Ideas to save government money

Published: Saturday 15 May 2010

There is something about India’s government machinery that makes it impervious to simple, low-cost solutions. It spends hundreds of crores of rupees to make available drinking water. The money, it is widely known, does not trickle down to villages that need potable water. The government knows it cannot achieve its goal with a centralized mindset.

So it asked for decentralized solutions, and drumsticks were one of the solutions studied (see p39). It follows that the solutions would have been put to use. Just two of these seeds can clean a litre of turbid water. The tree is widely cultivated in India. Yet this potential remains unrealized.


It’s not a one-off case; the government does like spending money when it can be saved. At Rs 3,300 per dose—three doses are needed—the cervical cancer vaccine is unaffordable in a country that cannot provide routine vaccines (cost Rs 35 for six vaccines) to its newborns. The government is inclined to include the cervical cancer vaccine into the country’s immunization programme (see p9). The success of the vaccine depends on the Pap smear test; it is not very popular in India—cost is the oft-cited reason; it usually costs about Rs 400-450.

If young women’s health is the primary concern here, a low-cost alternative to the Pap smear deserves attention. Developed by Tata Memor-ial Hospital and the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, this method requires vinegar. The cost: Rs 35.

The ministry of agriculture also has an opportunity—in urine, a rich source of nitrogen fertilizer (see p22). In this case, the raw material is cheaper than even drumstick beans. Experiments in Tamil Nadu show that a farmer can save Rs 9,000 on each hectare by using urine instead of synthetic fertilizers. Profits from increased yield are an extra.

There are problems in using such technologies. One, they need experiments, pilot projects, collaboration. Two, there is no private business interest in promoting these, which means no lobbyist will grease the wheels that move government.

Our animal planet

No species has ever been as fascinated with its fellow creatures as humans. We have awed at animals and hunted them, drawn their figures on cave walls and brought out niche magazines dedicated to their photographs, domesticated and bred them, and now there is an entire sub-culture dedicated to their conservation and protection.

The European Enlightenment changed dramatically how people related with animals. Nature began to be regarded as something to be dominated. But the big animals continued to capture our imagination. Orientalist accounts of India are replete with references to elephants. The fascination with the mammoth and the mastodon increased with the discovery of dinosaur fossils and museums began to compete with each other in displaying dinosaurs (see p50). There was a blip in this love affair. Knowledge and industrial technology had also armed us with tools to be rapacious with animals our ancestors so feared. With fewer of these species remaining, the idea to cocoon them in national parks took root. A guided tour of these parks is usually to catch of glimpse of these fast vanishing creatures. There is little or no popular quest to understand them and their world.

The popular attitude has its counterpart in conservation circles as well. Conservation is hegemonised by the quest to save the big mammal. Saving the majestic tiger makes good ad copy. And failure to preserve the elephant means opprobrium from conservation circles (see p32) though these large creatures could be raiding fields and creating havoc.

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