A spell of inaction

As an answer to this crisis, the national budget presented six weeks ago offered a Rs.60,000 crore farm loan waiver and waved it as the magic bullet. The naivete of the prescription must stun you, were you not quick to catch the cruel cynicism behind the waiver. Election are nigh and rural India was sought to be bribed in exchange for votes. Confirmation of rank cynicism that animated the offer arrived when the government began to mount large political rallies, of the type that herald elections.

Mercifully sometimes, politicianss are cruelly thwarted. If the government thought it can call a snap election and ride home on the basis of the loan waiver, something awaited to startle it out of its wits. The inflation rate published shortly after the budget showed a sudden jump from 4% to 6% and it has risen every week since then to stand at 7.4% now. In the background, the price of oil per barrel was rising steadily beyond $115. It was officially pronounced that the US economy was in recession. Global food prices were getting out of reach because of droughts and because corn was being diverted to make fuel for cars. We may yet burn our houses to keep warm.

The visage of the government went from triumphal to feckless. It said inflation was a global phenomenon; that the rising prices were inevitable. Wait a minute, now. Did the western world not – rightly- condemn centralised economies, such as the erstwhile socialist ones, as those that lead to shortages and inflation? What then is a homogenised, integrated, globalized economy if not an internationally centralised one, where a sneeze propagates as a flu? Aren’t the virtues of strong, nearly self-sufficient localised economies, self-evident? Just a year ago India exported its surplus food as though it was going to a deposit pool from which it can draw whenever it wished. Now it hops around the world and finds there is no food to import even if it could afford the prices.

Let us revisit the earlier referred irony. The urban world is formally well informed about inflation, climate change, stock and commodity exchanges,the nation’s budget, recession etc but it can escape the negative effects of these in the shorter term because of the cash in its pockets. Rural India on the other hand, has no formal knowledge of these but directly experiences them- consequences of unseasonal rains and rising costs of farm inputs for instance hit them almost immediately. The remaining question is whether rural India can survive these in the longer term. The answer would be yes, for it is closer to the neglected earth. But the yes is a qualified one. The malign neglect of farming must stop, convictions must grow that natural farming -as against chemical farming- can be profitable.

Well, well, well… isn’t this beginning to be a blame throwing article that I’d sworn I’d avoid when I took a break from GoodNewsIndia and jumped into pointReturn? Let me stop and propose instead, a solution that can turn India around.

Our rural crisis consists of the following: break up of communities and joint families leading to lack of manpower, decreasing soil fertility, depleting water resources, rising cost of inputs, lack of capacity at the village level to part-process and hold harvested produce and most of all, inefficiency and corruption of the bureaucracy and implementation agencies.

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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