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The Gharat Man of India!

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By Anjali Nauriyal

A green activist, Anil Prakash Joshi, social worker, botanist and the founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), a Doon based NGO, has devoted a lifetime to the development of environmentally justifiable technologies for the rural population.

 Gharats have huge usefulness and practicality: 

At the 3rd Global Forum on Hydro Power held at Hangzhou, China, in 2007, Dr Anil Joshi was amongst the eminent representatives from many Asian countries who were able to persuade and influence over 188 forum members that Gharats (Water Mills) or small scale indigenous projects must be conferred international status and recognition. The climax of the forum was the ‘Hang Zhou Declaration’ that undertook the mission of endorsing small hydropower projects in Asia and Africa. The topic was thereafter taken up at the United Nations. Known as the ‘Gharat Man of Uttarakhand’, Dr Joshi avers, “Hydro power today is faced with grave challenges as it is struggling to meet the demands from the off-grid rural populations in both these countries, in the age of green power and competitive environment. Gharat is the way to go internationally. And Uttarakhand could lead the way. Gharats may represent timeworn technology, but in the context of present times they have huge usefulness and practicality.” For years now, Dr Joshi has been striving to revitalize the indigenous water mills or gharats in the country. He believes that the focus should shift entirely to small hydropower projects. The need of the hour is to upgrade the already existing gharats in the hills. Data reveals that there are over 500,000 water mills in the entire Himalayan region. Uttarakhand alone boasts of more 70,000 water mills. “These are mainly of the vertical shaft type and have evolved over decades and have been put to use for grinding wheat and rice, extract oil,” says Joshi. “The basic technique on which they run is akin to that of any large hydro-electric project to produce power,” he elaborates. “These are environment friendly and can be upgraded to produce electricity and, if used effectively, can transform the lives of our hill folk that feel disturbed by huge dams.”

In Doon there are a few gharats that stand as examples of earliest technological innovations of humankind. There was a time when Gharats would cater to the needs of the locals. With time, the Gharats closed down in the face of newer technology. Through the initiative of HESCO, which is Joshi’s organisation that works for rural uplift, many of these were revived.

These are amongst the oldest heritages of Doon. The mills may represent old technology, but at this juncture they have huge utility in the context of opposition to huge power projects in the hills.

 

Linking communities from Alps to the Himalayan Mountains:

Dr Joshi was instrumental in connecting rural communities from Uttarakhand with country folk living in the beautiful Valley of Engadin in Switzerland. In a unique exchange initiative, the two communities were brought together to help each other. “We worked out a strategy through which they could learn from each other’s experiences. As these two sets of people are living in similar geographic settings and environments, we thought it was a good idea to have them exchange ideas. It turned out to be a good ‘Community Initiative for Community’ and we were lucky to enlist the support of internationally known agriculturist Padruot M Fried, Head of International Research, Lecturer at ETH Zurich. It was our fond hope to help our diverse peoples to develop systematic decentralized village based enterprises,” explains Joshi. “Economic Animal Husbandry was one of the areas we worked on. For the progress of the mountains, we believe that we must reinforce indigenous sources. We looked in detail into how cow cheese is produced. Goats are important in the Alps. In marginal areas where there is scarcity of food and fodder, goats are easy to breed. Goat cheese is very high value cheese and fetches a huge price. Organic farming is another area we highlighted.”

“Our mantra was to live locally and produce locally,” he declares. “Do not hanker after higher varieties from outside, but upgrade our own local breeds.”

Joshi continues, “It is very important to generate jobs in the mountain areas. The idea is to keep the added value within the mountains. Bakery is another area we worked on, apart from Bee Keeping, Agronomy, Goatery, etc. Later, a baker in Switzerland offered to not only contribute financially, but also train villagers from Uttarakhand and even generously offered to share some of his closely guarded recipes. Living in the interiors, he was a good example of a local success story. A batch of select hill folk from Uttarakhand was also flown to Switzerland. They lived in the homes of their sponsors, and, once trained in a particular trade, were given help to set up their own enterprises. There were three areas we focused on in the main – technology transfer, strategy for management and generating a sense of international fraternity.”

 

Campaigns for Gross Environmental Productivity: 

For long now, Dr Joshi has been agitating, even politicking for the idea of calculating Gross Environmental Product (GEP) along with and apart from GDP (Gross Domestic Product). “The time has come for us to re-examine and evaluate our development model. The present development approach has gravely threatened our ecosystems due to lopsided approach,” he asserts. “Planners have been so far fixated on an economic model centered around economic development only, causing major depletion of fundamental resources and only made human life more dismal. Environment should today have equivalent importance in our scheme of things; in fact it should be the key concern in the present context. True economic processes must be learnt from the age-old rural economy. There was a time when there was balance between development and natural resources. But today, our greed has become the major reason for resource depletion. Look at the example of water. None of us had ever envisaged that water would be sold in bottles. A fundamental resource, it is being ruthlessly commercialised. A huge amount of bottled water is lying in shops obstructing the natural cycle. The currently stored water would have otherwise irrigated millions of tons of food. This resource was unfortunately relently managed. Better quality of water would not have encouraged commercialisation of this resource. The days are not far when other basic commodities, considered essential for life, will also be commercialised.”

Continuing, he states, “We have not created any mechanism to measure the status of our natural resources periodically. We have also not laid the growth parameters for these resources in our economic development plan or gross domestic productivity. Our lopsided economic development strategy has suddenly put before us a dilemma. We must realise that recovery of resources is difficult or next to impossible.”

Another important natural resource that we are fast losing is soil, points out Joshi. “There is no soil in the country left without chemical fertiliser. The latter has been highly subsidised by government to get higher productivity. The result is that most of our fertile lands in the country have been transformed into chemical grounds. Food hazards due to intensive chemical use are becoming worrisome. The forests, which constitute the essential environment of any village and nation, are vanishing. This resource that helps overall delivery of water, air, and soil is today hugely threatened.”

“In other words, we are presently passing through an ecologically unproductive economic phase. We should immediately focus on productive development of reserves i.e. soil, water, air. Such capital can only ensure us an ecologically sound economy. A prudent approach will bring a balance between nature and human activities, rural and urban, and between need and comfort. This will only be possible when we also measure progress through some indices that reflect growth of resources periodically. Annual Gross Environmental Product assessment of natural resources can only serve such a purpose,” he adds.

“Eighty percent of the nation’s population that depends on water, soil, forest, etc., is not covered by the current GDP estimation,” Dr Joshi affirms. “The majority of the population depends, survives and draws its livelihood from local natural resources. Agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and other local community trade largely depend upon these resources. Unfortunately, due to growing paucity of these resources, various trades have suffered major setbacks and migration has become more intense. There are no parameters to define status of water, soil, fodder and fuel needs of the community. The majority of the villages in the country depend on natural resources for the above needs. Many villages have just been vacated mainly because of loss of forest and water sources. There must be a regular study to analyse this and measure the periodical growth of life resources i.e. water recharging, forest cover, soil enrichment and air quality, etc.

It has to be commonly understood that the economy, be it local or national, cannot sustain without a healthy ecology. The Nation has never thought of an Ecological Growth Indicator that can point out our Gross Environmental Productivity. It must be done now.”

 

The Real Hero Award

For his contribution to the needs of rural India, Dr Anil Joshi was conferred the Real Hero Award, jointly instituted by Reliance Industries and CNN-IBN, to honour unsung heroes from all across the country in various fields. Nita Ambani, on behalf of the Dirubhai Ambani Foundation, handed over the award to him. It carried an amount of Rs Five Lakh.

Joshi was awarded along with 23 others for going beyond the realm of personal well being to work for the well being of others in the country.

For years, now, Joshi has been working quietly to help improve the quality of life of the vulnerable populations. Under his guidance, many schools such as The Doon School diligently worked out plans, especially during the holidays, to reach out to rural India where families may require a school or a community hall, drinking water facility or help to recover from the aftermath of natural disaster.

“This effort must be multiplied manifold,” avers Joshi. “We must all (including schools, institutions, individuals, etc.) join hands and work collectively towards uplifting the lot of rural India.”

Joshi, who has received the Padma Shri for his exceptional work on recharging Gharats is not willing to rest on his laurels. He expresses great apprehension about the growing economic gap between rural and urban India. Schools, he believes, can make a major difference in bridging this gap.

 

Spearheading Gaon Bachao Andolan
Joshi is of the opinion that, if Uttarakhand has to progress holistically, then the efforts of development must reach out to the remotest of villages. He has been spearheading the Gaon Bachao Andolan to press home this concern. “With no industry, lack of government jobs and agriculture going erratic and out of order, migration is hitting the villages of Uttarakhand like never before. A time will come when all our villages will be abandoned and there will be a crisis situation in the cities, which will not be able to accommodate the inflow of this migrant population. Also, I strongly feel that the safety and security of the people is in agriculture and farming and, if these are abandoned by the people, then we surely face a bleak future,” Joshi adds.

“It is sad that the houses in the hills are all being deserted. The government has hardly done anything to ensure that permanent solutions are offered to the hill folk. Despite the formation of the state in year 2000, no concrete policy decisions have followed to improve the economic plight of the people. And this is the greatest sorrow of all those who sacrificed a lot to fight for a separate state. It is our women folk who are suffering the most. They strive hard to feed their families and cattle and the family and have nothing to fall back on.”

Joshi has been proactively helping in providing villages with water mills, composting pits, toilets, plant-based drugs and herbal pesticides and rainwater harvesting techniques. This apart, he has been working to find uses for a local shrub, Kurri, which had been considered a weed, by utilising it for making furniture and incense sticks. Further he is now concentrating on recharging rivulets by digging holes in catchments areas.