Founder Members

A Masters from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, Nivedita Banerji is the Secretary of SPS. Her gift for design has found expression in many of our endeavours – the innovative architecture of the buildings of the Baba Amte Centre for People’s Empowerment (a unique institution, located in the remote tribal hinterlands, dedicated to building capacities of rural development activists and government officials), our watershed training manuals and Kumbaya, the garment fabrication unit. The innovative architecture of SPS campuses, was imagined by Nivedita to harmonize with the magnificence of the landscape, whose colours dissolve from rugged ochre to verdant green through the seasons. The domes, vaults, and arches reflect the undulations of nature. Under Nivedita’s leadership, Kumbaya has empowered women from one of the most deprived areas of the country by creating livelihoods through the dynamic skill of garment fabrication. Most of these tribal women had never stitched a garment before and had no options other than manual labour. Kumbaya is also hope for many differently-abled people, particularly women, whose inability to contribute manual labour in an agricultural area leads to their abandonment. Nivedita has authored the book Saris of West Bengal published by Wiley Eastern Ltd., London. She has co-authored the paper “Government Schedule of Rates: Working Against Rural Labour”, (along with P.S. Vijay Shankar, Rangu Rao and Mihir Shah) published in the Economic and Political Weekly, in April, 2006. Nivedita is a Member of the 12th Plan Working Group on Minor Irrigation and Watershed Management.

Pramathesh Ambasta is the Treasurer of SPS. He studied at St.Stephen’s College and JNU. After that he worked at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). He leads the SPS Training and Support Programme. Pramathesh is the National Co-ordinator of the Consortium of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) for NREGA. The Consortium includes 51 CSO partners in 59 blocks of 44 most backward districts across 11 states of India, working with about 125,000 families. SPS carries out technical and social empowerment of its partners, which include CSOs and State Governments. Pramathesh Ambasta is a Member of the Empowered Group of Officers of the Government of India to suggest measures for the accelerated development of Left Wing Extremism affected areas and is also a Member of the Executive Committee of CAPART. Pramathesh co-authored the paper “Two Years of NREGA: The Road Ahead” published in the Economic and Political Weekly, February, 2008. Pramathesh Ambasta was one of the four key speakers invited by the Department of Rural Development, Republic of South Africa for the Policy Dialogue on Sustainable Livelihoods: Creating Agency among the Poor.

Dr. Mihir Shah was Secretary of SPS from 1993 to 2008. He won the KC Nag Economics Prize at St.Stephen’s College and was a Merit Scholar at the Delhi School of Economics in the 1970s. In 1998, he co-authored (with Debashis Banerji, P.S. Vijay Shankar and Pramathesh Ambasta) India’s Drylands, a study for the Union Ministry of Finance and the UNDP on the macro-economic significance of watershed programmes for food security, employment guarantee and sustainable development, published and released world-wide by the Oxford University Press. In 2005-06, he served as Honorary Adviser to the Parthasarathy Committee set up by the Government of India to review India’s watershed programmes. He was largely responsible for drafting the report of this Committee that suggests path-breaking reforms in the watershed sector. In 2009, when he was invited by the Prime Minister to join the Planning Commission, Dr. Shah became the youngest person ever to occupy this position. He handles Rural Development, Water Resources and Panchayati Raj at the Planning Commission.

A gold medalist from Allahabad University, Dr. Debashis Banerji is a plant physiologist and molecular biologist. He is one of a handful of distinguished Indian scientists to have published original research in Nature. He guides the SPS Agriculture Improvement Programme. He is currently engaged in bioinformatics research on improvements in genetic engineering technology to make it relevant for poor farmers. His recent papers include “Strategies for Gene Stacking and Gene Containment in Transgenic Crops – The Major Challenges in Engineering Plant Transformation” for the International Conference on Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Banasthali University, Rajasthan, “Transplastomic Plants as Biosafe Bioreactors – Some Highlights for the International Conference on Photosynthesis in the Global Perspective”, Indore University, “Strategies for Gene Containment and Gene Stacking in Transplastomic Engineering”, for the All-India Botanical Conference & International Symposium on Plant Biology and Environment, Allahabad University and “Bt brinjal and GM crops: towards a reasonable policy ahead”, Current Science, Vol. 99, No. 10, November 2010.

Dr. Mridula Banerji is also a gold medalist from Allahabad University. She was the President of SPS from 2001 to 2008. A Ph.D. in Psychology, her doctoral research was on the recovery of brain functions in primates. As research supervisor, she has guided 13 Ph. D. students and 50 M.Phil students. Her published papers include “Interference in conditioning by CS-alone, US-alone and Nonevent trial” (with M. Singh) in Psychological Studies 31 (2), 1986, “Cognitive deficits in epileptic patients”, presented at the 3rd Annual Convention of National Academy of Psychology, Meerut, U.P, and “Right parietal lobe dysfunction and unilateral special neglect” (with R. Rastogi), paper presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the International Neuropsychological Society, held at Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. She guides the SPS Right to Food programme and is actively engaged in the issues concerning nutritional rights of children.

Educated at Delhi University, Rangu Rao leads the organisation in the field. His intimate feel of the pulse of the people moves SPS to new initiatives and makes our interventions germane and specific. He is Director, SPS Watershed and Micro-Finance Programmes. A paper on Rural Credit in 20th Century India by Rangu Rao, Mihir Shah and P.S. Vijay Shankar in the Economic and Political Weekly (April 14th 2007) has been included as part of the prescribed syllabus for the Development Theory paper for BA (Hons) Economics final year students at Delhi University. Rangu Rao is a Member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council and was Chairperson of its Working Group on Planning and Execution, which has made major recommendations for MGNREGA reform. He is a Member of the Steering Committee on Rural Livelihoods and Rural Governance for the 12th Five Year Plan and Chairs the Working Group on MGNREGA.

Srinivasan Iyer holds an M Phil in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He has worked for more than two decades in sustainable natural resource management and poverty reduction in a wide range of contexts in India. He has worked closely with marginalized communities in Central India whose livelihoods depend primarily on forests and agriculture. In addition to being one of the founders of SPS, Srinivasan has worked at senior positions with other NGOs in Indian and Africa, as well as with bilateral and multilateral development agencies. In these capacities, he has been actively engaged in direct implementation of watershed management projects as also policy issues of MGNREGS, strengthening decentralized governance, community-led development and integrated natural resource management. He is currently Assistant Country Director, UNDP India, heading the Energy and Environment Unit.

Jyotsna Jain, a Masters in Geography from the Delhi School of Economics, leads the Right to Food Programme of SPS, a key area of governance reform in India. This programme is operational across 129 villages and 3 towns to generate awareness, greater local participation and build pressure on the government to reform the way these schemes are run and increase the resources allotted to them. Jyotsna is the Adviser to the Commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court in the Right to Food Case. Her responsibilities include monitoring the functioning of all food-related schemes in Madhya Pradesh and suggesting reforms to make them work better. The work of partner NGOs, trained and supported by SPS, has provided extensive relief to people living in malnutrition hotspots of Madhya Pradesh and also ensured greater transparency and accountability in the functioning of the administration. Jyotsna Jain co-authored a paper with Mihir Shah on the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana and Mid Meal Scheme in Madhya Pradesh”, (Economic and Political Weekly, 26th November, 2005).

Shubhlaxmi Pande did her Masters from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She was the member of the Executive Committee from 1992 to 1998. She is also one of the directors of Kumbaya, the garment fabrication unit of SPS and a Faculty member, Baba Amte Centre for People’s Empowerment, set up for training in watershed development and assisted by the Council for Advancement of Peoples’ Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), Ministry of Rural Development, GoI. Her unique ability is to bring people together and liaison with administrators, policy makers, donors and resource persons. She has taught in various schools in Africa and India. She worked as Instructor at Inlingua, Delhi, conducting communicative teaching of English to adults in beginning/mid-career and was a resource person with Shri Aurobindo Ashram, Mirambika Free Progress School and Mathri Karuna Vidyalaya, Delhi, where she trained teachers. She has written text books on Environmental Science for primary school classes, which have been published by Pinnacle India. She is a board member of Society for Rural and Tribal Initiatives (SRUTI), an NGO based in Delhi.

P.S. Vijay Shankar got his M.Phil. in Applied Economics from the Centre for Development Studies, Kerala. He is the Director of Research at SPS. He conducted a study commissioned by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva on the history of education and health policy in independent India. He co-authored the paper in April 2004 titled “Groundwater Demand Management at Local Scale in Rural Areas of India: A Strategy to ensure Water Well Sustainability based on Aquifer Diffusivity and Community Participation” which was published in the Hydrogeology Journal (official journal of the International Association of Hydrogeologists). His recent papers include “India’s Groundwater Challenge and the Way Forward” with Himanshu Kulkarni and Sunderrajan Krishnan (Economic and Political Weekly, January 2011). P.S. Vijay Shankar is a Member of the National Steering Committee of the Integrated Watershed Development Programme of the Government of India. He is a Member of 2 Working Groups for the 12th Five Year Plan — Sustainable Groundwater Management and Natural Resources and Rainfed Farming. Vijay Shankar was a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Advanced Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, during February-March, 2011.

Pinky Brahma Chaudhuri and Shobhit Jain are both graduates from the Film and Television Institute of India. They are the Directors of SPS Media Division and are responsible for producing training films used by the Baba Amte Centre for People’s Empowerment. They also provide continuous video documentation of all our work and help spread wider awareness and understanding about it. Under their leadership, the SPS Media Division has made 5 training films (in both Hindi and English) on watershed development. One of the films “Earthen Dams” won the Magna Mater Award at the 25th International Agrofilm Festival in Slovakia in October 2008. This is the highest award given to the best film of the festival across all categories. In addition, the film “Earthen Dams” was also nominated in the competitive section of Eko Films (34th International Film Festival on the Environment and Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Czech Republic), the film “Ridge Area Treatment” was nominated in the competitive section of CineEco (14th International Environmental Film Festival, Portugal) and the film “On Farm Interventions” was nominated in the competitive section of Wildlife Vaasa 2008 (International Nature Film Festival, Finland). Pinky and Shobhit also guide a unique feature of our agriculture programme — the use of video films produced by local community resource persons trained by SPS for agricultural extension work. 60 video films have been produced so far and have proved hugely popular among farmers.