Pune: Environmentalists and social activists are often perceived as people who are perpetually in opposition to projects without offering alternative solutions. However, an initiative started by city-based NGO Kalpavriksh may emerge as a forum that documents and collates some alternative solutions being attempted at the grassroots.
There are alternative ways of meeting human needs and aspirations, without harming the earth. Across India, a multitude of grassroots and policy initiatives are demonstrating this, said Ashish Kothari, a member of Kalpvriksh.
“Unfortunately most of these initiatives are not documented. Even with initiatives that are documented, the stories are all scattered. Overall there is very little information available,” Kothari said.
Once the idea of putting these stories together was formulated, other NGOs came on board and the website — vikalpsangam.org — was launched three weeks ago.
“For three months, we looked for stories that could go on the site. Some articles were written specifically for the website while others were gathered from various sources,” he said.
He said that there are two main reasons for putting these stories up. Some projects, particularly those that involve technology, can be replicated elsewhere. Thus an effort has been taken to put up the contact details of the NGO or group running the project. The second reason is to inspire others.
All the information on the site is at present available in English, Hindi and Tamil. In due course, Kothari hopes that it will be available in about 15 Indian languages.
On being asked how the team will ensure that the stories being contributed are genuine cases and don’t just exist on paper, Kothari said that efforts are made to crosscheck the claims in the articles through other NGOs working in the area.
“The ultimate aim is to ensure a peer monitoring system. If any initiative shows up on the site that is not really present on the ground or is only reaching out to a few elite, other NGOs working in the area will be able to point it out. If we can create an entire network, it should work well,” he said.
The system is already running. On one of the stories featured on the website, a reader sent an update pointing out that the initiative had grown further in the few years since the article had been written. Kothari said that an attempt will be made to update the contents on the site over a period of time.
There are four main features about the initiatives featured on the site. Projects that demonstrate ecological sustainability or social well being and justice are of course welcomed. But some initiatives have also demonstrated the democratic process in operation at the grassroots.
Some encourage direct democracy where decision-making starts at the smallest unit of human settlement while others have shown economic democracy – in which local communities have taken control of the means of production, distribution or markets, Kothari said.
All of the projects featured on the site are mapped on the website and users can also see them region wise.
First published in Times of India