Languishing in the cans

MANY GOVERNMENT agencies commission films with alacrity, but as few of these get disseminated systematically, their message rarely gets through. One such agency is the Council for the Promotion of Advancement in Technology (CAPART), which, in the past couple of years, has been making films of two kinds: records of successful projects undertaken with CAPART assistance, and films about government schemes, aimed at implementing agencies. As far as one can make out, films in neither category have been systematically shown to their target groups, for the CAPART authorities couldn't even locate two of the four films that have been made so far.

Helping artisans Rural Artisans -- Traditional Skills, New Technologies, which has been made for CAPART by K Bikram Singh, is aimed at explaining a Central government scheme that provides improved tools to district implementing agencies for distribution to artisans. It is likely to be of interest to agencies, both voluntary and state-funded, which are working with artisans. There are eight million such traditional craftsmen in the country whose village markets are threatened by the plastic invasion, and industrialisation in general. What can be done to enable them to survive?

The challenge, as the film explains, is to turn the artisans into small-scale entrepreneurs by improving their skills and upgrading the tools they use. They need design, capital and innovative tools, and the scheme offers a 90 per cent subsidy. The film does the rounds of the design and training centres in the country where different crafts are being tackled. Among the centres covered are the Khadi and Village Industries design centres, a district industries centre at Alwar, the leather improvement and design efforts at Tilonia near Ajmer, and the Gramoday Sangh at Bhadravati in Chandrapur district where traditional potters are trained in making new products, using improved kilns and wheels. They are also taught new kinds of glazes and one of their innovative achievements is a terracotta biogas burner and chulha.
Overview film Rural Artisans is an overview film, but what purpose it will serve languishing in the CAPART headquarters is not clear because there has been no effort so far to show it to anyone.

The second film, The Greening of Kutch, is a good news film in Hindi, which has been produced and directed by Sushila Bhatia. It records the impact of the water conservation project implemented with the help of CAPART by the Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI) in the Kutch region (Down To Earth, August 31, 1993). The film focusses on a part of Kutch where the water level has declined from 30 m to 20 m in the last 25 years. Add increasing salinity and small wonder then that a large number of youth have migrated to the cities from here.

The region was salvaged in just two years by the construction of a number of check dams and three percolation tanks to catch whatever rainwater the region received. Tubewells were also reactivated. The film captures beautifully the transformation of the arid landscape into acres of green.

Farmers who used to raise one crop with difficulty are now able to grow two. A man who did subsistence farming was now growing groundnut, sunflower and cotton. But the most heartwarming of the changes depicted in the film is that the children of farmers, who had taken up jobs in cities like Bombay, have come back to help their families. Among them is Vijay Shah, a B Com graduate who was self-employed in Bombay, but came back to Kutch to experiment with drip irrigation.

The message gets across: A properly designed and executed water conservation project can not only halt desertification, but also make agriculture in the region prosper.