Tag Archive: India

My Musings – Hoping to see more villages like this ……..this can be a plausible solution to check the excessive migration to cities and farmer suicides due to Unemployment and drought in rural india and can also promote Eco-tourism


   It takes a village – The HinduEXCERPT

The three S’s — Sea, Sun and Sex — are no longer crowd-pullers when it comes to tourism. They’ve been replaced by the three E’s — Entertainment, Education and Experience. Nothing exemplifies this more than the Sargaalaya Kerala Arts and Crafts Village in Iringal, an hour’s drive from Kozhikode. More than its beautiful scenery and a serene ambience, what has made this place a hit with the tourists is the presence of artisans and craftsmen from across the country and the opportunity to directly interact with them to buy whatever takes one’s fancy. A State Tourism Department venture, the village was designed by architect R.K. Ramesh and built by the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society, formed by labourers, on 20 acres of barren land situated nearly the national highway. Before the village came up, the site’s only claim to fame was being the birthplace of Kunali Marakkar, the naval commander of the Zamorin of Kozhikode, who fought Portuguese invaders.

Biswajith Roy left his home in West Bengal five years ago and lives in the village fashioning furniture out of reeds and cane. Vezeto and wife Sera Telvo came from Nagaland to seek their fortune in Irinjal. “This place has given us hope. Business is certainly better here than elsewhere but we want to attract more in the comings years,” Sera said, placing colourful artificial flowers in her stall. In other stalls artisans from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odissa sell handcrafted products.

…………………….A crafts academy is being established to improve and professionalise training programmes. The authorities also hope that their proposal to name Sargalya a rural tourism village gets the green signal. Another proposal for support to impart training to 1500 women in neighbourhood is also awaiting Central government clearance. The Saragalaya Art Forum organises programmes like Theyyam and Kalaripayatu for visitors with local artists.

Cow dung cakes are another poisonous option. Photo:AP


The shocking truth – The Hindu. Excerpt

They saw electric light for the first time since India became a free country. A curious news-item reported that Mohanlalganj, a village just 20 km away from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, was connected to the electricity grid for the first time in March this year. Why should we be surprised? After all, an estimated 400 million people in this country that boasts of generating electricity through nuclear power are not connected to the electricity grid. All they hold on to is the promise of light but the tunnel has remained dark and they certainly have seen no light at the end of it.

The lack of electricity apart, there is a tragic twist to the Mohanlalganj tale that speaks of callousness compounding indifference. When people in the village realised that they had finally got electricity, scores of them rushed to the electricity pole that was the source of the “current”. And in their excitement, they touched the electric pole that had finally made them an electrified village. In so doing, they did not expect to be shocked. But that is precisely what happened. The electric supply authority forgot to install insulators. As a result, anyone who touched the pole received an electric shock and many were injured. How can anyone overlook installing insulators? In this instance they did. And needless to say, no one has been hauled up or held accountable, nor have the injured been compensated.

Electric power is a basic component of development. No one will argue that without electricity, the backwardness we see in our villages will continue. Children suffer because they cannot study after dark. Everyone suffers because there is no electricity to pump up water, thereby forcing people, especially women, to walk miles searching for shallow sources of water. Yet even as all this is well known, somehow “electricity for all” still seems a distant dream.

………………….. Yet, the reality in an India that is forging ahead on so many other fronts is that 83 per cent of rural households still continue to depend on firewood, wood chips and cow dung for cooking energy. The task of gathering the firewood and the cow dung falls principally on women. Even today, if you go to any village, you will see women bent double carrying head-loads of firewood.

The daily grind. Photo: Lingaraj Panda

The story does not end there. While the daily search for cooking fuel increases the amount of work women have to do every day, they come home and literally line their lungs with poison when they light their stoves. Women, children and the elderly sit in poorly ventilated rooms as traditional chulhas using firewood and cow dung belch out poisonous fumes. The chulhas are not just inefficient, in that they use more fuel to generate less energy, but are also dangerous because of the smoke they emit.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were many different efforts made to introduce smokeless chulhas into village homes. This effort was the result of growing awareness of the health impact of indoor pollution on women. But these campaigns slipped on to backburner. Surveys suggested that the smokeless chulhas were not being accepted. Instead of investigating why this was so, the efforts slowed down.

Of late, there has been a renewed push for smokeless chulhas. But this is being fuelled by the realisation that soot from millions of wood fires is contributing to global warming. So there are funds available now for introducing more efficient chulhas that can work on cleaner fuels.

I believe that the campaign for smokeless chulhas never found enough takers among policy makers because the issue concerned women. It is women who cook. It is women who collect fuel. Mostly they do it silently, without complaining, because they have been socialised to accept that this is their work. The men, for whom they do this day and night, also do not question because they too believe that this is “women’s work”.

As a result, the urgency of dealing with something so basic as cooking energy and clean fuel does not make its way into the air-conditioned rooms where energy policy is made. Even if it finds a voice, it is not put on the front burner, or backed by the funds and political will that could make a difference.

Fuel for food | The Hindu. Excerpt

Switching to renewable energy sources  in the country’s midday meal programme will save millions of rupees. But only a few kitchens are doing anything about it, says Keya Acharya.

This is a story of facts and figures and sheer size. Of an auditorium-sized room dense with hot steam from cooking. Of seven tonnes of cooked rice and four tanker-loads of steaming sambar that needed 70 pairs of hands for cutting two tonnes of vegetables. Of a further 250 kg of masala used daily, along with 1000 coconuts, 3000 stainless steel vessels, and 30 one-tonne vehicles carrying food to 300 schools for 200,000 children in Karnataka, 75,000 of whom are from Bangalore alone. This is the kitchen of the Adamya Chetana Trust at Basavangudi in Bangalore, working with the State government in the midday meal (MDM) programme.

India’s flagship MDM is the world’s largest such programme, feeding 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools around the country, with a central budget of Rs. 13,215 crores. The Central Government gives cereal grains to each State, along with financial help for setting up kitchen-cum-storages, and LPG in some areas. Each primary school child’s meal is allotted Rs. 3.70, and Rs. 4.70 for standards VI to X. State Governments pitch in with fuel and financial assistance. A basic cereal menu of 100 gm of uncooked rice per primary school child and 150 gm for higher classes is mandated. Accompaniments of dal or sambar , vegetables and curd are standard in menus in the southern States, while northern Indian schools have chapatis .

Photo: Monica Tiwari

Some ten kilometres from Adamya Chetana, en route to Kanakpura, the Akshaya Patra (AP) kitchens of ISKCON resemble cooking factories, with each storey of the building handling one part of the cooking process. Huge chutes connect each floor through the ceiling, sending food materials down to the next process. Thus, the top floor, with huge silos of grain, handles the ‘dry-cleaning’ of eight tonnes of rice and two tonnes of dal daily, then sends this down the chutes for washing and then down again directly into steam vats for cooking. Using 500 litres of oil daily for cooking (2000 litres if it is a ‘special rice’ day), this AP kitchen cooks 120,000 daily meals for government schools in south Bangalore alone. A GPS with special software tracks its 35 trucks, while all staff are connected through ‘walkie-talkies’.

But there’s something more impressive than these volumes, these mind-boggling logistics. Till a year ago, Adamya Chetana used 350 litres of diesel per day, or an equivalent of 60 LPG cylinders for generating steam for the giant vats used in steam-cooking. The fuel costs alone per meal then worked out to 60 paise per child. Last year, Adamya Chetana switched to biomass briquettes for steam generation and to biomass pellets for cookstoves for ‘tarkas’ needed in chutneys and dals . Using one tonne of briquettes (at Rs.5.50 per kg) per day to generate 12,000 kg of steam from a boiler requiring 10 HP to pump in water, energy costs have come crashing down to an incredible eight to nine paisa per child in 2013. “When we cook for thousands, every paisa counts,” says Tejaswini Ananthkumar, head of Adamya Chetana.

Energy costs come down further if the numbers are higher: on diesel in 2006, fuel costs were 60 paise per meal, which then came down to 20 paise per child for 50,000 meals cooked on LPG, and today the kitchen in Bangalore cooks 75,000 meals on nine paise for fuel cost per meal, using steam and two smokeless ‘chulas’ designed by ASTRA at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. At the AP Kanakpura kitchen, 4000 kg of briquettes are used to ensure food is cooked at an optimal 93 degrees Celsius, so that it remains safe for eight hours.

…………………Though centralised kitchens, such as these two, are only in urban areas constituting less than 25 per cent of MDM, switching to renewable energy even in urban MDM will amount to savings of millions of rupees to the public exchequer.

The picture is dire in rural areas, where there are now 577,000 MDM kitchens (with 24 lakh helpers). Almost all are run on firewood, some on dung-cake, or on government-supplied LPG, with fuel costs currently estimated to be 30 to 40 paise per meal, says Sejal Dand, Gujarat State Advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners.

…………….“Assuming each child gets 200 grams of cooked food, at least 24 million kg of food is cooked daily”, says Rao. “Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food is being processed every day by the government at public expense, and still the government has no fuel policy, not even one on its agenda.”

In spite of a national renewable energy policy, highlighted by the national action plan on climate change and committed to reducing 25 per cent of carbon emissions, mindsets are straggling. Twenty two out of 29 States have failed even in their policy obligations to purchase at least 5 per cent renewable energy from the national grid, with the national capital Delhi being the worst offender, having virtually no renewable energy supply in its chain. The mid day meal appears to be no exception to the current milieu.

Tejaswini adds, “There is little research on renewable energy cookstoves. Unlike the fuel energy sector, there is no lobby to push this. On the one hand, the government gives subsidy for energy, on the other, it pays no attention to alternatives,” she complains, highlighting the need for building a local industry to help the MDM.

“Coconut shells, even tender coconut husks, can be used as alternative fuel,” says Tejaswini. “This will reduce fuel costs, remove urban organic waste, promote local industry, and very importantly, it will reduce our country’s need for foreign exchange in petroleum imports,” she says.

Irregular supply to large-scale applications is currently the biofuel industry’s bugbear, with numerous biomass systems unable to run at par. But, as biofuel manufacturers point out, the organised growth of the industry is hampered by a lack of government help for collection, storage, transportation or marketing, thus making the middleman king in this industry too.

Davangere’s Surya Biofuels says it manages only by stocking bio-waste during harvesting season for crops such as groundnut and paddy, while Manjunath Oli of Alternate Fuels in Bangalore says they designed their own briquette-machines at Nagpur. Oli also complains of the lack of government price controls on husking mills. “They put any old price they want (on the waste),” he says.

Appropriate technology, meanwhile, is receiving some attention. Svati Bhogle of the Bangalore-based TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour) and her team designed an energy-efficient biomass cookstove, currently being marketed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. “Our data from schools show a saving of 3.6 tonnes of firewood per school per year, a reduction of one hour’s cooking time and a safe cooking environment,” says Bhogle.

From 2011 to early 2013, SSMI’s recommendations on fuel savings, nutrition and health became input for a series of interactions involving academicians, technologists, NGOs and the ministries of women and child development, human resources and new and renewable energy. SSMI hopes to establish a methodology through baseline studies to be undertaken in Andhra Pradesh, which could help towards policy subsequently.

“For several years now SSMI has been raising its voice about the problem of fuel energy,” says Rao. “It is time for the Government of India to get serious.”

Meanwhile, the two early ‘MDM conservation pioneers’, Adamya Chetana and Akshaya Patra, are trying to become ‘zero waste’ operations. Akshaya Patra composts its kitchen waste, while piggery farms collect all Adamya Chetana’s kitchen scraps, and starch from the rice is re-used in the sambar . This year, the trust is deciding on ways to reuse 65,000 to 75,000 litres of water everyday.

AkshayaPatra has recently found a solution, treating and reusing 80,000 daily litres of starch back into vegetable-washing, and is looking for ways to reuse its treated water, two lakh litres daily, back into the kitchens. Conservation in the MDM is a distinct possibility.

Simple and sublime |

The Hindu. – excerpt :

(T)his book fathoms all.”

The book that eminent modern British poet W.B. Yeats referred to when it was published in 1912 went on to win for its author Rabindranath Tagore (then 51) the Nobel Prize in literature the next year. Gitanjali: Song Offerings thus became the first and, as it happens, the only literary work by an Indian to have won the revered prize. Significantly, this was also the first instance of the Swedish Academy awarding the prize to an Asian.

………………… The first instance of this tremendous impact is seen in Yeats’ reaction. He was among the earliest European admirers of Tagore and also wrote an excellent ‘Introduction’ to Gitanjali . The reason why this ‘Introduction’ became famous in literary history is the book’s powerful impression on Yeats and the candour with which he expressed it: “I have carried the manuscript of this translation about with me for days, reading it in railway trains or on the top of omnibuses, and in restaurants, and I had often had to close it, lest some stranger would see how much it moved me”. It is a measure of the emotional potency of the verses that they could, even in translation, produce such a profound affect on a mind already acquainted with fine literature.

Gitanjali remains to this day among the most popular books in modern India. What explains either the book’s staggering impact on its first readers in the West or its abiding popularity? Is not the highest excellence in art supposed to be inimical to wide currency? Is not a book of “religious” poems of a decidedly “idealistic” inclination not likely to find favour with the masses? Yes, but Gitanjali is a glorious exception. For, this book illustrates those rare instances when the highest excellence in art reside in matter that is also the simplest and the most profoundly human. Tagore’s admirer Yeats, the Nobel jury of 1913, and his readers across Europe were all struck by this genuine greatness that was simple and sublime at the same time.

A consummate artistry of form that seems effortless is here integrated with substance that speaks powerfully to most fundamental and the loftiest elements in human nature. With equal grace the book expresses the emotions of life’s every mood through poems that render, for example, the joys of children at play, the serenity of the boatman playing a lute on a boat in the river, the longings of the heart, the moods of the seasons and the agony of grief. The book partakes of the universally and essentially human and touches all that is above the worldly and the ephemeral in us. Reading these poems, we feel like saying with the poet: “When I go from hence, let this be my parting word/that what I have seen is unsurpassable” ( Gitanjali , 96).

All the myriad notes struck by the book resonate with a devoted love for the Creator, the poems being images of the poet’s heart turning to God with “praise, prayer and profound devotion”. But such is its elemental power that even a non-believer is moved by the pure love of life embodied in them: the reverence, the simplicity, and the naturalness expressed in the appreciation of life in all its moods breaks the barrier of scepticism and fills us with what Yeats identifies as an “insidious sweetness”.

Yeats likens the poet’s voice to St. Francis and to William Blake. It is akin also, we may note, to that of G.M. Hopkins, who resembles Tagore in his fervent admiration in life of God’s “grandeur” and “glory” (cf. God’s Grandeur and Pied Beauty by Hopkins). Yet while the English poet professed the austerity of a Christian saint and was ridden with guilt for being a lover of God’s world, Gitanjali gives no inkling of any such feeling. It is instinct only with innocence and spontaneity that co-exist easily with profound thought and devotion.

As we “fight and make money and fill our head with politics”, and die a little each day Gitanjali promises to renew life in us and to give us the quiet peace of the soul that modern living has made difficult to attain.


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