Thursday, August 28, 2008

Where's the idea Sirji?

Where's the idea Sirji?

By Pankaj Sekhsaria

Nearly 33 per cent of Indians are illiterate and drop out rates for primary school students is 30 per cent. The overall teacher pupil ratio is 1:46. On an average, there are less than three teachers per primary school.

Only 53 per cent of habitations in the country have a primary school, nearly half of all children in the 7-14 age group cannot read and a staggering 10 million children remain out of school.

If one section of India’s corporate giants, film stars and advertising masterminds are to be believed, all those who strive to improve the fundamentals of our primary education are fools of the first order. The answers are much simpler. Put a mobile phone in the middle of nowhere. This country will be transformed. So, we were all looking in the wrong place so far; we were all wasting our time putting in place a system of primary education. It’s not working, so don’t invest anymore — maybe it’s not late even now to do away with it entirely.

We cannot forget that subconscious messaging of this kind gets absorbed slowly but it’s impact on the human psyche can be huge. That in fact is the purpose, of most advertising.

The advertising industry is bound to spring up in vehement defence — with the fig leaf of creative freedom and creative license. When it is advertising, anything goes; anything should be allowed to go. Responsibility to a larger context in promotion of a business is either for someone else or then good in corporate social responsibility discussions and brochures.

Advertising of this kind is a mockery of the hopes and desires of a large section of people who are struggling hard to get their children basic education. The government may be discussing a bill to make primary education a fundamental right but the industry would rather have people ‘buy’ than fight for what should be fundamentally theirs.

That might well be the way to turn the argument on its head. Advertising is a statement on society and the intelligent, creative giants could soon have us believe that campaigns such as these are indeed mirrors for society to look into and look at itself. We are not ‘selling’, we are only reflecting the deepest concerns of our times and our people. It is the most selfless kind of corporate social responsibility endeavour that makes us all realise how badly our government and systems have failed.

It’s a call to the conscience of all. And yes, if we further our business on the side, surely no one should complain. Win-win, you see?

We would do well to bear in mind that countries which are considered developed and powerful today have invested and continue to invest huge resources in their people and the kind of education they get. In north America and western Europe, for instance, more than 90 per cent of kids are in primary school, nearly 14 per cent of government spending goes to education and there is one teacher for every 14 children at the primary level.

Compare these with figures with India and the direction for action cannot be seen more clearly. This is where innovation, creativity and high quality messaging are most needed. That’s the idea that ‘Sirji’ needs to work on. That’s where the real difference would be made.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ganesha's Tears

Editor, Protected Area Update

HERE ARE SOME interesting cross-border nuggets gleaned from the news media over the last few months.

One: Wild elephant migration from Karnataka to Goa and Maharashtra is termed ‘unnatural’ and Goa seeks Maharashtra’s help to drive the animals back. When Goa starts the operation it finds that its efforts to drive back the elephants have been hampered by trenches dug on the Maharashtra side to prevent the animals from entering that state. Goan authorities are asking Project Elephant authorities to intervene and ask Maharashtra to behave.

Two: Elephants that had ‘strayed’ from Orissa into Andhra Pradesh in late 2007 were termed ‘rogue’, and huge efforts were made to force them to return. Two of the animals were even darted, drugged and carried back to their home state. One died almost immediately, most probably due to an overdose of the drug used on it.

Three: Bangladesh authorities want India to ‘take back’ the 100-odd elephants that have moved across the international border from Meghalaya. They have threatened that the animals might otherwise be killed.

Four: The Nepal Government is reinforcing the border with India in north Bengal with low-voltage electric wires to prevent herds of elephants from crossing over along their traditional migratory routes.

Reading news like this gives you a sense of the tragi-comic drama being played out across elephant territory in the subcontinent.
Elephants crossing borders seems to generate human theatre of the most absurd kind. How else can one explain a country asking another to take back ‘its’ elephants, or one minister complaining to a counterpart in a neighbouring state that his elephants are causing trouble? If these guys are to be believed, wild elephants are waiting for us to issue them notices and will soon begin indicating their movement patterns so we can stay out of their way. Ganesha, it would seem, is a god from a completely different planet. It is ironic that a state like Maharashtra, for instance, which proudly showcases its celebrations of the elephant-headed god, has no space for, or acceptance of, the living embodiment of that loved and revered deity.

Human-wildlife conflict is a very real and problematic part of life in large parts of the subcontinent. No one can deny that. Nor will anyone argue that the situation on the ground is simple. The case of human-elephant conflict, in particular, is extremely protracted and complex.

In the period between 1994-2004, nearly 18,000 acres of paddy fields were destroyed across the country in just under 3,000 instances of elephants causing damage. At least 250 humans were reportedly killed by wild elephants in the states of Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand in the last one year alone.

The pressure on administrators, politicians and forest staff to deal with the problem is undeniably huge. If you are a farmer and have lost an entire year’s production or your small house in one night of elephant raiding (or worse, watched someone die) you can’t be expected to be calm and contented. But surely those being asked to deal with the situation and find a solution can do better than just ask the neighbour to call the elephants back.
It is also important to bear in mind the elephant’s side of the story. Increasing encroachments, dam constructions, mining projects and infrastructure corridors have, over the years, ruthlessly destroyed the habitats of elephants and snapped traditional migratory routes. A number of the animals have been shot or electrocuted in retaliation, and many in the forests of north Bengal and Rajaji National Park (Uttaranchal) have suffered gory deaths in train accidents. Not only are the elephants being denied forests and migratory corridors that were traditionally and rightfully theirs, but terms like ‘straying’ herds, ‘rogue’ animals and ‘unnatural’ habitats are used thoughtlessly to hold them culpable for a problem they are not responsible for at all.

Borders created by human beings are becoming tragically problematic, even fatal, for the pachyderms. The largest mammal on land deserves better than to be shot, electrocuted or drugged for crossing our borders. It deserves to be treated with more respect and tolerance.

As for us human beings, we certainly have the potential to do better than merely blame our neighbours and demand that ‘their’ animals behave or be taken back. What this does is only deflect attention from the real problem; exhausting scarce resources and energies in trading charges and seeking solutions that are not only unimplementable, but outright ridiculous. It is, in fact, the best way to ensure that a solution will not be found at all.

A little common sense and pragmatism in dealing with the issue will certainly do no one any harm. It might actually be a good starting point from which to identify some meaningful resolution and long-term answers. •
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 34, Dated Aug 30, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paddy fields, Wandoor, Andaman Islands, June 2008

Opposition to Dhamra port

Greenpeace activists blockade TATA HQ, demand that the Company
demonstrate corporate environmental responsibility

Mumbai, 20th August 2008 – In the absence of evidence that the TATAs
will honour their commitment to ensure no harm to Orissa's Olive
Ridley turtles, Greenpeace activists intensified their campaign to
stop the Dhamra Port today, by taking the issue back to Bombay House,
TATA Group headquarters. Activists dressed in turtle costumes
blockaded the building and vowed not to move until they received a
commitment from the TATA Management. Present also were Greenpeace
volunteers distributing fliers and carrying laptops, from where,
concerned members of the public signed onto an ongoing online
campaign, and join 90,000 other cyber activists, who have asked Mr.
Tata to relocate the port (1).

Greenpeace has been campaigning for several years now to demand that
the TATAs drop their plans to build a controversial port at Dhamra,
Orissa. The port is in the close proximity of the Gahirmatha Marine
Sanctuary and the Bhitarkanika National Park (India's second largest
mangrove forest and home to the saltwater crocodile). Gahirmatha is
one of the largest and last mass breeding and nesting sites for the
Olive Ridley Turtles in the world (2). Its location, for years has
been a matter of serious concern to conservationists, hundreds of
scientists and academics, including turtle experts, as well as fisher
groups such as the National Fishworkers' Forum and the Orissa
Traditional Fishworkers Union (3).

Speaking to the media, Areeba Hamid, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace
India said, "The TATA's track record on this issue is far from good.
In 2004-2005, when they got involved, they repeatedly voiced the
opinion that turtles are not found near the port site, and hence it
poses no threat. They had even stated that they would reconsider their
involvement if there was evidence of environmental or ecological
significance of the area. Now that the evidence of turtle movement and
ecological significance of the port site has grown (4), the company's
stance has shifted to mitigation, with earlier promises forgotten, a
convenient and not very ethical shift in goal posts".

Despite repeated requests, TATA officials refused to an on-the record,
in-camera meeting with Greenpeace, insisting that any meeting be in
the absence of the media/cameras. Greenpeace was insistent that any
meeting be recorded in full transparency, given the past history of
verbal promises and assurances made by various TATA officials that
have not been fulfilled.

Meanwhile, PR consultants hired by the TATA have been asking for a
meeting with Greenpeace. While Greenpeace has continued to maintain
its readiness to meet, Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner stressed
"TATA needs to act on its prior commitments and immediately halt
construction of the port project, and this is non negotiable. It is
only too easy for the TATA to host meaningless discussions, while
simultaneously continuing construction and creating a fait accompli."

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Study, done in 1997,
considered a port with significantly different specifications from the
project currently being built. The initial proposed capacity was 20
million tonnes per annum (mtpa) where as the proposed capacity is now
83 mtpa. The original project was to handle bulk carriers up to
120,000 deadweight tonnage (dwt); the revised plan proposes handling
ships up to 180,000 dwt. As if this isn't bad enough, the EIA has no
accurate baseline ecological data. And shockingly the 1997 EIA
considered a different port site, on the nearby Kanika Sands, whereas
the port is now being built on the mainland, north of the Dhamra river

Despite its ecological significance, the Dhamra area was purposely
excluded from Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha Sanctuaries to facilitate
the Dhamra Port (5). In March 2007, the Department of Forest –
Wildlife, Government of Orissa, proposed the notification of an
eco-sensitive and eco-fragile area around Bhitarkanika, which includes
the Dhamra port area. Predictably, the top brass of the State
Government has once again ignored this proposal.

In April 2008, international banking giant BNP Paribas had confirmed
to Greenpeace that it is not considering refinancing a part of the
Dhamra Port. This announcement came after the bank had commissioned an
unnamed independent expert to look into environmental and social
aspects concerning the project.

Shockingly, despite the public furore, Tata Steel's corporate
sustainability report boasts that, "…there are no national parks/wild
life sanctuaries/CRZ/other sensitive and notified areas within 10 kms
of any current or proposed sites..." This, despite the fact that the
Dhamra port is less than 15 kms away from the nesting site in the
Gahirmatha Sanctuary and less than 5 km. from Bhitarkanika National
Park (6).

"Scientists are opposed to the port, conservationists are against it,
international lending institutions clearly want to protect their
reputations, and now nearly one lakh Indians – most of them TATA
customers – are asking Mr. Tata to place the survival of this species
above increasing TATA profits. What more does Mr.Ratan Tata need? If
the TATAs want to maintain their reputation for being sensitive to
social and environmental concerns - they have no choice but to
withdraw from this ecologically disastrous project. Only this can keep
the TATA legacy intact", added Areeba.

For more information, please visit or contact:

Ashish Fernandes, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner, +91 99801 99380,
Sama Adil, Greenpeace Communications, +91 99009 70627,

(1) Log onto
(2) Under India's Wildlife Protection Act, all species of marine
turtles, including Olive Ridleys, are accorded with a Schedule I
status of Protection, on par with the tiger.
(3) Refer to
(4) In 2007, a survey commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by
Dr. S.K. Dutta of the North Orissa University established the presence
of rare species of amphibians and reptiles at the port site. The study
also revealed the presence of over 2,000 turtle carcasses on, and near
the area (
Moreover, the Wildlife Institute of India conducted a study in
2001with 4 turtles fitted with satellite transmitters. Of these, one
is reported in the waters off the Dhamra Port. To date, this is the
only concluded telemetry study carried out on turtles in coastal
Orissa for which the results are publicly available (refer to
(5) The Orissa State Govt. in December, 1997 issued a fresh
proclamation under Section 21 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act to
exclude the proposed port area from Bhitarkanika Sanctuary. When the
final notification for Bhitarkanika was issued in September 1998, the
area was reduced from 367 sq km to 145 sq km. Further, when the
proposal for the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary was being drawn up by the
Wildlife Department in 1997, the Orissa state government ordered (vide
letter 11693 dated 20/6/97) that the proposed Dhamra Port area be
excluded from the draft notification of the sanctuary.
(6) Refer to

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Horns of a dilemma


The rhino saw contrasting fortunes in Nepal and India in 2007. A look at the possible reasons and the lessons it has for future conservation efforts.

Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria, Ritu Raj Konwar

Rescuing the Rhino: We need to evolve case-specific conservation techniques.

Recent news from the two strongholds of the Asian Rhino, the Kaziranga National Park in Assam and the Chitwan National Park in Nepal presents an intriguing scenario. For Kaziranga, the year 2007 was one of the worst in almost a decade as far as rhinopoaching was concerned. At least 20 of these endangered animals were poached (mainly shot) in and around these extensive grasslands on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra. In Nepal, in comparison, 2007 turned up looking distinctly good for the rhino; only two animals, one each in the Chitwan and Bardia National Parks, were poached in the entire calendar year.

Compare this with the figures for the preceding 12 months and the contrast is conspicuous. 2006 was the complete opposite of 2007 and drastically so. Kaziranga lost only six rhinos in 2006 to poachers, while the number for Nepal was at least 20 with 14 being in and around Chitwan alone.

Remarkable turn-around

The turn-around in Nepal is remarkable considering the fact that almost 30 rhinos on an average had been poached here annually in the last few years. Most observers point to the political resolution that has taken place in the country and the peace that has returned.

Many troubled years of insurgency in Nepal had meant that the administrative mechanism and protection forces were simply unable to operate. The Royal Nepal Army that has always played an important part in wildlife protection here, had, for instance, 32 protection posts in the Chitwan National Park in 2001. By 2005 these had been reduced to only seven and in this four-year period more than a 100 rhinos had been taken out from the forests and grasslands here. The Bardia National Park, which has been one of the sites of rhino re-introduction in Nepal, too lost a staggering 67 rhinos in the three-year period from 2003-2006.

Nepal is believed to have one of the most successful community forestry programs but it did not seem to have helped the rhino. There have been reports in recent times even suggesting increased involvement in rhino poaching of the fringe villagers of Chitwan. Nearly half the rhinos poached in 2006 were, in fact, in the community forests bordering the park.

Things seemed to have changed, then, in 2007 because of the political stabilisation and the resulting possibility of deputing more attention and resources for the protection wildlife. While there is no doubting that this made a difference, it would be fallacious to infer that this is a simple, open and shut kind of case, where protection, guns and guards have all the solutions.

If that was the answer, the question takes us to Kaziranga. If the hardline gun and guard regime is the only one that will succeed, why did Kaziranga suffer such unprecedented losses in 2007? Not only is Kaziranga one of India’s most watched parks, it has also been held up all along as a model of how “protection” is the only thing that works. If there was one success story that was universally pointed to, it was the Kaziranga National Park and for good reason. This is the park that has played a key role in bringing the Asian rhino back from the brink of extinction.

Along the way, however, something has started to go wrong. There have been many reports in recent times pointing to drastic increases in human-wildlife conflict around Kaziranga and huge losses on account of wildlife depredation. The paradigm of conservation continues to be exclusionary and local communities that are not taken into confidence, nor benefit from conservation, can only be indifferent to poaching threats at best and actual partners in poaching at worst. Add to this the less than ideal condition of the frontline field staff and the crisis situation almost explains itself.

The case of the rhino is only illustrative of the complex realities of conservation in a landscape where the nature, magnitude and diversity of threats faced by wildlife and those striving for its protection are becoming increasingly powerful and insidious.

It must, however, be stated at the same time that there are no readymade answers. The intention here is not to suggest that community forestry has failed in Nepal or that local communities are responsible for the increased poaching of rhinos here. It is also not to suggest at the same time, that protection is not needed. A rhino whose horn is valued at thousands of dollars is bound to be constantly before the cross hairs of international wildlife trade syndicates and the guard can never be let down.

It seems clear that in today’s changing reality no single paradigm of conservation, be it community participation or stricter protection, will necessarily work by itself. The situation in Nepal, for instance, seems to re-establish the reality that wildlife conservation can only be a subset of the overall socio-political-economic context of any community and society.

Cooperation works

It has been shown in many places around the world that the resolution of conflict by negotiation and dialogue invariably benefits the landscape and the wildlife of the region. The story of Manas National Park in the Bodoland region of Assam is a good example. The rhino had, in fact, been poached out of existence in Manas during the many years of continued conflict. Now that peace has returned, attempts are being made as part of an ambitious re-introduction program to bring back the rhino as well. The political establishment is working with the park authorities and the local communities (former poachers included) in protecting Manas and taking it back to its “past glory”. Similar successes have been achieved with community participation in Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve too. Kaziranga can learn from these experiences. While no stone should be left unturned to enhance the protection mechanism, support, train and equip the frontline field staff, effort also needs to be made to work together with the local communities.

There can be no place for complacency in Kaziranga. Half a dozen rhinos have already been killed here since the beginning of the year and if this continues, 2008 could well end up worse than the last one.

The challenge, clearly, is to find some kind of an ideal mean, a situation and case specific approach that does not rely predominantly on one paradigm but works together in finding creative, innovative and long term solutions.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Khadi through the lens

Khadi through the lens

nxg, The Hindu, 14/08/08


Pankaj Sekhsaria’s visual essay on handlooms shows you how eco-friendly the product really is. MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN


You always knew Khadi was what Gandhi wore and that the spinning wheel’s got something to do with it. But did you know that the Khadi industry is second only to agriculture in terms of the livelihood it provides people. “In Andhra Pradesh alone, there are some 200,000 weavers involved with it. And Khadi provides employment by way of allied activities too… there’s the pre and post-production also,” says Pankaj Sekhsaria, in town recently to display his photos on the Khadi production process “Weaving Stories in Light, Shade and Colour”, at the Lalit Kala Akademi. It wasn’t just another photo exhibition because the photos were printed on handloom fabric. “A visual essay on cotton handlooms” is how he described it. And so it was. Starting with the separation of the cotton from the seed right up to the point where the fabric threads are treated to hold colour and ready for production, the photographs are all there for you to see and comprehend.

All hand made

Every step involves human effort and no machines are involved. “The tool that the woman is using to separate the cotton from the seed is actually the jaw bone of a fish, the teeth of which are well suited for the purpose,” Pankaj enlightens you with regard to a photograph. Also Khadi is, in fact, the most eco-friendly fabric. “It does not add to the carbon count, as it is produced using only manpower unlike synthetic fabrics,” he reveals. Now there’s at least one industry that does not add to the already weighty problem of global warming.

The fact that Khadi is produced using pure man-power explains its expensive price tag. “It is expensive. But when you can spend Rs. 1500 on a pair of Levis why not spend a few hundreds less on a Khadi shirt that’s safe on your skin as well,” is Pankaj’s argument. Well, there’s no countering that. He feels youngsters should be made aware of the fabric and they should start patronising it. This the first time that Pankaj has held the photography exhibition on a large, stand-alone scale. At Chennai, it was displayed alongside the Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association’s annual exhibition-cum-sale of handloom saris, dress material, dupattas, furnishings in a variety of textures and colours from across Andhra Pradesh.

(Pankaj: There is a small clarification here that is important. The statistics mentioned in the article above actually are about the 'cotton handloom' industry and not particularly about 'khadi'. It is the handloom industry that is 2nd largest employer after agriculture and supports tens of thousands of families)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Myths in urban transport subsidies

Myths in urban transport subsidies

by Girish Sant and Ashok Sreenivas

An article in the Economic and Political Weekly issue of 2nd Aug 08 (by Girish Sant and I) on myths of urban transport subsidies may be of interest to you. The paper as it appeared in EPW can be downloaded from, but this will be available for free public access only for a few days. A slightly different version of the paper can be downloaded from the Prayas website at at your convenience. Your comments and feedback will be most welcome. Thanks.

A brief summary of the paper is given below.

Using very simple modeling and data from Pune, this paper shows that urban public transport receives far less subsidies than private transport (i.e. cars and 2-wheelers) if all costs are considered. Considering only two of the external costs, it turns out that on a per passenger-km basis, private transport is subsidized over 10 times as much as public transport. The popular myth of subsidized public transport stems from the fact that 98% of transport subsidies are implicit (and therefore hidden), while public transport receives the 2% visible, explicit subsidies.

This raises some serious questions not only about the pricing of urban transport but also allocation of municipal finances, such as:
(a) This pricing structure subsidizes the rich at the expense of the poor.
(b) It promotes usage of private vehicles at the expense of the economically, socially, and environmentally desirable alternative of public transport.
(c) Allocation of the municipal budget reveals questionable priorities. For examples, the funds allocated for health care are about half the amount allocated to traffic signals, 'junction improvement' etc. while there is talk of privatizing public hospitals due to a 'lack of funds'!
(d) Budget allocation lacks transparency. For example, 36 out of 40 projects listed under a special purpose vehicle ostensibly meant for public transport improvement will actually aid private transport more than public transport.

All this points to an urgent need for more participatory process to reform transport pricing as well as municipal budgeting.

Best regards,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Portraits of China - an exhibition by Peeyush Sekhsaria

photographing chairman mao in beijing


Exhibition opens on the same day as the Beijing Olympics.
Opening 8th August '08 from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

9th August to 17th August '08 from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Open on all days including Sunday and 15th August.

Centre for Photography as an Art Form
National Center for performing Arts (NCPA)
Nariman Point, NCPA Marg, Mumbai 400021

The photographer paints a portrait of everyday China that serves as a commentary of what China is today and what it aspires to be. The backdrop of most images may be that of Chinese grandeur and history but it is the intimate moments of everyday life that are being played out in front of them that defines this photographic work.

peeyush sekhsaria

is an architect with a masters in earthen architecture and sustainable development from the internationally renowned centre “craterre” at the school of architecture , grenoble, france. in 2005 he completed his m. phil in geography, sorbonne, paris.

he has worked as an architect, development and heritage consultant on a number of projects in mali, niger, burkina faso & nigeria (all in west africa), uzbekistan, lebanon & india.

he considers himself as a dead serious part time photographer, full time vagabond. he loves photography because it allows him to loiter around and see the world.

Weaving Stories - Photo exhibition in Chennai

Weaving Stories
Light Shade and Colour

Pankaj Sekhsaria

A visual essay on cotton handlooms
Printed on handwoven cotton fabric

Lalit Kala Akademi
Greame's Road
Chennai - 6

August 6 - 10

10.30 am to 8 pm