Monday, November 30, 2009

Bundelkhand - Drought and environmental destruction

This is the second part of a record of voices and images from Bundelkhand gathered while travelling in the company of a group of students and teachers of Delhi University. The first part appeared here.

Traveling through Bundelkhand, this question repeatedly comes up in conversation. Is drought a recent phenomenon or is this something that has always been a part of this region? In an attempt to get the perspective of local intellectuals and social activists, we seize on an opportunity to attend a conference on the drought organized by Dr Bharatendu Prakash at Chhatarpur. Dr Prakash is an unconventional scientist, having quit academic research at IIT Kanpur back in 1974 and embraced rural development activities through the medium of non governmental organizations. In the past, he has co-authored a study on the water resources of Bundelkhand sponsored by the Government of India. Today, he is a leading activist of the Organic Farming Association of India and is also working with the MP Council of Science and Technology on a detailed village by village survey of water resources in MP’s Bundelkhand region.

Dr Bharatendu Prakash ,Vikram Sarabhai fellow at the MP Council of Science & Technology has been studying the water resources of Bundelkhand from many years.

The conference is being attended by activists from different districts of Bundelkhand – both from UP and MP and is being held at the Gandhi Bhavan in Chhatarpur. The speakers concur on the causes of the current crisis and their view goes something like this. Historically, Bundelkhand has been periodically subjected to drought. This being the case, the people have evolved over time elaborate mechanisms to cope with the drought. What has changed in recent years is that the traditional coping mechanisms have fallen apart. The problem is not so much the shortfall in rain – officially called meteorological drought – rather it is the reduced ability of the people to cope with such a shortfall.

What were these coping mechanisms?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Politicians and accountability

Reports of politicians amassing wealth have become a daily affair. Ministerial position, it seems, affords unlimited possibilities for personal gain.

Why don’t the safeguards provided by the Constitution against misuse of powers by elected public servants work? The legislature, deriving its power from the peoples’ mandate, is in theory, supreme. It helps form the council of ministers from 15% of its members and exercises control over it. But in practice, it seems that it is the power of the party (or coalition) with the legislative majority that prevails over the legislature, aligning it with government in unqualified support.

So Government functions without oversight by legislature. Madhu Koda could award contracts for mining and A. Raja allot spectrum on the ‘first come first served’ basis at 2001 rates in 2008, without the legislators crying fowl. A PIL exposed the Koda affair while spectrum allocation policies are under the scanner only after the companies with licenses offloaded shares at a huge profit.

So how can the Indian public protect itself from the depredations of its politicians? For some systemic changes that may help, read my Economic Times article here