Monthly Archives: January 2014

Independence or in-dependence?

We have to know that there is always another side. The stand you take, as they say, depends on which side you sit. The need to see the other person’s viewpoint is central to any enrolment we seek of other people to our collective concerns.

There is an identity that is whole, and many ways of see what that means as quality of life, in the end, for India and us as people.

There are 600 million young Indians under 25. Nearly 150 million of them are just turning 18. We need 1 million jobs a month for the next 300 months if we have to keep young aspirations fulfilled. There are less than 2 pc who are graduates, and 94 per cent of work force in all segments is literate. The make the wealth. The small majority of educated only manage the wealth.

There are 260,000 panchayats. Every 30th Indian is an elected person, with nearly 30 million who are elected by some body or other — panchayats, urban local bodies, cooperatives, unions, different administrative bodies across both rural and urban India.

Clearly those who have 20 to 30 years of good working years before them should focus on building opportunities out of every challenge and deficit that exists.

In the room today at the CSO meet, the elephant that was terribly missing and we were not even aware of is Governance. Not government. Lincoln’s famous line from the Gettysburg address, “of, by and for the people” needs amending. He forgot the 4th preposition: from the people.

Governments as we have known them in the last hundred years have outlived their utility, if ever they had one. For 2,000 years India saw self-governance at the village. We need to reinvent that mechanism of self-governing with actions on all urban infrastructure needs coming from the people, all of us. No one stops us from doing it, except our own inertia. Hamare Mai baap sarkar to karegi, is the stock response you get in many villages of today. We heard Sunday too at least two participants saying that the government should be doing it.

Over 50 years with multiple subsidies and incentives and the government trampling over every institution of governance, people at the local levels of administration have been emasculated of their ability to govern themselves. In every village there are now at least 32 schemes running — from housing, to health, to farm subsidies, to charities and donations for temples and mosques and churches. The need for planning and shaping one’s own destiny is non-existent.  

There has to be a return to that past into this future if we have to get the 600 plus districts to secure sustainable ways of working. The single biggest hurdle is the government of course, for the beast will resist every attempt to cage it. How do we the people decide therefore to find ways of ridding ourselves of our dependence on the Government, and not increasing it? How do we stop ourselves from saying, The Government should do this, or that? How do we discourage any debate on what the Government should be doing to mend their ways and bringing efficiency?

That will indeed be Poorna Swaraj. We are colonized still. By many forms of government and the bureaucracy that touch our lives. It is more so in small towns and in villages than it is in urban India. Its invidious influence has to be stopped.

But this will mean taking upon ourselves all those things we can do without the government — energy, water, waste, education, health, food and agriculture, housing. If in each of these areas we are able to find solutions and make investments in our own homes, and villages and city wards, we will then secure freedom from the government and its tentacles. Imagine a situation where as amass of people we are able to say No to the Government and run our housing colonies with the water supply board, or the sewerage board, the electricity board, and the waste-collecting contractors of the city municipalities. All these agencies will panic! We would have shown them we don’t need them.

It is not an ideal. It is within the realm of possibility. Look at what happened to the Telephone Exchanges of the 1980s which used to suppress demand so badly that you had to wait in years-long line for securing a telephone line. They have been consigned to the dustbin. The same happened to the Post Office system which was as large as it used to be. Can you now imagine making a ‘lightning call’ and waiting for 3 hours to reach someone who is just 12 hours away? Many in young India do not even know of such scenarios that existed here until 20 years ago.
It is such Poorna Swaraj from the Government that we should secure.

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For gridless power at home or office.

Solar installation at a ZED home

Just the 5 star geysers refrigerators and AC’s in India are saving about 9000 MW of power generation every day. India produces 220,000 MW. Government has cleared 80,000 more MW. And they want to raise this to 700,000 MW. Where’s the coal? India is creating 3 nuclear plants when Germany and Japan have closed all their N plants after 20 years. Coal mines destroy lives, livelihoods, forests and rivers.

Actual end-use power used is a mere 30,000 MW, if local power from solar and wind is not fed to grid but used directly by homes, offices, factories, hotels and hospitals.

The power industry lobby fears loss of the massive business if local power is promoted. Governments don’t want to lose the opportunity big spending offers of making speed money.

A solar station costs no more than 4-10 lakhs at about 2 lakhs to a KW of quality generation. It saves money on Gen-sets and UPS. Diesel power costs Rs. 20 a unit. UPS cost over 2 years with battery replacement Rs. 14 a unit. Solar costs Rs. 13 a unit, with the catch that you’ve to invest, not the government. Your BESCOM tariff is 7 to 14 a unit depending on user category.

What would you want to do?

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Bhaskar Save : “Gandhi of Natural Farming”

Bhaskar Save, acclaimed as “Gandhi of Natural Farming”, is a 92 year old man who has redefined the principles of natural farming incorporating Gandhian philosophy into the agricultural practices. He owns a 14 acre orchard farm, with 10 acres covered by a mixed crop of coconut and chikoo (sapota) and a few tree species. Another 2 acres is used for cultivating seasonal field crops in an organically sustainable manner. And the rest 2 acres is a nursery for coconut saplings that grow well in the coastal region of the location.

“Coooperation is the fundamental Law of nature”, reads the sign at Bhaskar Save’s farm, Kalpavruksha, located on the Coastal Highway near village Dehri, District Valsad, in southernmost coastal Gujarat, a few km north of the Maharashtra-Gujarat border.

Bhaskar supports the theory that nature is only creator. He says that there are six factors of nature that interact with sunlight and maintain a balance in Nature’s grand symphony. These are air, water and soil along with the three orders of life – vanaspatisrushti (plant kingdom), jeevsrushti (insects and smaller organisms) and pranisrushti (animal kingdom).

Today’s farming practices are more economy centric as opposed to sustainable farming. The pressure on farmers for increase in yield has led them to resort to measures that are unhealthy for the soil and the organisms in them. Excessive uses of pesticides and chemical fertilizers have direct effect on soil organisms and on us when we consume this infected harvest. Later these pollute the water bodies and aquifers.

Save adds,” Trying to increase Nature’s ‘productivity,’ is the fundamental blunder that highlights the arrogant ignorance of agricultural scientists.  Nature, unspoiled by man, is already most abundant in her yield. When a grain of rice can reproduce a thousand-fold within months, where is the need to increase its productivity! What is required at most is to help ensure the necessary natural conditions for optimal, wholesome yield.”

Eight years ago, Save wrote an open letter plea to M.S. Swaminathan, then chairman of the National Commission on Farmers, highlighting the issue of farmer committing suicide across the nation. His letter presented a devastating critique of the government’s agricultural policies favoring chemical farming and made a plea for fundamental reorientation.

Bhaskar Save’s farm yield is superior to any farm using chemicals. This is true in all aspects of total quantity, nutritional quality, taste, biological diversity, ecological sustainability, water conservation, energy efficiency, and economic profitability. The costs (mainly labor for harvesting) are minimal and external inputs almost zero.

The farm will soon launch an in-house training program at the farm to educate farmers on natural and organic farming practices.

This will change the way we grow our food, the way we enjoy the fruits Mother Nature has to offer in its purest and sweetest form.

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IS YOUR FURNITURE SPREADING POISON IN YOUR HOME?

DSCN3746Formaldehyde is a chemical that can cause serious health damage. It is present in disguise within our homes and usually goes unnoticed. The most significant source of formaldehyde is the pressed wood products that use urea and formaldehyde resins as adhesives. These products generally include particleboard, hardwood-plywood and fiberboard.

Particleboard is used for sub-flooring and shelving in cabinets and furniture.  Hardwood-plywood is used for decorative wall coverings and fiberboard is used for drawer fronts and furniture tops. Fiberboards are significantly higher in formaldehyde emissions than particleboard or hardwood.

This toxic chemical is generally used as a preservative in labs and can lead to serious health problems especially for kids. Cribs, cots and other furniture can release up to 40 parts per billion of formaldehyde per day — enough to cause illnesses like asthma, allergies and even increase the risk of cancer.

People move to greener spaces with a notion of providing healthy living conditions to their families but fail to take care of the smaller aspects, such as formaldehyde emissions, that can pose larger health hazards.

A study shows that formaldehyde emissions in a newly constructed apartment had as much as 23 parts per billion per day of formaldehyde even before the furnishings were installed. This is a staggering 8395 x 10-9 part per billion per year. Imagine that amount of toxicity in your house which is a large part of your indoor environment.

So how do we overcome this? The answer to this lies in the use of furnishings that are free of such toxic chemicals and made with recycled materials that require little or no formaldehyde-based adhesives. Manufacturers like ZED have brought in a range of furniture that is forest-free and use no formaldehyde and so offer zero emission furniture.

Who doesn’t want a healthy life? But how many of us do what it takes to ensure such well-being, for not just one but many generations to come?

It is time now to adopt a chemical-free, toxin-free lifestyle before it is too late to realize.

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IN THE NAME OF DEVELOPMENT

bangalore-city-viewMany real estate projects have come up on and off Sarjapur Road. The area is touted to be the emerging hub of city’s urbanization. A number of development projects are being carried out under the hood of Sarjapur Gram Panchayats and Bangalore Metropolitan Rural Development Authority (BRDMA).

There’s a deal of ballyhoo from these developers on their ‘mega’ size, all the amenities they offer to lure the gullible home-buyer. The truth is not so beautiful. The authorities are looking the other way.  Quietly there’s damage wrought on the rural communities to the city’s fringe.

Acres of agricultural and arable land have been acquired by builder-majors to produce high rise slums that fuel the middle class dream of a home and the small-time investor’s desire to speculate.

A drive down that road will reveal an ugly reality — vast barren fields with concrete dumped. Hardly any patch of green remains. A series of commercial establishments have sprung up.

People have bought homes trusting builders but have forgotten to think of the environmental disaster in the name of development – depleted ground water, acres of dry land, the mushrooming of shanties. Lands lie bare with no cultivation with farmers waiting for the right price.

The question is: who should take the call, the builders or the residents? The solution is surprisingly easy and simple. There has to be a midway that both parties can tread on.

Homes should now be self sufficient and independent of natural resource exploitation. Although very few in number, there are builders like BCIL ZED who have been sensitive to the issue of environmental degradation and have created homes that are eco-friendly.

A green home is one which is free from water resources from the city, has its own power generation capability and a fully developed waste management system that ensures zero export of any type of waste. ​

Rainwater harvesting can reduce water dependency from city supply by up to 15-20 or about 59-60 days in a year. Recycling of grey water from kitchen and washing can be used for landscaping, car wash, and flush tanks. This decreases water consumption by a massive 70%.

Solar powered electrical systems are also picking up with more and more homes being retrofitted with them. A small STP can reduce the waste load on municipal authorities to a major extent.

Builders like ZED, BCIL have their own solar and wind solutions for power generation. They have developed household appliances that consume less power than conventional electronic items. A range of forest free furniture is used in all their homes to ensure no forests are being cut.

Just stirring people’s conscience to build a green home is not enough.

Buyers, residents and prospective buyers must invest in initiatives that don’t just aim at settling a community but developing an ecosystem on the whole. Going energy efficient doesn’t cost much. If you could afford a small car, you can afford a lot of these little things that, in the long run, offer returns that are attractive.

Reduction in your power bills, water bills and smarter air-conditioning with clean air and healthy living environment are obvious dividends. Buyers and builders must drive the bigger aim of a sustainable growth for the city.

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Are your plants getting the right amount of water?

watering-can-old-manTending to a garden is a liberating experience and lets you bring out the eco-philic side of you. Although looking after a garden is not rocket science, care must be given to all aspects to ensure your plants look healthy and fresh. One such aspect that is generally overlooked by most of us is watering the plants. Although it appears to be a simple activity, it is in fact one of the most misinterpreted, often with disastrous consequences for the plant. When understood and carried out properly, it is capable of significantly influencing the relationship with the garden.

So let’s start at the very beginning. While we say “we’re watering the plants”, we don’t water plants, we actually water the soil.

Yes, that’s right. Plants take in their required amount of water from the soil so watering the soil around the root zone (away from the stem) is most beneficial to the soil micro-organisms, and therefore the plant.

Equally critical is knowing that plants need moist soil rather than wet or submerged soil. Moist soil enables the water to break down necessary components in the soil into a small enough size to be absorbed through the plant’s root system. Over watering can lead to loss of nutrients and minerals and also decrease aeration.

Plants should be watered early in the morning and not late in the evening. Plant diseases are known to spread in wet, dark conditions and when we water in the late evening, water tends to stay on the leaves, making the plant more susceptible to catch mildew (a fungal disease). In daytime, if water does get on the leaves, it has a chance to dry out in the sunlight. Also, plants need water mainly during daylight to produce food, so watering early morning would ensure that they are able to carry out their activity.

Gardens are completely dependent on our watering and so it needs to be planned and regular. Erratic watering stresses the plants. Allowing the soil to dry out completely between watering is not a good idea and works only for specific plants. Most plants require consistently moist soil conditions.

How do you water plants?

For an urban home garden, there are several ways to water from the simple bucket and mug or rose-can (can with a shower-head nozzle) to the more planned drip irrigation mechanism.

Adopt a method that is best suited for you and one that does not waste water. As far as possible, try to harvest rainwater. Reuse grey water – i.e. water used for washing clothes or vessels for use in the garden. But remember this is only if we avoid synthetic detergents and use natural alternatives or other powders.

Mulched soil has greater water retention capacity and also provides nutrients. It is best suited for a garden. If you have a rooftop garden, ensure windbreaks to prevent uprooting of plants.

Paying attention to the health of the soil is the most important aspect of a plant’s health. Ensuring a well-proportioned mix of sand, red earth, compost and soil-building material (like cocopeat) is essential to make the soil loose, porous and to increase its water retention capacity.

The needs of each plant are different and so plan your gardening activity accordingly taking care of each plant to have a healthy and lively garden.

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WHERE’S MY WATER?

WaterBangalore is largely dependent on groundwater. The largest source of water in Bangalore apart from Cauvery water is from borewells.

We are pulling water that has been down there for hundreds of years, that is somebody else’s right as much as it is ours. And the breach of this right can be clearly seen with unequal resource allocation.

How do we get Ground water?

We all live above spaces between soil particles and cracks, fissures and faults in the rocks, which are known as aquifers. Water in these aquifers is rainwater that has trickled down and percolated into the earth. The aquifers are spread independent of property or administrative boundaries. Each time we pull out water from the ground, we are possibly denying someone else of their source of water.

The geology of Bangalore, and most of the Deccan plateau, is hard-rock geology. This type of geological setting is composed of three layers- the top soil where the plants grow, the weathered zone below the top soil and the hard rock. The weathered zone is actually crushed version of the hard rock which holds water in the pores and spaces in between the particles.

When it rains and water percolates down, it passes through the weathered zone and then into the hard rock fissures. A large connected set of fissures, in effect one single body of water under the ground, is called an aquifer. Aquifers in the hard rock are called ‘confined aquifers’ as they are under pressure. Water in the weathered zone is shallow and is referred to as shallow unconfined aquifer and they can travel laterally into the soil. Open wells up to depths of around 80 feet in Bangalore were meant to access water in the shallow unconfined aquifers. Over time these have been dried out, except in certain parts of Bangalore. After open wells started drying, people started digging borewells which were going deeper and picking up water from the fissures in rocks – or from confined aquifers. It is important to note that confined aquifers take more time to recharge the unconfined aquifers.

It’s difficult to predict where you get water in deeper confined aquifers.  At depths of 100 to 650 feet, there are a lot of fissures through which water trickles in. There is no way to predict, other than testing each site.

When you dig a borewell and start pulling water out, you are emptying the water in the aquifers which is a finite amount. The process by which water enters into these fissures is called recharge. This can be natural or artificial. Since there is only a finite amount of water underneath, we cannot endlessly keep pumping out water.

As a city, we need to understand how much water is available. This is not an easy task. All the residents in an area need to share where they have dug the bore well, how deep did it go, at what depth did they get water, etc. The data collected across the city can help get a better picture of the city’s aquifers.

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ZED WALDEN offers Haven for Weekend Farmers

city garden.1We call it ZED-Walden, after Henry David Thoreau’s immortal and idyllic Walden Pond.

It is spread over 4 acres, on the edge of a 500-year-old lake off Doddaballapur Road. It lies 30 minutes to the north of the city’s heart in Bangalore.

The lake is under threat of dying. ZED Walden is essentially an agro-ecology restoration project. BCIL Alt. Tech Foundation (BATF) will introduce global best practices to reintegrate natural systems into farming in order to maximize sustainability, ecosystem services and biodiversity of seeds and crops.

Says Ms Kartikeyan, “Degraded farms, especially on the fringe of the Bangalore plateau, cannot be restored to a purely natural state because of too many years of use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.” ZED Walden is about crafting eco-sensitive methods of intercropping that are ecologically sustainable while being economically viable. The crops that will be grown range from millets and pulses to flowers and other crops that are grown in the micro region of Doddaballapur and Chickaballapur.

“ZED Walden should inspire farmers to take to these farming techniques that we will demonstrate powerfully,” adds Ms Kartikeyan.

Look out for more in this space in future editions.

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ZED launches work on Deep-Eco Resort in Coorg

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It’s a 60-acre expanse of dense rainforest. It spans 4 mountains and 2 perennial streams. To the north of this steep and undulating rainforest is a massive sprawl of 600 hectare or 1500 acres of grasslands that are part of the larger ecosystem of biodiversity recognized to be among 18 such hotspots in the world.

“We are not touching the rainforest. The idea is to protect and conserve this fragile ecosystem that is in its tertiary stage of succession as rainforests go,” offers Hariharan as part of the larger mission objective of this Deep-Eco mountain getaway.

The resort will offer 40 quiet, exquisite designer chalets for discerning families who seek to come in as travelers and return as half-conservationists.

The design spectrum is being worked out to craft elements that will appeal to urban enthusiasts, children and adults alike.

The resort aims to be soft-launched at the end of 2014 with 15 chalets, a  heritage bungalow of 1912 that will host creative diversions for guests, and a hand-crafted ambience of plants and hardscaping around the resort.

The ZED Deep-Eco resort will inspire  landscaping that gently stewards vegetation in the open expanses.

“The idea is not to only set an acceptable standard of hospitality to the guests. It is also to offer a stunningly rich and memorable experience of a rainforest coming alive,” says Dinesh, Director Technologies.

Watch this space for more in future editions.

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Jagriti Yatra: Pilgrimage sans religion.

jagriti-yatra-logo-og

It’s a yatra, alright. It is a journey that covers 8000 km over 15 days. It’s a travel that takes 450 of India’s young and thinking students, engineers, doctors, computer science workers and a host of other people, on a guided tour of places and purposes.

Their only qualification to be part of the yatra is that they are between 20 and 27 years and they want to learn and do something about India’s future.

So the yatra is not merely to physical places as much as it is a journey within to delve into their own minds and those of other yatriks who choose to travel ‘the other road’ with a purpose and vision larger than themselves.

The jagriti yatra (http://www.jagritiyatra.com/) has been done every year since 2008. This time, as in previous years, the 450 yatriks culminated their 15-day journey at the Gandhi Ashram on Sabarmati’s banks just outside of Amdavad. It was symbolic but was poignant. It was a congregation of energetic young minds seeking to understand the relevance of Gandhi to the future of India.

Some of them were bewildered at the possible connect that could exist between Gandhian times and now (How can Gandhi be relevant to us now?!).  Some of them were hopeful of what could be achieved in a new India  as the yatra took them to islands of excellence over the 8000 km ride in a train with 18 railway coaches that was home for all of them for as long. There were some others who despaired at how India’s polity was so diseased that we can’t bring change at all.

One thing was common, though. They all were vibrant, seeking, enquiring in nature and wanted to make a difference.

Rajni Bakshi (who wrote Bapu Kutir in the 1990’s), Sudheendra Kulkarni (a biographer of Gandhi and advisor to Vajpayee when he was PM) and Bcil’s  Hariharan were panelists with the theme being Gandhi and his relevance to today’s India.

Shashank Mani Tripathi drives the spirit at Jagriti Yatra with a formidable team of mainstream professionals who volunteer time and passion for the yatra.

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