Archive for the tag “development”

Course: Understanding Rural India

Azim Premji University

Azim Premji University, Bangalore, is holding a non-residential introductory course, Understanding Rural India: Life and Livelihoods at the Base of the Pyramid, aimed at those who are relatively new to the development sector.

Dates: Nov 16 – 26, 2018
Venue: Bangalore

Rural India is undergoing unprecedented transformations, which have profound impact on the livelihoods of the rural poor by influencing the nature of their work, work related relationships, new opportunities, nature of rural-urban connect and household vulnerability. Understanding the nature of this transition in rural livelihoods is critical in order to design and participate in meaningful efforts to promote livelihoods security for rural households. Read more…

Special: Questioning the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals: Can we pull them off?
Catch News
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The new set has 169 targets. Critics believe these are well-intentioned, but range from grandiose (end hunger) to peripheral (promote sustainable tourism) to flat-out impossible (full and productive employment and decent work for all). Nevertheless, India is committing to some tough goals. Here’s a quick reckoner of what they are and a reality check on where we stand.

The Sustainable Development Goals: A Siren and Lullaby for Our Times
Thomas Pogge & Alnoor Ladha,
The SDGs inequality goal (target 10.1) allows current trends of income concentration to continually increase until 2029 before they start to decline. This totally ignores the structure of our economic system which creates inequality in the very rules that enforce and articulate the current distribution of wealth.

What if everything the SDGs are premised on is just wrong?
Martin Kirk, African Arguments
At the upcoming UN General Assembly, we are all about to be told some stories as part of a big of the “world’s largest advertising campaign” by the UN, NGOs, governments and large corporations to sell us on the new global plan to tackle poverty. It’s up to each of us to determine whether these stories are full of hope we can believe in or just a big serving of marketing and spin.

The UN’s Sustainability Plan Is ‘Doomed,’ According to Linguistic Analysis
Nafeez Ahmed
A report circulated to UN officials argues that the entire SDG process has been “fundamentally compromised” by powerful corporations with an interest in sustaining business as usual. Commissioned by Washington DC-based nonprofit, a global activist network campaigning to address the root causes of poverty, the report is based on “frame analysis”—a scientific method examining linguistic and conceptual patterns to reveal how people define, construct, and process information.

Sustained economic growth: United Nations mistake the poison for the cure
Samuel Alexander, The Conversation
The defining flaw in the United Nations’ agenda is the naïve assumption that “sustained economic growth” is the most direct path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. This faith in the god of growth is fundamentally misplaced. It has been shown, for example, that for every $100 in global growth merely $0.60 is directed toward resolving global poverty. Not only is this an incredibly inefficient pathway to poverty alleviation, it is environmentally unsupportable.

Five reasons to think twice about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
Jason Hickel, London School of Economics
People aren’t getting excited about the SDGs because they know that business as usual isn’t going to deliver the new economy we so desperately need. In this sense, the goals are not only a missed opportunity, they are actively dangerous: they lock in the global development agenda for the next 15 years around a failing economic model that requires urgent and deep structural changes, and they kick the hard challenge of real transformation down the road for the next generation to deal with – by which time it may be too late.

What the SDGs Could Learn from Indigenous Peoples
Fionuala Cregan, Common Dreams
Across the world, Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront of struggles to defend the Earth’s remaining habitats from the relentless advance of extractive industries, from open air mining, to oil driling to and single crop industrial agriculture. Unfortunately, the new SDGs offer them little by way of support.

In the news: Modi govt and the state of the environment

Outlook Magazine

Mangroves in peril Navi Mumbai airport site


How The NDA Is Whittling Down Green Norms

  • Change in definition of no-go area in dense forest, leaving more area open for project
  • Keeping powers with the Centre to even allow projects in ‘no-go areas’ of dense forests
  • Proposal to allow firms to take over afforestation, thus jeopardising the rights of tribals
  • Role of gram sabhas diluted or taken away under blanket consent for development
  • Automatic approval to highway and other defence projects near border areas
  • Moratorium lifted on new projects in several highly polluting industrial areas
  • National Green Tribunal role sought to be diluted by taking away the right to appeal to it

For years the proposal to develop a second airport for Bombay at Navi Mumbai had been awaiting environmental clearance. The issue had been the rivers and the mangroves near the selected site. With one stroke, all the concerns—including the stipulation to create a mangrove san­ctuary—have been brushed aside by the Narendra Modi government. Late last month, Union minister of environment and forests Prakash Javadekar gave the green signal to the project on the condition that the mangroves should be made unattractive for birds, given their potential threat to flying aircraft.

“In effect it would mean destroying the mangroves to stop birds from nesting there,” says Ulka Mahajan, an environment activist. “The intentions are very clear now; it is all only about corporates. The government is happy to wipe out nature.” The move will also destroy fish breeding in the shallow waters of the mangrove.  “It is ridiculous to say you can plant mangroves,” says Girish Raut, environmentalist and expert on mangroves. “It took hundreds and thousands of years for ecosystems to evolve and it takes one project to wipe it out.”

The Navi Mumbai airport project is just one of the many instances that highlight the BJP government’s cavalier attitude toward environment in its desire to speed up mandatory green clearan­ces for projects. Safe­guards for land, water bodies and environment are being carefully dil­u­ted. The policies of the government are steering us to a situation that poses a clear threat to India’s green spaces.

Closely linked to speedy environment clearances for infrastructure and other projects are forest clearances and the proposed land acquisition bill. While the former is being tweaked unmindful of the damage to green belts, the latter is yet another assault on the rights of farmers and tribals who will have little or no say in whosoever wants to acquire their land for setting up an enterprise or infrastructure project.

It reeks of a clear pattern. In an analysis of one year of Modi sarkar, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general Sunita Narain observed that incremental changes have been made to “ease the process” of project clearances. A major cause of concern, according to the think-tank, is the shift in responsibility of project clearances from the Centre to state agencies minus any capacity building or accountability. The states can now take their own decision on thermal power, irrigation, mining and other projects. Also, like many other development experts, the CSE has questioned the dilution of the public hearing process. Political activist M. Kodanda Ram points to the Polavaram dam project in Andhra Pradesh. Work started under UPA rule, despite violations galore—from not seeking public opinion, improper land acquisition to lack of statutory rehabilitation. In 2011, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh withdrew the environment clearance and stalled the project till the reorganisation of states.

“But now the NDA has given the state government indication of support for the completion of the project, though the clearances are still not available,” says Ram. “In this particular case, the damages to the forest and tribals who are going to be displaced is huge.” Both Orissa and Chhattisgarh have filed cases against the project in the Supreme Court.

A preliminary assessment by US-based Rights and Resources Group on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act has found a decided lack of effort to recognise the rights of forest-dwellers. Despite the law having granted traditional forest-dwellers community forest resource (CFR) rights, the study based on government data points out that so far “the total forest area over which CFR rights have been recognised is less than 5,00,000 hectares or barely 1.2 per cent of the CFR rights potential in the country”. Continue reading

Also from Outlook: Make (Money in India) by Ashish Kothari
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had some time back suggested that one solution to climate change is to switch off street lamps on moonlit nights. Really? Encourage polluting industries and coal-based power plants across India, shove aside forests for expressways, and incentivise rapid growth in motorcars … and then compensate all these carbon emissions by switching off street lamps a few nights a year? Who is Mr Modi trying to fool? Read article

From How the govt lets green sinners judge themselves
Corporates and governments pushing for projects with environmental consequences hire experts, who study such impacts. Since field visits by the ministry are rare, clearances are granted based exclusively on data from such experts. Over the years, examples of studies with false information, plagiarism, and deliberate underestimation of impacts have become common. These studies, called environmental impact assessments (EIA) are also often marred by conflicts of interest. Read article


Growth and Inequality in a Carbon-Constrained World

Incrementum ad Absurdum:
Growth and Inequality in a Carbon-Constrained World

David Woodward

The paper seeks to assess the timeframe for eradication of poverty, defined by poverty lines of $1.25 and $5 per person per day at 2005 purchasing power parity, if pre-crisis (1993-2008) patterns of income growth were maintained indefinitely, taking account of the differential performance of China. On the basis of optimistic assumptions, and implicitly assuming an indefinite continuation of potentially important pro-poor shifts in development policies during the baseline period, it finds that eradication will take at least 100 years at $1.25-a-day, and 200 years at $5-a-day. While this could in principle be brought forward by accelerating global growth, global carbon constraints raise serious doubts about the viability of this course, particularly as global GDP would need to exceed $100,000 per capita at $1.25-a-day, and $1m per capita at $5-a-day. The clear implication is that poverty eradication, even at $1.25-a-day, and especially at a poverty line which better reflects the satisfaction of basic needs, can be reconciled with global carbon constraints only by a major increase in the share of the poorest in global economic growth, far beyond what can realistically be achieved by existing instruments of development policy – that is, by effective measures to reduce global inequality.

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Sagar Dhara: A.P. needs smart governance more than a smart capital

Sagar Dhara, POI Founder Member

(Note: An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu, dated October 9, 2014, under the title ‘Including people in governance)

The soul of India lives in its villages, Gandhiji said 100 years ago.  London governed India’s soul then, which it perceived as unjust and so revolted.  Delhi and the state capitals now govern India but not quite in a way that allows people to participate in decision-making.

By declaring the Vijayawada-Guntur region as the new capital of the successor state of Andhra Pradesh (AP), and wanting all major government institutions there, Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu has, like in other Indian states, has favoured centralized governance.

The logic for choosing Vijayawada-Guntur as the capital can be traced to the outdated industrial location theory (ILT), whose object is to choose industry sites that minimize transport cost of raw materials and finished goods.  No doubt, Vijayawada-Guntur is centrally located in AP is and well connected, which helps minimize transport cost for visitors to the capital.  But ILT does not consider many other critical issues.

First, it factors only direct costs, not externalities. The Vijayawada-Guntur is surrounded by some of AP’s best farmland, and a part of it will be lost to the new capital.  Per researchers Ashmore, Marshall and others, air pollution from large cities like Mumbai and Ahmedabad have caused wheat and paddy yield losses of 15-40%, totalling to lakhs of tons, in a 60-70 km radius around each city.  Air pollution from thermal power plants is similar to that from cities; hence crop yield losses around power plants can be extrapolated to estimate losses around cities.  A 2013 environmental impact appraisal of the 1,760 MW Ibrahimpatnam thermal power plant located near Vijayawada, estimated that the plant’s air pollution-related crop yield losses in a 10 km radius around the plant were Rs 200 crores per annum.  Extrapolating this to air pollution-crop yield losses in a 25 km radius around the new capital would mean a loss of Rs 1,000 crores per annum to local farmers.

And as the new capital grows it will attract migrants, the city’s carbon emissions will increase by at least one million tons per annum.  The cost of raising plantations that can sequester these carbon emissions is Rs 3,500 crores.

Second, ILT does not factor costs for social conflicts.  The new capital is to be made a smart city like Singapore.  The energy required is 6 million tons of oil equivalent costing Rs 35,000 crores, i.e., a third of AP’s 2014-15 budget.  To mobilize these funds, a public-private partnership may be sought.  Private parties invest for profit and will want to transform newer parts of Vijayawada-Guntur into gated communities with super malls, leaving the older and crowded One-Town in Vijayawada and Patha-Guntur as are.  Uneven development of Vijayawada-Guntur is likely to cause social conflict in future, and that has a cost.

Third, ILT may work for a single node like a centralized capital, but not for not for smart governance, i.e., decentralized democratic participative governance.  In the former, higher-level government functions are centralized in one location, e.g., Vijayawada-Guntur as envisaged by AP’s chief minister.  In the latter, government functions are dispersed throughout the state.  Hence, people will travel shorter distances to district, taluka/mandal towns for their work with government rather than to the capital, thus minimizing transport cost.  More importantly, the state’s polity, and all its regions will feel that they have been included in the state’s governance.  The process of choosing a capital has just begun.  AP should use this unique opportunity to opt for smart governance, an opportunity that Telangana does not have.

Tasked by the Union Government to identify sites for the new AP capital, the Sivaramakrishnan Committee has recommended dispersing government institutions across the state to allow for distributed and equitable development of all of AP, e.g., locate departments related to industry in Visakhapatnam, agriculture in Prakasam and mining in Rayalseema, etc.  Accepting this recommendation to decentralize is the first step in smart governance.  It will make all AP regions feel involved in the state’s governance.

The second step is to move to democratic participative governance.  Indian law empowers local self-governments (LSG)—panchayats, municipalities, etc., to take decisions about local matters.  LSGs have not discharged their mandate adequately for lack of clear jurisdiction and adequate funds.  If this is corrected, governance can be transformed from a top-down for the people model of centralized governance done from state capitals to a bottom-up by the people model, where every village and town becomes self-governing.

Smart governance experiments have been done in many parts of the world.  Participatory budgeting first began in 1990 in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.  In the first quarter of every year, communities hold open house meetings every week to discuss and vote on the city’s budget, and spending priorities for their neighbourhood.  Later, city-wide public plenaries pass a budget that is binding on the city council.  The results speak for themselves.  Within seven years of starting participatory budgeting, household access to piped water and sewers doubled to touch 95%.  Roads, particularly in slums, increased five-fold.  Schools quadrupled, health and education budgets trebled.  Tax evasion fell as people saw their money at work.  People used computer kiosks to feed communicate suggestions to the city council’s website.

Participatory budgeting is now being done in 1,500 towns around the world—Europe, South America, Canada, India—Pune, Bengaluru, Mysore and Hiware Bazar.  Twenty five years ago, Hiware Bazar was like any other drought-prone village in Marathwada.  Today its income has increased twenty-fold and poverty has all but disappeared.

In the early-1970s, British scientist, Stafford Beer, designed a cybernetic system that did realtime monitoring of Chile’s economy and allowed production decisions to be taken at different levels, the lowest being shopfloor workers, the next being people in the entire production facility, then by representatives of like production facilities in a city; finally the highest level being the cabinet’s economic committee.  If an issue arose on a particular shopfloor, workers were given a certain amount of time to discuss and fix it.  If they failed because the issue was beyond their control, e.g., raw material shortage, an algedonic meter sounded an alarm and the decision shifted to a next higher level, and further upwards if necessary. Two 1970s-generation computers and telex lines was the technology used.

Before the Right to Information (RTI) became law in India, public boards carrying information on daily receipt and disbursement of foodgrains were ordered to be put up outside ration shops in Madhya Pradesh.  Immediately after, foodgrain shortages in ration shops disappeared. Fifteen years ago, plants in AP were ordered to put up public boards outside their main gate with information regarding their compliance conditions, environmental data and the maximum vulnerable zone in catastrophic accidents.  To make RTI more effective, a non-computerized information search engine has been designed in India.

Thirty years ago, Narsappa, an illiterate farmer aggrieved by Harihar Polyfibers’ effluents, was told by the plant’s management that their effluents were being treated to required standards and that he had no cause for worry.  He asked why then could the locations of the plant’s fresh water intake and effluent discharge points not be switched; the intake point from upstream to downstream of the plant site on the Tungabhadra River and the effluent discharge from downstream to upstream.  Narsappa’s question remains unanswered to this day.

Narsappa is an important part of India’s soul.  Grassroot decision-makers in Brazil and Chile are like Narsappa. Participation of people like Narsappa in smart governance or gram swaraj will make AP and India a vibrant society, much more than using expensive smart toys like online air quality monitors from Singapore, the output data from which is un-actionable in Indian cities.

(The author works with Cerana Foundation on energetics of human societies and environmental risks, and can be contacted at

Is the NDA government’s “Good days ahead” promise old wine in a new bottle?

By Sagar Dhara, POI Founder Member

(Note: An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu, dated August 8, 2014, under the title ‘Building smart cities without energy’. Also read: Devinder Sharma’s article: How About Smart Villages, Mr Modi?)

Recent pronouncements by the NDA ministers, when read together, provide insights into the NDA government’s ‘Acche din ayenge’ (good days ahead) promise.  Finance minister Arun Jaitley provided Rs 7,060 crores in the 2014-15 budget for developing 100 smart satellite townships to existing cities.  Environment minister Prakash Javadekar said that to reduce poverty, India’s carbon emissions must grow till 2030-40.

Can India find the large quantity of energy needed to develop smart cities?  Will greater fossil fuel use, the primary cause for carbon emissions, in projects like smart cities, bullet trains, river linking, reduce poverty?  I.e., can India replicate the 20th Century North nations development model that used massive quantities of energy to reduce poverty? Read more…

Madhusree Mukerjee: How to Colonize Your Own Country

(Editor’s note: On, we usually carry relatively abstract, ‘big picture’ articles or technical pieces on energy and the related topics of climate change, development and sustainability. In contrast, this hard hitting, extensively researched piece by Madhusree Mukherjee brings out the human cost involved in these issues. It’s essential reading if you want to understand the true extent of the price that is being paid by adivasis – and specifically adivasi women – for what the rest of us call ‘development’)

By Madhusree Mukerjee | Grist Media – Mon 28 Jul, 2014
Earlier this year, media across the world reported how a ‘primitive’ tribal council in West Bengal had ordered the gang rape of a woman as punishment. Except that almost no one got the story right. Our writer parses the conflicting accounts to tell a complicated tale of assault not only on that one woman but on Adivasis across the country. Violence, sexual assault, consumer culture, alcohol, pornography, land-grabbing – Adivasi society is being destroyed by these classic tools of colonial development, and it is all being done in the name of its fellow Indians.
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Workshop: Towards a sustainable society

One-day workshop: Charting a course towards a sustainable, equitable and peaceful society

Venue: Cerana Foundation, Hyderabad
Day: Sunday, 13 July, 2014
Time: 9 am to 6 pm

About the workshop: We face one tilting point–environmental degradation and two tipping points–climate change and peak oil. Environmental degradation has already ruined the lives of many people in India and elsewhere. Climate change and peak oil have the potential to collapse our civilization. Yet, scant attention is being paid to address these issues.

The task of navigating a course through these issues has been thrust on future generations. And whether they like it or not, they will have to deal with the issues of resource wars, sustainability, equity and conflict, which are intimately related to the tipping and tilting points. This workshop attempts to help the participants to understand these issues through presentations, practical exercises and discussion.
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