Not just another library

By Priya Prasad

As you drive down Kotturpuram, it is difficult to ignore the massive behemoth that will loom up. What is most striking about the structure is the modern design. You do not see such structures in India; it seems to have been magically transported from New York or London or Tokyo.

At first glance, you would think it’s another monument dedicated to some great Tamilian personality or politician; it even seems to look like the place where government secrets are housed.

The glass edifice, clinically clean green lawns, open air amphitheatre resembling a Roman theatre, a cafe and eight floors of a plethora of books, magazines and periodicals—it’s a bibliophile’s wildest fantasy come alive!

Architecture and Facilities

There’s much to be said about the architecture of the library. Designed by architect, C R Narayan Rao, and constructed by East Coast Construction and Industries (ECCI), each section of the library is designed to suit the various categories of books housed there. For instance, as you enter the children’s section, you are greeted with a cosy atmosphere, where colourful small chairs and children’s books of different shapes, sizes and lengths pepper the area. A large artificial tree dominates the centre of the room with colourful table and chairs surrounding it; this is the children’s fun activity area. Outside, in the balcony is a little play area for the little ones. The reading areas in every section are located near windows allowing in just the right amount of heat.

The children's section at Anna Centenary Library. Photo credit:

The children’s section at Anna Centenary Library. Photo credit:

“What I like most about the library is the infrastructure. For a public library, it is very large. Every library is unique but this one is different altogether. I have never seen any library have so many floors,” says Kavitha (name changed), an employee at the library. “Of its many facilities, the library allows the public to bring their own books. This is not the case in any other library, even in the previous place [Connemara Public Library] where I worked,” she adds.

This uniqueness itself is what attracts the 1,000–1,500-odd visitors to peruse the services of the library. “Researchers, students, people appearing for competitive exams as well as people who read the newspapers regularly come here. A lot of engineering students from IIT and Anna University visit the library because it has many of the expensive books that they need to refer to,” says S Karthikeyan, Library Information Officer.

“This is my second home. I use the competitive examination section and the ‘own-book’ reading section,” says Ramakrishnan, an IAS aspirant who is a regular at the library. He says that the library management have designated a special time slot for civil service aspirants, from 8am to 9pm, which is a “gracious attempt by the management people.”

Karthikeyan says that each section has been structured bearing in mind ease of access for the public. For example, being the most visited area, the newspaper and periodicals section is housed on the first floor so that even the old and differently abled can easily access it.

He further states that the library has an exclusive Tamil section with about 24,000 books. “We also have a Braille section where there are about 1,000 registered users from Tamil Nadu as well as from outside the state,” he says.

The Controversy

Established in 2010 by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, the library was constructed to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of C N Annadurai. However, in 2011, when Jayalalithaa came to power, she ordered the 230 crore library building to be shifted to Nungambakkam and a paediatric hospital to be constructed in its place (Jayalalithaa’s decision to shift Anna Centenary Library stayed by court, Times of India, November 4, 2011). A PIL was subsequently filed in the Madras High Court and ever since then the issue has been in limbo. Karthikeyan says that the pending court case has caused a number of problems for the library—the staff are not confirmed; books, periodicals and other publications are not renewed; there is no membership so there is no borrowing or lending. “Earlier, before the problem with the court, we used to have many children’s programmes,” says Kavitha.

However, despite this, the library continues to draw its usual share of visitors. Employees too are satisfied. “There is no membership here, despite that the atmosphere here is different. It is well maintained. The housekeeping staff work all the time to ensure its upkeep,” says Kavitha.

There are various ways the library can generate revenue. “We are going to shift some of the services online,” states Karthikeyan. Perhaps, by creating online membership, the library can open its services to people outside Chennai. Moreover, an amphitheatre, a lecture hall for events and an auditorium are some of the means by which the management is ensuring the library is up and running. Last year, the state government began renting out the auditorium for wedding receptions and parties (Anna Library auditorium turns into marriage hall, Times of India, July 2, 2012)

A Dedicated Work Force

Despite its problems, the library is efficiently managed by a management team of professionals. All employees have a minimum qualification of a Master’s in Library Science. There is a process through which the employees are chosen. First, applicants have to appear for an exam organised by the Teacher’s Recruitment Board. Once that is cleared, candidates are shortlisted for interviews. Many people apply, few are chosen. “That is how I got recruited. I have been working here since 2010 and I am very satisfied with the working conditions here,” says Kavitha.

“We cannot find this kind of infrastructure in other cities. I have been to various districts, Coimbatore, Delhi; I think it is one of the finest libraries,” says Ramakrishnan.

Being the largest library in India with state-of-the-art facilities, it would indeed be a tragedy if the library were to be shifted elsewhere.

For Better or Worse? The Changing Face of the Fisheries Industry

Traditional fishing boats catch not only fish but also fish eggs as they fish near the shore during the fishing ban period, which is the breeding period for the fish. This has led to a decrease in the size of the fishes. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

Traditional fishing boats catch not only fish but also fish eggs as they fish near the shore during the fishing ban period, which is the breeding period for the fish. This has led to a decrease in the size of the fishes. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

By Priya Prasad

RATNAGIRI: Once a traditional industry, fisheries in Ratnagiri has seen tremendous growth over the years. “From the 1960s onwards, technology entered the field. We started mechanisation of boats, trawling and the fishermen began using different types of fishing methods,” says Swapna Mohite, researcher and professor at College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri. This was the boom period for fisheries, she says, and with this, the number of boats and people entering the industry increased exponentially. “I have been in this field for 25 years so I have seen the industry change from being very primitive to becoming a very technology oriented industry now,” she adds.

The availability of technology such as GPS, sonar fish finding equipment and radio navigation has made it easy for fishermen to catch fish. This, though, leads to a dwindling of the fish population. The effect of this is felt by the fishermen. Bilaval Pisal, Vice Chairman of the Bhagavati Fisheries Society says that the fishing business is on the decline, “We keep our boats on the shore for 15 to 20 days because we do not get any catch. We do not earn enough for a day.” The fishermen incur a loss of Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per day whenever they stop fishing for that time period.

Pisal says this happens for a number of reasons—over fishing, cyclones, use of purse nets as well as speed boats from neighbouring states. “Speed boats from Goa and Karnataka fish in our waters. They have good capacity so they catch more fish,” he adds. These boats are allowed to fish in the deep sea, but it is illegal for them to fish near shore which they often do. This occurs despite taking them to court and a fine. “Although the matter is closed, it will happen again and again,” says Pisal.

Purse nets are used rampantly by the fishermen here. Since it can capture a large number of fish, many fish die in these nets. Use of these nets has no regulation. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

Purse nets are used rampantly by the fishermen here. Since it can capture a large number of fish, many fish die in these nets. Use of these nets has no regulation. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

However, besides these reasons, the fishermen themselves are unaware of how their fishing practices contribute to the depletion of fish species. “Traditional boats are allowed to fish in shore during the fishing ban period, which is also the fish breeding season. Most fishes lay their eggs near the shore because the area is rich in food. Since these smaller boats or traditional boats fish in that area, they catch the eggs which are about to spawn or breed,” says Mohite. Moreover, these fish eggs have a high demand in the market. As there are no new “recruits” for the next season, the number of fish reduces. “Besides this, smaller sized fishes are being caught. Consequently, they do not reach the age of maturity. If these two trends continue, the fish stock will be depleted,” she adds.

Besides over fishing, what also thretans the fish population in the Ratnagiri coastal area is their reduced size. Photo credit - Jyothi Sriram

Besides over fishing, what also thretans the fish population in the Ratnagiri coastal area is their reduced size. Photo credit – Jyothi Sriram

The smaller fishermen do not have the financial support to adopt technological innovations, and additionally, they are not ready to take up alternative methods such as culturing clams or green mussels, which are available abundantly in the Ratnagiri coastal area. “This kind of culture does not require large capital investment or 24×7 care. They [the traditional fishermen] can supplement their income by using these alternatives,” states Mohite.

Besides fishing practices, another issue the fishing community faces is lack of government support. It is a common complaint among fishermen that the sugar mill industry receives more attention from the government. “Whenever we face a loss, the government does not give us any aid or grants. They [the government] can give Rs 6, 000 to Rs 7,000 crores without interest to the sugar mills, but we fishermen get no help,” says Pisal. He further adds that about only 10% to 15% of fishermen manage to run the fisheries business with reasonable returns, the rest remain poor.

There is a considerable portion of the fisher folk population that falls under the below the poverty line category, but not much of the government services and schemes trickles down to them. “We [fisheries cooperative] register BPL families either at the Ratnagiri Municipal Corporation or at the district collector’s office. But these families do not get their dues. The schemes do not reach everyone. The corporation and collector’s offices constantly pass the buck between themselves,” says Pisal.

Mohite says the Konkan coast is rich in biodiversity and it is not fully studied. Furthermore, she adds that the aquatic ecosystem is very sensitive and every organism is interdependent from sea weeds, corals and other organisms. “If you take out one organism from that system, the entire food chain will collapse. If you want to nourish or develop this ecosystem, you have to think from the “bottom,” not just a particular fish,” she says.

Debunking the myth of the baba

Maruti Joshi visits villages across India, demonstrating the tricks used by god men to fool people. People across most of Maharashtra have very strong beliefs in superstition and black magic. Mr Joshi says that women, even educated women, fall prey to the manipulations of the babas. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

Maruti Joshi visits villages across India, demonstrating the tricks used by god men to fool people. People across most of Maharashtra have very strong beliefs in superstition and black magic. Mr Joshi says that women, even educated women, fall prey to the manipulations of the babas. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

By Priya Prasad

RATNAGIRI: The table is littered/full of an assortment of paraphernalia—multi-coloured scarves, bottled mineral water, a dagger, some metal tumblers, two coconuts, a bottle with some transparent liquid and two other small containers. After setting up his table, Maruti Joshi begins his demonstration.

“I am going to show you how these babas trap you. The Konkan region in particular has many of them going around,” he says.

A former traffic cop of the Mumbai Police, Mr Joshi goes from town to town and village to village across India, exposing the sham and lies of god men. “I used to practise black magic [when he was working for the Mumbai Police]. But later I stopped practising it because I realized that all of it is a myth, a falsity. The tricks have a scientific explanation,” he says.

People in the Konkan region are particularly vulnerable to these god men because they have strong beliefs in the supernatural and in methods of predicting the future. Because of such erroneous beliefs, he says, people are willing to pay these babas large sums of money in return for their ‘wisdom’. “A baba can receive Rs 50,000, sometimes even a lakh of rupees. A normal worker gets paid on Rs 100!” says Joshi.

Women are the ones who usually fall prey to these god men. “Recently, many women visited a baba for blessings, but he would abuse them. The women think these abuses are the blessings of the baba. They are assured that this will help them attain Moksha. Shockingly, many of them are educated,” says Joshi.

The tricks of the babas can range from the ridiculous to the absurd. In one trick, villagers give a cow a bath and then they drag the animal. If it falls, the villagers believe God has spoken. After this, they hunt for pigs in the mountains. “They try to shoot a pig but usually instead of the pigs, men die. They say they want to kill pigs in the name of God. This ritual is very popular in the Konkan region,” adds Joshi.

In another ruse, the god men claim that in the Konkan region, dozens of spirits roam inside men and women. The god men burn incense and put that in their mouths, which people take as a sign of the ‘spirits’ within them. “It only takes three seconds for the incense to cool down. That’s what science says. They’re all frauds!” says an emphatic Joshi.

If not their religious and superstitious beliefs, the god men prey upon the people by taking advantage of their ignorance in science by using various simple easily-available substances. A trick of this type involves a hollow coconut filled with potassium, pieces of wood and glycerine. The potassium is kept at the bottom of the coconut and the wood is kept on top. The baba will then add glycerine to this which will result in a large fire. People then worship this considering it as something divine.

“In another popular trick, these babas rub a chemical into their hands, then apply chuna [lime], after which they blow it. This results in the formation of a pink coloured powder. As they blow it, they recite a mantra and people think that this is supernatural,” Joshi laughs as he recounts this.

These are but a few of the tricks of the god men, says Joshi. Having campaigned against these god men for close to ten years, he has earned a reputation for himself. “Day before yesterday, I was in a village called Lanjha, where I lectured and demonstrated to the policeman there. Now, I have been called to Kankouli village. I go wherever I am called and give demonstrations,” he says. Furthermore, he says he does this for free. It is a service he is providing to the people.

People such as Mr Joshi are not few. Superstition and black magic are extremely contentious issues in the state of Maharashtra. This was evident in the death of rationalist and anti-superstition campaigner, Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in August 2013. In the aftermath of Dr Dabholkar’s death, the Anti-Superstition bill—which he helped draft way back in the 1990s—was passed in the Maharashtra legislature in December 2013. Perhaps, the passing the bill would make Mr Joshi’s job all the more easier.

Prospective Growth in Fisheries

The fisheries industry faces a shortage of manpower. Besides this, it also lacks innovative technology such as better equipped boats and modern nets. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

The fisheries industry faces a shortage of manpower. Besides this, it also lacks innovative technology such as better equipped boats and modern nets. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

By Priya Prasad

RATNAGIRI: As the fisheries’ contribution to the country’s GDP has grown to 1.1 per cent, it has thrown open doors not only for many aspiring job seekers but has also attracted graduates to seek training in what is seen as a profitable and prosperous career.

Swapna Mohite, researcher and teacher at College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri says that research in fisheries is a very lucrative field. “We can say fisheries education began in the 70s, but the field is still young. There is so much to do, so many species to discover,” she adds.

Mahendra Jadhav, an Assistant Fisheries Development Officer at Ratnagiri says that when he decided to enter the fisheries line, the scope was tremendous. “One could enter the medical or veterinary fields but fisheries had greater scope, people were few. Fisheries Development Officer, District Development Officer, Fisheries Curator, Fisheries Commissioner, these were some of the posts available then. A few of my batch mates have become agricultural research scientists. There is considerable scope for the future,” says Jadhav.

The degree course at the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri provides students with the option for self-employment. However, students are not prepared to take up the hard work involved in setting up a venture. “Students’ expectations have increased. It [a job in fisheries] is not like a 9 to 5 job where you work and earn a salary. In a processing company, you have to work 12 hours or sometimes even 24 hours. If you have a fish farm, you have to be on your farm throughout the culture period because you are dealing with live specimens. If even a single parameter goes wrong, the entire culture can collapse,” adds Mohite.

However, she says that students working abroad in processing industries and fish farms are optimistic about their career prospects. This holds true not only abroad but locally as well.

A third year student at the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri, Uday Gavidh wants to start his own business, “I want to get into the brackish water aquaculture business. I have already started one [a culture farm] in Dahanu (near Mumbai) and I want to open another one this June. There is a particular species of shrimp that grows the fastest; it has a five month culture period. I would like to sell this in the Bombay market.”

However, despite such scope and growth, the field is not receiving the development it requires. “The boats that catch fish face many problems—they do not receive ice on time, they don’t get diesel. If they do get diesel, they do not get any subsidies, if they do get subsidies, then they don’t get enough diesel, so they will incur a loss. The fisheries societies need manpower, modern nets and vessels. They need these things to start something new and the government needs to provide this,” says Jadhav.

Another problem, says Jadhav, is that the wrong people hold positions in fisheries, “Earlier, BSc Zoology degree holders would occupy vacancies as fisheries development officers and assistants. In Zoology, they teach only one subject of fisheries which has one credit. If they [the government] are giving degrees to BFSc students but taking money from BSc students and then giving them preference, what is the need for a fisheries degree?”
Jadhav says that students from the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri discussed this issue with ministers from the Nagpur assembly demanding that only BFSc students be given preference for jobs.

This move proved effective. “In 2007, there were 14 positions but there was a stay [order] and after that there were no positions at all. So, now in 2014, after 7 years, 14 positions for the Assistant Fisheries Development Officer have opened up. The students’ efforts have borne fruit,” says Jadhav

While prospects for employment and opportunities for quality education are available a plenty for those with the means and access to the services, the fisheries industries also employs a large number of manual and migrant labourers. Akash Salunke, student at the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri, says, “There is scope for degree holders to get government jobs, but those who do not have degrees, such as manual labourers, do not have the opportunity to improve their earnings. This is the biggest problem.”

From Local to Hyperlocal—The Water Conundrum

It’s been almost two weeks since the students at the Asian College of Journalism have settled down and they are already witnessing first-hand the infamous water shortage problem of Chennai. “It’s not only ACJ but Chennai has a water problem as well. It does get difficult for us to store water in our buckets and use it productively. Also, the water has a weird muddy colour to it,” says Oindrilla, a student at ACJ. She further states that the water is rather salty and causes a lot of throat problems for many. Besides this, students have also reported being late for class because of no water flow in the mornings.

The water shortage problem also poses a major inconvenience to those with the six-room occupancy. “The water doesn’t start till 7 or 8 am, and there are six of us in one room so it gets very inconvenient,” mentions Harsh.

However, this isn’t a one-sided issue of negligence on the part of the management. Some students do feel that it is up to them to take responsibility to conserve and utilise water judiciously. “It’s actually up to us to save water because there are a lot of people who leave the taps open when the water is not running and when the water comes on again, the whole tank empties,” says Oindrilla.

ACJ is equipped with a motor that supplies water throughout the college as well as two to three sams or storage tanks. The administration states that water scarcity is bound to occur—there are nearly 150 students residing in the hostel and the faculty comes to the college between 9 and 5, so water usage is at its peak during the working hours. Regarding students leaving the taps open, the administration says, “We haven’t put up any notice so we tell students to pass on the message to keep the taps closed when they leave their bathrooms.”

This issue reflects the wider water problem that Chennai faces. In June, there were media reports of a reduction in the groundwater table. “There is water shortage mostly in the months of summer when the metro water system is not as effective as you’d want it to be, but people have circumvented it by installing bore wells wherein they harvest the ground water. But that again leads to depleting water table levels,” says Zahaan a student at ACJ and a local resident.

Eventually, it comes down to how we conserve water and the environment at large, and this effort has to stem from individuals, governments and institutions.