Ringed in the circus

As the government ponders a ban on all animals in circus, Nittya’s mahouts and ringmasters talk about how loved she is and say releasing her means certain death in the wild

ATIKH RASHID

mong the four elephants with Rambo Circus, Nittya, 22, is the naughtiest. She is also the youngest and,according to the nine mahouts who look after the elephant herd,takes up almost all of their time. The two ringmasters have to struggle to groom her for the performance and then use all their persuasive powers to get her to leave the elephant house for the performance tent.

However,once in the ring,Nittya is a different being. She even renders the ringmaster almost useless as she nonchalantly grabs hold of a cricket bat with her trunk and smashes every delivery —a volleyball bowled by a diminutive clown—over the boundary line (here the tent wall).

Her audience bowled over, she exits a couple of overs later, her bat raised in a salute and with an equally careless saunter. A certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni comes to the mind.

Even if that comparison is an exaggeration by her doting mahouts,they are sure of one thing: the proposal to ban all animals from circus,like done with wild animals earlier,makes no sense.

” can’t understand why people talk about sending them back to the forest. Will it be such an easy life? Itni seva,itna pyar,khana-peena… discipline se rakhte hain inko yahan. Jungle mein kya milega (We keep them with such care,love,good food and discipline. What will they get in the jungle)?” says Jalauddin Shaikh,34,one of the ringmasters.

One of India’s biggest circuses,Rambo has four elephants,six horses,12 dogs and five parrots. The Animal Welfare Board of India recently proposed to the Environment Ministry that all animals be banned from circuses following an investigation authorised by it on their living conditions. While wild animals like tigers and lions were banned from circuses more than a decade ago,others like elephants,horses,camels and dogs are still being used.

The report specifically talked about “physical and psychological abuse of elephants.

Rambo Circus owner Sujit Dilip opposes such a ban,saying,The motto of the organisations pressing for the ban, it seems, is to shut down the circuses.

He claims that after the government banned the use of tigers and lions in circuses,authorities packed off wild animals to zoos,where they died. “We at Rambo Circus had 14 lions and two tigers. The authorities took them away and lodged them in Tirupati Zoo. Ideally,they should have released them into the jungle. All of them died in a short span. If this is not cruelty,then I don’t know how it is defined.”

All the elephants at Rambo— including Nittya, Saraswati, Champa and Anaar, all female, share one shed. The mahouts agree that one reason Nittya is the most cheerful is that she gets to stay with her mother,the 49-year-old Anaar.

“Nittya was born to Anaar when she was with another circus. When Dilip babu bought Anaar in 1994,he also bought Nittya,” says Bachcha Miyan, who heads the team of mahouts.

Last week, Rambo Circus was in Hubli in Karnataka for a 20-day tour. “Due to a last-minute glitch,we couldn’t get a proper playground and had to set up tents in an abandoned black soil plot,” says Raju,the circus manager,trying to manage that day’s shows on ground left slippery by rain.

A usual day begins at 6 am for the elephants. “We offer them fodder and then one by one they are taken for their morning stroll. Each has to walk 500 to 600 metres. Then they are brought back and washed. During summers and winters we wash them everyday and in the rainy season on alternate days. They are then offered fodder and other supplementary food,and later allowed to rest,” says Bachcha Miyan.

At this time a veterinarian comes for a health inspection. “It’s the Environment and Forest Ministry’s order that a local vet should inspect the animals . Only after the vet declares them fit can they be taken to the ring,” says Dr Prasad Durappanavar, the veterinary officer, Hubli, as he records Nittya’s temperature.

By now it’s noon and time for the jumbos to be groomed for the first show at 1 pm. “At present we have three acts involving elephants, says Raju. “Anaar used to do a few numbers earlier. But due to her age, she goes in the ring only occasionally,” adds Shaikh.

“Nittya is adorned with shawls. When she enters the ring wielding a cricket bat,the kids scream “Haathi aaya re aaya (Elephant has come)” says Shaikh.

Bachcha Miyan says they start training the elephants by the age of 5-7,admitting they use the reward and punishment method. If the animal does good,she is fed sweets and patted. If she disobeys,she gets a light beating with a stick. In a few months,the animal becomes fluent with the acts,” he adds. Apart from batting,Nittya can perform puja of a Shivalingam.

After the act,she returns to her tent and is chained by one of her feet next to Anaar. They cuddle up,wrapping their trunks around each other. Anaar occasionally plants what appear like kisses on Nittya’s head.

“Nittya never lets her go away. They can’t speak but they manage to express their love for each other. Only animals can have such selfless love. We human can’t,can we?” says Bachcha Miyan. Anwar Miyan, another ringmaster, adds, “Since the day I joined,I see them together. If Anaar is taken away or passes away,it will be very difficult to handle Nittya.”

However,the breaks are short. Nittya has to return to the ring twice again,for the 4 pm and the 7 pm shows. By 8.30 pm,Nittya’s act in the last show is over.

Contrary to the picture that Rambo Circus owner and mahouts paint of Nittya’s day, animal rights activists say a life in the jungle is far better than such a confined and controlled existence.

“The way animals are trained is the height of cruelty. You can’t train an elephant without torturing her. The harassment goes on for months before the animals start to obey only to escape the sufferings,” says Ahmednagar-based Anil Kataria.

40 trees axed in agricultural college campus, 60 more to go ahead of President Pratibha Patil’s visit

Some college officials said that giving the President an unhindered sight of the new building from the approach road played an important part in cutting down the branches as they covered a good portion of the building.

ATIKH RASHID

President Pratibha Patil’s scheduled visit to the College of Agriculture,Pune,on June 10 to inaugurate its new building has proved costly for the green cover of the college,with the garden department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) granting permission to axe over 100 branches of 59 trees for security reasons.


Already, branches of about 40 trees mainly located in front of the new Centenary Building and on the approach road from the Mhasoba Gate to the building,perceived as a security threat,have been chopped off.

The college authorities had sought permission on May 31 and the garden department granted it the next day. The list of 59 includes 36 rain trees,eight neem trees,eight ashoka trees and two tamarind trees aged between 35 and 45 years. Of the 40 branches chopped off,many were healthy and leafy and had a diameter of 40 to 50 centimetres.

The decision was apparently taken by the college authorities following an inspection by University Vice-Chancellor and the college principal a week ago. “In our proposal,we submitted a list of dead and drooping branches of trees in front of the new building and on the road and said they needed to be cut off so that they do not pose a security threat to the President during her visit. The PMC garden officials inspected the trees and cut down branches according to their criteria. Our men didn’t even touch the trees,” said Dr B R Ulmekh, Associate Dean and Principal of the College. Ulmekh added that the college plants thousands of trees every year on and outside the campus.

Some college officials,however,said that giving an unhindered sight of the new building from the approach road played an important part in cutting down the branches as they covered a good portion of the building.

Preeti Sinha, assistant garden superintendent, garden department, maintained that her officials had inspected the trees and given permission for cutting down only dead and drooping branches. She,however,couldn’t explain as to how her office had given a blanket permission to cut 100 branches and not used their discretion to save at least some of them.

“The college had asked for permission for security reasons. The rain tree branches are generally weak and could fall. We only gave permission to cut branches that were probable threats,” said Sinha.

The new palatial building has been built by the college at an expense of about Rs 15 crore. The money came from the Rs 100 crore special grant given to the Mahatma Phule Agriculture University,Rahuri,by the Union Government in 2008-09.

High Court asked the College to transplant 21 trees, it transplanted nine, none has survived

The Agriculture College,which has a full-fledged horticulture department and professors with technical know-how,has failed to successfully transplant 21 trees as directed by the Bombay High Court.

The college had approached the HC in 2010 for permission to fell 67 trees that were on the sites planned for a centenary building and a new block for a girls’ hostel.

According to document accessed by The Indian Express under RTI, the HC on April 1, 2010, permitted the college to cut down 43 trees and directed it to transplant 17 for the centenary building. The court also allowed the college to fell three trees and transplant four from the girls’ hostel site.

The trees to be shifted from the centenary building plot were 13 mango (10 to 15 year old), two Tabebuia (10 years) trees, a Sindi and a jackfruit (10 years) tree. Four trees to be transplanted from the plot of girls hostel building were a 60-year-old Indian Coral Tree (Pangara), a 30-year-old Rain Tree, a 20-year-old tamarind and a 20-year-old jamun tree.

According to sources,only six mango trees were actually transplanted almost all of which are now dead due to neglect. The three trees that were transplanted from the girls’ hostel site are also dead.

A J Bhagat, assistant engineer, Agriculture College said, “We had appointed a professional agency for transplantation. Some trees were not fit for transplantation. Some died after they were transplanted despite us taking due care.” He said he was not aware if all the 21 trees were transplanted; the horticulture department was responsible for the actual work. Horticulture department officials, however,were not available for comment.

Sunil Kesari, garden superintendent and tree officer of PMC, said it is the responsibility of the college to look after the trees and ensure that they survive for at least three years from the date of transplantation. “If the trees have died before three years, then it’s a serious violation. We will send a notice to the college authorities,” he said.

A wine story loses its sparkle

With govt doling out lavish incentives,a total of 72 wineries came up in Maharashtra by 2008. Three years on, around 30 have shut shop with production exceeding demand.

ATIKH RASHID

IN the year 2008, Nashik,a district in northwestern Maharashtra known to produce quality grapes, earned a sobriquet that of the ‘wine capital of India’. None could contest that as of the total 79 wineries in the country, Nashik alone had 34. Its contribution, along with that of neighbouring Pune and Solapur, made Maharashtra produce 95 per cent of the country’s wine in its 72 wineries.

Observers said whatever was happening in Maharashtra, especially Nashik,was nothing short of revolution and the wine movement in the state will catch more sparkle with the passage of time.

But today, in 2011, barely three years later the phenomenal wine story has gone sour with more than 40 per cent of the wineries shutting shop.

“As of now,about 28-30 wineries of the total 72 have stalled production completely. Around 20 are functioning at 70 per cent of their crushing capacity and a dozen at 20-30 per cent of the crushing capacity, informs Secretary, All India Wine Growers’ Association, Rajesh Jadhav.

Consequently, the wine grapes that were produced on over 9,000 acres in 2008, now cover only 5,000 acres of land in Maharashtra.

Most of the farmers who had switched to wine grape farming, have returned to growing table grapes.

“It’s unlikely that anybody from our village would grow wine grapes in the near future. For the first two-three years we made good money but things went awry soon. No winery owner was ready to buy the grapes. We had to junk a lot of them,” said Amit Patil,from,Dindori in Nashik District.

Jadhav, who has stalled crushing at his winery in Nashik,wants growers to be cautious. “We have told them that they should plant wine grapes only after a winery asks them in writing to do so,” he says.

The downfall

Though the Grape Processing Industry Policy in 2001,till year 2003-04 there were only half a dozen wineries in the state with Indage and Sula being the leaders. Nashik, in 2001,had just one winery.

The efforts to boost the wine industry with subsidies,easy loans,easy licensing and promotion of wine culture started bearing fruits in 2005. In next three years,new wineries came up in the state and by 2008 the number stood at 72.

“We thought we had hit the jackpot. We were making good money. Everybody around us was moving to wine grape farming. In my village itself, four wineries were set up,” said Rajesh Patil, a farmer from Abhona village from Kalwan taluka Nashik who had planted wine grapes on his 12-acre plot, but has now gone back to growing table grapes.

Almost all newly established wineries were owned by rich farmers from Nashik and Pune districts who had little or no knowledge about marketing. They had made a foray into the business with the aim to avail the benefits of government subsidies and make the most of the wine boom.

“Government assisted in setting up the wineries,it assisted in production, but gave no assistance in marketing. With increased number of wineries. the production exceeded the demand in the state. The consequence,obviously,was a glut,” said Mahindra Shahir, president, Maharashtra Grape Growers’ Association.

Then came the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai which cut down the flow of tourists. The global meltdown followed made things worse.

“Though the recession had little impact on India,the major wine producing countries like Australia,South Africa and European nations were severally hit. While India had somehow survived the recession, these countries started sending their unsold stock of wine to India at throwaway prices. This resulted in the piling up of stocks of wine produced in local wineries. Now,the wineries couldn’t afford to crush fresh grapes having neither the storage facilities nor could they afford to store the wine. And they had to repay the loans,” said S D Shikhamany,former director, National Research Centre for Grapes, Pune.

Wine grapes,having no other use than making wine,remained in the fields and rotted. The losses of farmers ran into several lakhs per head.

“Winery owners had already invested Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 5 crore to establish a winery. They didn’t have the financial strength to wait for years and let the wine mature. The banks were running after them for recoveries. Farmers were asking us to buy fresh grapes while the wineries had no buyers for the wine produced in the last season,” said Shahir.

Many winery owners were forced to breach the contract with grape growers.

Next season, farmers chopped of the wine grape shoots of varieties like Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay and grafted the rootstock with table grapes varieties like Thompson Seedless and Sonoka.

Little hope of a high

Experts say that the chances of local wine industry gathering the lost momentum are bleak.

There are several hindrances. Firstly,Indian wine cannot compete at the international level and has a limited domestic market. In India,though wine-culture is slowly catching up,the per capita consumption of wine remains dismal,at 9 ml per person,as compared to 25 litres in the US and 20 litres in Australia.

The quality of most varieties of the wine produced in the country doesn’t match up to the quality of wine that is in demand in the international market.

“The basic rule in wine making is that lesser the yield at the vineyard,the better the wine produced from such grapes. On the contrary,the local wine-grape growers take as much production as they can to earn more profit. A high yield is a major reason for the low quality of Indian wine,” said Vijay Vangane, a winemaker for over 20 wineries in the state.

Another reason for the Indian wine not making the cut at the international market is the popularity of reserve wine the wine that is matured for many years by storing in oak barrels.

Almost no wine producer in India has the infrastructure to mature the wine for years. Most of them are desperate to sell it off as soon as they distil it after crushing. They simply cant afford to wait,” said Vangane.

Experts say that if large private firms with strong financial and marketing arms enter the business,these problems can be resolved.

But till now, barring a few exceptions,large firms have abstained from entering the business.

Another major hindrance is the different wine policies of different states. In most of the states,wine is counted as liquor and it’s import,even from fellow states,attracts heavy excise duty. This discourages the growth of growth of the industry in production of state.

“States like Maharashtra and Karnataka have come up with good wine policies. Today,Maharashtra is producing wine in excess than its need but it’s difficult to market it. Even the state government can do little outside the state. For the wine business to flourish and attract farmers towards it by earning the dividends,we need to have similar wine policy (like Maharashtra and Karnataka) at the national level,” said Shikhamany.

UP in the air: meet the man who stays inside a roadside hoarding

Following Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on migrants from UP working in Maharashtra, The Indian Express tracks the life of a migrant from the state who works as security guard in Pune and has made a hoarding his home to save money.

Newsclip from The Indian Express issue of November 20, 2011

IN 2008, when workers of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) targeted North Indians in Pune, beating up auto-rickshaw drivers, hawkers and others, Ram Suhavan, a migrant from UP, escaped unhurt and unnoticed. It would have been hard to find him, living as he does in an advertisement hoarding.

Suhavan’s home in Pune, among the most expensive cities in the country, is a small space in between two sides of an advertising hoarding that stands at one of city’s busiest squares. One side of the hoarding displays an advertisement for residential apartments while the other hosts an ad for a car. The 3-ft wide hoarding that stands 60 ft above the ground, looks over a railway track where a train passes every ten minutes. For Suhavan who can’t afford a rented apartment, this is as good as it gets.

Suhavan, 43, is from Madedu village near Allahabad and works as a supervisor in a private security company in Pune. He has been living inside this hoarding for four years and now has company. His nephew Mohan too lives with him and seven other people from his village who have joined his security company as night watchmen, eat their meals and rest here during the day.

“When I came to Pune in 2007, I secured a job as security guard but had no place to live. I knew the hoarding contractor through one of my acquaintances. I told him I would guard the hoarding and would not charge him anything. He agreed and later he started paying me Rs 500 a month too,” says Suhavan. At work, he has been promoted as a supervisor and he has brought over a dozen other men from his village to join him in the security agency.

While Suhavan appears to have made peace with his home in the hoarding, the other boys living with him are far from happy. Sunder, who passed his class XII two years ago and landed in Pune two months ago with Suhavan says, “Look at our living conditions. Can we call this a home? When my parents call me and ask me about my home, I tell them I live in a nice house.”

The boys may not be happy but Suhavan says if they lived in a room in the slums instead, they would have to cough up rent and would not have been able to save anything.

Suhavan, who has studied only till class II and can barely read and write, hopes to get his 11-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son educated. Every month when he gets his salary – Rs 6,000 as supervisor and

Rs 1,000 for looking after the hoarding – he sends back about Rs 4,000 to his family.

Suhavan intends to stay here in the hoarding till he can. “l move out only if the contractor of the hoarding changes and the new one wants me to leave,” says Suhavan. He also has no plans to return to UP. “I came here because it was difficult to get a job back home. I left my village 15 years ago and worked in Punjab and Gujarat before coming to Pune. I keep bringing boys from my village to Pune simply because there are no jobs there,” says Suhavan. “It is difficult to live here but at least we have a job,” he says.

Making waves

A community radio service at Resode taluka of Maharashtra’s Washim disttrict is disseminating information on latest farming technologies.

ATIKH RASHID

Santosh Jadhav, 35, of Mothegaon village in Resode taluka would always spray pesticides thrice in his soyabean fields. But this time Jadhav changed the decades-old schedule, he has cut it down to just one spray following the advice of experts.

And he isn’t regretting taking the risk. With just one spray,the money spent on pesticides is saved and the growth of the crop has remained unaffected so far.

Likewise, Shyamrao Deshmukh of Tandalwadi village of the same taluka says he was inspired to grow tomatoes , a not-so-common crop in Vidarbha, after listening to the interview of a farmer. “I thought if he can do it in a similar soil and climate,then why can’t I? This season I grew tomatoes on two acres and and had a good yield.”

Both Jadhav and Deshmukh are avid listeners of a community radio service that was launched in June 2010 at Karda at Resode taluka of Washim in Maharashtra’s suicide-affected Vidarbha region.

The service, christened ‘Swaranant’,is disseminating information about latest farm technology and practices,and is run by the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK).

“While we are making advances in agricultural research,its dissemination is comparatively laggard. We thought a radio station can help tide over this time gap,” aid S K Deshmukh, convener, KVK, Karda.

The infrastructure for the radio station,including transmitters,s tudio, antennas, came from the Rs 22 lakh grant that the KVK got from the agricultural department under ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency) scheme. The station has recently been approached by NABARD for holding awareness programme for its Financial Inclusion Scheme.

Recently,the station has also signed a deal with the Hyderabad- based Nagarjuna Fertiliser Pvt Ltd for broadcasting its advertisements.

Majha Vavar Majha Shivar’ (My Farm,My Village), Shetachya Bandhavar (On the Farmgate), Pashudhan and Krishi Sandesh are among the 33 different programmes the station broadcasts in a week.

Majha Vavar Majha Shivar deals with the recent technologies or practices recommended by experts to increase productivity and lower cost of production. It also involves interviews with agricultural experts and innovative farmers.

Pashudhan, which deals with livestock management, is also popular. “Many farmers say they went for livestock rearing after they got information about government schemes on the radio,” said Deshmukh.

“As phone-in programmes are usually popular,we have one named ‘Jhalkiyan‘ where audience can request to replay a piece of the programme which they liked during the last week,” says A R Parvez,the station in charge.

At present, the service could be tuned at 90.4 MHz in about 100 villages that lie within the a radius of 20 km abound Karda.

In Pune District, Zilla parishad schools are losing 10,000 students a year

No amount of wooing students through free uniforms,food and textbooks seems to help Zilla Parishad-run schools as the number of students in ZP-run primary schools in the district has come down by 10,000 in one year.

ATIKH RASHID

NO amount of wooing students through free uniforms,food and textbooks seems to help Zilla Parishad (ZP)-run schools as the number of students in ZP-run primary schools in the district has come down by 10,000 in one year.

While parents and experts are blaming poor quality of education in ZP schools as compared to that in private schools,ZP education officer Dattatraya Shendkar says the decline in number of students is due to “fall in birth rate in recent years”.

According to official data available with ZP Education Department,in 2010-11,there were 3,613 ZP primary schools (from Classes I to VII) in the district that had 2,66,372 students on the roll.

This year (2011-12),while the number of schools have gone up by 112 to 3,725,the number of students has come down to 2,56,347. The most steep decline has been in Haveli,Bhor,Indapur,Junnar and Mulashi.

According Shendkar,the reason for the decline in the number of students is the changing population dynamics in the country. “The effforts that the government had been taking for population control has paid off. There is a fall in birth rate which is the the main reason for the decline in number of students in the ZP primary schools. I estimate that the number will keep going down (with the decrease in the birth rate),” said Shendkar who,at the same time admits that number of student getting admission in Class I is high (46.407 in 2011-12).

When asked if emergence of private primary schools,Marathi and English,in rural parts of the district could have played a role, Shendkar said they also could have played a minor role in the decline.

“There are hardly any private primary schools in the villages. There are few at the taluk headquarters but students from distant villages can’t go there and they depend on ZP schools,” said Shendkar. But according to educationist Ramesh Panase,it’s “ridiculous” to link the dwindling rate of students in ZP schools to birth rate.

The inclination of parents towards the private schools as opposed to government schools is a nationwide phenomenon and the major reason for this is parents’ perception that their child will not get good quality education in government schools as compared to private schools.

“Another reason is that parents are preferring English medium schools for their children as they want them to be fluent in the language and very few ZP schools offer English medium education,” said Panase.