Category Archives: Go Green

Who owns the land?

There are certain questions that evade clear answers; the question of the ownership of land is a similar one. Land is a part of the natural resources of the category of water and air, both of which don’t have clearly marked ownership. It is because of this ambiguity that different civilizations have looked at land in different manners. Some provided certain individuals with absolute private proprietorship rights while others kept the rights fluid. The Indian civilization belongs to the latter category.

There was a never a clear idea of the land being a private property in India. However there were certain theoretical notions about the sacrality and divine ownership of land which were sometimes different from ground realities.

The theoretical aspects of the land ownership involved the divine attributions and the kingly supervision on the basis of divine rhetoric of kingship. Through ancient and medieval ages in the Indian history these notions have time and again propped up. It can be safely said though, that whenever there was a centralised rule the theoretical aspect of king being the caretaker of the land on behalf of the Almighty was asserted. During times of decentralization this notion couldn’t have been asserted. However even during the times when divine authority over land was expounded, the practical realities remained different. The peasant or the local land tiller and holder on the ground exercised more immediate proprietary rights. However absolute proprietorship did not rest with any authority. The peasant held the land on the ground, the king held the right to extract revenue due to his divine association and due to the fact that he provided protection to the given piece of land.


source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

Ancient Period

For ancient India nature of land use has been divided into three types by scholars:

  1. The land being owned by the sovereign
  2. The land being communally owned by the village, these later developed as feudal centres
  3. The land being owned by the peasant

None of these however were applied exclusively to a piece of land and the major phenomenon was the King regulating and governing the land which was essentially under peasant proprietorship.

A brief look at the role of the ruler in managing the land would be helpful. In ancient India it was understood that the king had the right to confiscate and to transfer land from one person to another. This understanding is supported by a quote from the Arthashastra, which says ‘lands may be confiscated from those who do not cultivate them, and given to others’. In fact in the absence of the owner of land it went to the King. These two things can be used to conclude that the King is only the in-charge as long as there is no claimant to the land and that the propriety rights rested at local level. Junnar inscriptions has example of private transfers of land owned by individual proprietors

Counter to this narrative there is another interesting aspect that has been reported in Mimasa texts of ancient times. There the question ‘What can a man legally give as his own?’ comes up to which the answer is given that Land can not be transferred, for it belongs equally to all and men enjoy lordship over the fields but not the whole earth. The aspect of divine right  and protective custody over the land also can be made out from a reference in the Narasihtha Purana which states, ‘By conquest, the earth became the property of the holy Parasurama; by gift, the property of the sage Kasyapa; and committed by him to Ksatriyas for the sake of protection’.

Both the trends of thought, on suggesting divine authority over land and the other suggesting private proprietorship existed in ancient India. The King was allowed to manage and extract revenue by the virtue of him protecting the domain.


 Medieval Period

 In the Medieval period the theoretical aspect of divine attribute of land and king’s right to manage and protect it was properly formalised. Bernier and certain other European travellers call the king, the owner of the land, which is a wrongly placed notion, coming up due to their European understanding of land ownership. The Mughal Emperor was not the owner of the land but merely an in-charge. The European travellers misunderstood the Indian land system as they understood it to be like European feudal system where lord had absolute proprietorship rights.  The land in medieval Indian understanding truly belonged to God. The King didn’t take a rent on land from the people instead he took a tax on the crop. According to Abul Fazl, he did so only as remuneration for his services of providing protection and justice to the subjects. The concept of rent on an owned entity was completely absent in Indian scenario as was the case with the feudal Europe. The absence of any absolute authority over land can be made out from the fact that there was provision known as ihya land which was a piece of unclaimed fallow land which became the domain of anyone who cultivated it.


Having established this the ground realities were slightly different and despite his justified claims over the tax which made him de facto manager of the land of his domain, the king dare not disturb the local potentates who commanded ground level authority. Thus we see that it was more often than not that the local zamindars with roots and links with the peasants and workers on ground were incorporated in state machinery. Rajputs were not shifted from their homelands when they were inducted in the government services and were mostly assigned lands in their ancestral areas. The workers at the immediate ground level, muqaddams (village headmen) and patwaris (village accountant) were not state appointed but locally chosen. The local potentates like zamindars could even sell their zamindari rights. The same cannot be said about Iqta or Jagirdari rights, which bestowed economic and administrative authority over a piece of land given to a noble by the Emperor for a limited time.  In fact the developed system of Iqta or Jagirdari land grants had an inherent element of shifting where the authority over the resources of these lands was subjective to the King’s will.


Thus in Medieval era too there were notions of divinity associated with land and similarly there were certain proprietorship rights that could be exercised by private individuals on ground.


 Colonial Period

 This ancient and medieval understanding of land ownership changed with the coming of the colonizers. The British drastically changed the way of looking at land which till now was as an entity with fluid proprietorship with divine attributes and multiple claimants. They had the concept of feudal ownership in their minds where the feudal lord was considered the ultimate authority over land. And having seen that system they understood the Indian subcontinent’s land tenure to be of the same nature, and thus they claimed rent from the land and not taxes. The rent presupposes the notion of absolute ownership. On their arrival to the Indian subcontinent they couldn’t really identify the owner of land and the first thing they did was to assign an absolute owner of land and then extract the revenue. They auctioned the land on the basis of who can make the payment of revenue to the British government. Their extraction from the land became rigorous by the day because of the colonial parasitic nature.

The coming of concepts of western modernity where the state was supposed to be completely divorced from religious elements discounted all the notions of the divinity of land and it solely became a property of the private individuals. It is a version of this idea of land ownership that has come down to present.

Thus it can be said that the pre-modern concepts of ownership of land, did not divorce the land from the divine attribute that it had because of it being a natural and not a man-made entity. With the coming of the  ideas of western modernity to the Indian subcontinent in the form of colonial hegemony, the land now developed the nature of a property completely alienable,  devoid of its sacred nature.



The Biggest Misconception About Birds. Where do birds sleep?

52176f5948168bbefcb98010ff5e71baWhen I talk to people about birds, one misunderstanding comes up again and again, one thing that everyone seems to get wrong. Not dumb people, either. Dumb people get a lot of things wrong. These people think of themselves as smart people, and by and large, they are. Th2c2fc5a6a030ed8830cfad2c3efcbfbcey’re just not bird people.

What is this avian misconception? I hope you’re sitting down because here it is: Birds don’t sleep in their nests.

They don’t. The mental image is a cute one—a little bird, tuckered out after an early morning of worm-getting, peeling back a tiny leaf blanket in its cozy little nest—but it’s just not the case. Nests (for birds that even make nests—many of them don’t) are for keeping eggs and chicks in place. When nesting season is over, nests are a mess—splattered in the droppings of the fledglings and, in some cases, a dead chick. These messes can attract parasites and predators, and birds just don’t need the nests anymore.

So where do birds sleep? Lots of places. When birds settle down to sleep, it’s called “roosting,” and the main things they’re looking for are safety and warmth. Songbirds have to keep off the ground to avoid cats and things, and out of the open to avoid owls. Dense brush or foliage does fine. Bigger birds have more options and can sleep on the water, on a branch, or even just right on the ground.

Few roosts are completely safe, though, so some birds have developed the ability to literally sleep with one eye open. The eyes of most birds (unlike in humabird001ns) send information to only one side of the mind. Unihemispheric slow-wave sleep allows birds to slide one hemisphere of their mind into a deep sleep while leaving the other hemisphere awake and alert. Birds can turn USWS on and off depending on how safe their roost is: For example, when a large flock of ducks is roosting on an open lake, the birds in the safety of the center of the flock may shut down completely, while the more vulnerable birds at the edge of the flock may enter USWS to stay alert. What’s more, scientists suspect that some birds use USWS to sleep while in flight.

OK, so birds don’t sleep in their nests. Let’s get more specific than that. There are a lot of different kinds of birds, and they roost in different ways. So you’ll be able to really dazzle ‘em at your next cocktail party, here’s how a bunch of different families of birds really do prefer to roost.

Geese and ducks. A coyote would love nothing more than to run up on a big, fat, delicious, sleeping goose. Their bigness and fatness, along with their webbed feet, make it impossible for waterfowl to sleep in the safety of a tree.

Gorgeous Rembrandt-Inspired Portraits of Women With Unusual Animals

Gorgeous Rembrandt-Inspired Portraits of Women With Unusual Animals

Most of the time, geese and ducks sleep at night right on the water. Eagles and hawks aren’t a threat because they also sleep during the night, and any predator swimming after the birds would send vibrations through the water, waking them up. Small islands work, too. Waterfowl also sleep on the shore, usually standing on one leg (tucking the other one up into the warmth of its feathers).

Baby Hawk

Baby Hawk

Herons and egrets. These big wading birds really have only equally large predators to worry about: alligators and eagles. Sometimes herons and egrets roost in the shallows, relying on vibrations in the water to warn them of reptiles, but they’re most often seen roosting in large flocks in waterside trees.

Shorebirds. Spending most of their time out on open beaches, birds like sandpipers and plovers are vulnerable to dive-bombing raptors even when they’re awake. Not being equipped to sit in trees or float on the water, sleeping is an even more dangerous proposition. Shorebirds simply do the best they can, roosting on open beaches in large flocks (to help raise alarm) and almost certainly using USWS to keep alert.

Hawks, eagles, and owls. You know that old joke about where the 800-pound gorilla can sit? Well hawks and eagles follow the same rule: anywhere they want to. ab84d3502acc3c58cbfe418f6024a601Big raptors don’t have to worry about predators so long as they’re off the ground, so they’ll usually just find a tree branch somewhere. Owls also sleep in trees, usually during the day, either in dense foliage (to keep the light out) or, for certain species, in tree cavities.9ca11edc69c5190774c98ff4842ec931

Grouse and quail. Sleep is perhaps most dangerous for these guys—all fat and juicy and, typically, with a poor ability to fly. Everything eats them. They sleep in the safest places they can find and use USWS and camouflage in their defense. Birds that live where there are trees, like spruce or ruffed grouse, will fly up and sleep on tree branches. Where there aren’t trees but only smaller vegetation, birds like willow ptarmigan will sleep in the vegetation. Where there’s nothing at all, no trees or bushes, say, and the land is covered in snow, birds like white-tailed ptarmigan will trust in their all-white plumage and nestle down right there in a snowy hillside.

Woodpeckers. Most woodpeckers roost in tree cavities, either ones they’ve used as nest holes or sometimes ones they’ve chiseled out just for sleeping. Lots of birds roost in tree cavities, or really any hole or covered area, for that matter. Humans have helped, creating lots of protected nooks under roofs, bridges, barns, and ledges.

Crows, swallows, swifts, starlings. These birds aren’t closely related, but they share some incredible communal roosting behaviors. Some species, for social or safety reasons or for warmth, choose to sleep together—sometimes in gigantic flocks. The spectacle of these flocks gathering at dusk is amazing to some people, eerie to others, but impossible to look away from. Check out these videos of hundreds of crows in Maryland, thousands and thousands of tree swallows in Florida, these chimney swifts wheeling into a middle school in Wisconsin.

Pretty much everything else. The bulk of the remaining birds—more than half of all bird species—are perching birds from the order Passeriformes. Classic bird-birds: sparrows, warblers, cardinals, jays, buntings, etc. For the most part, all these perching birds use dense vegetation—bushes, hedges, trees—to sleep. They just fly in at dusk, grab hold of an appropriately-sized twig, and conk out.

How do perching birds stay perched on their perch while they’re asleep, you might ask? Evolution, of course. Passerines have developed “flexor tendons” in their legs that involuntarily clasp shut when a bird squats on a perch. The tendons won’t relax until a bird straightens its leg, so a bird physically can’t leave until it’s ready. The grip is so tight that some birds, like this hummingbird, have been seen sleeping upside down. Looks plenty comfortable to me, and no nest required.


WarkaWater + Africa = Fresh Water


Only 34 percent of Ethiopians have access to a reliable water supply. The vast majority travels up to six hours a day to fetch some or, worse, resorts to using stagnant ponds contaminated by human waste, resulting in the spread of disease.

Worldwide, a whopping 768 million people — two and a half times the U.S. population — don’t have access to safe drinking water. So just imagine if we could just pull water out of thin air?

WarkaWater looks like it belongs in a modern art museum but actually serves to harvest water from the air.

That’s what Vittori and Vogler asked once they saw the magnitude of problem and vowed to take action. Their firm, Architecture and Vision, has since come up with WarkaWater, a majestic palm-like structure that may look like something you’d see in a modern art museum but it’s been designed to harvest water from the air.

WarkaWater, which is named after an Ethiopian fig tree, is composed of a 30-foot bamboo frame containing a fog-harvesting nylon net that can be easily lowered for repairs and to allow communities to measure the water level.

Collecting water through condensation is hardly a new technique, but the creators of WarkaWater say their tree-inspired design is more effective, maximizing surface and optimizing every angle to produce up to 26 gallons of drinkable water a day — enough for a family of seven.

Only 34 percent of Ethiopians have access to a reliable water supply.

Western NGOs have been working to provide clean water access in Africa for decades, so WarkaWater joins a very long list of earlier attempts. So far, high-tech solutions, like the once-promising Playpump (a hybrid merry-go-round water pump), have failed, mostly due to high costs and maintenance issues.

This is where WarkaWater stands apart — as a lower-tech solution that is easy to repair and far more affordable than digging wells in the rocky Ethiopian plateau.

Each water tower costs $550 — a Playpump is $14,000 — and its creators say the price will drop significantly if they start mass-producing it. The structure takes three days and six people to install and doesn’t call for any special machinery or scaffolding.

“Once locals have the necessary know-how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the WarkaWater towers,” says Vittori, who is already working on WarkaWater 2.0, an upgraded version that may include solar panels and LED bulbs to provide light after dark.

The firm is in the process of raising funds to begin installing towers in Ethiopia next year. And WarkaWater could also prove useful in other areas, like deserts, which have the critical feature for collecting condensation: a dramatic change in temperature between nightfall and daybreak.

This elegant invention may not solve all of the world’s water woes, but it could improve accessibility one drop at a time.

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