These are some musings and thoughts about what keeps me restless, and what my experiences have been, from a little journey of an organisation that I work with to make our villages a better place. I have put my perspectives in black and white as to what muddles my peace.
I shall speak of what I have witnessed happening at large – things we are all quite aware of – and then how these phenomena have affected my village, a hamlet about 100 km from Hyderabad.
Each of us has observed a huge transition in the our lifestyle in our short life span – from cycle rickshaws to autos to bikes and cars; from public phones to land lines and pagers to mobile phones and now 3G; from long queues for almost everything to almost every service brought to our doorstep; from embarrassing levels of illiteracy and life expectancy to decent access to education & primary health care; from subjugation to empowerment, of women, of the poor and of the oppressed classes. Though a lot more needs to be done in each of these spheres, I have seen worthwhile progress in my village. But then, there is something that is secretly and gradually destroying peace there. The following is what is evident to me. To corroborate my views, I have attached snapshots from recent articles published in respectable newspapers, mostly, the Hindu, The Indian Express and The Guardian.
Shifting Away From Sustainable Living
I have seen a tremendous shift from sustainable living to unregulated rampant guzzling of natural resources. This is pervasive in cities, towns and villages.
To live in harmony with nature, what we consume from nature’s basket should ultimately reach the basket once again, in the same form as it was consumed, or as an acceptable variant. This rule applies to water, air, carbon, and everything else we consume. Any detour in this cycle will be catastrophic. As I write this, the catastrophes are happening.
As an example, consider the changing seasons. The untimely rains in August in the Deccan right under our noses have destroyed yields over 1 lakh acres, leaving farmers distraught.
It is indeed distressing to see that the farmers bear the brunt for what is largely not their sin, quite analogous to punishing a helpless bystander for no fault of his. This is but just one such instance. My village has also been at the receiving end of the rains.
I am convinced that the biggest challenge to humanity in our lifetime would be to undo the proliferating climate change. And what is ridiculous is our nonchalance towards this demon, which has done some irreparable damage already. It is exasperating to see people and governments whipping themselves into a frenzy about climate change and yet not doing enough.
Global warming is now pervasive, and this is what is happening to the air we (and other living beings included that we conveniently ignore) breathe:
The carbon we consume via burning of vehicular fuel and thermal power generation, and the greenhouse gases thus emitted, are unmitigated. The released carbon dioxide should be absorbed by carbon sinks and safely returned to nature’s basket. But what is actually happening? And what are these carbon sinks? These carbon sinks are predominantly trees (courtesy photosynthesis) and water bodies (courtesy dissolved CO2). Then what is wrong with these sinks – our trees and water bodies – then? Let us see.
These news reports from the Hindu and the Guardian speak a lot..
When I look at my childhood photographs, I find so many huge trees in my village and in my colony neighborhood which are missing now. I’m sure we all concur with this thought – that we have been privy to deforestation, the murder of nature, the sins which are haunting the destitute farmers.
What else is going wrong?
Where Have Sparrows Gone?
Sparrows have just vanished from the cities, and so have vultures.
An excerpt from the Indian Express (http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/The-Vanishing-Sparrow/2014/03/20/article2118626.ece):
About a decade ago, if you asked anyone what a sparrow looked like and if they’ve seen one in person, the answer would have been an affirmative. But barely anyone can sight a sparrow today, and perhaps wouldn’t recognise one even of they did.
A look at the numbers from 2005 till now show a very obvious decline in the household bird’s population. What was 21.8 per cent in 2005 dropped to a abysmal 5.03 per cent, and is even now steadily decreasing.
But while a day is set aside to at least draw attention to the sorry state of the sparrow, what of the other bird species that are also under duress?
“It is not only sparrows but also other birds which are no longer seen anymore in the city. When was the last time you saw a vulture?” questions Dr Hampaiah.
With the green cover in the city vanishing alarmingly, there has been a marked decline of insects as well, leading to high mortality rates for the house sparrow. Also, change in architecture has made our buildings an unsuitable alternative to the tree for nesting.
Pests & Pesticides
In school we are taught that birds and insects are vital for pollination and good agricultural yields. Insects and birds are also natural predators of pests. So, the fewer the birds and insects, the lesser the pollination. The disappearing biodiversity means fewer natural predators and thus more pests in the fields. The farmer is then forced to invest in the use of poisonous pesticides to control pests. These increasing expenses increase his liabilities and his loans, whose aftereffects are another story altogether.
What’s with these pesticides?
Vegetables are the noble folk of food world, loved equally by doctors and grandmothers. Vegetarians live off them and meat-eaters are told to live off them. But in Delhi, under every crunchy leaf of radish or the shiny brinjal hide dangerous amounts of pesticides that can slowly kill, shows a new study by JNU.
Pritha Chatterjee and Aniruddha Ghosal report how growers, consumers and the authorities may not even be aware of the scale of these toxins threatening people with coughs to cancer
“We had, for this study collected samples from different retailers from cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai over a period from June 2013 to May 2014,” she said.
Sehgal said there was a presence of DDT (a synthetic organic compound used as a pesticide) in 67 per cent of the tea samples.
“Use of DDT has been banned in India since 1989. Monocrotophos, termed as hazardous by the WHO was found in 27 samples. Tebufenpyrad, a pesticide not registered in India, and thus illegal was found in one sample. It can be very toxic for the liver,” she said.
The Case With Andhra Pradesh
The indiscriminate use of pesticides also pollutes the groundwater.
A recent study by a team from the civil engineering department of IIT-Delhi on the groundwater quality in the Palla-Burari region has made some alarming revelations. The water samples tested from this area contain moderately high levels of pesticides; some of them residues of long-banned pesticides, such as DDT. This region has close to 80 borewells and five Ranney wells that meet about 15% of Delhi’s water needs.
Samples were collected from 21 borewells and tested for 17 varieties of OCPs. Three samples tested positive for all 17 targeted OCPs. The most frequently occurring pesticide residues were of aldrin, a byproduct of insecticide lidane, endosulfan and even DDT. “Yes, we found residues of even pesticides that are banned. It’s worrying because these pesticides remain in the environment for very long,” said professor Atul K Mittal, who headed the study. The most commonly occurring pesticide in the water samples was aldrin.
What Else is Deforestation Causing?
The Delhi High Court has asked the Delhi government, PWD, DDA and DMRC to file detailed affidavits on the number of trees cut and number of trees planted in various areas in Delhi within a week. The order came after amicus curiae Kailash Vasdev told the Delhi High Court that over 100,000 trees were cut in the Capital between 2006-10 without any replanting to make up for the loss.
“There were 26 notified forests in the city, but very few are left now. The forest authorities gave permission to cut trees around the Ridge, due to which aquifers and water bodies have gone dry,” the amicus told the court. “Greater Noida is going to be the next victim with Delhi environment destroyed,” he warned. The court was told that short-term measures would not be effective as planning is faulty. “Delhi has only 10.2% forest cover left even though Forests Act says 30% is minimum.”
The Deccan In The Red Zone
Prof. N.H. Ravindranath of the Centre for Ecological Studies in IISc, Bengaluru, an expert in climate change and forestry said, “Climate change has three major impacts: It results in an increase in the number of pests; it causes drought, which when combined with high temperatures, causes forest fire; and it also results in the slow death of plant species which are susceptible to temperature variation, in turn affecting the animal as well as plant biodiversity of the region.”A research titled “Impact of climate change on Indian forests: a dynamic vegetation modeling approach” states that forests in Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana) will be one of the most affected in the country due to climate change and will undergo 62 per cent change. It also mentions that forests of Eastern Ghats will be one of the most affected regions along with the Western Ghats.Deforestation and degradation of forests and forest fires, both are prolific in AP and Telangana. Since 2012, more than 100 sq. km of forests have been encroached and more than 300 sq. km of forests have been degraded.Deforestation threat due to forest fires also looms large as climate change becomes more realistic. Forest fires have been on the rise over the years, from a mere 33 in 2004 to 2,021 in 2013.
The Man-Monkey Tussle: My Village, A Standing Example
My village is seeing a typical problem due to deforestation. Our neighboring villages and our own village have been invaded by thousands of monkeys, due to deforestation in the adjoining Anantagiri forest. This conflict between man and this holy animal has only added to the farmer’s woes.
As a result, we have been forced to change our cropping pattern to tackle the monkey menace. We no longer grow groundnut, tomato, chillies and legumes, fearing the monkeys, which uproot shoots and cause havoc. In the past decade, about 15 crop varieties grown conventionally in our farmlands since ages have slipped into oblivion.
We are now forced to migrate to water-intensive rice cultivation, (monkeys do not find rice inviting), unsuited to and unsustainable in the water-scarce regions of Telangana.
What can be more ironical and demoralizing than to see farmers of my village purchasing from the town market, vegetables which once flourished in their own fields?
I later learnt that we are not alone. Similar excerpts:
According to farmers and others who participated in the dharna, monkeys come in groups and destroy all standing crops, climb coconut trees and drop the nuts, uproot plants, snatch food being taken to the fields, and enter houses and take away anything in sight.
A farmer complained that he had spent Rs. 8,000-10,000 on raising corn and was expecting Rs. 20,000-25,000 or so on his crop. But half of that is now lost because of the monkeys. Another farmer said there was also a great risk to infants and children, and even to adults, as the monkeys are getting increasingly aggressive.
With the seasonal Ravi and Kharif crop having borne the brunt of the monkey menace and uncertainty looming over the winter crop, the Himachal Kisan Sabha, a farmers’ body of the Left parties, on Tuesday urged all sitting MPs of the state to raise the issue of monkey’s destroying crop, in the next session of the Parliament.
It may be recalled that the degradation of forest areas in the state is the main reason for monkeys getting closer to human settlements. In Himachal Pradesh, the worst affected areas are Shimla and its suburbs. Besides, in Palampur, Baijnath, Paprola and lower areas of Palampur, residents are fed up with the increasing monkey menace.
In the past, the administration has trapped and relocated more than 2,000 monkeys to the forests, but nearly all returned to the cities due to lack of water, vegetation and fruits in jungles.
The Other Carbon Sinks: Our Water Bodies
India, since eternity, has been a treasure trove of perennial rivers, their tributaries, freshwater lakes, canals, reservoirs, tanks and ponds. All this, apart from our invaluable coastline.
The rule of water conservation goes thus:
Running water should be made to jog,
Jogging water should be made to walk,
Walking water should be made to crawl,
And crawling water should be made to stop via dams, check dams, watersheds etc. This recharges the aquifers, and supplies water between successive monsoons.
The trees in forests, across canals, on road sides – wherever they are – do exactly this. They also prevent rapid evaporation of the groundwater in their shade area during torrid summers. But of late, the eroding forest cover is causing heavy depletion of water sources.
Rapid deforestation, indiscriminate mining, careless usage of water, indiscriminate digging of bore wells and water-intensive agriculture has depleted water table to frightening levels. Blatant release of toxic effluents, sewage, garbage and even the dumping of corpses and carcasses into rivers and lakes has now become very common. The Ganges, the Yamuna and the Hussain Sagar lake are standing examples of our deplorable levels of respect and responsibility towards lifelines we are supposed to treasure. Rarely is an Indian festival or congregation celebrated without polluting the air and water. It is high time we decide how to celebrate our Gods without polluting these very gifts of God.
Though the crack down on illegal sand mining by Koratagere police came late, it exposed the fact that unabated sand mafia had aggravated the problems of the arid zones in the district during last several years.
More shockingly, the Tuesday’s crack down revealed that sand mafia had extended its tentacles to far away places and even to Andhra Pradesh. However, the drying of seasonal rivers and the depletion of water table, which are the results of uncontrolled sand mining are yet to gain attention.
Hyderabad: Though the Central Groundwater Board has identified Hyderabad as one of the top 64 places where groundwater is over exploited, the state government has not yet taken any constructive action. With temperatures rising and the groundwater table falling, illegal drilling of borewells is going unchecked in different parts of the city.
On paper, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) lists 2,857 waterbodies in its jurisdiction. Several of them do not exist today. For instance, the Mir Jumla lake, which was located within walking distance of Charminar in Old City, is now a densely populated locality known as Talab Katta with about four lakh people, mostly from Bihar, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
Less than a month after the Ganesh idol immersions, Hussainsagar, Kapra Lake, Alwal Cheruvu, Hasmathpet Lake and other water bodies are once again being clogged with idols that have been immersed as per tradition but with no thought to the environment they pollute.
So far, 2,090 Durga idols have been immersed in the city’s lakes and 56 tonnes of Bathukamma puja material has been removed, of which 24 tonnes was cleared from Hussainsagar alone. Despite restrictions on throwing puja material into the lake, huge quantities were thrown in on October 12 and 13.
Bore Well or Death Knell?
Bore wells, pump sets and electricity have become the backbone of farming in Telangana, Vidharbha and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions, the hotbeds of farmers’ suicides. Quoting the official statistics from the National Crime Bureau, nearly 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India from 1995, predominantly in the above mentioned regions.
For instance, Musampally, a village in Nalgonda district, Telangana, has more borewells than people. With barely 2,000 acres under cultivation, it boasts of over 6,000 borewells – two to every human being. Over 85% of these wells have failed. The rest are in decline. The desperate search for water has bankrupted a once prosperous village.
The unchecked exploitation of ground water has caused havoc in Andhra Pradesh. In the beginning, this simply meant that whoever could afford a borewell got the water. It also meant the privatisation of ground water. The richer you are, the more bores you sink. The more water you collar. Until it runs out.
The reigning champ in Musampally is Byrra Reddy. The village now calls him “Borewell Reddy.” He has sunk 55 wells in 20 acres of citrus. “Of these,” he says, “49 have failed. It has been crushing.”
High failure rate
The current failure rate is extremely high. Perhaps 90 per cent or worse in some villages. “Normally, I have 35-40 labourers working for me,” says Kharat. “Now, zero. My fields are quiet. Almost all the new borewells in our village have failed.” Many older ones have run dry.
In one estimate, the State has seen at least 20,000 borewells drilled in the first three months of this year. Some officials fear the figure could be higher. “A hundred villages like Takwiki would themselves account for close to 30,000,” they point out. Even if pumps and steel pipes were purchased for only a third of Takwiki’s new bores, it means this single village spent at least Rs.25 million in 90 days from January to March. Even if all the 30,000 in the crisis districts went no deeper than 500 feet, that would have been business worth Rs.2.5 billion.
Another catch with bore wells is the total dependence on electricity to run the pump sets. In a power-deficit country like ours, even the quality of power is poor. The erratic supply and voltage fluctuations burn out the motors, compounding the expenses for repairs and replacements.
However, the bore well industry continues to thrive unchecked, and billions of rupees are minted on the corpses of the distraught peasants.
No Livestock, No Life
Another bad practice that has vitiated rural India is the utter neglect of livestock. In Telugu parlance, agriculture is paired with cattle and called “paadi-panta”, meaning “milch cattle and farming”. But although the population of cattle in the country is rising, it is predominantly restricted to dairy farms and the goshalas.
In my village, for instance, I have witnessed a very heavy decline in buffalo and cow numbers. 15 years ago, there was not a single house in my village without a couple of cows and calves in the backyard. Now, rarely do I see a cow or a buffalo. Farmers, under the influence of systematic brainwashing and false propaganda by vested interests (read: fertilizer companies), were slowly wooed into unsustainable but readily available chemical usage, and thus, sustainable but time-consuming cattle-rearing for organic manure slipped into oblivion.
Due to this utter neglect and the disappearance of livestock, there is no natural manure available. This correlates to complete dependence on chemical fertilizers, and the spiking input costs. This unrestrained use of chemical fertilizers has increased input costs of the farmer, compelling him to seek loans at higher rates. The residual salts of the fertilizers have also made the ground water table acidic, hardened the soil which shall go un-tillable in the long run.
The reckless use of pesticides has damaged certified organic farms in the region, said Mr. Cariappa, who pointed out that ginger cultivation entails changing the pH value of the soil by adding huge quantities of lime.
This makes soil highly alkaline, which, he pointed out, was devastating other crops grown subsequently.
He said some of the chemicals used by cultivators ended up in local water bodies as run-off, and polluted all life-forms in the water.
“Those that survive carry lethal concentrations of toxins that effect human and animal health in insidious and long-term ways. Last year, when the water-level in all water bodies was exceptionally low, the actual toxicity level was dangerously high. This could be attributed to the increase in ginger cultivation,” Mr. Cariappa said.
Farmers in the age group of 20 to 25 years – the rookies – neither have any connect with livestock now, nor are willing to go back to raising livestock.
The Vicious Cycle
To wrap it up, the heavy consumption of carbon and the destruction of carbon sinks by ruining our forests and water bodies is intensifying global warming and ravaging biodiversity. Neglected green cover and water sources means more soil erosion, severe water scarcity, and heavy dependence on limited power supply for irrigation. Neglected green cover and water sources also means displacement of wildlife, invasion of human habitation by animals, and an impending man-animal conflict. Also, fewer birds and insects means less pollination. Disappearing biodiversity means less natural predators and more pests in the fields.
My village has seen a palpable fall in yields due to poor pollination and growing pests as a direct consequence of disappearing biodiversity. The farmer is thus forced to use more chemical fertilizer for a better yield, and more pesticides to control pests. He is thus forced to take loans to buy urea, D.A.P. and pesticides. The input costs thus escalate, the risks and stakes are high, and then, if there’s just one bad monsoon, that very pesticide he bought with loans at high interest rates from blood-sucking money lenders, he gulps into his insides and leaves the world for good.
“ఆలి పుస్తెలమ్ముకుని అప్పు తెచ్చుకుంటివో అమ్మలాల
ఫురుగుల మందే నీకు పెరుగన్నం ఆయెనో అమ్మలాల”
goes a famous song in Telugu-speaking villages.
It translates to :
” You sold your wife’s jewellery to get a loan O’ farmer..
and now you are forced to take the food laced that very pesticide your last meal”
Maharashtra has reported 135 cases of farmers’ suicide in the Aurangabad division during a short period of the first 58 days in 2015 due to successive natural calamities and scarcity situation.
In reply to a separate question, Minister said that as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the number of suicides by persons self-employed in farming in 2012 and 2013 were 13,754 and 11,772 respectively.
Climate change, propagation of unsustainable farming practices, and unregulated consumption of natural resources are leaving farmers debt-ridden and knocking them over the edge.
When this is the plight of 830 million Indians living in villages and forests, and we have hardly done anything to mitigate the suffering of the families of 3 lakh farmers who took their lives in the past 2 decades, this menace is only continuing and burgeoning as stated below.
The Road Ahead
The most prolific traveler of our times, the man of the century, The Mahatma, had once said, “ India’s way is not Europe’s, India is not Calcutta or Bombay, India lives in its seven hundred thousand villages. ” It is high time we acknowledge this manslaughter, admit our mistakes, and brainstorm to set things in order. This poverty is the worst form of violence. It will only be rhetorical to call ourselves a democracy and a nation of peace and non-violence when a majority of our brethren are living in utter destitution and embracing death for little fault of theirs.
What We Can Do
‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. – Mahatma Gandhi.’
His words should be our slogan to live in peace with nature. We must regulate our own consumption of water, fuel and land.
Water Harvesting, saving electricity, preferring public transport are small but far-reaching initiatives we should imbibe.
“Vruksho Rakshati Rakshitaha ” meaning ” One Who Save Trees is Saved by Trees “.
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb.
Plant, nurture and safeguard as many trees as possible. We have to object to and protest any tree felling in our vicinity.
If you love pets, help a farmer adopt a cow. It will do him invaluable good. Partner with NGOs or the government agencies working on farmer issues.
Read, talk, discuss, visit and share the plight of our farmers.
Finally, let us each do our bit to see this country/world a better or at least a less discontented place than it was when we entered it.
[About the author: Karthik is a farmer by heart and a public servant by choice. He is passionate about elevating living standards in rural India, and is an avid lover of nature and an ardent proponent of going green. He works closely with Sarvodaya Mitra Mandali Trust (https://www.facebook.com/sarvamitram)]