A spell of inaction

pointReturn’s handyman Kutty was struggling to save a two acre crop of peanuts he had grown. His family of two adults and two young children lugged 40 kg bags of peanuts to their tiny thatched hut, there to wait for the sun to break out. Another lease holder abandoned a 5 acre crop for want of hands to salvage it. Motorable access to pointReturn was closed for three days. I had ordered some bricks- the access to the kiln was flooded. Almost every work initiative I had planned for this usually dry, hot month was put on hold. I had time on my hands for further reflections.

The current government in New Delhi was formed by an unexpected election accident. It had declared it was for the ‘aam aadmi’ [‘common man’] because it was a good pose to strike. Once elected it forgot all about the slogan and went back to the way of all goverments.

For two decades New Delhi has pampered organised industry and it has delivered, keeping the economy growing at around 6.5%. But governments have treated agriculture as a hopeless, sick child. Statistics show that agriculture has been growing at less than 2.0%. But it engages close to 60% of the population. Is this not an indication of its growth potential and should have received the greater attention and investment? This insight eludes Indian economists brought up on a diet of western world’s development theories, never mind the west doesn’t have the land dependant population that India has.

Deep in its collective heart, India’s political establishment believes rapid industrialisation is the goal to aim for; that an open door trade and investment policy in every economic activity is the way to get there; that income inequalities will be evened out by prosperity trickling down; that the numerous special economic zones created, -often on agricultural lands- will generate jobs and sustained properity; that India in the long run must come to have no more than 5% of its population in agriculture and that until that ideal balance comes about the only thing to do is to manage the inevitable social churning. Policy makers’ further tenets are that unending supply of industrial grade power must be assured for high standards of living; that such a living will create demand for products and services to keep the economy growing; that rising world trade will make all products available everywhere; that all food can be grown by mechanisation and engineered crops or freely imported from global markets;that the environmental costs of modern production processes are inevitable, over estimated and in any case, can be ‘fixed’ with the surpluses that a booming economy will produce.

This monomaniacal commitment to industrial growth has made agriculture a basket case. With rising costs of agricultural inputs, poor produce price support and changes in the aspirations of young rural folk, farming in today’s India is shorn of all dignity, cheer or sustenance. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide to escape hopeless situations, a fact that would have stopped another country in its tracks but in India, barely engages the minds of most city folks.

2 thoughts on “A spell of inaction

  1. Sorry, I have taken all this time to reply you. You ask some significant questions and make suggestions that I have given much consideration to.
    First off, this: “how about 40 or even more people living off the land, with all the creature comforts that they are used to currently, making absolutely no compromises to their quality of life, and living completely in harmony with the environment.”
    I fear there is a mutual contradiction in this question, that arises out of what ‘creature comforts’ are. If high-end single-user cars, air conditioning, all the electricity you need are excluded, would the residents be making “compromises to their quality of life”?
    I do hope pR succeeds and becomes a template for others. But once we become aware of ‘inconvenient truths’ about sustainability we must be prepared for ‘inconvenient changes’ to our life-styles. I consider safe and comfortable housing, self-rationed electricity, clean water, air and food, collective or public transportation and access to the Internet are all that is required for a modern life and I aim to work towards providing these at pR.
    The costs of a project like pR are surprisingly modest. I do keep meticulous account of the sums spent and will publish them some day soon, when the project has passed certain milestones. Suffice it is to say now, that the whole thing will not exceed a upper-end apartment and a fancy car in any of India’s metros today- and that, in an increasingly wealthy India is within the reach of a population that would exceed that of the UK.

  2. I salute your spirit, and admire your courage to involve yourself in this project.

    I have a few suggestions for pointReturn – I did think a lot before giving these suggestions, because you are out there, doing something that is commendable – and to sit where I am, and just give you suggestions, is something I actually feel guilty about! If you turn around and ask me – why dont you actually do something instead of just giving suggestions, I would be at a loss of words!

    I would like to suggest a subtle rethink to the goals of pointReturn. If this project is to make a meaningful difference, it is not enough to show that it can support 40 people, who are willing to make compromises in their lifestyle, and can live off the land, without damaging the environment. Though that goal is by itself laudable, I think that is something which will not make a meaningful difference to mankind.

    I know this goal itself is quite a challenge, and is quite difficult to acheive. But please consider changing this goal to some other goal, so that it can make a meaningful difference – how about 40 or even more people living off the land, with all the creature comforts that they are used to currently, making absolutely no compromises to their quality of life, and living completely in harmony with the environment. At the same time, it should not cost any more to live this kind of life, than it does to live a regular life.

    In a sense, this project is about a differnt way to live life – but I think if it is just about a different way to live life, people will watch it from far away, and applaud you for your courage and conviction. This has to be a better life to live – not just better in terms of the environment, but actually better, in terms of comforts, quality of life, health, wealth, everything. I hope this project will actually start a trend – not just prove a point.

    Please also publish all your costs of pointReturn – land costs, input costs, labour costs, everything. Let the whole world see how possible and affordable it is to get this kind of lifestyle. Any upfront investments in windmills, solar power, etc. can be quantified and offset against the long run savings of using them. Like a company does audits, there can be initital capital costs, interest costs, depreciation, tax benefits, savings in long term costs, everything factored in.

    This is the sort of project that should make a meaningful difference – it should not be just an experiment, or a proof-of-concept. It should be the stepping stone for hundreds and thousands of such projects all over the world.

    Pls let me know in what ways I can be involved in this project. I cant think of a better way to give meaning to life!

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