Amid the flurry of comments on social media about the current pandemic-triggered crisis in India, one comment from a Westerner attracted the attention of this writer. The gentleman, full of sympathy for India and Indians, was commenting on a foreign media report about the pandemic and was saying that this will result in complete “social collapse”, or societal collapse, in India, given the number of people being affected and dying and the devastation being wreaked by Covid-19. Of course, Indian social media users swarmed to the gentleman’s post to “educate” him about India being a country of 1.3 billion people and how no Chinese virus, however infectious, can result in India’s social collapse. But the Western gentleman is not alone. Phone calls and messages to Indians are coming from a panic-stricken Indian diaspora, as they are bombarded with blown-up images in “respected” foreign newspapers of funeral pyres. Horrifying reports are giving the impression that every street corner is littered with dead bodies. On social media, a foreign correspondent based in India went to the extent of describing one such photograph as “stunning”, and when severely criticised, took refuge of the dictionary to say that stunning also meant shocking. This is a classic case of “voyeurism”. There is a difference between empathizing and being a voyeur of death. There is nothing sensational about death or funerals. Every loss is devastating and has far-reaching consequences for the people left behind. To look for the sensational in death is thoughtless, gruesome and in fact criminal for the way the privacy of a victim’s family is invaded. It is like vultures feeding off carcasses—which may sound harsh, but is a fact. Add to that foreign media reports such as India underreporting its cases and deaths and that it’s actually half a billion—yes, 65 crore—people who have been affected by the virus and millions are dying, and no wonder an Australian newspaper ran a headline about this country being driven towards apocalypse. It is a different matter that 65 crore cases mean nearing herd immunity and if India had herd immunity the infection wouldn’t be spreading so fast.
But then it is not just the foreign media that is painting an apocalyptic picture of India, a large part of the narrative is being fed from within the country itself, with horror stories about a “broken country” spread around the globe. In fact, it should not come as a surprise that this is being done by those who have been going global with the “intolerant” India narrative for the last seven years.
Has the coronavirus affected us? Yes, very badly. Are lakhs of people testing positive every day? Yes, they are. Are thousands of people dying? Yes, they are and, lest we forget, every life lost counts. Is our healthcare system in shambles? Yes, it is. But in such a once-in-a-century global pandemic of this scale, have the developed countries emerged unscathed? No, they have not. Their numbers are much worse when seen in terms of the numbers affected or dying per million. But since we are Indians we must be hiding our numbers—or that is what the Western media says.
Do we need to do more? Yes, much more. We need to hold the people responsible for the mess accountable, we need to demand that our governments make healthcare a priority, that the system is fixed so that it is better able to cope with such an emergency. But are we a broken country as we are being told? No, we are not. Our best asset is our people. For every horror story about the lack of oxygen or hospital beds, there are ten stories of people coming together to help those in need; of administrations—initially caught napping—getting their act together and starting to deliver. And these are the stories that are reported. It has to be seen to believe the kind of community-level work going on in the parts which have been badly affected, from distributing medicines to organizing tests and hospital beds. These are just ordinary Indians—empathetic and resilient. It is time someone talked about them. Moreover, scare-mongering is not taking us anywhere. Too much stress is being caused by insensitive coverage of the situation. Too much panic, because of which hoarding is happening even though reputed doctors are saying that in 85-90% of the cases the infection is very mild. It is only 10-15% of the patients who need hospitalisation. People are quarantining at home and emerging fit and fine. Vaccination is helping save lives in a major way. Let’s talk about that as well. It’s time some sanity returned to the discourse.
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NOT GANDHI’S BUT NETAJI STATUE UNDER THE CANOPY NEXT TO INDIA GATE
The Centre has decided to have a granite statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, definitely one of the greatest freedom fighters of this country, under the Canopy near India Gate in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi. In fact, way back in 1968, when the government of the day removed the statue of King George V which was placed under the Canopy, the explanation that was offered was that the place had been vacated for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. There were multiple efforts to get Gandhiji’s statue installed and several top sculptors of that period were requested to come out with their final designs. For some odd reason, the task could not be accomplished but a huge statue of the Mahatma came up in the premises of the Parliament House. However, the Central government has obviously revised the earlier decision by declaring that it would now be Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who would look through the arches of India Gate towards the Rajpath right up to the Rashtrapati Bhawan at the other end of Raisina Hill. Incidentally, there is a Netaji statue which is already there at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Park near Jama Masjid. This particular statue was installed on the pedestal where at one time the statue of King Edward stood. Interestingly and symbolically when the Netaji statue comes up under the canopy, it shall also mean that he had displaced two British Monarchs from their places in the national capital. The Edward Park, now called Netaji Park has restricted access ever since, walled city strongman, Shoaib Iqbal had during Sheila Dikshit’s tenure as Chief Minister, claimed that before the area was developed, Akbari Masjid existed at that particular place. Consequently, the government decided to shift the location of the Metro Station there to another place nearby. The Edward Park (now Netaji Park) was developed opposite another Delhi landmark, the Victoria Zanana Maternity hospital now renamed as Kasturba Gandhi Maternity hospital. By honouring Netaji, once again, the Centre has tried to restore the iconic freedom fighter’s role in India’s Independence. This correction is also aimed at telling people that Congress was not the sole organisation responsible for pushing the British rulers out but they had primarily left because inspired by Netaji’s valiant stand against the Imperial forces, a mutiny had taken place in the Naval dockyards in Bombay in mid 1940s which influenced their thinking. There are also conflicting reports on whether Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had indeed died in the plane crash on 18 August 1945 in Taiwan or was made a prisoner of war by the Soviets since he was fighting on the side of Japan and against the Allied Forces. Reacting to the Centre’s decision to have Netaji’s statue under the Canopy, his grandnephew Sugata Bose told an English news channel on Friday that the legendary freedom fighter can be best remembered by adhering to his legacy and beliefs which were for a united and strong India where there was equality. This concept can be best explained if hate speeches and divisive politics were put aside and a dream which Netaji saw for India could be made into a reality. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would inaugurate the hologram of Netaji under the canopy on his birth anniversary on Sunday. The granite statue would be placed there subsequently. As a part of its overall plan to provide a new look to the Central Vista and its adjoining areas, the government has shifted the Amar Jawan Jyoti, the eternal flame to honour those who laid down their lives in the 1971 War against Pakistan, to the War Memorial nearby. While several veterans have questioned this decision, there are also innumerable officers and soldiers, past and present, who feel that once the War Memorial was constructed, there should be a single place to pay obeisance to our brave hearts. There are also plans to have a War Museum in the vicinity and in all probability, it shall come up where the Princess Park Officers mess and houses are situated on the Hexagon between the Tilak Marg and the Copernicus Marg. A Netaji statue at India Gate is to say the least, a befitting tribute to the exceptional leader and visionary whose Azad Hind Fauj created history.
Modi 2.0: Empowering financial inclusion
No government in post Independent India has embraced Welfarism, within the larger framework of a Capitalist order, as seamlessly as the Modi government and that speaks volumes about PM Modi’s commitment to a socio-economic order that encourages all three—egalitarianism, free markets, and competition.
“Jan Dhan signifies our determination to end financial untouchability and attain freedom from poverty”
— Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was launched on 28 August 2014, with the objective to ensure accessibility to various financial services like availability of basic savings bank account, need based credit, remittance facility, insurance, micro-credit and pension to the excluded sections, that is, the weaker sections and low income groups. This deep penetration at affordable cost is possible only with effective use of technology and for this massive step towards financial inclusion, the credit goes to the Modi government. PMJDY is a national mission on financial inclusion encompassing an integrated approach to bring about comprehensive financial inclusion of all the households in the country. The plan envisages universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every household, financial literacy, access to credit, insurance and pension facility. In addition, the beneficiaries
get RuPay Debit card, having inbuilt accident insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh. The plan also envisages channeling all government benefits from Centre, state, and local bodies, to the beneficiary accounts and pushing the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme of the government. The technological issues like poor connectivity and glitches in on-line transactions have been effectively addressed in mobile transactions in the last seven years. In fact, technology has been used befittingly as a big enabler, something that never happened meaningfully, prior to 2014. Also, an effort is being made to reach out to the youth of this country to participate in this program on a mission mode basis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India, lays out three broad outcomes for technology. These are, technology to transform the lives of citizens, to expand economic opportunities and to create strategic capabilities in certain technologies. Former PM Rajiv Gandhi had said that in India from the 80s, out of 100 paise of benefits, only 15 paise reached the true beneficiary. The remaining 85 paise was gobbled up by middlemen and sarkaari babus. Thanks to Modi’s Digital India, 100% of all benefits reach the beneficiary through DBT. The success of this transformation lies in the vision of PM Modi, in the application of technology, by making use of Aadhaar that has plugged all leakages from the system, eradicated middlemen and prevented endemic corruption that was India’s bane under successive Congress regimes, for decades together.
Savings made to public exchequer owing to use of Aadhaar and DBT, primarily due to weeding out of fake and duplicate beneficiaries, have been estimated to be to the tune of over Rupees 2.24 lakh crore.
In Uttar Pradesh alone, benefits of over Rs 2.8 lakh crore (cumulative) have been transferred directly into the accounts of beneficiaries. A total of around 15 crore people in UP have benefitted under the various Central/State government schemes through the DBT, by leveraging Aadhar. Therefore, Aadhar is not just the world’s biggest digital identity programme but also a tool for empowering people by securing their entitlements.
Talking about Aadhaar, over 313 central government schemes have been notified to use Aadhaar for leak-proof delivery of various social welfare benefits like PM-KISAN, PM Aawaas Yojana, PM Jan Arogya Yojana, PAHAL, MGNREGA, National Social Security Assistance Programme, PDS, and the like. Aadhar coupled with PMJDY and Mobile (JAM Trinity) have created a robust platform for accelerating financial inclusion. Aadhar enabled payment services are providing easy access to banking services by use of fingerprint authentication. India has developed tremendous capabilities under the Digital India programme started by the PM Modi in 2015. The indigenously developed CoWIN portal, which has ensured over 155 crore vaccinations that have been given till date, is a model that has been praised globally and is now being emulated by other countries too. It is a vindication of how India has bridged the digital divide, by making financial inclusion and last mile delivery, workable concepts. The Covid management of the UP government as it successfully leveraged technology by tapping a network of around 1.5 lakh Common Services Centre (CSCs) and 4.5 lakh Village level Entrepreneurs (VLEs), to facilitate over 20 crore vaccinations in UP, which is over six times the population of Australia, is a sterling example of digital inclusion by the Modi-Yogi, double engine sarkaar. With the recently commissioned Aadhaar Seva Kendras (ASKs), in addition to the existing ones, at Gonda, Varanasi, Saharanpur, and Moradabad, the citizens of UP will witness the march towards a “Digital Uttar Pradesh”, more swiftly than ever before.
Last year, the proposal to provide monetary assistance to 11.8 crore students (118 million students) through DBT, of the cooking cost component of the “Mid-Day-Meal Scheme”, to all eligible children, as a special welfare measure, is yet another example of digital empowerment. This proposal was in addition to the Modi government’s announcement of distribution of free-of-cost food grains at Rs 5 per Kg, per person, per month, to nearly 81 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY).
This decision/proposal will help in safeguarding the nutritional levels of children and aid in protecting their immunity during the challenging pandemic times. The Modi government will provide additional funds of about Rs 1200 crore to State governments and UT administrations for this purpose. This one-time special welfare measure of the Union government will benefit about 11.8 crore children studying in class I to VIII, in the 11.20 lakh government and government aided schools, across the country.
Coming back to Jan Dhan, more than 44.34 crore beneficiaries banked under PMJDY since inception, amounting to a whopping sum of over Rs 1.55 lakh crore. Over 1.26 lakh Bank Mitras, became a part of the Jan Dhan Yojana scheme, to ensure it reached India’s remotest and the poorest. PMJDY Accounts have grown over three-fold from 14.72 crore in March 2015, to 44.34 crore, as on date.
Over 55% Jan-Dhan account holders are women and over 67% Jan Dhan accounts are in rural and semi-urban areas, showcasing PM Modi’s unwavering commitment to last mile delivery. Out of total 44.34 crore PMJDY accounts, well over 86% are operative, busting the myth peddled by the Opposition, that PMJDY is a dormant scheme. Total RuPay cards issued to PMJDY account holders stand at over 31.23 crore.
Under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, a sum of over Rs 30,945 crore was credited into accounts of women PMJDY account holders during the Covid lockdown. Over 8 crore PMJDY account holders have received direct benefit transfer (DBT) from the Modi government under various welfare schemes, at some point or the other. Overall, till date, over Rs 18 lakh crore has been disbursed via the DBT to the needy, under the aegis of the Modi government, which is not a mean achievement by any yardstick.
Banking the Unbanked pertains to opening of basic savings bank deposit (BSBD) account with minimal paperwork, relaxed KYC, e-KYC, account opening in camp mode, zero balance, and zero charges. Securing the Unsecured pertains to issuance of indigenous Debit cards for cash withdrawals and payments at merchant locations, with free accident insurance coverage of Rs 2 lakh. Funding the Unfunded pertains to other financial products like micro-insurance, overdraft for consumption, micro-pension, and micro-credit. Jan Dhan accounts opened are online accounts in core banking system of banks, in place of the earlier method of offline accounts. Interoperability through RuPay debit card or Aadhaar enabled Payment System (AePS), have been force multipliers.
The Modi government decided to extend the comprehensive PMJDY program beyond 2018 with some modifications. Focus shifted from ‘Every Household’, to Every Unbanked Adult’. Free accidental insurance cover on RuPay cards was increased from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh for PMJDY accounts opened after 28 August 2018. Enhancement in overdraft (OD) facilities was enabled, with OD limit doubled from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 and with OD upto Rs 2000, given without conditions. The upper age limit for OD was also raised from 60 to 65 years.
PMJDY has been the foundation stone for people-centric economic initiatives. Whether it is direct benefit transfers, Covid-19 related financial assistance, PM-KISAN, increased wages under MGNREGA, life and health insurance cover, the first step of all these initiatives is to provide every adult with a bank account, which PMJDY has been doing on a war footing. One in two bank accounts opened between March 2014 and March 2020, was a PMJDY account. Within 10 days of nationwide lockdown, more than 20 crore women PMJDY accounts were credited with ex-gratia. Jan Dhan provides an avenue to the poor for bringing their savings into the formal financial system, an avenue to remit money to their families in villages besides taking them out of the clutches of the infamous, usurious money lenders. PMJDY has brought the unbanked into the banking system, expanded the financial architecture of India, and brought financial inclusion to almost every adult. In today’s Covid-19 times, we have witnessed the remarkable swiftness and seamlessness with which Direct Benefit Transfer (DBTs) have empowered and provided financial security to the vulnerable sections of society. An important aspect is that DBTs via PM Jan Dhan accounts have ensured every rupee reaches its intended beneficiary, by preventing systemic leakages. Needless to add that, zero tolerance for corruption is not just a slogan or a platitude but an abiding work ethic for the Modi government, with the concept of “Integral Humanism”, embedded in every welfare measure that PM Modi has so tirelessly worked towards relentlessly, in the last seven years.
Financial inclusion is a national priority of the Modi government, as it is an enabler for holistic growth The journey of PMJDY led interventions undertaken over a short span of seven years have in effect, produced both transformational as well as directional change, thereby making the emerging financial ecosystem, capable of delivering financial services to the last person of the society and the poorest of the poor. The underlying pillars of PMJDY, namely, Banking the Unbanked, Securing the Unsecured, and Funding the Unfunded, have made it possible to adopt a multi-stakeholders’ collaborative approach, while leveraging technology for serving the unserved and underserved areas as well. No government in post Independent India has embraced Welfarism, within the larger framework of a Capitalist order, as seamlessly as the Modi government and that speaks volumes about PM Modi’s commitment to a socio-economic order that encourages all three—egalitarianism, free markets, and competition.
Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.
REMEMBERING BANGABANDHU’S GLORIOUS RETURN TO INDEPENDENT BANGLADESH
10 January 1972 will always be remembered as a golden day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, Father of the Nation ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman retuned to the land free from tyranny and anarchy. The reign of terror and destruction, aimed at wiping off the very identity of the Bengali people at the brutal hands of the West Pakistani military establishment, which was predominately Punjabi, in connivance with the local collaborators, had finally ended. He came back to the sacred soil of Bangladesh after spending a whole day under execution threat since he was arrested by the West Pakistani establishment.
Bangabandhu was first flown to London, then to Delhi – where he was given a reception accorded to a head of the state, before arriving back. In Delhi, he met Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, who stood with the Bangabandhu through the thick and thin and the Bengali people at their darkest hour ever in the recorded history. Even the so-called liberal and enlighted superpower stood alongside the Junta of West Pakistan, with a myopic, convoluted version of the genocide which was going on unabated with active patronage. It was the Iron Lady of India who held her ground, deploying all her arsenal, in solidarity with the people of East Pakistan. It is believed that the Indo-Soviet alliance not only deterred the aggressive 7th Fleet from entering the Bay of Bengal during the decisive days of the war of liberation, the diplomatic offensive also ensured that the West Pakistani establishment was prevented from carrying out the death sentence of Bangabandhu.
The Guinness Book of Records, March-December 1971, lists the atrocities on Bengalis as one of the five largest genocides of the twentieth century. Senator Kennedy wanted to visit East Pakistan at the height of the crisis. His visa was refused by the West Pakistani administration. Senator Kennedy however visited the refugee camps in India and was appalled by the conditions there. He also surveyed the bordering areas of East Pakistan to see for himself the condition of the mass exodus. USA officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms ‘selective genocide’ and ‘genocide’ (Blood telegram, from Archer Kent Blood who was last American Consul General to Dhaka, East Pakistan 1971) to describe events they knew of at that time, especially during the beginning of Operation Searchlight in March-April 1971.
However, these reports were deliberately downplayed by President Nixon, so advised by Henry Kissinger. The reason behind it was primarily because the USA wanted to protect the interests of West Pakistan as Kissinger was apprehensive of India’s friendship with the USSR, and he was seeking a closer relationship with China. The Chinese supported the West Pakistani administration in 1971 wilfully aware of the campaign of genocide in East Pakistan. Faced with insurmountable losses, the West Pakistani military capitulated in less than a fortnight. On 16th December 1971, the Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan surrendered. The Instrument of Surrender was signed at Ramna Race Course in Dhaka at 16:31 hours IST (Indian Standard Time) by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army, and Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. After a gruesome and bloody nine months’ struggle, a free Bangladesh was born, thus effectively burying the hypothetical two-nation theory at the bottom Bay of Bengal.
Bangabandhu’s charismatic and iconic leadership had consolidated the focal points of the aspirations of the Bengali people. People of East Pakistan wanted freedom from the clutches of the deep state and being treated as a second-class citizens subjected to catastrophic marginalisation and exploitation. Upon his return, approximately half a million people came to greet him at the Race Course Ground, interestingly this was the same venue of the historic 7th March 1971 speech after which he came to be known as ‘Bangabandhu’ (friend of Bengal).
The year 2022 marks the golden jubilee of Bangabandhu’s return, and presently under the capable leadership of his daughter Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is determined to achieve and maintain the ‘Pluralistic Principals’ as laid down by Bangabandhu himself.
Tackling global temperature rise with simple innovations
People must abandon eating beef and the reasons are not belief-based. There is a direct link between shooting demand for beef and increase in earth’s temperature as beef consumption creates too much carbon footprint.
To begin with, ‘manmade’ climate change should not have happened. If it has, then easy solutions exist and it is certainly not as difficult as is being made out by the polluters.
Global powers, who manage perception management around the world frequently, insert too much information including false or misleading ones in digital and physical environments to alter the truths. They are the first ones to discard solutions, and that makes climate change a topic of politics more than anything else.
TACKLING CO2 EMISSIONS IS SIMPLE
With 2020-21 witnessing the world’s largest halts, people have realised the need to slow down the pace and conserve our environment. During the pandemic, suppressed social and economic activities led the global carbon dioxide emissions drop by 6.4% or 2.3 billion tonnes. But, with people adapting to the new normal, things are getting back to motion.
Isn’t it ironic that the so-called ‘leaders’ of global warming travel around the world in their energy-guzzling jets to assemble and suggest to the hapless citizens of the world to cut down on emissions? Isn’t it something that they themselves hypocritically do not follow?
Simple solutions are available that require no major investment to resolve global warming. These solutions come with added holistic answers to other facets that the common man might not even understand. Let us take a look at a few such practices that can bring down manmade climate change.
Global warming can be tackled using simple natural systems. In an energy-intense society, we generate energy to produce more energy. This is a perpetually unsustainable system where we create problems to solve existing ones.
Assuming that humans will keep living in an energy-intensive society, we will have to stop producing pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG). To achieve targets for mitigating global warming, we require large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
There are four ways in which carbon withdrawal can take place and none of them include conferences, travelling for million miles, preaching without practice and manipulation. These are: (i) using carbon storage, (ii) growing seaweeds, (iii) Kelp farming and (iv) accentuating basalt weathering.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured by natural systems. CCS gets retained in the soil, vegetation, peat bogs, forests, wetlands, geological reservoirs, rivers, and seabed sediments. A whole array of technology options are available that capture and cut off CO2 artificially.
They help cut down emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, industrial processes like cement production and natural gas processing facilities. CCS in natural systems should be encouraged and improved upon to lessen the effects of climate change. A massive improvement is needed in the management of our natural systems.
SHIFT IN FARMING METHODS
We have to move away from intensive farming to increase the amount of carbon held in soils. Tilling should halt and growing practices should move towards ‘cover cropping’. Cover crops are specific crops grown solely for fertilising and building the soil as they improve the physical properties of soil in just one growing season. Biomass that is being used as fuel to produce electricity or heat should return to the soil. Non-chemical herbicides must replace glyphosate-based ones. Crop rotation is an age-old method to keep soil fertility and productivity in check.
During an energy-intense future, renewable energy deployment should replace carbon reliance. Solar, wind, hydropower and bioenergy sources will have a significant impact on reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. On a positive note, wind and solar have outpaced investments in fossil fuels for the last three years running. They now offer electricity at a cost close to or equal to that of fossil fuels. Solar is the future of energy as electric energy is the future fuel.
CONSERVING & EXPANDING AREAS OF WETLANDS
Wetlands are one of such natural systems that can completely disrupt sin carbon in a store. Wetlands cover about 6% to 9% of the earth’s surface and have sequestered approximately 35% of the global terrestrial carbon.
Wetlands capture and store carbon in several ways that include the accumulation of organic matter in soils and photosynthesis. Carbon enters the leaves in gaseous form as carbon dioxide, where it is converted through photosynthesis into sugars and starches. This has served to slow the rate of accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and thus the rate of climate change. Wetland soils tend to remain “waterlogged”, thereby inhibiting the diffusion of oxygen. Decomposition rates slow down leading to the accumulation of large amounts of carbon within wetland sediment profiles.
Wetlands are unique in their own way. The Irrawaddy dolphin is the flagship species of Chilka Lake while the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan is a centre of environmental tourism and picnicking! Some wetlands even possess the ability to distribute carbon horizontally to adjacent wetland environments. Distinct wetlands like peatlands capture and store more carbon than others.
Wetlands International estimates that though peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s surface area, they currently store about 30% of the world’s terrestrial carbon. Other wetland ecosystems that play a key role in carbon sequestration include seagrass meadows and mangrove swamps.
SEAWEED IS THE NEW SAVIOUR
Forests were considered the best natural protection against climate change. Recent research shows that seaweed is the most effective natural way of absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Seaweed has a huge role to play in fighting climate change. They absorb carbon emissions, create biofuel and renewable plastics, regenerate aquatic ecosystems and produce marine proteins.
India has launched a farming project off the Lakshadweep archipelago that aims to produce 30,000 tonne of seaweed a year. It has the technical support of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and will soon become the seaweed farming hub of India. CMFRI studies revealed an enormous potential for the production of quality seaweeds around pollution-free lagoons of Lakshadweep for high-end utilisation in food processing, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.
Oceans are major sinks of carbon and seaweeds are well known for their carbon sequestration properties. Such a scale of seaweed farming would sequester nearly 6,500 tonne of carbon dioxide each day. This would add huge carbon credits to our nation and provide a climate-resilient livelihood to the islanders.
Seaweeds add a lot of advantages. Unlike trees, seaweed does not require freshwater or even fertilisers. They grow at a faster pace than trees, often extending up to 2 feet a day. Seaweed contains a small amount of Asparagopsis Taxiformis, a red algal species. Cows burp the greenhouse gas methane that develops from their foregut fermentation. However, if only a tiny percentage of their diet is Asparagopsis Taxiformis, methane gets hugely diminished. When added to cattle feed, it has the potential to reduce methane production from beef cattle by up to 99%.
And above all, kelp can really transform carbon storage in the world. Kelp is actually a type of seaweed. Kelp farming is considered to be a remedy for all the ills associated with global warming. The tremendous potential of seaweed farming as a tool to combat environmental change was described back in 2012.
Kelp’s miracle is hidden in a lot of advantages. Carbon dioxide acidifies seawater. Kelp absorbs carbon dioxide using the same principle as land plants take out CO₂ from the air. In the oceans, it also de-acidifies the water making it less acidic. By drawing CO₂ out of the waters they allow our oceans to absorb more CO₂ from the atmosphere. This is how kelp helps fight climate change.
These waters make it easier for anything with a shell to develop and that makes kelp important for shellfish production. Kelp in itself has value as feedstock in agriculture and has various industrial purposes. Kelp cleans wastewater from fish processing plants and does not require fertiliser to grow. They grow very fast, 30 times quicker when compared to land-based plants.
Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon. It is a principal component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas. Biogas is a mixture of methane, CO2 and small quantities of other gases produced by bacteria that break down organic matter in an oxygen-free environment. Methane is the principal gas in biogas and is also the main component in natural gas, a fossil fuel.
If 9% of the ocean were to be enveloped in seaweed they could generate 12 gigatonnes of bio-digested methane each year. Biogas production is carbon-neutral and does not add to GHG emissions. This could be burned as a substitute for natural gas, coal or firewood. The seaweed growth would further capture 19 gigatonnes of CO₂.
A further 34 gigatonnes per year of CO₂ could be taken from the atmosphere if the methane is used to generate electricity and the CO₂ generated is captured and stored. Seaweed can produce enough biomethane to substitute all of today’s needs in fossil-fuel energy. It can potentially remove 53 billion tonnes of CO₂ per year from the atmosphere.
Basalt weathering has never been thought of. The world’s largest basaltic accumulation in the form of Deccan Basalts can actually alter the world’s carbon storage management. When silicate material like crushed basalt is combined with soil, it slowly dissolves and reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonates. These carbonates either remain in the soil or move towards the oceans.
This method would allow between 0.5 billion and 2 billion tonnes of CO2 to be separated from the atmosphere each year. This rate of removal is comparable to that of other land-based approaches like carbon trapping and sequestration in geological deposits, the accrual of organic carbon in the soil and adding biochar (a carbon-rich material) to the soil.
Enhanced basalt weathering in soils has important technical and economic potential and can be part of a global strategy to extract atmospheric CO2. Enhanced rock weathering could lead to the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In terms of cost and CO2 removal, this approach is as promising as other potential strategies.
Yet even under optimistic assumptions, enhanced rock weathering will sequester only some of the annual global carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use. The other method is prevention by enforcement and inducement.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES & A SHIFTING DIET
It may be hard to believe that the Butterfly Effect also functions directly or indirectly on our lifestyles! It’s all about driving small changes for large differences! So the choices we make about the food on the plates of our family determine what happens in the farmlands. Celebrities influencing the demand for leather jackets or fur hoodies tend to topple the balance of the wild animals in the Polar regions. It’s a Domino Effect! You become what you consume – the consumption in food or clothing being equally influential on the global market trends.
Let us take an example of how beef consumption creates too much carbon footprint. Why should people abandon eating beef or at least reduce it drastically? The reasons for this suggestion are not belief-based. Carbon reduction methods are needed to achieve a sustained future for feeding the growing population in the coming years. There is a direct relationship between how the shooting demand for beef increases the temperature of the earth.
People consume far too much protein than they require for their daily needs and this is a waste. This is roughly true across all the world’s regions and is the highest in developed countries. An average adult weighing 62 kg needs no more than 50 g of proteins per day.
An average American, European, Russian or Canadian eats up to 75 to 90 gram of protein per day (about 30 g from plants and more than 50 g from animals). In comparison, Indians and other Asians consume around 52- 55 g/day. Their proteins originate largely from legumes, fish and poultry. So do the Sub-Saharan Africans, though they eat a bit more meat than the world does.
Beef-eating in the US has dropped, thanks to health concerns about eating “red meat.” But the problem now is that more people from emerging economies like Brazil or China are now aping the West and adding more beef to their diet. The global demand for beef may increase by a whopping 95% by the year 2050.
Cattle breeding impacts the temperature on earth and contributes to global warming. It takes up a lot of land for pasturing and it is estimated that 25% of the earth’s landmass (minus Antarctica) would be needed for pasture. It is also estimated that a third of the global water is used for farm animal production.
HOW MUCH IS ‘TOO MUCH’?
How much do we really need to get through our day? Most of us are misinformed and hence eat more or starve ourselves for a lean physique! The first suggestion is not to overeat or simply put, reduce the overconsumption of calories. Second is limiting protein consumption by cutting down the consumption of proteins and we should include more plant-based proteins and lesser meat-based ones. Why consume 75-90 gram when we need only 55 gram of protein per day?
The third is compulsively undergoing lifestyle change – The basis of bringing a lifestyle change would be to reduce, reuse and recycle. We should include changes in design to make it sustainable by commuting habits towards sprawls and farmhouses, along with our weekend spending.
A check on our day-to-day living will harmonise the miscalculated spending on food, fashion and lifestyles. Incidentally, this is all enshrined in Sanatan Dharma, the eternal religion of humanity and lifestyle.
The writer is a strategic thinker, educationist, earth scientist, author, mentor, and advisor to various governments. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
DIGITAL INNOVATIONS CAN DEMOCRATISE EDUCATION IN INDIA
Education is the backbone of any country be it developed, developing, or underdeveloped. A crucial role has been played by education in technological advancements and imparting skills and awareness. People have realised the importance of education for a better living. Innovative initiatives like free primary education, mid-day meals, and other facilities at school have encouraged the unprivileged to send their children to schools.
Since the schools and colleges have been shut for more than two years, the majority of students have minimal access to education considering several factors like lack of access to resources, poor internet, absence of strict measures, and so on. Due to these obvious issues, most of the students have unlearned what they had learned over the years. A long-term outlook of digital innovations in education will truly democratize education in India.
Numerous novel ways are being devised, experimented with, and adopted by the stakeholders in order to attempt to deliver the highest quality education to students. Digital innovations delivering education at scale can solve issues to democratize education in a developing country like India. This model seamlessly integrates digital capabilities along with physical assets.
BLENDED LEARNING APPROACH
We as citizens of India should equally contribute to solving the gaping education crisis that emerged during the pandemic. We need to put our shoulders to the wheel and create a system where students don’t just have to learn via e-books and audio-visual lessons but also have access to physical resources and centers nearby in order to take hands-on training that can’t be attained by sitting at home. Such innovations will help students to continue pursuing education. This blended learning approach would enhance their learning experience, inspire them to explore, and foment innovation.
The process of blended learning has democratized education in several sectors of our society. Educational technologies (edtechs) are playing a crucial role in democratizing education in India, they went the extra mile to help learners amid the pandemic. The pandemic has demonstrated that parents and teachers are adopting a more practical approach to imparting education. Curriculum designs are now personalized and more practiser-oriented paving the way for the continuation of the hybrid mode of learning.
INNOVATION IN TEACHING METHODOLOGY
High-quality content is abundant in education, even our teachers can be trained online and get access to high-quality global training. Also, the teachers are now coming up with more innovative ways to deliver lectures to students via Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR). This way digital innovations can successfully enable a higher literacy rate across India. A nation with a higher literacy rate will lead to a lower unemployment rate and improved GDP growth.
The creation of free standardized content would prove beneficial for learners to grasp knowledge. The medium to disseminate it could be the widely used mediums like radio, televisions, etc. To support the traditional teaching method, parents, volunteers, and senior students are joining their heads in supporting the continuity in the learning process. Apart from this, redefining the term ‘teacher’ and decentralizing community-based solutions can create a new learning model.
The writer is the Co-founder and CEO, Careerera.
Why we need humanitarian law in disaster management
The origin of humanitarian law suggests its close linkage to human sensitivities. Law is an outcome of collective rationality of ‘we the people’, which is the real sovereign.
In one of the consultative meetings of the World Food Programme on disaster management organised by Sphere India recently, somebody raised objections to the role of humanitarian law in disaster management on the logic that this is already a part of the regular legal responsibility of governments. Should this be or not be? How would governments demand compliance to humanitarian responsibilities (not law) of the State when their own track record on human rights has always been a concern?
The dilemma reminds me of Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be, or not to be” in contemplating death and suicide or bemoan the suffering due to the pain and unfairness of life? Hamlet’s mind, while envisaging an answer to the question, muses on… “Whether it’s nobler in the mind to suffer, The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks, that flesh is heir to… For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause…” He reconciled that the alternative to suffering was worse. The humanitarian laws or its robust cousin, the human rights laws, are alternatives to a charitable State where charity finds meaning only within the province of the State so the logic for alternatives becomes strong.
It would be clear in subsequent arguments that by questioning humanitarian laws in disaster management, one would prevent deepening government action and resilience building at the most vulnerable levels. The UN Charter prohibits war and use of force to resolve conflicts. Should then nations stop war preparations and formulation of rules that regulate and terminate armed conflicts? Wars have not been completely outlawed as wars in the shape of internal armed conflicts continue incessantly. So a mere existence of rules and Acts on disaster management does not prevent the State from bypassing, overlooking, or skirting liabilities related to human rights. Whatever happened to the rural poor migrant workers during the pandemic is a public tragedy.
Those who built the big cities and special economic zones which filled State treasuries with FDI and FII, built smart cities, and a stamp of progress across the country’s metal road network was made to flee from cities without any help and on top of it, a Chief Minister treating them as pathogens even sprayed them with sanitising chemicals as a condition to any further mobility. These citizens of India have been given rights to the free passage under Article 19 of the Constitution and also protected against starvation, death, disease and abusive action by government authorities under Article 21. Yet it was all done against a vulnerable poor with disproportionate power against the State.
Jurisprudential evidence depicting the stark reality of legal abuse of vulnerable sections by States is enormous. NATO bombed Yugoslavia in the early morning of 23rd April 1999 in response to the conflict in Kosovo region of Serbia. The bombing killed 16 people in the radio and television station, Radio Televizije Srbije (RTS) in Belgrade. Six citizens, who approached the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, were the daughters of the first and second applicants, the sons of the third and fourth applicants and the husband of the fifth applicant who were killed, and the sixth applicant who was injured. They alleged violations of Article 2 (Right to Life), Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) and Article 13 (Right to an Effective Remedy) of the European Convention.
The court dismissed their claim by taking an extremely narrow and limited recourse to a pre-colonial law which segregated between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ rather than adopting the true spirit defined in The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, more commonly known as the European Convention of Human Rights, which explicitly states in its Preamble that one of its purposes is to “take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain rights stated in the Universal Declaration.” This is one of the most misconstrued and egregious cases in the history of humanitarian law but on the other hand, just a few years later this court actually evolved to match the spirit of human rights.
Soon after, a group of citizens approached the same European Commission under the same Article 2 of the European Convention to allege that the State failed in its responsibility to provide them protection against natural hazards that caused deaths in Tyrnauz during July 2000. The court, in addressing this case of Budayeva vs Russia 2008, turned to State failure, first in maintaining mud-protection engineering facilities, notably to restore the mud-retention dam damaged in 1999 and to clear the mud-retention collector blocked by the leftover debris, secondly, in maintaining a public warning (or Early Warning System) about the approaching disaster that would help to avoid casualties, injuries and mass panic.
In contrast to the previously referred Bankovic case, the court ordered that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amounts, to be converted into Russian roubles at the rate applicable at the date of settlement, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable on these amounts:
(i) EUR 30,000 (thirty thousand euros) to the first applicant;
(ii) EUR 15,000 (fifteen thousand euros) to the second applicant;
(iii) EUR 10,000 (ten thousand euros) to each of the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth applicants;
(iv) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
The origin of humanitarian and human rights law tells a touching mission of humans with higher than normal sensitivity towards life. During the mid-nineteenth century, Europe’s two goriest battles of Solferino (1859) and the Crimean War (1853-1856) the traditional aristocratic frame of the Army that always stood up to block humanitarian legal reforms gave way. Both these wars were iconic failures in their planning strategies and in medical aid. An author of Russian history Alexis S. Troubetzkoy (2006) describes the Crimean War as ‘a notoriously incompetent international butchery’ by the French alliance with Ottoman Empire, UK and Sardinia against lone Russia.
The cause of the war was to protect Christian minorities in Palestine which was part of the Ottoman Empire. This deadly war led by Napoleon III provoked rules for the care of the vulnerable in wars. The two English nurses Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole were described as great healers who left behind any best surgeon in care and treatment of wounded in the battlefield. The Solferino battle saw the same military alliance standing against the Austrian army which abandoned its position by afternoon as the haunted battlefield was strewn with 6,000 dead and 40,000 injured crying for help which was nowhere possible.
Henry Dunant’s account as a war reporter shocked the conscience of the civilised world but it was this account that launched (i) International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (ii) creation of humanitarian law to protect the vulnerable due to wars or human calamities. The Geneva Conventions also grew from a minimalist to broader terrain starting with the first in 1864 for military victims of warfare to the second in 1899 for wounded and sick in sea warfare, in 1929 on prisoners of war, in 1949 on war victims, combined with Protocols additional to Geneva Conventions in 1977.
While both the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Human Rights Law (HRL) prescribe to the protection of life, health and dignity to human beings, the former focuses on obligations of the State towards war victims but the latter indicates those primordial rights inherent in human beings that define and limit boundaries of State power. It is believed that the two are complementary as HRL does not stop during wars nor does IHL turn away when other warlike devastating disasters occur.
The origin of humanitarian law suggests its close linkage to human sensitivities. Law is an outcome of collective rationality of ‘we the people’ which is the real sovereign. Any constitution, however voluminous or concise such as the Indian Constitution with 448 articles in 25 parts and 12 schedules, US Constitution with just seven Articles or the UK Constitution with none, would not assign a threshold for government’s observance of humanitarian law. This field is growing with human knowledge and sensitivities. The identification of the vulnerable and their vulnerabilities increase with evolving human sensitivity as that which started with wounded soldiers today extends to enemy spies and victims of civil wars, racism and religious minorities.
As the dust of ignorance and biases gradually gets wiped off, the same civilisations, which killed and persecuted lepers, women, slaves, Blacks, disabled, and atheists, become human rights campaigners. Since sensitivity is a constantly evolving domain of humanity, it is likely to evolve further and discover more areas of abuse and cruelty to be prohibited by law. Notwithstanding the Non-Human Rights Project, which had petitioned before the US Supreme Court on rights of animals against their encaging, abuse and experimentation, Justice Barbara Jaffe of the Manhattan Supreme Court even granted a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two non-human plaintiffs, Hercules and Leo – chimpanzees used for medical experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Several rulings from Indian courts have acknowledged the rights of pet and homeless stray animals.
Courts in India have bestowed rights to even rivers and trees notwithstanding eyes which shut on sobbing and screaming hens transported in stuffed cages, disrobed in markets like public rape of young girls. I cannot insist that law be made to reclaim hen’s legal protection against what I see as a crime as ‘this is my sensitivity, may not be yours’ but I retain my right to sustain my level of sensitivity that suggests co-existence, will set a direction for evolution in law. Despite a nation with an embedded philosophy of Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Jainism proscribing animal slaughter, brutality, and their enslavement, yet it took our Constitution three decades to add two austere words ‘compassion’ and ‘coexistence’ in Articles 48-A and 51-A and that too as mere suggestive guidelines, not as law. This reveals the inertia of the State towards ideals belonging to higher sensitivities in contrast to authority driven diktats.
Why humanitarian law and, for that reason, why women’s law, environmental law or law for the differently-abled? Under what law would the State take note of the fact and also make houses for the 15% homeless human population (2011 census) with 4 lakh children and 8 crore dogs and cats on streets (Report of State of Pet Homelessness Index 2020) shivering in freezing temperatures and enduring rains and winds in the open. Their death is also insignificant to governments. In 2020, except for Delhi, Maharashtra and Kerala, those 16 States with 40% homeless made no mention of them on the contrary have forcefully evicted more than 2,60,000 people with homes in 2017 alone for city beautification and infrastructural development projects. The 2022 World Inequality Report uncovers how global inequality has been exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic in which the top 1% took 38% of all additional wealth accumulated since 1995 with an acceleration in 2020.
As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on the government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this; you must first enable the government to control the governed and the next place, oblige it to control itself.” So how would citizens oblige the government to control itself? That is where a need for ‘rule of law’ enters body polity justifying humanitarian laws as an indispensable prerequisite in war, in peace and in disasters.
The author acknowledges with thanks inputs from the rich discussion she had with two colleagues from JNU, Dr P. Puneeth and Dr Deepa Kansra.
The author is president of Network Asia Pacific Disaster Research Group (NDRG), Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on the government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this; you must first enable the government to control the governed and the next place, oblige it to control itself.” So how would citizens oblige the government to control itself? That is where a need for “rule of law” enters body polity justifying humanitarian laws as an indispensable prerequisite in war, in peace and in disasters.
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