blocks of Melghat – Chikhaldara and Dharni – was 206 in 2016 and maternal mortality was 7 in the year 2016 which shot up to 15 in 2017. On an average, every year 400-500 children between age 0-6 die in this region. The reasons are multi-causal and intricately connected. Eighty-four per cent of women in this region suffer from anaemia, the cause of which is nutritional deficiency. Lower haemoglobin weakens women’s ability to survive child birth.  Surviving a high risk pregnancy causes greater risk to child’s health.

Maternal mortality and child deaths due to malnutrition are a result of systemic failures. Factors like limited Public Health Centres (PHCs), dearth of paediatricians and gynaecologists, high unemployment, poor infrastructure and connectivity, reliance on traditional medicines, and lack of awareness among the tribal population contribute to this failure.  For instance, at Chunkadi village, a remote village in Chikhaldara, there was no PHC functioning. Absenteeism of medical practitioners is common to most villages in Melghat. Complicated cases do not get due attention as a result of which maternal and child health deteriorates. This appalling situation is representative of what confronts the region.

In response to the humanitarian crisis in Melghat, many civil society organisations emerged to maintain and build strong capacities aimed at assuaging the plight of the people. Advocate Bandu Sane, director of one such organisation KHOJ, asserts that there has been a long term presence of government and civil society organisations, each working in their own capacity to improve and mobilise resources for action. However, lack of coordination among the institutional actors has been impeding the desired progress in the region.

When considerable attention was drawn to this region, the state government appointed committees and initiated schemes to fight the issue of malnutrition. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were set up, each with their strategies for the region’s development. Currently, there are over 300 registered NGOs operational in 320 villages. Despite their presence, the problem of malnutrition continues to grip Melghat. This is reflective of a lack of synthesis among the institutional actors.

Understanding the importance of collaborative efforts, KHOJ organised a convergence workshop on October 28, 2017 where prominent stakeholders took part to collectively envision a better future for the tribal population in Melghat.

Convergence Meeting held on October 28th, 2017 in Amravati, Maharashtra.

Given the interrelationships among the range of causal factors underlying malnutrition, efforts to address these problems from individual capacities have resulted in limited success. In order to achieve these strategies of development, a coordinated action that encourages dialogue among institutional actors is imperative to avoid policy discrepancies. Part of the solution in managing complex problems includes successfully partnering across permeable boundaries and engaging citizens and stakeholders in policy making.

At a point when considerable effort has been invested in this area, the time has come to examine whether convergence could be an effective means of governance, since the future demands a collective rethinking of common issues.

(Nissy Solomon is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at nissysolomon@nls.ac.in)