Negotiating Routes – Part IV

The Negotiating Routes project invites artists, artists groups and/or professionals to propose projects which are site-specific and have an inter-disciplinary approach. The projects combines research and art making by artists and local communities which addresses the visible and invisible transformations currently taking place in their immediate environments. The project will encourage the archiving of local knowledge and mythologies about various ecologies like the flora, fauna, home remedies, stories and folklores, whilst also facilitating a dialogue between the artist and the community through a specific action or project.

Now in its fourth year Negotiating Routes hopes to map the various project sites across the country to create an alternative road map, where artists and communities have come together and been involved in discussions about the regeneration of the local ecology of the cities or villages that they inhabit. Using the nomenclature of the National Highway or NH1, each site ironically named NR1, NR2, will form the nodal points of this alternative mapping as they connect to each other metaphorically; it is a route, marked by art, where transference and exchange of knowledge has taken place.

NR 12: Hamari Nag River
Alagangle (Tanul Vikamshi, Milli Pandey and Lalit Vikamshi)

The story of the Nag river is not different from the story of any other river of India: it is severely polluted due to irresponsible attitudes and gross mismanagement. As per the urban river health assessment studies, many cities of India are classic examples of river mismanagement.

The Nag River flows for most of its course through the urbanised part of Nagpur city with an approximate population of 2.5 million. The Nag river eco-system is under maximum stress, due to the social and economic activities carried out by people from a cross section of backgrounds with different land use patterns. The occupational and domestic activities in various households invariably result in the production of liquid, solid and gaseous wastes of various types and quantities that subsequently find their way into the river. It is assumed that within the next few decades more than 50% of India’s population will be living in urban areas. The quality of life for the majority of India’s population depends on the existing environment within the cities. It is estimated that 75% of pollution loads of rivers in India is due to urban wastewater. Today 100% of Nagpur sewage is pumped into the Nag River and tributaries of this river crisscross the city. The city had a large number of old wells which throughout time have fallen into disuse. Additionally, all the wells in the proximity of the Nag River are polluted. During the planning and development of Nagpur city insufficient consideration was given to natural conditions such as topography, geology, water regime, climate, vegetation etc. Rivers were canalised and then converted into sewers, often as a result of unthoughtful planning.

There is an urgent need for the rejuvenation of the decaying Nag River and for the correct disposal of all  sewage generated in the city. The National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI) has developed a new technology called Phytorid Waste Water Treatment, which can potentially be used to treat sections of the Nag river. With this technology the Nag River’s sewage water may be treated and greenery could also be developed along the river.

This project proposes to do this in conjuction with NEERI over a 500 metre stretch of the river. Simultaneously, Alagangle proposes to develop a series of programs (talks, seminars, workshops, mural paintings, signage creation etc) that involve the local community, particularly school children, in order to spread awareness about not only the pollution in the river, but also preventative measures and possible solutions to the existing damage.

NR 12: Reconciling Ecologies of the Millennium City
Alex White-Mazzarella, Namrata Mehta and Soaib Grewal

Reconciling Ecologies in the Millenium City is a collective project aimed at engaging communities to recognise their agricultural ecology and create opportunities for its re-inclusion. Over the last decade private developers and marketing forces have been fabricating a city in the farm suburb of Gurgaon. Through the economic liberalisation of Gurgaon’s land and ripe real estate demand, fertile agricultural land has given way to commercial and residential complexes through a speculative process of land selling, buying and transformation.

In just five years time the Millenium City has risen; shopping malls, golf courses, luxury shops, gated housing complexes and a new population of workers and residents on land that used to be home to wheat, mustard seeds, barley and sugarcane for hundreds of years. Approximately 40% of Gurgaon’s agricultural land has been lost in these past five years. Officials fear that a continuation of these unchecked land developments will leave Gurgaon without any agricultural land in 10 years time. Little attention is being paid to this agricultural loss in the face of Gurgaon’s burgeoning formula for materialising a new and novel, magical utopian lifestyle.The allure to seemingly create a city of wealth overnight and live a ‘comfortable’ life is making the Millenium City an exciting ‘new’ model for India’s future city. Similar rural and agricultural lands are being targeted, acquired and speculated on, to house an increasing urban population and to feed those dying to live and experience a western consumer-based lifestyle.

Gurgaon is serving as the way forward and being copied elsewhere, but individuals and groups are already questioning the Millenium City, its viability beyond the short-term boom, its environmental sustainability and cultural sustainability. Citizens groups like I am Gurgaon are acting as activists and participants in community building and outreach, as they search for a new collective social identity; these are now coming of age signs of the liberal middle class. Other individuals are taking on the challenge of replacing the agricultural economies of the recent past, with new consumer driven models such as organic farming and even privately owned farms for personal consumption.

This project will investigate how agriculture is re-formatting itself to adapt to Gurgaon’s transforming built environment and also to test notions of how Gurgaon’s natural ecology can be regenerated. Central questions revolve around the relationship between sustainability and speculation as seen through the urban development of Gurgaon.

NR 12: Revisiting the Chipko Andolan
Sunandita Mehrotra(Ita)

The Chipko Andolan began in the early 1970s in the Garwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, as a novel way of protesting against the felling of trees. What is unique about Chipko Andolan is not only its mode of resistance, but also that it was born primarily out of protest by those who lived off the forest, for whom the falling of trees meant the loss of livelihoods. From here it has gone on to become a rallying point for environmentalists and eco-socialists the world over. When it started, organised movements in remote and cut-off areas such as these, were few and far between; primarily however, the Chipko Andolan is recognizably as a movement where women have played a key role and is a movement that has gone on to address a range of issues from deforestation to alcoholism.

Today there are hundreds of environmental organisations and the state holds conservation as a main priority, there are laws and stay orders continuously being passed to maintain the ecological balance, Uttarakhand however has seen an increasing amount of forest depletion, some for creating public assets like road ways, others by private companies or housing projects. This not only means a loss of forests and livelihoods but also the local biodiversity which was originally extremely rich. The educational system does not take into account the wealth of local histories, stories, experiences and environment, even the basic achievements of the Chipko movement are lost to the youth in the fast urbanising culture of today. Yet simultaneously, the movement has given birth to seed conservation programs such as the Beej Bachao Andolan, which has preserved over a hundred varieties of Rajma varieties amongst countless others.

The women who began the movement are still there, just as strong and inspiring, full of the stories, folk songs and slogans which carried them forward. There is an urgent need to piece together the wealth of experiences and histories of these villages where the movement emerged and to create educational resource material, which can continue to shape an understanding of the environments within and outside the region; this project aims to work with communities in three villages in Tehri Gharwal, in order to “document” (so to speak) how the movement began and how it continues to evolve.

NR 12: Ecologies of the Excess
Naveen Mahantesh, Ankit Bhargava and Srajana Kaikini

The project concentrates on formulating a database of questions concerning the contemporary ecologies of excess. It tries to understand the narratives, loops, holes of ‘excess’ that the human society releases on a day to day basis. An analysis is being drawn through an understanding of the urban narrative and the rural narrative.

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