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Recently, Uddhanam in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, has once again received public attention, but unfortunately not much action later on seems to have happened. I did not visit the area. But, I have been monitoring this issue for long. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) as everyone tries to identify this with is reportedly found here in Uddhanam, Srilanka and Nicaragua.
In Srilanka, the problem was traced to glyphosate, a herbicide, which was banned promptly. Funny that India with all its scientific resources has not established the source of the problem. Just to allude, long back, in a village near Warangal, we found 12 women who had breast cancer. When we asked later a team of Doctors as to what could be the reason, we were told that it is due to unhygienic conditions. Only after I suggested if pesticide is a probability, they agreed that there are other possibilities. I am narrating this to buttress my point that often research can also go in wrong direction. Research, or study, is not happening in the right direction on CKD. And, I think it is happening in Uddhanam as well. From what I read, only nephrologists have done some studies, that too based on medical records of the victims.
Usually, research on environmental health conditions in the area should be able to identify the source. Nephrologists, or for that matter any medical specialist, have limited knowledge of a human body, and particular organ of the body. We need multi-disciplinary studies here. It should include socio-economic background of the CKD-affected persons and their families, food and nutrition practices, their occupations, water sources, possible contamination sources of food and water and food cycle chains. In Uddhanam, because of huge number of coconut trees, there is a strong possibility of pesticides being used. In Kerala, a local Doctor has identified endosulphan as a source of a mysterious spread of health problems in humans and animals.
Similar problems in Mondipalem, in Vishakhapatnam, are being reported indicating a wider area of incidence, than just one particular area. I realised health problems in rural areas are invariably linked to pesticides and fertilisers. In Vijayawada, also there are numerous kidney-related hospitals, indicating a problem probably linked to higher amounts of agro-chemicals in canal waters, which flow in and out of paddy fields.
There was a suggestion of shifting people from Uddhanam. It may not be the solution, if the problem is traced to human practices that contaminate water and soil.
In this regard, I feel the following needs to be done:
- Serious multi-disciplinary study of Uddhanam area, by Indian Council for Medical Research, with time-bound results. Primarily, focus should be on environmental health assessment, including investigation of local drinking water sources, food chain analysis, industries and manufacturing facilities, soil testing, crop and tree farming methods, and sociological survey.
- Immediate relief can be provided through rainwater harvesting (in problem areas)
- Ban, even if temporarily, on all pesticide usage.
- Adoption of ‘flush’ methods to remove water contamination through Reverse Osmosis water systems, groundwater recharging and stopping of borewell water usage.
- Organic agriculture practices should be encouraged in the area, through integrated, multiple crop systems, non-pesticidal management methods, mulching and food cropping.
- CKD-affected persons should have easier access to village-level dialysis systems, blood transfusion systems, medicines, a Dietician (local food) and local Doctors, in a clinic. Every village, depending on the population affected should have such clinics.
In addition, the problem of endemic fevers, Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and brain fevers in agency areas, especially in tribal areas, also needs attention. This is becoming a regular feature, and so far no party, politician has taken up this issue.
JE incidence moved into forest areas and tribal hamlets, almost a decade back and thus out of the media and government glare and focus. It was severe in some years in Adilabad. While I did not do any formal mapping, but was looking up media reports, whenever JE gets mentioned. However, I am certain incidence of JE, and related symptoms, can be seen in tribal areas, mostly. And, no longer in coastal, paddy lands.
As is the norm in India, especially in medical emergencies, the blame is always on victims and their lifestyles. However, no research institution in India has cared to study how JE, brain fever, and various forms of fever is affecting tribals, who live very close to nature, and have remedies offered by nature.
As a anti-pesticide activist, I feel the blame could go to pesticide usage and increasing adoption of conventional agricultural practices. Pesticides wreak havoc with natural food chains, killing, maiming various forms of life, randomly, and also impact on immune systems. Vectors might have changed, because of agro-chemicals, immunity might have decreased due to food habits, poisons in the food and hunger. And, all caused by conventional agriculture.
I tried to find answer to another question that popped up on my mind long back – how did JE, a phenomena of mosquitoes, irrigated areas and coastal lands, move into inland, dryland zones. It also seems to have crossed seasonal barriers, occurring in various seasons. Did agro-chemicals cause any mutation among JE strains? Indian health establishment is yet to take cognizance of these issues.
Ofcourse, importantly, we need to see what can be done in tribal areas to stop and prevent deaths and ‘unknown’ epidemic (if one can call that). Further, we need to start a epidemiological study to establish the pattern, causes, vectors, etc.
With regard to demonetisation of Rs.500, I assume there was no comprehension of its usage. With rising cost of living and inflation, Rs.500 has become a ‘common’ note that is being frequently used, exchanged and converted into small change. However, policy makers probably missed the extent of its usage and reach. Recently, in a meeting on demonetisation, a regional party leader declared that their long standing demand was to ban ‘big’ notes. He went on to explain that ‘big’ note facilitates black money holders to stash away more and more easily. I asked him what is the definition of a ‘big’ note, and did they notice that Rs.500 note lost its ‘bigness’ as it became common.
On the other hand, apart from Rs.500 and 1,000 notes, India does not have any other ‘big’ notes. An essential qualification of a ‘big’ note is to reduce the volumes of cash into smaller packs. As corruption forms and levels increased, black money flow multiplied, rich people were still stuck with Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes. In the absence of higher denomination notes, both the black markets and with inflation, common people have been using and continuing to use Rs.500 note. This was not the case in the earlier years.
In the past, when you wanted Rs.500 notes to replace a stack of Rs.100 notes, bank cashiers used to snigger, and it required all your skills and influence to get such a wad. In the last few years, in not more than 5 to 6 years, slowly and steadily Rs.500 became a normal note, in the pockets of common people. Depth of its usage has not been assessed by the Prime Minister, nor his advisors.
Even people, knowledgeable and angry at the growth of black money, do not acknowledge that Rs.500 note is longer ‘big’. Secondly, Rs.500 became a normal note for all transactions of higher volume, between traders, traders and producers, and consumers. Agricultural produce is procured by traders, at agricultural markets, and beyond, through direct cash transactions. Fruit, vegetable and grain farmers insist on cash payments, at a cost, primarily to avoid multiple trips on payments, and also they require cash for their needs and next crop season investments. Traders also find it easier, since it helps them to avoid tax payments. No one wants a paper trail. Even government procurement agencies had to pay on the spot.
According to the data available with the RBI, the number of Rs 500 notes in circulation increased from 1,141 crore pieces between 2014 and 2016, a whopping 38 percent increase over two years. Similarly, the number of Rs 1,000 notes rose 24.5 percent from 508 crore to 633 crore pieces during the period. Both the denominations together witnessed a jump of 33.6 percent over the two-year period. This increase could be explained by more and more ‘cash hoarding’ and/or usage.
Meanwhile, share of Rs 500 notes as a percent of total currency notes in circulation increased during the period from 14.7 percent to 17.4 percent. The corresponding figures for Rs 1,000 stood at 6.6 percent as of 31 March, 2014 and 7 percent as of 31 March 2016. In value terms, Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes together account for Rs 14.2 lakh crore, which is 86.4 percent of the total as of 31 March, 2016. This is an increase from Rs 10.8 lakh crore (84.1 percent) in fiscal 2014.
According to the RBI press conference on 8th November, 2016, there are 16.5 billion ‘500-rupee’ notes and 6.7 billion ‘1000-rupee’ notes in circulation.
All these statistics substantiate the point that Rs.500 note is a norm, and has lost its ‘big’ note status as defined by the lobby that wants to control black money through currency demonetisation. Prime Minister was probably not advised on this, and has ended up putting common people into difficulties, by his bold initiative. His announcement should have been preceded by a preparation on increasing the circulation of Rs.100 notes, equivalent to the volumes and value of Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes. Prime Minister should have timed it better by being conscious of agricultural season. He was probably conscious of salaries and hence 8th day of the month was chosen.
Irrigation is multi-faceted subject, that requires indepth enquiry and understanding. Area development, interlinked with irrigation, has been the subject of world-wide discussion, research and application. In Telangana, as a region in combined State of Andhra Pradesh, irrigation has always been a dream to be achieved. Among the priorities of different governments, irrigation-linked development programmes took a backseat. It is one of the primary reasons cited by separate Telangana agitation.
Interestingly, first government of Telangana State is reviving and reformulating rather aggressively the same pattern and similar strategies. However, current government’s approach as before has lot of glaring gaps, needs questioning on various dimensions.
Transparency and accountability is a major concern. Godavari project reports, in the past and currently, are not available for public scrutiny and discussions. Pranahitha – Chevella Detailed Project Report, containing six volumes, prepared in 2010, is not in the public domain. In 2016, government of Telangana has not shared detailed reports, despite on and off news stories in the media, about the current designs of the same projects, and/or newly contemplated projects. Under Right to Information Act, Government of Telangana is duty-bound to reveal and release these reports, pro-actively.
Even though, government has boldly declared an allocation of Rs.25,000 crores, in Plan allocations of State for the Financial Year 2016-17, State legislature has not discussed this important aspect, not even for minute, leave alone hours or days. Chief Minister’s in his presentation in the Assembly, on 31st March, 2016, refers to fallacies and foibles of the past government. However, past mistakes and failures are no justification for current gaps. With more than Rs.70,000 crores debts on the State Exchequer, a young State has taken a bold decision to commit such a huge amount to a single sector, with a promise of overall development. However, much of the current allocations pertain to projects with a benefit accrual to five districts only, out of 10 districts. There is a huge inequity built into this planning. Such inequity was questioned, in the past, and was a major justification for separate Telangana agitation. Priority for these projects, and massive allocation, has not been arrived at after consultations and does not have wider approval. A single person’s obsession, in a democracy, is being fobbed off as a historical necessity, even while institutions and procedures established to act as checks and balances, to prevent abuse and misuse of power, have gone to a toss.
There is a huge concern on Rs.9,000 crores expenditure, in the past five years, on Pranahitha-Chevella project, with regard to the integrity of such huge investment and how the infrastructure created would go waste. Government of Telangana should have released details of such expenditure, and how the assets created will be utilized, if not for this purpose. Dug canals and excavated tunnels are now reportedly being abandoned.
There should be more debate and discussion on Godavari projects, with specific objective of generating informed public opinion, that leads to efficient utilization of resources and ensures grounding of a sustainable, comprehensive project. All documents related to the projects on Godavari should be placed in the public domain.
Government also needs to develop alternatives, and weigh benefits and challenges of each such proposal, in relation to the per acre cost on the small farmers, who are ultimately are the beneficiaries of irrigation projects on River Godavari. No longer the discussion and information should be centred on design and technical aspects, but has to include ultimate costs on agricultural sector, impact of such costs on food production, cropping pattern, incomes of farmers and wealth distribution effects. For long, water distribution from large irrigation projects has not only been a matter of contention between competing uses, such as domestic drinking water, agriculture, industrial, urban needs and other purposes, but has also come under the scrutiny of advocates for equity and socio-economic change. On an average, direct distribution to agriculture ranges from 50 to 90 percent, with waters being utilized for other purposes, especially when water storage is not full. Participatory Irrigation Management has become a concept that answers issues of inequitous and inefficient distribution in the command area, for agricultural use. However, no other model or concept has come up for ensuring prioritized usage among competing needs. On paper, National Water Policy 2012 prioritises drinking water over other needs, and has recommended a hierarchy. But, often, experience shows that the principle of ‘might is right’ continues to be applied and no transparent process that ensures the emergence of a negotiated settlement has been delineated in India.
It is no wonder government of Telangana has not given much thought to this issue, in its irrigation planning, apart from the promise of larger benefits. Benefit analysis should precede project design, and not the other way round. Depending on the benefits and interplay between various options, especially from the standpoint of environmental, financial and social impacts, project design has to be finalized. Public discussions on design alone does not help, and would confuse non-technical persons, whose numbers easily outmatch technical expertise, and whose involvement is a must given that they are either losers or beneficiaries, of the whole conundrum.
Participation of farmers in irrigation projects, from planning stage upto realization of benefits from such projects, helps in building ownership, reduces inefficient processes and diffidence, and can help in reducing wasteful water usages on improper crops. Government of Telangana does not seem to prioritise aspirations, opinions and status of farmers in irrigation project planning. Rough and wild estimates arrive at a cost, in the range of Rs.1 lakh to Rs.5 lakhs per acre. Irrigation planning has to take this into account, and has to begin here and work backwards. Higher the burden on the farmer, who for decades was dependent on rainfall alone, cropping pattern would undergo drastic changes. It will also impact on land ownership, with small farmers abandoning their lands, possibly leading to land consolidation. Thus, a project which is supposed to prevent out migration, ensure employment and provide water for agriculture, is likely to destabilize existing natural resources ownership and has the potential to change the local social dynamics and can easily disempower the poorest and economically backward sections in the command area.
Environmental and ecological concerns, coupled with displacement, needs to be discussed. Assessment of such impacts should precede any project activity, and cannot be pushed down under. Unfortunately, most irrigation projects in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and currently Telangana have not passed through a critical environmental scrutiny. Government of Telangana which has committed itself to mammoth plantation exercise, through Harithaharam project, cannot ignore its responsibility towards environment, ecology and biodiversity.
Telangana civil society needs to generate innovative and motivating ideas that amalgamate administrative, policy, political, environmental, economical and technical aspects of water management.
India is reeling under heat. Unprecedented atmospheric temperatures and ambient temperatures are taking a heavy toll on the most visible form of life – human beings. We also know people are dying and farm animals are dying. We do not know about wildlife and life which is not even in our radar, including bacteria, insects, plants and trees. With groundwater levels depleting beyond the reach of tree roots and deep borewells, soil moisture is completely absent. Grass blades are rarity, having left to fend for themselves. Farm animals do not have fodder and water. Owners of farm animals themselves do not have water and food. Is it a drought or a mere heat wave? Or, the preliminary steps in desertification? Desertification possibly means things may not be normal, once rainfall happens. Water will roll off the dry patches of land, with nothing to hold on, gathering speed and whatever can float, washing off modicum of soil. There is no opportunity for water to sink and no system that can enable it to the fullest extent possible.
Across the world, many countries have also witnessed and are already dealing with rise in temperatures. Britain, Yugoslavia seem to have their own plans. WHO has also issued some plans. In India, Gujarat and Maharashtra had their plans two years back. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh developed their heat wave action plans, this year, that too after Court ordered them to do so. However, deaths due to sun stroke have increased in both these States enormously, in the last two years. Yet, administration and elected leaders in these States continue to ignore this problem. Media confines to mere reporting of deaths. Much of the news reports focus only on water shortages, and not much on drought and heat strokes.
In Andhra Pradesh, contrary to normative thinking, deaths have been reported maximum in Vishakhapatnam and other coastal districts, and not Rayalaseema. Similarly, in Telangana, Mahbubnagar reported the maximum. Also, though the number of hot days were maximum in 2010, in united AP, deaths increased 10 times more in 2014 and 2015. Even this year, both the States have been reporting deaths due to sun-stroke, or heat waves.
Heat wave, or temperature rise, impact is disproportionate and is definitely linked to more number of factors than fathomed. Vulnerability studies are required to assess why and what circumstances these deaths are happening, and who are these persons. Unlike any disaster, this disaster if one can call that, has different characteristics, than say floods or drought. Historicity of the causative factors seems to have measure of impact. Geographical area linked vulnerabilities do also play their role on the impacts.
Heat Wave Action plans to date seem to be dependent on temperature fluctuations, as recorded by the Meteoreology department, and alerts are issued based on these variations. However, field observations and data shows that this may not be sufficient. It has to be fortified with socio-economic and importantly bio-indicators. Epidemiological studies of heat wave impacts can also help in establishing early warning indicators at the local level.
Heat wave alerts can at best galvanise administration, but people have to be activated through prior knowledge and development of local mechanisms. Current heat Wave Action Plans fall far short of expectations and imagination. Despite a overemphasis on issuance of heat wave alerts, these action plans do not lay out who can play what role and how. A alert should have certain administrative framework of action, which is lacking.
Local indigenous knowledge, food consumption pattern and access to such foods and liquids should also be part of these heat wave action plans. Distribution of ORS packets can be at best be symptomatic relief and cannot be a solution for all situations. Access to water continues to be a major issue. Even if its available at home, it is not available during travel and at work. With rural incomes dipping dangerously, purchasing power has nosedived, creating a problem of access to nutritious and energising food.
Panchayats have to be made basic units of these Plans. Budgets and administrative processes have to be developed. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of worst heat wave conditions, and the Action Plans are on paper. Manual labour, hotel cooks, brick kiln workers, construction workers and many other people involved in various professions need relief in terms of timings and work schedules. Age and gender fallibility to heat stroke is a known factor: children, women, old and infirm are at greater risk. Exhaustion from heat, inaccessibility to water, food and rest, can cause rapid dehydration and can be fatal. Labour laws have to be changed. Old pensioners, women and disabled persons, dependent on state doles, queue up before ‘welfare’ departments in hot conditions, merely because government employees chose to attend their duties between 11 am to 4 pm, assured as they are by fans and air conditioners. Welfare departments have to change their work schedules as well. A heat wave alert should trigger such changes.
Heat Wave Action Plans of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh need lot of improvement and imaginative procedures and mechanisms. Consultation mechanisms have to be built in. Non-governmental players have to be involved at different levels, and not just in distribution of ORS packets. Social consciousness should lead to conscientious efforts and resource sharing. Ownership of natural resources has to be forgotten in stressed times, giving way to sharing, equity and justice. Only then, deaths of such unfortunate children as below can be avoided.
Protests are brewing over the proposal to cut down trees in KBR national park in Hyderabad, located amidst upscale residential areas of Jubilee Hills. In the last 30 years, for the first time I have seen some protest shaping on protection of natural resources from this section of citizens. It is probably because of younger generation who are little more aware, or it could be the consciousness they would lose the lung space available for them to meet, interact, discuss and relax. It is always good to see citizen action from wherever, in whatever form to protect their interests, especially when they are intertwined with protection of ecology and environment.
Strategic Road Development Project (SRDP) appears to be the brainchild of a thinking that believes that wide roads, flyovers, swank cars and concrete structures continue to be the symbols of development, prosperity and show pieces. The tingle in the eyes of many, wows in their mouths, when they see such development as indicators of modernity and a matter of pride. Juxtapose this image, this dream, with the other picture, in the same area – no water, tankers plying in and out of swank apartments, no sewerage system, floods on the roads after the slightest drizzle and automobile pollution. In this summer, with temperature touching 44 degrees centigrade in April, people with airconditioners at homes and in cars still feel the hear, even while they pay their way to comforts. Even they would need open space to come out of their claustrophobic big homes. With climate change increasing the heat, drought leading to water shortages, people are becoming aware that environment and ecology needs to be protected.
But would saving 3,100 trees from being cut in KBR park is enough to protect ecology and environment in Hyderabad? No. SRDP is a project of mammoth proportions, involving investment of some Rs.20 to 25,000 crores, construction of multiple flyovers, widening roads, building transport corridors. Earlier the same Lee Associates has done Comprehensive Transport Study on Hyderabad, with an ask list totalling Rs.1,75,000 crores to improve only transport infrastructure. It means mostly roads, flyovers and related constructions. SRDP is supposedly an offshoot of these recommendations. Ofcourse, citizens of Hyderabad were not given much time to comment on the study. Now, neither this study nor SRDP has been discussed or tabled for discussed in either Telangana State Assembly or Council of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. SRDP is a mere media information. There is no document either for people to access and comment. Government has not developed any alternative options, and asked citizens to choose between them. SRDP, in a democratic setup, is being given as a fait accompli. Citizens are being fed with the news that there is no choice. Is it so?
There are 12 Universities and many scientific institutions in Hyderabad. There is a large scientific and academic pool of resources. Yet, so far, none of the scientists have warned publicly about the perils of destroying KBR Park. KBR Park is destined for destruction. It is no longer a question of number of trees. KBR Park is located on a ridge, and has been functioning as carbon and water sink. Rainwater from this park flows into two basins of major water reservoirs including Hussainsagar. Destruction of KBR Park will have a cascading effect on Hyderabad in general, and Jubilee Hills in particular. As it is air pollution, in the form of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter, is on par with any congesting areas such as Charminar or Dilsukhnagar, despite a KBR Park. With obliteration of KBR Park, it will be impossible for super sensitive people in costly homes in the vicinity to stay here. If and when the SRDP is completed, and during construction of flyovers, dust levels and particulate matter in the air is likely to multiply, with increase in automobile traffic.
Be that as it may, who will bear the cost of SRDP, whole of Rs.25,000 crores, as per initial estimates? Will it be the road users, tax payers of Hyderabad, or Telangana population? And, who will benefit? With environmental, ecological and economical costs being distributed on the hapless people, who may not see these roads and junctions (like ORR these roads will be reserved for high-end automobiles), one would wonder in whose interest the SRDP is being implemented.
Protesters of KBR Park to get wider support have to widen their objective. Their agitation should go beyond protection of some trees in the buffer zone of KBR Park. It should encompass:
- saving KBR Park as a unit, and not just a few trees.
- protesting against commercial constructions and public infrastructure development together, in KBR Park
- question SRDP as a project and fait accompli, and ask for alternative options
- ask for open space policy in Hyderabad city and
- build advocacy campaign for decentralised, regional development.
Citizens should argue against Hyderabad-centric public investments. With a larger agenda, protesters against tree cutting in KBR Park would have larger support from citizens across Hyderabad and a long term action that ensures justice, fairness, equity and sustainability in relation to usage and protection of natural resources in and around Hyderabad.