In South India, the conversation of late seems to always turn to dengue.... Read More
Almost everyone today knows someone who has had dengue these past few weeks... Read More
We began this mini-series within the column by talking about the Gujarat and Assam floods... Read More
After all the pomp and grandeur of Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations each year, Madurai city usually deserted by rains dunks at least 300 Ganesha idols in the waterless Vaigai. This year.. Read More
The frequency of extreme events is increasing.This appears to be the year for breaking records.... Read More
It’s relevant because of all the sectors that will be hit in a more temperamental climate, agriculture will be the worst hit. This makes intuitive sense... Read More
Women in urban centres should help ensure government policies meant for women empowerment reach rural areas, felt Madras High Court judge Anitha Sumanth. Read More
Here’s an opportunity for the city’s women to take a day out for themselves and indulge in some uninterrupted fun. World of Women (WoW), organised by Read More
When we require something, it is natural to turn to others for help. And guess what Mridula Ramesh, the Joint Managing Director of Southern Roadways, is asking for.... Read More
Rectangular plots of dark soil at the school’s entrance hold the promise of spinach, chillies, brinjal and radish. Then there are little patches Read More
Climate change, which has become the topic of discussion at most forums, took an interesting turn when the students of the Read More
Commending the winners of the Startup contest on ‘Climate change and entrepreneurship,’ K. Venugopal, Director, Kasturi & Sons Limited, the publishers of The Hindu, said Read More
Ravi Srinivasan, the Chief Executive Officer of Craftsman Automation, has won the Established Entrepreneur of the Year award for the year 2015, Read More
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to wean international manufacturers from China with his 'Make in India' campaign, in Madurai an entrepreneur has made the first inroads Read More
It all began in 1911 when T.V. Sundram Iyengar started a rural transport service in Tamil Nadu. Three generations and 100 years later, the TVS Group today is $5-billion conglomerate Read More
RIGHT PATH:K. Venugopal, Director, Kasturi & Sons Limited, publishers of The Hindu, presenting certificates to the winners of the Startup contest on ‘Climate change and entrepreneurship,’ at Thiagarajar School of Management in the city on Friday. Also seen (from left): Mridula Ramesh, founder, Sundaram Climate Institute, Venkatesh Natarajan, Managing Partner, Lok Capital, and Manikam Ramaswami, Chairman, TSM.— Photo: R. Ashok
“Management students should set goals and move towards them”.
Commending the winners of the Startup contest on ‘Climate change and entrepreneurship,’ K. Venugopal, Director, Kasturi & Sons Limited, the publishers of The Hindu, said passion was an important ingredient for successful entrepreneurship.
Speaking at Thiagarajar School of Management here on Friday, he said there was a need to create entrepreneurs as B-schools turned out MBAs, who could only manage businesses. What was required today was entrepreneurs.
To achieve this, the management students should set goals and move towards them with wholehearted passion.
While some of the presentations made by student teams were good, they required a little more thinking, Mr. Venugopal said.
Spelling out the objectives of the Startup contest and the theme, Sundaram Climate Institute founder Mridula Ramesh said the climate had changed.
The rainfall pattern had changed. Many cities around the globe, which were dry, were getting drier. In such a scenario, there was an urgent need for correction in the environment.
“Each one of us had to contribute, which alone would save Mother Earth,” she stressed.
The Lok Capital Managing Partner Venkatesh Natarajan, who was one of the judges, highlighted the importance of cash flow and capital availability as the key issues required for good entrepreneurship.
“When you think of building a business, the cash flow was as essential as men and material,” he told the students.
The winners, Raja Vignesh, Bharath Kannan, Gautam T.A and Vignesh S., were presented with cash award and certificates. The winning team’s ‘business plan’ was to produce eco-friendly cement.
Wishing them good luck, TSM Chairman Manikam Ramaswami assured assistance to the students in obtaining patent for the venture.
The runner-up’s business plan was to replace plastic water bottles with clay containers. The team comprised Ramya Jenefer Grace, Jaya Vignesh, Sri Hariprasath, Nivethitha P and Santhanam.
Ravi Srinivasan, the Chief Executive Officer of Craftsman Automation, has won the Established Entrepreneur of the Year award for the year 2015, instituted by the Entrepreneur's Organization Coimbatore.
Entrepreneur's Organization Coimbatore conducted its fourth edition of the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards' ceremony on Friday. The organization, which had instituted two awards for the established and emerging 'Tamil' Tarun Vijay meets Jaya's doctors at Apollo entrepreneurs, further included a category to honor woman entrepreneurs under the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. As many as 100 entrepreneurs were nominated for the awards of which 15 women entrepreneurs also featured in the nominations.
Anand Purushothaman, the Chief Executive Officer of the Payoda Technologies, won the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award for reaching more number of customers in the last one year. The outcome of CCMC officials evict the company, whose average age is 24 according to Anand, has doubled in one year.
The Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award was given to Hemalatha Annamalai for her innovative introduction of electronic based two wheelers, which are both feasible and eco-friendly.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges including top industrialists and members of Entrepreneur's Organization Coimbatore. The awards were distributed by Gopal Srinivasan, the Chairman and Managing Director of TCS Capital Funds Limited, Mridula Ramesh of Sundaram Textiles, Deepti Reddy of WOW Hyderabad, Shamid Khemka of Synapselndia and Vivek Bhargava of iProspect.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges including top industrialists and members of Entrepreneur's Organization Coimbatore. The awards were distributed by Gopal Srinivasan, the Chairman and Managing Director of TCS Capital Funds Limited, Mridula Ramesh of Sundaram Textiles, Deepti Reddy of WOW Hyderabad, Shamid Khemka of Synapselndia and Vivek Bhargava of iProspect.
Giving away the awards, Gopal Srinivasan from TVS Capital Funds said that Coimbatore had good potential for entrepreneurial endeavours and many people could invent new things if they had the heart. "Young minds should be innovative and creative and the above 40's should be like Tennyson's Ulysses. We should look to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield," he added.
Depiction of power of women on sand.
When badminton champ Saina Nehwal admitted in an interview that her grandmother refused to see her till a month after her birth because she was a girl child, or when actress-turned-author Suchitra Krishnamoorthi revealed how her father-in-law used to tell her daily that he was eagerly awaiting his grandson, it yet again demonstrated how the gender debate is far from being extinguished.
Only times have changed, not the mindset. Equality in its true sense is yet to become a reality. Whether it is possible or not is a different debate altogether but international women's day does tend to remind us that unless women start valuing and thinking about themselves, they will only be relegated.
As a prelude to celebrations of the day, here is a cross section of views of empowered women in our Temple Town.
The Chief Operating Officer, Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Madurai, Dr.Rohini Sridhar, cites a quote from a poem by Sonny Caroll: “We should celebrate blossoming of the empowered women who understands what it means to live and let live; how much to ask for herself and how much to give. Striking this balance is an expression of her confidence and self-assurance.”
Points out Ms. Lakshmi Murugesan, CMD, Paramount Textiles: “Women have forged ahead multi-tasking and juggling all responsibilities. They have progressed in all fields and done well too. You find more entrepreneurs and professionals today than housewives perhaps. But women should be able to use their feminity with dignity in a more appreciative manner.”
“On the road to empowerment, women are definitely playing multiple roles”, feels Ms.Valli Annamalai, Hony Joint Secretary, Indian Council for Child Welfare. “But in the changing society scenario, they are forgetting their fundamental role as wife and mother”. “Though coming out of gender discrimination, a woman needs to prioritise her duties. She may no longer be subservient due to economic independence but at the same time she can not set aside her sensitivity and feminity,” she echoes.
Says Ms.Premalatha Panneerselvam, Founder, Mahatma Schools: “Today's women are ready to face challenges. In villages, uneducated women are transforming themselves even without the support of men. They are also much more aware about the importance of education for a girl child.” But, she rues, despite the progress, women are still not respected, they face harassment at workplace. We need to create a safe world for us first. Women should not feel insecure inside or outside their homes.
Endorses Dr. A. Mercy Pushpalatha, Principal and Secretary, Lady Doak College: “Why only women, men too should be made equal partners and participants in celebrating womanhood. Men's perception about women has to change first. Women should be perceived as collaborators and not competitors. Instead of special programmes, let us reach out to each other every day.”
Dr.Uma Kannan, Secretary, Thiagarajar College, opines: “There is an imperative need to integrate education with real life. Just earning multiple degrees is not enough. We need to turn women job seekers into job creators. Wealth creation is a challenge our youngsters must be prepared for. Undoubtedly, women are now more visible in various fields. But real empowerment can not always come with the help of external forces. Women must be empowered from within first.”
Ms.Mridula Ramesh, Executive Director, Sundaram Textiles, feels, the best thing to have happened is the change in role models for women. “Few decades ago, housewives, mothers, grandmothers were role models. Today, women are so diverse having stepped into all kinds of careers. From all walks of life and every stage, women are getting opportunities and striving to become financially independent. But unfortunately, society hasn't moved fast. Portrayal in cinema is negative, only a woman has to sacrifice or compromise on her career while raising a child or family, there is no justification for dowry either when women too are earning today.”
Principal and Correspondent, Akshara School, Ms.Kausalya Srinivasan, says: “Women, individually and as a workforce, are set for much greater achievements now. They are better empowered today. And those empowered are providing a helping hand to the weaker and deprived. Even though women are not shown equal respect everywhere yet, in some places, their position does make men jittery. For sure, they can't ask us for bribes and in a way we can help and contribute to curbing corruption”.
Feels Ms.Aruna Visweswar, Principal, Adhyapana School: “Women still need to empower themselves more. Problems of inequality, dowry, female infanticide exist though may be in lesser degree. While women are taking a progressive step forward, there are more and new problems to confront. Marital discords are on the rise and it is a disturbing feature affecting children of the new generation. Education is crucial for every woman for self-dignity and infusing feminity with intuition.”
The Vice-chairman (Emeritus), Aravind Eye Care Systems, Dr.G.Natchiar, asserts: “Women are the best representatives of the value system of every family, society and the country irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, educated or uneducated. Health care and education are the two most important sectors that need continued focus because only these will enlighten women.”
Industrialist and educationist, Ms.Shobhana Ramachandhran, appreciates the great capabilities and inner energy of every woman. Increasing number of women have turned professionals and skillfully managed their homes and personal lives too, she feels, adding that it reflects a woman's power, ability and understanding. If anything, women need to be more self-confident to make a deeper impact and for that a women's day celebration makes no difference
No doubt, empowering women whether directly or indirectly is an ongoing process. As this year's theme declared by the United Nations emphasizes on equal access to education among other things, it is this equality in participation and opportunities that may help to ease the “uneasy relationship” between power and leadership. For a woman, deep within perhaps feel being strident strikes at her feminity. Whereas, the two ought to be mutually compatible to reignite and channelise women's equality for the future.
Keywords: International Women's Day
Ebola is a lethal virus with a long incubation period. More than half the people who are infected with Ebola die from it, but it takes between 8-21 days for the symptoms to show up once a person is infected.
This now provides the making of a global epidemic — an Indian nurse working in Monrovia, Liberia, could come home infected with Ebola. She could pass through the airport thermal scanners and go home — completely asymptomatic.
When she comes down with the disease, she will be initially treated with love and care by her family members; none of whom will wear gloves or masks. They will be infected. She may finally have to go in, very sick and contagious, to a local hospital. Fearful of quarantine and death, she may not reveal (or more likely not be asked) that she came from Liberia.
The symptoms of an acute Ebola infection — high fever, headaches, nausea, diarrhoea — are the same as many of our home-grown but less fatal viruses. The hospital will not isolate her; nor will the nurses and doctors caring for her take any precautions. The epidemic will spread. Professor Peter Piot, the discoverer of Ebola, has said, “An outbreak in Europe or North America would quickly be brought under control. I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in West Africa.”
Ebola would become a pandemic when it hits India. We are a poor country with health systems that are already stretched in the “season” of disease. We have one nurse per 1,000 people (according to 2010 World Bank data) compared to 1.6 nurses that Nigeria has or the 10 nurses that the U.S. has for 1,000 people. The U.S. has systems and adequate resources to effectively track and isolate victims of Ebola, and the people these victims could have infected, to stem the tide of the epidemic. Most importantly, they have a far lower population density. Imagine a tracking-and-quarantine operation in Dharavi in Mumbai or Egmore in Chennai.
We have two questions and one suggestion.
Our best course of action is prevention. Prevent all persons originating from the three hardest-hit nations — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — from coming into India, no matter what their status (health or otherwise). Pre-boarding scrutiny of passports will accomplish this. If and when the epidemic intensifies, extend that ban to persons from Nigeria too.
Has due care (quarantine for instance) been exercised when they have returned to India?
How many passengers travel from the countries mentioned earlier to India every day? What are the main ports of embarkation? What are the preventive procedures in place today?
(Dr. Soumini Ramesh is chief medical director, Sri Krishna hospital, Madurai, and Mridula Ramesh is executive director, Sundaram Textiles Ltd.)
Keywords: Ebola, epidemic, Ebola virus
For most students, college is about friends, fun, and, of course, a little study. However, these girls have other ideas. Forty of them from the commerce and business departments of Lady Doak College have turned entrepreneurs though they are only in the second year of their degree course.
Under the auspices of Doakian Energetic Entrepreneurs (DEER), an initiative floated by the department of commerce and women entrepreneurs, the girls have started manufacture and sale of homemade fruit pulp, juices, detergents, sungudi saris, fashion apparels, fancy items and designer cushions.
The seed capital of Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000 was provided by the department. But most of the students have started making profits and many have reimbursed the seed money.
Take the case of S Sugasini, R Dharshini and K Sathyakala, all three B Com second year students. They chose to trade in saris just two months ago with an investment of Rs 3,500. They have already netted a profit of Rs 6,500. “Our intention is not just to sell saris and make a profit but also promote traditional weaves. We are working with several weavers in Madurai and they have started weaving saris based on designs sketched by us,” said Sugasini.
Thara O D and G Dhatshanu are into promotion of jute products. They design and sell cushions that suit light motor vehicles, under the brand name ‘Anokhi Handicrafts’. “We prepare files and mobile covers with jute and supply to several institutions. We are promoting the use of jute instead of plastic. We also design cushions suitable for bamboo chairs and cars, which have been well received,” said Thara. P J Suhaagshree, S S Hema and R Hemasoundari, all B Com students, make and sell soft drinks.
“We prepare and market rosemilk, sherbats, American green milk and tonovin essence under the brand name of ‘Just Fresh’. We bottle them and sell them inside and outside the campus. The response has been good and we plan to augment the business after completing college,” said Suhaagshree. A few others have started doing things on their own. P Sangeetha, B Com-Computer Science student, markets detergents prepared at home. Prinyanka Golchha and Z Qudusiya, who belong to northern Indian families, source apparels from north Indian manufacturers and sell them in the city.
The girls received a word of advice from established businesswomen in the region on Wednesday. A few successful entrepreneurs including Shobana Ramachandran, managing director of TVS Chakra limited, Mridula Ramesh, executive director of Sundaram Textiles Ltd and Vichitra Rajasingh, chief executive officer of Bell Hotels Private Ltd were in the college to speak to the students at a motivational programme, ‘VRYiKSHA’, jointly organised by Young Indians and Indian Women Network, wings of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
It all began in 1911 when T.V. Sundram Iyengar started a rural transport service in Tamil Nadu. Three generations and 100 years later, the TVS Group today is $5-billion conglomerate, with over 25,000 employees across 43 companies, and operations in over 10 countries. The group's expertise includes manufacture of a wide spectrum of auto components (brakes, brake linings, wheels, fasteners, radiator caps, tyres, electronic ignition switches, and electrical parts, to name some), two-and three-wheelers, apart from financial services (NBFC, insurance and mutual fund) and logistics.
Over the years, the TVS family has grown in size, too. Its third generation, which is making its way out for the next generation, is almost 20-strong. The fourth generation is even bigger at over 25, and 11 of them have already been initiated into the business (see TVS' GenNext). Typically, in a family business, larger the family, the greater the complexities. But the TVS Group has not only survived the third generation syndrome, it continues to expand. A close look at how the family operates reveals a distinct set of rules that the family members strictly adhere to and this may well be the secret of the family's success.
The family members, as a norm, have no personal shareholding (apart from qualification shares) in the companies they manage. (There have been certain exceptions to this rule, but these have been made with the approval of the other family members). Each family holds proportionate shares in the holding company TVS and Sons, which, in turn, has the stake in various group companies. This structure has suppressed individuality and kept alive the group identity among the family members.
The family has adopted formal and informal means of communication to share ideas and developments. The formal forum is the Board meeting of TVS and Sons, where each family is represented by three members. It is used to discuss group strategy, new opportunities and conflicts of interest (if any) with existing business. Informal meetings happen at family get togethers such as marriages, where the discussion invariably turns to business. Such a system is crucial to maintain a commonality in thinking among the family as its members grow in size, and unlike some family groups, which operate under the same roof, the TVS family is scattered around Chennai and Madurai.
Each family member, who heads a particular business, has complete freedom to run it. Other family members cannot, directly or indirectly, interfere. If they do have any concerns or objections, they can raise it at the Board meeting of the holding company. Also, public criticism of family members or the business they head is strictly prohibited. These have ensured that there is no bad blood within the family.
The TVS Group companies are well-known for certain attributes whatever be the industry they operate in. They are quality (five of the group companies have won the coveted Deming Award for quality given by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers), strong legacy of accountability, integrity, strong people focus (TVS companies have many second and third generation employees working for them), customer service and social responsibility. These values are ingrained into the family members fairly early in their life. Thus, when the next generation comes into business, their value system is in sync.
The TVS family members are taught to be simple and conservative. In fact, one unwritten rule among the members (and has been followed till now) is that they should not own a Mercedes Benz — a sign of opulence. This value has had a rub off effect on the business too. Most TVS Group companies are either debt-free or very low on debt. Their growth has been measured but consistent. This conservative thinking or rather lack of aggression, some argue, has slowed down the pace of growth of the group. That may not be entirely true considering that companies like TVS Motor, Sundram Fasteners and TVS Logistics have shown considerable aggression in terms of acquisition, large scale investments abroad and a rapid pace of growth.
The 3rd Great Lakes International Entrepreneurship conference with the theme ‘Entrepreneurship in education’ was conducted at the Great Lakes campus under the aegis of the ‘Orchid pharma centre for excellence in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship (OPCET)’ yesterday. The conference saw an array of excellent speakers talking on the theme and driving the importance and relevance of the same in today’s context, especially in India.
Right after the inception of the conference, nearly 50 students – drawn from government schools in the villages surrounding the campus – proudly displayed lamps provided to them, thanks to Dr. AK Rao – Founder, One Child-One Lamp.
One Child-One Lamp is an initiative of Thrive Energy which aims at reaching out to the children of bottom of pyramid with their innovative and cost effective lighting solution. In India, 130 million school children depend on kerosene lamps for their lighting needs. A villager spends close to 900 Rs annually on kerosene, which also pollutes the environment by emitting carbon monoxide. One Child One Lamp addresses these problems by their cost effective and environment friendly LED Solar lights.
Starting the proceedings of the conference, Dr. Bala V Balachandran, dean, Great Lakes, said that the Indian business education scene is at a crossroads. “There is a need for academic elegance to meet business relevance”, he said. On entrepreneurship, he expressed his wish to see more and more Indians becoming job creators rather than just job consumers. He also hoped that, in the subsequent batches, at least 10% of the students who pass out go on to create value (by becoming entrepreneurs).
Professor RS Veeravalli, Director, Corporate initiatives and Executive MBA Programme, Great Lakes, elaborated on the context of the conference. He grabbed the attention of everyone in the audience by running through some statistics. When he said that the size of the pie in the education sector will be 50 billion USD by 2015, all of us could not help but assimilate the enormity of the potential of “Edupreneurship”
A special address by BS Raghavan, retired civil servant and former chief secretary, West Bengal, followed. He said that for education to succeed, it has to be approached in a holistic and integrated fashion and conceived in the broadest state possible. He lamented that teachers, whose job it is, to make education come alive, have themselves, become slaves to salaries. He hoped that they view their profession as sacred. In a sweeping and hard hitting fashion, he called upon everyone in the audience to become educators because “The school begins where the family ends”.
Despite the national knowledge commission headed by Mr. Sam Pitroda making a series of recommendations to the Government, he said that there is a gap in the area of “human development”. Commenting on the prevailing lack of innovation in the education sector, he gave a contrasting example of his own experiment with the model of ‘single teacher schools’. “Innovations can help bypass and circumvent systemic deficiencies”, he said. Concluding his speech with the famous quote “I think, therefore I am”, he expressed his wish to see Great Lakes collaborating with the national innovation council in the near future.
Dr. Dan Papp, President, Kennesaw state university, delivered the chief address for the conference. By combining three different definitions, (from an entrepreneur, a business man and an academic), he said, an entrepreneur is “someone who takes an idea, combines it with money, marketing and management skills to create a successful and profitable business organization that meets the needs of the society.” He called uncle Bala, an academic entrepreneur. He asked potential entrepreneurs to take advantages of the advancements in information technology, shed the ivory tower mindset and leverage policy changes, if they wanted to make a mark in the education sector. Before concluding his address, he said that “an education entrepreneur thinks things that are not and asks, why not and how can I do it?”
Mrs Lakshmi Srinivasan, principal, PS Senior secondary school thanked the management of Great Lakes for pioneering the concept of imparting management education to students at the higher secondary school level. Students from the school were awarded certificates as a mark of successfully completing the course. Mrs. Akhila Srinivasan, Managing director, Shriram life insurance and trustee gave the commemoration speech. She reiterated that, primary schools should inculcate in children, a spirit of righteousness. Dr. Dan Pepp and Mrs Lakshmi Srinivasan unveiled the Shriram capital alumni alcove, a forum for the alumni of Great Lakes to come together.
This was followed by Colloquium on “Innovation and Ecosystem in Edupreneurship” where the august group consisting of Dr K.C.John(Managing Director, Agnity India) ,Mr Sameer Mehta (Founder, Atlas Advisory),Dr A.K.Rao( Founder One Child One Lamp), Prof N.T.Arunkumar and Ms. Mridula Ramesh( Executive Director, Sundaram Textiles Ltd) discussed on Innovation and Ecosystem in Edupreneurship.
Dr K C John talked about how education entrepreneurship can be used for encashing India’s demographic dividend. He said that the next technology disruption will be in India in Education sector. Prof Arun Kumar shared his experience of starting iDo ,it is a volunteered corporate social responsibility initiative, employees have the option to contribute more (than the standard desired contribution amount) or an option of no deduction. Ms Mridula Ramesh presented a case study how TVS group came up with a sustainable model of CSR , where they addressed the unaddressed section (school drop outs)by equipping them with vocational training followed by the placements.
Mr. P Kishore, Managing director, Everonn Education Limited gave the valedictory address. He narrated the inspiring story of his humble beginnings in the small town of Ooty in Tamil nadu. Tracing the growth of Everonn, he credited the seeds of the company to his thought of taking computers and education to government schools. He promised Great Lakes that Everonn would gladly provide digital content, if the Karma Yoga program run by the institute requires. Embarking to raise 50 crores and ending up raising nearly 7200 crores, with an IPO oversubscribed 145 times, Everonn’s story is truly extraordinary and one that would inspire many an entrepreneur to seriously consider ventures in the sector of education.
The conference ended with Professor RS Veeravalli duly acknowledging the efforts put in by members of CIECOM, the entrepreneurship committee at Great Lakes. The conference enriched the knowledge of Gladiators about the immense opportunities in Edupreneurship . It motivated us to consider Entrepreneurship as a career and thus contribute back to the society through our future innovative and sustainable business models.
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to wean international manufacturers from China with his 'Make in India' campaign, in Madurai an entrepreneur has made the first inroads, albeit with a humble battery-operated cart.
Tejus Motors, a firm based in Thirumangalam here, will supply indigenous battery carts to FreshWorld, a start-up venture in Bangalore that supplies vegetables to households directly from farms. FreshWorld has been importing battery-run cars from China but has now ordered 20 such vehicles from the Madurai firm. Tejus will supply the first lot of carts in a month, its managing partner P Girithar Raja said. "Our vehicles are fully indigenous. We make our own batteries and mould the chassis of the vehicles too," he said.
Raja, at a session organized by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said time had come to prop up green technology and provide impetus to the industry such that it could manufacture vehicles that could readily ply on roads. The symposium - entitled 'Clean Tech - Problems and Opportunities' -- pitched for use of green technology in new-age entrepreneurship.
In her keynote address, Mridula Ramesh, executive director of Sundaram textiles, said 'clean tech' provided several opportunities. And Tejus, which was put in touch with FreshWorld by Nativelead Foundation (a non-profit organization), wants to explore those as it has plans to manufacture battery-operated tractors which Raja says would help farmers in cutting costs incurred in transporting their produce
Saying that entrepreneurship was the way forward, P Vasu, chairman, CII Madurai zone, noted: "It is predicted that India will have the largest employable population in the world by 2020. Entrepreneurship is the best way to utilize this resource."
Shyam Menon, investment director, Infuse ventures (IIM-A), echoed similar sentiments and said start-ups were no longer limited to urban centres and could be initiated in villages too. "It is no longer related to IT and providing solutions to somebody sitting elsewhere. Now, you can become a start-up by finding solutions in water, energy and waste management in your own backyard and also help others in the process," he said.
Chennai, February 10: Madras Management Association will host its Annual Convention 2016 on February 13 in the city on the theme “India 2016 – Leading Change.” The convention will address the implications of emerging challenges through focussed sessions on three broad sub-themes - A New Generation of Change Leaders; Leading with Ownership and Accountability and Leading Change in Our Ecosystems. The topics will be covered through a mix of speeches, panel discussions and interactive Q&A sessions. The convention will be attended by over than 600 delegates, including company officials, academicians and management professionals.
S Nagarajan, Managing Director, Mother Dairy, will deliver the inaugural address.
Gautam Kumra, Director (Senior Partner), McKinsey & Company & Head, Organization Practice Asia and Founder, McKinsey Leadership Institute, will deliver the Keynote address and R Seetharaman, Chief Executive Officer, Doha Bank, will deliver a special address during the inaugural session. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, will present the valedictory address and hand over the awards to winners of 19th MMA Competition for Young Managers and Best Young Manager of the Year 2016.
R Dinesh, Managing Director, TVS Logistics Services Ltd, will deliver the keynote address during the valedictory session. Other speakers at the event include Bala V Balachandran, Founder, Great Lakes Institute of Management, India, Keshav Kantamneni , Managing Director, Uniply Industries Ltd, Mridula Ramesh, Executive Director, Sundaram Textiles Ltd and Swami Sukhabodhananda, Founder Chairman, Prasanna Trust. McKinsey & Company is the Knowledge Partner for the Convention and The Hindu BusinessLine is the media partner for the convention.
Climate change, which has become the topic of discussion at most forums, took an interesting turn when the students of the Thiagarajar School of Management (TSM) presented their ideas towards tackling the issue in their own way.
Madurai, October 16: Climate change, which has become the topic of discussion at most forums, took an interesting turn when the students of the Thiagarajar School of Management (TSM) presented their ideas towards tackling the issue in their own way. From going organic to waste management, tapping renewable energy to green buildings, ideas poured in. Incidentally, the course on Climate Change and Entrepreneurship seemed to have inspired them into thinking something different, go beyond mobile app.
Mridula Ramesh, Course Instructor and founder of Sundaram Climate Institute, said ideas were aplenty, but for want of time, they had shortlisted five for presentation before a jury at the Climate Change and Entrepreneurship Start Up Contest - Grand Finale.
After the presentation by the five teams, the jury comprising Venky Natarajan, Managing Partner, Lok Advisory Services Pvt Ltd, K Venugopal, Director, Kasturi & Sons (publishers of The Hindu), Manikam Ramaswami, Chairman, TSM and Mridula Ramesh acknowledged the Green Bindings team as winners and the Drink Rite team for runner-up prize. The winners presented a business plan on making eco-friendly cement using fly-ash and slag waste, while the runner-up team focussed on clay-water dispenser as replacement for pet bottles.
The runner-up team comprising Ramya Jenefer Grace, Jaya Vignesh, Sri Hariprasath, Nivethitha P and Santhanam said they intended to patent their product. The Institute chairman assured all possible assistance in obtaining the patent. Lauding the efforts taken by each of the teams, Venugopal urged the students to set goals and work with passion to realise it.
Lok Capital, which has been investing in early and growth stage enterprises, has made 30 investments till date across various sectors, said Venky Natarajan, emphasising the importance of incorporating cash flows in the presentation.
Voicing concern about environmental degradation and its impact on climate, the founder of Sundaram Climate Institute called upon the students to come up with solutions in the interest of a larger society. “Like all problems, these trends present opportunity,” she said, underscoring the collective need to save Mother Earth.
Rectangular plots of dark soil at the school’s entrance hold the promise of spinach, chillies, brinjal and radish. Then there are little patches of herb gardens growing lemongrass, mint, brahmi, rosemary, etc.
The campus already has abundant trees planted over the years that yield lemon, chickoo, moringa, and curry leaves.
The school decided to set up a community garden, Greendom, as part of The School Enterprise Challenge — an international awards programme for schools, that encourages them to set up businesses.
A sale of these helped raise seed money for the project; a part was donated to charity. They have had two sales so far, which have helped raise Rs. 32,000. A part of it is ploughed back into the garden.
Principal Manjula Raman hopes to convert the school into a green zone and create awareness among children on the effort that goes into growing food.The school gardener and teachers are the go-to people to learn about plant
care.Dry leaves and food waste are made into compost on campus. Many children take the plants home to care for them. And at school, the students weed, water and tend to them.
Reduces waste generation at home
In July 2015, Mridula Ramesh’s family of four and the staff in her sprawling bungalow in Chokkikulam, Madurai, decided to record for a week how much waste they threw into the municipal bin. It averaged 17.6 kg a day. Mridula, the JMD of Southern Roadways, set herself a target of going zero-waste ensuring her family became Madurai’s first to not send its trash out.
“I do not cook, and yet I turned out to be the biggest culprit,” she says, speaking of an unmindful and irregular grocery purchase pattern. “In the last 15 months, I have stuck to a shopping list, fully aware of the stock at home and exactly what is required for the kitchen.”
“When we clutter, we tend to forget, and that soon becomes waste,” says Mridula.
“Now, our grocery bills have plummeted by 40 per cent and there is drastic reduction in outgoing waste.”
The next step was to give the girls in the kitchen open bins to separate biodegradable and non-biodegradable trash. She has now created a major composting system in her backyard and the garden is flourishing.
Her only worry is the less than half-a-kilo plastic, cardboard cartons, medicine covers and other FMCG packaging.
The conservation plan has been duplicated at her company too, where 500-plus employees generated 200 kg of waste.
Within five months, the canteen waste reduced to less than 10 kilos from 40, and the garden waste of 110 kg goes for bulk composting.
Mridula has combined her eco-friendly action with teaching, and she is a clean tech investor.
“It is not just enough to raise awareness,” she says, “a start-up is fantastic to create impact”.
As founder of Sundaram Climate Institute in Madurai, Mridula offers waste reduction tips to students, residents and writes about it too. Videos of her approach to zero-waste at home demonstrate easy steps to turning garbage
into black gold.
Revive indigenous paddy varieties
Intense effort has gone into the ‘Save Our Rice’ (SOR) campaign pioneered by voluntary research group, Thanal. It has resulted in the collection of more than 1,000 indigenous paddy varieties, some brought back from the verge of extinction for the seed bank. The NGO has cultivated 219 of them, of which 164 are variants indigenous to Kerala. “Records say Kerala had almost 3,000 varieties of paddy. We are fortunate to have been able to collect 164 and consumers can buy 25 of them. We sell some of them in our store in the city,” says Sridhar Radhakrishnan, director.
Thanal’s campaign has been successful in seven states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh). The SOR campaign was founded in 2004 along with two other promoters of organic food, CREATE in Tamil Nadu and Sahaj Samrudha in Karnataka, to revive the cultivation of indigenous varieties of paddy across the country. It was a time when indigenous seeds had gone to seed and traditional paddy cultivators were reeling under the pressure created by industrial cultivation of the so-called ‘high-yielding variety’(HYV) of rice. The soil quality deteriorated due to excess use of fertilizers. “It was clear that the farmers were losing their sovereignty over paddy cultivation. We had to do something,” says Sridhar.
Today Thanal and all those who are associated with the SOR movement are reaping rewards. Paddy festivals are conducted every year and the participation has contributed greatly in building an understanding among farmers
and consumers about the value of traditional varieties. Hundreds of farmers, especially from North Kerala, have become part of the movement. The Rice Diversity Block run by Thanal at Panavelly, Wayanad cultivates all
the 219 varieties.
Mridula, the JMD of Southern Roadways, set herself a target of going zero-waste ensuring her family became Madurai’s first to not send its trash out.
Thanal and all those who are associated with the Save Our Rice movement are reaping rewards. Paddy festivals are conducted every year...
When we require something, it is natural to turn to others for help. And guess what Mridula Ramesh, the Joint Managing Director of Southern Roadways, is asking for. She wants “waste”! “It is one of the most wonderful resources we have,” she says.
In the last 18 months, Mridula has moved towards an almost ideal situation. She has drastically reduced the generation of waste where she lives and works. As a result, she is practically running short of waste to put into her compost bins. This has prompted her to request for food waste from restaurants, departmental stores and vegetable markets in her vicinity.
Hers is perhaps the first and only family in Madurai that does not send its trash out any more. “Waste affects our health and the more waste we generate and strain our landfills, it contaminates the soil and water and impacts the environment too,” she reminds.
“We cannot reverse the devastating impacts of climate change but at least adapt ourselves to somewhat halt it. And this can be achieved by understanding the critical link between climate change and waste,” she adds.
If waste is the secret weapon to fight climate change, the know-how to reduce its generation or reuse it, is crucial. And this is the message Mridula Ramesh is bent upon spreading now. She got working on it when the bore well inside her sprawling bungalow in Chokkikulam in Madurai went dry four years ago and she had to purchase water from private tankers.
The connection between waste and floods, waste and mosquitoes, waste and stray animals only underlined how waste is important in fighting climate change and she immediately decided to look at two things – her personal consumption and waste production pattern.
“It had to begin at home and we decided to be honest enough to look at our ugly selves in the mirror and address the issue. It meant measuring our mistakes,” she asserts.
For a week in July 2015, her small family of four and the staff observed the amount of waste they were collectively throwing into the municipal bin. Inclusive of 11 kilos of garden waste, it averaged 17.6 kilos a day! And Mridula was shocked to find herself as the biggest culprit of unmindful and irregular grocery purchase. “I don’t cook and yet I was cluttering my shelves with stuff that caught my attention in the market and forgot to use them. And all that was becoming waste.”
She instantly set herself a target – “to go zero-waste at home.”
Displaying the data of what we bought, the quantity of food cooked, eaten and thrown, hit everybody hard, says Mridula. A “name and shame” board was put up on the wall for everybody to see. “Now I strictly stick to a shopping list fully aware of the kitchen requirement and the stocks and our grocery bills have dropped by 15 percent,” she points out. Each item purchased is now kept at eye level and in transparent jars on the kitchen shelves and inside the fridge for easy access and timely consumption.
The next step was segregating kitchen waste. Much of the kitchen and garden waste that is sent to landfills can be turned into an energy source or fertiliser, says Mridula, who rues the unwillingness of the people to segregate waste. To make it simple and uncomplicated, she placed separate, big and open bins for biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste in a way so that the girls in her kitchen did not have to move even a step to throw the waste in the right bin. “If things are easy and hassle-free, everybody will be inclined to join in a good cause,” she notes.
Mridula’s graduation major in microbiology from Cornell University came in handy as she took to composting through trials and errors using aerobic and anaerobic processes. From the suitable size of composters to which bacteria can give the most viable compost under what temperature conditions and period of time, Mridula gradually worked on a complete package. Though her experiments are still on, Mridula says she wants to give people an easy solution for the best results.
The various types of manure she created in her backyard yielded her a flourishing vegetable, fruits and flowering garden in no time. So much so that she is now inspired to market and sell the compost.
The best part about Mridula’s approach is she is a voracious reader of articles related to climate change, experiments in her house before demonstrating the success, tracks daily progress with good quality and measurable data, uses small teams to involve everybody and makes them accountable and answerable.
“In order to sustain what you have started, the system has to run on its own steam, be easy enough with no friction on the path and there has to be a pay-back,” she believes. The outgoing waste from her bungalow today is roughly about 400g. Mostly FMCG packaging material, it is sold to the junk dealer. So there is an economic gain out of waste as well but how the non-biodegradable waste can be further managed continues to worry her.
What satisfies her though is the transfer of the same waste reduction model to her company with an employee strength of 500-plus that generated 200 kg of waste till last year. Within five months, the canteen waste has reduced to less than 10 kilos from 40, the grocery bills are less and the entire garden waste of 110 kg is going for bulk composting and anaerobic management for production of gas.
“We just need to pretend that we do not have a garbage service,” says Mridula, “and then see how our choices and lifestyle will change!”
Time for energy revolution
A small solar energy playroom has been set up for the children.
Water and power consumption pattern is monitored to minimise usage.
A biogas plant has been installed to use the gas, produced out of waste, in the kitchen for cooking.
Mridula Ramesh’s zero-waste lifestyle is distinguished by the fact that she combines her eco-friendly actions with teaching in business schools on climate change and entrepreneurship and also writing on environment. She is in the process of wrapping up a book on climate change. The businesswoman that she is, Mridula also doubles up as a clean tech investor having invested in five clean technology start-ups. “NGOs raising awareness about damage to the environment is not enough. It is the start-ups that create a wonderful impact,” she believes.
The Sundaram Climate Institute that she has set up in Madurai offers waste reduction programmes to students and residents through age-appropriate teaching modules, talks and video screening and encourages innovative ideas and entrepreneurship in clean technology.
To know more about her work, log on to www.climaction.net
The world is warmer than ever before. We are witnessing more cyclones, earthquakes and drought. People and wildlife are already suffering the consequences and the threat of farm yields collapsing looms large. What are we leaving our future generations with?
Here’s an opportunity for the city’s women to take a day out for themselves and indulge in some uninterrupted fun. World of Women (WoW), organised by The Hindu is all set to rock your Sunday. Promising to be a varied entertainment show, the event features a car and bike rallies, inspiring speeches by the city’s bigwigs, and attractive gifts and vouchers to be won, food, fun, games and a lot more.
Attempting to bring together women from various walks of life on to a single platform, WoW is a wholesome celebration of womanhood.
The day-long event will start off with a car rally from Race Course to the Velammal Speciality Hospital, the venue for the programme, highlighting the cause of eradicating Seemai Karuvelam trees. A two-wheeler rally will also be conducted simultaneously. The rally participants will be provided five litres and two litres of fuel for car and bike respectively. Gift vouchers worth Rs.5000 will be given for winners and assured gifts await all participants.
“We cannot reverse the devastating impacts of climate change but at least adapt ourselves to somewhat halt it. And this can be achieved by understanding the critical link between climate change and waste,” she adds.
The event will be inaugurated by Shailesh Kumar Yadav, City Police Commissioner who will also deliver a speech on ‘women’s safety’. While Bharatnatyam performances, Taekwondo demo session and fun shows by dubbing artist Pramila will keep you entertained, you may also gain some gyan from the eye-opening speeches of Mridula Ramesh, Executive Director of Sundaram Textiles on ‘Women and Climate’ and Sujatha Guptan, Principal, Queen Mira International on ‘Education and empowerment of women’.
The day-long event had thought-provoking talks by Shailesh Kumar Yadav, Commissioner of Police; Mridula Ramesh, Executive Director, Sundaram Textiles; Sujatha Guptan, Principal, Queen Mira International School, and others. The day started with a motorcycle rally by women to create awareness of cancer and the importance of removing Prosopsis juliflora (seemai karuvelam) trees. Nagalakshmi Palanisamy, president, Rotary Club of Madurai Malligai, flagged off the rally from Race Course Road.
Simultaneously, a car rally-cum-treasure hunt was flagged off from the same venue by A.R. Siva Kumar, Senior Divisional Retail Sales Manager, Indian Oil Corporation. Both the rallies concluded at Velammal Medical College Hospital and Research Institute where Mr. Yadav inaugurated the proceedings in the presence of Dean M. Raja Muthiah.
Pointing to the evidence in the Rig Veda about active participation of women and equality they enjoyed, Mr. Yadav said the situation unfortunately changed with certain religious texts advocating early marriage of girl children, thereby denying them education.
Revenue administration introduced around 6th century also played a major role in subjugation of women since the system denied property rights to them, he said. Arguing that the present laws in the country had ensured equality to women in all aspects, Mr. Yadav, however, pointed out the need to change certain feudalistic attitudes that were hampering growth of women.
He highlighted measures taken by the police to ensure safety of women, including the introduction of a mobile application with SOS service to report issues with ease and confidentiality.
Ms. Mridula Ramesh spoke on the role women could play in addressing climate change by regulating disposal of garbage from households. She cited her experience of ‘zero-garbage’ at her home through reduction and recycling and how she replicated the practice in her factory.
Talking on ‘Role of education in empowerment,’ Ms. Sujatha Guptan said high literacy rate notwithstanding, many women’s issues remained unanswered. A large number of girls still lacked freedom in making career choices.
The participants were also treated with a taekwondo demonstration by girls, bharatanatyam and many fun-filled activities.
A quiz competition was also conducted for participants of bike and car rallies. K. Kalyanakumar, Madurai North RTO, judged the competition and distributed prizes to winners. Sapphire Furnishings, Pathanjali Silks and Queen Mira International School were the gift sponsors.
(From left) Mridula Ramesh of Sundaram Textiles; Anita Sumanth, Madras High Court judge; and Aarthi Subramanian of TCS at the MMA Women Managers Convention 2017 in Chennai. - Bijoy Ghosh
Chennai, March 12:Women in urban centres should help ensure government policies meant for women empowerment reach rural areas, felt Madras High Court judge Anitha Sumanth.
“Actually, there are well-intentioned government schemes and policies. But we lack the mechanisms or the will to put them into practice at the grassroots level,” she said at the Women Managers Convention 2017 of Madras Management Association
“Women in urban centres have the infrastructure, resources and, most importantly, the confidence to claim that they are empowered. But, this facility doesn’t extend pan-India,” said, adding: “Only 30 per cent of the women in India are in the urban centres. We must bear it in mind that for every self-assured woman, there are 10 who languish simply for lack of infrastructure, resources and confidence.” “Millennial women are well-connected as collaboration and networking comes naturally to them or those qualities are part of them. They have that organically inbuilt into them,” said Aarthi Subramanian, Executive Director, Global Head – Delivery Excellence, Governance, Compliance, Tata Consultancy Services. She urged young women to lay a strong foundation in the beginning of their career.
She also urged the women managers to aspire not just for themselves, but also for their team members.
“Create confidence in your team members and enable them in ways that one can really create a very committed and passionate team which can actually make big things happen,” she added.
Editor's note: From May 2017, we're featuring this fortnightly column by Mridula Ramesh, titled 'Climate Conversations'. In this column, we take a look at pressing issues pertaining to climate change — in an accessible way.
Everybody and his uncle has been weighing in on the situation in Madhya Pradesh. As farmer unrest becomes increasingly common, it is important to understand what is going on with half of India.
Let us begin by asking four questions:
Onto question#1: How and why is climate change even relevant in what appears to be a wholly political situation?
It’s relevant because of all the sectors that will be hit in a more temperamental climate, agriculture will be the worst hit. This makes intuitive sense: In agriculture, both the product and the worker lie completely exposed to the elements which are becoming more menacing. A hotter climate can decimate India’s already low yields — if we don’t adapt.
It's relevant because many scientists see adaptation to a hotter climate as a two-stage process. Stage 1 means getting the non-scientific bit right and in scale — like improving access: to inputs, storage and finance and current best practices — to the smallest and most marginal of farmers.
This should ideally happen in the next decade or so before the deadly ravages of global warming begin to bite in earnest. Coping with Stage 2 is a whole different story.
It’s relevant because Madhya Pradesh has taken an earnest and effective stab in getting most of pieces of Stage 1 adaptation right. Getting other states to emulate Madhya Pradesh will be impossible if the fires in its fields continue to burn.
Which brings us to question#2: What did Madhya Pradesh get right?
The government improved the resilience of farmers by focussing on water — specifically, improving water availability. They did so in two ways: one by improving canal irrigation so that water reached all farmers (this was key) during the kharif crop. Second, by improving electricity supply to farmers in winter, they improved water access during the rabi season
Let’s go a little deeper:
India’s tryst with command-and-control approach to irrigation systems have been — to put is mildly — a sham. Between 1991 and 2007, while India invested over Rs 200,000 crore in irrigation, the area served by canals actually decreased. A negative return on investment, if there ever was one. A tragic case in point is Maharashtra, which paradoxically combines the highest number of dams of any state in India with one of the lowest levels of irrigated farm land. The inference is clear: irrigation projects benefit the contractor, not the small farmer.
One of the biggest problems in Indian agriculture is the uneven access to all inputs, including water. The larger, better connected farmers have farms that received the first access from canals. Farmers lower down receive whatever is left over, which is often very little or nothing.
But Madhya Pradesh turned this thinking on its head by ensuring the tail-end farmers (or those farmers who are farthest away from the canals) got access first. They even checked if this was indeed happening by maintaining a list of over 4,000 mobile numbers of tail-end farmers and having the chief engineer call one up at random to check if the water had reached the field!
But taking on powerful head-end farmers was not easy. Madhya Pradesh did this by empowering its irrigation department — by making administrative changes and by adding the chief minister’s clout to ensure that the department could withstand political pressure. They also ensured there was sufficient water for all by completing projects, and by fixing, lining and desilting canals. They ensured maximum reach for the same canal network by practising strict rotation of canals.
Canals helped when it rained, but what about the rabbi, or winter crop? Here, the state improved access to groundwater by creating separate feeders for farmers and charging, yes, charging, for the electricity. Farmers, desperate to grow a winter crop, and having no source of water than what could be drawn up by a tube well, were only too happy to pay for electricity. Of course, having paid for it meant that the motor use, and by extension, the water use was more judicious than it otherwise might have been. While I am not a fan of unsustainable groundwater extraction, there are case studies that suggest Madhya Pradesh has taken up water conservation and ground water recharge seriously.
The second aspect of Madhya Pradesh’s action was to improve physical access to the last mile — it did so mainly by improving roads even to remote interior regions. On a more personal note, the company I work for has been buying cotton from Madhya Pradesh for the better part of two decades. Our manager who has visited the remote fields over decades related how the roads used to be so bad, that it took nearly 15 minutes to cover a kilometre and he was often tempted to leave and source cotton elsewhere. But that has changed.
The third thing Madhya Pradesh did, is to improve procurement both by deepening access and transparency through initiatives such as the e-Uparjan, the bonus on MSP for wheat and by increasing storage facilities. But not enough. Here was a potential faultline. We’ll come back to this.
These measures taken together caused agriculture in Madhya Pradesh to really take off. The growth of Madhya Pradesh’s agriculture is unprecedented in the annals of Indian history: Agricultural GDP grew by 9.7 percent each year from 2005-06 to 2014-15. A testament to the success of the water management was that even during the drought of 2009, where the rest of India’s agriculture was beset, Madhya Pradesh’s farms’ output managed to grow at nine percent.
Acceleration of growth really stepped up after 2011, when wheat production and vegetable soared. Onion production, for instance, nearly tripled from just over 1 million tonnes in 2010-11 to 2.8 million tonnes 2013-14.These efforts translated to electoral success as Shivraj Singh Chouhan was voted for a third time as chief minister with an increased seat share in 2013.
So, what went wrong?
The elites and the urban readers of newspapers see inflation as a bad thing, and the controller of inflation as the slayer of dragons. Remember, inflation represents the increase of prices of a basket of commodities and services from a previous year. And in food inflation, the price paid by the consumer is to some extent a function of the price received by the farmer. Looking at the consumer price inflation closely, we see that the price fall of vegetables and pulses are the main culprits of current low inflation. While the pulse price dynamics have elements of a trade policy story, vegetable prices are mainly linked to rising production.
When yields soar, as they should with good farming practises and the right inputs, the costs of production should fall, given that a large proportion of costs are fixed. This should be a good thing — for farmers and the country. But it’s not. Why?
Let’s get back to onions. Half of India is always unhappy about onion prices.
Even in this season of plenty, onions at the wholesale market trade at Rs15 per kg in Tamil Nadu. Farmers on the fields of Madhya Pradesh received (until the recent government intervention) between Rs 2-5 per kg — a price so low, that many farmers left the crop to rot on their fields.
One big reason for this gap between consumer and farmer is freight. Road freight costs in India tend to be expensive. Textile spinning mills cry hoarse that it costs more to transport cotton from Gujarat to Tamil Nadu than it does to transport cotton from Gujarat to China!
Transport costs add between Rs 4-5 per kg of onion from Madhya Pradesh to Tamil Nadu. Other costs such as weighment, aggregation, commission etc. adds up to another rupee or so. Which leaves a gap of between Rs 4 to 7 to explain.
This goes to the traders. Traders lay claim to this share because they are the only bridge that currently crosses the last mile of farming.
Agriculture has a long working capital cycle. The farmer must prepare the land, plant the seeds, engage labour, live, buy stuff for his family, buy fertilizer and pesticides, pay the transporter and then sell his crop to receive revenue. The farmer often has little or no liquid savings and borrows to meet these expenses. Farmers, especially small and marginal farmers, often have no other asset other than their land (and precious little documentation on that too). To get a loan from a public-sector bank, or from cooperative or NABARD, a farmer needs to provide some form of collateral — given the sorry state of land records, this is a serious impediment. Many farmers are also in default of their existing loans, making them unattractive candidates for further loans.
In this context, it is important that we consider the role of loan waivers. Loan waivers are often the first port of call for any government wanting to be seen as farmer-friendly. In truth, waivers are anything but helpful to the farmer but make for a wonderfully effective election gambit. The UPA swept into power in 2009, many believed, in large part due to the large loan waiver. Multiple governments have used it since. The latest to succumb is the BJP in their UP election. Knowing the government’s predilection to waive loans, farmers become complacent about moneys borrowed from government controlled entities – what is called “moral hazard” by economists.
Banks are aware of this and with the spotlight shining brightly on their non-performing assets or NPAs, they are taking strong precautions while lending to the farmers. There are enough loopholes in the current priority lending scheme that bankers need not lend to the true small and marginal farmers to meet their quotas. Look at it from a bank officer point-of-view: He does not personally gain anything by lending to the smallest of farmers, but he runs the very real risk of default.
But this drives the farmer squarely back into the arms of the informal loan market. In many villages, the same person(s) runs the fertilizer shop, the local grocery shop, provides information, acts as the loan provider and buys the produce. He is an important person in the farmer’s life, who the farmer will not flout and he is the last mile in Indian agriculture.
Coming back to onions, prices often crash for any agricultural commodity as the crop first comes in. If one can hold out, there is a good chance that prices will rise in the weeks that follow, allowing one to capture a higher price. But to hold out, the farmer needs two things: financial capacity and storage capacity.
Small farmers have neither. Traders do, so they eat the profits.
While the Madhya Pradesh government have increased storage facilities for vegetables – it simply was not enough. The state had just 0.8 million tonnes of cold storage as against a production of vegetables of 14.2 million tonnes in 2013-14. This is a problem: a farmer has very little leverage to hold the onions if he faces a real risk of spoilage if he does.
But this equation has existed for a long time, why the protests now?
Speaking to traders and farmers offers a few plausible reasons: farmers are used to suffering during drought years — after all everyone does. But they expect to make good during the bountiful years. This year, the rains were bountiful. They suffered. The traders did not. This was strike #1.
Strike #2 mentioned anecdotally was the difficulties/ban on exports of onions. Demonetisation and uneasy relations with our neighbours have both hampered the export of our produce, so one avenue of demand came down.
Strike #3 came with demonetisation. Demonetisation combined with GST meant tougher times and liquidity issues for traders who have traditionally not been renowned for maintaining accounts. This made clearances of stock harder, which in turn caused markets to stall. For perishable produce, quick sales are everything, so prices fell. For those who advocate increased MSP, it is important to note that MSP can be a theoretical concept for farmers who need money now. Government procurement may pay higher prices, but the money will take up to two weeks to hit the farmer’s bank account. That’s two weeks too late for desperate farmers. This desperation can be used to pay lower prices for cash payment.
Opening up the APMC markets is a great long-term step in bettering agricultural markets. However, many farmers are too small to take advantage of this opening up. When a small farmer needs to take a loan to transport his small crop to the nearest mandi, selling nationally is a pipe dream that is (currently) out of his reach. While in the medium to long term, demonetisation, GST, opening up markets and direct benefits transfers are great schemes for the farmer, the short-term pain is real. And can, if not taken cognisance of and managed, queer the plot.
Strike#4: Into this already unhappy situation came the UP loan waiver. Suddenly, there was a rallying cry for the opposition to organise the farmers into dramatic protests. A farm loan waiver sustains the current unhappy credit dynamics of rural India, puts a large burden on beset banking system but wins political brownie points for the waiver. Moreover, in this case, the ruling party is not coming off as the good guy. What a waste of political capital, not to mention financial capital.
What are the lessons?
Lesson#1: Farmers need to have some control over the price set. Mandis are often monopolised by entrenched traders for whom free markets are a four-letter-word. A good way to enable better prices is by allowing more buyers into the market — corporates, exporters, retailers (more on this next time). Madhya Pradesh has had some food processing industries come up, but it needs a lot more. There is also a link between this lesson and #3 below. Both can receive a boost from FDI in Food processing.
Lesson#2: In this age of digital payments, payments from governments should come immediately, not be delayed by two weeks. This would make government procurement an attractive offer for farmers, and add bite to the MSP.
Lesson#3: Aggressive scale up of cold storage. In a hotter climate, this is a no brainer. Again, corporate India, especially retailers, should play a role in this. When the e-commerce giants are spending thousands of crores on supply chain, this is one easy win they can focus on.
Lesson#4: Understand spillover effects of one state’s actions onto another. The tinder on this whole crisis was sparked off by the loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh.
The liberalisation of the early '90s heralded whole new industries and millions of jobs for India. Opening up the last mile of farming could be India’s Liberalisation 2.0.
The writer is the founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, cleantech angel investor, and teacher. Follow her work on her website; on Twitter; or write to her at email@example.com
Editor's note: From May 2017, Firstpost is featuring a fortnightly column by Mridula Ramesh, titled 'Climate Conversations'. In this column, we take a look at pressing issues pertaining to climate change — in an accessible way.
The frequency of extreme events is increasing.
This appears to be the year for breaking records.
Mt Abu, in Rajasthan, has had record rainfall this July — the highest in over 100 years. The combination of runoff from here, unusually heavy rain in Banaskantha and a canal breach have flooded parts of northern Gujarat. Ahmedabad may break a 100-year record for heaviest rainfall in July, receiving three times the normal amount. Several places in Gujarat received a large fraction of an entire season’s rainfall in 24 hours.
In another part of the country, Assam is flooded. Forty percent of the state’s area is flood prone – making this an annual tragedy. This year has been particularly potent: resulting in 15 times the usual economic damage. Potential solutions, including building storage to contain the rain received by the Northeast that causes the Brahmaputra to swell, are complicated by concerns of water politics with China, the dangers of dams and climate change.
As always, the rescue machinery — including the Army, Navy, the National Disaster Relief Force, the Police, Private citizens – swung into prompt action rescuing tens of thousands and providing succour.
There is also the destroyed lives, the splintered education, and the threat of human trafficking — more lasting scars of a fleeting tragedy. It has become customary to blame climate change for such an event. It is often comforting to do so. Moreover, there is more than an element of truth in it.
But it is unhelpful.
A warmer climate is set to increase both the average rainfall India receives during its Southwest monsoon and the likelihood of extreme events such as the one Gujarat has experienced over the past month.
Moreover, in a vulnerability assessment by the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, July rainfall for Gujarat is expected to go up, while the number of rainy days is set to remain roughly the same in the coming decades (another study shows fewer rainy days). This means more rain will fall on the same or fewer days. This sets the stage for the next prediction: The number of events with >100mm rainfall for three consecutive days is also expected to increase over most of the country. Translated: Last month’s floods will become more likely going forward.
In a twist of cruel irony, a warmer climate will also make drier parts of the country drier still. In a record of a different hue, South India experienced its worst drought in over a hundred years this past year. Which means flooding and drought co-existing simultaneously albeit in different parts of the country.
But why am I saying it is unhelpful to blame only climate change?
We are looking in the wrong place for answers
Because if you, the reader, were to believe that a warming climate were the only thing to blame for our problems, then you, very reasonably, would say let’s cut greenhouse gas emissions of India. Shutter the coal plants. Increase subsidies for electric cars. But when India’s contribution to global greenhouse emissions is only about 6 percent, and our entire electricity sector (coal, gas, wind, nuclear, everything) contributes only 2 percent of global emissions, shuttering our coal plants will achieve little…if your goal is to stop these tragedies from happening. Especially as other countries, such as the US, who contribute a lot more are either playing hardball or making insufficient progress.
There is a scope for misunderstanding here, so let me be very clear: Yes, human-caused climate change will result in tremendous hardship, and we, as a world do need to slow and eventually stop our net carbon emissions. This needs to be a joint effort with all countries involved, especially the more developed countries who have contributed to the bulk of historical emissions and who have the deeper pockets to act.
But India, who faces the sharp end of climate change, and whose emissions are relatively small, needs to focus on setting its house in order. Because of the societal disarray, for the lack of a better phrase, the “impact” of climate change is mostly more acute than it needs to be. You see, the link between “extreme rainfall” and “human tragedy” is not set in stone. Extreme events need not translate into human tragedies. That part of the link has a lot to do with societal choices we make.
Take the Chennai floods that killed over 400 people in 2015. Yes, there was an unusual amount of rainfall in a very short time. But there was also disappearing water bodies, clogged drains and blocked rivers that played a huge role.
To better understand what I mean by societal choices, let me pose three questions
Do we build over a water body or not?
Do we dump construction debris into our rains and canals or not?
Do we allow slums to creep up in flood plains or not?
What we should do is theory.
Reality, as always, is different.
In practice, the answer is of course, we build over water bodies. Of course, we dump our debris into water channels. Of course, we allow our slums to be built on flood plains.
If we were to believe that this, our flouting of the “should”, is the root of the problem, our suggestions would then follow that we should preserve our water bodies, we should punish the builders for dumping the waste and we should find alternative housing for our slum dwellers.
Easy-peasy. Problem solved.
Only problem is that voices from across the social tableau have been saying precisely this, in differing levels of detail and shrillness, for decades. In the meantime, the problems have only gotten worse.
The next level of suggestions could be tightening regulation, tightening monitoring, and evict the slum dweller.
Umm…OK. Sure. Good luck with that.
Let us go to the actor – in this case, our elected politician – who will need to frame the regulation and monitor its implementation.
Politicians do what will get them re-elected – that’s the way their incentive works.
When disaster strikes, they make aerial surveys that are widely covered by the media – this shows empathy. If it hasn’t already happened, they ensure the might of the state – the Army etc. to provide succour. They offer solatiums to the next-of-kin. And then they wait for the public’s attention to shift. Which in this age of social media and ADHD television, they don’t have to wait long. Apparently, humans now have a shorter attention span than does a goldfish!
Some of you may be thinking. This is cynical. There are heroes amidst the politicians. I agree, there are. But when we talk about processes, especially scalable processes, we cannot talk in terms of the heroes, we must talk in terms of incentives. And the incentive for the overwhelming number of politicians is to get re-elected. And they will take the most effective actions to do just that. In this case, that is to appear sympathetic, appear to be acting and move on to the next problem (which is just going to happen tomorrow).
We really cannot blame them.
We need to look deeper
If we really want to solve the problem, we need to dig deeper, and go to the wounds and what’s causing them, rather than merely treat the pain.
Think of this, you are being hit repeatedly by a bully with a sharp club, and because of this, you bleed and feel pain. It’s just that suddenly you need to wear a tighter belt that makes the wounds hurt that much more. Now, band-aids, a pain killer and a little rest will all help healing. But they won’t solve the problem. Only confronting the bully will.
Now, a warmer, more temperamental climate is going to be pressing hard on the fissures in our social contract, that until now, we could live with. By placing more demands on our society’s capacity – increased drought, increased flooding, increased farmer suicides, geopolitical unsettling, migration – the wounds could break open that much more often.
If you really want to stop the tragedies, we need to ask why and where our social contract is fraying.
We can begin by answering the same three questions:
Why do we build over a water body?
Why do we dump construction debris into our rains and canals with impunity?
Why do we allow slums to creep up in flood plains?These answers will help uncover our actual social contract as it exists today. And understanding is the first step to creating a solution. For we will never get a lasting solution if we only look for answers in the sky.
This is part one of a three-part series on solutions to climate change. Next time, we will look at our social contract, and why it is broken; in the last part, we will look at what we need to shift it.
The writer is the founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, cleantech angel investor, teacher and author of a forthcoming book on Climate Change and India. Follow her work on her website; on Twitter; or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
When your actions speak how much you love your city and care for the environment
After all the pomp and grandeur of Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations each year, Madurai city usually deserted by rains dunks at least 300 Ganesha idols in the waterless Vaigai. This year was no different. At Thirumalairayar Parithurai near Sellur, the Corporation cleans up and levels the ground near a natural deep pit where rain water gets collected and if not, the PWD water tankers facilitate immersion of the idols.
People who come in processions from various areas stand on the bridge overhead and throw their Ganapatis into the pool of water – at times most disrespectfully. The smaller and lighter idols are most often flung across and the heavier ones are even lifted by cranes and bulldozed into the dug up area.
In the last five days 302 Ganeshas of varying sizes from two to seven feet have been immersed inside the waterhole. Many times, the idols have to be pushed inside with force and machines to be properly submerged. Doesn’t really sound, look or feel good about the way we treat the creative idols we otherwise worship with so much faith and fun. Do we even care a hoot about how we pollute the water body with all the non-biodegradable chemical colours the plaster of paris idols are coated with? The Municipal Commissioner, Dr.Anees Shekhar, says, the PoP idols are actually banned but awareness among people about not using the toxic material or artificial colours is yet to penetrate.
The best thing during such celebrations would be to have fun but not at the cost of damaging the environment or sacrificing the idol’s dignity. When mere verbal appeals do not help, actions speak. And somebody somewhere has to make a beginning. The concern and efforts of many like-minded and environment-conscious people across different cities has given rise to the green or seed Ganesha in the last few years and the concept is slowly catching on. And for the first time, in our own city, one person silently took the lead this year.
Corporate honcho Mridula Ramesh who belongs to the TVS family is also a cleantech investor and founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute in Madurai. Says she: “When I was a kid, we always got big clay balls at home and I always made my own Ganesha since I was also learning sculpting in school.” Now her kids follow the same practice but it is the sight of life-size Ganesha statues made with toxic materials and painted in lurid colours polluting the over-stressed water bodies that bothers her no end. “Neither do people care for the environment nor do they give a crap about their faith,” she says and asks, “will you leave your idol you consider to be God in a place where raw sewage is discharged or the riverbed sand robbed for construction has left behind ditches where sewage collects in stagnant cesspools?”
Before the festive season set in, Mridula, with the help of a local potter got a Ganesha idol of about 12 inches in height made of pure clay and filled it with a ball containing compost generated at her zero-waste home in Chokkikulam. The compost was embedded with tomato seeds and fashioned into a charming Ganesha. After worshipping, the idol was given a symbolic immersion in her garden by placing it inside a pot and watering it till the clay dissolved. Within a week, the first leaves sprouted. “I told my family and staff, Ganesha has re-manifested as a plant in our house. Call it a divine rebirth.”
Mridula did not stop with her own Ganesha. She spread the word about the seed Ganesha and within no time a demand of 200 orders was knocking on her. “Given the time frame, the potter could only make 100 idols and we also lost a dozen in transportation,” she says. But she had the satisfaction of sending the seed Ganeshas (priced at Rs.80 per idol) to at least 80 to 90 households where Ganesha got a dignified farewell this season and yet continues to live there either in the form of neem, tulsi or tomato tree.
In her house, she also performed a no-waste puja. The offerings of sweet and savoury modaks were eaten by devotees and visitors, the decorations with erukku flower (Calotropis Gigantea) went back to the Earth and the grass garland made the cattle feed. And the Ganesha idol was of course dissolved to be reborn as a plant. “It brought back the warm childhood memories of the festival,” she says.
Mridula has now decided to sell seed ganeshas with compost from her garden and embedded with different varieties of seeds. “I am looking forward to a jump in demand for seed ganeshas next year.” The Climate Institute plans to tie up with potters and aims at giving people of Madurai a better and environment-friendly choice.
Almost everyone today knows someone who has had dengue these past few weeks.
It’s a good thing, then, that change is in the air.
When the Prime Minister of the country, in his inaugural Independence Day address, stands from the top of the Red Fort and speaks of the importance of toilets, and three years later, reinforces the message by saying: “Build toilets before temples”, change is indeed in the air.
And this is important, because waste — solid and liquid — is, as the Americans call it, “One hellava problem”.
A Big and Serious problem
Every day, Indian cities generate about 1,50,000 tonnes of solid waste. This waste ends up in landfills, lines our streets, smothers our drains and chokes our water ways. This is a big number — that’s like 50,000 elephants marching into our landfills, streets and drains every single day. To provide perspective, this is twice the number of actual elephants India has! Waste is a big problem, and a serious one too.
But is it relevant to the climate?
One might say solid waste plays a laughably small role in warming the planet. And that person would be right. Waste management, mostly as methane from landfills, accounts for about 3 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
But managing our waste represents probably one of the single strongest adaptive actions against a warmer climate. And given the anaemic progress we are making in halting our warming emissions, we would do well to adapt.
Let us look at some of facets of this problem.
Warming temperatures makes intense, concentrated rainfall more likely. The combination of intense rainfall, and unwise urban management (with waste-clogged water ways and drains) causes flooding. The rainfall pattern is likely to get worse, which leaves the only option available to us is to manage our waste better.
Solid waste provides attractive little pockets of water for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. This helps in the explosion of mosquito-borne illnesses such as the dengue, chikungunya and malaria. Even with rampant under-reporting, a serious epidemic is underway in many Indian cities. Again, our option is to manage our waste better.
For Delhi residents, “Winter is coming” is not just a catchy line from a TV Show; it represents the dangerous air pollution that reaches Delhi when the farmers of surrounding states set fire to any agricultural waste left on their fields.There is also the plastic issue — one alarming statistic is that we may well have more plastic in our ocean than fish by 2050.
Then there is the electronic waste and hazardous waste issue — dramatised in the Tamil movie, Singam 3. India generates 1.8 million tonnes of e-waste a year, and this stuff is dangerous, because it contains lead, mercury and cadmium. Sadly, many of the “sorters” of this waste tend to be children, and they pay a heavy price with their health.
In the face of such a large, dispersed problem, we need hope.
A need for hope
Hope is often fragile, hard to cultivate and sustain in the face of the near-constant rubbish one sees around.
Let me relate my personal experience in how I keep hope alive. In the past two years, our household waste sent out has come down by 90%. We recently installed a biogas plant at home, which made us “run out” of waste — necessitating a weekly trip to the flower markets to pick up “waste” from corporation dustbins.
What an odd statement: “Run out” of waste?? In the process of going to “Negative waste” (which is a whole different story), there were many learnings — the biggest one is that waste = resource, and one, when used correctly, can give us value. Our biogas plant, for instance, saves us between 1-1.5 cylinders per month.
But hope alone is insufficient. We need it to translate to a scalable solution.
What form will a solution take?
The outline of a solution
We’ll get there, but first, let us consider status quo.
Many under-staffed corporations with multiple mandates (of which managing solid waste is just one) collect the garbage from our house and take it to the landfill. Performance rewards, are rare/non-existent, as are punishments.
To bring this point home, imagine if we were to bring up our children this way. No praise for jobs well done, and no punishment for transgressions or non-performance. How would they turn out?
Now consider the incentives of the users. We pay next to nothing for garbage collection. We face no penalties for not segregating our trash. Indeed, we pay no penalties for littering, or even urinating in public. Given that many of the problems of waste come about at the societal level, it makes little sense for us to manage our waste sensibly if our neighbour does not.
There are, of course, exceptions. Heroic corporations who have made a difference. Individuals who live a Gandhian lifestyle. But a scalable solution cannot rely on heroes. By definition, it must work for most, if not all users.
Which means, given the incentive-structure (and diffused focus), we cannot get away by just “tweaking” the current system.
Moreover, much of the current solutioning revolves around cleaning and collecting waste. But waste remains waste – costing money to manage, and, at best, sitting in the landfill, generating tonnes of methane. I would argue our focus should shift to generating value from the “waste”. The fact that money can be made acts as a magnet to pull action.
Our current system also does not pay much heed to the type of waste — food waste (and food loss up the supply chain) forms a big chunk of solid waste, followed by packaging waste. It is important to understand the varying dynamics of these when attempting a solution. One size most certainly does not fit all. This lies at the heart of the solution: if you segregate the different types of waste – either in-process, or before trashing – you create, not one, but multiple resources. This is the starting point — without this, there is no solution.
The second lies in the word “Sustainability” — an overused term, if there ever was one. While many of us use this a catchall phrase of social goodness, I should like to focus on two under-explored aspects of this term.
The first is economic sustainability of any solution — whether the person providing the service or product that addresses the problem makes a profit while doing so. Second, relatedly, the incentive-sustainability of the solution-provider and solution-user — without any watchdog or external pressure, will the solution provider and the solution user want to continue to use the solution.
Large parts of the waste ecosystem lend themselves readily to an economically sustainable model. Our neighbourhood waste dealer is living proof of that. Now put him on steroids, and expand his scope, and we have private waste managers. Large parts of the agricultural waste today are also amenable to this model — welcome news to our farmers, who are literally burning money on their fields. Managing farm waste is an ignored arrow in the government’s arsenal of schemes to double farmer incomes by 2022.
Momentum and next steps
Seeing is believing. In the next few articles, the dry-sounding principles echoed in this article become manifest in diverse places in India – from private waste managers, to biogas generators (from household size to large plants), to companies for whom a used bottle looks enticing.
There is one more piece to consider: The government has announced several schemes: Swachh Bharat, Smart City and Stand up India, to name just three. Individually powerful, but if shrewdly combined, they can become the dynamite that breaks through the stalemate of our waste problem. At the very least, they have underscored that the government’s attention is on this issue, which has increased this issue’s power to move forward.
Any traveller on the change journey understands the importance of momentum.
The momentum is with us. Let us use it.
This is the first of a multi-part series on waste. This article is a context setting piece. The ones to follow will deep dive into successful start-ups/individuals dealing with some aspect of the waste ecosystem.
The writer is the founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, cleantech angel investor, teacher and author of a forthcoming book on Climate Change and India. Follow her work on her website; on Twitter; or write to her at email@example.com
We began this mini-series within the column by talking about the Gujarat and Assam floods.
Little more than a month ago, large parts of Gujarat and Assam had been inundated by water, and lakhs of people had been displaced.
Between then and now, Bihar has been devastated by the floods. Parts of Bengaluru have been ravaged by floods. At the time of writing, Houston in the US has been flooded and closer to home, so has Mumbai. Google maps shared on WhatsApp groups show an angry sea of red, as commuters wonder how, and whether, to get home.
If there was ever a lesson that there are no moats to hide behind in a warming climate, one would think this is it. But humanity, it appears, has unique and endless stores of denial and imagination. Witness this tweet by Anne Coulter, a conservative commentator, on the Houston floods: “I don't believe Hurricane Harvey is God's punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than 'climate change'.”
Wow. Just wow.People are rescued from a flooded village in Motihari, Bihar, on 23 August 2017. REUTERS
The many people I have spoken to in the past few years have agreed that it will take a major catastrophe for society to change meaningfully.
At least 24 million people have been displaced in the floods in South Asia.
More than 1000 people have lost their lives. Each death has been unique, and a tragedy.
The bill for damaged properties, trauma, lost lives and scattered memories can stretch over thousands upon thousands of crores.
By any definition, this set of events should be fall under the title of major catastrophe.
Not so in India. Hold the thought – we will come back to it soon.
A fractured social contract
The silver lining to this catastrophe is that we saw, in the last article of this series, our societal choices have at least as much of a role to play as does climate change in the tragedies that unfold before us regularly. This means the action is well and truly in our hands.
So, what is stopping us? Why are we not acting? Why, if anything, are our choices taking us in the opposite direction?
For one, as we saw last time, too many of us have far too little skin-in-the-game. Whether it be the very poor, who contribute little to the revenues of the state, or the large middle class, that doesn’t vote, and does not partake greatly of what society has to offer, or the rich, who live in cocoons. Many of us don’t see society as “ours”. We don’t believe we have certain rights and we don’t acknowledge our responsibilities.
As a result, we have a societal contract where a large group of people have very little direct control over the services they receive from society. They, like Muniammal of the last column, strike an unholy bargain with the politician. This gives the politician tremendous power – some of which is used to avariciously exploit the commons – our shared environment. The system that has emerged works well in granting favours, not providing consistent, accountable service. This works well also for another group — the Rajeev’s from the previous column – the powerful — who gain by trampling on the commons. The middle class is distracted by their smartphones and their regular feed of stories by news channels.
But status quo cannot persist
The good news is this: India is slowly becoming wealthier — especially in her cities. This means what they want from the society, and by extension, their politicians, is likely to be different. And two, climate change casts a bright light on the fissures in our societal contract and the ways by which our coping mechanisms have been damaged. You cannot keep throwing rubbish in the drains once you know that intense rainfall is going to become the order of the day. Or you cannot allow leaks to persist, when droughts become much more common. The demands of the big groups of voters is changing: no longer is a favour enough, they need systematically good service. The rich cannot remain aloof and the middle class cannot remain indifferent, because the flood waters are affecting them as well.
So how do we enable a better equilibrium, a more effective social contract?
A starting point, as so many have advocated, is empowered city governance. The thinking behind this is that having an elected, accountable government closer to the problems to enact relevant policy and provide better services. Put another way, Pune is likely to elect a government on issues that are more relevant to Pune than Vidarbha. And that government is more likely to act on issues relevant to Pune than Mumbai.
The good news is that we have the law in place: The 74th Amendment to the Indian constitution requires states to devolve power to the cities. A quarter of a century has passed since the amendment and yet, less than a handful of states have taken meaningful action in surrendering power to a municipal authority. Why should they? The voters in the cities haven’t made it an issue. Why give up power when the other side is not asking for it?
De facto, power and responsibility is shared between a Mayor, the MLAs, the MPS, councillors, collectors and commissioners. When there are so many desks where the buck can stop, accountability, decision making and incentives all suffer. This reinforces a system that works well for favours and ad hoc-ism rather than systematic delivery.
One reason pointed out for not devolving power is lack of talent. But, India has good senior talent – in the public sector, in the private sector and in her diaspora. Allowing for lateral entry at senior levels in city management can make a world of difference in outcomes.
What is stopping us?
The real bottleneck is not talent, it’s not the law, it’s the citizen apathy.
Democracy is a contact sport, folks. You need skin in the game. Participation is NOT optional.
There is a popular adage: the crying child gets the milk. Lobbyists and protestors swear by it. India is a land of protests. Indeed, a particular state is renowned for holding protests on Mondays or Fridays to stretch weekend time. But a quick survey of our recent protests shows where our priorities lie: Farmers for loan waivers , For and against the cow and cow-related violence, against an arrest of a convicted rapist/spiritual leader, against GST, for reservations.
When is the last time we heard of a protest for the implementation of Amendment 74?
Big surprise that city governance is not improving.
This needs to change. That’s entirely in our hands. Our preferences. Our choices. Our protests. Our vote.
Flooding (and its fraternal twin sister, drought) must compete for attention with cricket, a godman’s pillaging followers, his sex life, a super star and Game of Thrones. For many of us, focussing on the competition is so much more fun. And besides, there is the age-old mental voice saying:
“What can we do about it?”
Perhaps we should consider that any change in the history of mankind has come about because a small group of people believed they could do something about it. Indeed, that’s the only way for change to come about. Cities around the world have shown that groups of people have taken the initiative to solve their own problems. And it has worked.
But we need to be concerned. More than we are today.
You may be thinking. Rubbish. Of course, we are concerned about the floods.
Google trends says not enough. Google trends measures the search interest in a particular topic and allows anyone to compare it with search interest in any other topic. This serves as a useful (if imperfect) proxy for public interest in a topic.
Let me share a Google Trends comparison I ran between “Floods” and other issues in India.
Our preferences suggest that, as a society, we are concerned with first-world problems while living in a third-world country. We do not have the luxury to that – especially in the face of a warming climate.
Some of you may ask: Has concerted action by concerned citizens worked?
We got our Independence that way.
Nearer to today, and smaller in scale, Bengaluru has a thriving ecosystem in solid waste (which we shall explore deeper later) because of this. Johannesburg turned its finances and functioning after it made significant governance reforms.
As long as our current preferences continue, an Indian Game of Thrones with Rajinikanth playing Jon Snow and overcoming the Night King and doing a dragon dance with Dany is more likely than effectively adapting to climate change.
In South India, the conversation of late seems to always turn to dengue. The neighbourhood hospitals are overflowing with dengue cases, and sachets of Nila Vembu Kashayam (a herbal remedy against fevers) are being sent home, as per government instructions, in my five-year-old’s homework diary. Offices and factories are reeling under a wave of absenteeism as workers fall sick or stay home to take care of a loved one. India’s productivity, already low, is being dealt a further blow by the bite of a small, fragile, female Aedes mosquito.
What is dengue?
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection characterised by high fever, excruciating pain (since I’ve had it, I can vouch for this), an angry red rash and sometimes, vomiting. One of the original names for dengue was “dandy fever” because the West African slaves who contracted it walked mincingly like dandies because of the extreme joint pain. The more serious variant is Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever, which can lead to bleeding and death if not given prompt medical attention.
There is no cure for dengue. The disease requires careful monitoring and care. Leading haematologists say that drinking plenty of fluids is the best practise. The virus is carried by the female Aedes mosquito who requires a blood meal before she can lay her eggs. She can contract the virus during her blood meal, incubates the virus, and if she lives long enough, passes it on during her subsequent blood meals.
This is the only way the virus is transmitted. Aedes females are day-biting — using a repellent during the day and wearing appropriate clothing can go a long way in not contracting the disease.
A female typically takes her first blood meal 3 days after emerging from her pupae. In a life span of less than a month, the key determinants of whether she transmits dengue are: does she get infected by the virus and how long does it take her to become infective? The first depends on whether there is dengue present in her surroundings, and the latter, surprisingly, depends on the temperature.
The Climate Link
A-ha. There is the climate link. The time taken for an infected Aedes female to transmit it to her next victim is dramatically shortened as the temperature increases. This period almost halves from 9-15 days at 26-28°C to about 5-7 days at 30°C. One study shows this time falls further as the temperature rises beyond 30°C.
Let’s do the Math quickly: The Aedes females hatches, three days later she feeds off someone with dengue. She’s infected. It’s hot (30°C) — and so, by day nine, she’s a dangerous vish-not-quite-kanya. Given a life span of 25 days (this is affected by a combination of temperature and egg-laying), she has a good 16 days to infect someone.
What if it’s cooler?
What if young Ms Aedes is born somewhere with an ambient temperature of 26°C? She hatches; three days later, she bites someone with dengue. But then it takes her anywhere between 9-15 days (or never as per one study) to become deadly. That means, she would have only 10 days to infect someone.
The current warming has expanded the range of the Aedes mosquito to more temperate climes (more of the US and Europe), taking diseases like dengue and Zika with it.
Temperature also influences size. One study shows that female mosquitoes become smaller when it’s hotter. Smaller mosquitoes tend to feed more frequently, which increases the chance of infection.
But isn’t there something as too hot?
Possibly. Mosquito babies develop more slowly above 34°C and there is some evidence of increased mortality above 40°C. But remember these are urban mosquitoes who typically bite indoors, where temperatures in the shade can be much lower. Laboratory studies are not quite as useful for wily mosquitoes intent on living.
But temperature alone does not reveal the whole picture.
Rainfall is literally manna from heaven for dengue. Mosquitoes need water to lay their eggs in. Without that moisture, the eggs will not develop. When it rains, especially when it is hot, the humidity of the air increases. Mosquito feeding, survival, development all receive a boost when that happens.
Paradoxically, drought can trigger dengue epidemics as well, but perhaps not in the way you might think. People store water during drought or when water supply from the municipal corporation is irregular. Mosquitoes love this — the water containers in each house provides both a cool place to lay their eggs in close proximity to feeding grounds — the arms and legs of those creatures (us!) that drink the water!
The Solid Waste Link
There is one more piece to the puzzle.
When rain falls on an open surface, some of it evaporates, some of it enters the soil, and a large quantity “runs off” along the slope.
Not so in our cities. Look around you — especially if you are a city dweller.
Rain falls. Some of it evaporates, if there is soil, or an unclogged drain, some of it disappears below ground, some of it fills the convenient little pockets that unmanaged solid waste creates, and much of it pools, because the drains and canals are often clogged with waste. Rain combined with solid waste provides convenient scattered, nutrient-rich mosquito-nests.
A-ha! There is the waste link.
The pools of rain water and million tiny pockets of water all form inviting homes for the female mosquito to lay her eggs, thus giving rise to the next generation of unfriendly neighbourhood killers. Mosquitoes can breed in pockets of water which are about the size of coin. This is important — a female Aedes mosquito has a flight range of about 400 metres — which means neighbourhoods can take the initiative of keeping their own surroundings clean. Dengue is, to use start-up slang, a hyper-local start-up, with solid waste providing its seed funding.
The Emperor is naked
But we, as a society, have not come to grips with this problem.
Every doctor I have spoken to has spoken, in strong terms, but off the record, on the level of underreporting in dengue cases. This is important because names hold great value. Calling the fever by its appropriate name: “Dengue” gives the problem a name. When the numbers add up, they can serve as a strong call to action.
To understand the extent of underreporting, consider this:
In 2016, 13,115 cases of dengue were reported in Singapore. With a population of 5.6 million, the risk of dengue in Singapore works out to 0.23 percent.
Take India. In 2016, 1,29,166 cases were reported. With our population of 1.3 billion, the risk of dengue in India works out to 0.009 percent.
In other words, the risk of dengue in Singapore is 23 times the risk of dengue in India.
No, no. One might argue. Dengue is an urban disease. India is primarily rural.
Let us take Tamil Nadu — reasonably urban and hard hit by dengue at the moment.
Tamil Nadu has reported 11,552 cases up to 5 October this year. Since I do not have the breakup, let us for a moment assume that 80 percent of these cases were reported in the cities of Tamil Nadu (this makes for a highly overestimated risk — only makes the point I am trying to make stronger). Given Tamil Nadu’s urban population of 35 million, this translates to a 0.026 percent risk of dengue in Tamil Nadu’s cities in the midst of a raging epidemic.
Which still puts the risk of dengue in 2016 in Singapore eight times higher than the risk of dengue in Tamil Nadu’s cities.
This is absurd.
Singapore is far cleaner, and far stricter about water stagnation than India is. Singapore has taken data collection, analysis and action to great levels (check it out here) and consequently brought down the risk by 80 ercent in 2017.
We, on the other hand, want to pretend the problem does not exist, both with outright denial and rampant underreporting.
This is not way to surmount the problem.
What needs to be done?
Because, you see, the problem has been conquered elsewhere.
Dengue existed and caused epidemics repeatedly in Europe and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, they have all-but-disappeared. The climate has warmed, but dengue has not taken a significant bite. Cleanliness — i.e., management of solid waste, can certainly claim an important role in that progress.
In India, while there is not much we can do about the temperature or the rain, we can do something about the waste and our water storage. In the past few years and days, when I have spoken to Waste Managers in the Public, NGO and Private sectors, they all say the same thing: we, the public, are unwilling to segregate or pay enough for effective collection and management of waste.
This is the first step to management. The first step to winning the war on dengue.
Humans as a lot care more about losing something, rather gaining something. Two Nobel Laureates in Economics, including this year’s winner, won the prize for this insight. Perhaps, getting to clean cities should focus more on not losing our lives to dengue rather than gaining a wonderful city to live in.
What can I do?
A leading Chennai haematologist told me that patients report corporation workers do visit the houses where dengue is reported and take countermeasures.
Prevention is always better than cure; this is something we can do proactively: search for pockets of stagnant water and remove them. Typically, this means ensuring waste is collected and managed. The Western world and Singapore have shown that community action against waste can help win the war against dengue.
If we want to solve our dengue problem, managing our waste is probably the best place to start.
This is the second of a multi-part series on waste. Read part one here.