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PM Modi’s condemnation of Capitol violence showcases India’s support for democracy

Members of Congress and Left taking a dig at PM Narendra Modi for his bonhomie with Donald Trump should realise that the India-US relations are about the world’s greatest democracies supporting each other, not personal friendships between politicians.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s condemnation of the violence by Trump supporters in Washington D.C. and his desire for a peaceful and smooth transition of power in the United States should have been welcomed by one and all as most world leaders have expressed the same feeling in different words. But Indian leaders from the Opposition parties, particularly from the Left and the Congress, found it an opportunity to take a dig at the Prime Minister. Some said, “Mr Modi should first set his own house in order before commenting on violence in the United States.” Communist Party of India leader D. Raja spewed venom and reminded PM Modi of his support for Trump. “It is ironical that our Prime Minister talks about a smooth transition of power when he attended the ‘Howdy Modi’ programme and campaigned for Mr Trump,” he said.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor came out with backhanded compliments for PM Modi. “It is a good sign that India has distanced itself from the Donald Trump administration… I don’t believe it should have any implication for our bilateral relations with the US but it’s a sobering reminder. The Prime Minister expressing concern was a good gesture, it showed that he and the government are distancing themselves from those who believed in is baar bhi Trump sarkar,” he remarked.

While one can understand such irresponsible statements coming from the Left as they have become a spent force and are looking for opportunities to settle scores with their ideological adversary, the Congress should have acted more responsibly. Whoever comes to power, it is the interest of the country that determines foreign relations and not personal likes and dislikes. The India-US relation is not hostage to who is in power.

The Congress and Left leaders, and also others in India with scant regards to national interest, made the Trump election look as if the Indian Prime Minister had something personal at stake. They failed to appreciate that the increasing clout of the Indian community, demonstrated unequivocally at the Howdy Modi event, had forced both Republicans and Democrats to field a person of Indian origin as their Vice Presidential candidate. This is the triumph of the India diaspora in the US which have emerged stronger and are not getting the due they deserve.

PM Modi’s bonhomie with Trump should not be seen as his personal triumph but the triumph of India in the United States. The Indian Prime Minister has said it time and again that he knows that the respect he is getting is the respect the world is giving to 135 crore Indians who have expressed themselves strongly by voting decisively for a strong government. It is PM Modi’s personal charm that he makes friends out of enemies and trusted friends out of fence sitters. And one cannot grudge the leader for that.

It is not that India gained majorly due to Trump. On the contrary, Trump caused harm to India by walking out of the Climate Change Accord and by commenting adversely about India on many occasions. But PM Modi never allowed this to come between the India-US relations. Both are strong democracies and need each other for bilateral strength and a balanced multilateral world order. Both share the same ideological moorings and both need to fight the battle together to make the world a better place.

Those who are peeved due to the Modi-Trump bonhomie should not forget the bonhomie Modi enjoyed with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Don’t forget the expression when he called Obama by his first name—“my friend Barack”—and the way the latter tried to seek PM Modi’s attention. It appeared as if he was trying to make amends for his sin of boycotting him when he was the chief minister of Gujarat and for denying him the US visa under influence of the Leftist and Human Rights Brigade. The Prime Minister did not allow the events from the past to shadow his equation with the US President. By now we know well of the opinion Obama has about Rahul Gandhi and other leaders.

So why would PM Modi and Joe Biden not have a cordial relation to the benefit of both India and the United States. No thaw is needed since there never was any problem. The first congratulatory message to Biden had come way back on 7 November 2020 when PM Modi had tweeted: “Congratulations @JoeBiden on your spectacular victory! As the VP, your contribution to strengthening Indo-US relations was critical and invaluable. I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-US relations to greater heights.” He had also congratulated Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and said: “Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.”

Those who are anticipating that India-US relations will suffer should be ready for a great surprise. They would not be able to further their politics since their anti-India agenda would never work. The Prime Minister has already set the agenda. After his telephonic conversations with Biden, he tweeted: “We reiterated firm commitment to the India-US strategic partnership and discussed our shared priorities and concerns, Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and cooperation in India-Pacific region.”

From Biden’s side, the response was: “The President-elect noted that he looked forward to working closely with Prime Minister Modi on shared global challenges, including containing Covid-19 and defending against future health crisis, tackling the threat of climate change, launching the global economic recovery, strengthening democracy at home and abroad, and maintaining a secure and prosperous India-Pacific region”.

India has stakes in the US democracy in the same way the US has in India. India wants a strong US with robust institutions so that democratic processes do not get derailed by vested interests. Every leader believing in democracy wishes that the oldest democracy in the world should not falter. The Prime Minister’s statement should be seen in that context. India has spoken through him. The ideology of democracy has spoken through him.

The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the most authentic book on the Prime Minister, called ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.

PM Narendra Modi’s bonhomie with Trump should not be seen as his personal triumph but the triumph of India in the United States. The Indian Prime Minister has said it time and again that he knows that the respect he is getting is the respect the world is giving to 135 crore Indians who have expressed themselves strongly by voting decisively for a strong government.

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Opinion

THE ECOLOGICAL REVIVAL OF RAM RAJYA

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While the building of the mammoth temple at the Ram Janambhoomi in Ayodhya has garnered all attention. The attempt is to revive the ‘Ram Nagari’ in totality and not just confine it to a temple.

Scriptures say that it was Raja Ram who turned Ayodhya from a mere administrative centre of the kingdom to a vibrant capital city, an urban hub. “Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram was very well aware of the elements of life— the Panch Mahabhoot. To keep the city in a live condition and for life to exuberate in its full potential, he designed the space for all 108 elements which contributed to the making of the Panch Mahabhoot (five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space). And this was done by making a space for 108 Jalashay (waterbodies) well within the city limits to create water sovereignty for the whole city,” says Mahant Pawan Kumar Das Shastri.

Following the apex court judgement and resumption of the work at the temple site, it was felt that Lord Ram cannot be welcomed in an ecologically degraded city. Thus, Ayodhya Development Authority and Ayodhya Nagar Nigam together envisaged a move for the government-citizen partnership to revive and rejuvenate the city ecologically.

The outcome of this initiative is Jal Dhar, the attempt to identify and resurrect water bodies in and around Ayodhya, the lifeline of Ram Rajya. Expertise for executing the project came from a reputed NGO, Community Friendly Movement (CFM), which is credited with creating/reviving many water bodies in the country’s most arid district, Jhabua, in Madhya Pradesh. Challenge in Ayodhya was, however, different. The area was not arid, rather riverine and it had a network of water bodies, which had got encroached upon over a period of time thus leaving a trail of polluted ponds and frequent urban floods.

A painstaking study of land records, done by a group of local citizens under the leadership Acharya Ram Prakash Pandey, gave an estimate that 108 ponds existed in Lord Rama’s city, many of which had practically vanished and others were in a state of absolute distress. These natural water bodies that are the charging points of the aquifer system ensuring water ecological balance were in deep stress and needed urgent attention.

Water hyacinth covered lake surface, drains released in ponds, making them a breeding ground for mosquitoes, waterborne disease, and floating non-biodegradable waste. Last December, it was decided that the revival of these ponds was to be made part of the citizen’s initiative, duly supported by the government agencies by the way of in-situ rejuvenation.

The 108 water bodies of Ayodhya were geotagged through the campaign #KahanHaiMeraTalab and #AaoBachaLePaani on social media including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Ayodhya residents came out in full support and in a matter of one week, all the ponds (locally called Kunds) were identified along with their cornerstones. It was stressed to the citizens that from the Vedic times, humans lived in harmony with nature but the degradation of human values led to erosion of natural resources. The campaign was to start course correction and regain natural wealth.

The first such initiative was taken at Lal Digghi Talab, which is located in the upmarket Civil Lines area. One of the city’s main drains fell in this pond. The filth in water choked aquifers, which did not allow water to seep into earth, making it stagnant and a source of urban floods during the rainy season. To overcome the problem, a pump house had been installed to drain out the water and pump it into the main sewer line. In December last year, the municipal bodies in collaboration with CFM started what’s called the Vedic treatment of water. It’s an integrated process that involves the treatment of water using Ayurvedic ark (plant extracts) specially prepared and customized as per the need of the specific water body.

“The process of treatment involved installation of a freshwater tank to dilute the ark (concentrate) created specifically for the water body and releasing it in the pond before sunrise. The whole process requires a very small electrical charge to resuscitate the water ecology and induce aerobic reaction leading to the increased dissolved oxygen level in the water. Once the process is initiated, the viscosity of water improves and the clogged aquifers start to open,” says Saurav Ghosh, of CFM.

“As the city prepares for the onset of Monsoon, the process of removing encroachment and preparation to catch the rain where it drops, and when it drops, is going on in full swing in Ayodhya,” says Vishal Singh, Municipal Commissioner and Vice Chairman, Ayodhya Development Authority. “Having encouraged people with Vedic inspirations, it was decided to use the Vedic sciences to clean the ponds, which yielded great results,” adds Singh.

After just a month of treatment, the natural aquifers became functional and started recharging the water table. Since the water had started to seep into the earth, there was no overflow making the pump house redundant. The work is now set to begin on the other water bodies.

However, it is not to be a one-time affair but the initiative is to create structures for the sustainability of these water bodies, and here comes the concept of connecting the 108 Kunds to 108 Agnihotra or Yajna Kund. Thereafter appoint a scholar as caretaker, who additionally would be training and helping people in performing Vedic rituals.

This scholar will not only perform yajnas but also ensure the care of Prakriti (nature) in the local ecosystem to ensure operation and management for sustainability of the rejuvenated Kund. By taking care of water, plants, animals, and humans around the Kund, the scholar will be Mool Srota (fundamental connect) to establish the missing link to serve nature. “The management and care of precious water, water reuse and knowledge propagation will go hand in hand to make Ayodhya ready to welcome Raja Ram and his devotees,” says Pandey.

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Opinion

HOW PM MODI INTEGRATED J&K WITH INDIA

Sanju Verma

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the most popular and powerful leader in post-independent India. On the socio-political front, the historic step of abrogating Article 370 which came into effect in 1950, and Article 35-A, which came into effect in 1954, figure high on the list of his achievements.

President Ram Nath Kovind declared the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The move came after both houses of the Indian Parliament passed a resolution in this regard.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 370 read with clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the President, on the recommendation of Parliament, is pleased to declare that, as from 6th August 2019, all clauses of the said Article 370 shall cease to be operative,” an official notification said.

This meant the separate constitutions of Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be in operation. With the State constitution rendered inoperative and Articles 1-2 applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government got the power to redraw the map of the erstwhile State. The Union Territory of Jammu-Kashmir got a new status comparable with that of Delhi and Puducherry, the only two other Union Territories to have legislatures of their own. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir became Lieutenant Governor.

What was Article 370? Article 370, was a ‘temporary provision’ that granted special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir. Under Part XXI of the Constitution of India, which deals with “Temporary, Transitional and Special provisions”, Jammu & Kashmir had been accorded special status. All the provisions of the Constitution which applied to other States did not apply to J&K. According to this Article, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications, Parliament needed the J&K government’s concurrence for applying all other Indian laws. Thus J&K’s residents lived under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to other Indians elsewhere in the country. As a result of this provision, Indian citizens from other States could not even purchase land or property in Jammu & Kashmir.

However, with Kashmir’s special status gone, people from anywhere in India can now buy the property and permanently settle in the state. A separate Union Territory was created for Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh region was also given the status of a Union Territory, albeit without legislature. In a masterstroke, the Modi government, by revoking Article 370 and Article 35-A, mainstreamed Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, with the rest of India, as Article 370 was always discriminatory in more ways than one. With its revocation, the ball was set rolling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to flee their homes in 1990, in one of the most horrific genocides in 1990.

The Modi government, on January 7, 2020, approved an industrial development scheme worth Rs 28,400 crore, for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, to give a fresh thrust on job creation, skill development, and attracting new investment. Its outlay is until 2037. Smaller units with an investment in plant and machinery up to Rs 50 crore will get a capital incentive up to Rs 7.5 crore and get capital interest subvention at the rate of 6%, for a maximum of seven years. What makes the scheme unique is the GST linked incentive that will ensure less compliance burden without compromising on transparency.

After the abrogation of Article 370, various public outreach programmes have been undertaken with the intent to take more than fifty central schemes to all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For decades, the Abdullahs and Muftis treated this region as their personal fiefdom. The fact that in the recent district development council (DDC) elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest standalone Party, winning 75 seats and making inroads into hitherto impregnable areas like Srinagar, Bandipora, and Pulwama, is a clear vindication of Modi’s development-oriented politics. DDC elections, conducted in eight phases, saw an average voter turnout of over 51%, showcasing that there is genuine interest among the people of the valley to take part in the electoral process, because they foresee development and better quality of life for themselves and their future generations going forward. Even in the Panchayat elections held in 2018,the average voter turnout was 71%, marking the strength of grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2015, while announcing the ambitious Rs 80,000-crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir, from the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, PM Narendra Modi made a passionate mention of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, and Insaniyat”, as in, Kashmiri culture, democracy, and humanity. “Kashmiriyat ke bina Hindustan adhura hai”, said Modi (Without Kashmiriyat, India is incomplete). The mega package that was to change the face of the militancy-hit region and draw the disillusioned back into the mainstream has been a resounding success. On the jobs’ front, over 3000 jobs were created for Kashmiri migrants in the last eighteen months. Financial assistance of Rs 578 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was provided to 12,588 displaced families (of the 36,384 families) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Chhamb. Land was acquired for an IIT and an IIM in Jammu and the two AIIMS in Jammu and Awantipora in Kashmir respectively.

Power projects have moved at a fast pace. The Pakal Dul 1,000 MW project and the Srinagar-Leh transmission line are on course. Of the 28 small hydropower projects estimated to cost a total of Rs 2,000 crore, several projects have either already kicked off the ground or will do so soon enough.

The Rs 80,000 crore package consists of 63 major development projects being implemented by 15 Central Ministries. More than 79% of the total package has already been sanctioned and over 40% of the development package has either been released or utilised. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as the Patni-top or Syama Prasad Mookerjee tunnel, is not only India’s longest highway tunnel but also Asia’s longest bi-directional highway tunnel. The tunnel stretching 9.28 km, inaugurated by PM Modi in April 2017, is a huge achievement that is set to transform how different regions of India are connected across various terrains. The tunnel has reduced travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two to four hours, reducing the distance by 31 km, which in turn has resulted in a huge reduction in the consumption of fuel. The Modi government estimates a reduction of Rs 27 lakh of fuel consumption per day, on average. Further, the tunnel is impervious to natural calamities such as landslides and avalanches which are common in the region. The core advantage the tunnel offers is permanent connectivity to the Kashmir valley, which was hitherto only intermittently connected.

The fact that Jammu and Kashmir has always been high on the Modi government’s priority list is best amplified by PM Modi’s launch of the Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine (SEHAT) scheme, on December 26, 2020. The scheme will cover the remaining one crore population which has not been covered under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. With the launch of the Sehat scheme, Jammu and Kashmir are among the first in India to achieve universal health coverage. Currently, under Ayushman Bharat PM Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), which gives eligible beneficiaries a free health cover of Rs. 5 lakh, over 30 lakh people are already covered in Jammu and Kashmir.

An uneasy calm that had prevailed in the valley after the revocation of Article 370 and 35-A, has now paved way for higher business confidence and greater stability, with militancy and separatism, taking a backseat. Abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A have made it possible to implement the 7th pay commission recommendations and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) rather than the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which was in vogue all these years. Under Article 35-A no outsider could bag a government job. Earlier, companies were forced to hire only locals. Revocation of the above Articles has levelled the playing field in Jammu and Kashmir. No investor was willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institution, or private hospital since he or she could neither buy land or property. Their wards could not get government jobs or admission to colleges. In so many decades, there are barely any major national or international chains that have set up hotels in a tourist-centric region like J&K, preventing enrichment, resource generation, and job creation. But on August 5, 2019, Prime Minister Modi’s government reset the clock, undoing all the misguided wrongs of the jaded Nehruvian era in an unprecedented, epochal decision of abrogating Article 370 and 35-A. The rest is history. Recently,in a Clubhouse discussion, senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, notorious for being a loose cannon, said that the Congress Party would consider restoring Article 370 if it came to power, forgetting that the revocation of the said Article is full and final and cannot be undone. Also, the Congress Party has been reduced to a puny, fractious Party and cannot come back to power, as India is done with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts.

J&K’s special status had thus far even shielded it from the applicability of Article 3 of the Constitution, which provides for re-drawing state boundaries or the creation of a new State/UT. But all that is in the past now, as Jammu and Kashmir which are UTs now are at the cusp of a sharp economic turnaround. Remember, Article 370 and 35-A empowered J&K to be a near-autonomous State since it limited the Centre’s authority to just external affairs, defence, finance and communication. This provision even allowed J&K to have a “Sadar-e-Riyasat” for governor and prime minister in place of a chief minister till 1965, as well as its own flag and constitution. Hence revoking Article 370— which was in any case, always temporary and transitional as per Part XXI of the Constitution— was long overdue. Before the revocation, the Union government needed the concurrence of the State government to even declare a financial emergency in the State, under Article 360.

As per the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019, in place of this special status, all the provisions of the Indian Constitution will henceforth be applicable, which will help in mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35-A, which comes under Article 370, proscribed and prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the State, buying immovable property, acquiring land, applying for government jobs, or any kind of scholarships, aids as well as other public welfare projects. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will now be treated as one, with no discrimination between permanent residents and non-permanent ones.

Article 35-A also referred to as the Permanent Residents Law, had thus far barred a woman (belonging to the state) from any property rights if she marries a person from outside the state. The provision also extended to the children of such women as they did not have any succession rights over the property. The revoking of this Article ended the age-old discrimination against women of J&K, who chose to marry outsiders.

The Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 has ensured stability, market access, and predictable laws in the state, to help develop an ecosystem that will give better rewards to the skills, hard work, and products of the people in the region.

“In today’s world, economic growth cannot happen in a closed environment. Open minds and open markets will ensure that the youth of the region will put it on the path of greater progress. The integration gives a boost to investment, innovation, and incomes,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said post the revocation of the discriminatory Articles.

“Better connectivity, better linkages, and better investment will help products of the region to reach across the country and the world, leading to a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity to the common man,” the PM added. And with the slew of infrastructure projects underway in the region, that is precisely what is happening.

It needs to be mentioned here that Jammu and Kashmir had received 10% of all Central grants given to States over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only 1% of the country’s population.

In contrast, Uttar Pradesh making up about 13% of India’s population received only 8.2% of Central grants in 2000-16. That means J&K, with a population of 12.55 million according to the 2011 Census, received Rs.91,300 per person over the sixteen years between 2000-2016, while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs.4,300 per person over the same period. Why did J&K not see any substantive development despite receiving a disproportionate amount of Central assistance? Well, funds alone cannot guarantee good governance if the political will is lacking and an enabling ecosystem is missing. In one historic sweep, the Prime Minister, on August 5, 2019, by mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, ensured that the region could prosper like any other without being beholden to a corrupt and conniving political class represented by the Abdullahs and Muftis who had used the special status of J&K to only accord special privileges unto themselves.

The fact that the Modi government truly abides by the dictum of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Vishwaas”, can be gauged from the inauguration of mega hydropower projects in Jammu on January 3, 2021. Memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were signed with National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to attract Rs 35,000 crore of investments besides ensuring a 24-hour power supply in the UT.

January 3 was a historic day as mega hydropower projects to make J&K a power surplus region in the country were inked. MoUs were signed for implementation of 850 MW Ratle HEP and 930 MW Kirthai-II HEP; execution of Sawalkot HEP (1856 MW), Uri-I (Stage-II) (240 MW), and Dulhasti (Stage-II) (258 MW) will further transform the economic landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. In the last 70 odd years, J&K was able to generate only 3504 MW energy. But in the next four years, the UT will generate additional 3,498 MW of electricity to ensure energy security of the region.

The 19 distribution and transmission projects inaugurated on January 3, 2021, would enhance the ease of living in the region, in addition to playing a significant role in raising per capita incomes, industrialisation and employment generation in J&K. The national average of electricity in rural areas is 20 hours and in urban areas is 22-23 hours, across India. J&K too will reach that milestone if the pace of development is kept steady. With locals being trained and given employment in NHPC ventures, J&K will see a new dawn of energy sufficiency and thereby inclusive development.

Indeed, J&K is taking a quantum leap from being power deficit to power surplus, in the next four years. Clean, affordable, and reliable energy is the key for industries, businesses, and society to grow. The Modi government has a well-laid out plan to effectively harness the hydro energy resources of J&K, to double the energy generation by 2024.The construction work on the Ring Road project, the widening of the National Highway from Pathankot to Jammu to make it six-lane from four-lane as well as the acquisition of land for the landmark Katra-Delhi Expressway road corridor have started in earnest in the Jammu region. Out of seven Centrally funded medical colleges, Jammu received four and Kashmir, three. As for recruitment to government jobs, hereafter the selection will be made purely based on written test, without an interview. Those including the Gupkar Alliance, who are raising a hue and cry against revocation of Article 370 are merely habitual pessimists, with rapidly declining political relevance. PM Modi’s aspirational and inclusive brand of politics is set to herald the winds of change in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, so that everyone has a shot at growth with a better quality of life.

The writer is an economist, BJP national spokesperson, and bestselling author of ‘Truth&Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

ANALYSING INDIA’S ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE GOALS

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Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues concern and impact every company, irrespective of where the company operates. Environmental issues range across climate change, carbon emission concerns, waste management, pollution (air and water). Social issues range across labour issues, modern slavery, under-the-table sourcing practices, product liabilities, privacy concerns, data security. Governance issues range across business ethics, corporate culture that shapes how a company functions and its organisational practices, board impact, enterprise risk framework, and the granularity of the organisation disclosures.

The term ESG was first coined in 2005 in a landmark study initiated by United Nations, titled ‹Who Cares Wins.” Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) refers to the three core themes in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company. These criteria also help in determining the future financial performance of companies.

In recent years, investing in sustainable companies has been associated with ‘doing good’ investors. ESG is no more just that or about ‘investing plus sustainability’. It is now the way of responsible investing. It is no more a ‘nice to have’ special project in a firm; it is rather a ‘must make it part of the organisational DNA’ culture and board imperative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the importance of social commitment, environmental championing, and governance values of companies. Many companies have taken up the cause of social impact, as a spontaneous response to the suffering all around. These showcase the companies’ true values and commitment to a mission.

SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL LICENSE

Sustainability is specific to a company, or an industry, and a country. Companies need to measure their positive and negative impacts, identify the baselines, and disclose in a transparent and consumer-friendly manner. Regulatory requirements of such disclosures have compelled the act of disclosures, but not necessarily the spirit and details of such disclosures. To really achieve sustainability, it has to be a top-down, company-wide cultural effort.

A social licence simply refers to the acceptance of an organisation by the community in which it operates. In other words, an organisation can carry out its business, simply because of the confidence the (local) society has that it will behave well respecting all rules and traditions, with accountability, and in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The ‘social license to operate’ is made of these three elements:

• Legitimacy: the extent to which an organisation operates by the ‘rules of the game’ (the norm of the community, even if they are informal or not coded as law).

• Credibility: the organisation’s ability to provide true and detailed information to the community and fulfil all its commitments on time, without reminders.

• Trust: this aspect of highest quality of a relationship takes time and effort to nurture and sustain.

Organisations that think that social licence is something that they can ‘pay for’, end up with issues of their credibility at stake. Companies with questionable processes often try and buy such credibility by giving out community grants (in the form of social funds). This kind of transactional nature of the behaviour would break the trust that the community has with the organisation.

Even a broken relationship can be mended or healed by carefully rebuilding that trust. Trust assumes that all parties involved would nurture the relationships, based on mutual respect and highest levels of probity.

The social license of profit-making entities has to be a full-time engagement. Organisations, that champion their community initiatives, usually have their best and senior resources overseeing those initiatives. Such organisations ensure that their boards are appraised regularly of the initiatives, however small the projects could be in their balance sheet. It is the guiding principles of those initiatives which matter and not the project-cost-outlay!

Boards usually have governance expertise on business matters. At the beginning of this millennium, climate change became a global debate.

It took time for it to percolate to the corporate world as a serious topic that could impact their ‘future business as well as ‘future of business’. With ESG standards gaining momentum across stakeholder groups, Boards are discussing the following things :

• Societal changes and evolving expectations of the society

• Adapting the corporate brand promise in alignment with ESG objectives

• Various risks including Global risks, country risks, and corporate risks.

• Reputational issues

• Disruptive elements in their industry/geography

• Global momentum on ESG and expectations.

GRASSROOTS DISCUSSION

Conversations around ESG need to move out of specialist journals, multilateral institutions› annual summits, and corporate board rooms to classroom debates, panchayat discussions, and populist mass media across various languages!

A productive ESG thinking depends on building initiatives that are authentic, inclusive, actionable, and focused on driving a real-world result, not just an ESG rating or award.

ESG is not a revolution, but more a mindset evolution. This might be a good starting point for you to think of your ESG journey ahead:

• Do all your stakeholders know your ESG goals? Are all of them aligned in the mission ahead?

• How do you improve the existing ESG standards?

• Do you know of the parameters that make up your firm’s ESG score or ratings?

• How do you improve on the existing processes that impact the ESG performance of your firm?

• How do you compete with the global benchmarks?

• How strong is your social licence to operate, in the locations your firm operates and serves customers?

• How do you communicate about your ESG initiatives— both to your internal stakeholders and the external world? After all, perception is a new reality.

• You might have ‘goodness’ as a value. Is it reflected in each of the stakeholder behaviour and processes within your firm?

In this transformational journey to make the world ‘good’, every voice counts, and every positive act matters. Capital, human capital, and social capital have to come together for sustainable and impactful ESG outcomes.

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Opinion

GEO-ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF THE HISTORIC STILWELL ROAD

The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.

Jajati K. Pattnaik

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The Stilwell Road which was lost in geostrategic calculus during the Cold War period gained geo-economic relevance in the backdrop of India’s Act East policy under the canopy of neoliberal architecture. The road was considered a prime mover for cross-border trade and economic integration with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) having wider implications for India’s Northeastern states as well. The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.

Stilwell Road in 2015 (Nampong section)Stilwell Road during World War II. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

During its completion in 1944, the road was used as a major supply route for the transportation of arms, troops, and other essential materials for the Kuomintang Army of China in its war against Japan. The road covering a distance of 1726 kilometers starts from Ledo in Assam (India) and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Kachin (Myanmar) and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China. The road covers 61 km in India, 1033 km in Myanmar, and 632 km in China respectively.

Initially, Myanmar was skeptical about re-opening the Stilwell road, because it ran across the insurgency-infested Kachin region upon which the Military Junta did not have any control. Later, Myanmar Government assigned the contract to Yunnan Construction Engineering Group of China and the military-backed Yuzana group in 2010 to reconstruct 312-kilometer road from Myitkyina in Myanmar to Pangsau pass at the India-Myanmar border. India has renovated its portion of Stilwell road through two-lane highways, while China has renovated its own segment through six-lane Highways. The experts working in this field opined that rebuilding of Myitkyina-Pangsau Pass would reduce the cost of transport by about 30 percent benefitting India, Myanmar, and China for bilateral as well as multilateral trade. Generally, goods from India’s Northeast are brought through road and railways of narrow Siliguri corridor to Kolkata covering near about 1,600 km and then transshipped through the Strait of Malacca to South East Asia and China. The present route takes about seven days for the landing of cargo whereas the same consignment through the Stilwell route can land in Myanmar and China in less than two days. In my opinion, if the Myanmar segment is completed, then the Ledo-Nampong corridor could be connected to Muse, Lashio, Mandalay, and Yangon (Myanmar) through Asian Highway (AH14); Ruili, Wanding and Kunming (China) through AH3 and Bangkok (Thailand); Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore (Singapore) through Asian Highway 2(AH2) and further to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Hochi Minh city (Vietnam) of grater Mekong sub-region through Asian Highways 1(AH1). It is envisioned that such type of transnational-connectivity corridors would help in strengthening free trade architecture eventually pave the way for regional and sub-regional cooperation.

In this context, the opening of the Stilwell road at the India-Myanmar border would create scope for cross-border trade and economic collaboration in the region involving India’s Northeastern states. It is pertinent to mention here that the Nampong Land Custom Station (Arunachal Pradesh) notified since 1951 has largely remained non-functional and the border trade was limited to informal channels. At present, Indian nationals are allowed to visit the Pangsau market (Myanmar side) on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of every month. Likewise, Myanmar’s nationals living 16 km from its borer are permitted to visit Nampong every Friday to purchase their necessary items. In case of any formal border trade, there would be a rush forward in both imports and exports, and as a consequence, it would strengthen the pace for cross-border collaboration involving both hardware and software resources for the benefit of all the stakeholders in the region.

India’s prime apprehension is that in case ‘We Act East’ through the Stilwell Road, then India’s Northeast will be swamped with cheap Chinese goods. This kind of economic threat perception cannot be denied given the nature of the easy overflow of Chinese goods into the Indian markets including the Northeast. Equally, it is pertinent to mention that China has already spread its tentacles in our neighbouring South/ South East Asian countries through several infrastructural projects, the most touted, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) posing it as the economic hegemon of the continental corridor. Since India enjoys added advantages over China due to multiplicity of geo-economic, cultural, and strategic factors, New Delhi can drag the ASEAN very well in its favour by forging a closer partnership with the latter through transnational connectivity projects and deeper economic linkages. In this context, Stilwell road could be a game-changer, and set the momentum for the economic engagement of Northeast with ASEAN, subsequently balancing India’s national interest vis-à-vis China.

The writer is an Associate Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

The road covering a distance of 1,726 km starts from Ledo in Assam and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Myanmar and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China.

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BEIJING IS WATCHING BIDEN-PUTIN MEETING

Joyeeta Basu

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Joe Biden

It’s quite telling that the communiqué issued by Nato heads of state and government at the end of the summit in Brussels on Monday, 14 June, made around 10 references to China, and around 60 references to Russia, primarily in negative terms. One paragraph in the communiqué read: “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all… China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.” This can be interpreted as Nato striving hard to stay focused on the “Russian threat”—the raison d’être of the North Atlantic alliance—at a time when it is actually China that is trying to rewrite the international order with Chinese Communist characteristics that are essentially malign in nature. Even though the centre of gravity of geopolitics has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indo-Pacific, Nato countries, all of whom have deep economic ties with China, and are aware of China’s imperialistic ambitions, would rather talk about Russia.

It is in this context that the Wednesday meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva has to be seen. It’s interesting, that in spite of all that focus on Russia, the President of the most important Nato nation chose to sit down with Nato’s biggest “enemy”—in fact a “killer” as Joe Biden described Vladimir Putin not too long ago. Globally, eyes are focused on how this meeting will revive US-Russia relations, and the talk is all about Putin’s alleged interference in US elections, his annexation of Crimea, his Syrian adventure, the treatment meted out to Alexei Navalny, etc. But these are crucial but more legacy issues than anything else, considering the long history of animosity between the US and Russia. But there is another way of interpreting the meeting—a feeble, or perhaps not so feeble, attempt to wean Russia away from China. Biden’s instincts seem to be right, in that he realizes that it’s better to mend ties with Putin than shove him into China’s lap, when the question is about confronting China. That Putin too decided to meet Biden could be an indicator of the willingness to mend fences, reeling as his country is from western sanctions, one of the reasons why he has been driven into China’s arms. As this writer has pointed out earlier too, China is gradually taking over Russia. Shunned by the West, Russia is funds starved and has no option but to be dependent on China. This level of dependency is obvious from the fact that China alone accounted for over 15% of Russia’s total trade in 2018, while Russia accounted for less than 1% of China’s total trade. The Chinese have flooded Russia with their technology; Russia’s manufacturing is coming under the control of the Chinese; Russia is going for Huawei for its 5G rollout; their defence ties are burgeoning. However, in spite of the apparent bonhomie between Russia and China, there have been hiccups in the relationship over China claiming Vladivostok or getting active in Central Asia, which Russia considers to be its area of influence, or by “carving” out a Polar Silk Route. There is a belief that Russia, one of the two most important global powers during the Cold War—the other being of course the US—does not like being a Chinese appendage. Hence, this meeting can perhaps be interpreted as Putin opening a door, however partially to “overtures” from the US. But then the burden of history sometimes can be too big to bear and there is too much trust deficit between the two enemies. For every step that President Putin takes, President Biden will have to walk two steps if he is serious about mending ties with Russia. If the Geneva meeting leads to a thaw in US-Russia ties, then geopolitics may take a new turn, which may not be to China’s liking. There is no doubt that Beijing is watching the meeting intently.

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World needs more ‘no-meat’ days

Around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year. And to keep this savage business running, most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry.

Amita Singh

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On reading my friend’s latest article in a leading national newspaper, ‘Food Choice in Crisis: Forced Vegetarianism in Gurugram’, I felt a bit sympathetic towards people demanding access to whatever they wish to eat. The argument given against a Tuesday ban on meat supply to markets was that a religious argument should not be pushed to obstruct choice of those who wish to consume meat. Fair enough, if religion comes to the rescue of animals even if it is for a day. Enlightened people exposed to global discourses on slaughterhouse cruelties and climate change imperatives should welcome this move and not refurbish their armoury unnecessarily. The better side of all religions is to gradually do away with all forms of cruelties on the weak and create an Arcadian Bliss where all species are able to live in harmony with nature.

An insistence on ‘food choice’ comes from an overfed population controlling markets of opulence. Growing up in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where denying a culinary star meat dish was almost heretical in the early decades, most meat eaters would mock such intruders to a dining table as ‘grass-eating people’. My father, on an official tour with Jawaharlal Nehru to China and Burma, had to live on a potato diet for almost a month or more. He was often mocked by his fellow officials on his irrelevance for these tours, but Nehru was relatively respectful and would never forget to sympathetically ask him if he got something to eat. It was in 1971 when the book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé first appeared to answer many such arguments on food choice. By this time almost 15% of the Amazon forest had already been replaced by pastures for cattle which had prodigiously increased from 5 million to 80 million in factory farming for British and American food companies such as McDonald and Big Boy companies. The rare Andean Amazonian rainforest ecosystems from eastern to southern Brazilian Amazon covering its key states of Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Rondônia including the high value rainforest ecosystems of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were bulldozed for meat industry. This area gradually acquired the title of the dreadful ‘Arc of deforestation’ ready to push the planet into many improbable disasters. However, these countries supplied meat to foreign markets but back home witnessed the worst hunger as the food animals munched all their grains.

I must confess that many of us are encumbered by the power of endurance of so many animals, minced and grilled in the food industry where technical advancement for meat shredding and de-robing pretty birds goes on without guilt just to serve their bodies on plates as this is considered progressive. Ecology offers us a new way of thinking. Most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry. Almost 70% of human consumption of water takes place in the global agriculture sector including the agri-meat industry. To produce one kg of wheat only 1,500 litres of water is consumed, while it takes ten times more to produce the same amount of beef. For making 20-30 chapatis or a kilogramme of rice only 2,497 litres or less of water is used but for producing the same amount of beef 15,415 litres and for chicken meat 4,500 litres of water is used. One hamburger alone sucks 212 litres of water and by that standard an average American who consumes around 280 lbs of meat in a year may require 232,000 litres of water per year just to eat a hamburger.

The land statistics of meat consumption may also be disconcerting to many. It takes 1.8 acres to feed a cow for a year. The size of an average landholding in India is 3.7 acre per family which suggests that their inclination for rearing animals for the meat market may divert food and water from family members to the animal. Yet, there is another argument on slaughterhouse animals as sentient beings. As Peter Singer the legendary author on planetary ethics, questions, ‘Why the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests be arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species?’ It has been a powerful world of meat eaters since meat was power, sophistication and opulence. In 1990, I was exposed to a new direction of arguments from Carol J. Adams whom I met at a women’s conference at Hunter College of New York. She had already gained a huge following from students and intellectuals from many countries and most people were walking around with her much in demand book The Sexual Politics of Meat. During those five days of this global meet I was introduced to a male language of meat eating in which vegetable becomes a symbol of feminine passivity and meat of patriarchy. Her provocative feminist-vegetarian critical theory found ‘the rape of animals and the butchering of women’ synonymous with crimes as products of power hierarchies. In India an ideal subservient vegetarian wife would still be expected to cook, serve and feed meat to her husband and son to increase their masculine sturdiness and she in turn expects the same from her son’s wife.

Lately, Indian television media is going berserk on advertisements from meat companies. These ads get on to prime time popular slots to show disturbing images of animal bodies as delicious food products. For this reprehensible display which blatantly disparages smaller species is aggressively splashed through popular Bollywood stars. These advertising companies hurt sentiments of animal respecting people with brazen thoughtlessness as if the world was all theirs and a rampant demonstration of animal bodies carelessly put on fire was an ideal planetary ethics with men in driving seats. In reality, it is this brute force of a callous Anthropocene which has disturbed the balance of life on our planet.

Who are these animal respecting people (ARP)? Adams’ curt response that the world is divided into intellectually superior meat eaters and inferior plant eaters account for conquering other cultures such as the rice-eating Hindu and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish peasant by a well-fed beef eating English. Russell Baker’s account of the second World War highlights what he calls the ‘beef madness’ when American soldiers were force fed richly fatted beef to win the war. The result is everyone’s knowledge. This has also been a pet argument to promote meat by markets across the benign plant-based agrarian communities. The decades of 1960s and 1970s had shown animal respecting people as aggressive animal liberators who would break through laboratory cages or slaughterhouses to liberate suffering animals and that’s when in 1975 Peter Singer’s formidable Animal Liberation, a true story of slaughterhouses, was published. This book had many editions but in 2009 the author was still found face to face with the untold cruelties in slaughterhouses. He begins the new edition with the story of an undercover video on evening news reported from the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in California that shocked Americans. The world watched in horror as cattle too sick to even walk were being kicked, shocked with electric prods, jabbed in the eye with a baton and pushed around with a forklift all so that they could be driven near enough to the ‘kill box’ to be slaughtered and processed into meat. Yet, people can still cry for their right to eat Kebabs from their choice shops.

Ironically, the liberation movement for animals did not come from religious communities across the world spread around the Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist terrains but from the Western educated scientifically trained professional communities in the Western world. A realisation was writ large on the rising new generation that compassion cannot be left to the mercy of scientists in labs or those high tech 40 categories of butcher knives to dig out intestines of a dying animal in slaughterhouses. The meat eaters were now restraining themselves from mocking plant eaters at least in public. The KFC and McDonald ads on American TV showing a meek half-starved vegetarian playing his sad violin in the midst of energetic, smart and happy meat eating youngsters were being withdrawn silently. This movement was led by the People for Animals group of Maneka Gandhi in India. It picked up intimidating personalities such as former Chief Election Commissioner late T.N. Sheshan for his tough and straightforward administrative leadership reflecting high integrity. Sheshan would brutally cut a carrot between his teeth to say he does the same to the corrupt, was an act which brought a brilliant change of image for vegetarians who could come out from their self-proclaimed guilt of not being the mainstream people. I was also handed over a stupefying video film by animal activist Camelia Satija in 1992, shot by much driven braveheart animal activists in India›s best known slaughterhouses. This film was then shown in an exhibition organised at Kamala Nehru College and animal activists from St Stephens in Delhi, titled by students as ‘Leave Meat, Be Compassionate to Animals’. The impact was a series of street plays and a massive number of students taking public pledge to follow a vegetarian path.

The word vegetarian is a bit out of place as a visibly different lot of people. This word did not even exist till 1847 when the English Vegetarian Society was inducing moral and philosophical arguments to life. The Oxford English Dictionary was comfortable with the idea that the word represented centuries of protest against the killing of animals. The world currently has around two billion vegetarians by choice, a number that is growing gradually with increasing affluence combined with education and realisation. The other 1.5 billion are vegetarians of necessity. They will start to eat meat as soon as they can afford it or if health permits. Rising incomes in this latter group which lacks appropriate exposure to global environmental or political discourses adds numbers to meat eaters. India tops the number of vegetarians by choice to be around 40% or more, with Mexico following it with 20%. It is interesting to note that the percentage of vegetarians in UK, Brazil, Israel and Australia is fast rising to go beyond 15% but to add to this, countries which knew little beyond meat in their food like Scandinavian countries, Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan and Germany also show a rising graph of people with complete ‘no meat food’ simply as a response to anti-cruelty movements.

This meat industry as any other market encounters problems of demand and supply management. While around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year, almost 30% of them are wasted for lack of demand. This suggests that like any other capitalistic market the cumulative surplus comes from animals’ lives butchered unnecessarily. Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology scholar, had indicated in her 2009 writings that those who work in slaughterhouses are much more vulnerable to violent crimes, arrests for rape and other sex offenses in comparison with other industries. Mind is dreadfully affected as workers are hired to kill animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs and cows that are largely tender and gentle creatures. A disconnect with suffering and with pleading eyes of a helpless creature deadens their behaviour as they become numb towards  domestic violence, rape, killing on trifling incidents, alcohol abuse and are easily pushed sometimes to devilish outbursts.

It’s our moving away from plant-based diets that a bowl of food today needs ten times more energy for its production than it did in the 1960s. As India moves towards the 2030 deadline for achieving sustainable development goals and also commitments made under the Paris Pact for energy sustainability, governments may have to inspire, encourage and motivate populations to reduce consumption of animal-based diets. It is not the right time for aggressive advertising of meat products as above arguments establish that a ‘food choice’ is not absolute as it is limited by the carrying capacity of planet earth and the rights of animal respecting people.

So what is the harm if the much sullied side of human life, as described by Tillie Olsen in Yonnondio, ‘Geared, meshed: the kill room: knockers, shakles, pritcher-uppers, stickers, headers, rippers, leg breakers, breast and aitch sawyers, caul pullers, fell cutters, rumpers, splitters, vat dippers, skinners, gutters, pluckers’, are all sent on a one-day holiday to rest so that vibrations on the earth’s atmosphere are not disrupted by the loud and deafening screams of animals from slaughterhouses. Hope environmentalists and animal-respecting people should demand more ‘no-meat’ days in cities.

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

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