I thank all of you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to speak about social entrepreneurship in India at the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations. It is a real honour to address you, students of the most elite University in the world knowing that you, in your future brilliant business careers, will be able to influence diverse areas which individuals and NGOs like mine are struggling with today. You might be business entrepreneurs trying out new ways of doing business, generating employment and contributing to the GDP of your country. I am here to urge you to remember that, along this path, you have a social responsibility as well. So what is a social entrepreneur? I will speak about my version of social entrepreneurship and my own personal experience through my chosen areas of work.
Over 10 years ago, I unknowingly started on my path as a ‘social entrepreneur’. Noise pollution, the subject which first inspired me is an issue all over the world, but is acute in many developing Asian countries, especially in the fastest developing cities.
As noise pollution is closely linked with urbanization, countries like India with the fastest GDP growth rate, are intensely vulnerable. These banks of loudspeakers used to be a common sight in the streets of Mumbai, and it was rationalized that even slum dwellers need to celebrate but can’t afford to go to expensive nightclubs. Instead, make shift discotheques next to hospitals and residences were the norm. This is changing after 10 years of intense effort and loudspeakers like this are no longer permitted.
Nevertheless, Mumbai is still officially the noisiest city in the world in 2012-2013, according to the Central Pollution Control Board. It has been called business capital of India, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, ‘maximum city’, Indian business entrepreneurs’.
One of the first things which any foreigner notes is the unbearable continuous noise, which impacts everybody’s health and which is even worse during street festivals such as Ganpati. You cannot hear pictures, unfortunately, but this picture is loud - accompanied by brass bands, drums and loudspeakers playing all together and adding up to a cacophonous 121 dB last year – the noise from a jet engine at close quarters. Still, it is quieter than before since it is only for fixed days and restricted time limits after intense campaigning.
Diwali was even louder at 130 dB last year. Yet, the last 3 years have been quieter Diwaliscomparateively, where people have restricted use of the noisiest crackers.
Traffic noise continues twenty four hours with continuous honking including multi tone and very shrill horns. The German car manufacturer Audi makes specially loud horns for it’s Indian cars to be heard above the surrounding din. So how do you tackle an issue of this scale?
In many Asian cities this quieter neighborhood does not exist, as this interior construction picture in an expensive Mumbai suburb demonstrates. Stone cutting and other interior decoration related noise is a constant in upmarket buildings where interiors are continuously gutted and renovated.
My success has been in that time limits are now observed and noise is no longer permitted at night. Silence Zones are legally protected. Awareness of the problem has spread through media campaigns, police campaigns and citizens’ involvement and the Police have begun to take action. This success is hard won and incomplete. This is report published by a leading English newspaper on data generated by Awaaz and speaks of the interest on noise levels generated in the public consciousness.
In a way, taking leadership of a neglected subject like noise was not difficult. This picture, measuring noise levels from the first noise barriers in India which were inspired by a high levels Ministers’ visit to Shanghai, demonstrates how grass root level data and a demand for change along with International exposure was essential to making a difference to policy decisions at a high level.
So where do you begin? This is a picture of my grandmother, ShamimaLukmani leading a protest against imprisonment of her mother SakinaLukmani during India’s Freedom Struggle in 1930.
In some ways, things have not changed much. These schoolchildren are protesting against noise in Mumbai’s streets last year.But protests are not enough. In today’s increasingly competitive world, where burning issues such as poverty alleviation and GDP take centre stage and political rivalries are played out through better, bigger and grander public displays, an issue like noise pollution is secondary to those in authority.
This is a picture of a political function at Shivaji Park, one of the largest urban playgrounds in India. Hospitals, schools and residences surround the grounds and, in spite of numerous complaints against noise from residents, various types of functions continued, often all night. The police pleaded helplessness against the will of their political bosses who organized the functions.
Ashok Ravat, is one of several citizens who joined my fight against noise pollution and dared to take on the combined might of all political parties and file public interest litigation which succeeded in having Shivaji Park declared as a Silence Zone.
Ground level data collection; Citizens involvement;
networking with other NGOs such as Sanskar India Foundation and Akanksha Foundation who teach public school and street children. This is a picture of children comparing their small protest against noise pollution with that of Anna Hazare against corruption, one of the biggest awakenings of public consciousness in Independent India;
Networking with college students on their mass media projects;
Unlike in many Western countries, Indian courts have played a pro active role in determining policy and its implementation. Public interest litigation is one of the best ways any ordinary citizen can take up and influence important policy matters and this has been a key in my fight against noise pollution. Noise pollution laws have been strengthened through court orders and seeking professional help to file pro bono public interest litigation and influence policy change such as that provided by my advocates IshwarNankani, Mohana Nair and SnehalParanjape.
On top of all of this existing noise, a proposal to allow helipads on top of private residences in Mumbai was nearly passed a couple of years ago. In line with Hong Kong, which has helipads on top of some luxury hotels, some Industrialists wanting to cut commute time to their nearest public helipad built multiple helipads on their rooftops. This is a protest from citizens led by Awaaz, many of them living in close proximity in the most affluent parts of the city. Permissions to operate the helipads were refused after these protests
Support from Union Minister of Environment and Forests MrJairam Ramesh ensured that not only were no licenses for operation of private helipads issued, but the entire Noise Pollution Rules were made more stringent in 2010.
The noise pollution campaign has now spread through many parts to India. This is ChetanUpadhyaya, who has succeeded in having noise from religious places stopped in Benares, the temple city of India. There have been numerous other success stories inspired by the Mumbai success tory and I have received requests for guidance from Indian cities and from residents of noisy Asian cities such as Bangkok as well.
So what is a social entrepreneur? Is it a striving to make a difference to your own ultimate quality of life and of course, that of numerous others as well? In countries like India, a wide gap between the haves and have nots means that even a little responsibility on the part of the haves can make the difference between life and death for many – and sometimes between a living death and life too, specially when the problem is a rural one and out of sight of the urbanized masses. This is a banner which was a pro bono contribution to my struggle by leading advertising agency BBDO India.
This is a picture of a barely recognized problem in India – illegal sand mining.
This picture, of a mechanized sand dredger on Mahad Creek nearly cost me my life and that of others including journalist Viju B who was with me at a sand excavation site inspection.
including journalist Viju B who was with me at a sand excavation site inspection.
Here is what happened to my car when I tried to address the problem a few years ago. I was lucky to get away with my life, but many others who have tried to expose other issues have not; the list of murders and attacks on social activists in the past few years, already long, is getting longer and longer.
Mafias control most illegal businesses and, since, by definition, there is no official regulation, human rights, environment, and almost all other laws are disregarded. Should ordinary citizens like us address problems which seem almost invisible to others? Should we, too, look the other way, shrug and carry on with our lives?
Right to Information Activist SatishShetty was murdered by a mafia around the same time as the attack on Viju and me in 2010. Several other attacks including the murder of a Government official who tried to tackle sand mining have shocked the country. While the Bombay High Court has passed Orders directing that various steps be take to protect human rights defenders in 2010, these steps have not yet been implemented on the ground three years later.
I have worked to bring sand mining to the notice of those in power, but so far, the going has been uphill, in spite of High Court and Supreme Court orders. Apart from the murder of the Government official, numerous other attacks have also taken place all over the country. Awaaz Foundation and the Bombay Natural History Society presented the issue of illegal sand mining destroying India’s coastline at the Government of India organized Conference of Biodiversity in Hyderabad in October 2012. Several UN Representatives, members of Indian and International NGOs expressed their concern that sand mining was an internationally unrecognized major hazard which was destroying upto 75% of the world’s beaches and ruining entire economies of some Asian countries.
This boy’s face haunts me at night. I see his strangely muscular child’s body staggering under the load of his burden. He could not attend school, he said, because he had fever, and so had to toil to extract sand from the river bottom under the blazing sun instead. Since he was so young, his pay was less than anyone else’s only Rs 200 (about $4) per day. 11-year old children, the original residents of the ‘kohli’ fishing community of this Mumbai suburb toil under inhuman conditions to painfully extract sand from the river bottom. Who knew the cost in human suffering for common sand was so high? When you look only at GDP, you do not see it.
Here is another picture of a small boat used for illegally mining sand in Thane city. The diver holds on to the metal pole for his only guidance upto 40 feet below. If he loses his grip while filling the bucket thrown down to him with sand, the strong current bears him away. To withstand the effects of this dangerous activity, most divers drink large quantities of alcohol; of course, many of them do get swept away and die. Their deaths are officially attributed to alcoholism., since sand mining does not ‘exist’.
The sand is then pulled up into a small pile on the boat. You can see how close the city itself is and some of the buildings which this laboriously dredged sand is used to construct.
It is then unloaded on the banks of the creek where mangroves once grew
And loaded onto waiting trucks.
Here is a picture of policemen doing their rounds with illegal sand stock visible behind them, taking no action.
Here is another of sand mining right at the foot of a railway bridge endangering the main train line north out of Mumbai city. Indian Railways has complained of the risk to the line which would endanger the lives of millions of commuters and long distance travellers, but no action has been taken on their complaint.
This illegal stone quarrying site, flattening the bio diverse ‘Western Ghats’ –a mountain range passing through the heart of the city of Navi Mumbai lies in an area dominated by our State Excise Tax Minister. Most residents of Navi Mumbai are too scared to complain, but some bold citizens have urged me to help them go to court against this illegal activity. This same Minister’s family owned illegal sand mining sites in the area while he was Environment Minister.
This is illegaly mined stone being carried openly on the roads of Navi Mumbai.
Of course, all this affects property values – who would want to visit a beach with looks like this?
This is NandakumarPawar, a whistleblower from among his own community of traditional fishermen who took me to illegal sad mining sites I would never have been able to visit without his help and keep me safe while I was there, even giving me an opportunity to see and interact with workers and observe their plight. He was tired, he said, of watching his once proud kohli fishing community reduced to back breaking and undignified illegal labour, to support the growth of the new city.
This is Naseer Jalal, another whistleblower who took Viju and me to another illegal sand mining site and suffered with us when we were attacked. While we left the area, he continues to live amidst his attackers who belong to his own village and community and some of whom were his boyhood friends.
Social entrepreneurship in India is many layered. Non-controversial fields like education, awareness readily find acceptance and encouragement. However, vested interests are many, and the push towards furious GDP growth has a high cost, which is often not factored into the numbers.
GDP is not the only measure of growth. You will all be in a position to take note of and impact your own communities wherever you are, alongside your other growth and entrepreneurial activities. Please do remember social entrepreneurship also contributes to your own well being and to the well being of your surroundings, bringing with it an enormous sense of long term satisfaction. With some effort, the opportunity to make a difference is enormous.Thank yo for hearing me out patiently.
Harvard presentation 2013
Supreme Court of IndiaCWP No. 72/98 is filed by Shri Anil K. Mittal, anengineer by profession moving the Court pro bonopublico. The immediate provocation for filing thepetition was that a 13 year old girl was a victim ofrape (as reported in newspapers of January 3,1998). Her cries for help sunk and went unhearddue to blaring noise of music over loudspeaker inthe neighbourhood. The victim girl, later in theevening, set herself ablaze and died of 100% burninjuries.
Noise, urbanization and GDP Source: Sulekha.com