Sunday, 25 September 2011

Nuclear Hype and Reality of Uranium Mining


First the Hype.

"During the complete fission of 1 Kg U-235, 19 billion kilo calories are released, i.e. 1 Kg uranium-235 corresponds to 2.7 million Kg coal equivalent" .

Unsurprisingly, most of this propaganda originates from the beneficiaries of nuclear industry and their government sponsors.

Now, lets work out the real numbers - simply.

Method 1:
Lets work out what it takes to get this 1 Kg of uranium-235. In nature the component of this isotope of U-235 to total Uranium is 0.7%. Thus one has to mine 1/0.7% or (1000/7) Kg of total Uranium to get  Kg of U-235. Now the typical ore richness (i.e amount of Uranium to total material mined) is 1/2000; thus the total amount of mined material is 2000x1000/7 i.e. a million/3.5 more or about 300,000 Kg of mining. Thus a rough 'nuclear' advantage is about a factor of 10, rather than the about 3 million implied.

Method 2:


Each nuclear fission reaction produces 200 MeV of energy. In comparison, a thermal reaction for example, coal burning to carbon dioxide produces about 4 eV of energy. Thus each nuclear reaction releases 50 million times more energy compared to a chemical reaction. If we were to compare burning a tonne of coal, and fuel extracted from a tonne of Uranium ore( i.e a 3.5/million tonne), we again get nuclear to thermal advantage as

(3.5/million)x(12/235)x(50 million) = about 10!

Here the second term is the ratio of the atomic weights of carbon to Uranium and is a measure of atoms present per kilo of each material that will participate in thermal or nuclear reaction. Last term is the extra energy released in a nuclear fission compared to carbon burning.

Down Sides of Uranium Mining and the factor of ten nuclear advantage?

First of all, mining Uranium is unlike any other mining known to man.  An ore with 0.05% U is radioactive; even after  Uranium extraction, the remnant ore is still substantially radioactive. Although the uranium ore in geologic structures is usually stable, the mining processes release radioactive materials.  Particularly harmful are the acids or alkalies used to extract the mineral (via leaching) at the site itself, since these react with the ore material producing highly hazardous substances that infiltrate the aquatic ecosystems, causing irreparable environmental damage. Further, Uranium production is highly energy and water intensive.

Before considering any uranium mining, it is also necessary to consider the more obvious down sides of any nuclear power program, during operation, waste disposal, and the enormous,  unforgivable risk posed to life in case of an event or accident.

Current Affairs:


Recently, there has been a great deal of excitement and furor over the discovery of "Massive Deposits of Uranium in Andhra Pradesh with up to 150,000 tonnes of Uranium Ore deposits. This ore is of poor quality, and insufficient to meet the needs of our nuclear program. Yet with a typically pompous arrogance, our government is marching ahead, acquiring agricultural lands for conversions to cess-pools of toxic and radio- active waste, impervious to large public protests or outcry - all to combat Nation's 'future energy threat'.

It is high time we took over our Future, our Energy, and understood the real Threat to our Security.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Responding to UID

On Sept. 15, 2011, RS Sharma, Director General and Mission Director of UIDAI published an op-Ed in The Hindu. The following is my response to his article:

Need for identification to provide social welfare need not involve the rigors, expense and hazards of relying on technologically challenging, physically intrusive de-duplication scheme that is promised to us by UIDAI. 

While there  is no penal consequence to being Aadhar-less, it is increasingly becoming a requisite in many places; Maharashtra requires its employees to have UIDAI number to draw their salaries. The situation is much worse for the poor. The enrollment process is arbitrary and necessarily incomplete for the urban destitutes, migratory work force, vast population of the internally displaced persons, and also for the needy in remote and far flung areas. How the UIDAI aims to be an 'aadhar' for the unreachable, non-addressed, mobile sections of the society, who are also its most needy, is unclear. Further, tying up social welfare programs like NREGA and BPL provisions with UIDAI is not only unfair, but also cruel under these circumstances.

US and UK provide ample ID and benefits without requiring full(fool-)proof techno interventions against fraud or duplication. 
These examples cannot be ignored since such biometrically reliant UID systems were considered unfeasible (on account of margins of errors, amongst other reasons) even in these more technologically advanced nations, which are dealing with far smaller populations.
 
The poor in India, the labor class, old and malnourished have severe problems in biometrics measurements and this is well documented and also acknowledged by the authority. Rigorous and scientific feasibility studies to assess the margins of errors in biometrics have however not been conducted and the 'exception handling mechanism' in case of failures is yet to be disclosed. SSN scheme as in US, or a ration-card number in India might be sufficient if the primary interest is in providing social benefits. 

That the middle class of India is increasingly technologically proficient cannot be used to mandate UIDAI with ill defined, unregulated and enormous authority to access, appropriate and utilise highly private, personalised, complex data sets of our entire population (as defined by them). That this data system is also highly complex and susceptible to errors, human and technological, qualifies the program for substantial worry and minute scrutiny.

Additional concerns about UIDAI stem from its lack of legal sanction or sanction of law;  undisclosed, large and apparently elastic budget funded by taxpayers; its ties to Natgrid; safety, utilisation, and restrictions about sharing the data set. An idea that has recently taken hold of some of our imaginations, in reaction to elaborate UIDAI scheme, is to universalise basic rights to all citizens of this nation including food, water, shelter, education, health and security as a fundamental right garunteed by the constitution - and without getting an iris scan.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Seditious on Wheels


It was around 9am in the morning. I was in a second class compartment on Jaipur express, headed back towards home i.e. Bangalore. The train hurtled at a heady speed with loud clangs over rhythmic roar; kaleidoscopic greens and browns rushed past the open windows. It was monsoon time. And, I was full of excitement and hidden laughter at what I was about to do.


Gowru and I were returning from a national meet of People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), held in Jaipur. Recently PUCL had launched a nationwide campaign of collecting a million signatures from across the country to support of its petition of repealing the Sedition Law to be presented in the winter session of the Parliament. Gowru and I had decided to inform, educate and seek support for this signature campaign on this train.  We had some empty sheets of paper, a long lined notebook, a couple of pamphlets with additional information,a few copies of the petition itself, a few pens etc. We intended to be seditious - that is, proclaim disaffection towards a law of this land, which criminalizes verbal or vocal expression of disaffection towards the State. Our stand was simple - we were free and would not allow ourselves to be subjugated by a defunct old relic of the British Raj - the law of Sedition, IPC 124(a).

The results first - we had an incredible success! Over the next day and a half, we collected more than a thousand signatures - from a variety of people, rich, poor, young, old, men, women, educated to those with absolutely no skills in reading or writings, from migratory labor to IT professionals. We roamed the entire length of the train and got signatures from ticket collectors (TTs), staff of the pantry car, security officials. With each and every adult on this train we sat down, made eye contact, smiled, spoke in great earnestness and sincerity on issues of freedom, right to expression, issues of democracy and its challenges, and the ideals of a truly free society. We spoke up against fears, collective good, the struggle and satisfaction of a righteous act. We touched on subjects of development, and its sacrifices - and those who bear the burden of this development. We spoke and people listened, interacted, expressed, communicated - showed anger, laughed, pondered and invariably signed. Many wanted to support the campaign on internet (http://repealseditionlaw.in/), some others also wanted to become PUCL members or start their own new PUCL chapters.

The exercise had turned out to be far more than just an act of collecting signatures. It was a lesson for me in the high value of human relations, and in the power of expressing rational free thought. We were uniformly received with courtesy, openness and warmth. Many thanked us well for our efforts, some even insisted on feeding us. I learnt that I would never again write off the people of this nation as less intelligent, apathetic, subservient, self-serving or lacking imagination. I glimpsed the enormous possibility for change and saw first hand the scope of hope. In open engagement with hundreds of people, I found myself lacking to not have known them better before - to have not bothered to really know Us.

On State of Our Affairs

दम की बात

मुझे शर्म है कि
यह दशा है अपने देश की-

दबी सांसो से दबी आवाज़ 
में गरज़ने का दम नहीं

दबे सच को आकाश 
चीरने का दम नहीं

नहीं बारिश की जोश में
दीवालों को पिघलाने का दम

कायरो की बस्ती में 
नूर को बसने का भी दम नहीं

आज कल रातो में तारो
को चमकने का भी दम नहीं

-------------------------

Monday, 22 August 2011

I Witness - A Revolution Brewing

I am just returning from a protest at IISc. This by itself is a highly unusual phenomena. IISc invariably lives on periphery of real life, impervious to events regional, national or global. Only cricket warrants a more engaged response with soft conversations over lunch at Faculty Club or over filter coffee at Prakruti.

Instead, today's candle light vigil in support of India Aginst Corruption, and a more viable Jan Lokpal rang out with shouts of 'Vande Matram', ' Jai Hind', ' Anna - Hum Tumahre Sath Hai'. A couple of hundred members of the IISc community participated in a strong show of solidarity and support to a movement that has, over last many months, grasped the imagination of the educated, comfortable, upwardly mobile middle class.

Corruption in India is all encompassing and also deeply entrenched into the very fabric of our socio-political life, and our very bureaucratised governance.  It affects life at all socio-economic levels and from individual to societal, from micro to a very macro level, driving everything from small sums shelved out to the police by  homeless, to be allowed to sleep on streets... to the well publicised 2G scam and the CWG in Delhi 2011. It is one systemic societal ill that is truly all pervasive, irrespective of class, caste, religion, gender, region...I think I have it all covered. Corruption directs our development, and governs our goals and priorities - at all levels from individual to state to national.

Anna Hazare brought the issue to the centre stage of our national life, in sharp focus, and under scrutiny of a brilliant limelight. People woke up and responded to the call for India Against Corruption and poured out into streets and central spaces - like at IISc today.

Yet the story is not this simple - no story in India is ever simple. To a wave of euphoric, increasing and resolute movement behind Anna Hazare, or really just the idea of a Corruption Free India, there is a swelling tide of clamoring voices - against this whole movement and its validity, value and its authority to represent all the varied factions, hues, colors, communities of this mela, that we call India. It is an opposition to largest protests seen in recent history; directed not against the concept of a Corrupt-Free India - but against the mere mortals who have chosen to take up this battle. No one in India is saying today " Corruption is good for this country, lets keep it.." What people are saying in a variety of ways is a combination of true/untrue, relevant/irrelevant, and trivial to deeply derogatory and definitely uncalled for.

" Anna is RSS and the movement is prominently Hindutva, and right winged;
"Kiran Bedi advertises fairness creams";
"IAC movement is Upper Caste, Upper Class, Urban People, corporate media, religious right wing etc."
"Is Anna with Irom? and what about all those other equally or more relevant fast-unto-deaths?"

There is great suspicion and nervousness around the Jan Lokpal and its short coming. So to all the detractors of Jan Lokpal bill in its current form, or to critics of Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi or real questionables like Ramdev or Sri Sri...here is my take on all of this:


The question is not whether Anna has done wrong in his long past, or whether Kiran Bedi has made some lucrative choices - none of these are even relevant. When a fool like Ramdev grasps an opportunity or Shri Shri rushes to Ramlila grounds - it is unnecessary to focus on these people or their histories. The primary question is whether this particular battle needs to be fought and should it have all our support, if not active participation.

Further, Anna did not create the movement - the support his cause garnered did. It found resonance within a certain class/caste/types of people. Anna chose the cause - if this had not struck a sympathetic chord with our  public, Anna could have himself fasted unto death and no one would have cared. So we can only blame ourselves, the citizens of this nation, for letting Irom Sharmila fast this long or for the fasting-to-death of Swami Nigamananda in trying to save Ganga.

We have become very adept at 'othering' in India - the question is usually not what others or the government do or not do, the question is what did we do when witnessing a wrong, a fight against wrong, or a fight for right ? fight for justice? Did we stand up in solidarity, re-prioritise our individual comforts and responsibilities? did we step out into the streets?


On the issue of Jan Lokpal, in a recent talk by Prashant Bhushan in Bangalore, I got a distinct feeling that all was not yet cast in stone with the proposed bill. The only way to change it for a better, more secular, democratic Jan Lokpal would be for all diverse communities, that are avoiding the movement because of its present constituency, to jump in, join, entrench, interfere and demand that their concerns (legitimate or otherwise) be addressed. Being Anti-Corruption is not proprietorial to either Anna Hazare, his current set of supporters or to any other set of people who choose to appropriate this cause...[just like the anti-nuclear movement at Jaitapur did not become BJP despite strong RSS backing for the people's cause]. However, like any movement, its nature will be shaped by those that participate, appropriate and formulate it. Thus it would make most sense for Dalit movements, slum organisations, Christian, Muslim and other minority relegious outfits, left leaning political parties and a variety of organisations to join and add variety, chaos, diversity to this movement and by doing so, change its course.

Finally, it occurs to me that, as in all other commentaries or issues, " What is without is also within". We as a nation are corrupt, corruptible or envious of others' opportunities to be corrupt. Lets face it guys - our politicians, bureaucrats, police, legal systems, administrators are all a subset of this set that we call us - and our nation. An immoral govt. would not arise from a pure and moral society nor a moral governance last in an immoral nation. So we are it! Lets not constantly shy from taking responsibility, become stone pelters at others' blames and faults - lets just seek to view who we are and join a revolution which is long overdue - both within and without.




Thursday, 28 July 2011

Leaving POSCO site, Odisha

दम की बात

मुझे शर्म है कि-
दबी सांसो कि दबी आवाज़ को गरजने का दम नहीं
दबे सच को आकाश चीर डालने का दम नही
नहीं गीतों में दीवारों को पिघला देने का दम
कायरो कि बस्ती में नूर को बसने का  दम नहीं
आज कल रातो में तारो को चमकने का भी दम नहीं!
----------

Embers of imagination light a million stars in an infinite universe.
----------

Irrepressible and indomitable nature of hope keeps darkest nights at bay.
-----




Wednesday, 20 July 2011

BS Yeddyurappa versus Navin Patnaik

It almost hurts to say anything half decent about this State's CM - and yet I must. Especially so as I set out for Odisha and contemplate the situations there.

I am headed to the POSCO site in Odisha. Over the last six years, the inhabitants of  a few villages there have challenged the might of a State which has used all its means to brutally evict villagers from their lands. The police batallions have shot and - killed, maimed, injured; ruthlessly lathi-charged unarmed citizens; and felled trees of forests integral to their livelihoods. And all this so that the State may hand over these lands to POSCO - a Korean company that wants to put up a giant steel plant here.

It is a battle between the Davids and Goliaths of the modern world - of small people and their ordinary lives disrupted by the mighty nexus of corporate greed and corrupt state which will stop at nothing to 'develop' this nation.

Now all have taken to battleground - men and women, young children and infirm old. They sit face to face with police platoons, protecting their lands, lives, and right to their own destiny from monsters of others' greeds.

As I head out to Odisha tomorrow, I wonder if Navin Patnaik realises the gravity of his actions? Of the suffering he inflicts on his people? Can wrong means ever justify any end? even an arguably right one? Whose interests are our leaders elected to safeguard? Ours or Theirs?

Then it occurs to me that the recent statements by BS Yeddyurappa on 'no forceful evictions'  are highly unusual, unexpected and hopeful for a new trend in the relation of a State with its people. That BSY has backed out of having a POSCO plant come up in Mundargi taluk, Karnataka - where substantial numbers of farmers are unwilling to relinquish their lands - bodes well even for the nature of our development.

It really does not matter whether God, Seer, strategy or good sense lead him to these pronouncements. That he did it is enough - for now.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Karnataka State Human Rights Commission

A couple of days back, on our regular visit to the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission(KSHRC), Gowru and I picked up our copies of their 2009-2010 annual report. The day was very unusual. We had a long and sympathetic audience with SHRC chairperson Justice Nayak - I mean, the meeting was long and we were sympathetic to the plight of this man, who shouldered this august commission. It was apparent that with a modest staff and only recommending authority, his task was not easy.  We sat listening to him talk about the more than 5000 suo-moto cases that he had  filed, his fond association with PUCL stalwart like Kannabiran, his values on individual rights, his hopes with the nation's youth, his despair at the state of disrepair of the entire nationhood and its fast crumbling edifice. He spoke, intensely, passionately, in recognition of our kindred spirit; we had once again turned up to appeal to him, this time on behalf of beggars and destitutes, the most impoverished members of the society.

A simple perusal of their annual report showed more than a doubling in the annual  number of petitions received by the Commission from all districts of Karnataka, including Bangalore Urban/Rural. In fact in the March 2009-2010 period more than 8,800 complaints had been received by KSHRC.It seemed that an increasing number of people, organisations and communities were turning to our Human Rights' Commissions for directives, recommendations and solutions, to problems inflicted on them by the State, its police force and a burdened/ politicized judiciary.

When systems set up to uphold and enforce provisions of individual rights and civil liberties, enshrined in our constitution, fail and instead turn against the citizens whose interests they are established to serve, then the human rights' commissions become people's last frontier for hope or justice. While doing so, we fail to consider the strengths or weaknesses, intrinsic or deliberate, of such organisations. We also fail to grasp the enormity of our expectations - that we expect a small independent body functioning out of a office to redress the ills inflicted by a repressive state on human rights of any of its subjects. The investigative team at SHRC comprises a IGP and a DSP. That is the extent of its army - its strength. This and and an understanding of justice of its chairperson.

Today, I sat with a yellow highlighter and went through their annual report, page by page. All rulings (with an exception of a couple) with KSHRC recommendations end with 'awaiting complaince' or 'complaince report not received'...from the IGP, from Principal Secretary (Home Dept.), from Law and Commerce etc. etc. The annual report is one long compendium of justice served, but not implemented, from a castrated system established as a convenient cover by the State - to be ignored, deliberately and with impunity. How and who takes a state to task when it commits a continued series of wrongs against its citizens, improvises an impotent commission to verify the veracity of these wrongs, empowers it to rule on these wrongs  but finally ignores all its orders? What is one to do in a case like this?

In a recent misguided instance in Bangalore, a bunch of human rights organisations got together to vilify the HRC in general, and KSHRC in particular. Several examples were cited as to the ineffectiveness of this organisation. Some even went as far as to recommend abolishing the commission which served little purpose.
While one can understand and sympathize with frustrations and failures of dealing with SHRC, this is playing directly into the hands of a State which would have us redirect our angst against such a puny organisation; have it become the scapegoat of State's giant failures, malpractices and repressive actions.

The correct question to ask is why are so many cases being filed with SHRC? As Prabhakar Sinha, PUCL national President says "for wrongs committed within a state, we do have a giant complex machinery in place to approach and expect resolutions".  However, for wrongs committed by the State, we have limited recourse for seeking redemption or justice. National and State Human Rights Commission, despite their limited powers, were established to address and check misuse of powers, especially by the state. So a more appropriate question would be on how to empower HRCs to carry out their duties more effectively? How can SHRC's ruling be ensured of implementation? We need our commissions for precisely the roles that they were created for i.e. to provide independent checks on misuse of powers by State; for this, these commissions have to be strengthened, and empowered first, because who else will work in the interest of the citizens and at a minimum  say " A Wrong was Committed?"

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cycles or Schools

Recently, a friend was looking for a cycle for her domestic worker's daughter. I told her of the govt. scheme that gave free cycles to girl kids in schools. But this apparently comes with a caveat. The offer is only open to girls that attend the govt. schools. Now, even my friend's help knew that the govt. schools don't help much by the way of teaching. Her daughter goes to a private school, while she toils away in many homes,  as a domestic help, so that her girl-child might have a chance of a better future.

So, whats this business of supporting govt. schools, or getting supported only-if with a govt. school. Why a package deal? Why does any parent have to choose between a cycle or a school?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Nuclear Numbers and Statistics of Disaster

India's current capacity is 4,385 MW from its 20 nuclear reactors in five locations. It proposes to raise this contribution to 20,000 MW by 2020 and to a further 63,000 MW by 2032 - greater than twelve fold increase in a 21 year period. It will achieve this by an accelerated growth of its civil nuclear program, increasing both the number of sites and also the number of reactors per site. According to the World Nuclear Association, this increase is planned as follows:
                             Reactors    Power               Date  
------------------------------------------------------------
Under Construction       5       3650 MW          2012        
Planned                       18      15,700 MW        2021        
'Firmly' Proposed          39      45,000 MW        2023      
------------------------------------------------------------
With the increase in number of nuclear reactors comes the associated increase in risk of nuclear incidence. These have been calculated globally, but can also be done for the Indian scenario. Following the methodology given here, the probability of a severe nuclear accident (INES greater than 5) is got by assuming, conservatively, that there have been 4 such nuclear events over 15000 reactor-years for the 433 reactors operating world wide.  We get probability of one severe accident per reactor year as q=4/15000. The mean(m) number of accidents for any reactor number(N) over a duration (y) is then

m=qNy

Mean number of accident, m, expected over a 20 year period (y) is given below; p(>1) is the probability of atleast 1 severe accident in percentage over the same 20 years, following the method outlined in the reference.

For India Reactors             N              m             p>1       Yrs(m=1)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Existing                            20             0.1           9.5%        187
+under contruction             25             0.13         12%         150
+ planned                          43             0.23         20%          87
+ proposed                        82             0.44         36%          45
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thus the chance of a severe nuclear accident in India over a twenty year period is about 10% right now and increases systematically to a substantial risk  of 20% in the next 10 years, to high risk of 36% when all those proposed are operating, by 2023. Another way of expressing the same is to calculate, how many years it would take, on average, for one severe nuclear accident in India (i.e. for m=1, y=1/Nq). Currently, on average, we expect to have one such accident per 187 years; this number drops rapidly as we increase our arsenal of nuclear reactors, to an expectancy of once every 45 years, if all the proposed nuclear power reactors were to be built.

There are two caveats to bear in mind. The expert proponents of nuclear power would claim that the new generations of nuclear reactors come with advanced safety provisions and the number used of 4 accidents per total history(15000 reactor years) of all nuclear generators is an overestimate for future generation reactors. True; but accidents like Fukushima take place, not due to lack of safety features, but because of the unforseen that occured. In case of Fukushima, it was the failure of all 13 backup generators. Accidents happen not due to lack of preparation for the imagined, but because the un-imagined also occurs. Statistics, when used in risk analyses, give us an average estimate of most likely events.

Secondly, it is necessary to be aware that the cumulative risks for nuclear reactors grouped together in a particular location, increases the likelihood of simultaneous multiple event as in Fukushima. This has not been included in the calculation.

To summarise, India runs an ever increasing risk of a major nuclear disaster, as it seeks to foolishly exploit the potential of nuclear energy. This, when we have an almost infinite solar potential of 6000 million GWh of energy of every year shining freely upon us!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Digging Nuclear - Figures from a Stats Site

Looking for probability calculations for nuclear accidents, I stumbled upon these - made post Fukushima. The calculations are based on 19 nuclear incidences of various INES levels over 59 years and assumes a poisson distribution of events. Detailed explanations are given in the site itself.

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Note that the above are already 'wrong' to the extent that we have had 4 INES 7 accidents in 25 years, or at least 2 such accidents (if we call all three related Fukushima events as 1 accident) in the last 25 years. So, the above can at best be taken as a conservative and a minimum event estimates.

Meanwhile, "The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd has ruled out the probability of the calamitous events at the quake and tsunami-ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant getting replicated" (ref).

For me, the question no longer is "Should India go nuclear?" This seems the right time to ask" Can the world afford to go nuclear?"

Nuclear Expansion and Human Costs: 10% of India at Risk

Continuing an order-of-magnitude calculation for India based on population densities around nuclear plants, I can estimate, roughly, the population at risk due to proximity to a nuclear plant. For a 50 mile (ie 80km) evacuation radius around the current and proposed nuclear power plants in India, I essentially get an identical plot as in the first post on this issue except each number is 16 times larger ( from a squared area factor between 20 and 80 km radius). A sum total of all these amounts to a whopping 122 million  i.e. 10%  of India's current population. This is the population living at risk of a nuclear incidence.

Are we willing to risk so many?

Open Letter to PM, EM,CM



Re: Police Destruction for Forced Land Aquistion in POSCO Affected Communities


Dear Mr. Minister,
It is a matter of utter shame that I write to you as a citizen of this nation. I am referring to the large scale destruction of beetle vines by police in Polang village under supervision by district administration of Jagatsingpur. This after State's assurance to media that there would be no land acquisition on 18th May.

Are we reduced to this, that those we elect to govern us, trample individual rights in favor of a profiteering, corporatised development? What and who determines the right to life and livelihood of our poor and or its sacrifice? and can lives lost and communities destroyed be compensated by any national, financial aspirations like increasing our GDP?

As a citizen, I only require this of you: that you uphold the constitution and respect the individual human rights written into it, as your primary sacred duty. That you solemnly consider , in brotherhood, that the poor also have a right to life and choice; our national needs of development can then be tackled collectively, without demanding too large a sacrifice from a few. With urgency I demand that you remove all police force from the Balithutha area, and revoke the section 144  imposed on the area, immediately. Forceful land acquisition, without the approval of palli sabha, constitutes a violations of FRA 2006 and is condemned.

You have the authority to set right, the series of ills set into motion by you personally. I request you to urgently do so.

Sincerely,
Arati Chokshi

Dr. Arati Chokshi
Bangalore
080-2360-2466

Monday, 16 May 2011

Yellow Yellow Dirty Fellow


Gugi, or Gogi as it is usually referred, in Gulbarga district of Karnataka, lies in the Bhima river basin, surrounded by hillocks on three sides. 75% of the district's area is used for agriculture with Krishna and Bhima rivers draining this district. The main agricltural products of the district are Jowar, Bajra, Tur, Gram, Sunflower, Groundnut,and Sugarcane. The above 'clickable' image is created using Google Earth; red line is 1km scale.

In this verdant food bowl, around Gogi, man has found Uranium. Aerial surveys and follow up mining explorations have revealed a deposit of 4000 tonnes of high grade Uranium ore. Of this, every year, 1.5 lakh tonnes of the ore will be trucked to Hyderabad 250 km away to yield 150 tonnes of uranium from the region. 

Two things are to be noted - that even in case of a rich deposit, every kilogram of ore gives you just 1 gram of uranium; which means that 4 million tonnes, or 4 billion kilos, over the lifetime of 15 years of this reserve will be trucked through the fields, across rivers and basins, forests, hills and living, thriving agricultural communities for processing. In its wake will follow ground water contamination, radiation pollutions, exposures, deformities, cancers and deaths..all well documented side-effects of uranium mining.

Local residents in Gogi are fearful and oppose the plant, as they should, given the poor safety directives and implementation record of UCIL( Uranium Corporation of India Ltd.) Future plans include exploiting Uranium from the entire Bhima belt between Sedam to Muddebihal, about 200 km apart. Yet, these reserves are likely to remain but drops in our nuclear energy bucket. Currently India produces 450 tonnes of Uranium per year.
It needs 7000 tonnes per year for its nuclear rollout. While India claims uranium reserves of 115,000 tonnes, a realistic estimate is more like 73,000 tonnes. That is, if we were to exploit ALL of India's uranium reserves, it might keep us going for about 10 years..only 10 years. So we are looking towards going from oil dependency to nuclear fuel dependency over the coming decades. Yet, none of this is preventing our government from its grandoise predictions, plannings and active implementations towards a very bright nuclear future to cover up the vast environmental destruction, human havoc, irreversible wreckage that it promises to leave in its wake.

I have now taken to singing a ditty from my childhood " Yellow, Yellow, Dirty fellow.." for the yellow uranium cakes, yellow cesspools, yellow jaundiced greed..dead yellow, dirty yellow, to cover green fields, clear rivers, forested hills, blue skies..I sing this ditty and I fight!

God Save My Country.






Sunday, 15 May 2011

Who Needs more POWER

Here is my basic premise. India's energy consumption, like most of its other resource utilisation, is to a very large extent decoupled from meeting the needs of its masses. In India, as many as 400 million people have no access to electricity. And while the 8.8% growth in our GDP is celebrated and closely linked to a correlated growth in energy demands, it derives from active 'consumption' by the rich and the middle class,leaving the masses mostly outside its reach. Yet it is the poor who most often are forced to sacrifice for the country's inflated development needs and aspirations.


When the State uses force and fires on its own citizens to enforce compliance of the proposed national goals, it is time to review what drives these goals, who benefits and who pays. It is still with me, that within India's democratic framework, police - under state's authority - have a right to fire, on people protesting against an upcoming nuclear facility in their region; I am speaking of Jaitapur - although this holds for POSCOs, Green Hunts, and other developments, MoUs and projects that mandates a democratic state to eliminate democracy and shoot down its own citizens who are not willing to sacrifice quite-so-much for national good.

So...lets look at some numbers and figures.

The figure below shows the sector wise usage of electricity in India, with a largest consumption by industrial, followed by the domestic sector.



The source of this figure is given here. Lets bear in mind, to a large extent India's industry, and the 'questionable' fruits of this industry, remain outside the scope of rural India and its masses.The next set of figures show the predicted growth in each sector, and the total projected increase in the demand for electricity. It is seen that industrial growth far exceeds in total consumption and growth the total electricity demand made by any other sector. The figure is taken from here.





The above figures further show that due to the steeper rate of the industrial growth, this sector will form an increasing component of our energy requirements versus the domestic or the agricultural sectors. Thus the large power projects, nuclear, hydro, thermal or otherwise seem to be largely and a growing requirement of the industrial sector in India. Another way of seeing this effect is that the projected increase in total electricity (by just under a factor of 4) over a 40 year period is dominated by the projected growth in the industrial sector by a factor of 4.

The MoEF document (Fig 6) shows that while the ratio of urban to total population in the country for 2011 is about 30%, the GWh/year usage of electricity in rural sector is at least 2.5 lower compared to the urban consumption. The same document gives a breakup of the urban usages where the largest growth in the domestic electricity consumption is projected to be from air conditioners and heaters, compared to lighting, microwaves, televisions.Thus all our key markers, the GDP, its growth, electricity consumption, are preferentially stacked to benefitting the industrialised, urban and upper class, consuming communities.

Now the question is 'Why should those least benefited by development pay for the most benefited class?' , especially when this payment required, in the name of the larger common good, is with individual and community life, livelihood, land, water, health? Just so that the  rich and needy-others may have more cars, air conditioners, glitzy malls, wider roads, airports...to name but a few? By whose rule is this right or fair? And when will the benefits to our larger, democratic numbers dictate the path of development chosen by the those 'elected' to govern - on all our behalf?

Friday, 29 April 2011

Desperate to Nuclearize?


The above clickable image shows the earthquakes in the vicinity of Jaitapur, Ratnagiri District, Maharashtra. The red bar is a 50 km line. The largest circle on bottom right is a 6.0 quake, while the smaller circle near Jaitapur, on coast, refers to a 4.3 magnitude quake. Note that the epicentre of the Sendai earthquake that created the Tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima disaster was 130 km east of Sendai. The above image was created using google earth with the earthquakes layer on.

Now, my question is , if we are so very desperate for nuclear energy, shouldn't we at least cover our behind first? 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Nuclear Expansion and Human Costs: Part 2

Even as we talk about population densities and affected populace, here is an interesting link (via Atul) that talks about evacuation radii for Fukushima. Now putting this on Figure 1 of the previous blog.


Jan Gan Man and Jingoism

Last Sunday I went to the movies with my family. After a barrage of sleek, fast paced ads selling everything from love, car, condoms and food, from a mind blowing display of the theatre's latest sound technology and comfortable, reclining seats, food and beverage service inside to trailers of future movies, suddenly....

there is.....

Jan Gan Man Adhinayaka Jaya Hai ...

shuffling, fumbling, awkward off-loadings of Cokes, popcorns, masala chips; stopped mid-way mobile chats and sms queues,furtive glances at the neighbors to figure out how to respond, and by first stanza the assembly is up; quickly swallowing the last pop-corn mouthful or a long secretive slurp from the tall, cold, paper-jar of Pepsi. Then in various stages of ADD (attention deficient disorder), in nonchalance of discomfort, or slouched
uncaring disarray - a few erect old men in attention - the assembly of mainly rich youth, and a few middle-aged-older-people, like me, make it through a media show that was played out in front of us on a giant screen, Dolby surround sound and flitting images...

cold, white, towering mountains, snow blizzards, men in uniforms, tanks pointing to skies, guns, a solitary figure struggling to erect a flag - tri-colored, luminescent,  in a hostile, gray, cold peak against a gray brooding sky...flag erected, men salute, a tiny smile, music throbs, files of tanks again...Jaya Hai, Jaya Hai, Jaya Hai!

I watch and understand and hurt...who is doing this to all the foolish, young and naive that stare at it? what signals is this sending and what is getting manufactured inside to allow consent to all the horrors outside? outside the INOX cinema halls? outside on streets? in jungles where many men in fatigues and better guns hunt out few men, also in fatigues and other guns? within and across borders all over our northern to north-easterns to east-easterlies...men again in similar fatigues to the brave heroes on screen gun down children, rape women, destroy generation after generations of youths, middled aged, old, ...life itself. Men like men on screen, kill. They are trained to kill - for us - the whole nation of the comfortable, privileged class who buy out buggers like these so they leave their homes, hearths, hearts, wife, children, parents, communities, to go plunge a flag on a solitary mountain top and then run wild, amok, mad with their trained-hate that and a life that they have been trained to give up. I wonder and I grieve and I wonder again, at what the Jan Gan Man really means - what was the intention of this national anthem, what composts of ideals, dreams and hopes lead to flowering of this song? Historical context of its origin seems irrelevant, compared to its later choice to represent a new nation and its aspirations as the national song...I suppose the song (whose meaning and intention I am now exploring for the first time) is addressed to the Thou - the Nation? Here is an official english translation:

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India's destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind,
Gujarat and Maratha,
Of the Dravida and Orissa and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is
chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.
They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
Thou dispenser of India's destiny.
Victory, victory, victory to thee.

-------
What does the above have to do with the immense and tough show of chauvinism to which we all stood in mute inattention? What does it have to do with anything?
My daughter turned to me at the end of it as said "Cool - that was nice". Nice?? NICE??


I turn to her as we sit down and say "lets talk about it later" and the movie begins....

Nuclear Expansion and Human Costs

The recent Tsunami wrecked havoc in Sendai, Japan, only to be overshadowed, apocalyptically, by the subsequent nuclear episodes in the reactors of  the Fukushima's power plant. Fukushima is still not fully under control today, more than five weeks after the incidence, and it will take a further nine months for its complete shut down.

Meanwhile India continues, undeterred, with its expansionist nuclear policy to increase the nuclear energy generation almost five fold over the next decade, and almost fifteen fold over the next forty years!

With the provisional results of the Census 2011 trickling in, this is a good time to assess the extent human damage, in case of an Indian-Fukushima, and ask whether India is really capable or willing to risk the burden of a similar nuclear incidence. The figure below shows the most conservative estimate for evacuation numbers within a 20 Km radius around each of the power plants, in operation (red) or proposed (blue), using the population density estimates for districts using Census data. Of these, for Kaiga, Kakrapar, Rawatbhata, and Jaitapur, Bhavnagar, Mandla only 2001 data were available. So given an average population growth of 17.64%, one might expect a similar rise in number of evacuees for these power plants. 
The Figure shows that even in the least populated districts of Kaiga in Uttara Kannada, Rawatbhata in Chittorgarh and Mandla of district Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, a minimum evacuation of 20 Km would require evacuating more than one lakh people, while most are require evacuating more than five lakhs to a maximum in Tarapur of fifteen lakh evacuees for this radius. Note that the US recommended radius for evacuation is 50 miles (or 80 Km) which changes all the above numbers by an additional factor of 16!


In Fukushima, evacuations have already commenced from the 20-30 Km ring around the radiating plant. According to a Greenpeace study, towns even 40 Km are showing dangerously high levels of radiation that require evacuations.  As is being increasingly experienced in Japan,  the population at risk increases many folds in presence of towns and cities near with the many times higher increase in population density. The figure below shows the current (red) and future (blue) nuclear power projects on a population density map (2001) for India. Large urban cities and metros are also marked on this map. The image clearly identifies  areas of population concentrations, and their proximity to the nuclear facilities.



So, the questions clearly are as follows: 

Are we willing to, directly and deliberately, endanger such large populations, in case of a potential nuclear mishap? 

How many generations would then pay such an enormous price? 

What else do we choose to loose in terms of water, air, soil, environmental contamination? 

What,  if any,is the time scale and cost of the recovery process? not just human, but also environmental, developmental?

And, why are we willing to risk so much??? 

At 4780 MW (2010), nuclear energy contributes only 4.2% to India's total energy consumption. The plants currently under construction are expected to add another 3900 MW. All the risk calculations are based on  current and proposed plants. However, our mad nuclear aspirations are to achieve 63,000MW by 2032 .

Just for comparison, remember that wind and solar energy generation are clean, green, and do not carry the enormous threat posed by nuclear energy. The total generation capacity from wind alone, in 2007, was 6270 MW, far exceeding the 2010 nuclear generation, and this rose to 12009 MW in 2010, amounting to 6% of India's total installed power. While the current solar energy capacity is only 3 MW, India holds a potential for generating 200,000 MW by 2050 from solar alone - far higher than India's current total energy capacity! 

So, back to the questions: Why such apocalyptic nuclear aspirations? at what or whose cost? and to whose benefit? And who is willing to buy such 'development' at such costs? Please Raise your Hands!

-----

I thank Sudhir Vombatkere for inspiring this exercise.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Individual Interests and Mass Uprising

Last week a bizarre and an unexpected drama played out on our national stage. Anna Hazare, a Gandhian of some repute and a definitive following, started a fast-unto-death to push the government into drafting a rigorous anti-corruption bill - a Jan Lokpal bill had already been drafted as a guideline. Both the tactic and timing were shrewd; the many middle-east uprisings had stirred hope in people's power and the recent spate of wiki leaks had exposed the gigantic and corrupt collusion of corporate and political nexus, funded by the national tax payer.  People, primarily the middle class, and especially the youth, reacted on an unprecedented scale, pouring into open street, parks, open grounds around the nation in thousands, and tens of thousands in support of Anna Hazare and his call for anti-corruption. A simultaneous fury of protests in support, rose across the nation, and lasted but four days; then the government capitulated accepting most demands.

Now, here's the thing: many people have fasted longer, protested more passionately, for rights even more fundamental than corruption..for example, say, right to life, right to not be raped, repressed, displaced; fundamental right to own property and a share in national's natural resources; right not be caught in chemical or nuclear disasters, right to seek one's own freedom, of different forms. I agree, corruption is a vile, pervasive evil that permeates the very pores of our nationhood and it should be eradicated...but what about one's right to life, livelihood, land and freedom? Surely, these are staggeringly more important to human life and society than a 2G scandal. So...what caused our middle class, besotted with malls, TV and cricket to suddenly pour into streets? Which Pied Piper's call were they answering?

Only one answer stands out, above every other possibility. Self interest, or more simply, pure selfishness. I have been struggling with what causes revolutions or rather who causes revolutions. It seems increasingly clear that battles for changes arise from the losing side, by those who have suffered, joining arms to fight against tyranny - together. In cases of the ten year and longer fast of Irom Sharmila for ending the draconian and unbearably repressive AFSPA, or Himanshu Kumar's fast for the causes of tribals in Chattisgarh, or the huge and decades long Narmada Bachao Andolan, for a right of people to not be forcibly displaced, or the killings of children and youth in Kashmir, last year, the same middle class sat and watched all this and more, on TV, as they would a sitcom in comforts of their own homes and their own apathies. These were battles of the 'others', in which the Indian middle class was a winning beneficiary. As Bush once said " we fight wars for preserving a way-of-life" - of constant avarice and greed or 'development'. We fight these wars by our government, in our name, against our fellow nationals, not ready to face the wrong of it, since we benefit by it.

I want to know, when will we ALL, enter the battlefield, at the sacrifice of our own comfort, greed, and capital, because it is the right thing to do? When will we fight for the right and the righteous, because we cannot bear so much wrong? When we will ALL do this and thereby win?over wrong?


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Stars, Men...and Nukes

It occurs to me, in wake of a still boiling Fukushima, that nature is so much more gentler, kinder, nurturing than man. Some might argue to the contrary following  the colossal earthquake and subsequent Tsunami that hit Japan's coast near Sendai last month. However, let me elalborate:

Universe is into nukes and man is also into nukes. Sun for example wraps up its core nuclear reactions in a blanket about 700,000 km deep, from where the radiation in form of harmful gamma rays take 30,000 years to emerge at the surface as life giving, golden warm sunshine to light our days, grow our food, create our oxygen. Man on the other hand wraps his nukes in haste and his giant ego, in flimsy concrete  structures thus taking giant risks with our precious Earth and all its members.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Reminiscing about "Nero's Guests" and What Sainath Said

Its been a few days since the screening, at IISc, of the documentary 'Nero's Guests' by Deepa Bhatia, on P. Sainath and his coverage of farmer suicides in Vidharbha - the cotton belt of India. The film was followed by a discussion session with Sainath. In movie and also the discussions later, Sainath was passionately and brutally honest, unforgiving, hard hitting, persistent in comparisons between our lives and those of Nero's guests who were entertained in the light of people torched to death to illuminate a party.

As usual, in a topic of this nature, I am unable to say "I liked the program". Yet there are key points that hit home and have stayed. Sainath started the discussion with the recent budget announcement. He said that the government's basic philosophy towards the poor, in general, and specifically on food security, was to load the tables of the rich sufficiently that a few crumbs fall off for the hungry masses.

He questioned the focus on a 9% growth in GDP in face of India's 163rd position on the Human Development index. Primarily he focussed on hunger and food and death. He pointed out that the per capita food availability had dropped since 1955 by 100gm per day and despite numerous efforts/reports to re-counting poverty, most conservative Tendulkar report estimates still placed 37% of Indians below poverty line. He strongly argued for an universal food security bill and also minimum assured returns for farmers to stem the growing suicide rates in the cotton belt. He clearly saw the corporatization of the farming sector in a globalised economy as a doomsday for small private farmers.

Sainath said these and many other things - all necessary and true. We all heard him, and heard him well. Now the change will depend on how much we all retain and respond. Listening, thinking, talking and writing are but preliminary steps towards a revolution.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Much to be Grateful For...

I was browsing around in the website of National Crime Records Bureau and found that indeed there is much to be grateful for ... that I did not previously realise! For example, here is a table "Incidence Of Human Rights Violation By Police During 2009" that shows how pro-people our police really is. I surely Have Come a Long Way BABY, from Femina to This :)

By the way, Bangalore leads the country with the largest number of IPC cases recorded in 2009 (Table 1(B))...lots of really interesting browsing here!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Five Points about Change

Contemplation has clarified the following:

1)Change happens when needed and from within where it is needed.

2)Suffering is a necessary condition to seed change.

3)A societal, or political change cannot be propelled by a minority of bourgeois intellectuals or leftist rebellions. The latter may ONLY help structure people's movements and give it direction.

4)Information and communication are key elements of effecting change. Thus, suppressing information is a tool of repression by the ruling class, and media plays a crucial role in evolution of a revolution.

5)Change has to be wrenched by a majority, needy weaker class from a minority, powerful, upper class who are beneficiaries of staus quo. NON VIOLENT METHODS ARE BEST STRATEGIES TO WORK TOWARDS CHANGE.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

POSCO VIRUDDH -2


They stood there
a dozen plus one in all
half-clad, determined
old, young and small;
to protect their land
with a bamboo gate
from government, corporates,
and a police state;
they stood there else
everything would be lost;
life, liberty and all
they cared for most;
their right to pursue
what they thought was right
and for this, they could not,
bow to the bullying might
of a state and centre
seizing power
grabbing land, water, resources,
for a corporate takeover.
They had been shot at -
and thrown in prisons too
thrashed by political goons
whom they could not sue.
Justice to them
is so far denied
in brotherhood, very few
share their fight
if they loose
we are all lost
dreams, ideals, hopes
for a better lot,
for all those who suffer
that you and I might gain,
so pause briefly now
to say - you
share their pain!
Join hands now
take responsibility
for their plight
and don't turn away
from their urgent fight
Or let the state
do what it may -
pillage, plunder,
do many countless wrongs
for national economic growth
and for you -
a trip to the mall,
a cup of wine
and a song.

Personal Integrity No Substitute for Corrupt State

An Open Letter To Manmohan Singh

Dear Mr. Singh,

I read with increasing trepidation the front page news that carried contents from your public televised interview yesterday. There are an increasing number of national wrongs that are justified on your behalf, since you remain unblemished by corruption, practiced by a run of the mill Indian politician. However, your latest effort to brush away the 2G scandal and the huge associated loss of revenue is unforgivable, weak, and dismal. To further attempt and equate this loss with the government subsidies to the needy class, is irrationally criminal and should shame you into immediate stepping down from you office.

Let me explain what are the duties that I expect from my head of State. First, you should be able to verify wrong doing and accept responsibility. It appears that in the latest scandal, that the 'wrong happened' is by now largely accepted and must have surely reached your ears! So, either you accept it, or you do not. But, what you may not do is to hide behind 'I know wrong happened, but if we do math differently, it is a lesser wrong' - for that is one of your arguments, right? Look, we do not need lessons in mathematical manipulations to right the wrongs. We actually need our elected officer to discharge his duties, accept the wrong, and if grace prevails, to say 'I take responsibility' because 'the buck really stops here!'

But this is not all - allow me, as a citizen of this nation to say further, that the most objectionable of all your explanations, was to bring in the loss(??)to the government in subsidies on 'food grains, LPG, fertilizers'. Let me remind you, Mr. Singh, that the government treasury is not your private bank account, but fed into by the resources of the same people that you claim to subsidize. There is definitely no equating loss from this 'national account' for massive corruption, to that used in expenditure for subsistence of our fellow countrymen.

Finally, I would like you to take a minute and take stock of the numbers that you are dealing (or not dealing)with. Remember you sold away the liability claims for India's civil nuclear program for tiny, tiny numbers compared to the kind of losses we are talking about now? Are you now saying that the corruptness on level of national food grain subsidies is 'tolerable' by the society? which society? and who decides? You?? Sorry Mr. Singh, this is not your 'wrong-decision' to make.

Please do not run around now, trying to find a wrong-doer - just stop the wrong; don't define your integrity by what you don't take, but by what you let others take; don't worry so much about 'how we look' - but please worry about 'how we really are'. Most of all, don't sell this nation short just to save your seat.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

About Us?

I got this in my mail box from a friend who cares:

Otto Rene Castillo

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with "the idea
of the nothing"
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won't be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward's death.

They'll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total life.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they'll ask:

"What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?"

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your sham

Monday, 31 January 2011

JR

I.
The Minister
administered
a stunning
blow

to his own
portfolio!
Balanced
between
right & wrong
he decided
to play a
nuclear song;
to compensate
his GM rights
he decided to
appease the
developmental
mights,
of goons
and constituencies
in power,
by sanctioning
a nuclear shower-
to save the
environment
and green house effect
he revealed all
his green-defects.
Poor JR
mighty & right
doesn't know
which side to fight-
as EM his
battle is clear
to press ahead
without fear,
and rid his conscience
come what may,
to commit some
right-
another day.

II.

Minister's word
is finally out-
POSCO wins &
"Hurrah!" he shouts
But 28 more conditions
now do apply,
to keep up pretence
of environmental rights;
he now demands
an 'assurance'
of State's
Forest Act compliance,
to keep at his juggle-
another bid for his
popularity struggle
between pro-people
and forest rights
while dumping advantages
on the corporate might...
Dump those Olive Ridleys
and the silly horse shoe crabs
destroy pristine coastline
to favor developmental scabs.
Walking a tight rope
between possible rights
and many tempting wrongs
has taught JR
a new kinda song-
"I would like my cake
and to eat it too"
he whines-
"and sell some more
to Korea, because I am
allowed to!"





Monday, 10 January 2011

Her Story


I visited Bangalore city’s Beggar Home as a part of a RTI investigation that People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) is conducting into the functioning of this centre, following the spate of deaths that occurred here during August 2010. I knew that I was looking at an improved, sanitised, state-of-the-art destitutes’ centre that was now to show case country’s IT capital as also sensitive and caring to its beggars and destitutes. The Centre which once ran over capacity with close to 3000 inmates, now had 300 beggars confined within its walls, a well rounded meal daily program, provided by ISKCON, and computerised facilities – a high technology aid to tagging our poorest. The new set of personnel who replaced the former employees were courteous, co-operative, and facilitated our preliminary browse through the documents we were seeking via RTI.

When we arrived there, the morning’s enquiry into the beggars rounded up for the day was being conducted, for presentation before a magistrate. There were five men, in extreme states of abject poverty, and passive, numbed destitution. And then there was Her – anything between 40-60, dirty saree, unkempt straw hair, skinnier than a field scarecrow. She drew my attention with her loud complaints and protestations at what was being meted out to her possessions. She was a rag picker, a hoarder and a ‘collector’ of considerable property, for a beggar, and these were her treasures. They were also a source of her livelihood – she had bundles squirreled into bundles of valuables, big and small, collections of bottles and soda cans, and a large rag that probably served as a ‘chador’. She was yelling “ I am not a Kalli (thief), I picked all these!” all to deaf ears of officials as they scattered her possessions and callously disposed of them. They were looking for money or other more acceptable forms of valuables to document for their records. Yet, one of the other male beggars knew the value of what was being discarded. His hand crept slowly along the floor, and in a quick gesture he picked out her rag sheet that he immediately draped it around himself.

Many questions confront me now, in reflection, on what exactly happened there. I need to pose these questions to myself, and give form to the un-understood and un-explained of what transpired before me. How do people, such as Her, who do not beg, fall through cracks and get institutionalised at places like Beggar’s Homes? Beggary requires at least an act of soliciting, doesn’t it? Or are outwardly appearances sufficient reasons to custodialise people? Second, what is the definition of personal property and who defines this? owner or the outside world? Why did she keep repeating she is not a thief when the staff were getting rid of what they considered rubbish? Did she feel she had been brought to a prison? Then, there is the whole bit about empowerment, or in the case of destitutes, their lack of it. The beggars and the poorest of this country are our least empowered lot, not even introduced to the concept of questioning authority; they have no knowledge or even concept of individual fundamental rights, let alone insist on its guarantees. And, finally, there is the question of being ‘tagged’ as a beggar, even if a magistrate were to set her free. Computerised recording when combined with dangerous UID scheme will tag all entrants into such custodial institutions and with the associated stigma, become part of their permanent profiling. Beggary acts are even more stringent for ‘repeat offenders’ and such tagging can be the used to get rid of the unwanted of this society.

In the case of Her, even in her fortunate entry into a new and improved Bangalore Beggar’s Home, what were her chances that the system would really benefit her? Who else is it meant to benefit? Or is this merely a street cleansing exercise towards India’s new globalized look?

(Based on Gowru Chinnapa’s visit to Beggar’s Home, December 2010)