Sunday, 13 August 2017

Burnout and Low Morale of Civil Services in India


    Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh in its first 100 days  transferred most of the IAS and IPS officers in the state  including    chief secretary and director general  of police  .A new transfer policy is in place and transfer of  other services and levels is continuing. But such an exercise may be give a signal that a new government has come in place of the old  but hardly any thing else. What is needed is a combination of decisions and an approach which gets the much-abused civil service out of a state of burnout and raises its morale.(I include all rungs and branches (generalist, police  as well as   technical)  of civil servants in this phrase civil services)  Without motivation and morale, all decisions of new government will  be implemented half-heartedly. In Uttar Pradesh ,  a  majority of civil servants  suffers not only from burnout , but also from cynicism , low morale and lack of meaning and pride.
                   Morale of civil  servants is essential  for  building effective , accountable and inclusive governance  institutions .It  indicates  the health and  the capacity of civil services to  deliver  services and results. Morale is the degree  to which civil servants  have respect for their own jobs and a commitment to the organization.                      
                       Burnout is  “ a condition  of emotional exhaustion , depersonalization  and reduced personal accomplishment  that can occur among individuals  who work with people in some capacity”  (Maslach ,  Jackson and Leiter ). When  employee’s resources  fall short of the demands and expectations of leadership , burnout may result.  Burnout   leads to   low morale , reduced quality of service , high rates of illness and absenteeism , indifferent and cold attitude ,a tendency to devalue one’s work(negative self-assessment) , high staff turnover, and low career satisfaction.              In India , where  unemployment levels are high ,  public servants   do not quit despite low morale , because of the  security that a government job offers .
      The factors which affect the morale of  civil  services  in India are as below:
1.Ethical climate:
 In  a work culture, steeped in corruption ,  the stress levels of honest employees are high  .They are  called upon to   exercise    inappropriate use of  powers , resources  and even  connive in frauds. .This  makes them  either  corrupt , or  if they choose to  fight against corruption , they end up  in  burnout.
2.Administrative Leadership:
If  the selection  of the  administrative leader is  not on merit  ,  integrity   and professionalism  but on the basis of connections and  loyalty to political bosses , the administrative leadership becomes weak  or absent . Such leaders lack commitment   to engage  people in organizational improvement efforts. They  have little courage  to take or recommend action against  corrupt or inefficient subordinates. They are unfit to lead. 
  John Le Carre wrote:”  A desk is a dangerous place  from which to view the world”. When leaders spend more time  behind their desk  and less time  outside connecting with the real people , they  display a lack of  empathy and  a poor understanding  of how the  government  works  for the common man  .
        Sometimes , when the top starts  behaving in retaliation , there is a fear all around and a toxic culture prevails throughout the organization .
3.Narrowing decision making powers:
The Rules of Business  vest practically all decision making powers in the departmental ministers. Secretaries and Heads of departments  and other levels have  very little powers to decide                 
4.Fair and Respectful treatment at work place:
 If there is  a perception that employees in general do not receive the  desirable level of respect from the organization. then , employees also harbour feelings of disrespect for  their bosses , though such feelings may be disguised. This results in low morale.
 5. Expectation  of  loyalty to the party in power:
Loyalty to the party in power  rather than neutrality  is being increasingly demanded by political leadership. This discourages  honest public servants  who wish to remain neutral and unpoliticised.
      6.  Criticism of civil servants by  political leadership:
 Politicians, backed by media ,  often  accuse  civil servants(babus)  of blocking plans, being overpaid and under worked ,” unhelpful and uncooperative “ “ Red tape “ “indolent pen pushers”  are some of the terms used for bureaucracy bashing . This accusatory culture  undermines the trust of civil servants in political leadership, demoralizes them  and  raises doubts about the future of civil service . Further , the   efforts  of political leadership to” reform” and  reorganize the civil service only end up in   demoralizing the civil service because     such steps are projected as   efforts to shake up the self-serving ,  lazy, apathetic  and incompetent bureaucrats .
                   Blaming civil servants  for failures  of polticians,  as a  scape goats,  to deflect public criticism  from their own inadequate leadership also demoralizes the civil servants. .Civil servants  are always   an easy targets .
7.Political and bureaucratic  turn-over and continuity:
Political leaders have brief  tenures , specific political agendas and short term perspectives .The tenure of  senior civil servants is also short , often less than a year. These  frequent  and abrupt changes in political  and administrative leadership  makes it difficult for  civil service  to  sustain engagement .
      8.Accessibility and authenticity of leadership:
Political leadership is  generally not accessible even to  the senior civil servants. Even when they are available , open-ness and authenticity seem very rare.  There are hardly any  genuine and credible interactions .This also applies to interaction between senior civil servants and their junior colleagues.         
9.Inquiries and disciplinary proceedings :
Often ,  CBI or vigilance inquiries are instituted against the senior civil servants without  proper  scrutiny and thought .If this is done against officers who have a reputation for honesty and good conduct , as  has happened recently in Coalgate scam , it demoralizes the entire bureaucracy .
10.Recognition and Rewards:
 .When  recognition/reward /award system is arbitrary and  whimsical  and awards are handed down to the favourites regardless of merit,  it results in only a contempt for the awards . Placement , promotion , rewards and awards  should be based on  merit , competence , hard work .But instead ,often ,  they depend on  loyalty , yes- man ship , recommendation of  parliamentarians  and other powerful individuals.
      11. Unchallenging Environment:
When  there is a lack of leadership and direction , it gives rise to an unchallenging and dull work environment , which in turn  offers no opportunities to rise , learn  or grow. This in turn leads to low morale.
12. Excessive reliance on consultants:
Sometimes ,  consultants are appointed at huge expense , to reform a sector .Such consultants may  have no knowledge of local background , culture and field conditions , and end up in suggesting remedies which are worse that the disease .                                  
Outsourcing services, running government like a business may  also  result in  poor  services and poor morale.
                     In India , job commitment , professional satisfaction, engagement  and ethical conduct in public services is declining.  Trust in organization  and  leadership  is also decreasing ,resulting  in poor governance. In the long term , this could  threaten citizen’s trust in state legitimacy .While we want the best and the brightest youth to join the IAS and other services , our system is actually scaring them away .A major cultural change is required that  puts data at the heart of  policy making and management practice. Government must change its relationship with citizens so as to address their ever increasing demands. A consistent monitoring of morale of the employees is  required to ensure that corrective actions are taken regularly.
 (This article was published with some editing changes in the magazine  News Times Post , Lucknow  , July22,2017 issue.)

Monday, 17 July 2017

Climate of Hope

  
Climate of Hope  by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope  is a book ,published in 2017  , to save the planet  from the ill effects of climate change.Michael Bloomberg  is an entrepreneur ,philanthropist , and  former Mayor of New York City. Carl Pope is an environment leader.
                    The main thesis of the book is that cities backed by citizens and businesses can  tackle climate change  effectively. It is a bottoms  up approach and needs the support of national governments as well as international community. This is the first book that explains how   city level action  to tackle climate change  is not only possible but also necessary.
               The book deals in detail how we are already on our way from coal to clean energy, from petrol and gas based transportation to electric vehicles. It also tells us how we should eat and how we should  live  to meet the challenge of climate change.
                     The book also mentions several market failures which are perpetuated by special interests, like   continuation of fossil fuel  subsidies. Such market failures that privilege fossil fuels  have  to be addressed by national governments. We also need to devolve more powers to cities , power to borrow funds for infrastructure and power to manage transportation systems.
            But a transition from coal to   renewable energy and sustainable energy  will result in loss of jobs and unemployment .We must create  solutions to such serious problems, in the interest of meeting the challenges of climate change.
             Citizens have to understand these solutions and then communicate to other citizens. This conversation   must be led by ordinary citizens and local leaders on a continuous basis.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Detachment

Detachment is  a way of life and a   guiding   principle   for social interactions. Recently  , I read a very good  book on this subject , “Let Go Now: Embracing Detachment” by Dr. Karen Casey. .Of course, Indian scriptures are  full of the concept of detachment .Speeches by Vivekananda also  helped  me to clarify my confusions about the subject. As a practical and helpful   guide for  living , I  describe below the essentials of detachment.
1. Accept people as they are .Do not  try , or even expect to change them in any way.  Have no expectation of help or support from them .Do not expect others to invite you , talk to you , or  not to ignore you. Do not let their behaviour   affect your   feelings about yourself , your thoughts and your actions. How others behave is not your responsibility. It is their choice. Accept it and do not try to change it   , even if it is unkind. When some one tries to provoke you ,  you have a choice not to do any thing. When some one verbally attacks you , you have a choice not to say anything . It may be better to stand aside and   remain quiet. Realize that your life is not dependent on  what others are doing or saying .
 2. Get rid of the fear of abandonment .Let others leave you if they want .Let them go on their journey even if it is with out you. You have taught them what they needed to learn from you .But do not push them if they want to   stay .You can be detached and still be friends or associates. Detachment permits   respect  , love and honour for others.
3. Mind your own business. Do not interfere in   others’ business. Be clear when a business is not yours. Observe the rule of ‘need to know’. Live and let live.
4. Let others have their own opinions. You can have your own , different opinions. Offer a suggestion only if asked. Otherwise , keep mum. Do not succumb to the suggestions of others   when you feel these are not right for you. If a conversation is becoming disrespectful   to you , just leave it. If people make fun of you ,  do not shout back or react. Be free from the desire to fight back.
5. Have freedom and responsibility. Do what   feels right to you .You do not need some one else’s approval .But you are responsible for your actions and decisions. You are responsible for what has so far happened in your life or whatever is happening now. Do not  blame others .Do not let past , yours or someone else’s  determine your present .Move on .
6. Do not expect attention from others. Accept when they are distant , indifferent or unfriendly.
7.Give hope to others when they are faltering. Be a cheer leader , and not a judge. Pray for them to help them . Allow others to save face in all interactions. Observe them   and acknowledge their existence. But you need not remain visible.
8. If some one is angry  , let him or her be. You do not need to assuage   any one else’s anger.
9.Do not criticise , do not blame. Do not get affected by criticism or praise .Be beyond likes and dislikes.
10. Forgive others.
11. Be free from jealousy and comparison.
12.Give up striving for rewards, praise , and fruits of actions.
13.Be free from anger, greed and lust.
14. Be grateful.
              Detachment cannot be achieved in a  few days . It has to be  a goal  for life .It has to be practised  at all moments , in all situations.

Monday, 22 May 2017

A Letter to Sri H.C. Gupta

Dear Sir,                                                                                    
                                                                                   May23,2017
              A special  CBI court   on Monday (May 22,2017)  has awarded a two-year jail term to  you ( Sri H.C .Gupta) as Ex -coal secretary  and two other coal  ministry officials .In addition , a fine of  Rs. one Lakh  was imposed on each of you by the court. You have the right to appeal in the High Court  against your conviction .The punishment has been awarded  due to alleged irregularities  in allocation of  the Thesgora-B coal block  in Madhya Pradesh  to KSSPL.
               The court said that the accused withheld  the aspects of non-compliance  with the guidelines from the PM , Manmohan Singh "knowing fully well" that he would approve  allocation on the basis of the screening  committee's  recommendation."While  forwarding the file to PM  for approval  of recommendation , it was not mentioned by  any of the officers , much less by H.C.Gupta, that applications haven't been checked for eligibility and completeness."
       Sir, I have worked under you and cannot believe that you have been punished for lack of integrity.You have always been and still are a person of impeccable integrity .This order of court is unfair and will not stand in the higher appellate courts. The court has given a clean chit to the then Prime Minister though  a Prime Minister has a fully functional office which scrutinizes every file , and if  certain file has omissions  or incompleteness    , PM's office  points it out to the PM  , instead of getting his  approval .Otherwise , what is the meaning of PM's approval?
       You have always been a model of integrity and a role model for me and for many  officers  and others  .If this blind system cannot give justice to a person like you , what  justice can a poor  citizen in a   remote village of India expect ?This situation has caused extreme pain and mental tension in a large number of officials who know you personally and respect you for integrity, truthfulness and trustw0rthiness   .
          In this hour of crisis , I pray to God to give you strength to face this undeserved suffering .
                                                                                                            Your sincerely ,
                                                                                                             Vidya Nand Garg
To
Sri H.C. Gupta,
   

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Earth Day , 2017

Earth Day was first celebrated in the USA on April 22.1970.It is widely regarded as  the beginning of modern  environment movement. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson was the founder. His idea was “to create an all-day” teach in” on environment issues. April 22 was also the birthday of  conservationist John Muir.(Also Lenin’s birthday).Inspired by the student  anti-war movement ,Nelson realized that  if he could combine student energy with the  emerging public consciousness about  the environment , then it could be propelled into  the national political agenda. Law-makers and business leaders  are turning a blind eye to the impending environmental crisis caused by human actions Earth day celebration is a strategy: To co-ordinate teach-ins  where citizens will gather to learn about local issues , and develop the civic engagement techniques to take action .   We need to engage in public policy so that we achieve the change we need. What kind of technology we want , what kind of green jobs that we need to create ,what kind of policies and laws we need to nurture sustainable development..
                    Gaylord Nelson died in 2005 at the age of 89 years .In 2002 , The institute for Environment Studies in  the university Wisconsin (Madison) was named Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
           Nelson also wrote a book “Beyond Earth Day :Fulfilling the Promise”. In its foreword , Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote:” You show me pollution and I will show you people who are not paying their own way , people who  are stealing from public , people who are getting the public  to pay their  costs of production. All environmental pollution is a subsidy”.
               Theme of Earth day 2017 is “Environmental and Climate Literacy”. We can be very high scorers in our academic examinations but we may not have literacy of environment and climate change .The idea of Earth day 2017 is to impart  this special literacy to the school and college students from April 22 to April 29.Earth Day network  has kept a goal of Global  climate and environmental literacy by April , 2020.  Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries.. Ultimately , all education  is meant to result in citizen action .”Literacy is the engine  that will propel people  beyond becoming just voters  and advocates  but also accelerating  green technologies and jobs”.
             This earth day marks the  first anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change.It was signed on April22,2016 , exactly one year back.
          A special flag has been associated with  Earth Day.It has photograph of the  whole Earth taken  during Apollo 10  space mission in 1969.Dr. Margarat Mead , a world famous cultural anthropologist, carried the Earth Flag  with her wherever  she appeared  from 1969 until her death in 1977.It has a dark blue field  made from recyclable polyester.
              Humans are consuming natural resources  at an alarming rate. In the past couple of decades , we have  consumed more resources annually than the Earth can replenish. This is unsustainable .It will cripple the planet  and threaten the living conditions of future generations. We  have to reduce the individual ecological foot print.
        What is greenhouse effect?
The earth gets energy from the sun, heats up and then gives off  energy in a different form , called infra-red radiation.Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere  trap some of this energy  before it escapes to  outer space , warming the atmosphere. But people’s activities are adding  extra greenhouse gases  to the atmosphere.So the greenhouse  effect is becoming stronger  and the Earth is getting warmer.
Carbondioxide levels are rising and this leads to temperature increase. 
Signs of Global warming and climate change:
1.Rise in sea levels.
2.Stronger storms.
3.Droughts.
4.Wildfires.
        .
               On this Earth Day , we need to focus on local environmental issues as well as global  issue of climate change. What are the next steps that we must take:
1.Hold a teach-in in your community.
2.Hold a tree plantation event in your community.or donate to plant a tree.Deforestation contributes to  species extinction  and poverty and is responsible for up to 15%  of the global greenhouse gas emissions  causing climate change.Planting trees is one of the easiest and most important ways to fight climate change.
3.Start a group on facebook  and start an active dialogue. Provide people with an opportunity to make their voices heard.
4.Invite questions from the audience.
5.What are our views and proposals about  policies related to climate change and environment?
6.Use less paper.
7.Recycle your bags for shopping .
8.Reduce the amount of energy that you consume.
9.Eat less meat .The meat industry  generates nearly  one-fifth of the man –made greenhouse  gas emissions worldwide.Limit your meat consumption .Barbara Hendricks , Germany’s Environment Minister  announce on 21 February , 2017  that her ministry” will no longer be  serving meat , fish or  meat-derived products  at official functions  because vegetarian food is  more climate-friendly  than meat and fish.”
10.Create healthy Indoor air quality  in schools.
11.Find ways to protect  hearing and health of kids against noise pollution .
12.Count down your Carbon foot print .Individual as well as collective efforts are needed.
13.Reduce waste in school.Reduce waste of paper.Reduce wastage of food.Reduce wastage of water and electricity.Turn off lights when you leave a room .Turn off your computer and other electronic  devices  when you are not using them .Buy items with less packaging .
14.Donate clothes , books and food.
15.Drive less.Walk more, use bike and public transport more.
16.Recycle paper.63% of  paper in the USA is  recycled.However , paper can only be recycled if each person makes an effort  to dispose it of  properly in recycle bins.On an average , a person in the US  uses more than 700 pounds of paper every year
17.Stop using disposable plastic.Take the pledge to stop using  disposable plastic—bags , bottles , packages.Only about 10% of this  plastic is properly recycled  and reused.The rest ends up as waste in landfills or as litter in our natural environment , where it leaches  dangerous chemicals into the nearby soil  and water  ,endangering human and wildlife alike.
18.Human population needs to be controlled .
19.Open air nuclear weapons tests  and nuclear fallout.
20.DDT, Pesticides , Chemical fertilizers need to be eliminated.Organic farming must beencouraged.
21.Death of rivers is taking place  by getting mixed up  with the industrial toxic materials.
22.Phase out Thermal power plants and instal solar power plants.
23.Protect forests, national parks
24.Increase your knowledge of Sustainable goals.There are 17 Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) out of which , the following six pertain to environment and climate change.
SDG6:Clean water and sanitation.
SDG7:Affordable and clean energy
SDG12:Responsible consumption and production .
SDG13:Climate action
SDG14:Life below water
SDG15:Life on Land
            Let us resolve on the Earth day to make every cirtizen of India literate on issues related to environment and climate change by 2020.
.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Mining,Human Safety and Environment



          On December 29,2016,   Lalmatia mines of Eastern Coalfields Ltd. in Jharkhand,  there was a cave-in  of an open cast mine. 23 workers were buried , and their   dead bodies were recovered. This is one of the  country’s worst mining  disasters in recent times  in terms of casualties  as well as in terms of  the size of the slide .The  accident   took place  when a mountain of earth formed by the overburden  dug out   in the open cast mine caved in .According to the Director general of Mines safety(DGMS), the management of Eastern Coalfields Ltd  , despite the  clear  signs  like cracks developing and getting wider, did not  remove workers and equipment out of bounds. This is an example of how mining can  be a  disaster to human beings working there.
               Minerals are raw materials  for a number of important industries. They are non-renewable natural resources. The extraction of minerals from nature is called mining. Mining often affects the environment adversely. Therefore , mining has to be done  keeping into view the overall objectives of economic development and environmental preservation .The mining sector in India employs more than  one million workers. The main minerals   produced in India  are Iron Ore , Bauxite , Chromite , Limestone , Coal and Copper ore.
   Mining affects environment in four ways:
1.Air
2.Water
3.Land
4.Health and Safety
 Air: Surface mines may produce dust  from blasting operations and haul roads. Many coal mines release Methane, a greenhouse gas. Smelter operations with insufficient safeguards in place  have the potential to pollute the air  with heavy  metals , sulphur dioxide , and other pollutants.

Water: Mining throws Sulphide containing minerals in air ,where they oxidise  and react with water  to form Sulphuric acid .This impacts ground water , both from the surface and underground mines.

Land: The movement of rocks due to mining activities  and overburden  impacts land severely, as happened in Jharkhand recently. These impacts may be temporary  where the mining company  returns the rock and the overburden  to the pit from  which they were extracted.
Health and Safety: Underground mining is hazarduous  because of poor
 ventilation and visibility  and the danger of rock falls .The greatest health risks arise  from dust , which may lead to respiratory problems , and from exposure to radiation , where  applicable.
             Since 1973, seven mining disasters  have taken place in India.In February 2001, 30 miners lost their lives  in Bagdigi mines  in Bihar .Every year , many mine workers lose their lives  in mining accidents in India .Widespread illegal mining  in government and private mines  accentuates the problem.Mine sites which are no longer in use are also a major environmental challenge.    
       The historical  and ongoing conflict between  mining and conserving  environmental resources  will continue to exist  in future  as India’s forests, mineral bearing areas , major river watersheds, tribal habitat regions  and most backward regions  overlap significantly in the  of Orissa , Chhattisgarh ,Jharkhand , Madhya Pradesh , Maharashtra , Rajasthan .                          
        Among regulators in the sector,Indian Bureau of Mines(IBM)  has the  mandate to play a  proactive role  in minimising adverse impacts of  mining on the environment  by undertaking environmental assessment  studies on a regional basis.
           Under the environmental  regulatory regime ,undertaking mine level Environment Impact Assessment(IEA) and formulating management plans (EMP) are mandatory for seeking  Environmental Clearance(EC).Under EIA Notification 2006, mining projects that have a lease area  more than 50ha in size  are classified under category A and need EC  from National Level Environmental  Impact Assessment Authority , created with MOEF in Government of India. Mining projects that have a lease area between  5ha to 50 ha  are classified as  Category B projects  and require EC from  SEIAA created  with respective  Department of Environment in the State Government. Mine leases smaller than  5ha in size  are not covered under the  EC process  initiated by EIA Notification ,2006.Majority of mines that have  lease areas less than 5ha  and do not fall within the purview of  EIA Notification , 2006, though their data is not available , especially in the minor mineral sector. Illegal mining that  continues unchecked also adds to the number of mines that operate without  prior  environmental and social assessment  and appraisal by appropriate authorities.
                   The following mining regulations  provide for environmental  protection by  integrating it  as part of mining plans:
1.Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation)Act , 1957. Section 4A  provides for powers  to terminate lease holdings  in case found detrimental  to environment due to mine operations. Section 18  provides for  ensuring environmental  protection  along with mineral development.
2.Mineral Concession Rules 1960:Section 22(5)  states that mining plan shall incorporate  environmental assessment and management.
3.Mineral Conservation and Development Rules , 1988:Chapter 5 covers the  environmental protection issues comprehensively.
            State  Minor Mineral Concession Rules  stipulate environmental  protection  as basic and minimum  requirement  for quarry license issuance and operations.
         Significantly , the mining regulations  cover all mines that operate legally  unlike environmental regulations  which do not cover  mines less than  5ha in size. However , lack of enforcement  of mining sector  regulations  have rendered the above provisions  in different mining regulations  ineffective  and notional  in terms of management of  environmental and social  impacts.
 In Uttar Pradesh, unfortunately , mining department is allegedly involved in encouraging illegal mining , so much that High Court on July 28,2016  ordered for a CBI probe  into alleged illegal mining  in the state, including the role of  government officials  in facilitating the same . The case of  suspension and subsequent revocation of suspension of an IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal in September , 2013 was also connected with her efforts to stop  illegal mining .There was largescale illegal sand mining  in the Hindon and Yamuna river banks in Gautam Buddh Nagar. This  was responsible  for soil erosion  and changing the natural flow of Hindon  and Yamuna  which shifted its course by about  500 metres  towards East  and posed a threat to  flood embankments  in six sectors of Noida . This illegal sand mining was due to high demand for sand  for increased construction activity. When officers led by Nagpal  impounded vehicles and machinery used for illegal mining , arrested illegal miners and lodged FIRs with police , she was suspended and  after reinstatement , was shifted out of Gautam Buddha Nagar.
             The above is just  an indication of  how the mining department in one state  has been encouraging illegal mining and thereby  , encouraging the destruction of ecology and environment .The situation is similar in many other states where illegal mining , encroachment of forest areas, underpayment of government royalties, conflict with tribals regarding land rights  are rampant , due to nexus of political , bureaucratic and mining mafia, playing havoc with the ecology and environment .But  there have been voices against such operations  from civil society , which are growing louder and louder with time , as public awareness rises. The department of Mines as well as Ministry of Environment and Forests , both at the Centre and at the States level , have to act in a co-ordinated and  determined manner to protect environment , ecology and human lives from mining.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood


1.Title: The Blind Assassin
2.Author:Margaret Atwood
3.Published by :Virago Press.
4.Copyright:@ O.W.Toad Ltd. 2000
5.ISBN:978-1-86049-880-0.
6.Pages:637.
7.Price:Rs 499/=
This novel  by Margaret Atwood is  dark  but a page turner. It is the story set in Ontario,Canada of two  sisters –Laura Chase  and Iris Chase Griffin . Laura   dies mysteriously in a car  accident and Iris  writes  fifty years after about  their story , secrets  and betrayals.
     The novel is set against the panoramic  backdrop of twentieth century history. The story moves through the first World War , the maiden voyage of Queen Mary, the Depression ,the Spanish Civil War , the second World War and several years thereafter. Against a broad social backdrop , Atwood has the ability  to suggest  the complexity of individual lives. Final tragedy is the result of human frailty, greed and passion .The novel also shows the ways women are used by men , especially if they also have wealth.
       The novel is told by Iris Chase Griffin  , who is now 83 years old .Iris  is writing a biography  of her early life  with her family ,  particularly her sister Laura.
 The novel unfolds layer by layer  ,and  there is also  a novel within novel. This novel ,  published by Iris  in Laura’s name  after her death is also called The Blind Assassin .In this  novel ,the hero  tells his lover  pulp fiction stories in the dingy rooms  where they meet. He is a leftist on the run , convenient scapegoat for a factory fire that was presumably an insurance fraud  while she is a privileged  person , sneaking away from  her watchers  , for a few risky hours of pleasure.
     The Blind assassin is more than  a mere fictional character ,as  told to a lover .In stead , it is an apt description  of a character that sometimes irresponsibly chooses  not to see and at other times is  nasty and vengeful .It is  a story of tragedy , corruption  and crucial manipulation. There are promises and betrayals, losses and regrets, memories and yearning .
        Each word , phrase , sentence and paragraph  in the book  is beautifully written and they are all appropriate  for the mood of the story. Atwood weaves  so many layers  that each part remains  interesting as a story , but the big picture  is only revealed in the end. Each of the characters  had their own quirks, own dark sides, their own edges , which made them very real. It is a gripping story . It is a grand story told in a grand way ,on a grand scale. It also shows that Atwood deeply understands the human condition , and she describes it beautifully.
                 I recommend you to read this great work of fiction .Incidentally , it also won the 2000  Booker Prize .

Monday, 2 January 2017

Organic Farming and Environment



In conventional agriculture , we use  chemical fertilizers  and pesticides  to improve productivity. But it has its   adverse impacts on environment , quality of food and health of consumers. Organic agriculture, on the other hand ,  has environmental sustainability at its core , in addition to concerns for  healthy soil , healthy food and  healthy people. In organic agriculture , farmers use  compost and manure  and use  non-synthetic pesticides  ,often only when  other pest control measures fail.          Practices  such as  crop rotations , inter-cropping , organic fertilizers  and pesticides, minimum tillage , returning crop residues to the soil  ,the use of cover crops and the greater  integration of  nitrogen –fixing legumes   are central to organic  practices. These practices  improve soil formation, control soil erosion  and  encourage soil flaura and fauna  to grow  .Nutrient losses are reduced , helping to  maintain and enhance soil productivity.
                   Many doubts and questions have been raised from time to time  , whether organic farm products are really  more nutritious than the products of conventional agriculture  and also  whether  organic agriculture has really substantial benefits  for environment.
                      According to a study published in British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) in July , 2014, organic products contain  18 to 69 percent higher  concentration of antioxidants .This BJN study  had carried an  analysis of  343  peer-reviewed  publications, and was done by the   researchers from  the UK  with the help of  an  American  Charles Benbrook. The study also said that when a plant grows organically  without pesticides , its taste ,flavour , aroma  and mouth feeling  are enhanced as well. . The study also found  a contaminant cadmium  to be about 50% lower in organic  crops  than in conventional foods.
        Organic agriculture  contributes to mitigating  the green house gases effect and global warming through its ability to sequester carbon in the soil. The   management practices used by  organic agriculture  increase the return of carbon to the soil , raising the productivity and  and favouring  carbon storage. The more organic carbon is retained in the soil ,the lower the emissions  leading to climate change  the more the mitigation potential of  agriculture  against climate change .
                           A recent study reporting on  a meta-analysis  of 766  Scientific Papers  concluded that  organic farming  produces more biodiversity  than other farming systems. Practices like rotation of crops  reduces erosion of agro-biodiversity.Lack of pesticide use  attracts new species  including wild flora and fauna ( eg birds) and organisms beneficial to  the organic system  such as pollinators  and pest predators.  The use of GMOs (Genetically  Modified Organisms )  is not permitted during  any stage of organic food production , processing or handling .Organic agriculture is choosing to encourage natural biodiversity , in stead of GMOs.
                       In many areas , pollution of ground water  due to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides , is a major problem .Organic agricultural practices  greatly reduce the risk of  ground water pollution.
                              Certified organic products are those  which have been produced , stored , processed , handled and marketed  in accordance with  precise technical specifications or standards , and certified as “Organic”  by a Certification Body. The product is then afforded a label by the Certification body .The organic label  is a production process claim  as opposed to a product quality claim.   National governments can use international guidelines  to develop  national organic agriculture programmes .To  specify  national standards in India  and develop   regulations which are legally binding ,the Government of India  has implemented the  National Programme  for Organic Production (NPOP).It involves  the accreditation  programme  for Certification Bodies , standards for organic production , and promotion of organic farming.   National accreditation bodies  accredit certification agencies operating in the country and adhere to the International  Organization for  Standardization  basic standards for  accreditation  of certfiers(ISO65), in addition to their specific requirements. India has thirty accredited Certification agencies to facilitate the certification  to growers. The NPOP  standards for production and accreditation system have been  recognized by  European Commission and Switzerland  for unprocessed  plant products  as equivalent to their  country standards. With  these recognitions , Indian organic  products duly certified by  the accreditation certification bodies  of India are  accepted  by the importing countries.
                                       Organic food is more expensive than  conventional food. The reasons are  as follows:
1.Organic food supply is limited as compared to  demand.
2. Organic farming involves greater  labour input per unit of output.
3.  Economies of scale  are not  achieved.
4.  Post harvest handling of organic foods  has higher costs.
5.  Because of relatively small volumes , marketing and distribution chain for organic  products is  relatively inefficient. As a result , costs are higher.
6.  Low financial returns of  rotational periods (necessary to build soil fertility.)
7.  Higher standards required for animal welfare result in higher costs.
But organic farming has several benefits apart from its contribution to environment , biodiversity, soil quality, nutrition and health.
1.Avoidance of future medical expenses  due to avoidance of health risks to  farmers due to inappropriate handling of pesticides.( Malwa region in Punjab  was dubbed as the  Cancer  Belt of India  due to unusually high incidence of  cancer cases  linked to the  excessive use of pesticides by cotton farmers.)
2. Generation of additional farm employment.
3.. Organic farming supports animal health and welfare.
                                 Organic agriculture is still a small  part of the over-all agriculture.  In the world , nearly 43.1 million ha  land is being certified  as organic  in 170 countries, constituting 1% of  the total agricultural  land of the countries under study.The countries with the most  organic agricultural land are :
Australia: 17.2 million  ha.
Argentina: 3.2 million ha.
USA : 2.2 million  ha.
As in March , 2014 , India had brought  4.72  million ha area  under certification process  which includes  0.6 million ha of cultivated  agricultural land  and 4.12  million ha of wild harvest collection area  in forests.
               So far , 11 states  of India , namely Andhra Pradesh ,  Karnataka , Kerala, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh ,Tamil Nadu ,Himachal Pradesh , Sikkim,  Nagaland and Mizoram  have drafted the organic agricultural  promotion policies.Sikkim had taken up the task of  converting the entire state  into organic  by 2015 and has already brought  more than 65000 ha  area under organic  certification process.Sikkim has transformed into  an organic state  and set an example for the rest of India.
                  India exported  165,262 MT of organic products  belonging to 135 commodities  valuing about 1900 crore rupees.Domestic market is also growing at an annual growth rate of 15-25%.
                    Organic agriculture  has many environmental and health benefits.The movement for organic agriculture is slowly building up , and in near future is likely to take major leaps.  India will host the  19th Organic World Congress (OWC) from November 9 to November 13 , 2017 .This event will take place in  India Exposition Mart in Greater Noida.OWC is held every three years to  promote and celebrate  the turning of global agriculture  to organic farming methods and to measure progress.
(This article was published in Tree Take magazine, Lucknow ,India in its December 15,2016 issue).