Why The World Must Rediscover Mahatma Gandhi!

Gandhian ideology of non-violence, democracy and development is all the more relevant today in a world of falling moral values, distorted democracies, capitalistic exploitation, increasing violence and global environmental degradation.

Humanity Under Threat

Humanity is under severe threatThe world today is passing through a period of severe moral, spiritual and even economic degradation. There is a pervasive climate of isolationism, restlessness and insecurity. The ever growing cult of market worship has diluted State’s role as promoter of level playing field and protector of those stuck at the bottom of the power hierarchy. Too much emphasis on market efficiency has created a climate of amoral politics. Consequently, politics has turned into as a self-perpetuating means to control power rather than as a creative instrument of social justice and equity.

After the collapse of Soviet Union and its socialistic ideology the capitalistic democracy emerged as the best form of governance. But it has created another issue: “Can capitalism nurture a sustainable world order?” Another problem with the current capitalism is that it has lost connections with moral considerations. As more and more wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands and as humanity helplessly watches the ever increasing threat of climate change, there is a growing need for alternate models of development, democracy and economy.

Govt capture by money or mob is very badTherefore, at this hour of crisis what India needs, and what in fact the world needs, is a creative synthesis of Gandhi’s humanistic vision with universally accepted global worldview. There is an urgent need for dialogue among civilizations and the human-oriented approach of Gandhi. In a world of deepening crisis in the poor societies and social malaise in the affluent societies it seems likely that Gandhian ideas might show the right direction. Around the world, Gandhi is seen as an icon of struggle for peace, harmony and social justice and his humanist philosophy has always found ready acceptance in every society.

Since Mahatma Gandhi was clearly the tallest humanitarian face of the 20th century, the Gandhian model of governance and development is seeing renewed interest in the global community. The Gandhian methods of Swadeshi (self-reliance), non-violent Satyagraha, women’s empowerment and gram swaraj (grass root democracy) to ensure both social democracy and political democracy appear the right tools to prevent the chaos and disruption the world is heading towards.

Gandhian Approach to Democracy and Development

Village is the basic unit in Gandhian DemocracyThe Gandhian model of democracy evolved from several thousand years’ democratic ethos of India. For Gandhiji true democracy meant local self-governance – or ‘Swaraj’ (local self-rule). In the Gandhian worldview village is the smallest unit for self governance by the village panchayat (village parliament). Thus, he used the term ‘Gram Swaraj’. He envisaged each village as a tiny self-sufficient republic governed by a Panchayat with full control on local resources. The panchayat authority on local resources is vital for success of the gram swaraj model of democracy. In Gandhi’s view, only such autonomous and self-reliant communities offer people the best opportunities for participation. Thus, a society can be built as a federation of such tiny village republics, leading to a decentralized system with maximum decision making power to the grass root people. It would also counter the centralizing and alienating forces of the modem state.

An ideal village has peace and harmony among peopleSuch grass root empowerment nurtures robust democracy and naturally leads to a bottom up system of governance. In this scenario, the growth would not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. It would also automatically develop the right type of capitalism with responsibility towards people and society. Such a governance system can make the world a union of peace loving local governments. The need of the hour is to globalize such an ideology, rather than the markets.

Mahatma Gandhi considered people as the ‘real wealth’ of a nation, not its production and consumption of goods. He was not opposed to technology as long as it works to empower people in their local surrounding. In contrast, today economy and technology get priority over people – who are seen as mere “human resource” for the purpose of economic and technological growth. Like Adam Smith, he also considered labor as the primary source of economic gain. His opposition to Western capitalism was largely due to its exploitation of labor force to make the rich richer.

Rational Development – Pursue Needs, Not Greed

Gandhi wants to restrict human desiresMahatma Gandhi considered the Western economic development model – which rests on what is called “multiplication of wants” – both unsustainable and devastating to the human spirit. His economic ideology stressed on human well being – both material and non-material – while steering clear of the unbridled greed and temptation. He rejected the underlying assumption behind the classical Western model of development – where people are only supposed to seek maximum material gratification. In his view, voluntary rationalization of personal desires – rather than trying to satisfy endless craving – is also an indication of ‘real development’ of people and a sign of personal growth. Thus, development of mental restrain to overcome greed is ‘true development’ worth aiming for. Therefore, Gandhi’s economic ideology puts a special emphasis on ‘rational living’ after cutting down undesired and wasteful human wants through self-restrain. In essence, supreme consideration should be given to man’s mental development rather than the obsession for money or commodities or power and control.

Morality Must Prevail

Morality should be an integral part of human conductWhat distinguishes Gandhi’s ideas and ideology for reconstruction of society and politics and upliftment of people is the strong emphasis on morality and ethics. Moral considerations always weighed heavily with Gandhiji in everything he did. For him no human action can be devoid of morality. This also makes the task of Western commentators somewhat challenging, as they are generally more comfortable dwelling in the material realm – regardless of ways and means. Quite naturally, whenever they comment on Gandhi’s moral considerations, they look for the scant moralistic references in the works of Western philosophers, ignoring the real source of Gandhi’s knowledge – the ancient Hindu scriptures.

Barack Obama inspired by Mahatma GandhiWhile Gandhi was a well read person and had studied the works of Western philosophers also, but ultimately his ideas and ideologies were shaped by the ancient spiritual and holistic philosophies of life of his native land. His stress on truthfulness and non-violence clearly came from the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira and the real understanding of ‘Dharma’ from ancient scriptures – Vedas, Upnishads and Bhagwat Gita. In fact, Gandhi’s thinking reflected his profound understanding of the spiritual culture that defines Hindus. After Vivekananda, for the first time the world saw the power of “inner strength” of an ordinary looking man. Gandhiji showed how to harness the power of truthfulness and non-violence in solving social and political problems. He repeatedly demonstrated how to take on the world’s mightiest Empire only through internal personal conviction without raising even a fist!  Clearly the gun-wielding British never really understood how a fragile ‘brown’ man stood firm where the mightiest would shiver!!

However, the universal nature of Gandhian ideology transcends all national and language barriers and touches people at their heart.

Further Reading:

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Pakistan (S)Election 2018: Golden Era Begins!

The outcome of the Pakistan’s Election/Selection of 2018 was pre-scripted. Installation of Imran Khan as prime minister means entry of Pakistan into a golden era – for the army, fundamentalists and terrorists. Now the army/ISI Establishment can tighten its grip on the country using the bulwark of the jihadi brigade. The Rawalpindi generals can enjoy still ‘bigger’ status and perks. The so-called elected representatives can continue to perform the ritual of parliamentary debates and handle the mundane things like economy and arranging doles to run the country. Presence of Imran Khan is also great for the radicals and global terrorists. They can now freely pursue their ‘holy’ agenda and work towards bringing Pakistan under Sharia that would make them the ultimate ruler, in collaboration with the army. 

Pakistan (s)Election 2018: Pre-written Script

Can Imran Khan come out of Army's shadow?In the 2018 election that many called ‘selection’, the victory of Imran Khan went along the scripted lines. It was like a sham exam whose result was already declared! If the losers made noises of rigging and the EU observers noted a “lack of equality of opportunity” and “systematic attempts to undermine the ruling party ahead of the vote”, they surprised no one. Such rituals only underline the rules which run ritualistic Pak democracy. The election fixing started with the Panama trial to ensure that Imran Khan’s main opponent Nawaz Sharif fades away from national politics.

Unlike the 2013 election when Nawaz Sharif won his own mandate, Imran can’t claim that privilege. But Sharif started to assert himself (serious mistake), attended the swearing-in-ceremony of Indian PM Narendra Modi (blunder), put the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf on trial and tried charting a course independent of army line (serious blunder). These were all criminal acts of “political blasphemy” in a country where the army is the “political Allah.”. But when he tried asserting his position as democratically elected PM over the army (fatal blunder), he met fate similar to people trapped under blasphemy laws. Musharraf became wiser and refrained from entering the Pakistan territory. Who else can know, how Pakistan is run, better than him!

Trump exposes Pakistan Lies and deceitsOnce an army protege, Nawaz Sharif realized, over the years, that he can do no good for his countrymen partnering the army. But he paid for learning the right lesson. Learning the right lesson is the wrong thing in Pakistan! He underestimated so many agenda-driven protests and demonstrations during last few years – including those of Imran and cleric Tahirul Qadri in 2014 – and did not realize that they were part of the scheme aimed at his political murder. Then he committed yet another ‘Harakiri’ – admitted the truth that the 2008 Mumbai terror attack was designed on Pak soil. Let’s see how soon he is hanged for speaking truthfully and how soon his family’s political empire is finished. No wonder, Trump became furious about Pakistan’s habitual “Lies and deceits!!”

Mainstreaming of Terrorists

Hafiz Saeed creating a "New Pakistan" for himself!The 2018 election marked an important milestone in Pak polity – it began the process of “mainstreaming” home-grown terrorists. It goes to the credit of Pak army that despite serious overtures from its ex-boss, the United States, it stood firm with the constituency of ‘pure and holy warriors’ of Islam. With a soft corner for jihadis, hatred for Ahmediyas, love for the blasphemy laws and modernist outlook Imran makes the perfect cover for the playbook scripted by the army. The “holy warriors” on “religious duty” in Afghanistan and India (and even inside Pakistan) have now high hopes from “Mr Taliban Khan,” as many call him. The “New Pakistan” of Imran Khan should prove to be paradise for them. The aftermath of Asia Bibi acquittal by Pak Supreme Court proved that ‘Radicals’ have grown stronger than even the Supreme Court and the military boss (because he is Ahmediya?). The “Great Imran” could not provide safety to Asia Bibi’s lawyer and he had to flee the country to stay alive!! How long ill fated Asia would stay alive in Pakistan is a ominous query no one would want to answer.

The run up to the elections revealed another emerging reality in Pakistan. If the army openly played favorites and engineered defections within Nawaz’s camp, it wasn’t out of the blue. But what became too obvious was the abject surrender of the Pak judiciary, the anti-corruption watchdog, the election commission and a sizable section of media to the army dictates. The rare few unbiased media-men got identified by their changed stance. The Islamabad High Court Judge who expose the ISI meddling in judiciary got sacked recently, as expected. It would be absurd to think that Imran Khan, the beneficiary of such developments, would be able to restore the supremacy of democratically elected Government and the Parliament over the Military Establishment. Most probably, the rise of Imran has erased such possibility  forever.

Pakistan’s Economic Crisis

Pak remains in denial as usual after FATF "grey listing"I find it really strange why people think that Pakistan is in some sort of economic trouble or the FATF ‘grey listing’ is something it should worry about. These things matter for the people, but people don’t matter in Pakistan! Such things don’t matter for Pak army, fundamentalists and terrorists – there is no shortage of funds for their ventures.

Ii is common knowledge that for years (in fact, decades) Pak economy has been rotting due to massive corruption, expenditure on defense and terror infrastructure, wasteful use of public money and self serving decision making for years.  The juvenile craze for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a gateway to heavenly bliss only pushed Pakistan into much deeper economic quagmire.  Pakistan is already halfway into dragon’s well laid out financial trap.  There is nothing surprising if there is huge current account deficit and if still has around 8.4 billion as foreign exchange reserves it should be a cause for pride, not shame! If Pakistani rupee is turning into toilet paper, it is mainly common man’s problem and let them worry about it! Pakistanis are master at denying the realities by indulging in silly bravado and evasive lies. Therefore, they live happily without bothering to see what the world sees.

Terrorists - Asset or LiabilityPakistan’s love for jihadi terrorism should be seen as eternal and unshakable. It doesn’t care if it puts off the US, its past godfather and pay-master. Fresh round of “Grey-listing” by the FATF on terror issue has damaged its credit worthiness. But Pakistan has full confidence in its nuclear bombs (it is the only Muslim nation to have nukes), flourishing Jihad industry, Islamic comradery with Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations  and the shadow of “all weather friend” China. They would always bail it out ignoring all its stupid, uncivil and self-destructive activities. Already every Pakistani is under a debt of around 1,30,000 Pak Rupee, which is still growing!!!

Borrow and Spend – Pak Lifestyle!

Pakistan in CPEC debt trapExploiting its strategic geopolitical location, Pakistan played American’s pawn during the cold war period and regularly received the US financial and military aid. Post Afghan war as the US found Pak unreliable and uncooperative it dumped it. So, Pak sought comfort in closeness with China. As China became an economic superpower, their relationship automatically mutated into master-slave ties and Pakistan happily fell into China’s CPEC trap.

Pakistan has already availed of 12 bailout packages from the IMF since 1988; the last one was in 2013 for 6.6 billion dollars for a similar crisis. Now if the IMF obliges, it would be Pakistan’s 13th bailout – and certainly not the last one!! In the meantime, thanks to “Islamic Brotherhood” Saudi Arabia has once again extended support of 6 billion dollars – half as oil supplies against deferred payment. The UAE is offering 3 billion as part of its Islamic duty! These are enough to pull on for another few months. But for Imran Khan, it’s a great victory and for Pakistan a great respite!

However, it remains to be seen what dirty work Pak troops would be doing as part of the clandestine deal that brought the Gulf dollars. Quite likely, Pak blood might be shed in Yemen against Iran backed militia in exchange of Saudi pay-check! No wonder Shia Iran doesn’t trust its Sunni neighbor. Global analysts would also be not surprised if Pak is again caught making money by selling its nuclear bomb technology or jihadis are getting closer to its Nukes.

Comedy of Imran Khan’s Austerity! 

Comedy of Pakistan Austerity!Imran Khan’s talk of curtailing government expenditure is senseless joke because the biggest money-guzzler is the military – over 10 billion dollars per year. It is about the size of the current bail-out it is looking for. When Imran government auctioned the luxury cars, buffaloes and useless helicopters, Pak army bought 30 attack helicopters from Turkey worth 1.5 billion dollars, 48 latest attack drones from China at undisclosed price and 2500 luxury cars (to fight what?)!! Needless to say, Pak terror industry would also remain well funded and well-armed with latest technological gadgets. The generals of Rawalpindi and the ISI are unlikely to give up their lavish lifestyle and privileges after their horse has won the race! Media persons can’t question things connected with army and terrorists; they know how easily they can get picked at midnight and disappear forever!

The IMF’s proposed stringent conditions on loan has made Imran cautious.  It is also demanding details of the CPEC financial. Can Imran afford the political implications of IMF’s stringent conditions or take action against his terror buddies? All it means that he can’t prevent Pak slipping into FATF’s “Black List.”

Hambantota Port, an example of Chinese debt trapChina, would love to “help” Mr “U-Turn” Khan despite his rant against the CPEC during election campaign. But accepting any more Chinese alms would also mean almost fatal sell out. Pakistan has already leased the Gwadar port to Chinese for 40 years and a “Chinese only colony” is planned for half-a-million Chinese in the Gwadar city. It is not hard to anticipate that it would be followed by deployment of Chinese troops to protect its colony…further Chinese influence on Pakistan…and so on.  It is a sure way to become a Chinese colony within few years – and soon Pakistanis would be speaking mandarin!!

In fact, the Chinese debt trap diplomacy, using its Belt and Road initiative, is already looming over several other nations: Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro and Tajikistan. Cambodian Prime Minister has described China as Cambodia’s “most trustworthy friend.” Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port is a lesson for wise people; not sure if Pakistan has that wisdom. Sri Lankan government is now leasing a nearby airport to India.

Peace with Neighbors.  Not Yet?

mumbai-attack and terrorist ajmal-kasab 1What about the unthinkable – making peace with India, its eternal enemy! This can lift Pakistan from its life-threatening problems. Even Allah would not  know what makes India its permanent enemy!!  The 70 year old single point hate-India agenda is now the only identification mark of Pakistanis. A Pakistani is not Pakistani, unless he is filled with hate against Kafir India!  But if  Imran Khan even tries diverting from this thinking, the Jihad brigade would be happy to declare him a traitor and a non-Muslim! And you know very well, what next!!

Let’s see if he is going to become another “Political Zero” like Sharif and Benazir or a “Statesman Hero” who changed the course of its 70 year history and makes Pakistan, a really New Pakistan “fit” for the modern 21st century world! If he succeeds, it would be the victory of humanity, particularly in South Asia that has seen repeated senseless wars since its birth and endless jihadi bloodshed since late 1980s. However, looking at the juvenile way he dealt with Kartarpur issue, it is unlikely that he can succeed.

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Impact Of The 1857 Uprising – India’s First War Of Independence

The 1857 uprising marked an important turning point in the history the colonial British India – it ushered in the “British Raj.” It can be easily called the first war of India’s  independence, triggered by the revolt of Indian soldiers in Meerut which soon spread to several parts of India. It permanently changed the relationship between the colonial masters and their subjects. The British now felt threatened by even the slightest display of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Uprising of 1857 Shook the Foundation of British Empire

Mangal Pandey, Spark of the 1857 RevoltThe 1857 revolt was easily the most remarkable single event in the history the colonial British India. What added to its importance was the participation of people from almost all sections of the society and the Hindu-Muslim unity. It also marked a new phase of struggle for freedom that continued for next 90 years. The 1857 Uprising was triggered by the revolt of Indian soldiers in Meerut which soon spread to several parts of India. Such was the force of the pent-up anger against the exploitation by the East India Company that by the time the British could bring back ‘normalcy’ in 1858 with the help of regiments from Madras and Bombay and loss of over 100,000 lives, they were severely jolted.

The summer of 1857 saw violence and brutality, perpetrated both by the Indians and the Britons, on an unprecedented scale. Never before in the history of British rule in India was there violence at such ghastly level. [The Forgotten Brutality of 1857 Revolt]

The “Corporate Rule” Over India was “Highly Unusual”

Robert Clive 1The conditions which gave the British East India Company (BEIC) political power in India were highly bizarre. The Company had just a handful of “permanent staff”, was terribly mismanaged even as a corporate, had to be bailed out by the British banks, and it needed political support back home to even get this bail out. The ‘Corporate Rule’ of the BEIC over the vast Indian empire of countless people was the worst form of governance, far worse than what we imagine today from the concepts of dictatorship, theocracy, monarchy, autocracy or even anarchic democracy. The BEIC officials were accountable only to the company’s board of directors and share-holders; they had no accountability towards the people even in slightest manner. In the capital market language, BEIC officials were only interested in ‘Maximizing the Profits for their Shareholders!’ By 1857, the corrupt Company had moved away from earning through trading to open plunder and savage exploitation of Indians living under their territorial control, and ended up making too many enemies in Britain.

After the 1857 revolt, the Crown rule (‘British Raj’) started. Now India was governed in the name of the Crown. It was still as exploitative and as racist as ever, but now it had to put-on the mask of being a ‘responsible government‘ and was directly answerable to the British Parliament through a special Secretary of State dedicated to Indian affairs. It was certainly not the kind of ‘absolute unaccountable tyranny’ under the despotic Company rule. Now Indians had the scope to negotiate laws in favor of Indians, although the concessions were always too late and too little.

Commenting on the BEIC rule an observer wrote: “Of all human conditions, perhaps the most brilliant and at the same time the most anomalous, is that of the Governor General of British India. A private English gentleman, and the servant of a joint-stock company, during the brief period of his government he is the deputed sovereign of the greatest empire in the world; the ruler of a hundred million men; while dependent kings and princes bow down to him with a deferential awe and submission. There is nothing in history analogous to this position …”

How the 1857 Rebellion Reshaped Governance in the ‘British Raj’

British rajThe atrocities committed by both sides in Revolt of 1857 greatly widen the gulf between the rulers and the ruled. The measures they took in the aftermath of the rebellion left them badly alienated and isolated from the Indians, both ruling princes as well as from the common masses.  The British now began to openly display racial arrogance and assert racial supremacy. If the delusion of “Islamic Superiority” was the distinguishing feature of the 800 years of Islamic rule that oppressed the indigenous Hindus, the hallucination of “Racial Superiority” (master race) was the tyranny of the colonial rule – this time both for the Hindus and the ex-Hindus (Muslims). The colonial violence was on and off targeting specific groups and was political, but the racial humiliation was constant towards all Indians. Even the ‘brown British’ products of Macaulay education were derided as unworthy ‘babus’.

The uprising of 1857 hardened the British attitude and they even gave-up the deceptive narrative of bringing modernity and civility in this land of backward and worthless people.  Now they were overly concerned about preventing revolt in the Indian army and uprising of the public. It forced them to indulge more viciously in the philosophy of “divide and rule”.  It ushered in a new phase of hardened colonialism that lasted another 90 years, but the spark of rebellion and desire for autonomy only became stronger with time. The Queen promised many things to her ‘Indian subjects’ such as making the government jobs based on merit, irrespective of cast and religion – of course, they were no more than politically correct empty words. However, on a different note, the various Government of India Acts enforced during the Crown rule laid the legal foundation for India’s governance after independence.

The deep impact of the 1857 Revolt can be seen from the following observations:

1) End of Company Rule: It led to fall of the Company rule. By a new act of the British parliament (the Government of India Act 1858) the British government took charge of the Indian Territory from the Company. The authority over India was now passed to the Secretary of State for India aided by a Council. The Secretary of State, being a member of British Cabinet, was responsible to the Parliament. The Governor General of India since 1833 under the Company rule now became the Viceroy and Governor-General of India after 1858. As the Governor General he headed the central government of British India which administered the provinces – Bengal, Punjab, Bombay, Madras, United Province, etc. As Viceroy, he represented the Crown and exercised his authority over the hundreds of Princely States, which did not come under the British government.

As the Secretary of State became the controlling authority of the Indian administration, the Viceroy was steadily reduced to a subordinate and figurehead status in his relation with the British government. Thus, the ultimate controlling authority came to reside in London, thousands of miles away from India. In such a situation, the opinion of Indians almost lost impact on the policy making than before. At the same time, the voices of British businessmen, bankers and industrialists and politicians became much influential. Thus, the colonial administration became even more reactionary than it was before 1858 shedding even the pretense of liberalism.

2) Arousal of Nationalistic feeling among Indians: This was the biggest achievement of the 1857 revolt. It created a kind of spontaneous “national oneness” among Indians against a common enemy. It was symbolized in the choice of Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar (although just a namesake Mughal King) as the leader of the revolting Indians. The Azamgarh Proclamation of 1857 gave a call to people of all classes to unite against the British tyranny. It appealed to both “Hindoos and Mussalmans” to unite by addressing them as the “people of Hindustan”. It also taught them that collectively they can take on the mighty British Empire. Widespread involvement of the peasantry (from where most Indian soldiers came) was unique; it highlighted the feeling of exploitation of the poorest class of Indians.

3) Change in the Administrative Mindset: The British attitude changed for the worse after the 1857 revolt. While earlier they talked of educating Indians (of course, only to create clerks for the administration) and modernizing India, but now they became apprehensive and began following reactionary policies. In terms of historian Percival Spear, “the Indian Government’s honeymoon with progress was over!”  Earlier they at least they tried to create a perception that the British were ‘training’ and ‘preparing’ Indians for self-governance and power would be eventually transferred to them. But now they became openly derogatory – that there are inherent social and cultural ‘defects’ in the Indians and thus they can never rule themselves. Therefore, the British rule must continue forever. Many policies reflected this mindset.

4) Increase in Hostility towards Educated Indians: Under the Company rule, spread of European education among Indians was encouraged after 1833 so that they could act as interpreters between the British and Indian public. It was Macaulay’s educational ideology that aimed to create Indians (cut off from their cultural roots) who would be Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect’. Universities were set up in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay in the 1850s and higher education spread rapidly. Many British officials praised educated Indians who refused to participate in the 1857 revolt. But after 1857, they started to see them with suspicion because many of them had started to see the double standard of the British and how the foreigners were exploiting them. They also began to demand participation in the administration but the policies were not encouraging.

In frustration, more and more educated Indians began to join nationalistic movement. It was the beginning of “organized nationalism” in India. Dada Bhai Naraoji started the East India Association in 1866 in London with the aim of informing the British parliament about needs of Indian people. Satendra Nath Banerjee and Anand Mohan Bose started the Indian Association in Bengal in 1876 to highlight misrule of the British Government. Entry into Civil Services was another issue for the educated Indians due to the discriminating government policies.

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was founded, on the initiative of few Britishers with the aim of gathering educated Indians on a loyal platform from where they would advocate government policies. However, after initial honeymoon, it turned into a platform of nationalistic voices. The rulers could not tolerate Indians talking of freedom, justice and equality. Such sentiments were a serious threat to their colonial imperialistic goals.

5) Restrictions on the Press: The British had introduced the printing press, initiating a modernizing step in India. During the Company rule in 1835, the Indian Press was freed of restrictions and it was welcomed enthusiastically by educated Indians. It was one of the reasons why they had, for some time, supported the British rule in India. They had recognized that the Press was a wonderful medium of ideas exchange and also to arouse nationalistic consciousness among the people and that it can play a great role in shaping public opinion and influencing government policies. The press gradually became a major weapon of the nationalist movement.

Thus, the British brought the Vernacular Press Act in 1878 to curb the freedom of the Indian press. This Act put serious restrictions on the freedom of the Indian language newspapers. But widespread protests forced them to repeal the Act in 1882. Then for nearly 25 years the Indian press enjoyed considerable freedom. But again the colonial authorities brought laws to restrict press freedom in 1908 and 1910 to curb the Swadeshi and Boycott movements.

The policy of "Divide and rule" was the basic British Imperial weapon6) Renewed focus on ‘Divide and Rule’ policy: Threatened by the display of unity during the revolt, the British now more actively indulged in the policy of divide and rule. They would not miss any opportunity to pit province against province, caste against caste, group against group, but most viciously they provoked Hindus and Muslims against each other. After the 1857 revolt they went after the Muslims (perhaps due to Zafar becoming rebel’s leader) and suppressed them, took away their properties and lands. But after 1870, they changed tactics and tried to pamper Muslims and turn them against the nationalist movement. Partition of Bengal in 1905 (though reversed in 1911) was the worst form of dividing Indians on religious basis. They also discouraged Muslims from joining the Congress by calling it a ‘Hindu party’ and promoted creation of the Muslim League in 1906 with entirely communal agenda. [Ultimately, this filthy gimmick led to communal partition of India in 1947.]

An immediate fall out was the punitive division of Delhi State for its role in the revolt. The Western part (Haryana) was made part of Punjab and the Eastern part (Western UP) was added to the United Province.

7) Changes in the Army: The Indian army went through a careful reorganization, largely to prevent another revolt. Charles Wood, the Secretary of State for India, wrote to the Viceroy Canning in 1861: “I never wish to see again a great army, very much the same in its feelings and prejudices and connections, confident in its strength, and so disposed to rise in rebellion together. If one regiment mutinies, I should like to have the next regiment so alien that it would be ready to fire into it. Thus the Indian army remained a purely mercenary force.”

The ratio of Europeans to Indians in the army was raised. The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of artillery, tanks and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands. The Indians were strictly excluded from the higher posts. In fact, till 1914, no Indian could rise above the rank of a subedar.

The Indian section of the army was organized along the policy of ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent any potential united uprising against the British. In the recruitment, discrimination on the basis of caste, region and religion was widely practiced. An arbitrary division of Indians into categories of ‘martial’ and ‘non-martial’ was created. Thus, soldiers from Awadh, Bihar, central India, and south India, who had initially helped the British conquer India but later took part in the Revolt of 1857, were declared ‘non-martial’!! Their numbers were consciously reduced in the army.

On the other hand, Punjabis, Gurkhas, and Pathans who had assisted the British suppress the Revolt, were declared ‘martial’ and were preferentially recruited in large numbers. By 1875, half of the British Indian army was recruited from Punjab. In addition, Indian regiments were consciously created with a mix of various castes and groups so that soldiers don’t bond together easily. The narrow loyalties of caste, tribe, region and religion were encouraged among the soldiers in order to prevent rise of nationalistic sentiment. Thus, caste and communal companies were introduced in most regiments. Every effort was made to isolated soldiers from the normal social life by preventing access to newspapers, books, nationalistic literature etc.

However, over time as their oversea ventures multiplied the Indian army became a costly affair. In 1904, it consumed around 52% of the Indian revenue. Of course, this burden was shouldered by the subject Indians.

Approximately 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War One, and over 74,000 of them lost their lives. They served the very British Empire that was oppressing their own people back home. These forgotten heroes fought “the War to end all wars” against enemies they did not know. They believed in the British promise to deliver progressive self-rule at the end of the War, not knowing that British would break their word. However, the British did constructed a triumphal arch known as India gate in 1931 to commemorate the War. Today, hundreds visit it daily without knowing that it salutes the Indian soldiers who died in the WW1. [Explore Why the Indian Soldiers of WW1 were forgotten]

About 2.3 million Indian soldiers participated in the WW2 and around 89,000 died serving. We can’t ignore the fact that up to 3 million Bengalis died of famine in the same period, as the British government gave preference to feed its war machinery.

8) Changed Relation with Princely States and Zamindars: After reversing the Doctrine of Lapse, the British decided to use the Princely States as pillars of the colonial rule. In 1876, Queen Victoria assumed the title of the Empress of India and Lord Curzon made it clear that the Princes ruled their States merely as agents of the British Crown. The Princes accepted the proposal and willingly became junior partners of the empire because they were assured of their privileged status and existence. But as paramount power, the British actively interfered in the day-to-day functioning of the States through the Resident under the pretext of modernizing the administration. Their prime motive was to use the rulers to suppress the nationalistic movements.

Likewise, they decided to use the Zamindars and landlords as shields to protect from popular uprisings and nationalistic movement. They were hailed as the traditional and ‘natural’ leaders of the Indian people. As their interests were protected they also became firm supporters of the British Empire.

9) Boost to communication and transport: It started an expansion spree of railway and road networks in India. Although done for quick movement of troops and faster transport to further colonial interests, it also gave Indians the opportunity to come together.

10) Foreign policy: As India came under the British government rule in 1858, a new dimension of foreign policy came into picture. It brought into picture neighboring countries. It would be wrong to call it a new dimension because the Company officials were doing the same thing. Of course, the cost was borne by India;  Indian soldiers had to shed their blood and the ‘subject taxpayers’ had to pick up the price tag.

Abundance of Indian soldiers in the colonial India of too many people and scope for enormous economic exploitation made India their most lucrative venture  in the Imperial colonialism.

Indian Freedom Struggle: From 1857 To 1947

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India Is No Longer World’s “Poverty Capital”

India is no longer the global poverty capital! Nigeria has overtaken India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo would soon displace India from the number two spot also!! In India, about 44 people are coming out of extreme poverty every minute. In contrast, Nigeria is pushing 6 people into extreme poverty every minute.

Nigeria Displaced India from No 1 Position in May 2018

Start of New Poverty Narrative!

Nigeria already displaced India as Global poverty Capital.

For decades, widespread poverty has been the main identification of India. Its struggle against extreme poverty is coming to an end. India is no longer home to the largest number of poor people in the world. India has been displaced from the top spot by Nigeria in May 2018 and very soon the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would again knock off India from its newly acquired 2nd position too!!

This is the finding of a US based think tank, Brookings Institution. It estimated that at the end of May 2018, Nigeria had about 87 million (44% population) people living in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million (about 5% population). What’s more, the gap is widening. Extreme poverty has been defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1.90 a day. Although it’s a very coarse indicator of poverty, it does have some indicative value.

It marks a profound shift in the global poverty landscape.

Another heartening fact is that India is now among countries where extreme poverty is falling; Nigeria is in the opposite category. In India, around 44 people escape poverty every minute, while average 6 people are pushed into extreme poverty in Nigeria. Since Nigerian population is growing at a high pace, it should become World’s third largest country by 2050 after China and India.  Nigerians need to both reduce their population growth and make the economy grow faster.

Brookings also suggests that the current extreme poverty rate of around 5.3% could go below 3% by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2030. A recent report India is Middle Income Now also pointed out that the Brookings study used the NSSO 2011/12 data. With the latest NSSO 2017/18 data that are likely to be released in the coming months, India’s ground performance is likely to show a much better picture, implying that 44 per minute could be actually more that 70 per minute!!

World Poverty Clock

Most poor people now live in NigeriaThe findings are based on the World Poverty Clock which is updated each April and October, to accommodate newest household surveys. Globally, about 725 million people lived in extreme poverty at the beginning of 2016; it reduced to 647 million by September 1, 2017. The study estimated that in order to meet the SDG goal by 2030, around 92 people must come out of extreme poverty every minute. The current rate of poverty reduction is about 70 per minute.

Poverty is rising in African continent.The poverty-change map on the left gives the current scenario. In 18 countries poverty is rising; of which 14 are in Africa. Thus, Africa may be on the way to become world’s future poverty hub. It already accounts for over two-third global extreme poverty. If current rates persist, 90% of the World’s poorest will be living on the African continent by 2030.

According to the World Bank, in 1990 around 1.85 billion people were living in extreme poverty. It represented 35% of the then global population of 5.3 billion. Much of this reduction happened in Asia, first in places such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam. In recent years, this trend has picked up in India. It means now Africa would be on focus in all poverty debates. Today, 640 million extreme poor in 2017 represent less than 10% of current global population of around 7.6 billion. It is a significant improvement, but now the bulk of the global poverty is concentrated in African countries.

Need for Cautious Optimism

Despite the optimistic picture presented by the study, it must be remembered that poverty is an issue of human suffering that can’t be condensed into money terms. Moreover, poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon. Therefore, a more realistic picture of the situation should be gathered from a more comprehensive poverty measure such as the multidimensional poverty index 2017. The latest MPI calculations estimated a much higher number of global poor – about 1.45 billion. Newer NSSO data may also bring this number down – that could be closer to the true picture.

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Development “Beyond GDP”

The gross domestic product (GDP) is a misleading indicator of development which should actually focus on improving human well being which depends upon many factors that are non-economic. Irrationally high stress of GDP growth as development indicator has not only created long term climatic and environmental issues but has also reduced people to the status of mere goods-producers and goods-consumers.

GDP is a Deceptive Indicator of Development

The GDP is just like a speedometerGDP is often compared with a speedometer: all it can tell is the speed, whether your economy is going faster or slower. The speedometer of your car doesn’t tell you everything – it can’t tell you about overheating or how much fuel is in the tank. Most important: the speedometer can’t tell you whether you’re going in the right direction.

Imagine if the speedometer could talk and respond, and you ask: Are we heading in the right direction? It responds: Let’s go faster! That’s a pretty dumb answer. Again you ask: Can we turn left? It responds: Let’s go faster! Again, the same stupid answer. True. Yet, just look around; everyone seems concerned only about speed of the economy. No one asks the question, “Are we going in the right direction?”

The basic problem is that the GDP is just an economic number – total market value of products and services bought and sold. It is blind to all things that can’t be sold though they increase people’s well-being – housework, raising children, volunteering, etc. Likewise, it doesn’t count peace of mind and social harmony, community relations, status of health and education, leisure or sustainability and environmental issues. However, the biggest deception of GDP comes from the fact that it gets boosted by harmful things like natural disasters, polluting activities, diseases, and crimes and wars. In fact, the more you senselessly spend or waste or destroy the more it grows. Therefore, rising GDP is no guarantee of development going in the right direction.

In reality, it is entirely possible for an economy to go faster and faster without getting anywhere closer to the desired goals. So, what is the right direction of the economy? This is a rather easy question to answer: just ask people and they pretty much say the same things. An economy goes in the good direction when all people benefit equally and everyone feels healthier, happier and more satisfied. Right direction also means it doesn’t create potential sources of trouble for the future, such as extreme inequality, social tensions and environmental disasters.

The Fetish for Economic Growth

The fetish for GDP has created long term environmental and social issuesWhen Adam Smith laid the foundation of modern economics through his epic, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), he would have never imagined that ‘economics’ would rule the future generations ‘colonizing’ all other disciplines of human inquiry. Today the whole Western world follows the ‘faith’ called economics and considers economic growth as the only ‘holy’ measure of national progress, and the rest of the world drags along in the absence of alternatives. So, now we have a global culture where people religiously think that ‘GDP growth is the only highway’ that takes people to the paradise of eternal happiness.

Gone are the days when talks of culture, art, history, morality, religion or spirituality symbolized the progress of societies and their people. Now per capita consumption alone decides how developed you are. The more you consume the more developed you are supposed to be! So Americans are the biggest consumers walking on the planet. Of course, they also create the biggest amount of garbage. And, they live in the hallucination to be most developed of all!

If along the way, nature feels tired of replenishing ever increasing demand for its resources or glaciers are melting with ever increasing pace or if societies are stunting with ‘hyper individualism’ or if arms and weapons are penetrating even in the peaceful societies – they must be seen as an unavoidable ‘collateral damage’ of the battle of economic growth! These ugly issues should be left to the creatures called environmentalists and social scientists; after all it is their job and that’s what they are paid for!

If Human Well-being is Multidimensional, Why not Development

Human well being is multidimensional, so should be developmentThe GDP is the fixation of economists and statisticians who have the nasty habit seeing even complicated things in terms of simple numbers. And, here they want us to equate people’s well-being with GDP. In fact, they have successfully fooled the world into believing that there is nothing in human life beyond producing goods and consuming them.

But now more and more people are coming out dissatisfied, all around the world. They are increasingly realizing that the GDP doesn’t measure any of the important things like health, happiness, welfare, human or social progress, or environmental sustainability. It is not even remotely connected with any of them.

Economists’ mono-dimensional concept of development has increasingly come under scrutiny in the recent decades. If you are a multifaceted and thoughtful person you must also be feeling uncomfortable with the too narrow concept of progress given by the economists. You must be wondering: if human life is multidimensional why not development? Have things like family and community relations, cultural traditions, spiritual practices, moral values, living in nature, leisure time, good health, and freedom from stress become unimportant in people’s lives? Is development merely multiplication of wants or continual transformation of wants into needs?

Is the Love Affair with GDP coming to an End?

So, is our love affair with GDP coming to an end? This is what one would conclude looking at the noises coming from recent World Economic Forum discussions and other international debates. As the business landscape changes, inequalities rise, climate change worsens, technology chops jobs, demographics shift and the world clamors for a new order, the GDP is fast losing its sheen. All goods have an expiry date, after which it is not wise to them. So, why are we still using a tool that was devised for a totally different purpose in the war torn world of 1930s and 1940s?

New Emerging Paradigms

Companionship and social relationships are also important factors of people's well beingWith the availability of much better survey data which allow for new types of economic and social measurement, more and more experts are looking for well-being indicators to gauge progress. The issue of sustainability is gaining momentum as climate change worsens. For instance; Andrew Simms, director of the New Economic Foundation, says, “Economic Growth has failed on its own terms. You cannot have infinite Economic growth in a world of finite resources. Redistribution of the existing wealth is a far better way to go. It is now a case of paradigm shift or bust”.

Nobel winner economist Joseph Stiglitz points out that development is meaningless in the long run unless it is sustainable, equitable and participatory. He emphasizes that it is not just income that matters but overall standards of living which means giving importance to economic as well as social, cultural and environmental dimensions.

According to Amartya Sen, the real objective of development is to enlarge people’s choices in all fields—economic, political and cultural. It means people’s well-being should be the focus of development, not economy. This notion of human development is closely intertwined with issues of human freedom and human rights.

Perhaps the time has come to reopen the post WW2 debate about how we should define the economy, and ensure that we come up right measures of human, social and environmental well-being to guide economic growth.

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Amartya Sen’s Capability Perspective of Development and Well-being

The capability approach of Amartya Sen puts people at the focus of development; not economy. Since it revolves around expanding people’s capabilities, it recognizes all factors – personal, psychological, social, political, environmental etc – that can possibly affect people’s capability to function effectively. It recognizes economic development as an important factor, but only as a tool to expand people’s capabilities, not as an end.


Well-being of people depends upon a variety of factors other than economic.Currently popular economics correlates a people’s well-being with the level of their consumption of goods and services. However, this approach is always criticized by experts for taking a too narrow view of human well-being and for the obsession with material goods. If all people were identical, an index of goods consumption would be correlated with people’s well-being. But in reality, no two persons are same and there is considerable diversity among people. It means that they need different amounts and different kinds of goods to achieve the same level of well-being. Moreover, human well-being doesn’t depend upon consumption of commodities only; it also depends upon non-material things. Therefore, measures like per capita GDP are highly imperfect measure of people’s well-being or quality of life. [Amartya Sen – Development Beyond GDP]

Nobel winner economist and philosopher Amartya Sen came up with a drastically new approach, the capability approach that put people at the center of development. The capability theory of development is wholly centered on people as human beings – what people are “capable of doing with what they have” is the central point of his capability perspective of development. In fact, the capability approach encompasses a lot of fields other than economics. Just like the attempt of Einstein to find a unified field theory behind all forces of physics, Amartya Sen’s capability theory can also be seen as unifying various areas that study human well-being.

The capability approach is enriching many ares of developmentThe capability approach encroaches upon several different areas – development thinking, welfare economics, political philosophy, sociology, and so on. Therefore, it is not surprising if Sen’s ideas have attracted a wide spectrum of people – scholars, activists, policy makers, social workers and government agencies. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has developed a range of alternative indicators of human development, based on the capability approach. They not only supplement the fashionable GDP model of development but also underline its serious shortcomings in using it as a sole measure of progress. The capability approach is equally applicable to study the developmental problems of the so-called developed as well as of the developing or poor societies.

The main reason why the capability approach is so versatile is that it is primarily a framework of thought, a mode of thinking about issues. Loosely speaking, it’s a paradigm. It focuses on the information that is needed to make judgments about people’s well-being. Unlike the traditional approaches which are restricted to monetary or material terms, the capability perspective goes into the wide gamut of non-material factors that also affect human well-being.

The most crucial aspect of Amartya Sen’s capability approach is that it introduced the ‘human element’ into the development debate. Sen does so by putting the focus on people’s capabilities, their ability to do and to be. The traditional approaches concentrate on income, expenditure, consumption or basic need fulfillment or on people’s desire or happiness fulfillment. Putting the focus on people’s capabilities, leads to entirely different policies as compared with the traditional approaches.  Sen stresses that in social evaluations and policy design, the focus should be always on what people are able to do and be, on their freedom to do so, and on removing the constraints that bind them in their lives. This would allow them to live the kind of life they value.

Development means Increasing People’s Capabilities

Purpose of development is to increase people's capabilities by increasing their real freedoms.Everything in Sen’s capability approach revolves around people’s capabilities to function, ie on their effective opportunities to undertake actions and activities that they want to engage in, and be who they want to be. These beings and doings, which Sen calls achieved functionings, together constitute what make life valuable. Functionings include working, resting, being literate, being healthy, being part of a community, being respected, and so on.

But Sen goes beyond achieving functionings, to developing capabilities deals with options, choices, opportunities (also called advantages) based on having ‘real’ freedom.  What is ultimately important is that people have the freedoms (capabilities) to lead the kind of lives they want to lead, to do what they want to do and be the person they want to be. What is important is that they should have the opportunity to function in a way that is in line with their own ideas of life. For example, every person should have the opportunity to be part of a community and to practice a religion, but if someone prefers to be a recluse or an atheist, he should also have this option (or freedom).

Sen’s capability approach rests on two things: functionings and capabilities. Let’s explore each carefully so that the distinction between the two is not lost.


functioning of bicycle ridingIn order to keep things simple, let’s explore how a functioning is connected with availability of ‘commodity’ (goods and services) which is the traditional way to judge people’s well-being.

A commodity can enable a functioning but is distinct from it. A functioning is what a person manages to do or to be. For example, a bicycle is a commodity that helps transportation, but being able to transport using the bicycle is a functioning. If two persons own bicycles, we can’t say that they would be able to achieve the same functioning. If, for instance, one of them is handicapped, he would not be able to use the bike for moving around, while the normal person can. This also points to the crucial difference between the traditional resource based approaches that stop at providing the bicycle and the capability approach that explores if it resulted in functioning.

The commodity focused thinking is only concerned about a person having certain commodities; it is not concerned about the individual. But the capability approach focuses on the individual in order to know what functionings he can achieve with what he has. Therefore, in the capability approach, possession of commodities is important only for the purpose that they enable people to acquire functionings.

The conversion of commodity into functioning – doings and beings – is influenced by three types of conversion factors. First, personal factors (eg, health condition, sex, level of intelligence etc) influence how a person converts the available commodity into functioning. Disabilities drastically hinder this conversion. Second, social factors (social norms, gender bias, discriminations, etc) and environmental factors (climate, infrastructure, institutions, public services, etc) also play a role in conversion of the availability of commodity into individual functionings. Therefore, knowing that a person owns a commodity is not enough to know if the functioning is achieved. We need to know both about the person and the circumstances in which he lives.

More importantly, the capability approach does not consider the functionings that a person has achieved as the ultimate measure of success. It is concerned with his real freedom or opportunity that enables him to implement the functioning.


The functionings achieved  by a person may not be sufficient in determining a person’s overall quality of life or well-being. For this we need to know, the person’s “capability,” the functionings that the person could achieve. Hence, the concept of capability is closely related to the idea of opportunity, freedom, or advantage.

For instance, consider this statement – Harry did not go to Chicago and instead remained in Singapore. In the capability perspective, what we need to know is this: whether he got the visa and could have gone to Chicago but chose not to, or he did not have the money to go to Chicago, or if he was denied a visa to get to the United States. Therefore, extra insights emerge the moment we put on the goggles of the capability approach. Therefore, availability of options and choices are embedded in the idea of capability, that’s why capability goes hand in hand with the idea of opportunity and freedom.

Finally, it is important to note that in real life, two people with identical capability sets are likely to end up with different types and levels of achieved functionings, as they would make different choices from their available options. In philosophical terms, we could say that they have different ideas of good life – different desires and wishes on what kind of life they want to lead. The capability approach respects people’s own ideas of the good life, and this is why capability, and not achieved functioning is the appropriate goal. However, it is also clear that in real life, our ideas of the good life are profoundly moulded by our family, tribal, religious, community or cultural background.

Difference between Functioning and Capability

Let’s once again try to highlight the difference between functioning and capability.

Sen explains this by focusing on the difference between fasting and starvation. Consider a person who is a victim of famine in Ethiopia, and another who is sitting on hunger strike to protest against the US invasion of Iraq. Although both persons lack the functioning of being well-nourished, but what distinguishes them is the ‘freedom.’  The protester on hunger strike has the capability to eat – achieve this functioning – which the Ethiopian person lacks. Remember the concept of capability: the functionings that a person could achieve.

Impact of the Capability Approach

Capability theory provided the foundation for human development indexUnder the lens of the capability approach, policies are evaluated according to their impact on people’s capabilities. For instance, it asks whether people are being healthy, and whether the resources necessary for this capability – such as clean water, access to medical doctors, protection from infections and diseases, and basic knowledge on health issues – are present. It asks whether people are well-nourished, and whether the enabling requirements for this capability – such as sufficient food supplies and food entitlements – are met. It asks whether people have access to a high quality education, to real political participation, to community activities which support them to cope with daily struggles of life, to spiritual activities like Yoga that give them peace of mind. Such questioning never comes up in the commodity or consumption approaches.

For some of these capabilities, the main input will be financial and material goods, but for others people may have to count on social or cultural practices, religion or political participation, public facilities, social institutions, social structures, political practices that guarantee and protect the freedom of expression and so on.  The capability approach thus covers all probable factors that may have bearing on human wellbeing. Therefore, in the capability approach much attention is paid not only to the links between the economic, social, political and cultural dimensions of life but it also considers the dimensions of mental, spiritual and social well-being.

The capabilities approach has been used in the contexts of poverty measurement, gender issues, political freedom, and standard of living assessment. The most important attempt to make the approach operational was the creation of the Human Development Reports by the United Nations and the construction of the Human Development Index (HDI). The way countries rank in terms of development when measured by the HDI tends to differ, in some cases widely so, from those rankings based solely on income per capita.

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Alarming Fall In Groundwater Levels In India

With declining recharge rates and sharply increasing extraction pace, the groundwater situation needs urgent attention and demands a change in irrigation and cropping methods.


GroundwaterGroundwater is the water that seeps through rocks and soil and is stored below the ground.  The rocks in which ground water is stored are called aquifers.  Aquifers are typically made up of gravel, sand, sandstone or limestone.

Question: What is the most extracted natural resource in the world?  Answer: Groundwater!

Yes, planet earth gives us this invisible asset that sustains a range of human activities. Blinded by Western development model of perennial GDP growth humanity is busy plundering even this resource. And foolishly take its availability for granted without bothering to know how the groundwater reservoirs replenish themselves. It may be surprising for many people to know that India is the world’s largest user of groundwater, oblivious to the fact that since the 1980s the groundwater tables have been continuously dropping.

India annually extracts around 251 cubic kilometer groundwater which is 25% of the total global annual extraction and 26 times the water stored in the Bhakra Dam.  In comparison, together China and the US extract just 112 cu km. Clearly, India’s water resource planning is very bad and farmers find it easy to use groundwater without much attention to which crops to grow. Ninety percent of the groundwater extracted is used for irrigation that covers 60 percent of the total irrigated area.

According to the 2016 Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) report, in the year ending January 2016 barely 3% well structures registered a rise in water level more than 4 metres, 35% showed lesser rise and 64% wells showed decline in water level. It is an alarming finding. The replenishment takes place through rainfall, back flows from irrigation and seepage from canals, other water bodies and conservation structures.

If the situation continues as it is, we are steadily inching towards catastrophe. Water, in any way, is going to be the reason for future troubles and conflicts in ways more than one. As climate change is altering the monsoon pattern, the stress on groundwater resources is likely to increase.

India’s groundwater use was just about 7 cubic kilometer in 1940; it went up to around 270 cubic kilometer at the millennium end. Since 1950, the total share of groundwater in irrigation has nearly doubled.  The groundwater extraction rose sharply during the late 70s and 80s. People connect it with the Green Revolution during which two things happened: one, building of large dams by governments and two, small and marginal farmers bored wells everywhere. Thus, today livelihood of 26 crore farmers and agricultural laborers crucially revolves around groundwater.

In response to the drought of 1972, drilling technology and hand pumps were introduced in India. As a result, by now there are around 30 million groundwater structures in India that are replenished by around 3 million perennial springs in the country, but very little is done to preserve them.

The over-exploitation of groundwater has created a series of problems, particularly in the agriculture-intensive belts across India. The situation is becoming particularly acute in the Northwest, where the groundwater levels have plunged from 8m to 16m below ground.  As the levels fall, rising pumping costs ultimately makes extraction uneconomical; small formers and labourers get directly impacted. The average farmer in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana faces the prospect of having no groundwater left for irrigation by 2025.

Groundwater scenario in Punjab – the champion of Green Revolution, shows a heavy deficit that would take up to 30 years only to restore to normal levels. In comparison, the poorer Odisha still has healthier groundwater tables, but there is talk of taking Green Revolution to the Eastern India that would make things worse.

Ground Water Availability  

Groundwater level map of IndiaThe map shows that ground water level has significantly reduced in the north- western region of the country.  There are other pockets across the country where the water level is below more than 10 metres, when sophisticated equipment is needed for extraction.

As of April 2015, the annual water availability of the country in terms of natural runoff (flow) in the rivers was about 1,869 billion cubic meter (BCM)/year. However, the usable portion was estimated as 1,123 BCM/year because of the constraints of topography and uneven distribution of the resource in various river basins.  Of this, the share of surface water was 690 BCM/year and groundwater was 433 BCM/year. Around 35 BCM of ground water is lost to natural discharge – as seepage to water bodies or oceans in coastal areas and as transpiration by plants whose roots extend up to the water table. So the net annual groundwater availability for the entire country was 398 BCM.

The overall contribution of rainfall to the country’s annual groundwater resource is 68% and the rest comes from other resources, such as canal seepage, return flow from irrigation, recharge from tanks, ponds and water conservation structures etc. Given the increasing population, India’s per capita annual availability of water reduced by 15% from 1,816 cubic metre in 2001 to 1,544 cubic metre in 2011.

Ground Water Development

groundwater developmentGround water development is a ratio of the annual ground water extraction to the net annual ground water availability.  It indicates the quantity of ground water available for use. 0-70% is considered safe, 70-90% is semi-critical, 90-100% is critical, and over 100% is considered over-exploited. The table here gives the level of ground water development in different states over the past two decades.

In the states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, the annual ground water consumption is more than annual ground water recharge.  In the states of Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh and the Union Territory of Puducherry, the level of ground water development is 70% or above. Over the years, usage of ground water has increased in areas where the resource was readily available.  This has resulted in an increase in overall ground water development from 58% in 2004 to 62% in 2011, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Groundwater Use Pattern

As mentioned earlier, the availability of surface water (690 BCM/year) is greater than groundwater (433 BCM/year). However, groundwater, being available almost everywhere through bore wells, is easily accessible and thus, forms the largest share of agriculture and drinking water supply. Of the extracted groundwater around 89% is used in the irrigation sector, 9% is used for the domestic purposes and the remainder 2% goes into industrial use. Groundwater also fulfils 50% of urban water requirements and 85% of rural domestic water requirements.

Irrigation Through Groundwater 

groundwater use patternMajor means of irrigation in the country are canals, tanks and wells, including tube-wells.  Of all these sources, groundwater contributes the largest share. Wells – dug wells, shallow tube-wells and deep tube wells – provide about 62% of water for irrigation, followed by canals with around 25%.

Over the years, there has been a steady rise in the groundwater utilisation for irrigation while other sources remained stagnated in the volume terms. As can be seen from the image above, the tube-well share has increased exponentially. There is a clear correlation in rise in groundwater use with the onset of the Green Revolution that demanded intensive use of inputs like water and fertilizers to boost crop production. Incentives such as credit for irrigation equipment and subsidies for electricity supply have further worsened the situation.  Low power tariffs have led to excessive and wasteful water usage, leading to a sharp fall in water tables.

Groundwater Contamination

groundwater contaminantionTable here shows the number of states and districts affected by geogenic contaminants as on July 2014.

Ground water is considered contaminated when certain pollutants are present in excess of the limits prescribed for drinking water. The commonly observed contaminants include arsenic, fluoride, nitrate and iron, which are geogenic in nature. Geogenic contaminants are those that occur as a result of geological processes happening within the earth’s crust. Besides, there are other contaminants such as bacteria, phosphates and heavy metals resulting from human activities – from domestic sewage, agricultural practices and industrial effluents. The sources of contamination include pollution by landfills, septic tanks, leaky underground gas tanks, and from overuse of fertilizers and pesticides.  It has been pointed out that nearly 60% of all districts in the country have issues related to either availability of ground water, or quality of ground water, or both.

Government studies have revealed high arsenic content in groundwater of 68 districts in 10 states – Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur and Karnataka.

Some Key Issues

There are some vital issues related to the groundwater usage; for instance

Estimation of Groundwater Resources

A clearer picture of the state of aquifers in India will be greatly useful in managing the groundwater resources of the country. The current assessment methodology relied on observation of just around 15000 wells and then extrapolating to guess the status of around 30 million groundwater structures; it is neither accurate nor representative. There is a need for more extensive information gathering and shift from development to management of water resources.

Agricultural Crop Pricing and Water Intensive Crops

water use in cropsSince the 80s, roughly 84% of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come through groundwater, agriculture sector being the prime driver. Decisions of cropping intensity and pattern are taken largely independent of the status of groundwater availability in most areas. Another factor was pin pointed by the High-Level Committee on restructuring of the Food Corporation of India in 2014, chaired by Mr. Shanta Kumar. It found that although Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) are currently announced for 23 crops, the effective price support is for wheat and rice.  This creates highly skewed incentive structures in favour of wheat and paddy, which are water intensive crops and depend heavily on ground water for their growth.  Additionally, Indian agriculture is highly water inefficient. The table here above the average amount of water (in cubic meters/tonne) needed to grow different crops in different countries.  As can be seen, India irrigation system is highly wasteful; it uses almost twice the amount of water to grow crops as compared to China and United States.

The Committee also suggested that cropping pattern needed to be diversified by providing better price support for pulses and oilseeds.  This would also incentivize the production of these food grains. For reducing dependence of agriculture on groundwater, other experts have suggested the use of demand management measures in agriculture. For example,

  • Dry-season crop planning for specific areas depending upon the aquifer type, monsoonal rainfall and groundwater table level. This would include some shift towards higher-value and less-water consuming crops.
  • Adoption of modern efficient irrigation technologies such as drip and sprinkler systems.
  • Controlling groundwater extraction through regulatory measures such as restricting the depth of irrigation water wells, establishing and enforcing minimum spacing between irrigations.

Energy Subsidies and Groundwater Extraction

The practice of providing power subsidies for agriculture has played a major role in reckless use and over extraction of groundwater in India.  Moreover, electricity supply is not metered and a flat tariff is charged depending on the horsepower of the pump. So some kind of regulation on the use of electricity is needed to avoid wastage of groundwater. Separate electric feeders for pumping ground water for agricultural use could address the issue.

The state of Gujarat solved this problem through its ‘Jyotigram’ scheme which was launched during 2003-2006 by investing 1450 crore rupees. It involved separation of agricultural electricity feeders from non-agricultural ones and establishing a tight regime for farm power rationing in the rural Gujarat.  By 2006, the state had covered almost all of its 18,000 villages under the scheme of rationalized power supply.  This led to two major benefits: (i) villages receive 24 hour three-phase power supply for domestic uses, in schools, hospitals, village industries, all subject to metered tariff, and (ii) tube-well owners receive eight hours/day of power of full voltage on a pre-announced schedule.

National River Linking Project

Government proposes to physically transfer 178 billion cubic meter water annual across river basins by building 12,500 km water canal network. The estimated cost of the proposal is massive: $120-billion. This is the largest such project in the world — aiming to expand irrigated agriculture by moving water from “water surplus” to “water deficit” basins. The first of the planned canals linking the Kaveri and Godavari rivers was completed on September 16, 2015.

Experts opine that merely transferring water would not solve the problem of falling water tables. It would need a simultaneous increase in the storage capacity to be effective. They also advise working on other plans to reduce stress on groundwater – such as promoting more efficient irrigation, growing less water-intensive crops in the dry season and moving away from water-intensive crops in areas where there is less water.


While government is paying a lot of attention to river cleaning (although nothing much has happened beyond sloganeering) it would be best if groundwater replenishment is coupled with this initiative. Further, MNREGA work can be directed towards strengthening the water bodies that play a crucial role in recharging groundwater reservoirs.

What is needed is action; the time for talk has already passed!

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