THE C-DOT EXPERIENCE - a two day seminar held at IIT Delhi during 21-22 April 1990.
The "C-DoT issue" has been the focus of attention in the media and amongst S&T personnel in recent times. What appeared initially to be a" clash between two powerful personalities with clear political overtones soon took on deeper and wider implications for our entire S&T scene. The "C-DoT issue" has pushed the vital question of indigenous technology development to the forefront as has perhaps never happened in recent times. If nothing else, it has caused our S&T community to seek and find forums to voice its concerns on issues that directly affect it. An example of this was the highly publicised 2-day national seminar on "the C-DoT Experience" held at IIT Delhi during 21-22 April last (A smaller meeting on this topic was also held in Madras on 5th April addressed by leading members of various Engineering Education and R&D organisations in Madras. This meeting passed a resolution appealing to the Prime Minister to intervene and 'save' the C-DoT experiment from extinction). The participants in the Delhi seminar were experts from academic institutions, from the profession of telecommunications, the industry, the Dept of Electronics etc., besides representatives of manufacturers and vendors of telecommunication equipment. Such a seminar on a currently controversial topic being held at a premier institution in the capital naturally attracted considerable attention.
The Seminar had the following sessions: National Telecom Plan and the C-DoT Experience, Views of Vendors and Manufacturers who had interacted with C-DoT, Alternate Switching Technologies, and Future Trends in Switching Technology. There was also a panel discussion on "Problems of Indigenization". The papers presented and the discussions that took place brought out many facts and figures pertaining to the formulation and implementation of the National Telecom Plan and were generally very informative. The seminar concluded with two sets of recommendations: one pertaining specifically to the C-DoT case, and the other to the general question of Technology Choice. These are summarized and commented upon below:
(a) Recommendation on C-DoT
The overwhelming concensus among the participants was in support of C-DoT as a successful example of national R&D effort. That it has created for its engineers a work culture conducive to indigenous R&D development was appreciated, and the seminar strongly recommended that the morale of the C-DoT engineers should be restored to its original pristine condition. There was consensus on the point that there was no need for any import of switching technology or design to meet our needs as envisaged in the national telecom plan. C-DoT's design and the existing E-10B design with the ITI can meet about 95% of the country's needs in the near future. Regarding the criticism of time-overrun, it was felt that it was not a very serious matter, and was in any case less than what has been experienced with similar projects within the country as well as abroad. As far as criticisms about the C-DoT switch not meeting the initial specifications are concerned, the seminar concluded that the original design specifications were often unrealistically high even compared with what was available in the international market.
Coming from an august gathering of 'neutral' experts in various areas, these recommendations do not make a totally satisfying picture. The picture that emerges is rather of a feverish attempt atjsomehow "coming to the rescue of the beleaguered C-DoT". It is as though the seminar felt that this is no time to go into the depth of various issues involved in the totality of the situation; the overwhelming urge seems to have been to rally around in total and unconditional defense of C-DoT in its struggle against its detractors. For example, it is widely known that the target specifications are, as a practice, almost always pegged to the maximum ideal in all the indigenous R&D efforts. It* should have been the job of such a seminar to question such a practice and expose the compulsions that force such a practice. It could have demanded much higher openness in such an important aspect that affect all indigenous R&D efforts. Similarly, though the C-DoT MAX switch is an important component of the telecom network, it is however not everything. The silence on the part of C-DoT as far as the indigenisation effort in other telecom network components should have been a matter of discussion in this seminar. It was also necessary to bring out and discuss the contribution of other agencies and groups in promoting indigenous development of telecom networks, and their relationship vis-a-vis C-DoT. let also does not appear that there was adequate understanding and appreciation of those aspects of its internal functioning that has enabled the C-DoT to create and maintain the enthusiasm of its engineers.
(b) Recommendations on the larger question of technology choice
On the larger question of technology choice and indigenous technology development, the seminar categorically recommended: "it is necessary to recast technology policy in such a way that indigenous technology development will be supported (by politicians and beaurocrats) as a routine and not as a favour dependent on the predilections of the top administration". Other recommendations include (a) the necessity to waive normal rules and regulations of the government for indigenous effort (b) the need to carefully nurture and monitor technology development (c) the need to allow "handpicking" - of talented youths and to provide them special encouragement and freedom to give off their best, and (d) the need to keep the specifications to the minimum usable rather than to the maximum ideal and to avoid over specifying.
Coming from people belonging to the highest levels of our S&T establishment the above recommendations are quite dismaying. It has long been the habit with our S&T community to state that it is our politicians and beaurocrats who are to blame for the sorry state of our S&T activity. Whatever might have been the merits of such a position some time ago, there is no doubt that it is certainly not any more tenable. For one thing, most of the decisions relating to the planning and running of our S&T set up are taken by the scientists themselves, or by beaurocrats on the advice of scientists. It is therefore incorrect to point the fingers only at politicians and beaurocrats. Secondly, the track-record of our S&T community does not at all show that their commitment to indigenous development is any stronger than those of the politicians and the beaurocrats. It would not wash much for us to take a posture of self-righteousness and moral superiority on this question. Rather than keep accusing others, it is time that we as a community showed the courage and frankness in owning up our share of responsibility for the current mess and come forward to set things right. The recommendation that those who are involved in successful indigenous technology development work be allowed to side step the government rules and regulations, indeed make pathetic reading. Surely, why keep those rules and regulations that should necessarily be "waived" if successful in-digenous development has to take place? For whom are they meant, and for what purpose? Should it not be the task of a gathering like this to insist that all rules and regulations must be for the support of indigenous technology development? Or, is indigenous technology development still being viewed as a curiosity, much like the appropriate technologies of yesteryears, that should be "permitted" to go on in the periphery, with some 5-10% of the budget allotted to it? If nothing else, there is something even strongly unethical about the request for 'waiver'. A similar situation also obtains when one comes to the recommendation concerning the need to "handpick" talents. What is implied perhaps is that the prevalent rules and procedures for recruitment of engineers etc., do not ensure that the best are taken. Surely this needs to be discussed and suitable rules and procedures of recruitment evolved that overcome this difficulty? Should this not be attended to instead of asking for one more 'waiver'? If a gathering such as this does not address itself to such tasks, who else will?
It is not the intention here to find fault with those particular individuals who constituted the gathering in this seminar. It is rather a reflection of the fact that we as a community are yet to come to grips fully with all the issues that are involved in the question of indigenous technology development. This situation however seems to be fast changing, and the very fact that a meeting like this took place, and S&T personnel frankly and fearlessly expressed their views on a highly controversial topic, is. itself very hopeful pointer. The organisors of this seminar should be congratulated for it, and it is hoped that they would keep up this practice on other similar issues that are of vital importance to the future of S&T development in our country. '
Indian Society of Agronomy organized an International symposium on Natural Resource Management for a Sustainable Agriculture during February 6-10, 1990 at New Delhi.
As a part of this symposium, a joint workshop was organized supported by the Center for Management in Agriculture and the Indian Society of Agronomy on February 9/ 1990. Papers were invited from community of international scholars, practitioners in voluntary organizations and innovative farmers on following themes:
1. Characterization of Environment
2. On-Farm Research
3. Risk Adjustment Strategies
4. Farmers' Experimentation and Traditional Wisdom and
5. Crop-Livestock Interaction in Farming System perspective.
One hundred and thirty six contributions were received including 74 full papers from 20 countries including India. It was the first time that an international meeting of biological scientists had allocated one full day for learning from the farmers' experiences. Earlier, the International Congress on Plant Physiology had included a session on Farmers' knowledge and Risk Adjustment in its Congress in February 1988. Later the Third International Rangeland Congress had also included a symposium on Eco-Sociology of Range Resources: Getting People Involved, during November 1988 at New Delhi. All the three meetings were coordinated by Prof. Anil K. Gupta.
The plenary session chaired by Dr.Y.P.Singh and Prof.Anil K.Gupta included five key-note lectures. Dr.Y.P.Singh recalled the long tradition of studies on Farmers' Wisdom in India and suggested setting up an Indian Center for Documentation and Experimentation on Indigenous Knowledge for Agricultural and Rural Development. He felt that close collaboration between farmers and the scientists would definitely influence the agenda of research and development of sustainable technologies. He recalled how when he had guided two of the earlier thesis on Indigenous Knowledge of Animal- Husbandry his students faced problems in getting the degrees. The elite of extension scientists at that time did not consider learning from farmers as the proper focus of extension sciences.
Shri Dharampal traced the issue of sustainable agriculture by looking at a survey of about 2000 villages pursued in Chinglepet district near Madras around 1770 by a British Engineer, Thomas Barnard. This was perhaps the first symmetric survey of productivity ever done in such a greater detail anywhere. The productivity during 1762-66 turned out to be about 36 quintal ha. of paddy and 16 quintal/ha of dry grains in an area of about of 34,000 ha. of irrigated paddy and about 14,000 ha. of unirrigated grains. About 26,000 cultivators and non-cultivators inhabited this area and average annual productivity of food grains per household was in the range of 57 quintals. Out of 800 villages for which data was analyzed, there were many villages where productivity of paddy was 10 tons ha. something that modern science and technology is yet to achieve even on the experimental station with best of the inputs. He also recalled that yields obtained in India in the late 18th and early 19th century seemed higher than the yield obtained in England in the last decades of 19th century after the discovery of the role of nitrogen in plant growth. The English farmers had started using after 1840, heavy dose of fertilizers including potash from mines of Germany, basic slag from the fast growing British Steel Works and millions of tons of guano, i.e., birds droppings, imported from Peru. The high yields of Indian peasants, Dharampal added, could not have been the result of merely the fortuitous fertility of the lands they chose to cultivate. He argued that the sophistication of the technology inherent in the resource practice and culture deserve to be properly analyzed. He also recalled how Alexander Walker had noted the superiority of the drill plough used in Indian fields in 1795 and con-sidered it to have been better than anything available in England for that purpose. He decried the tendency of Indian intellectuals and planners to rely on the imported technologies and solutions for the problem for which indigenous alternatives did exist at least in some cases. He said that knowledge was indeed global and good ideas must be accepted from wherever they were available. The British had borrowed techniques of manufacturing high grade steel and practice of plastic surgery from India in late 18th century. Sustainable agriculture, he argued, therefore did not preclude borrowing of new ideas as long as borrowing was discriminated and followed the analysis of indigenous knowledge and it’s potential.
Prof. Anil Gupta presented questions which he felt needed to be addressed by the agronomists. The discussion began with a need to look at household portfolios rather than any one activity if the rationality of decision making was to be properly understood. He suggested that longitudinal experiments were very necessary if search for sustainable alternatives had to proceed in a viable manner. It was regrettable that there were not many1 experiments in the country which were running for 30-40 years. He also regretted that number of post-graduate theses in the discipline of Agronomy during 1973-1983 ( were found to be highly biased towards inorganic fertilizer related trials and there were very few theses on conjunctive use of organic and inorganic nutrients. He regretted that scientists in developing countries did not give attention to some of the relevant concepts till they became popular in the West. One such concept was the tiers of technology approach vis-a-vis the package approach suggested by Dr.Krishnamurthy way back in early '70s. Only recently when the limitation of package approach to generation of technology began to be realized in West did we start giving attention to this idea. However, there is hesitation among Third World scholars themselves to draw inspiration from their own leaders in the field of science and technology, which is besides the systematic attempt in the Western writings to ignore Third World contributions. He suggested that concept of lateral learning was extremely important. Scientists could not become responsive to farmers if senior scientists were not responsive and accountable to junior scientists. The horizontal accountability between farmers and scientists therefore, could not exist without vertical accountability.
Prof. Gupta also emphasized the need for doing research on Common Property Resource problems. The excessive emphasis on individual oriented technological alternatives needed to be substituted by group oriented technologies.
The session on Farmer's Experimentation and Traditional Wisdom was extremely lively primarily because of excellent review presented by both the discussants namely Dr.N.K-Sanghi and Mr.Rakesh Basant.
Several issues were raised regarding documentation of farmers' wisdom. Whether one should document all the practices should the specific local practices be compared with the recommended ones should practices on specific aspects such as soil and water conservation be studied separately whether practices which have been evolved to mitigate a particular problem should be documented or should the practices which have evolved to adapt or assimilate external technological interventions be documented separately? How should the socio-cultural context of the knowledge be studied and what priority should be used while studying local knowledge.
Further, Dr.Sanghi asked, should one look at the traditional knowledge only when the modern knowledge fails? The climatic parameters needed to be properly documented and explained while describing farmers' innovative practices. The lack of diffusion of some of these practices could be because the practices were extremely location specific. Further there were links between agro-mechanical and bio-chemical practices which in isolation would not make sense.
Rakesh Basant gave examples from the papers where traditional practices differed from the modern ones in the sense that these involved narrow adaptation, narrow spacing in cereals and wide spacing in groundnut, mix cropping systems, broadcast seeding method in high rainfed areas and sowing with pre-monsoon rains. Out of 36 papers, 22 provided examples of traditional wisdom, six provided new innovations including two by the farmers, four dealt with conceptual aspects and remaining four dealt with miscellaneous issues. Several examples of innovative practices were given besides indigenous classification of soil. The issue was raised that local classification of soils seemed more detailed and could form a reasonable basis for communicating with farmers and targeting of technologies. The local varieties were suitable for different land types and .generally far more diverse in the regions where moisture regime was of longer duration and the pattern implied rethinking of the breeding objectives. While reviewing the studies on traditional technologies for soil conservation it was noted that farmer participation in the recommended technology was poor. A question was raised whether one should re-market the traditional technologies. Also why were not the traditional technologies spreading on their own? In the context of traditional technologies for water harvesting question was raised about the approaches for arresting the deterioration in the indigenous tank system.
Finally several proposals were made. For instance, should we have a National Bureau of Traditional Wisdom, how should the scientific principles underlying the traditional wisdom be isolated, to what extent and which of the traditional technologies were compatible with the modern technologies, what were the factors responsible for localized nature of some of the technologies, how could these practices be transferred to other areas and what were the processes required for promotion of informal research and development by the farmers.
Dr. Bandyopadhyay from Indian Statistical Institute reviewed the papers on Risk. He enumerated various factors identified by different authors such as risk covers technology being responsive to! farmer participation (Chaves), evolution of farmer practices primarily as an adjustment to risk (Ligue), need for providing food round the year (Bandhopadhyay,. Bagchi and others). Padaria and Singh examined 38 in-digenous practices for absorption and conservation of rainwater, crop production and plant protection measures and got them rated by the agricultural scientists in terms of their .rational justification.
Several suggestions were made for pursuing in-depth studies of risk adjustment. What should be the appropriate unit of risk adjustment studies- a household, village community or neighbourhood level or micro-watershed level how to identify networks of reciprocity or boundaries of flows of knowledge, resource, power and influence with' regard to resource risk penetration of externalities what should be the scope and approach of using qualitative methods having the precision, validity and reliability generally identified with qualitative methods? And finally how should one inter relate environment (a total entity) with favorability or differential advantages that different classes of households had within a village environment.
A suggestion was made that a newsletter to bring out the wisdom of local innovation and risk adjustment be brought out by Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) or other some such organization bringing together conceptual, methodological, empirical and ethical concerns.
Several recommendations were made such as (a) there was a need to set up a National Center for Documentation and Experimentation of Indigenous Knowledge. Such a Center should also generate dialogues between the scientists and farmers; (b) the study of risk adjustment and characterization of environment should become part of the methodology of on-farm research, a working group may be set up by ICAR to develop the guidelines for this purpose; (c) watershed projects may be used as the on-farm research site for a whole range of technologies including agro-industrial technologies; (d) long range experiments for understanding the socio ecological interactions need to be taken up; (e) the preliminary inventory of innovations prepared by Prof.Gupta and his colleagues at the Center for Management in Agriculture at IIM, Ahemedabad could be taken up for further elaboration, modification and experimentation; (f) special purpose workshops for example, on on-farm research, crop-livestock interactions, characterization of environment, risk adjustment etc, may be organized building upon peasant innovations.
It is obvious that a workshop of this nature can only achieve the major purpose of generating wider consciousness. Insofar as detailed and critical scrutiny of idea is concerned we will need to organize special purpose small sized gatherings. The fact that biological scientists have taken far greater interest in the subject than the social scientists is a development -which might bring out significant changes in future re-search strategies. It is no more an argument that farmers' knowledge needs to be built upon while developing new technologies. The issue is to develop complimentary relationships and recognize that knowledge rich farmers cannot be called resource poor unless one considered knowledge was not a resource.
It has also to be underlined that ethical aspects of scientific responsibility while dealing with peasant knowledge have not received adequate attention. The dominance of Western paradigms and sustained neglect of Third World contributions by many Western scholars raises an ironical situation: could those who are not able to acknowledge the contribution of less powerful scientists, ever develop institutions for participation of powerless, disadvantaged farming households? Where rhetoric should give way to reasoned arguments and collegial scholarship, is an area of future dialogue not only between scientists but also between scientists and farmers.
Author:Prof. Anil K.Gupta.