Status report: March,2007

Though it is hard to take, it is not inappropriate that on the road to realising an environment project, your patience and commitment are tested. Oh, one is ready to face the facts that soil will take its own time to heal or that trees will take their years to grow. But several jobs that you assumed money can get done in quick time, can surprise you.

A proper road to the pointReturn site is yet to be laid although the necessary rights have been bought. [A way west] The peanut crop there is to be harvested in April and road laying awaits that. In the meantime access to the site is difficult. All heavy items are taken first to good friend Babu Reddiar’s house, transferred to his tractor and carried over.

I thought, ‘why not get the land fenced?’, as we await the peanut crop to be harvested. When we ordered 500 stone posts, a new learning began. The real estate boom in India is making fencing posts scarce. There are three options here. One you can buy them from Sholinghur, near Arakkonam. They cost Rs.70 a post but are rather brittle. Cement posts reinforced with wire are strong and uniform but cost Rs 180 each. Steel posts are prohibitive [-blame the infrastructure boom] and tend to corrode.

The best option is a reddish stone fence ordered from Muttathur near Chenjee, about 100km from the site. Prices of these have risen too but they are stronger than the Sholinghur variety and at Rs.98 each cheaper than cement posts. But it’s not something you ordered and had them delivered in a couple of days – not in these times, any way.

Large solid rocks are delivered first and a 50% payment is made. After a few days an itinerant team of rock splitters arrive with no more tools than chisels and hammers. You have to arrange for their accommodation and meals. From each large rock about 30 posts of each 7′ long and 4″ x 4″ section are split patiently, manually.makingfencingposts.jpg

It’s quite an art: first the large rock is split into two and those are then split again until 4″ thick slabs are formed. They make shallow holes along parting lines. Then over-sized drifts are tapped in create linear cracks. Voila, you have fencing posts. A team of four splits about 50 posts in a day.

After a few days trying to get the best price, I despaired at the scarcity of the material and was willing to toe the supplier’s price line. I ordered 300 posts out of the 500 required. I ordered them in late January and few rocks arrived on Feb 10th.

Splitters were to arrive I was told, within three days. In the event, they took three anxious weeks of pleading, before they showed up – that’s how busy they are in this real estate boom. They were hard working, pathetically poor men, quite clearly at the low-end of the fencing post food chain. Babu Reddiar took nice care of them, bringing three good meals a day. Work on the rocks began and after two days I had no more than 125 posts, less than half of what I needed for the first stage.

Search for the balance requirements began. Babu did the search and drew a blank everywhere. Finally we found a small surplus in a village about 30km away. It cost Rs.17 per post extra for handling and transport. I treasured them as rare diamonds. We now had a total of 250, about 50 short, but enough to be stood in place in order to somewhat earmark the project site.

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