Islands in Flux — The Andaman and Nicobar Story

Islands, because of the geographical (and thus genetic) separation they provide, are hotspots of evolution. They are home to some of the most fascinating species of life on the planet, seriously threatened by the entry of human beings into their ecosystems. India’s own Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a case in point.

The next Dhwani talk, on Thursday, 7th September, at 5:30 pm in Kanada Auditorium, JNCASR, will be an illustrated presentation on the A&N islands by Pankaj Sekhsaria based on his new book of the same title. The presentation will deal with the history and ecology of the islands and challenges that will be faced going forward.

About the book: Islands in Flux is a compilation of writings on key issues and developments in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands over the last two decades. Written by Pankaj Sekhsaria, one of the islands’ best known and most consistent chroniclers of contemporary issues, it features information, insight and perspective related to the environment, wildlife conservation, development and the island’s indigenous communities. The book provides an important account that is relevant both for the present and the future of these beautiful and fragile but also very volatile island chain. It is both a map of the region as well as a framework for the way forward, and essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of our world.

About the speaker: Pankaj Sekhsaria is a researcher, photographer, writer and academic who has worked in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands for over 20 years. He has four books on the islands to his credit, the most recent one being his debut novel The Last Wave, that was published in 2014. The Last Wave – an island novel and his new book Islands in Flux – the Andaman and Nicobar Story have both been published by HarperCollins India.

Sekhsaria is associated with the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh where he works on the issues of the A&N islands and also edits the Protected Area Update, a newsletter on wildlife and conservation that is published every two months. He also writes extensively on conservation related issues for the mainstream English media.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engg (Pune University) and a masters degree in Mass Communication (Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi). He was recently awarded a doctorate in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from the Maastricht University, Netherlands for his thesis ‘Enculturing innovation – Indian engagements with nanotechnology wherein he studied scientific and innovation practices inside six nanoscience and technology labs in India.

Sekhsaria is currently Senior Project Scientist, DST-Centre for Policy Research, Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT-Delhi.

Initial response to the book:

In this update of his earlier book on the Andamans, Sekhsaria demonstrates his unwavering commitment to chronicling the life and times of these beautiful but endangered islands. Few environmental journalists in the country have tracked one area so perceptively. This book is a testimony to his dedication.’

Darryl D’Monte, Chairman Emeritus of the Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI)

Pankaj Sekhsaria has been visiting, researching, photographing and writing about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for decades. With the archipelago facing unprecedented challenges from destructive development, this collection of his articles becomes all the more significant. Anyone who cares about the magical islands and their enticements – the stunning beaches, waters, corals and forests, the unique flora and fauna, and, of course, the utterly fascinating peoples – will find this volume to be both highly readable and exceptionally informative.’

Madhusree Mukerjee, journalist, author and activist

Pankaj joined our Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environment Team (ANET) expedition to the remote South Sentinel Island in the late 1990s. We were there to fi lm the wildlife of the island and I have a feeling that it was this trip which started Pankaj’s obsession with documenting the ups and downs of environmental matters that affect the wonderful Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This collection of nearly twenty years of his writings tells the sometimes disturbing story of how we are treating our fragile islands.’

Romulus Whitaker, founder, ANET

Advertisements

The Musical Heritage of India

Dhwani is back next Wednesday with an interactive session with Dr. Sakuntala Narasimhan on the musical heritage of India. Dr. Narasimhan is a renowned proponent of both Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, and is the author of several books and articles on Indian music, including “Invitation to Indian Music: Carnatic and Hindustani” and “The Splendour of Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana”. She is herself a disciple of Ustad Hafeez Ahmad Khan of the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana.
Please join us for her talk at 4pm on Wednesday, 9th August, at Kanada Auditorium. Tea/Coffee at 3:45 pm.

Common Cause: A Romance with Public Causes

The balance between Exit, Voice and Loyalty, argues the late great political economist Albert Hirschman, determines the nature of a democracy. Organisations that enable the voiceless to hold those in power accountable are, therefore, more than necessary nuisances; they are essential to the very survival of a democracy.

Common Cause, an organisation founded in 1980, has worked tirelessly since its inception for the rights of ordinary citizens and propriety in governance. Mr. Kamal Kant Jaswal, a career civil servant in the IAS, and the current President of Common Cause, will talk to us about the history and achievements of the organisation, and the lessons we should learn.

Please join us for his talk at 5pm on Friday the 16th of June at Kanada Auditorium, JNCASR. An abstract from the speaker follows.

Abstract

Common Cause was established in 1980 by Mr. Hari Dev Shourie, a retired civil servant, as a forum for ventilating the common problems and grievances of the people. The organisation was soon able to secure relief from the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking in respect of consumer grievances.

Common Cause was then persuaded to take up the case of old pensioners, who had arbitrarily been excluded from the liberalised pension scheme of 1979. In its landmark decision in the very first PIL filed by Common Cause, the Supreme Court held that central government pensioners formed one class and could not be treated differently on the basis of date of retirement. The principle was later extended to pensioners of state governments, local bodies and other government organisations. This PIL benefitted more than 4 million pensioners and was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most impactful litigation of the time.

Subsequently, Common Cause succeeded in securing family pension for the widows of pre-1964 pensioners and the restoration of the commuted value of pension after 15 years of recovery.

Emboldened by its successes in the domain of liberalised pension, Common Cause took up in rapid succession various causes of public import, including property tax, Rent Control Act, malfunctioning blood banks, grievances of consumers of public utilities, establishment of consumer courts, pendency of criminal cases, police reforms, financial accountability of political parties, and probity in public life.

In all, Common Cause filed more than seventy writ petitions, many drafted and argued by Mr. Shourie himself. His social activism won him many laurels and wide acclaim. The government often sought his wise counsel in the formation of public policy.

Mr. Shourie served as Director of Common Cause to his last breath in June 2005. He had been a one-man army; and after his death, the organisation went into a dormant phase lasting until 2007. A determined effort was then made to consolidate the Founder Director’s legacy, transforming in the process an essentially individual initiative into a collegial, research-based, systems-driven and networked organisation.

In the last decade, the focus of Common Cause has been on policy interventions in key areas of governance reforms and on safeguarding the integrity of institutions of governance. It has never shied from speaking truth to power and pursuing its PILs to their logical end, regardless of consequences.

The interventions of Common Cause, often undertaken in concert with like-minded civil society organisations, have been spearheaded by public spirited lawyers like Prashant Bhushan. Among the notable outcomes of the recent PILs are the following.

  • Revocation of the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.
  • Enunciation of a new jurisprudence of institutional integrity.
  • Cancellation of 2G telecom licences and spectrum allocations.
  • Cancellation of captive coal mine allocations.
  • Enforcing the accountability of holders of high public office for their sins of omission and commission.
  • Radical reform of the system of attribution of national resources to commercial entities and institution of the system of public auctions, resulting in enormous increases in government revenues.
  • Striking down of certain arbitrary and iniquitous provisions of the Information Technology Act and Representation of the People Act.

A number of PILs, which raise substantive issues of law and equity, is pending in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Many others are in the pipeline. The instrument of public interest litigation is, however, losing its edge, as the courts are increasingly wary of interfering in the legislative and executive domains.

Under the circumstance, Common Cause has decided to attribute a major part of its resources to projects of research-based policy advocacy concerning critical issues of governance. The most important of these projects relates to the launch of an Annual State of Policing Report across states with a view to imparting an impetus to the stalled movement for police reforms. Policy interventions in the implementation of the Right to Education are also under preparation.

About the Speaker

Kamal Kant Jaswal served in the Uttar Pradesh Cadre of the Indian Administrative Service for over 36 years till October 2004.

Kamal Jaswal holds degrees of Master of Science in Geology from the University of Lucknow, M.Phil. in Economics and Management of Public Enterprises from the University of Paris XI and L.L.B. from the University of Delhi.

During his career in the IAS, Kamal Jaswal held a number of important positions in the field as well as the State and Central secretariats. He also served in the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation as Chief Technical Advisor of a major industrial planning project in the Republic of Mali for three years.

As Secretary to Government of India, Department of Information Technology, he formulated a comprehensive programme for development of the IT infrastructure in the country and piloted the National e-Governance Action Plan. After his retirement from the IAS, he was appointed Member Secretary of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector and played a key role in making it functional.

During his long public career, Kamal Jaswal specialized in the areas of rural development, industrial planning & promotion, public enterprise policy and privatization. In March 2007 he took charge as Director and Chief Executive of Common Cause, a position he held for the next eight years. In 2015 the Common Cause Governing Council unanimously elected him as the Presiden

Lokavidya Standpoint: the emergence of a new promise

Listen to the gentiles” urges Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, in an essay on his philosophy in life; “pay attention to what intelligent people are saying, even if they do not have your customs or speak your analytical language.”  Given what we know about the phenomenon dubbed the wisdom of the crowd, might we surmise that the people in a society are an unrecognised font of knowledge and, dare we say it, wisdom?

Sunil Sahasrabudhey is a philosopher of science and knowledge, and a life-long activist in people’s movements. He is also a founder-member of Vidya Ashram, an institution dedicated to the study of lokavidya. He will talk to us about the promise of a knowledge movement of the people.

Please join us for the talk on Tuesday the 6th of June, at 5pm at Kanada Auditorium. Tea/Coffee at 4:45 pm.

Abstract:
The world of knowledge is today in a great flux. The appearance of the information sciences is forcing a change in the absolute command that the physical sciences have  enjoyed for over two centuries now. This situation and also the nature of the new  sciences have opened significant spaces for the re-legitimisation of knowledge with the  people, namely lokavidya. This further promises an epoch making change in favour of  the people. This is a time for celebration of Lokavidya for the world at large and for the world of knowledge in particular. Therefore, there has arisen a need to know, understand and appreciate lokavidya.

Lokavidya is not remnants of traditional knowledge; it is knowledge in society renewed every instant by the people based on their experiences and by their own genius. It is not just a body of information, but has its own values, logic, mode of abstraction and so on. It constitutes a very important component of the world of knowledge. If lokavidya has equal standing to that of science and the two enter into a relationship to augment, complement and enrich each other, we shall have a great new promise for the progress of mankind, the bottom line being complete eradication of poverty and absence of disparity and hierarchy.

About the Speaker:
Sunil Sahasrabudhey is founder member of Vidya Ashram, Varanasi, an institution  engaged in building a knowledge movement of the ordinary people, viz a lokavidya movement. A student of BHU and IIT Kanpur, Sunilji has spent two decades at the Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi. He has edited magazines such as Mazdoor Kisan Niti and Lokavidya Samvad, and was member of the Patriotic and People-Oriented Science and Technology (PPST) Foundation. He has nearly four decades of experience as an activist and has successfully combined his theoretical interests in the philosophy of science and knowledge, Gandhian philosophy and the theoretical basis of emancipatory movements with an active engagement in movements such as the Students’ Movement of the 1970s and the Peasant Movement of the 1980s and 90s. He has written several books and articles, in Hindi and English, on the philosophy and practice of India’s peasant movements, Gandhi’s philosophy of Science, politics of knowledge in the Internet Age, etc.

An introduction to lokavidya may be found in this video: “What is lokavidya?

An older series of interviews with Amit Basole of Azim Premji University may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4CwqyUcJbs
An interview with a local news channel in Indore may be found here.
A talk about the significance of lokavidya may be found here.

Using Remote Sensing to understand and preserve our cultural heritage

Until archaeological evidence to the contrary was unearthed, the story of the Trojan war in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey was considered a fable. Much the same is true of how the tsunami that hit India’s Eastern coast in 2004 changed what was thought of the legend of Mahabalipuram’s seven pagodas. Could we use technology to look into the past? Could using the power of satellite imaging, say, obviate the need for tsunamis in archaeology?

Dr. M. B. Rajani, from NIAS, uses space/air based remote sensing images to interpreting earth’s surface and subsurface features in order to extract information that enhances our understanding of the archaeology of an area. She will talk to us about using remote sensing in history and archaeology, on Wednesday the 24th of May, at 5pm at Kanada Auditorium.

An abstract from the speaker follows.

Abstract:

Scientific developments and emerging technologies have provided new tools
to study ancient material and decipher the past. One such powerful tool is
Remote Sensing (RS), which uses aerial and space platforms to view landscapes
in both visible and invisible (infrared, microwave, etc.) wavelengths, and also
help in 3-D landscape modeling. Being purely non-invasive, this technology
leaves sites untouched for the future. This talk will use case studies including
Mahabalipuram and Srirangapatna to illustrate how RS can be used in the
context of cultural heritage sites in two ways: (1) to reveal new insights about
their past, and (2) to help formulate management plans for preserving them
from the ever-increasing threat of development. While there are several
positive consequences of India’s industrial growth, expanding transportation
networks, villages, towns and cities, these activities can cause irrevocable
damage (directly or indirectly) to India’s rich archaeological heritage.
This talk will demonstrate how RS can play an important role in formulating
plans to limit such harm in the future.

About the Speaker:

Rajani did her doctoral research in the field of space-based archaeological investigations at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, and was awarded a PhD by the University of Mysore in 2011. She received the Rachapudi Kamakshi Memorial Young Geospatial Scientist Award for this work. She conducted post-doctoral research for a year at NIAS, and then was an Assistant Professor in the M. Tech GIS programme at NIIT University (NU), Neemrana from 2011 to 2013. Her recent work includes a study of the archaeological remains in the environs of Nalanda as a Fellow of Nalanda University (2013-2014).

The Dimensions And Roles of Science & Technology in India’s Foreign Policy

We are pleased to present a special talk on the role of science and technology in India’s foreign policy, on Tuesday the 2nd of May, at 5pm at Kanada Auditorium, JNCASR. The talk will be delivered by Dr. V. Siddhartha, an Emeritus Scientist at DRDO and Adjunct Faculty member in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS.

About the Speaker:
Dr. V. Siddhartha is an Emeritus Scientist in DRDO, and Adjunct Faculty member of the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS. He has served as an advisor to the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, and the various arms—CSIR, DRDO, ISRO—of the Science and Technology establishment of the Government of India, also serving as Secretary to the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. He has also served the United Nations as part of an Expert Group on UNSC Resolution 1540 (on the non-proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons), and on the UN Environment Programme. He is a founder-member of the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore, and a member of several technology associations and bodies in the country.

Abstract:

The talk will dilate on those aspects of our country’s S&T ‘system’ that connect with her foreign policy. While doing so, the necessary distinction will be made between international collaborations in the country’s scientific and technological efforts, and those investments and contours of her S&T programmes that are influenced, or shaped, by India’s foreign policy.

The talk follows other pieces on similar topics:

  1.  “Space and Foreign Policy“, the seminal KPS Menon Memorial lecture by Prof. Satish Dhawan—one of the architects of India’s space programme—delivered in 1988. (KPS Menon was a distinguished Foreign Secretary of India;  his grandson is Shiv Shankar Menon, who also served a FS and subsequently as National Security Adviser to PM Manmohan Singh.)
  2. Global partnerships in scientific research and international mega-science projects“, an essay in Current Science by Prof V.S. Ramamurthy, a former Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India.
  3. Synthetic Biology in India: Issues in Risk, Power, and Governance“, an RIS Discussion Paper by Ravi Srinivas

Lake Conservation and Regional Water Security

The hottest year in recorded history has just passed, and we face record levels of water scarcity—across the country, and in Karnataka in particular. This is alarming, if for the reason that This calls for introspection about what could have been done differently, and what can be done now.

Dr. T.V. Ramachandra is an expert in the field of water conservation, and a frequent public commentator on our ongoing water-scarcity related problems. He will talk to us on Thursday the 27th of April, at 5pm, at Kanada Auditorium, JNCASR, about the enormous challenge facing us and how we can overcome it. An abstract from the speaker follows.

Abstract
Water is one of the fundamental elements of the universe from which early life originated millions of years ago on earth. Every life on the earth is primarily dependent on water which hosts innumerable aquatic species from single cell creatures to gigantic blue whales. As the evolution of human took place, civilized human settled down on the fertile river banks. In other words, river banks are the motherhood for civilized human and most of the civilization around the world. These river or lake banks gave water for drinking and also for cropping along with mineral rich soil. Civilized men knew the importance of water and respected these water bodies. However, deterioration of traditional water harvesting practices in most parts of burgeoning Bangalore has resulted in the inequity in water distribution and growing water scarcity, which has escalated water conflicts during the 20th century. Irresponsible management of natural resources is evident from (i) sustained inflow of untreated sewage and industrial effluents; (ii) dumping of solid waste (with 70% being organic); (iii) transport of untreated wastewater in storm water drains (water drains are essentially arteries of a landscape carrying water), etc.

Unplanned rapid urbanisation during late nineties, witnessed large-scale unrealistic, uncontrolled developmental activities in the neighborhood of wetlands. Land use analysis in Bangalore City shows 1005% increase in urban (built-up) area between 1973 and 2016 (i.e., from 8.0% (in 1973) to 77% (in 2016)) with a decline of 88% tree cover and 79% water bodies. Land use prediction using Agent Based Model showed that built up area would increase to 93.3% by 2020, and the landscape is almost at the verge of saturation.
Average annual rainfall in Bangalore is 787 mm with 75% dependability and return period of 5 years. Catchment wise water yield analysis indicates the total water available is about 14.80 TMC. Domestic demand of water (at 150 lpcd) is 20.05 TMC per year (1573 MLD). This means about 73% of Bangalore’s water demand can be met by efficient harvesting of rain water. Quantification of sewage generated shows that about 16.04 TMC (1258 MLD) of sewage is generated in the city. Sewage treatment with complete removal of nutrients and chemical contaminants is achievable by adopting decentralized treatment plants similar to the success model (secondary treatment plant integrated with constructed wetlands and algae pond) at Jakkur lake. In addition to this, water available with efficient rainwater harvesting is about 14.8 TMC. This means that total of 30.85 TMC of water is available annually to cater the demand of 20.05 TMC, provided the city administration opts for decentralized optimal water management through (i) rainwater harvesting by rejuvenating lakes. The best option to harvest rain water is through interconnected lake systems, (ii) treatment of sewage generated in households in each locality (opting the model at Jakkur lake – STP (Sewage Treatment Plant) integrated with constructed wetlands and algal pond; (iii) conservation of water by plugging the pilferages (due to faulty distribution system); (iv) ensuring water supply 24×7 and (v) ensuring all sections of the society get equal quantity and quality of water. Rejuvenating lakes in the region helps in retaining the rain water. Treating sewage and options to recycle and reuse would minimize the demand for water from outside the region. The analysis illustrates that the city has at least 30 TMC (Bangalore city) of water, which is higher than the existing demand (20.08 TMC, at 150 lpcd and 2016 population), if the city adopts 5R’s (Retain, Rejuvenate, Recycle, Reuse, Retain and Responsible citizens). In order to enhance the water retaining capability in the catchment, it is essential to harvest rain water and undertake large scale watershed programme (soil and water conservation). Lakes are the optimal means of rainwater harvesting at community level.

Reference:  Bangalore’s Reality: towards unlivable status with unplanned urban trajectory, Guest editorial, Current Science (June 2016).

About the Speaker:

Dr. T.V. Ramachandra, FIE, FIEE (UK) obtained Ph.D. in Ecology and Energy from Indian Institute of Science. At present, Coordinator of Energy and Wetlands Research Group (EWRG), Convener of Environmental Information System (ENVIS) at Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES). During the past twenty years he has established an active school of research in the area of energy and environment (http://ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy). He is a member of Karnataka State Audit Advisory Committee (2014-16). He was a Member of Karnataka State level Environment Expert Appraisal Committee (2007-2010), appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India and a member of Western Ghats task force appointed by the Government of Karnataka. He is a recipient of Johny Biosphere Award for Ecology and Environment (2004), Satish Dhawan Young Scientist Award, 2007 of Karnataka State Government and Best ENVIS award (thrice – 2015, 2014, 2004), the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, and recently Our Bangalorean, 2016 award (Namma Bengaluru Foundation).

He is an Elected Fellow of the National Institute of Ecology (2011), Indian Association of Hydrologists (India; 2006), Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE, UK; 2005), Institution of Engineers (IE, India; 2003), and a Senior Member, IEEE (USA; 2000) and Association of Energy Engineers (USA; 2000).

TVR’s research interests are in the area of energy systems, renewable energy, energy conservation, energy planning, aquatic ecosystems, biodiversity, ecological modelling, geo-informatics, environmental engineering education research and curriculum development at the tertiary level. He has published over 264 research papers in the reputed peer reviewed international and national journals, 52 book chapters, 302 papers in the international and national symposiums as well as 17 books. In addition, he has delivered a number of plenary lectures at national and international conferences. Publication “Milking diatoms for energy” is seminal work in biofuel research evident from reports in Scientific American, BBC, national dailies, etc.

He has guided 110 students for Master’s dissertation and nine students for Doctoral degrees. TVR has travelled widely across the country for field research and also for delivering lectures at Schools and Colleges. He has taken initiatives through biannual symposium (popular as Lake series), training programmes and workshops for capacity building at various levels. Details of the Lake Symposium are available at
http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy/lake2016/index.php