Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What I do

I am slightly embarrassed that it has only just occurred to me to write about my work. My main project- what I have been employed for- is working on Himalayan rivers. This involves studying the threats to the river ecosystems- including but not limited to planned hydropower projects. This I will be doing with the community, and I am excited about sharing EIA reports with villagers and analysing these reports with them. My desk work- which I am also excited about- involves attempting to establish a system for assessing environmental flows for Himalayan rivers. This is daunting, as the sub-continental response to environmental flow is “Eh?” and even the Government of India persists in talking in terms of ‘minimum flows’ which is NOT environmental flow. Environmental flows mean that the natural cycle of a river, with floods and low flows need to be followed. For this, it is necessary to know the natural flows in the river, and this information is either classified (!) or just not available. Interesting times.

Currently, though, I am working on another project. India’s five-year plans have so far been set by expert committees in Delhi. This time, the government is making an effort to decentralize the process in 250 districts which have been noted as Backward Regions. The idea is that 4 people in each village are trained in participatory micro-planning, and facilitate the creation of a village plan. This they submit to the technical support (which in Uttarakhand and Orissa, is PSI, the organization I work for). They then compile the plans at the Block and District level, and Voila! One has a district plan. This is being done for the first time, and I think it is democracy at work. I am very excited by it, and yes, there are problems. It is just too new for the villagers to get right at the first go, there are far too many vested interests at far too many levels, and ensuring equity is such a major challenge that my team-mates and I need to meet and cry on each other’s shoulders after each field visit. It will not be perfect this time. It won’t be perfect the next 5 times, but every time it will be better. The 6th time, it won’t be perfect either, but it will be a darn good plan. And that, people, is almost enough.

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