Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bio fuel or Bio foul policy?


By Pandurang Hegde
27 Jan 2010


The government has spelt out its intention to encourage bio-fuels but a deeper understanding of energy issues and people’s livelihood concerns is missing.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has come out with a National Policy on Biofuels. The objective is to substitute some percentage of fossil fuel with bio fuel, in order to protect environment and create employment through propagation of second-generation bio fuels. The policy envisages implementing these ideas through a framework of technological, financial and institutional interventions and enabling mechanisms.

In the post Copenhagen scenario, it becomes essential for India to adhere to the issue of climate mitigation through appropriate policy interventions. In addition to solar energy, bio fuel is another area that needs to be addressed as a priority sector. The new policy prescribes that by 2017 the ministry will be in a position to supply bio fuels to meet the demand. It also aims at the target of 20 per cent blending of both bio diesel and bio ethanol by 2017.

The two main goals of the bio fuel policy is to produce bio-ethanol and bio diesel in large quantities to replace some portions of fossil fuel based petrol and diesel in the ever growing transport sector. Bio- ethanol will be produced form biomass like sugar producing substances and cellulose materials such as bagasse, wood waste, agricultural and forestry residues. Bio diesel will be produced by acids produced from vegetable oils, both edible and non-edible.

The new bio-fuel policy clarifies that the huge demand for bio diesel will be met from non-edible crops. Considering rising prices of food crops, the policy aims to avoid the conflict of food vs. fuel. It states: "The Indian approach to bio fuels, in particular, is somewhat different to the current international approaches, which could lead to conflict with food security. It is based solely on non-food feedstock to be raised on degraded or wastelands that are not suited to agriculture, thus avoiding a possible conflict of fuel vs. food security."

However, the craze for bio fuel through planting of Jatropha plantations has met with disastrous consequences on both ecological and economic fronts. Ecologically, the monoculture plantations have created havoc with micro ecosystems and economically it has become unviable due to high labour and input costs.

The energy experts who drafted the policy assume that the large stretch of wastelands in the countryside is a resource that has to be tapped for growing second-generation bio fuels. However, in reality, these waste lands, also known as CPRs (common property resources), are already performing an important function to feed the energy and nutritional security of millions of rural poor. The vulnerable communities like livestock herders; landless agricultural laborers will be negatively affected by appropriation of CPRs.

The policy addresses the issue of National Energy Security, but in the process discards the energy security of those millions of people who depend on the CPRs for their survival. In contradiction of what the policy implies, a relevant Planning Commission document states: "The Common Property Resources (CPR)…constitute the most important input for livestock production and subsistence for the poor. These are under depletion and degeneration affecting the livelihood security of the poor".

The core features of the National Policy on Bio-fuels:
Bio-diesel production from non-edible oil seeds in waste /degraded / marginal lands
An target of 20% blending of bio-fuels, both for bio-diesel and bio-ethanol, by 2017
Minimum Support Price (MSP) for non-edible oil seeds with periodic revision
Minimum Purchase Price (MPP) for purchase of bio-ethanol and bio-diesel with periodic revision
Major thrust on R&D with focus on plantations, processing and production of bio-fuels, including Second Generation Bio-fuels
Financial incentives, including subsidies and grants, may be considered for second generation bio-fuels. A National Bio-fuel Fund could be considered.
A National Biofuel Coordination Committee, headed by the Prime Minister, will be set up to provide policy guidance and coordination.
A Biofuel Steering Committee, chaired by Cabinet Secretary, will be set up to oversee implementation of the Policy.
The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) will be the co-ordinating Ministry for biofuel development and utilization.
An Indo-US MoU has been signed on biofuels with focus on joint R&D, particularly on second generation biofuels.
The policy states that in addition to motivating farmers to grow bio fuel, the government will also "enable corporates to undertake plantations through contract farming by involving farmers, cooperatives and Self Help Groups etc in consultation with Panchayats" and that the production of non-edible oil seeds will be supported through a Minimum Support Price.

Clearly, the intention is to facilitate entry of Corporates into the bio fuel sector with ample assurance of the support price to produce bio diesel and bio ethanol. It is ironical that the government that is unable to provide support price for the basic food crops is willing to provide fiscal incentives to grow bio fuel.

Another pillar of the policy, mainly growing of raw materials for ethanol on large-scale plantations needs to be treaded with caution. Many plants, which have been identified as second generation agro fuels, harm environment with invasive species adversely affecting the biodiversity. There is also the apprehension that it paves the way for the entry of genetically modified tree crops and non-edible crops in the name of developing bio fuels.

The most astonishing aspect of the policy is that it speaks the language as has been spelt out in the Indo US treaty on energy signed during the last India visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obviously, there is a close link between what has been incorporated in the bio fuel policy and the corporate interests that are eying the hinterland for raw material production for the second-generation bio fuels. It is pathetic that both our agricultural and energy sectors have become convenient laboratories for conducting the corporate experiments.

Analysis of the bio fuel policy reveals that conceptually it is based on very narrow parochial approach that ignores the broader linkages of energy issues. Developing any bio fuel on a large scale needs to be done on a balanced approach with least negative impact on the livelihood of common people.

Do we know the real Sita?


By Rina Mukherji
27 Jan 2010


Ravana pestering Sita in Lanka (photo courtesy: exoticindiaart)

Ram is never worshipped without Sita, but the popular image of Sita, influenced by Tulsi's Ramcharitmanas, written during medieval period of cultural subjugation, is vastly different than her real personality of a bold, brave and independent woman.

Of all the heroines we have known in our epics, Sita is the only one who has been held up by generations of Indians as the eponymous image of docility and submissiveness. But was she really so?

If we were to fall back on the account left behind by a contemporary of hers -Rishi Valmiki - the popular image of Sita held in India would undergo a transformation.

Loyal and loving she certainly was as a wife, but submissive she was not. In fact, Ramcharit Manas, Tulsi's version of the ancient epic - could well be considered as a classic case of 'lost in translation'.

As a great Rambhakta, Tulsidas was wont to gloss over any perceived imperfection of his Purushottam Ram. Hence, unlike Valmiki's Ramayana or the regional Ramayanas, Ramcharitamanas ends with the coronation of Ram and his glorious rule with Sita and Lakshman by his side. When he makes a mention of the years that Sita spent in the hermitage of Valmiki, in his Geetavali, Tulsidas comes up with a convoluted reason for Sita's banishment. According to Tulsidas, since Dasharath died before his time, his years were granted by the Gods to Ram. Since the last 100 years of his life were the years of Dasharath, who was the father-in-law of Sita, Ram could not maintain any conjugal relations with Sita. Hence, he had to pay heed to a washerman's taunts and use them as an excuse to send her to the forest.

The original Ramayana of Valmiki - which has survived in an incomplete form to this day - and the many regional variations that arose from it, paint a different Sita. The Maithili folk versions tell us of a strong young girl who could easily lift the Shivadhanush (Shiva's bow) by one hand, as she swept the floor with the other. At a time when Sita's father, King Janaka of Mithila, is worried over whether he can ever chance upon a suitable groom for his daughter who refuses to marry any weakling, Ram strings the bow and provides relief to the harried father. In Valmiki's and other regional versions, we have Sita refusing to stay on in Ayodhya when her husband is to proceed for 'vanvaas'. She accompanies him as a devoted wife, but on her own insistence and by flouting her husband's express commands.


In the Oriya Vilanka Ramayana, which is based on Valmiki's Adbhut Ramayana, Ram and Lakshman are totally helpless against the might of Vilanka Ravana, the thousand-headed demon who wants to avenge the killing of the ten-headed Ravana. Even Hanuman can only manage to sever just 500 of the thousand heads of the demon. It is only when Sita steps in at Hanuman's behest, and uses the five-headed panchasar weapon, that Ram can vanquish the thousand -headed Vilanka Ravana.

This incident is also elaborated upon in the Bengali Jagadrami Ramprasadi Ramayana. Sita even admonishes Ram when he is recounting his exploits as a vanquisher of all demons, and gently reminds him of how he and his brother had to take her help, without which they could have never succeeded. In this version, Sita takes the form of Goddess Kali to kill the thousand-headed Ravana .

As regards the 'Agnipariksha' immediately after the battle of Lanka, when Ram expresses doubts about her chastity, Valmiki's Ramayana has Sita launch into a public rebuke, rather than breaking into tears. The regional Ramayanas also have Sita question Ram's conduct in martial and administrative matters, especially him taking sides in the Vali-Sugriva single combat.

Quiet and resolute, her inner reserves of strength had her spurn the mighty lord of Lanka, and evoked the admiration of all, including Ravana's wife, Mandodari. Her acceptance of an 'Agnipariksha' could also be interpreted as an act of utmost confidence in contrast to a wavering Ram. Thus, rather than a silent sufferer, she was in every way more than an equal of her spouse.

So, how come Sita has come down to us as a docile wife, largely seen and hardly heard?

The original Ramayana of Valmiki, it must be understood, could never have been accessible to the extant public. Sanskrit was not the language of the common people. It was a classical language confined to the learned upper castes while the common man used Prakrit.

It was only after Goswami Tulsidas re-wrote it in people's language that Ramayana became part of the common man's daily worship, and a staple of Indian life. Interspersed with Brijbhasha and Bhojpuri, in addition to the predominant Avadhi, Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas also gave rise to the tradition of Ramlila, which survives to this day.

When Tulsidas composed his version of Ramayana, a medieval India was closing ranks to survive the cultural onslaught of Turco-Afghan hegemony. Women no longer enjoyed the freedom of the Vedic age, and child marriages had become the norm to prevent molestation, rape and dishonour.

Young girls married off at a pre-pubescent age were led through life by their fathers, husbands and sons. This social reality got reflected in literary works of the age. Thus, the bold, outspoken, decisive Sita of yore gave way to a docile, passive Sita.

Today, when women have outdone men in many fields, notwithstanding the prejudices against girl-children, female foeticide and infanticide, the popular image of Sita understandably evokes uneasiness among the educated women.

Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal hence, deserve kudos for having compiled essays by the best experts on the Ramayana for their edited work: "In Search of Sita: Revisiting Mythology" and putting together the missing pieces to paint a true portrait of the Sita that Valmiki had written about.

With crimes against women on a dangerous upswing, it is time we redeem Sita and grant her the place that is rightly hers. It will not only bring in contemporaneity to an ancient work but will inspire millions of women to lead both at the home and the outside world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will the idiots make us any wiser?


By Sushant Sharma
21 Jan 2010


The record success of the movie 3 idiots has brought Indian education system into focus. How do students view it: will they aspire for excellence or use the 'system' as an excuse for their failures?

At about the time 3 idiots were making news; a spate of student suicides in Mumbai had rattled the nation. For once, the ‘reel’ was projecting the ‘real’ – addressing the ordeal the younger generation has to pass through. While the story has contemporary relevance to woo the masses, the script has tenacious narrative to swing the box office. But will 3 idiots make us any wiser?

Can real ‘Farhans’ like his reel counterpart, mock the society’s orthodox rules and chase their unorthodox dreams of a much happier and satisfied life, even if that did not exactly translate into a prosperous life too? Or can the real ‘Rajus’ shed their fears and rise from abject poverty to shine in life much like the reel Raju?

Can the masses really be stirred and awaken to bring about the much needed change in our education system that sacrifices quality for quantity? Students no longer learn, they are made to learn, all to achieve monetary success. The system is modelling them to become a memory machine, ready to pour the facts on the answer sheets. The mind remains subservient to the system!

One does not necessarily need to be bright to top in a class, human versions of a Xerox machine can be the toppers too. One no longer feels the thirst for knowledge. The only drive that makes everyone strive is for good grades and the consequent pay package. Dreams have no place in the world where money has become the ‘sole’ indicator of success.

Teachers or gurus of the past were revered by their students and the teachers respected their pupils too. But nowhere is that inkling of the past seen in today’s paradigm of teaching. The denigrating educational system has reduced teachers to being repetitive, teaching what they taught a decade ago. The only change being the number of grey hair on their scalp.

The head professor in the movie is shown delivering the inception speech umpteenth time to fresh entrants. His speech is repetitive to the last word that even the chai-wala boy who has overheard it each year repeats each line with utmost ease, mocking the inherent flaw in the system. Young dreams are ruthlessly killed, reproduce what is taught. Period!

What the young mind yearns to be is nobody’s concern. The tag line - ‘chase excellence, success will follow’ says it all. Take parents’ mindset, teachers’ attitude and the rigid system into count and the guiding mantra gets reduced to ‘success’. Excellence is for some other time, some other place because it is an exception that is at best told as fairy tales.

Rajkumar Hirani scripts the crises through the story of 3 idiots who find themselves different in the world of clones because they were convinced that `even if one wins the rat race, one remains a rat’. Led by Rancho, the 3 idiots script distinct goals for themselves. Each of the three characters is so close to real life, you seem to identify with them instantaneously.

Farhan, the first ‘idiot’, yearns to become a wildlife photographer but his father thinks otherwise. He dismisses his son’s passion as a stupid dream. Farhan toils without interest, earning the distinction of being the last in his semester examination. As in real life, parents reprimand their only son to catch up before it is too late.

The second ‘idiot’ Raju hails from a poor family background and sees engineering as the ladder to climb out of poverty. A paralyzed father, an ailing mother and an unmarried sister are banking on his success. Fear of failure turns the otherwise intelligent student into a nervous-wreck who does extremely bad in the semester results.


Rancho, the lead ‘idiot’ is a true learner. He studies not for grades but for the fun of learning. A natural rule breaker who has frequent run-ins with the professors makes him infamous with the teachers.

The story builds up to show the three protagonists overcome their fears and realise their goals. The story is narrated by Farhan (now a professional wildlife photographer) and Raju (now well-off and successful) as they recall their college days and set out to find their best friend Rancho who had quietly cut off the ties with his friends after leaving the college.

Using a combination of humour and powerful satire, the script punches many one-liners that are thoughtful and haunting. Delayed arrival of ambulance to take Raju’s ailing father to hospital has her mother lamenting: `it’s a strange country, a pizza gets delivered in 30 minutes but a life-saving ambulance takes more time to reach’.

Credible performance by Aamir Khan, R Madhvan, Sharman Joshi and irresistible Boman Irani lend strength to an interesting script. Without being preachy, Rajkumar Hirani delivers the message with utmost sincerity. Innovative as he is, Hirani binds the audience with ‘all iz well’ – a simple phrase that means ‘stay positive’.

Can this movie bring about much needed change in the way education is currently being perceived in our country? Will teenage suicide be a thing of past? The ‘3 idiots’ film has used the medium effectively to convey a simple message – liberate the young generation from the pressures of parental obsession and change the definition of ‘success’. Excellence is waiting for them next door!

Friday, January 22, 2010

New guidelines for biodiversity conservation

By Kanchi Kohli
20 Jan 2010


National Biodiversity Authority has come up with a set of guidelines for the declaration of Biodiversity Heritage Sites across the country. But the existing laws limit the scope for expanding the role of local community in biodiversity conservation.

India's Biological Diversity (BD) Act came into existence in 2002 after the Parliament ratified it. Amongst other things, it put forth a framework under which access to biological resources and related knowledge could henceforth be regulated. It also brought with it some broad provisions that mandated central and state governments to take measures towards the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity (biodiversity, in short). Any access would also need to go hand in hand with determining equitable sharing of benefits.

One important conservation measure proposed in Section 37 of the Act gives powers to state governments to declare areas of biodiversity importance as Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS). These areas can be where there exist important species of seeds, livestock or wildlife. It could also be larger areas of mixed use land which reflect biodiverse ecosystems. The declaration of any BHS has to be in consultation with local bodies, which can include panchayats, district councils, urban wards or even the Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) as proposed to be set up under the BD Act.

The apex institution set up under the BD Act, namely the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) has come up with a set of guidelines for the declaration of BHSs across the country. The guidelines were prepared by a NBA committee comprising government officials, scientists and NGOs. Since Section 37 gives final powers for identifying and declaring BHSs to state governments, these NBA guidelines are not binding but can present a suggestive process to state level authorities.

The guidelines try and peek out through the limitations of the BD Act and prod the state government (in this case State Biodiversity Boards, or SBBs) to rise above the limitations of the institutional power hierarchies. For instance, the guidelines allow for proposal for BHSs to emerge from community organisations and BMCs, allow for the possibilities of existing community conservation practices to be recognized as BHS and also propose that local bodies be consulted at every given step of planning and declaration.

However, since these guidelines seek their mandate from a parent legislation which gives minimalist powers to the village level institutions, i.e. BMCs, it is only able to create a limited space for participation of local communities. As per the BD Act, the BMCs are to be set up at the level of villages or urban wards. Very broadly the Act says that the BMCs have a role in conservation, but the 2004 Rules elaborate it differently. Once set up, it is mandatory for the BMCs to work as data providers for the preparation of People's Biodiversity Registers (PBRs). In the process envisaged by the NBA and its expert committee, the preparation of the PBRs will be “supported” and validated by scientific experts and the SBB. Where village communities are self empowered, they might be able to rise above the four walls defined by the law. Elsewhere, they would continue to churn out register after register and hand it over to whoever the Government of India would define as the custodians.

So it is not a surprise that declaration of BHSs, even in the NBA guidelines, does not have a provision for conservation to be community led. There is active and informed participation, but that does not mean the community will gain control. This is because:

The final power to decide whether an area can be declared a BHS lies with the SBB. This also includes determining the suitability of a study on the BHS.

Even if the BHS management plans are prepared by one or more BMCs, it is the SBBs that will recognise and facilitate its implementation. The power dynamics and hierarchies will continue to play a role in the determination of the management plans.

A state level monitoring committee with the Chairman of the SBB as the head will monitor the implementation of the BHSs. The guidelines don't clarify the course of action in case local communities already have strong local monitoring institutions.

Does this silence mean that these local structures will be “supervised” once BHSs are declared?

Ironically the declaration of the BHSs will also ensure that these areas get Rs.20 lakh as seed money from NBA, governed through the SBBs. This will also be the case where original motivations of conservation might not have been financial.


What the BHS guidelines suggest suitably is setting into place a process, by which the declaration of a heritage site will involve widespread debate and discussion before the final stamp of the state government. This is of course if a state government chooses to follow it. But integral to this process is setting up of a team to carry out a full study of the proposed BHS prior to its declaration. This team is to include a maximum of 12 members, with one member preferably from the local community/ies selected to head the team. Details of the team's composition are mentioned in the guidelines.

The guidelines also seek to address the concern with Section 37 (3) where after the declaration of a BHS, the State Governments shall frame schemes for compensating or rehabilitating any person or section of people economically affected by such notification. The BHS guidelines opine that creation of BHS shall not put any restriction on the prevailing practices and usages of the local communities, other than those voluntarily decided by them.

Even as these guidelines were being prepared, some state governments like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had already started declaring BHSs at local levels. Now the Karnataka SBB has adapted the NBA guidelines to include another element of a “Technical Support Group” which will help the local communities with documentation, conservation preparation of management plans. The SBB here will also have the power to set up monitoring committee(s) that will periodically review the BHS's existence.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bt Brinjal is a symbol of death

By P. V. Satheesh
21 Jan 2010


The scientists behind technological innovations like Bt Brinjal fail to understand the sensitive relationship between humans and nature. It is time they learn the right lessons from the women working on the farms.

This article is based on the statement made by P. V. Satheesh, Director of Deccan Development Society, in the Bt Brinjal Consultation organised in Bangalore by ICRA (Institute for Cultural Research and Action, Bangalore) and SAGE (South Against Genetic Engineering) on 20th January 2010.

As the Minister for Environment and Forests goes around the country eliciting opinions on India's first Genetically Engineered food crop, I seek to make my statement. But my friends who are organizing a Consultation in Bangalore want me to make it a visionary Statement. I am petrified at the thought.

How does one make a “visionary statement”? Either one is too vain or too foolish to think that one is a visionary and can make a statement to match. In any case as far as I am concerned, more than 40 years ago, when I was in college, my vision got impaired. Doctors told me that I had seen solar eclipse with naked eyes and therefore my cornea had been burnt and my vision had become blurred. That was the first time that I had to get my vision corrected. Subsequently life had told me many times that there was an urgent need to correct my vision, be it in the case of my understanding of literature or media or art or just people around me.

When I worked as a Television Producer for Doordarshan in ‘70s I used to travel extensively in the districts of Gulbarga, Raichur and Bijapur in Karnataka: districts which the development experts described as very backward. I began thinking them as truly backward and started my relationship with people there with a patronising attitude. Here I am a practitioner of a state of the art media and you backward people, get ready to learn from me. But it did not take many months for my vision to get corrected. As I kept on listening to people in some of the most unreachable villages, sitting on their charpoys, on their chaupals, inside their kitchens, in their farms and fields, slowly my vision of development got completely altered. I started finding how short-visioned we were in the Development Media. A huge correction resulted.

The most serious transformation in my vision came about two decades ago when I started working with about 5000 dalit women in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. Again the famous “backward” area. The women came from the most excluded section of the society. They were all very small and marginal farmers. Most of them were illiterate. But what they taught me was a very profound understanding of what food and farming should look like. The transformation they brought about in my vision of agriculture completely altered my thinking about these issues.

Therefore today if at all I have to make a visionary statement, it is their vision that I would like to present. Last month, I was in Copenhagen with a group of indigenous communities to present to the global community a Community Charter on Climate Change. At one of the events, there was a discussion on what demands to make from the governments of the world. One of the women from Madhya Pradesh who was a part of the delegation suddenly said: “Tell them that we have no demands to make. But if they want life back on this earth, let them demand it from us. Because only we know how to live with life and nature, and how to nurture it”.

In essence she had summed up for me the lessons I had learnt over the past two decades. The lesson that I have learnt is this: “If we want agriculture to survive on this planet of ours, we must see it as a human relationship between us and the earth. Soil, seeds, plants, harvest and food - everything has life in it. Recognise and respect it.” If this philosophy of the women is understood properly and practiced, issues like Bt Brinjal become irrelevant.

The women I work with laugh at the concept of very high yields. For them hybrid seeds are not the ones that bring prosperity. Actually those are seeds that give us “aagam pantalu”, the crazy crops. This concept comes from a belief that the principles of nature must define how much crop we need to get from the earth. If you tried to get unbridled crop yield, you are not coaxing life out of the earth but are sucking the blood out of her. And that blood might help you prosper for a while. But eventually she will die and you are left with nothing. You will be an orphan. The great modern science tells us that we should never try to marry off a small girl. She should not bear a child before she has passed out of her teens. And billions of dollars are spent in controlling the birth rate of our populations because the earth must not have too many people. Then how come the same science advocates the shortest duration for crops without allowing them to have a natural cycle of conception, birth and growth? Why is there no family planning for Mother Earth? Why must she yield uncontrollably?

If we are able to see through this vision of the dalit women of Medak, we can immediately see how the science of genetic engineering that pursues the goal of uncontrolled yields from earth escaping all principles of nature, is not a science of life and how Bt Brinjal becomes a symbol of death.

Therefore the question in front of us is whether to pursue life for earth or of death for nature. The choice I guess is fairly simple.

Calendars speak for the commons


By Sudhirendar Sharma
20 Jan 2010


The 2010 calendar by ICR highlights public movements

The role of calendars has widened beyond commercials and now they convey crucial statements about social and cultural movements.

In the world of calendars where hardly anything sticks to the wall or stays on the desk for long, two new calendars have made a mark by going beyond mere date and design. Distinct in form and style, both pursue the common thread of ‘defending the commons’. While one follows a lesser-known mountain river from its source to confluence, the other calendar chronicles peoples’ resistance to protect the commons. Into their second editions, both the calendars have been backed by clear vision and research.

While Dehradun-based People Science Institute’s (PSI) calendar on Gori Ganga is studded with stunning pictures, Delhi-based Intercultural Resources’ (ICR) calendar on Social Movements documents range of civil resistance across time and space. Implicit within both is the central argument that the commons are at the heart of a conflict of interest as they are being appropriated by direct actions of a complicit state and large corporations.

Gone are the days when calendars provided the basis for planning agricultural, hunting and migration cycles, for divination and prognostication, and for maintaining cycles of religious and cultural events. The concept of calendar has gone through significant transmutation; it uses date as an excuse and glamour as a quotient to amplify desire and to legitimise obsequiousness.

While starlet Neha Dhupia's topless calendar hogged the limelight for obvious reasons, calendar on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had the unstated ingredients of political opportunism. Go Green, publisher of the topless calendar, argues that the calendar successfully integrates nature with glamour to create images that bring about eco-consciousness amongst the onlookers. What it actually does need no guesses!

These and much more, calendars have implicit messages that go beyond dates and images. From worldly to divine and from sublime to ridiculous, today's calendars have everything on offer. As consumer preference for calendars shifts from divine portraits sketched by Yogendra Rastogi to glamorous images clicked by Atul Kasbekar, calendars seem to be giving a different measure of time to its onlookers.

It is here that both the PSI and ICR calendars stand out. These reflect a clear direction and a sense of purpose, a link between mankind and the cosmos. PSI’s head Ravi Chopra says: ‘living far from remote rivers like the Gori Ganga, many of us are simply unaware of the total ruin of the essential global life-supporting role of such pristine rivers and the Himalaya, which characterise our monsoon climate and agrarian economy’. Using the medium of calendar, the subtle message of protection-of-the-commons has creatively been conveyed through pictures.

Reflected through amazing pictures, the upper catchment of Gori Ganga belongs to a class that ecologists define as wild rivers. Scientists value their biodiversity, land forming processes, energy flows and nutrient and water cycling as vital, global life-supporting systems. The calendar, says Ravi Chopra, is aimed at spreading awareness to save our rivers, as also to build support for the spring rejuvenation and river restoration work being undertaken by the organisation in Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Five proposed hydropower projects on its 107 km stretch are sure to ruin the pristine flow of Gori Ganga, with a potential to trigger yet another social movement to protect the commons. ICR calendar argues in favour of social movements as these provide a crucial window into the range of aspirations that communities at the base of our society feel and act on. Every date and month in the calendar is a grim reminder of the struggles that have been waged in some corner of the country, along rivers, in forests and on the streets.

Social movements challenge not only the intentions and projects of the aggressor, but also the implicit attitude that the resisting cultures and peoples are dispensable. The calendar aims to connect various struggles and build solidarity for ‘defending the commons’. Bindia Thapar, who designed the ICR calendar, says, ‘the calendar reflects hope for millions who have been at the receiving end of current paradigm of development, globalization and capitalism’. For late Smitu Kothari, who had conceived the idea, the calendar on social movements has been a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the communities and a document that celebrates their movements.

In addition to serving practical purposes, both the calendars provide a sense of understanding in controlling future. Visionary as these are, the calendars act as a source of inspiration in guiding the onlooker to adopt a socially relevant resolution for the next twelve months.

(Published out of sheer commitment, the calendars are priced to recover costs. Bulk enquiries may be directed to neemresistance@gmail.com (for Social Movements calendar) and psiddoon@gmail.com (for Gori Ganga calendar).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fair Trade helps eradicate poverty: Mallikarjuna


By d-sector Team
January 2010


I. Mallikarjuna, Executive Director of Fair Trade Forum-India

Fair Trade as an idea and a movement has begun to take roots in India. Fair Trade Forum–India is a large network of fair trade grassroots organisations of the country. I. Mallikarjuna, Executive Director of Fair Trade Forum-India, has long been active in the development field and has worked hard for the rights of physically challenged people, livelihood security of traditional artisans and other marginalized sections, women empowerment and tribal welfare. Kuldeep Ratnoo, editor of d-sector.org, talked to him to know more about the ideology, actions and organisations behind the Fair Trade Movement.


Q. To begin with, kindly tell us about the concept of Fair Trade.

A. See, Fair Trade is basically a trading partnership, based on transparency and mutual respect, that seeks greater equity in international and domestic trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers - especially in the Southern Countries.

Fair Trade organizations have a clear commitment to Fair Trade as the core principle of their mission. Backed by consumers, fair traders are engaged actively in supporting producers, in raising awareness and campaigning for changes in the rules and practices of conventional international trade.

However, Fair Trade is more than just trading: it proves that greater justice in world trade is possible and shows how a successful business can also put people before profit.

Q. Is it a relatively new concept or it has evolved from sustained movements?

A. It is not a new concept. In fact many parallel initiatives in the world converged to launch Fair Trade movement.

It all started in the United States, where ten thousand villages (formerly Self Help Crafts) began buying needlework from Puerto Rico in 1946 and SERRV International began to trade with poor communities in the South in the late 1940s. The first formal "Fair Trade" shop opened in 1958 in the USA.

In Europe it began in the late 1950s when Oxfam UK started to sell crafts made by Chinese refugees in Oxfam shops. In 1964 it created the first Fair Trade Organization. Parallel initiatives were taking place in the Netherlands and in 1967 the importing organization, Fair Trade Original, was established.

At the same time, Dutch third world groups began to sell cane sugar with the message "by buying cane sugar you give people in poor countries a place in the sun of prosperity". These groups went on to sell handicrafts from the South, and in 1969 the first "Third World Shop" opened.

During the 1960s and 1970s, many NGOs and individuals from Asia, Africa and Latin America felt the need for fair marketing organizations to help the disadvantaged producers. Many such Southern Fair Trade Organizations were established, and links were made with the like-minded organizations in the North.

Parallel to the citizens' movements, the developing countries put forth their demand for "Trade not Aid", in the second UNCTAD conference in Delhi in 1968. The emphasis was put on the establishment of equitable trade relations, instead of North appropriating all the benefits and returning only a small part of these benefits in the form of development aid.

From the late 60s onwards the growth of Fair Trade, or alternative trade as it was called earlier, has been associated primarily with development trade. Some development and religious agencies from European countries put the focus on marketing the craft products from the South as a response to poverty and sometimes disaster. These NGOs, in tandem with their counterparts in the South, assisted to establish Southern Fair Trade Organizations to organize producers and production, provide social services to producers, and export to the North. Alongside the development trade there was also a branch of solidarity trade.

During mid 70's all these Fair Trade Organizations started to meet occasionally and in late 80's International Federation for Alternative Trade, (IFAT) was initiated. Then WFTO-Asia at the Asian level and Fair Trade Forum was established as the National forum in the year 2000.


Q. How did World Fair Trade Organisation come into being? Was it created as an antidote to WTO, which failed to provide sustainable development to the world?

A. Actually, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) was formerly known as IFAT. The WFTO was born out of the International Fair Trade Association on 15 October 2008 as a well considered response to the extraordinary issues of our time: the failure of global bodies to impact the imbalance in trade, the failure of governments and businesses to tackle climate change and the failure of the global financial system.

Today, WFTO is a global representative body of over 350 organisations committed to Fair Trade. It aims to enable producers to improve their livelihoods through Fair Trade. It provides market access for its worldwide membership through policy, advocacy, campaigning, marketing and monitoring.

Today WFTO operates in 70 countries across 5 regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North American and the Pacific Rim. It is the only global network whose members represent the Fair Trade supply chain from production to sale.


Q. Tell us more about WFTO's organisational set-up?

A. The WFTO has a well structured organization. Its Board of Directors is responsible for developing and implementing the plans agreed by the members at the Annual General Meeting.
Each region is represented by its own elected Board members. The Board members act as a point of contact for members in each region, and are involved in the co-ordination of the members' National and Regional platforms.
WFTO members are organisations committed to Fair Trade by eradicating poverty, pioneering social and environmental policy and continual reinvestment in marginalised producer communities.

Q. But do you think WFTO is relevant in a world becoming increasingly corporatized dominated by modern technologies connecting the world?

A. I think it is more relevant than ever. Globalization has brought many opportunities along with many more challenges. WFTO has shown that trade can be an effective tool for poverty alleviation if 'fairness' in the trade is ensured.

Q. India's socio-economic condition is vastly different from the developed world, where the concept of Fair Trade originated. How does Fair Trade Forum-India attempt to make it useful here?

A. This is an interesting question to understand the relevance of Fair Trade in India. Though the popular perception is that Fair Trade concept originated in the West, it is interesting to know that Asian countries played an important role in structuring and strengthening the Fair Trade movement.

The Fair Trade movement had its inspiration from Gandhian principles of self reliance, self empowerment and emancipation. It aims to reduce poverty by ensuring the participation of the marginalized artisans and small farmers in the global trade on an equitable basis. The consumer consciousness in the West matched with the aspiration of the producers from the Southern countries to initiate the movement.

India has a special role in strengthening the movement including evolving Fair Trade principles like creating opportunities for disadvantaged producers, payment of fair wages, gender equity, protection of child rights, better working conditions etc.


Q. What major activities FTF-I undertakes in India?

A. Fair Trade Forum-India is a national network of the artisans, producer groups, trading organizations and intelligentsia who believe in fair trade.
It represents its member organizations & federations all over India to grow Fair Trade visibility & standards through advocacy, training, monitoring & certification. It also works to facilitate producers' capacity building for better market access. FTF-I also stands for a united global Fair Trade face and supports the international Fair Trade movement.
Registered in the year 2000, at present FTF-I is working with more than 90000 artisans/ producers through our 75 Fair Trade organization members. Its board comprises of seven elected representatives from all over India.

Q. What are the criteria for membership to FTF-I?

A. The membership is open to all eligible NGOs, Trusts and Cooperatives, firms, producer and marketing organizations subscribing to the objects and rules of the Forum. Individuals can seek associate membership but cannot become a full-fledged member of the Forum. A minimum three years existence in their respective area of working is required for getting membership of FTF-I.

Q. Other than trade, what are the main issues FTF-I is involved in?

A. FTF-I's mission is to eradicate poverty by creating visibility, acceptability, adaptability, marketability and sustainability to Fair Trade movement and its member organizations in India.

Q. Does FTF-I work in isolation or in association with other organisations?

A. FTF-I works in close collaboration with many national and international organizations including consumer networks, MFIs, livelihood promoting organizations, government departments, management institutions, colleges and social entrepreneurs. In fact 2010 is the year of collaborations for FTF-I and we will be entering into more collaborations this year to make Fair Trade more visible, credible and acceptable in India.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities of working in development sector in India?

A. Development sector is very vibrant in India and in fact many purposeful initiatives are in place. However, the sector needs convergence of ideas, thoughts & leadership. Inclusive Development, Sustainable Development and Livelihood Promotion of the marginalized need to be realized in action and Fair Trade can been seen as an effective tool in achieving this. As of now Fair Trade organisations are more export oriented and this year onwards we will witness many Fair Trade initiatives in India.

Besides the other common challenges, FTF-I's biggest challenge is to communicate with Indian consumers in an appropriate way about the necessity to buy fairly traded products and also to demonstrate the grassroots producers that their aspirations will influence the buying power of the emerging middle class in India.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Technology is limited, not energy


By Dr Ashok Kundapur
15 Jan 2010


Solar Central Receiver

As fossil fuels are fast depleting, efforts are on to find alternative and cleaner methods of energy production. Nature has abundant sources of energy but unfortunately, the technology to utilize these greener alternatives is still not fully developed.
Energy has become the key requirement for development but at the same time over consumption of energy poses grave threat to the precious ecosystem. Today, most of energy is produced from fossil fuels. But do we have enough coal to last even 50 years? Then what about emission of CO2, and related green house gases and their effects? Without giving serious thought to these issues, planners world over are sanctioning more coal-based power plants.

According to Government estimates we are already producing about 1,35,000 MW power, majority of which is through coal-based plants. In India, present generating efficiencies are between 50 and 60%, while in other developed nations, it is nearly 85%. Simply put, merely enhancing efficiency can yield nearly 33,000 MW of more power. And if we can minimize our high Transmission and Distribution losses, we can save another 40,000 MW. The government plans to generate 45,000 MW in the next two years and assuming that this increase is without addressing the efficiency issue and T&D losses, we will be losing 65,000 MW! With such trends, production of more energy will only mean more loss, and this is a loss to the public exchequer, and so it concerns everyone.

Nevertheless, we now need to look beyond reducing losses and maximizing efficiency and think beyond the fast depleting fossil fuels. Practically every river is dammed, thus exhausting the hydroelectric option as well. The coal burning power plants are already facing acute fuel crunch of various sorts and magnitudes and plant load capacities are also depressed.

Oblivious to this fact, our planners are 'dedicating' 4000 MW coal-based super Thermal Power Plants (TPPs) to every state. And this despite the various reports of coal-based plants posing health hazards to the locals. In USA alone, death associated with such power plant pollution is estimated to be about 150,000 per year. Literature abounds with data establishing that crop yield too is drastically affected by the pollution.

With reference to coastal power plants, it is a well documented fact that fish catch is reduced near TPPs. One estimate indicates that around Tuticorin, fishermen lose nearly Rs 65 crore worth of fish catch annually.

Fortunately for us all is still not lost. The world can turn to renewable sources and be rolling in energy which is both pollution-free and sustainable.

Table 1: Renewable Energy potential in India

Potential (Grid interactive power only)
1. Wind energy 45,000 MW
2. Small hydro 15,000 MW
3. Solar Over 5,000 trillion kWH/year potential (estimated to be more than the total energy needs of the country)
4. Bio-mass 17,000 MW
5. Ocean Wave With about 7,000 km of coastal line it is also huge, estimated at 40,000 MW
(Source: MNRE, India)


Wind Energy

Wind Energy has made its presence felt in our country and even some of the bigwigs are generating enough wind power to run their units. According to Indian Wind Energy Association our installed wind power capacity is around 9587 MW, fourth largest in the world. While in many foreign countries, wind farms are being established in the sea, it could be a problem if governments do not lift wind power during monsoon, as has happened in Tamil Nadu. The government would need to ensure that there are adequate planning and grid interactions.

Small Hydro Electric Energy

Hydroelectric generation is still one of the most popular and 'cheapest' methods of electric generation. But in India most of the rivers are dammed and many more are targeted for construction of small as well as big dams.

However, in the recent past 'Run of the River' method of energy extraction is becoming popular, and judicious use can generate huge quantity of power even in remote areas without construction of dams. In Karnataka alone, it is estimated that nearly 5533 MW of power can be generated through mini hydro plants around Western Ghats, and total production for the entire range of Western Ghats could be well over 15, 000 MW.

Sri Ratnaker, an ingenious innovator of Chikkamagalore district, has established over 273 trouble-free small units by now. In many parts of Western Ghats such units can run for 10 months in a year. This technique should be used to the maximum.

Solar Energy

Decades ago, it was envisaged that India would become a superpower by using solar energy. But this has not been the case so far. With reference to solar energy, we have 5000 trillion kWH/year capacity.

Present options available for harnessing solar energy are bit costly, at least initially, so the whole world is awaiting a major technological breakthrough. Some of the important options are Solar Central Tower, Solar Troughs, Parabolic Dish, Solar chimney and Solar Ponds.

Central Tower Solar Thermal Power Plant technology, since 1988, has been running on a very elementary technique. Focussed Sunrays on a central tower through an array of mirrors, generate steam at high temperature and pressure at 15000C and turn turbines. The technology was costly but recent advances made in Spain have resulted in considerable reduction in cost. This patented technology includes independent tracking system using separate small photovoltaic panels on each Heliostat (Reflector mirror).


Another commercially popular technique is the Parabolic Trough Collector systems. The system can even store heat for generating electricity at night. Here, arrays of long parabolic trough like reflectors focus sunlight on a pipe at their center housed in a tube, containing heat transfer medium. This medium heats up to about 4000C and is used to generate steam which runs turbine. Here too, considerable cost reduction has been achieved by tracking systems.


Parabolic Trough Power Generator

Parabolic Dish system consists of fairly large parabolic dish type collectors with modified Sterling Engine at the focal point, coupled to an Alternator to generate electricity. Generally it comes in smaller capacity ranges of 5 to 10 kW. Cost of unit is rather high, but could be very helpful in remote areas.


Solar Chimney is a very promising low cost solar power generating system. It works on the simple principle that hot air moves up. Cost of installation is fairly low and comes in a variety of capacities. In India efforts are on to install a plant capable of generating 200 MW in Rajasthan. In China some villages are already getting electricity from such chimneys.


Solar Pond is another interesting type of solar collector. A suitable sized pond is taken with layers of salt water of different concentrations. As a result heat trapped by higher density salt layer at bottom is prevented from surfacing because density gradient obstructs convection currents. Thus the lower areas of pond remain very hot at over 950C. Suitable engine is used to extract this heat to generate electricity. In Israel at Bet Ha-Arava, 5 MW of power was generated in a pond of about 250,000 m2 area. In India too, smaller salt gradient ponds have been experimented with, but problems arose in controlling algal growth in upper layers of water.


BHEL has gained considerable expertise in Dish type solar devices. Survey indicates that various types of Solar Thermal plants have so far been tried in India.

Establishing smaller power plants has another advantage - it helps tremendously in reducing transmission losses. Many a power engineers feel that one cannot control the vagaries of nature, and hence solar technology cannot be relied on. Of course it is true, but no one is insisting that the existing power plants be scrapped or replaced with solar. In fact, major advantages of solar technology is that it is non polluting and decentralized, so that large number of villages can be electrified, which is impossible if we go for only super thermal plants. Another important advantage is that these power plants can easily meet the demand during peak hours. This is a major benefit since the deficiency in power supply is calculated on the basis of peak demand.

But our government has been very conservative in sanctioning Alternate Power plants. Statements issued by MNRE officials such as "Companies are coming up with offers of huge capacity of 50 MW and more, but we cannot sanction them without verifying if they would be able to deliver," leaves one surprised and confused. If the company is unable to 'deliver' the amount of electricity it claims it can, it should be the problem of the company. Unless, of course, our Government is offering fabulous subsidies even before installation, as is being done for Small Hydro Electric entrepreneurs.

Cost of solar thermal power has been estimated to be between 12 to 60 cents/kWh as mentioned in the Table 2.

Table 2: Summary of Solar power generation alternatives

Type Generating Capacity Range CO2 emission kg/kWh Cost of power cents/kWh
Parabolic Trough 5 to>150 MW 44.3 11.38
Central Receiver 1 to 20 MW 33 14.77
Parabolic Dish 7 to 25 kW Nil 60.90
Solar Chimney 10 to 200 MW Nil 16.44
Solar Pond 15 to 1000 MW Nil 14.11
Photovoltaic 1kW-1000 MW Nil 66.8
(Based mainly on Dr Nazish Qureshi's paper)

Solar Photovoltaic is not new, and lot of small and large photovoltaic systems is now in use. Extensive use of these panels for remote area lighting and even pumping water should be recommended. Right now the cost is on the higher side, but nanotechnology is sure to reduce the cost further. Inventors world over are dreaming of evolving solar vehicles and availability of low cost solar cells will make this dream a reality. Most of the Indian states now have provisions for feedback of excess power produced by private enterprises to the grid and get paid. So, solar photovoltaic installations can get early payback. In fact Central Electric Authority has taken initiative to install grid interactive photovoltaic system on the roof of one of their building.

We should also encourage use of Solar Cookers to cut down green house gases and indoor pollution. Significantly use of even one solar cooker would cut down emission of one ton of Green house gases per year.

Biomass Energy

Generating power using waste Biomass, on a large scale is not attractive, and would be another source of pollution. But on a smaller scale at village level, it could be very viable.

Bio fuels

Biodiesel and Bio alcohols are the highly hyped alternative fuels but lots of impracticality remains attached with them. To start with, it requires large area to grow bio fuel plants.

Wave Energy

Wave Energy, i.e. extraction of electricity from ocean waves, is still in its infancy, though scientists have been trying to harness wave power since 16th century. One of the largest Wave energy system commissioned recently is in Portugal, and they have preferred to use PELAMIS system. The three units of PELAMIS generate about 2.5 MW at the cost of 4.5 million Euros. But many a new type of low cost systems are emerging. A system dubbed as 'Anaconda' is considered as next best low cost Wave Harnessing system. Wave power generation too is subject to some vagaries, so a couple of inventors, including the author of this article, are contemplating on storing wave energy in such a manner that electricity can be generated perpetually day in and day out.


Technology to harness energy from tides has progressed much. A strong barrage has to be constructed at places where river meets ocean, and as tides rise and fall, water passing through barrages turns generator both ways to produce power. In our country not much interest has been shown on account of cost considerations as well as environmental constraints.

Sources like Geothermal, trapping energy from high speed wind flow at very high altitude through generators tied to huge kites, are exotic and formidably costly.

Whatever may the source for power production, one should never forget that the energy sources are not unlimited. For a sustainable future we have to impose limits on growth of both industrial and population.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nuclear bill unclear on criminal liability

By Gopal Krishna
14 Jan 2010


The proposed legislation to fix liability for nuclear damages intends to provide a legal protection to multinational nuclear suppliers and to shift the burden on the public sector operators of reactors in the event of a disaster.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2009, (CLND Bill) proposed by the UPA government is ridden with glaring loopholes and booby traps because it insulates nuclear energy companies from punitive legal consequences. It seems the people who drafted this Bill were not aware of the Report of the US President's Commission on The Accident at Three Mile Island that happened in 1979.

The Union Cabinet, in a hastily convened meeting, cleared the text of the CLND Bill on November 19, 2009, just before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's US visit, for introduction in the Parliament. Such haste clearly exposes the pressure nuclear power companies have been putting on India through US government. The govt hopes passage of the CLND Bill will allow India to join the international convention on civil liability for nuclear damage. So far this Nuclear Bill is not in public domain.

To begin with, the bill should be renamed as Liability from Nuclear Damage Bill and the government must explicitly inform the parliament and the citizens what lessons from the Three Mile Island Accident Report have been incorporated in the Bill. Mere civil liability is totally unacceptable because it has not factored in all the nuclear accidents which have happened in India and the world. Most importantly, before a Bill of this nature is brought in, central government must come out with a white paper on the status of relief to radioactive radiation victims and the liability therein with regard to existing facilities. The Bill must also include mining sites of radioactive minerals like uranium in its definition of nuclear facility.

While placing a cap on the compensation to be paid in the case of an accident at a nuclear site, the proposed legislation puts the responsibility for paying this compensation on the reactor operator (read Public sector companies) and not on the foreign suppliers installing the reactors in India. This has been an old demand of the Multinational Corporations like Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals. Certainly, this provision is not in public interest. Nuclear power companies in general and US nuclear companies like GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox intend to invest in India only if they are provided anticipatory bail for their legal liability for nuclear accidents in future. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake informed a US House committee: "… we are hoping to see action on nuclear liability legislation that would reduce liability for American companies and allow them to invest in India…"

US nuclear industry has been pampered by special laws made by the US government that limit their liability from nuclear radiation accidents. It wishes to be operated under the laws proposed and shaped by the industry itself. It is important to note that US companies which are part of US commercial nuclear mission to India organised jointly by the Nuclear Energy Institute and the US India Business Council (USIBC) recently informed media that they were satisfied with the contents of the Bill and were in active discussion with Nuclear Power Corporation, Tata Power, GMR, Jindal, NTPC, L&T to explore business potential. Clearly, the US nuclear companies have seen the Bill (might have drafted it as well) much before it is to be tabled in the Indian Parliament.

Notably, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry's (FICCI) 25 member Working Group on Civil Nuclear Energy-2009 came out with a 57 page report wherein lies the basis of the proposed 'The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2009'. The FICCI report has an annexure "Domestic Legislation Dealing with CNL" (Civil Nuclear Liability) wherein it states, "As a natural corollary to the liberalization of the nuclear sector in India, the government of India is mooting the idea of a CNL Bill. Aligning to any international CNL treaty would involve the enactment of a domestic CNL legislation with appropriate provisions. There being no explicit statute or legislation in India, either creating or limiting liability of persons engaged in nuclear installations till now, liability would stand determined by courts, pursuant to actions in tort."

FICCI suggests 'domestic legislation dealing with CNL' may incorporate the following: Single point liability for the operator of the nuclear installation ("Operator"); Liability of non-operators transferred to the Operator; Exceptions to liability to include standard force-majeure provisions with specific emphasis on terrorist and anti-social activities; Capping of liabilities according to internationally adhered benchmarks may be adopted with the government prescribing the threshold limit; State liability to provide for claim amounts awarded by a competent court over and above the liability of the operator; Clear and precise definition of 'nuclear incident' and 'nuclear installation'.

It's absolutely essential, "If there was not a cap and if there was not suitable legislation insurance in place, then we wouldn't be in the nuclear industry." Peter Mason, president and chief executive of nuclear supplier GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada explained to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Canadian House of Commons on Natural Resources that is dealing with Bill C-20, their Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act, November 2009.
In the United States, liability for nuclear accidents is set at $10 billion (US), while in Japan the cap will be doubled next year to roughly $1.47 billion (Canadian). Whether a nuclear accident is a $650 million disaster or a multi-billion dollar catastrophe is determined by the direction and speed of the wind that carries the radioactive radiation. Currently, Canada is seized with a Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act wherein the bill raises the cap on liability to $650 million from the $75 million limit established in 1976. The damage from Chernobyl is estimated at some $250 billion. In Germany, there is no cap on nuclear liability but an operator must be able to cover at least $4 billion and the civil liability is estimated at Euro 2000-5000 billion.

The international conventions which provide for liability regime also favour the industry and not the possible victims and provides for indemnity to the global nuclear industry: the Paris Convention (1960), the Vienna Convention (VC) revised in 1997 and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).

The CSC limits the compensation payable by the operators of nuclear plants for any accidents or damage to $450 million, leaving the responsibility for the rest to national governments almost in the range of compensation paid to the victims of the Bhopal's industrial disaster ($470 million) wherein victims were turned from citizens into subjects of the ruling regime.

Not surprisingly, in its report FICCI feigns ignorance about all the nuclear accidents in the world and has repeatedly cited the Supreme Court order in the Charan Lal Sahu, Petitioner vs. Union of India, Respondent case in which the validity of the doctrine of parens patriae was upheld but this remains a matter of judicial scrutiny by jurists all over the world. The Petitioner in this case had challenged the validity of the doctrine invoked through Bhopal Gas Disaster (Proceedings of Claims) Act, 1985 in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the Act was valid and that the State had rightly taken over the exclusive right to represent and act on behalf of every person entitled to make a claim, as a majority of the victims were poor and illiterate. Consequently, the exclusion of the victims from filing their own cases was held to be proper.

It is now well known that 'hazardous corporations' are a fit case for the application of the principle of Absolute Liability and Multinational Enterprise Liability because they are neither 'restricted by national boundaries' nor effectively controlled by international law because of their complex corporate structure with networks of subsidiaries and decisions which make it exceedingly difficult or even impossible to pinpoint responsibility for the damage caused by the enterprise. They operate through a neatly designed network of interlocking directors, a common operating, distribution & marketing systems, design & technology, financial & other controls and highly sophisticated machines & working staff. Consequently, victims of such enterprises are unable to identify which unit of the enterprise caused the harm. Therefore, faults by even a local subsidiary must be attributed to the parent company because their duty too is non-delegable.

Notably, the Supreme Court also held that the Act only deals with civil liability and as such does not curtail or affect rights in respect of criminal liability. So, the CLND Bill must be redrafted to include both criminal liabilities and deterrent civil liabilities.

Defence Research and Development Canada, the Canadian Department of Defence, has suggested that a severe nuclear accident results in wide contamination. The research conducted by it looked at the impact of a relatively small dirty bomb going off in downtown Toronto. It estimated that cleaning up the contamination using the most stringent standards could cost up to $250 billion, and that the economic toll could reach $23.5 billion. This research was commissioned in 2007. However, no such research has ever been commissioned in India.

The institutional accountability for Bhopal and Kaiga like disasters rests with Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs and the proposed 'CLND Bill' shows that it has not learnt any lessons because it has not been made accountable for its past lapses.

The Nuclear Liability Bill must take note of the environmental hazards from the nuclear facilities and potential nuclear accidents and incorporate stringent criminal and civil liability provisions taking lessons from worst accident at a civilian nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island (TMI) occurred on March 28, 1979 in US and the Chernobyl disaster, a nuclear reactor accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

This nuclear accident led to a cessation of new nuclear plant construction in the US. Indian government and the parliament must take lessons from these accidents to avoid legislative and judicial disasters through these Bills which do not have the power to prevent Three Mile Island, Bhopal, Chernobyl & Kaiga like accidents. Parliamentary deliberations in countries like Canada and Germany on liability and nuclear energy issues must be factored in before admitting any Bill under the influence from vested interests in supreme public interest.

An independent and credible multi-disciplinary commission should also be constituted with immediate effect to ascertain the potential consequences of nuclear accidents or 'incidents' and liability arising out of it, before putting the CLND Bill before parliament.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A farm model to sustain the world

By Devinder Sharma
07 Jan 2010

Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) model successfully implemented in Andhra Pradesh is a roadmap for the future of Indian and world agriculture. It has tremendous potential to remove poverty and hunger with a very low carbon footprint.

As we enter 2010, the script for a futuristic agriculture which brings back the smile on the face of the Indian farmer, without leaving any scar on the environment, is being rewritten.

What began as a small initiative some six years back in a non-descript village in Khamam district, has now spread to over 20 lakh acres in 18 districts of Andhra Pradesh. I remember when I first talked about the miracle brought about in village Pannukula in Andhra Pradesh, many thought I was simply trying to romanticise agriculture. How farming can be done without the use of chemical pesticides, I was repeatedly asked.

Pannukula dug out a lonely furrow, but eventually blazed a trail. In the next four years, more than 318,000 farmers in 18 out of the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh have discarded the intensive chemical farming systems, and shifted to a more sustainable, economically viable and ecologically friendly agriculture. A silent revolution is in the offing. In Kharif 2009, some 14 lakh acres was covered with what is now known as Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA).

As I write this in the first week of January 2010, the area had expanded to 20 lakh acres of 21 districts. Six lakh acres increase in a farming system that does not use chemical pesticides, and is also phasing out chemical fertiliser, that too in matter of few months, is a record of sorts. And all this has happened without any push from the government agencies and the private sector. I see no reason why this environmentally safe, and a farmer-friendly system of sustainable agriculture, cannot cover 200 million acres across the country in another ten years or so if the government gets serious.

Ten years from now, in 2020, when we try to look back, Indian agriculture can be transformed into a healthy and vibrant system where farmer suicides have been relegated to history, where distress and despondency has been replaced by the lost pride in farming, and where agriculture becomes sustainable in the long run and does not result in climate change.

What began as an experiment to evolve a farming system without the application of chemical pesticides is now also phasing out the use of chemical fertilisers. It uses a mixture of scientific proven technologies, indigenous knowledge and traditional wisdom. Farmers are replacing chemical fertilisers and pesticides with microbial formulations, intensive use of composting techniques, vermi-composting, and apply bio-fertilisers, and use bio-extracts for controlling pests.

It therefore brought in a complete shift from conventional agriculture and offered secure and stable livelihoods. The crop yields have remained the same, the pest attack has drastically reduced, and the soil is returning back to its natural fertility levels. As soil fertility improves over the years, crop yields have started going up still further. More importantly, farmer's expenditure on health problems emanating from pesticides application has also gone down by 40 per cent on an average.

There is more money now in the hands of the farmers. The cost of cultivation per acre has also come down by 33 per cent. Take the case of cotton, a CMSA farmer saves more than Rs 12,500 per hectare in a year on account of no application of pesticides alone. With his crop productivity remaining stable, cotton farmers have got a new lease of life. The environment too has become healthier and safe.

Normally, 56 per cent of the cost of cotton cultivation is primarily on account of pesticides. And don't forget, elsewhere in the State and for that matter in the country, 70 per cent of the farmers who are committing suicide are engaged in cotton cultivation.

No farmer has committed suicide in the areas where non-pesticides management system of farming is being followed.

More money in the hands of farmers means less debt. I haven't seen any other village in the country in past three decades of my work in agriculture, which has been able to recover its entire mortgaged land from the money lenders in just three years of adopting non-pesticides management. This happened in village Ramachandrapuram in Khamam district where all 75 farmers have even paid back the outstanding rate of interest.

Studies in five districts show that out of the 467 families that had mortgaged their land, at least 386 have recovered it in two years time.

This is a roadmap for the future of Indian agriculture. It not only provides a sustainable path, with a very low carbon footprint, and has tremendous potential to remove poverty and hunger. It has been conclusively demonstrated that household food security has improved with a 40 per cent drop in the purchase of food from the market. The crop yields have gone up, and farmers are now able to cultivate two crops in a year. This is the Zero Hunger model that needs to be adopted under the proposed National Food Security Act.

Savings have increased, and a federation of 850,675 self-help groups now involves 10 million women from the poor households. This federation now holds a corpus of US $ 1.5 billion providing a bundle of economic services. No wonder, sustainable agriculture without external inputs can revolutionise the rural landscape, where hunger and poverty becomes history. #

Despite SC directive, no respite for vendors


By Gaurav Sharma
December 2009


Street vendors serve a very large portion of Delhi's population (photo: Gaurav Sharma)

As vendors fight for the right to livelihood, municipal authorities and police continue to harass them, ignoring SC rulings and govt policy

Mohammad Haneef lost one hand and a leg in an accident seven years ago. Since then, life for him has been a constant struggle. He finally ended up as a vendor on the footpath at Khari Bavri Masjid in Old Delhi and his struggle continues.

It's a tough life for these street vendors. They don't fall under the category of the unemployed, nor do they demand any financial assistance. What they do seek is a more empathetic approach from the authorities.

Unfortunately, the efforts of the vendors to make an honest living have earned them nothing but the taint of law-breakers. In Delhi, they live under constant fear of extortion, punishment and the fear of losing their livelihood.

Mohammad Haneef's situation is a case in point. "After the accident, I had no one to look after me. I decided to take up vending as it doesn't require too much running around. Had I not taken up vending, I would have died miserably," he says.

Haneef may have overcome the odds in his struggle to survive, but he treads a thin line when it comes to following the law. The space he uses on the pavement to sell his goods isn't exactly legal. As a result, the axe of eviction is always hovering over his head.

However, how will Haneef make a living if he, like the other vendors, is evicted from the area? The administration seems completely oblivious to their plight. That's not all. Police harassment, extortion and ruthless beatings are part and parcel of daily life for these vendors.

The voice of their struggle has also reached the doors of the Supreme Court. Their long-drawn battle and the SC's intervention galvanized the Indian government into making National Urban Policy on Street Vendors (NPSV). Regrettably, these vendors are still clamoring for justice.

The policy, formulated in 2004 and revised again in 2009, recognizes the positive role of street vendors and hawkers in providing essential commodities to people at affordable rates. It directs all states to work in conformity with the policy.

In accordance with the NPSV, the responsibility of demarcating and identifying hawking- zones lies with the Ward Vending Committee under MCD. Though Delhi Municipal councils claim to have framed the schemes and constituted committees for the implementation of the policy, the schemes don't seem to be taking off.

Mukut Sarma, Programme Manager, National Association of Street Vendors (NASVI), says that no vending sites have been demarcated yet. "Even after the sites are demarcated, the Zonal Vending Committees will have a final say in approving the demarcated territory for vendors and hawkers," he says.

"It is appalling that the Delhi government has not only miserably failed to implement the policy but continues to flout the rules with impunity. The process of demarcation has been lingering for a long time," adds Sarma. "Had it been a corporate project or an SEZ, every one in the government, from top to bottom, would have worked day and night to identify the site, procure land and allot it to the concerned business group swiftly", he argues.

Supreme Court of India has also upheld the positive role of these vendors, who without becoming an added burden on the economy make goods available at reasonable rates, and remain critical to India's economy.

In Sodan Singh and others versus New Delhi Municipal Council, the Supreme Court stated: "the small traders on the sidewalks can considerably add to the comfort and convenience of the general public, by making available ordinary articles of everyday use for a comparatively lesser price. ….. The right to carry on trade or business mentioned in Article 19 (1) g of the Constitution, on street pavements, if properly regulated, cannot be denied on the ground that the streets are meant exclusively for passing or re-passing and no other use."

Despite the ruling, administration has failed to recognize the vendors. Sunil, who hawks at Janpath, says despairingly, "All these policies and rulings have been of no help. The police treats us with cruelty… they take away our goods. The baton wields the power, not the Supreme Court."

He asks, 'what is our fault if want to make our living by vending and hawking. We don't break into houses or resort to looting people."

However, municipal authorities in Delhi claim to be working on a solution. Dr Amiya Chandra, Officer on Special Duty, MCD says, "The identification of the vending sites is underway .We are in the process of conducting digitized photo census so that we can give tehbazari to genuine vendors and hawkers. We will implement the NPSV in letter and spirit."

However, Mukut Sarma has a different take on this. Rubbishing the MCD claim, he says "Since the policy mentions consultation of street vendors associations to demarcate and identify the hawking zones, MCD is now passing its burden on us and demanding that we prepare and give it the list of these zones."

Another MCD official says that the numbers of street vendors have gone out of proportion and it is difficult to accommodate all of them in the city vending zones. When told that the actual number of vendors was still less than the approved limit, he replied, "We will definitely do something about it."

According to the NPSV, 2.5 per cent of the vendors in proportion to the city's population could be accommodated at vending sites. It is to be noted that total number of vendors and hawkers who have applied for vending license is 1, 31,807, which is way below 3.5 lakh, i.e. 2.5 per cent of 14 million, the present population of the Capital.

Some municipal officials are of the opinion that these illegal vendors pose a threat to the security of the city as they are so large in number that anyone can easily place a bomb in the melee and disappear without getting caught.

'Were there street vendors in the Mumbai Taj Hotel or in Parliament when terrorists wreaked havoc? How can we pose security hazards? These are just ridiculous excuses to drive us out. In the name of security reasons they snatch our livelihood,' says a street vendor in Palika Bazar.

Sarma alleges that the policemen and MCD officials are hand-in-glove with each other. He said: "These officials have a vested interest in keeping these vendors without license because once they get legitimacy and a fixed place to do business, the huge amount of 'protection money' they extort daily from these vendors will come down drastically."


Another NASVI activist said, "They flout all rules. The policy says mobile vending should be permitted in all areas, even outside the 'vendor market'. However, the administration runs roughshod over these mobile vendors and policemen rough them up, often robbing them of goods in the name of preventing 'illegal vending'.

Every court ruling and suggestion has been carelessly thrown around by MCD. The Delhi Law Special Provision Act 2007 (Delhi Act) restrains removal of unauthorized vendors and squatters. The act was extended for one year but in 2008 it was extended once again till 31.12.2009. Despite this act, the authorities continue to target vendors.

The vendors claim that the space used by them is miniscule in comparison to the parking space taken up by private vehicles in all markets. "They can manage parking better by putting restrictions on private vehicles in the market and allot us that space", suggests Jagpreet, who sells leather items in Sarojini Nagar market. It has been estimated that the parking space taken up by private vehicles in Delhi is greater than the area of all slum settlements that house a significant portion of Delhi's population.

The earnest efforts of these self-employed vendors have only earned them the stigma of being an encroacher. Despite repeated judgments of Supreme Court, lack of political will and widespread corruption deny these people one of their basic rights: to practice any trade and profession in any part of the country to earn their livelihood.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The great energy divide

By Shankar Sharma
December 2009

Instead of blindly adding millions of MW of additional capacity and increasing GHG emissions to bridge the energy divide, India needs to adopt an integrated approach based on renewable energy sources and decentralized supply systems at its core.

A latest Greenpeace India report has reaffirmed what the country always knew and feared. India, even after 62 years of Independence, has not been able to light homes and streets for its rural population. There still prevails an ugly discrimination in the supply of electricity to rural and urban areas. The Greenpeace report aptly titled "Still Waiting" is based on the survey conducted in five states.

But in the times when the dark clouds of climate change are hovering over one and all, the concern is not just about energy injustice in the country (which is in no way an issue India can sleep over). It is about the much graver consequences this injustice is leading the nation to. Energy consumption is linked with substantial part of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions leading to global warming. Of various forms of energy, electricity alone is responsible for about 42% of global CO2 emissions and about 24% of all GHG emissions. In fact, burning fossil fuels for generation of electricity is one of the main causes of GHG emissions.

India's low per capita electricity consumption is being offered as the main argument in favor of larger carbon space for India. The fact is that for 40% of India's population commercial energy is still beyond reach. If we aim to provide energy security to our growing population in a business-as-usual scenario, the pollution level in our country will be enormous. As per Greenpeace's projection, India's contribution to the global CO2 emissions will increase from about 1,126 million tons in 2003 to approximately 4,039 million tons in 2050, increasing its share in global emissions from 4.8% to 8.7%.

While it may appear logical that India should argue for common but differentiated responsibilities for each country to reduce country specific GHG emissions, its own record of energy consumption by two broad categories of citizens should be of grave concern - Energy profligacy by the rich and lack of access to commercial energy for the poor. As per an earlier report by Greenpeace "Hiding Behind the Poor", much of India's population in the lowest income group have per capita CO2 emissions of about 335 kg, while a small section of the population with the highest income group have per capita CO2 emissions of about 1,500 kg.

Energy consumption by two broad categories of citizens should be of grave concern - Energy profligacy by the rich and lack of access to commercial energy for the poor.
According to the Integrated Energy Policy of the Planning Commission, "to sustain a growth rate of 8% through 2031-32 and to meet the lifeline energy needs of the poor, India needs, at the very least, to increase the power generation capacity to nearly 800,000 MW from the current capacity of about 160,000 MW inclusive of all captive power plants." In this context it is important to note that more than 70% of such additional capacity is projected to be coal based. In fact, successive governments have embarked on a major capacity-addition drive based on fossil fuels and dams in the last few decades.

Such a large-scale addition of conventional power capacity in a short period will have profound impact on social, environmental and economic aspects of our society. The massive amount of coal burning; the large requirement of fresh water and land to support this much of additional power capacity will not only devastate our environment but also push the vulnerable sections of our society to destitution, because of displacement, lack of fresh water and threat to livelihood.

The total installed generating capacity in the country has gone up from 58,012 MW in 1989 to 1,52,148 MW in 2009 - a whopping 162% increase. Total monthly generation from conventional sources has increased from 43,596 MU in March 2000 to 65,057 MU in March 2008, an increase of about 50%. National per capita electricity consumption has gone up from 283 kWH in 1992-93 to 429 in 2005-06, an increase of 52%. But 40% of the households, mostly in rural areas, have no access to electricity even in 2009.
A study on Rural - Urban divide

To compare the electricity supply scenario in rural and urban populations, Greenpeace India selected the five states from four regions of the country. In each state one tier A city, one tier B city, and three villages were chosen for survey. None of the 15 villages covered in the survey were found to have 100% electrification. Even in those villages, where the official records indicate more than 50% electrification of households, the supply is so bad that the per capita electricity consumption is abysmally low. Most states consider one unit a day as the lifeline energy requirement for a family.

Besides, it was found that there is neither regularity in supply nor power is it provided when the people need it most. Generally the power supply is provided in the afternoon hours and late night, when it is not of much use for the villagers. The low voltage and frequent power cuts make it just a cruel joke on villagers.

This pathetic situation of villages is in stark contrast with urban areas, which have almost 100% electrification and enjoyed 22 to 24 hours of better quality supply. "Still Waiting" has revealed that with 100% household electrification and 24 hours supply, each of these villages can attain a much improved lifestyle, drastically reducing need for urban migration.

In Karnataka between 1999 and 2009 the available power capacity has gone up by 70%; energy consumption has gone up by 95%; per capita consumption has gone up by 76%. But 356 villages remained unelectrified.
In Maharastra between 1999 and 2009 the available power capacity has gone up by 54%; energy consumption has gone up by 54%; per capita consumption has gone up by 32%. But 5,018 villages remained unelectrified.
In Uttar Pradesh between 1997and 2009 the available power capacity has gone up by 58%; energy consumption has gone up by 53%; per capita consumption has gone up by 6%. But 12,298 villages remained unelectrified.
About 40% of the entire population in India, almost all of which in rural areas, are still without access to any commercial form of energy, including electricity.

An analysis of the power sector in the country provides real reasons for this gross neglect of rural areas. Huge inefficiencies prevailing in generation, transmission, distribution and utilization of electricity are at the root of the larger problem. These inefficiencies alone -typical characteristics of a badly managed grid based centralized electricity generation system - amount to a total loss in the range of 25-40% of the installed capacity. Few effective measures such as improving the generating plant performance; reducing the T&D losses; minimizing wastage; demand side management (DSM); energy conservation have tremendous potential to overcome the deficits.

Sustainability of centralised supply system

Inherent with a grid-based centralized generation system are the need for long lengths of transmission lines, complex network of distribution systems, and the associated equipment such as transformers. Each of these add to the complexity, reduced reliability and increased capital and operational costs. These centralized generation systems also are found to be economical only with large size power plants and concentrated loads. But Indian villages are widespread and cannot provide substantial loads individually like towns and cities.

The centralized generation/distribution model has inherent problems attached to it in terms of equity also. In a case of power shortage it is the rural poor that suffer. The poor are the last to get power and the first to get shut out of power. Clearly, the present model is not the best way forward.

Few recent initiatives in the private sector to provide electricity to un-electrified villages through standalone community based on non-conventional energy power plants fed by bio-mass OR wind OR solar OR micro-hydel power have established that they are an appropriate solution to energy requirements of most sections of the country. The major advantages associated with these alternatives are the shorter gestation periods, low societal impacts, and their immense suitability to rural needs.
There is clearly an urgent need for a paradigm shift in our energy policy: instead of blindly adding millions of MW of additional capacity, we need to adopt an 'integrated energy resource management' approach which will have renewable energy sources and decentralized supply systems at its core.

In view of the huge societal costs associated with economic, social and environmental aspects of grid-based centralized generation system of conventional power, the decentralized electric supply systems based on renewable energy sources are hugely economical in the long run and the best option for the accelerated electrification of rural house holds.

The overall electricity scenario in the country provides a sad picture of electricity injustice. Unless urgent corrective measures are taken to set right this injustice the overall development of the country will greatly suffer, while accelerating the addition of GHG emissions against our own national as well as global interests.

The deficiencies, complexities and costs inherent in the grid based centralized generation system in India cannot provide any assurance that the rural-urban divide will be eliminated soon and that the electricity supply at the national level will be satisfactory in the near future. The decentralized energy solutions are the right answers to provide quality access to electricity to the rural population.

The poverty alleviation, rural electrification, decentralized electricity supply system based on renewable energy sources, human development, mitigation and adoption to Climate Change are all intricately linked and hence need to be addressed with an integrated approach.

Nightmare on the road

By Sudhirendar Sharma
28 Dec 2009


With increased influence of auto-industry over policy making, massive expenditures have been made to expand space for private cars. However, the near monopoly of car owners over road has not improved the transport either.

Widening roads and building new flyovers result in more cars on the roads
Festive season of Delhi makes car travel in the city dreadful. The new elevated highways and widened roads have seemingly made matters worse. The consequent traffic snarl has led to the widening of the next choked inter-section. The road widening work invariably excludes the pedestrians, the cycle and the rickshaws from the traffic plans but the intriguing puzzle remains - new roads contribute to increase in traffic.

If Delhi is a case in point, most roads have either been elevated or widened. The city, nicknamed as the city of flyovers, has invested over Rs 2,300 crore on road improvements in the current year, with provision for 30 per cent hike in the next year. However, nowhere does it assure that traffic movement would be smooth thereafter. The elevated roads built to ease traffic have often been found clogged, mocking at transport planners who made us think otherwise.

Like other cities, Delhi is witness to the enigma of the modern age. There is hardly a city in the world where traffic has not choked people's road space and lungs. The amazing consistency in the trend implies that, despite all that spending, some other factor must be at work. If there are better roads do people buy more cars? Economists have found it to be true, new roads release what they called 'suppressed demand' for people to buy more cars.

There is hardly a city in the world where traffic has not choked people's road space and lungs.
Delhiites are indeed expressing their suppressed demand - by adding over 1,000 new personal vehicles on city's overstretched roads each day; by switching from small to medium and from medium to big car in a reasonably short time; and by increasing the per capita number of cars. No one seems to care that the idling time due to traffic congestion costs Rs 11.5 crore every day and the air pollution is its undesired gain.


Instead of bolstering public transport, private car owners are pampered
It is Catch-22. Neither can people stop buying cars nor can manufacturers stop producing them. Yet, the traffic ought to run smoothly. As improvement in road infrastructure is proving ineffective, the task is to invent disincentives for people to keep their cars away. Could selective restriction on vehicle numbers reduce the number of cars on the road? Alternately, could reduction in parking spaces alongside introduction of congestion charges do the trick?

London, where billions have been spent on traffic management and urban motorways, hasn't found a solution. In just over a century since motorized transport was introduced in the city, then centre of empire, the door-to-door average speed hasn't shown any improvement. It was 19 km/hr during the horse drawn era whereas with cars it has slipped down to 18 km/hr. The congestion charge introduced by Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003 hasn't been found effective either.

In just over a century since motorized transport was introduced in London, then centre of empire, the door-to-door average speed hasn't shown any improvement.
Where does this lead us to? It is clear that classical economics, which believes that people make their decisions entirely in terms of money, has got it wrong because it fails to understand why people behave the way they do. Traffic planners, on the other hand, seek more resources to improve existing infrastructure, knowing well that it may not work. Livingstone's unsuccessful idea was based on the assumption that people preferences are a factor of the price they pay.

The kind of economics that reduces everything to money may find it hard to understand what is going on. It is now an accepted fact that more the roads more the number of cars, at the cost of other forms of transport that are essentially environment-friendly - be it a pedestrian, a cycle or a rickshaw. The question worth considering is whether city roads are meant for cars only. Should 'rights' of other users not be protected on city roads?

Well-known transport theorist Martin Mogridge, author of Jam Yesterday, Jam Today and Jam Tomorrow, reckoned that traffic speed could be doubled just by reducing space for cars. It may seem a tough call, given that car manufacturers and owners have monopolized city roads, but is nevertheless a call worth taking. Else, in the absence of legal provision on 'right over road' attempts like the one to rid the historic Chandni Chowk of rickshaws will continue to be made.

Cars ought to compete for space with other forms of transport. The city administrators and traffic planners must consider creating 'disincentives' for cars from clogging the roads. By the end of his life, Mogridge had suggested that taxing the inefficient road user (the motorist) and subsidizing the efficient public transport could be an effective disincentive. However, not without first abandoning the expensive urban road building programs, and not before establishing the 'right over road' for other forms of non-commercial transport.