A Trip to Orissa
A Report to ORNET and SEEDS

- by Lalu Mansinha 95/01/20

During December 1994 I visited Orissa and many places in India. A recant of the trip, may be of interest to the ORNET community. I am a member of SEEDS. The community development aspect is essentially a report for SEEDS, but should be of interest to others on ORNET. Reasoned discussion on all aspects is welcome. Flames are not.

  • Part A: Cuttack and Orissa and India in December 1994
  • Part B: 'Delhi Has Declared the Plane Safe'
  • Part C: Report to SEEDS (Sustainable Economic & Educational Development Society)
  • One of the aims of the trip to Orissa in December 1994 was to visit the SEEDS project in Kalahandi. Originally I was hoping that Priyadarsan Patra, I and Mike Powell would be able to travel together. However each one had different travel plans and it was not possible to coordinate the travel. As it turned out, Mike and I did not get to Kalahandi. I see that Priyadarsan and Umakanta made it.

    I would like to report to you about

    1. Two meetings with Mr. Bharat Agarwal of ABVKA;
    2. A visit to a Rotary Village Corps project at Andheisahi- Gopinathpur and Satyabhamapur, near Cuttack;
    3. Meetings with senior Orissa Government officials concerning a large scale reforestation/ aforestation project in the Talcher - Anugul area, using the flyash fertiliser developed by Dr. Mike Powell;
    4. Meeting with Mr. S.K. Mohanty of ASRA, the Association for Social Reconstructive Activities of Pithapur, Cuttack.
    5. 1. Prior to departure I had obtained the telephone number of Mr. Agarwal from Priyadarsan. I phoned that number and was told that he was in Berhampur; I was told that he would be in Cuttack in a few days and was given a phone number and the time and day he would available.

      I phoned him at about 10PM on December 9. Since I did not know my way around in Cuttack, he volunteered to come and meet me right away. He brought along a local worker, Mr. Binoy Bhuyan. We had a wide ranging discussions, lasting over an hour. We fixed up details of the visit with Mike Powell for December 31. Mr Agarwal said he will come to Swosti Hotel in Bhubaneswar on December 30 evening to meet Mike and me., and then travel with us next morning. He was going to make all arragements for food and lodging on the way, even though I told him that through my contacts I could make arrangements myself. He was extremely solicitous about our meals, enquiring about special requirements etc..

      As it turned out, we had to cancel the trip because a meeting was scheduled with Mr. Pyarimohan Mahapatra, IAS, on the 31st, regarding the flyash project. However Mr.Agarwal did come and meet Mike Powell me on December 30. After a few minutes it turned out that he had been having a severe migraine attack for the past few days. We were definitely impressed with his dedication to the cause. He looked so ill and so much in pain that Mike gave him some Tylenol, to give him some relief.

      I had particularly wanted Mike Powell and Bharat Agarwal to meet, basically to educate him (Mike) on our Kalahandi project. When the Flyash project gets funded, the project would pay all costs in transporting the fertiliser to the forestation site, and would bear the cost of planting. However, for the seedlings to thrive, it is very important that the local villagers look after and guard the seedlings until trees could be harvested for their common benefit. After talking to Mr. Agarwal I felt that our ongoing SEEDS project has already started the creation of a community spirit in the 100 or so villages in our project area. Thus my expectation is that the seedlings will be looked after. As I write this (in January 1995), my expectation is that large scale funding will be forthcoming from Canada. We should know in a few months.

      2. Rotary Project in Andheisahi - Gopinathpur - Satyabhamapur

      This is a service project of thr Rotary Village Corps., run by the Cuttack Mid-Town Rotary Club (There are three different Rotary Clubs in Cuttack). I came to know of this project when I was describing to my uncle, Mr. Durgamadhab Behura, our Kalahandi project. Mr. Behura retired as Director of Agriculture, Orissa, 27 years ago. Today at 84 he is mentally and physically active and is a prime mover in the Rotary project. Rupee for rupee this must be one of the most cost effective community projects in Orissa, probably in India. Every rupee donated to the project is actually spent in the village. The Rotary Club absorbs all administrative costs.

      The three villages are located about 45minutes away by car from Cuttack city. We visited only one village, because of shortage of time. We saw trees planted and flourishing; we saw a pre-school with kids singing away; we saw a pond with fish stock. The fish will provide good cash return when sold in the local market. We saw piles of straw for fodder and roofing. We talked to villagers that happened to be around. They were full of praise for the project and wanted more. It was impressive.

      Rotary provides ideas and expertise and the cost of materials. Rotary also persuades local officials to provide certain facilities like, road, school, electricity and so on. For construction, planting etc. the villagers provide the labour.

      Mr. Behura, Mike Powell and I spent the better part of a day at the village. I am describing my impressions from memory; it is possible that I have missed certain of the accomplishments. Ours was a surprise visit; yet we saw activity around us. We talked to whoever was around in the village. So what we saw is real, not a well rehearsed show.

      To provide drinking water, they have sunk 12 hand operated tubewells. We saw several in use. To provide irrigation they have sunk one large diameter diesel powered tubewell. The villagers have built a pump house and irrigation channels of brick and concrete. The bricks are locally made. We saw one brick pile oven which had just been fired. We were told that the new bricks are for the veterinary hospital.

      The success in agriculture has been dramatic. With improved stock and instructions in usage of compost and fertilisers, the paddy yield has been doubled. New quality seedlings has led to a variety of high yield vegetables for family use and marketing. The villagers have been given advice on what trees to plant in the backyard. We saw a small garden patch with mango, banana, papaya, bamboo, chakunda trees, all flourishing and now about 40-50ft tall. The whole idea is that each family, with a small plot of land can be self sufficient in basic needs such as fuel, fodder and fruits and vegetables.

      With Rotary funding the villagers started building a high school.. Each year they havs added one new room to the school. They have already reached Class 7 and are planning to go to Standard 12 (+2). The salaries of the teachers are being met from Rotary and government funds. We saw the school, but on that day there were no classes.

      The villagers have also built an one room pre-school. I saw about 20 happy kindergarten level children, singing away. I had a brief chat with the lady teacher. The same school house is used for vocational instructions such as tailoring, for health information such as birth control.

      What remains to be done here? The villagers told me that they badly need a 'veternary hospital'. All the hospital is a two tiny rooms with a roof.The foundation has been dug, some stones and bricks are lying around. The project has run out of funds. Estimated cost for completion is Rs100,000. =US$3000.

      The villagers said that the single irrigation pump does not reach all the land and they need a second tubewell and pump. Estimated cost Rs150,000. = US$5000.

      Mike Powell was sufficiently impressed that he would be willing to provided for aforestation project for this area. We talked to the villagers and they would be wiling to look after the trees once planted.

      My question to SEEDS:

      Can we help this ongoing, successful community project? Certainly we will be given credit for the help they receive. Certainly we can bask in the existing success, while contributing a small amount.

      3. The Flyash Fertiliser Project: This is the brainchild of Dr. Mike Powell. Brief Introduction: Indian coal has a very high level of non-combustibles, about 45%. Thus for evry load of coal that comes to a thermal power plant, half a load has to disposed of. With all the projected thermal power plants, it is estimated that by 2000AD, Orissa has to find ways to dispose of 100million tons annually.

      The flyash being fresh out of the furnace, is highly reactive. Among other things it contains heavy metals and uranium. The concentration of radio elements in Indian coal is 10 to 20 times the world average. So the flyash should not simply be dumped. The toxic elements will enter the river and ground water system.

      The metals and element that are toxic at high concentrations are necessary for plant growth, in trace amounts. Most old forests have an efficient reuse cycle for the trace elements. If this cycle is broken, then plant growth is retarded or ceases altogether. In the Amazon rain forest the decaying leaves and trees allow the trace elements to leach into the ground, to be reabsorbed by the growing trees. When trees are taken away or burnt, this recycle chain is broken. The forest does not grow. In fact nothing grows on cleared forest land in the Amazon basin because of the absence of trace elements.

      The same considerations apply to Orissa forests. There has been continuous depletion of trace elemenets. Dr. Powell plans to make a fertiliser by mixing flyash and any available organic sludge(from ditches, ponds, lakes) or compost(from water hyacinth) and use as a forestry fertiliser for aforestation and reforestation. Thus in one step we would have accomplished two things: disposal of the flyash and addition of fertilisers to the forest. I have been told that at present no fertiliser is used in reforestation projects.

      Dr. Subashis Tripathy of the Pollution Control Board in Bhubaneswar and I met Mr. Pyarimohan Mahapatra and other senior officials of the Govt. Of Orissa during the first week of December. A second meeting took place on December 31, this time with Mike Powell being present.

      Those of you who heard him at the July 1994 OSA Convention may recall that Dr. Powell's test plantations in Orissa show growth rates at least double that of control plants. The Govt. Of Orissa wants a largescale test in the Talcher-Anugul area, and is providing funding for this part. The federal Department of Science and Technology in Delhi is also involved, as are other provinces. Substantial funding is expected from Canada, but has not yet been finalised. When that comes through, Mike assures me that our Kalahandi project will be a part of this, as well as the Rotary Village Corps project mentioned above.

      4. Association for Social Reconstructive Activities (ASRA), Cuttack. I had a visit from Mr. S.K. Mohanty, Secretary General. I have a copy of their 93-94 annual report. Mr. Mohanty told me of their old age home in the Jagatsinghpur-Balikuda area. With children moving away for jobs elsewhere, many old people are now destitute and helpless. This group runs an oldage home, with 25 inmates. I heard a number of touching accounts of ill, starving and abandoned old men and women being brought into the oldage home. With longer life span, and with children moving away from the villages, care of the elderely is now a major social concern.

      ASRA has set up a family welfare center at Baharana, with 1 lady doctor and 25 Health Workers, covering 41 target villages.

      I first heard of ASRA when I was describing the Kalahandi project to my brother-in- law, Mr. Lalit Mohan Nanda. He said he belongs to ASRA and arranged the meeting with Mr. Mohanty. I would have liked to visit the various ASRA projects, but there was not enough time.

      My Recommendations: In the past we, who live in comfort in North America, hid behind the excuse that we do not have any trustworthy organisation to send money to. We now see that there are many good, active organisations that need our support.. I recommend that we continue our support of those groups who already have major projects underway. We avoid all groups that siphon off significant amounts of the donated funds for personal profit ( I met a few of these types also). So (1) We continue the funding of AVBKA project in Kalahandi (2) We should support specific parts of the Rotary Village Corps. Project. (3) Explore the possibility of support for ASRA projects.

      Epilogue: This is the last of a three part report. Since this is a travelogue, I should list other places visited and other tasks done. I saw prehistoric cave paintings (somewhere between 5000 and 100,000 years old) near Bhopal; the Buddhist stupas at Sanchi; the temples at Khajuraho. I presented an invited paper at the annual meeting of the Indian Geophysical Union at Hyderabad, and a colloquium at the Indian Institute of Technology, Khargpur. Topics that I covered:

      1. measuring minute changes in the gravity field of the earth with a superconducting gravimeter;
      2. a new method of spectral analysis of time series;
      3. studies on triggering of earthquakes. I include all this simply to round out my image, so that you, dear reader, may perceive me also as a serious scientist, studying the earth, not just a wanderer, a transient.
      4. If you have read this far, I thank you for your time and patience.

        Lalu Mansinha