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Archives for : March2017

Meet The Woman Who Brought Drinking Water, Toilets To A Tamil Nadu Village

Five years ago, Melamarungoor, a panchayat in Sivagangai district, was starved of funds and official attention. Panchayat president Mazharkodi Dhanasekar built 650 toilets making the panchayat open defecation-free, brought water to villages that were dry and set up a reverse osmosis system worth Rs 300,000–all with funds that she had to lobby hard for. (Photo Credit: IndiaSpend)

By Bhanupriya Rao/ IndiaSpend

Melamarungoor, Sivagangai district (Tamil Nadu): Mazharkodi Dhanasekar has a radiant smile and is keen to talk about her achievements, which, as it emerges, are considerable: Building 650 toilets and making her panchayat in southern Tamil Nadu free of open-defecation.

Dhanasekar’s fame has spread across the district as the woman who transformed and gained attention for a remote, lost panchayat-village council-largely ignored by officials until she was elected president in 2011.

Dhanasekar, 49, is one of 40 past and current women panchayat leaders we surveyed across six Tamil Nadu districts to analyse the impact of a quarter century of reservations for women in local bodies. We found a majority of women now work independently of the men in their lives and, despite a series of hurdles that denies them access to finances, such as male-dominated political networks and limited powers, they have carved out distinct identities for themselves and overtaken men in building roads, providing drinking water and toilets, as the first part of this series explained.

Overall, Tamil Nadu now has India’s lowest fertility rate — lower than Australia, Finland and Belgium-second best infant mortality and maternal mortality rate, and records among the lowest crime rates against women and children, as IndiaSpend reported in December 2016, but places like Melamarungoor are outliers.

Drinking water once in four days, crumbling roads

“Block or district officials hardly ever came to visit our panchayat,” said Dhanasekar. “They don’t care about far-flung panchayats like ours. This meant they would not allocate extra funds for development. We just did not exist for them. Funds went to the panchayat closer to town (the block headquarters of Kalaiyarkovil).”

As you travel away from Kalaiyarkovil towards the neighbouring district of Ramanathapuram — close to which Melamarungoor is situated — the roads are pocked with potholes. On some stretches, only blobs of tar remain, the rest is mud. This is an arid part of Tamil Nadu and villages struggle to find drinking water. Women and schoolgirls in uniform line up plastic pots near common drinking-water taps once in four days, which is when the water comes.

“I wanted to change that,” said Dhanasekar. “The only way, I realised, the district administration took notice of panchayats like ours was to completely transform it, show them what can be done. I managed to do that.”

When Dhanasekar assumed office six years ago, the balance sheet of her panchayat was a cause for concern. In 2005, eight villages from Ramanathapuram district were added to the 17 governed by the Melamarungoor panchayat.

However, State Finance Commission (SFC) grants meant for the eight Ramanathapuram villages were not reallocated to Melamarungoor. SFC grants, funds devolved by the state government, are the single biggest source of income for panchayats.

Dhanasekar’s first crusade was to get those SFC grants reallocated to Melamarungoor, which took a stream of petitions, weekly attendance at the district collectorate and more than six months of correspondence between the state department of rural development and the district administration.

She next turned her attention to the scarcity of drinking water.

Five years to bring drinking water to seven villages

Drinking water is a major problem across Sivagangai district. Villages in the district receive water mostly under the Combined Drinking Water Supply Scheme, popularly called “Cauvery water”, from the contested river that flows south from Karnataka.

In rural areas, every habitation has one or more common drinking-water taps, which get water at fixed times. Of 3,352 rural habitations in Sivagangai, 397 habitations get some drinking water-10-39 lt per capita per day, against the 40 lt set by the National Rural Drinking Water Programme-and 2,955 get 40 lt, according to 2016 Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board data.

In recent times, due to failing monsoons and mining in the Cauvery basin, villages now receive water once in four days, sometimes.

For villages bordering Ramanathapuram district, salinity is an additional problem because the Indian ocean is nearby. As a 2014 report shows, desalination plants either do not work or operate below capacity. The eight Ramanathapuram villages added to Melamarungoor were acutely short of potable drinking water. It took Dhanasekar five years to have pipes laid and drinking water brought to seven of those villages. One village, Sattanur, still does not have a water source.

“I had to petition the Kalaiyarkovil panchayat union president (the panchayat union is the second tier of local government, a group of all gram panchayats in the Block) to get Rs 300,000 sanctioned for a reverse osmosis (RO) plant in one of those eight villages, so that villages around can get better drinking water,” said Dhanasekar.

Before the RO plant started in 2015, people bought water at Rs 30 per pot. Now they pay Rs 5 per pot, so waste is discouraged. “Water in these parts in a valuable commodity and people should know its value,” said Dhanasekar.

The shortage and value of money

Panchayats in Tamil Nadu are short of funds, as earlier parts of this series have pointed out. To get funds from other elected representatives, access to political networks is key-particularly difficult for women, most of whom are first-time politicians. Although panchayat leaders are not supposed to be affiliated to political parties, such affiliations are now common and, often, determine funding.

The Panchayat Union in Kalaiyarkovil Block is led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Since Dhanasekar’s family was allied with the AIADMK, it was not as difficult as it could have been.

“I could get some funds for another RO plant in my panchayat from the Panchayat Union,” Dhanasekar. “But if you have links to a rival party, say the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), getting funds is next to impossible.”

Dhanasekar’s biggest achievement, however, is not only that she built 650 toilets in her panchayat, but she did it cheaper than others, spending Rs 13,500 per toilet — of which Rs 12,000 is subsidised by the Centre’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), or SBM — by buying raw material in bulk and engaging labour from the adjacent Virudhunagar district for an entire year, not just to build these toilets, but other village construction activities such as the new Village Poverty Reduction Committee office.

A household toilet costs between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000, according to this 2016 field survey of SBM by Accountability Initiative, a Delhi-based think tank.

Still, Dhanasekar had to spend more than Rs 100,000 of her own money to manage the shortfall, which some villagers could not pay. The money will not be reimbursed.

Dhanasekar is a Maravar, a subcaste of the dominant Thevar community, and her family owns 15 acres of land in Melamarungoor, so she can absorb the loss. Although agriculture over the last five years has failed because of scanty rain, her family’s finance and money-lending business sustains them well.

Dhanasekar is willing to spend her own money because of her determination to put Melamarungoor on the district map of Sivagangai as a model panchayat. But many panchayat presidents, especially those women of limited means, cannot do the same.

(Series concluded. In arrangement with, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Bhanupriya Rao is a co-creator of GenderinPolitics, a project which tracks women’s representation and political participation in India at all levels of governance. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at [email protected] You can read the report here:

(This story has not

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Ladakhi Innovator who inspired ‘3 Idiots’ bags global award for ‘ ice- stupas’

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TNN | Mar 24, 2017, 04.00 AM IST

Los Angeles: Ladakhi engineer and educationist Sonam Wangchuk has been the unfortunately unacknowledged inspiration for the lead character Phunsukh Wangdu in Aamir Khan‘s blockbuster ‘3 Idiots’. But a significant acknowledgement came along recently for the 50-year-old, whose ingenious ‘ice stupas’ have played a huge role in combating water scarcity in the cold Himalayan desert; he became one of only 10 people from across 144 nations to win the Rolex Awards for Global Enterprise at a glittering ceremony held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

One can imagine stupas — mound-like Buddhist shrines — in Buddhist-majority Leh and Ladakh, but what are ice stupas? The term was coined by the real-life Wangdu to describe conical mounds of ice that he and his team built using glacial stream flows so they could act as artificial glaciers, gradually releasing water during the crop-growing period of April-May, when water shortage in the region is severe as discharges of glacial melt water start only post-summer.

Flat, artificial glaciers had been created earlier by another Ladakhi engineer, Chewang Norphel, but they were at a height of over 4,000 metres, and villagers had an uphill task reaching them. Wangchuk brought the glaciers to the villagers and changed their shape from flat to conical, thinking that “the sun needs surface area to heat things up,” and that conical ice mounds, with minimal surface area, would melt far more slowly in sunlight. The 20-m high prototypes were created in 2013 by the engineer-educationist and his students from the pathbreaking “student-built and student-run” SECMOL Alternative School co-founded by him in 1994, and ever since, they have supplied a few million litres of melt water.

Wangchuk has twin targets now: to create 20 such stupas, around 30m high, each capable of supplying 10 million litres of water, and to establish an alternative university on 200 acres of desert land provided by the Ladakh Hill Council government. The varsity, he says, will engage youths to find solutions to “challenges faced by mountain people in education, culture and environment.” The prize money of Rs 1 crore he’s got from Rolex in the 40th year of its awards will act as a “seed fund” for achieving these targets.

According to Rebecca Irwin, head of philanthropy at Rolex, the Swiss watchmaker gives awards not so much for achievement but more as enablers so that social and other entrepreneurs can work on their new and ongoing projects. That’s exactly what Wangchuk can do with the prize, for he wants not to rest on his laurels but to build more stupas and empower more students.

Among the others who won the awards at a function marked by the presence of Hollywood biggies such as James Cameron were Kerstin Forsberg, a Peruvian biologist who is into saving giant manta rays, and Andrew Bastawrous, an ophthalmologist from UK whose smartphone-based portable eye exam system is profoundly changing eye care in sub-Saharan Africa.

(The author was in Los Angeles at the invitation of Rolex)

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After Shiv Sena MP hits staffer, Air India mulls no-fly list for unruly passengers

After Shiv Sena MP hits staffer, Air India mulls no-fly list for unruly passengers
Mar 24, 2017 | 09:47 IST | SOURCE : Times Now, Agencies

After Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulted Air India duty manager on Thursday, Air India is expected to take a slew of strict measures to ensure such incidents do not happen in future.

While no formal action has been taken by the Shiv Sena party against him, it is likely that Gaikwad will never be able to board an Air India flight in his lifetime.

Air India chief Ashwini Lohani came out in support of the Air India staff and asked the crew members to file a police complaint without approval, as it was a case of direct assault on the aircraft employee.

The national carrier has filed two FIRs in the case, said Lohani, pointing out the need to condemn such incidents even in cases where political leaders are involved. One of the complaints had be filed for delaying the flight for 40 minutes and the other for the assault on the duty manager.

As per sources, the Delhi Police is now mulling legal options and trying to pinpoint on the charges that can be imposed in the case.

He said, “While we have filed two FIRs it is necessary that in all such cases of a passenger misbehaving, the airport manager would invariably lodge an FIR with the local police without waiting for any approvals.”

An airline spokesperson has made it clear that the National carrier is mulling the introduction of a no-fly list, which will include names of unruly passengers.

“Air India is examining the creation of a no-fly list of unruly passengers, along the lines of other carriers,” a senior airline official said.

Several counts of such misbehavior on planes have been recorded over the past few months. Numerous airlines have filed complaints against drunk and unruly passengers for disrupting peaceful flight operations.

As per data emerging from media reports, close to 53 incidents of such brazenness has been recorded between July 2016 and February 2017.

In fact, the issue is frequent in case of global airlines as well, and data from International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that uruly passengers are one of the top concerns of cabin crew.

As per the air transport association, there were over 49,084 reported cases of unruly passenger incidents on board aircraft in flight between 2007 and 2015.

Out of these incidents, more than 10,000 have taken place in 2015. The body has also observed an increase in the number of such unruly behavior.

In this particular incident, the Air India duty manager Shivkumar, 60, had been assaulted by the Shiv Sena MP Gaikwad. The AI staffer later said that he never expected the issue to escalate to this extent.

“He misbehaved with me, he even broke my glasses. I never expected this could happen… God save our country if this is the culture and behaviour of our MPs,” Shivkumar said. Gaikwad even tried to throw the duty manager off the plane.

Air India has already filed a complaint against the Shiv Sena MP, after he brazenly boasted that he hit a staff member with his slipper because he could not travel business class in an all-economy flight.

Condemning the attack on the AI staff member, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said no political party will endorse such an act.

“Any citizen hitting an airline staffer doesn’t make any sense… No political party will encourage physical assault. It should never have happened,” Raju said.

No action yet

Shiv Sena MP Manisha Kayande said the party did not support Gaikwad’s actions and demanded that the incident should be thoroughly investigated.

“Ravindra Gaikwad agreed that he has done it, however Shiv Sena does not advocate such behaviour. He is a popular MP. We want to find out what made him lose his temper, what instigated him should be probed,” Kayande said.

Gaikwad was also summoned by party chief Uddhav Thackeray who has sought explanation for the incident.

TIMES NOW also spoke to Shiv Sena’s Anil Desai who said it was a kneejerk reaction, and that it would be hard for him to comment on the issue without speaking to Gaikwad.

In an official statement, the Sena did make it clear that it does not endorse such violence. However, no action has been taken against the MP yet.

A repeat offender

This, however, is not the first time Gaikwad has been in the negative side of a story.

In 2014, Gaikwad was among a group of 11 Sena MPs who forced a Muslim catering supervisor Sh. Arshad to eat ‘chapati’ or flat bread during the month of Ramzan when Muslims keep fast. The reason given was that the group did not like the food that was served to them.

In fact, a few days earlier on March 21, the Sena MP was seen bashing a cop and intimidating him. The incident, backed by his previous track record, has been questioned by many activists and some beieve that the tainted politician should be sacked from his post.

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India – Road to perdition


In case you didn’t notice, with the passing of the Finance Bill, the government just changed over 40 laws, and we might just be headed for some depressing times
If you could pass a law and ensure your favorite politician gets superpowers -is able to overrule Parliament, Courts, other in stitutions, laws -and `rule’ India without question for as long as heshe lives, would you wave that wand? Now, assuming this person is indeed everything India needs, there is still that small problem of mortality.Heshe could die and the next person who comes along may not be all that nice. Which is why countries need institutions and laws, and which is also why we need to ensure that these institutions and laws are honoured and safeguarded. They are our protection against oppression; they ensure that the government is truly of, by and for the people.Earlier this week, something called the `Finance Bill’ was passed by the Lok Sabha. (A `bill’ is a proposed law, it becomes an `Act’ when it is passed). It will not go to the Rajya Sabha but will become binding law as soon as it gets the assent of the President of India. This will happen because the law has been passed as a `Money Bill‘. As per the Constitution of India, a Money Bill is, in summary, a bill, which pertains to the spending, or borrowing of money by the Central Government. Such bills are not required to be sent to the Rajya Sabha, which is a requirement for most other laws. This government has, however, been repeatedly passing laws that have nothing, or very little to do with `money’ as money bills, to ensure that the bills don’t reach Rajya Sabha where it does not hold majority. This is how institutions, law-making practices and conventions are destroyed.

What does this `Finance Bill’ do?
This entire newspaper would not suffice for a detailed explanation, because the bill in one thrust amends forty laws.Forty laws have been changed in one day without the established institutions and procedures being followed. What do some of these changes say? Firstly, Aadhaar has been made compulsory for filing tax returns. The bill in fact says that if you don’t have Aadhaar and want to file tax returns, your PAN will be cancelled and treated like it never existed. This is after various orders of the Supreme Court repeatedly saying Aadhaar should not be made mandatory. It is despite the assurances of the Attorney General to the apex court that Aadhaar cards would only be issued on a “consensual basis“. This, at a time when the government has become deaf to concerns that Aadhaar has become an instrument of surveillance, the data obtained for Aadhaar is prone to theft and rampant misuse such as it being given to private companies etc. When it was pointed out in Lok Sabha that, in view of Supreme Court’s orders, the government was unfairly forcing citizens, Arun Jaitley said `Yes, we are.’ Secondly, several previous limitations on companies pertaining to the amount they could donate to political parties and the disclosure requirements on such donations have been done away with. Limitations had been imposed on the money that could be donated by companies to avoid quidpro-quo, and corporates exercising undesirable influence over governance.This government has practically done away with both, the limitations as well as the disclosure requirements. I have no hesitation in saying that the government is playing a two-faced game: pretending to curb petty corruption while rolling out the red carpet for large scale institutional corruption. This writer had previously written about how while making plenty of noises about corruption, this government passed a law retrospectively to legalise foreign donations obtained unlawfully by both BJP and Congress.

Thirdly, the government has brought back raid-raj by doing away with a requirement that income tax officers will have to furnish reasonsget court orders prior to conducting raids. If you’re a whistle-blower, or a journalist, or an average joe wanting to hold the government and its officers accountable, don’t be surprised if income tax officers raid your home, ruin your peace and privacy and go scot free afterwards.There is zero rationale for this amendment except it being a tool to harass people.

Fourthly, the bill merges eight tribunals (quasi-judicial bodies) into other tribunals. This is most bizarre because many of the merged tribunals require specific expertise. Most tribunals are overburdened and short of competent personnel, and in this scenario reducing their number and increasing their workload is nothing short of bizarre. The Government of India is a litigant before almost all these tribunals. To ensure their independence the qualifications, terms of service and more of the personnel manning these tribunals was stipulated in law, and could be altered only by Parliament.The government has now appropriated these powers for itself. Forget about fair hearing before tribunals. Meanwhile, all these radical changes found little or no space in most newspapers. The Supreme Court of India has been sitting on the case to decide constitutionality of Aadhaar for over 1.5 years. We are heading full throttle towards a complete institutional breakdown. What about democracy? Enjoy it while it lasts.

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How to Find Love – Romeos, Majnus and Mahants

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The enthusiastic supporters of the new Uttar Pradesh government are so excited by this new development scheme they’ve received called anti-Romeo squads that it feels heartbreaking to tell them they’re getting yesterday’s left-overs that have been warmed up.In December 2005, the nation was just learning that it wanted to know how to symbolically lynch people via television.Among the early lessons in this syllabus was Operation Majnoo in which police took along TV crews, entered a public park in Meerut and proceeded to beat up young couples sitting in the park. They also beat up a married couple who had come just to sit in the winter sun.They beat up a brother and sister from a village outside Meerut, who were passing the time till their lawyer’s appointment in the nearby district court. One couple was so terrified by the story being flashed all over the news that they ran away fearing punishment from their parents. They were finally brought back with tearful entreaties from their parents and married off. I wonder how that forced marriage at age 19 played out.

As these images played out over and over, the message they sent was not that sexual harassment would be punished, but that consensual romance would be turned into a spectacle of violence.

The reason I remember this -it is so easy to forget one of the many violent things we see on television -is that I went back a year later to make a film about it, and that is when I first heard the term Love Jihad, which was unofficially touted as one justification for the police action.

Anyway, so Majnu Madness has been re-branded Romeo RoundUps. We have Mahiwal Hatao left. After that, since love is not being allowed only, there will be no iconic brand name available, but maybe then we can get a multinational consulting firm to advice on the matter. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Some people are feeling a bit confused. How come those who have renounced fleshly desires are taking such a strong interest in them? Uncharitable people feel that talking about moral policing is just a violent way of talking about love and sex. But there is a slightly more technical confusion. As per the men who renounce worldly life, women, with their sinuous curves and wily charms, are temptresses who weaken the resolve of saintly men.They are thus the root of evil.

However, as per the current narrative, women seem to have no role to play in the tempting business. It is they who are being tempted and led astray by Romeos and Majnus (and soon Mahiwals). So what are women ­ the tempted or the temptresses?
Any reasonable person, who lives comfortably with the world of desire, will say, well, they could be either. Which would bring us to the central issue of consent. Some women may be in consensual amorous situations. Since this is about protecting women, the simplest thing would be to ask the women what they need; to act on their complaints in a timely and efficient manner.

What’s that, we hear?
Oh, it’s the sound of thousands of women laughing ­ those women who have complained about sexual harassment at the workplace, eve-teasing on the road, sexual assault and rape at home, cyberstalking and sexual cyberthreats from trolls, and heard from the police and the world that same question they hear from seekers of unimaginative phone sex ­ what were you wearing? Well, as long as women are under no misapprehension, that things like Romeo squads are for their protection, or a recognition of their consent, at least they’re saved from one kind of heartbreak.

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