A few months ago, a friend recommended the book 'Small is Beautiful' by E.F. Schumacher. This book lives up to its name as it is a small book of 250 pages and it suited me fine as I am generally a lazy and slow reader.
Though the book was written more than 30 years ago, the ideas are still relevant. I would say they are more relevant now than ever. It links human behaviour and economics and puts people at the forefront of development. Though progress and development are meant for people, most of the huge development programs that we generally know of somehow miss the human aspect. A classic example is the surge of many unnecessary flyovers in Bangalore, most of which have no provision for people to cross the road. Also, I haven't come across anyone who is happy to be working in such projects either.
The author talks about the use of simple 'Intermediate technology' which is not only less expensive, but also easy to train and control. I could see this in action as I saw a few people make a stone path in Sarmoli village in Munsiyari. The people cut stones that are locally available and laid them out using their hands and simple tools. They seemed satisfied with their work and happily posed for photographs. The other important thing is the ease of taking in feedback and suggestions from locals, on the go. In this case, the local who was accompanying me told them that the stone path is better than the cement one since the stone path provides a better grip especially when there is snow. Whether the suggestion will be implemented or not is secondary, but the ease of providing feedback is nothing compared to the complexity and bureaucracy involved in the massive projects in cities.
I had the same feeling when I visited a couple of micro hydro power projects and water mills which are built almost entirely from locally available materials. Unfortunately, some of these have begun to shutdown as huge hydro power projects are making their way into these serene places and their impact is already visible through many landslides in the area.
Which brings me to the concept of Buddhist Economics which has simplicity and non-violence as its base. The author makes a reference to 'The Middle way' by saying "It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them." Which translates to achievement of maximum well-being with the minimum of consumption, i.e., small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results. A demonstration of this principle could be seen in the little village of Paton (Munsiyari, Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand) which I was fortunate enough to visit (thanks to Malika for forcing me to go on the trip and Ram for guiding us). The village is off-grid, yet, as Ram noted and I couldn't agree more, people have light, can charge their mobiles and watch their favourite TV serials - all powered by solar energy!