Monthly Archives: May 2012

Water – the Mrigtrishna continues………….

In the last month two paradoxical events occurred in the midst of what could become a serious water crisis if Indra or the equivalent local deity does not bestow his / her benevolence upon us in this corner of Rayalseema.

In one hamlet which is reeling under severe drinking water shortage, the women marched to the local MLA, blocked the Tahsildar’s path etc. and managed to get a drinking water well drilled. Water was spied at around 500 plus feet and all seemed well – many a slip however between water in the ground and in people’s homes.  A motor needs to be lowered into the well to pump the water out for use. As it was being lowered it reached a point and refused to budge – stuck motor – this well can be used only if the motor is removed – nothing new in this hamlet. This has happened time and time again when the Government has tried to ensure drinking water supply here. Everybody knows this -people, Government Engineers, geologists etc. Three months after the installation of the well and constant follow up on a daily basis, the Government managed to get a drilling rig to either remove the motor or push it into the ground so that at least the well could be made operational. No luck…..motor was well and truly stuck. The well cannot be used!

After much hand waiving by the engineers and frustration expressed by the community (mainly women) the real story emerged……the inner diameter of these wells drilled by the Government is approx 166 mm, the outer diameter of the motor being lowered into the well is approx 143 mm. This wafer thin space of course does not allow for any accommodation should there be rock pieces in the formation or some protrusions in the motor. Why are we living on such an edge? The response of the engineers is – It is expensive to drill a larger hole BUT of course it is not expensive to repeatedly spend resources to bring in rigs to pull or push stuck motors out…..Rs. 50,000 for the motor which cannot be used, rig charges to try and get this motor unstuck and of course the most important issue (in case that had slipped your mind in the midst of this narrative) people are still struggling for drinking water – 3 months after the installation of the well. What is Plan B? Drill another well, another Rs. 2 lakhs down the hole (literally) and hope and pray this is not repeated…..

Mr. Jairam Ramesh – is the Rural Development Ministry factoring this in its policy of inclusive growth and in the race to meet Millenium Development Goals or other such Goals of enabling access to safe and clean water, universal health, nutritional security etc. etc…….? This is not rocket science….it is commonsense. The Rural Water Supply Department  has tomes of guidelines on water and sanitation systems which are followed to the letter by the engineers and field staff. Are these tomes not prescribing guidelines for a way out of this Chakravyuha?

A story of hope from the same area – a small farmer about 4-5 km from the above water starved hamlet took a loan to drill a private borewell and hit water at 90 feet. He installed the motor with none of the above drama since the geology in that area is more forgiving. He realised that he needed only a small share of this groundwater for his tomato crop and since agricultural power was available for longer he released the additional water into a pre-existing natural animal water hole so that livestock from the surrounding hamlets could drink water during the summer…..live and let live, I guess….

In the midst of the hopelessness that Government spreads these stories of generosity in rural communities make me feel optimistic and hopeful about India and the world. Stories of generosity in communities living on the edge!


“Enabling” Development

After much deliberation I have a theory on why “development” continues to be largely on paper and documents rather than on the ground and why poverty continues to need alleviation! Practitioners, donor agencies, financial institutions, Governments are busy recasting frameworks and vocabulary in search of the “holy grail” of development and the “Aha” moment that will make the meek inherit the earth! Old wine is constantly being re-cast in new bottles – resources are being used to develop new versions of  “the Sustainable Livelihood Approach” (SLA in developmentspeak) so that more resources can be obtained to implement that perfect approach when and if it is developed.  Newer versions of these approaches and frameworks keep appearing – DfID, UNDP, ADB you name it everybody is tweaking it!

I am, however, still trying to figure out how to explain this to people whose lives this is ostensibly meant to “improve”. They have only one question – Why doesn’t anybody come and ask us what is our definition of development? How do they know what we need if they don’t talk to us directly? Copious documents, extensive discussions at seminars, reports and flexicharts replete with terms and complex jargon but no clear path on how to start work on the ground! Am I missing something? Are the people who ask these questions missing something?

Every one of the development agencies / donors have their “favourite” focal area or cause and will constantly look for accomplishments and successes in these areas only while insisting that they believe in a “holistic, community driven” approach and are moving away from a “sector-specific” approach. The Government has become adept at using developmentspeak as well – all policy documents and savvy party spokespersons on TV talk about “inclusive growth” “aam admi budgets” etc. while continuing fragmented programmes where at best one has no connection with another and at worst e.g. the Agriculture Ministry’s policies and programmes contradict one another or are contradicted by the focus of the Science and Technology Ministry’s programme. And of course the Ministry of Environment and Forests works on its own!!

In this chaos there is the small farmer who is confused to say the least and is excluded from subsidies and all the “development programmes” because he / she is small (owning land below a certain size for which facilities cannot be provided).  In Andhra Pradesh e.g. small farmers with land less than 1.5 acres cannot get access to subsidies for drip irrigation facilities from the Microirrigation Dept. to conserve water…..the Agriculture Dept.’s limit is 5 acres…..we need a new phrase now “exclusionary growth” – it perpetuates a natural washout process so that subalterns continue to be just that!