Ganapati or GanApathy?

Every festival is a reminder of togetherness, fun, food, celebration and at least one environmental problem! It’s funny that we become conscious about the growing water scarcity only during Holi, and noise/air pollution only during Diwali. These days, of course, Shadu Mati Ganpati tops the chart!

Well, to be honest, I too am guilty as charged! Though, in my defense, activism is my second name – and I do not need a festival to kindle that side of me. (No, that’s not the only reason why I have such less friends.)

Earlier we used to live frugally, and hence festivals were an expression of celebration and life, and thus, so lavish! Now, we read a couple of listicles on Buzzfeed, get inspired and spend every moment like it’s the last moment of our life – of course, till our resources last and then we fall back on the ground, and how! We spend every day like there is no tomorrow – which is exactly what they said, figuratively! But we Humans are an expert in making everything into as convenient as it can get!

Last week I stumbled upon a video that compared the popularity of an urgent and important environmental issue with that of Taylor Swift’s legs! Nope, that is not a typo! As bizarre as it sounds, the video made more sense than any walking-talking-breathing creature next to you right now! What it rightly sums up is that we are tired of being told how to live, what to do, how to celebrate – we are all trying to be our best anyway day after day, and this sort of creates a lot of pressure! Wait, what?

But the truth is even if we stop human activities from putting any more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere tomorrow, we’re still going to have a rough ride. We’re not even surprised anymore when there’s flooding somewhere at a time of the year when they’ve never got floods before. Unpredictable is the new predictable. Umm, I am not sure if that made sense, but why, me making sense is also tad-bit unpredictable.

do-nothingGoing green isn’t just a gimmick. With mountains of evidence behind our planet’s climate change, the green movement has exploded over the last decade, but saving the planet isn’t the only reason go green. I mean if we don’t save the planet Earth and give it all the love and affection it needs right now, even Taylor Swift’s legs are endangered! Think about it. The problem is graver than it looks at the face of it!

As easy as it can be to believe, we do NOT live in our own world. We share this one. I am saying all of this at the cost of sounding too preachy but we only have one chance to get it right. We all share responsibility for the planet. (Please don’t stop hanging out with me, my dear leftover friends!)

PS: Ganeshji toh maati ke hone chahiye, POP ka toh culture bhi hai!

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“By 2050, India may have to import its drinking water” read the headlines of most major national newspapers around mid-April. Such news, in the time of an extreme drought is especially disturbing. A conclusion like this must make us recoil in horror and make us question where we as a country are going wrong. For a nation of people that worships our rivers as goddesses, and take pride in deriving our identity from the land of the Sapta-Sindhu, it seems modern India has scant regard for water.

rklaxman - rwhFor a country that is largely dependent on the rains, where even the stock market rallies upwards on a mere prediction of a good monsoon, there are very few local level initiatives undertaken to conserve water. While it has used huge dam projects to project an image of modernity, our ingenious ways of conserving water seem to be lost in our walk towards development.

Irrigation projects are often opportunities for corruption, while water from mega dams travel hundreds of kilometres away to quench the thirst of cities, it is increasingly clear that the solution to deal with water is not in centralising and bureaucratizing it. It needs to be understood that mega-dams or river linking projects have resulted in only two things – providing a profit making opportunity to the people involved, and in creating political fissures around water. There are ample examples for both – ranging from the 70,000crore Maharashtra irrigation scam or the politicisation of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link or the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Although unintended, mega projects have produced more headaches than they might have solved.

The time now is to flip this approach. In keeping with the PM’s vision of maximum governance-minimum government, we believe that it is essential to let water conservation project be at the local scale. Instead of pushing 3-4 mega project that are promised to be the messiahs in solving our water crisis, it is essential we push for hundreds of local water conservation projects throughout the country that can be undertaken by the local government directly.

Considering the diversity in the physical and socio-economic landscape throughout the country, let the local gram panchayat- at the rural level and the area sabha or mohalla committee at the urban level take the lead in conserving water. This can be aided by the central and state governments in terms of financial and technical assistance, but it is essential that the conceptualisation of the project be done at the local level, by the local residents and for the locals. Just the way net metering as a concept is applied for to promote generation of electricity, a similar mechanism can be devised to audit the sharing of water. Self-sufficiency of water being the aim, the modalities can be worked out such that only the deficit is supplied by the government. In case of excess, they can be shared into a larger water network grid.

This would have multiple impacts – the onus of water conservation falls on the people themselves, the responsibility of providing the infrastructure lies with the local body, and a reduction in demand for transporting water over long distances, thus reducing leakages and wastage. The result of this would be emergence of more such water-men of India like Rajendra Singh of Rajasthan, diversity of water harvesting-storing-conserving and recycling initiatives suiting the modern times, much like our indigenous baoris, stepwells and jhalras.

Where are we heading?

Newspapers are all talking about the government announcing construction of a new adventure park, to boost the tourism of the town. The radio is blaring of the sprawling new apartment schemes, with all the facilities one can fancy under the moon. The construction of a huge mall and multiplex on my way to office is the zillionth reminder of “development” in my town, even before I begin my day at work.

But is it really development?

If we still relate to that poem about open farms and chirping birds, if our children look at the stars in the sky and wonder if we are in a planetarium, if we share pictures and videos about the “simple” life before technology over WhatsApp, email or any platform, if all the running our kids do is while playing temple run, then we are certainly doing something wrong. Really wrong.

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Picture Courtesy – The Logical Indian

While forming various communities online and sharing a little too much of our space, we are fast forgetting to share the community spaces. With our cities growing at lightning speed, we are overlooking the planning and execution of spaces where cultural and social interaction and exchange is bought upon.

In fact, the residences in earlier times were, in themselves, a beautiful interface of private and community space. Be it the verandah houses of our gaothans, the central courtyard of our chawls, there was a hierarchy of private, semi-private, semi-public, and public spaces. Now we are confined to our little box, the doors of which open to the sight of another closed door, beyond which we travel from way underground to way up in the sky. This reflects in our towns, with the diminishing green covers, and lack of public places.

It is time we understand that public spaces are very important for a healthy community. India is developing very quickly. Having said that a very large part of the country is still waiting to be developed. It isn’t too late for us to take matters in our hands, and plan for more social spaces, and create better public facilities.

As a country, we need to stop relying on and wait for the government to do something, while we sit and blame them for our current predicament. We at U+ Collective think that that is very old school, and now we as residents of this country have equal responsibility of our neighbourhood, of conserving our mother earth, of taking care of our resources, and doing all of this ourselves.

How, some may ask? Well, the new CSR laws, for one, are actually a great opportunity to give back to the society what we have earned from it. If each of us take this one chance and make a worthwhile insert in our urban/rural scape, a lot can be achieved in less than 5 years, that hasn’t really been in the last few decades.