Determined efforts, definite direction
This group mainly concerns itself with theoretical, conceptual and policy issues in the energy and power sectors. It aims at developing credible, techno-economically viable, and socially desirable policy alternatives for the power sector. "Given the major role energy plays in economy, and the monopoly the government holds here, it becomes imperative to analyse this issue from an outside point of view, especially so for the benefit of the consumers," explains Girish Sant.
Prayas put forth the need (or lack of it) of IPP power and suggested alternative courses of action and pointed out that the consumers could save Rs 7,000 crores in just three years. Further, Prayas was also asked to suggest power sector reforms in the state. A need for 'least cost plan' based planning, well defined but gradual shift in tariffs, improvement in transparency and participation and immediate implementation of systems for accountability of the State Electricity Boards were some of the suggestions made.
The study of the power sector reforms in Orissa and the role of the World Bank (WB) was another major project for Prayas. It was realised that the regulatory commission (RC) is the supreme decision-making body, controlling billions of dollars worth of public expenditure. Prayas studied the basic structure of the RC, its accountability and prepared a report that included a critique of the WB plan too. Following the publication of this report, the Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission amended its Conduct of Business Regulations so as to make disclosure of the PPA and public hearing mandatory before approval of the PPA by the commission.
Consequently since 1999 and the formation of the Regulatory Commission in Maharashtra, the Prayas Energy Group has made many interventions on behalf of the consumers, identified inefficiencies and trained other NGOs in a similar process. In the process, Prayas developed its own position on the burning issue of power sector reforms. It is felt that the core malady underlying the financial crisis and the crisis of performance lies in the governance of the sector. This is currently under the control of coalitions, which manipulate functioning of the sector to suit their interests. Thus, it is imperative that this control be eliminated and public control on the governance of the sector be established. This is to be achieved by bringing in transparency, accountability, and public participation (TAP) in the functioning of the sector. Currently, the focus of the Energy Group is on building capabilities of itself and the other civil society organisations to bring in TAP. "However, there is a dearth of professionals who can get into the complex and multifarious process of policy-making and interpretation," observes Sant. Hence, it becomes all the more crucial to initiate groups with the necessary analytical expertise and commitment into this field.
Resources and Livelihoods
This area of focus (ReLi) came into Prayas a later addition. In the post Rio period, despite the various proactive and reactive measures by the government and various forms of protests by people's movements, the crisis in resolving issues relating to environment and development is deepening. Large sections of the population, especially in the South are experiencing increasing vulnerability in securing stable and sustainable livelihoods. The ReLi team is a determined initiative to work for bettering this situation. Amongst its current activities, the team is engaged in literature review on 'Sustainable Livelihoods' and consultations with grassroots actors (organisations and activists) on this theme. The objective is to 'reverse the flow of discourse' - to learn from grassroots experiences and in return to present to them newer ideas and concepts and elicit their comments on them.
The team is also engaged in field based action research, which attempts to document the 'livelihood profiles' of tribal and other marginalised sections of the society. This is being done with the aim of developing a more informed understanding of the ground-level reality regarding the livelihoods of the vulnerable sections. It is also hoped that this process will develop sensitised community-level workers. The third area of activity is Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA). In this area the team members have undertaken demonstration plots in the village of Vadghar in Maharasthra. Experimentation in various LEISA techniques is also being tried out. The focus is on developing firmed-up parameters of key elements (such as water input, labour costs, etc.) in the agro-climatic and typographical conditions of Konkan region in Maharashtra. Work in this area also involves conducting regular training workshop for community level workers of the grassroots organisations in Konkan, followed by helping them to set up their own trial plots in dispersed locations.
The focus of this group is on HIV/AIDS. Using tools such as awareness programmes, workshops, counseling centres, information software, publications, and research, the members have dedicated themselves to dissemination of information about the ailment, eradicating the myths surrounding it, and providing care and support to HIV patients and their families. "Way back in 1981, our colleague Dr Vinay Kulkarni, on completing a a course in immunology, had foreseen that HIV/AIDS would become a major cause of concern in India," says Dr. Sanjivanee Kulkarni. "Nobody took him very seriously then, as the first patient was detected only as late as 1986. But gradually we realised the veracity of his words, and I started work with him on HIV since 1990."
So far, more than 750 awareness campaigns have been conducted in schools, colleges, and slums; amongst women's groups, industrial workers, and health care providers. In 1995, Prayas set up the AIDS Networking and Information Centre (ANIC) for information dissemination. This is supported by a well-stocked and specialised library and documentation centre that is open to all. It also collaborates with other organisations working in the same sphere, especially those working with marginalised communities like prostitutes and their children, men having sex with men (MSM), street children, etc. Extensive research has been conducted in areas related to sexuality, sexual behaviour and social and medical aspects of HIV/AIDS. The ethical aspects of the sensitive research projects are scrutinised by an independent ethical committee.
"Currently, we are working on Prevention of Transmission from Mother to Child," says Dr Kulkarni. "This begins right from ante-natal counseling, testing of the expectant mother, counseling and further assistance if she tests positive for HIV. The group then helps her with her medication, counseling, and even arranges for free tests for the new baby." So far four local hospitals have been roped in, work on involving some more is underway. The group is also looking at issues of stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.
Learning and Parenthood
This cell is basically a support group for activities of like-minded organisations. It is engaged in experiments that can make education more enjoyable and meaningful, and also creating awareness to make parenthood more socially responsible. Its activities include helping Palakneeti Pariwar (an NGO) with the establishment of an information and resource centre for material on parenthood, learning and education. It has also helped Palakneeti set up and run an activity centre for children from disadvantaged communities and supported a school (Aksharnandan Primary School) to improve its library facility.
Presently, with the help of different NGOs and research organisations, this group is facilitating children understand and develop a scientific temperament. In next two years, fifty school children will be working with scientists on problems relevant to their lives.
While each of the groups work under the Prayas umbrella, they function as individual set-ups. The budget and economics is managed centrally but the individual groups have the freedom to manage their respective grants. Currently 28 members, including the support staff, are working under this banner. Prayas has come a long way since its inception and overcome initial problems like data availability. "But one problem persists," insists Girish Sant. "And that is of dedicated manpower. We need professionals who want to contribute to social betterment and are willing to stay out of the commercial circuit. Such people are needed in all infrastructure sectors," he concludes.
Rasika Dhavse is a Pune-based freelance writer.Publications Health