This last section of my ongoing series on smart cities will focus on an unresolved gulf between virtual and real communities that influence decisions on a city’s ‘smartness’ and on their ranking scale. We know that selected cities are expected to prepare project proposals around ‘citizen’s aspirations’ before the Mission makes them eligible for grants. This idea of inclusive citizenry is also carried forward quite effectively in those plausible commitments made through six fundamental principles on which the concept of ‘Smart Cities’ is based. Ironically, much is lost once the concept unfolds and touches the ground where citizens live.
File photo of Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha laying foundation stone of Smart city, in Srinagar In February. ANI
File photo of Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha laying foundation stone of Smart city, in Srinagar In February. ANI
SMART CITIES AND VIRTUAL CITIZENRY
It goes without saying that a city is smart because its citizens are smart. These citizens form communities that give an identity to a city. The Smart Cities Mission proudly quotes the Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl on its website, ‘We shape cities and they shape us’ but somewhere the ground plans have been pushed in sharp contrast to those qualitative parameters that Gehl’s work stands for. He has explained the problem of modern cities in an erudite manner as a problem that planners and architects working in silos have created for people, who are then left to fend for themselves under regulations of traffic engineers. In his path-breaking book Cities for People written in 2010, he has revolutionized the concept of landscape planning in accordance with the manner that people use cities. A city that fails to build around lifestyles of people and in contrast forces them to adjust to top-down plans may neither be livable or sustainable. In his famous interview on the book, he said that the real problem is about accommodating plans to the needs of people who have not been properly taken care of because no profession has been responsible for making sure that happened. According to him, this problem is much worse in the fast developing cities of the third world (including India, Brazil, and others), where more and more cars or motorcycles are coming in each day, where people are being more and more suppressed, their liveability is going down as health budgets soar. In a smart city the planner plans, and architect designs before it is handed over to traffic engineers to regulate. The virtual communities are mistaken as ‘people’ who call the shots as per the changing demands of technology. However, since this works in the interest of all such as the government, administrators and corporates, the virtual continues to dictate as real political person.
The 5000 plus projects of smart cities consume a budget that goes beyond Rs. 2,00,000 crores and the Mission grants fund only 45 percent of it. The balance funding comes from convergence and Public Private Partnership or other resources that the State could explore on its own. The very distancing from people begins from this mode of funding in which the companies or the corporates which provide funds may carry borrowed or imported from the West perceptions pushed through virtual communities in decisive convergence platforms. Does a smart city work for its people? There are more problems that plague smart city people from claustrophobia to suicides and murders than in traditional cities as lives are mostly wired and produced through the internet and television. The qualitative failure occurring in smart cities is reflective of the gap between its skyline and the ground life. If reading Gehl’s book was compulsory for Smart City planners, managing these cities would have been in the hands of communities, not traffic engineers as Gehl said. The Mission explains that a smart city ought to be planned in a manner that people are attracted to their markets or manufacturing hubs for opportunities or visit them for witnessing the greatness of their cultures, or their cosmopolitan vibes or for their ability to provide better education and health facilities. The Mission website elaborates it further by narrowing it down to accepting only two factors that attract people to cities and for whom smart cities need to cater to, these are called ‘push and pull factors’. The ‘push factors’, are when people migrate to cities due to distress or scarcity in their place of origin such as droughts, violence, social rifts etc. while the opportunities in education, business and industry constitute ‘pull factors’. Nowhere does it say about what should it provide to local people who have been inhabiting these areas which become smart cities over the destitution of their lives and closing down of income sources. The new professionals who move into these new cities become masters of decision-making by forming virtual communities while the original inhabitants who do not get adapted to this speed and culture get marginalized. The Mission has used ‘liveability, economic-ability and sustainability’ without really getting to the core of what they would mean for local people. The rapid action on ‘Change of Land Use’ from villages and agricultural lands has been done without an alternative economic plan for locals who lose their source of income.For the government to think that these communities could survive through land compensation money was an escape from public responsibility but worse was to close eyes towards the need of herders and landless schedules castes and tribes who survived on grazing grounds of village wastelands and forests.
The government, by allocating land procurement rights to private developers escaped all responsibilities towards these communities who were brutally displaced. In a just and balanced city growth planners would have left behind space for grazing grounds, historic ravines and traditional bunds for water rechargeshed which would have ensured liveability and sustainability while at the same time reducing cost of administering identification and demolition of illegal shops, markets and guest houses, preventing fires and disasters in illegally raised areas by local people.
WEBSITE CONNECT WITH PEOPLE
Smart cities connect to people through websites. It is interesting that Ministers and State officials share data with news media and claim decreasing number of complaints on garbage pickup, waterlogging or traffic congestion as obtained from their portal. Most district websites visited in smart cities were found to be so inaccessible and the wait time so long that complainants prefer to call up local Ward Councillors to get the problem resolved or look the other way. The problem may get resolved if the Councillor is listening to you but in a smart city it is beyond this position to resolve any problem permanently if the complaint doesn’t get registered on the web portal. The Chief Ministers’ claim to resolve instantly if one takes a photo of the problem site and uploads it with the complaint sounds laughable if one reads the section below. This is also a presumption based upon a corporate vision of technology-based governance.
It is in the above context that the government’s capacity to e-govern a smart city can be assessed upon three indices of e-governance ie; Web Measurement Index(WMI), Telecommunication Infrastructure Index (TII) and Human Capacity Index (HCI). WMI looks into the willingness of governments to attract people to inform, interact, transact and network. The number of visitors per website per day given at the bottom of the website would reveal a pathetically low number of visitors if compared to the total population of a city. Yet, this becomes a tool for judging people’s satisfaction with government. The TII explores the number and volume of internet users, online population, mobile users, TVs per hundred people, and provisions of government services and products available online. It would shock many to learn that the Cyber City Gurugram’s internet usage has only recently surpassed the IT cities of Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad to reach a mere 20.9%. It is revealing for the IT glass house people that in this upcoming city only one lac people have computers at home and out of these only 67,000 computers are internet enabled. The third index HCI is information on human capital especially on education levels and technology use aptitude. Since the lockdown started the HCI has plunged since much of the peer learning that used to happen in classrooms on multiple skills to manage one’s own environment has stopped. If e-classrooms are promoted without understanding serious shortcomings that freeze gregarious instinctive nature of humans HCI will further sink and the e-governance-based systems of smart cities may never achieve their objectives despite the massive diversion of money from providing free education to all to technology implantation. We all know that technology is the most ephemeral input in our lives and it needs frequent reinvestments for upgradation and change. Would funds be always available to procure and purchase and who would administer the interregnum?
CORPORATE DRIVEN DECISIONS
The last factor that distances people in smart cities is the manner in which decisions are made and implemented. The Smart Cities Mission has given a list of more than 70 companies and corporates on its website who are selected as consulting firms to plan and execute projects of smart cities. This list includes some of the top global multinational companies like Deloitte, Tractebel, McKinsey, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Pell Frischmann and Haskoning etc. The Mission Office which should have been a consulting space for Ward Councilors, State Disaster Management Authorities and the District Town and Country Planners or Associations of the Micro, Small and Medium enterprise groups have become a meeting place of these corporates. The manner in which ranking of smart cities take place through an evaluation process decided by these corporates, suggest that implanted ideas would become the core indicator for evaluation rather than the ground level demands which could never feature over the internet. The result is that those who are voted to power to serve their people are gradually getting incapacitated or sometimes they are even fed with wealth and power to serve as agents for the promotion of corporate plans. In the long run politics as a process of capacity building may shrink. The fact that political systems in smart cities have lesser drive to act in an inclusive manner, may become one of the key reasons behind ‘bulldozers’ becoming a political weapon to silence the critics.
From planning, proposal formulation, execution, evaluation and ranking, smart cities have less space for people and local communities who may like to see their cities look smart but may have no mandate to be heard and participate in decision-making processes. The government should seriously revisit its smart cities mission outlook to achieve its objective of liveability, eco-ability and sustainability which goes much further into a sturdy nation-building process as well.
The author is president of Network Asia Pacific Disaster Research Group, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal. This piece is the fifth and the last part of a series of five articles on ‘Grassroots Concerns of Smart Cities Mission’.
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Will Finland and Sweden joining NATO lead to peace in Europe?
Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO is a wise one. It will assist the smaller nations in deterring Russian plans to attack Europe.
Finland and Sweden which share democratic values are among the most innovative, peaceful and happiest countries in the world. After decades of abstaining from military alliances, the two Nordic countries, Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. There are two opposing viewpoints. Some experts believe it will be a historical catastrophe that will cause chaos throughout Europe. However, some experts believe it will make Europe more secure and united than ever before. The big step by both the countries will set an example for small Baltic Sea countries like Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for their peace and prosperity. In the event that Finland and Sweden join NATO, Russia would wind up its military ambitions in Northern Europe.
Finland and Sweden have maintained their NATO neutrality for over 75 years, throughout and after the Cold War. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, public opinion in both nations was overwhelmingly in favour of nonalignment. In fact, this pillar of foreign policy was so well-established and revered that the term “Finlandisation” was coined many decades ago to describe when a country is induced to favour or refrain from opposing the interests of a more powerful nation, despite not being politically allied with it.
However, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown everything into question. An opinion poll conducted in Finland in early May found 76 percent support for joining NATO, with only 12 percent opposition; this represents a significant shift toward membership since the invasion. The majority of the Finnish Parliament voted in favor of NATO membership in a recent vote, with 188 in favor and 08 opposed.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
President Putin has frequently cited the potential expansion of NATO into Ukraine as justification for his invasion. Therefore, the addition of Sweden and Finland to the alliance would be perceived as provocative.
According to the Russian foreign ministry, both countries have been warned of the “consequences” of such an action. Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of the Russian leader, has warned that Moscow’s deployment of nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania, may be precipitated by NATO membership. Former Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb does not discount these threats, but suggests that cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and occasional airspace violations pose a greater danger from Russia.
ERDOGAN’S TOUGH TALK?
Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and is a very important part of the group. It has the second-largest military in the group of 30 countries, after the United States. Turkey shares good ties with Russia and using this momentum as a bargaining tool to block NATO membership for the two Nordic countries but it seems that it would be short-lived.
WOULD NATO MAKE FINLAND AND SWEDEN SAFER?
Both Finland and Sweden will make Europe safer after joining NATO. The small Baltic Sea states will be surrounded by NATO nations, rendering it hard for Russia to conduct military operations in the Baltic Sea and surrounding regions. Swedish and Finnish Navy would have an equal chance against the Russian Navy.
In addition to the tactical and technical advances in military and logistical cooperation, the general consensus is that it would bring more stability to the region and would halt Putin’s ambition.
WHAT IS RUSSIA’S REACTION?
In the short term, there is speculation that Russia might attack Finland and Sweden as it has already warned all the European countries to maintain the status quo. The Prime Ministers of Denmark, Iceland and Norway have issued a joint statement welcoming the decisions of Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership. The joint statement said that “Should Finland or Sweden be victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining the NATO membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary.”
The geopolitical experts are assessing potential “retaliatory steps” as cyberattacks and hybrid attacks in the long-term goal on Finland and Sweden. The Cyber retaliation from Russia, which sees the expansion of the alliance as a direct threat. Such attacks would not have the severity that Moscow launched against Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of the country.
The energy sector could be another potential arena for Russian retaliation and punishment against NATO’s expansion. As it has traditionally supplied approximately 40 percent of the EU’s gas imports, Russia holds a strong position in this field.
Overall, Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO is a wise one. It will assist the smaller nations in deterring Russian plans to attack Europe. Additionally, it will preserve peace and stability in the region. The Baltic Sea states would be encircled by NATO nations. It will aid in preserving the status quo in border regions. The nations will once again feel secure and unite for their prosperity. Their joining NATO will further motivate the Ukrainian cause and strengthen the NATO and Europe alliance.
Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and international affairs. Neeraj Singh Manhas is a Director of Research, (Indo-Pacific) at Raisina House, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.
Digital colonisation: A warning bell for India
If India does not take concrete steps on digital colonialism soon, we will have to face dire consequences in the future.
You must have heard the name of the demon ‘Bhasmasura’. Bhasmasura was a demon who earned a boon from Lord Shiva that whoever lay their hand on his head, should be consumed. Later Bhasmasura misused this power and he tried to burn Lord Shiva himself. Although the story is mentioned in Hindu mythology, do you know that ‘Bhasmasura’ is still alive among us?
For the last few years, foreign social media and microblogging apps used in our country are sharing among themselves user data from India for commercial gain and auctioning in the International market for their profit. These exotic microblogging apps are the bane of the modern age. They have the boon of your data and these app companies are using your data against you and giving birth to a new kind of digital colonialism.
Today digital colonialism is being carried out by global social and microblogging app companies. Through the data of the consumers, these companies understand their search patterns, and through this algorithm use this data of the consumer to fulfil their interests or auction them in the International market. These companies also provide some free facilities to the consumers, so that the use of the company’s service becomes a habit and then a compulsion for the consumer.
If we explore India’s colonisation methods by the East India Company, it will be known that this company first came to India for trade. When the trade was established, the Company became financially strong, and later it used its military to establish dominance with a monopoly. And then gradually the company ruled the whole country. In the meantime, people were also provided with facilities like education and railways, so people continued to consider this control of the company in their interest. It took a long time for people to believe that they were citizens of a slave country. Later, feelings like Swaraj and Swadeshi were awakened in the country and our entire freedom struggle was recorded in the pages of history. No one can understand the lessons learned from the East India Company better than in India. The modern era of social and microblogging apps are also taking their digital colonialism throughout the world through the internet and are slowly capturing your thoughts through your mobile phone.
After the end of World War II, Winston Churchill said at Harvard University that “the empires of the future will be the kingdoms of the mind”. This statement of Churchill is being realized today after looking at these new platforms.
Does your mobile spy on you? This question must have come to your mind several times. What you are saying, what are you listening to, what are you watching from your mobile? There is someone who is monitoring these activities of yours. For example, if you have to get admission of your child to a private university or your hair is falling fast or you have to buy a mobile and you asked a friend about all these, you will see that after a few hours advertisements related to this information will start appearing on your screen. So the question arises who is he/she? who is spying on this information of yours? How do search engines know what’s going on in your brain?
On 29 June 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology convened a meeting on the misuse of social media platforms in which the members of the committee raised the question of whether Google was listening to us? In response to the committee’s question, the Google representative admitted that yes Google does listen to a few things.
THE THREAT LOOMING LARGE
If we look at the risks of digital colonialism, it is the theft of intellectual property as it allows easy access to communication. The second risk is related to national security. Because the country’s strategists, leaders, and army officers are sharing data on these platforms and discussing strategies and plans. Its biggest risk is related to religion, this will make foreigners come to know about the religious weakness of the country. They will learn about the trends of people of different religions so that they can implement dangerous tactics like spreading false news and promoting religious fanaticism.
INDIA’S CHALLENGES IN DIGITAL COLONIZATION
Local languages extinction: The Internet is dominated by the English language which is making the local languages slowly disappear. The main reason for this is the availability of content in English on the Internet. Countries like Japan and China have largely conquered the situation. There is a severe lack of adequate infrastructure for the collection and management of data in India which has to be filled. There is also the issue of data security in our country, we will have to take the necessary steps to solve it. There is also a lack of digital literacy in our country. At the same time, there is also a lack of a strict law regarding data protection in India.
How can digital colonialism be stopped in India? Our mind is being controlled through digital colonialism. Now we have to face this fight. There can be four effective models of preventing digital colonialism in India.
The first model: The creation of strict laws like the European Union; if a company collects the data of the people of Europe, it has to follow the strict rules there. Companies violating these rules can be fined up to 4 per cent of their earnings. The European Union has also imposed a fine of about 70 thousand crore rupees on Google since the year 2017. A penalty of Rs 890 crore was also imposed on Facebook and these companies are scared of these fines. Users in Europe can demand the destruction of their data whenever they want.
The second model: China to stop the bullying of microblogging apps companies; China has not allowed foreign companies to enter its technology industry. According to their law, the data of the people of China cannot be stored abroad. Under this rule, companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter were blocked in China. The local companies got the full benefit of this effective move of China. These companies understand China’s civilization and culture very well. Now it has reached the global level and due to the laws there, the data of the citizens of China are safe within their country only.
The third model: America tried to implement the third model of avoiding digital colonialism; Trump put pressure on Tiktok so that the owner would sell his company to a big technology company in America. This was done so that the data of the people of America present with Tiktok is safe in the US itself.
The fourth model: We have to create Indian champions of tech knowledge. The promotion of the indigenous apps like ‘Koo App’, ‘Chingari’ etc. as an alternative to the foreign microblogging app Twitter can be a good example of this. Today, the native app ‘Koo App’, operating on the lines of self-reliant India (Atmanirbhar Bharat), is available in regional languages, using which we can avoid such problems. ‘Koo App’ has been launched as a multilingual, micro-blogging platform for Indian languages, to enable Indians to express themselves in their mother tongue.
Now is the time to become aware of our digital identity and the future of our generation. If India does not take concrete steps on digital colonialism soon, we will have to face dire consequences in the future. The data of millions of our people will go to micro-blogging platforms, whose sole goal is to make money by using it for commercial purposes or selling it. No such platform in this country should have such a discount that it collects your information and converts it into a profit of lakhs and crores of rupees by giving you free service.
Today our government and we need to avoid using microblogging apps operating from abroad as well as promote indigenously made microblogging apps under self-reliant India.
For the last few years, foreign social media and microblogging apps used in our country are sharing among themselves user data from India for commercial gain and auctioning in the International market for their profit.
THE ROAD AHEAD FOR THE GRAND OLD PARTY IS FULL OF POTHOLES
It was the month of June. The occasion was another Chintan Shivir – the brainstorming camp of the Indian Youth Congress held at Pragati Maidan in Delhi. Present on the high podium was the scion of the Gandhi family Sanjay Gandhi, accompanied by the effervescent Ambika Soni, head of the youth organization. ‘The future of Congress is the future of the country’ was the call given from the podium amid high decibel sloganeering by the congregation. This was way back in 1976. I was working as a correspondent with a major media organization, then. I wrote a long cover story on the event which was published in the weekly. The Chintan Shivir, which was held in the scorching heat of Udaipur between May 13 and 15, was similarly called Sankalp Shivir after it was over, typical epiphanous moments the Congress then had experienced.
The difference this time around was that Ambika Soni was there in the first row on the stage along with other senior Congress leaders and there was Rahul Gandhi, the second-generation member of the family, who was telling us that Congress was indispensable for India’s future. Despite all the cacophony and tall talks of the Chintan Shivir, Sanjay Gandhi received a sound drubbing in the parliamentary elections held a year later in 1977, so did the Congress Party. Both Indira Gandhi and son Sanjay found themselves behind bars, leaving the party high and dry, even leading to its disintegration. Pushed to the wall, the mother-son duo, however, clawed back by fighting a real fight on the grounds, reaching out to the people, and rode back to power in 1980. That was a different era. But in present times, would the ‘walking alone’ policy and launching Bharat Jodo Yatra – Unite the Country Campaign – help the party achieve its goals and lead it back to power? I wonder.
In a democracy, it is natural for a political party to adopt an adversarial role against the ruling power of the day and dream about coming to power and make all-out efforts to realize that dream. The Congress Party, after the three-day-long brainstorming sessions, resolved to remove the BJP from power and adopted some programmes to realize that goal. However, many of those things were voiced in various camps and conferences of the Congress Party in the past, as well. Those resolutions, however, were never implemented when the party was in power. The team of advisors of Rahul Gandhi may, perhaps, be completely ignorant of those resolutions, as Google may not be having details of those decisions taken in that Indira-Rajiv era.
In a democracy, however, having been identified with an ideology at the national level may help a political party. For Rahul, the journey ahead may bring bouquets and brickbats, as the road he has to negotiate is full of potholes. Then, is Congress the only party from Kashmir to Kanyakumari? There are regional parties that have stopped the BJP juggernaut in their respective states. The Congress Party has no significant presence there either. Yet, for Rahul, those parties neither have any ideology nor any real strength as they depend on caste and caste equations. The million-dollar question is: can the Congress Party under Rahul’s leadership remove the BJP from power in the coming assembly and parliamentary elections in 2024 on its own after undertaking this yatra? You are expecting a miracle, isn’t it?
The agenda of Congress Chintan Shivir changed during its course. The unease over Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan which is palpable must have certainly tampered the dreaming. During the course of the Shivir, senior leader Sunil Jakhar, who has been with the party for the past 50 years, openly accused Ambika Soni of playing along Hindu-Sikh lines and Harish Rawat of playing Dalit card. Gujarat is going for elections this year, for instance. Hardik Patel, Working President of the State Congress Committee did not turn up for the Shivir. Surprisingly, Raghu Sharma, in charge of Gujarat, had this much to say, “I have no idea why Hardik did not turn up.” Disillusioned with the approach of the party, Patel left it three days after the Shivir concluded on Sunday. Whether the popular youth leader joins the BJP or another political party, or not is an entirely different issue. But wouldn’t his exit dent the party?
Should party leaders adopt such a method to establish connect with their workers and the people? What fruit would the call to establish connect and dialogue with the people made by Party President Sonia Gandhi and her heir apparent bear? Gujarat is hardly a few hours drive from Udaipur, and Sachin Pilot, if not Rahul Gandhi or Raghu Sharma, could have gone there and brought Hardik around to attend the camp. Infighting in the party was too apparent to go unnoticed. Sachin Pilot was cold-shouldered by the top brass of the party. He did not find any mention as a leader from Rajasthan in the concluding address by Rahul Gandhi, though he is considered close to both Rahul and Priyanka. Pilot was not given a place, either, in the front row during the three-day-long programme, whereas turncoats of all sorts, who have never fought an election and are rather found currying favour with the BJP, were found enjoying a place of prominence there. A leader like Ambika Soni had deserted Indira Gandhi in 1977. Not only that, those who are known for writing and speaking against Sonia Gandhi for the past so many years are now part of the core team of the party. Sachin and his father Rajesh Pilot never deserted the Congress Party and Gandhi family. He was being slighted and his patience tested. It is well known that both Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot are grassroots leaders who have their fingers on the pulse of the people of Rajasthan. As the political sagacity demanded, one of them could have been appointed as the Working President at the state level and the other could have been appointed to the national executive, striking a fine balance of power between the two factions to the benefit of the party. But nothing of this sort happened.
As usual, Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues of inflation, corruption, unemployment, and mishandling of the Corona pandemic. But he forgets that Congress governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Punjab too have failed in delivering on similar promises they made to the public there – providing employment, reforming the healthcare system, and economic development. The Congress Party is part of the coaling governments in Jharkhand and Maharashtra. And if these Congress-ruled states are not better off, then what sets them apart from the rest of the country? The party failed to underline the achievements of the governments of the Congress-ruled states and the cooperation from the central government.
It was an irony to see Ajay Makan talking of connect with the people from the podium, for the leader has no connect with the people of Delhi. How many people Rahul Gandhi himself meets for that matter? Contacting the people on a regular basis, identifying with their pain when they face problems and are in crises, helping the party workers and introspection are far more important and effective tools than spouting resolutions and declarations and talking on Facebook and Twitter. Even the BJP and perhaps the Prime Minister may wish them good luck. But when the opponents are strong, every player and the leader in the ring enjoy fighting the fight.
The author is the Editorial Director of ITV Network, India News and Aaj Samaj. Views espressed are personal.
Biodiversity is our shared future
Every year the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) announces a theme-specific for that year’s Biodiversity Day on 22nd May. This year a theme that needs much introspection on the policy front is ‘Building a shared future for all life’. While the theme is a stark reminder to nations maddeningly wiping off biological assets of their weak neighbourhood and in turn closing down any good future for themselves and the world, it is also a reminder of the dark ages when men lived and lost under the impression that they have limitless supplies of everything available in nature. Since men have not changed despite the bacchic death dance of Covid-19 through our lives, so let us think about laws that can cork these barbaric criminaloids back into their genie bottles so that the privilege of appearing on global podiums as saints of conservation is somehow checked.
DESTROYING BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS
Biodiversity is a central cause of our presence on this planet. The theme of shared future is like an alert call prior to the 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) to nations that are carrying business as usual despite causing immense irretrievable harm to biodiversity through their policies of development and infrastructure expansion. India has special responsibility as well as a leadership role in global biodiversity conservation since four out of nine biodiversity hotspots in Asia-Pacific are located in India alone ie; Western Ghats, Nicobar Sudaland, North-East Meghalaya-Assam region, and the eastern Himalayas or Bhutan-Nepal belt, and we are aware of their deteriorating health. The Western Ghats is gasping for survival yet governments continue to rip it barbarically. The much-maligned and rejected Hubballi-Ankola railway line has been revived by the Karnataka government while on the other hand Kerala government is pushing hard for its Silverline rail project despite a united people’s opposition to it. Sawantwadi Mines have already shaken the fragile ecology of Western Ghats and now Goa is heading towards doom through the government’s revival of manganese, iron, and bauxite mining deep into the biodiversity clusters of its forests. The Western Ghats provide the only source of water to South India as some of their major river systems like Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Tungabhadra which originate in this region supply water to innumerable networks of streams and smaller rivers spread around.Can anyone wait to see the drying up of just one river Tungabhadra which affects the lives of millions of farmers in Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. Warning signs are already to the fore with rain deficits increasing as high as 34% and more. Krishna river is already at the verge of going dry speedily to almost 74% since 2017. This year in March, Godavari, a major provider of water to Maharashtra dried up completely. In Kerala, after the devastating 2018 floods even their deep restoration channels of water banks called aquifers have been split open and lost pushing the state to a water emergency even if they get excess rainfall during monsoon months. Viju’s bestseller book ‘Flood and Fury’ (2019) documents in tears the ecological devastation of the Western Ghats which transcends political ideologies which have claimed to be genetically linked to environmentalists and forest people. This story of the Western Ghats is true for all biodiversity hotspots in India but in a maddening race for infrastructure projects, governments continue to dilute environmental norms and play havoc with biodiversity. Governments also tend to underplay the fact that regions with high environmental degradation are also regions with unsustainable economies and low human development indices such as Wayanad and Mallapuram in Kerala, Bijapur in Karnataka, the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and many more could be looked into.
BIODIVERSITY & DEMOCRACY
Biodiversity is inherently a democratic idea embedded in nature. It reiterates a spiritual lesson that harmony is the key to a strong society. A biodiverse terrain is where every species is allowed to grow and evolve to its optimum, regenerate and achieve sturdiness against outside attacks of any kind ie; natural, chemical or environmental. Every species in the midst of this available freedom interacts with other species of its choice and sprouts into a variety of collaborations and symbiotic relationships which empower and strengthen their families and also extended families reciprocatively. The essence of biodiversity is ‘freedom to grow on one’s selected habitat’. Environmental history of earth shows that the worst of the mass extinctions which ever came on this earth was during the Holocene era of the last 11,500 years or the 6th mass extinction which came under human impact as this was the only animal which the moment it emerged on earth, started stealing and grabbing habitats of other living species. Sometimes, on a lighter side, I feel that this creation of a human-animal was by Almighty’s default science or why would a creator place a time bomb under its own empire.
BIODIVERSITY DESTRUCTION AND PANDEMICS
It is scientifically established since the 2005 US Geological survey that the earth is 4.54 billion years old and any meagre evidence of life was visible only a few billion years later when the molten mass of earth started solidifying. Microbes were the first to appear as studies on fossils in Western Australia have research stories to share. Over these many billion years species have undergone struggles of survival, of symbiosis, and extinctions, and what we find today are just 10-14 million species of the multi trillions which appeared and are today extinct to a level of 99.9%. So human capacity to stay naturally protected from the varieties which were available in the wild is sunk to its lowest. Scientific studies are warning that the current pandemic is only a prelude to much worse viral attacks with many times more deaths that are yet to follow. A Lancet study by Odette Lawlaer and team (2021) and another by Sara Platto and team (2021) in Biomedical research journal have strongly established that global trends indicate that biodiversity losses are directly linked to the spread of infectious diseases. Kate Jones through her ecological modelling at the University College of London has been writing and warning since 2008 but was ignored when she related biodiversity losses to pandemics. Her research paper in ‘Nature’, which appeared in 2008 had linked biodiversity losses to land use and to infectious diseases. Later writings which carried this linkage further suggested that loss of habitats and arbitrary land use in infrastructure buildups have forced species to either go extinct or re-adapt to human habitats. Some sturdier species like bats and rats which survived the migration stress re-adapted to cities and inadvertently became a source of spreading the fatal microbe of which they were the carriers with self-resistance but the human community was vulnerable. The Corona pandemic was attributed to such biodiversity disturbances, shrinking of habitats, and over-culling for consumption of rare species by humans. The UNESCO Reportfrom the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) suggests the same through scientific research. Accordingly, the emergence of pandemics is purely a creation of anti-biodiversity-led human activities. The Report does not end here but warns of many more pandemics in the future which would kill many more and devastate the world economy unless preventive measures are taken immediately by nations. Experts suggest that preventive measures are 100 times cheaper and easier to follow than responding against a pandemic.UNESCO has been emphasizing through its networks and partners to transform the way we live on earth and consume its resources.
AN EQUITY PRINCIPLE IN BIODIVERSITY
Biodiversity conservation is established upon a principle of equity. This principle is a basis for sustainable governance as well. Equity as a principal strategy would demand just distribution in contrast to the same quantity of distribution to everyone, which nonetheless comes under the principle of equality and helps the privileged. A just consumption vis a vis nature follows two basic commandments ie; do not draw beyond the carrying capacity of a natural asset ie; drilling out more groundwater, infrastructural spread over forests, over-mining, building over hills and coastal zones, etc. The second commandment is to abide by the law of inter-generational (current population and the ones to come in the future) and intra-generational (within various segments of the current population) equity and justice. This indicates that there is no overdraft facility in nature that is writ open to serve only a limited number of people. After the Club of Rome revealed in 1968 through ‘Limits to Growth’ that the world is not limitless and coal, oil, petrol and every other asset drawn from earth has a limited life, industrialists were uproarious in a hysterical frenzy to rubbish this report. Now more studies come to suggest limitations on water, topsoil and also slaughterhouses which release 40% of CFC gases. There has been an increasingly outrageous worldwide roar to reduce the production of cattle since 80% of the land is used to grow cattle feed in the world or to ban whale and shark hunting alongside overfishing in the ocean to protect the phytoplankton ecosystem at ocean bed which gives 60% of our oxygen at the earth’s surface. With an explosion of so much information on the internet, vegetarianism is not just a new fad for the emerging younger sensitized population today but an indispensable requirement for the world to manage and survive through current resource consumption challenges about to strike the human race like global disasters.
BIODIVERSITY AS A BANK
Biodiversity is a bank for any country to cherish and a prudent government would be serious enough about maintaining an appropriate balance of payments and Cash reserve ratio in these banks. The total mass of biosphere in the world is valued at 4 trillion tonnes of carbon stock and India’s biomass is valued at 7083 million tonnes of carbon stock. Carbon stocks define eligibility to trade in carbon credits or the right to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or further to adopt industrial processes of production. Besides more than a lac of fauna and 47,000 flora in country’s ten Biodiversity Zones, there is no compatible habitat provision arranged in policies for these numbers to survive. Habitats of forests, wetlands, grasslands, deserts, coastal and marine ecosystems are reducing with each passing day. Human interventions is emboldened as never before since ideas of democratic decision making, constitutional safeguards, human rights and equity is lost to silence in the name of nationalism fed by increased corporatization of government’s regular district level programmes which are now being promoted through CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
A few smaller but local steps can protect biodiversity within our range as COP 15 moves ahead. There has been massive devastation at the fringes of cities and much noise is about preventing it. However, it has become a legitimized right of not just the government but also heads of institutions to dig, excavate, drill out and drain away smaller shrunken biodiversity spots where reptiles, porcupines, rabbits, wild cats, squirrels, foxes and jackals have taken shelter after losing their own habitat. Decision-makers do not think twice about alternative ideas, least use of land and protecting a pond on a priority. For example, Arawali ranges falling inside institutions such as JNU and other institutions should have laws to protect these hidden, scared, and weaker species hiding in refuge from the conceitful eye of a contractor and a robotic institutional head.
Before appointing any institutional head, especially that of an academic body, the government would do great service to the nation if wired and programmed personalities are kept out and a holistic ecosystem personality is given charge of life within the campus. In a kind of developmental pattern which is defining our lives in modern cities, people confine to cosmetic apartment lives, children move in airconditioned school buses, and man-dislocated animals are targeted everywhere in India to be killed, then where would one get a basic sense and a training to co-exist with the biodiverse environment? Biodiversity conservation demands sensitive education, democratic communication, strong environmental regulations, a committed sense towards non-human lives, and ethically just governance. Greed for either political or cash capital will kill even the remotest approach to biodiversity conservation.
Last, the point is about ‘tolerance’. A democratic personality in governance respects advocacy groups standing in support of protecting biodiversity areas and erroneously viewed by the government as anti-nationals or anti-development people. ‘Save Silent Valley’ movement alerted the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to cancel the project and join hands with the conservationists of Silent Valley, a rare biodiversity area. Kerala’s historic 100-day ‘Save the Western Ghats March’ in 1987-88 blew turbulent winds over many governments. One does not need a UN-declared Biodiversity decade of 2011-2020, once ethics is in place for governments since they seem to be most evasive towards conservation. The forthcoming UN Biodiversity Conference may hopefully frame a new set of goals for nature over the next decade and have plans to transform society’s relationship with biodiversity so that humans learn to live in harmony with nature.
The author is president of Network Asia Pacific Disaster Research Group, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
‘CHINTA’ ABOUT THE CHINTIN SHIVIR
There was a lot of hype and coverage around the Congress Party’s introspection meet, or the Chintin Shivir held in Udaipur recently. But let us take a look as to whether this exercise was worth the hype.
Yes on paper decisions were taken. Such as the one to deny more than one ticket (to contest elections) to members of the same family. This was immediately watered down with a proviso – unless the second family member has spent five years working in the organisation. This gives a clean chit to all the three Gandhi family members, and most other families as well. Conditions were also laid down to reserve representation of youth (50 percent under 50) in the CWC, as well as reservations for Dalits, minorities, and tribals. This, in a sense, is to bring back the umbrella coalition that was the hallmark of Congress. Of late, this is a vote bank that has deserted the Congress in favour of regional parties, as well as the BJP. The BJP under Prime Minister Modi has been aggressively wooing the OBCs as well as the tribals with its pro-poor schemes. A sizeable chunk of Muslim women also voted for the party not just for its subsidies and ujjwala schemes but also for progressive legislations like banning Triple Talaq. If the Modi government brings in the UCC then this will further attract the Muslim women vote.
The Congress leadership has realised that it needs to win back the traditional vote bank of the Congress and remould it back to its socialist, secular moorings instead of competing with the BJP on a capitalist, Hindu platform. It has to go back to the Congress of Nehru and Indira instead of competing with the BJP of Modi and Shah. Given that the BJP is arguing that it is now time to remove the words socialist and secular from our Constitution will this gambit have any takers in Modi’s India. (Last week in an interview to ITV Network, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma argued that while socialism has been rejected worldwide, the word secularism too should be dropped as India has always been secular— not in the western meaning of the word, but ‘dharam nirpeksh’. So where was the need to state the obvious, argues Sarma.) This is a cry that will be picked up by other BJP leaders as well. The Congress of Indira and Nehru was not the Congress of Rao and Manmohan. The aspiring middle class was not its vote bank, but it was in the poor and the backwards. Can Rahul walk the party back a few decades?
Certainly, his over 3000 km long Bharat Jodo yatra is aiming to do that. My concern about Rahul Gandhi is not that he will not be able to undertake the strenuous walk. He will do it for he knows that this could well be his last chance to reinvent himself. He will also be able to undertake the physical rigours better than any other Congress leader because he has kept himself physically fit. My concern is whether Rahul will be able to make an emotional connect with the people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari that he encounters on the way. Rahul’s main problem has been the lack of an emotional connect with the rest of India. Maybe it’s due to his slightly formal, westernised mannerisms, but whatever the reason, Rahul does not come across as a spontaneous, instinctive leader, and the public can sense that. The first thing Rahul should do is throw away his mobile when he embarks on this yatra for he needs no distractions.
The other shift at the Chintin Shivir was the prominence given to other Congress leaders and not just members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Apart from hoardings of Nehru, Rajiv, and Indira there were also hoardings of BR Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Subash Chandra Bose, Abdul Kalam Azad, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sarojini Naidu, and Mahatma Gandhi. What is even more interesting is that even Narasimha Rao found a mention in a hoarding as did Dr Manmohan Singh. Clearly a much more inclusive outlook than the earlier family focus. And it could not have come soon enough, at a time when the BJP and regional parties are appropriating Congress leadership icons.
And of course, those who were hoping that the Shivir would throw up a leadership alternative were in for some disappointment because the one message that came through loud and clear is that the Gandhis are very much in control with Sonia paving the way for a Rahul Gandhi take over. For all its hype and hoopla the G 23 failed to make an impression (did they even try?) at the Chintan Shivir. The election for party president— whenever it happens— will be a token exercise at best, for it does seem that Rahul Gandhi is firmly in place as the leader of the Congress party, with or without allies.
Yogi Adityanath’s secularism has quelled India’s ‘minorityism’
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister seems to be on a mission to dispel common beliefs about the Nehruvian style of secularism that has been adopted by the left for decades.
The loudspeaker row on Azaan and Hanuman Chalisa— which sparked a national debate on prime time and in political circles, began in Maharashtra with Raj Thackery of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) issuing an ultimatum to the Rana couple sailing on the same boat about the removal of loudspeakers that hung over the minarets of mosques—has now reached Uttar Pradesh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being presented with an idol of Lord Krishna by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during the meeting with UP BJP leaders and ministers, in Lucknow on Monday. ANI
“So far, 53,942 loudspeakers have been removed from different holy locations throughout the state till 7 a.m. (Sunday) this morning,” said Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) in Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, had issued an advisory restricting the volume of loudspeakers within the institution’s premises before this move. The sound level of 60,295 loudspeakers was later decreased by the authorities and brought within normal specifications. As luck would have it, the debate that ensued followed the sectarian violence that erupted in several states during the recent Hindu festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Janmotsav, and the subject has been simmering ever since. Raj Thackeray gives Yogi a thumbs up, saying, “In Maharashtra, we don’t have ‘yogis’ in authority; what we have are bhogis (hedonists).”
In reality, numerous courts have noted the following at various times:
1. Supreme Court (2005): In July 2005, the Supreme Court issued an order prohibiting the use of loudspeakers and music systems in public places between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. (except in emergency situations), citing the serious health effects of noise pollution on those who live in such areas.
2. Bombay High Court (2016): The Bombay High Court ruled in August 2016 that utilizing loudspeakers was not a fundamental right. No religion or sect could claim that the capacity to use a loudspeaker or public address system was a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, according to the Bombay High Court.
3. Uttarakhand High Court (2018): “The loudspeakers continue to blare even after 12 a.m.” “The loudspeaker cannot be utilized without proper clearance from the government, including by temples, mosques, and gurdwaras,” according to the court.
4. Karnataka High Court (2021): In January 2021, the state government was instructed to take action against unlawful loudspeakers at religious sites throughout the state by the Karnataka High Court. It ordered the state government to issue immediate orders to the police and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to take action against the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers in religious structures, citing noise pollution legislation and Supreme Court judgements as justifications. The state government was then asked by the Karnataka High Court to explain the statutory provisions that enable loudspeakers and public address systems in mosques, as well as what steps are being done to reduce their use by November 2021.
5. Haryana and Punjab High Courts: The Punjab and Haryana High Courts issued an order in July 2019 forbidding the use of loudspeakers in public places, including religious groups. Public address systems should only be used with prior consent, according to the court, and the noise level should never exceed the permitted limit.
Thus, the Uttar Pradesh government has set the ideal example of communal unity and secularism by removing loudspeakers from mosques, temples, and gurudwaras. While it has been extensively debated how India defines, rather, ratifies itself as a “secular nation” but is, in fact, not, Yogi Adityanath seems to be on a mission to dispel common beliefs about the Nehruvian style of secularism that has been adopted by the left for decades. Academics, ideologues, and activists on the left have cleverly labeled and reduced secularism to expressing ugly and slanderous sentiments on Hindus and their cultures, hence demonstrating their “secular credentials” and “solidarity” with India’s minority groups.
Secularism, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the conviction that religion should not influence or be involved in the structure of society, education, government, or other institutions.” And that is precisely what the Yogi administration is doing, by questioning the established concept of secularism, which is based only on minority appeasement. Neither Vikas Dubey nor Mukhtar Ansari is safe in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. The government has reduced the volume of loudspeakers at the Gyanvapi Mosque if loudspeakers are not used during aarti at temples such as Kashi Vishwanath Dham, Kaal Bhairav, Sankatmochan Temple, Durga Temple, and Tulsi Manas Temple in Varanasi.
Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-clad Chief Minister, has made no apologies for his tough stance on crime in Uttar Pradesh, declaring in an interview, “Agar apraadh karenge toh thok diye jayenge” (Criminals would be shot). The Chief Minister’s pet initiative “Operation Clean” has taken the hardest measures against criminals, and the Yogi administration seems to have a tight grip on law and order in the state, with crime rates substantially below the national average. On the occasion of Ram Navami, there was not a single case of communal clashes, rioting, or even violence in Uttar Pradesh, which was once known as the epicenter of riots, despite stone-pelting, violence, arson, and nearly Armageddon by Islamistic Jihadis being witnessed across the length and breadth of India. However, the Indian version of Stockholm syndrome has turned “liberals” into the worst racists, who are eager to destroy all the principles they profess to protect for the greater good. This is the core subject that is being used to sell a misleading story about violence: The Hindus incited local Muslim populations by playing “provocative music” and “raising slogans” while travelling through “Muslim regions”. But liberals must be cautious about spreading this argument since by doing so, they’ve reached the precipice and must realize that their days are numbered. If simply playing music in a religious procession is “provocation” for violent acts to be justified, it is not only a call for Hindus to concede more, confining their religion to private spaces while Muslims are free to pray in public places like roads, but it also encourages Muslims to continue using anarchy as leverage. Since 1947, ‘minorityism’ has been the sine qua non of the Indian polity, a neologism denoting a political system or process in which a minority section of a population enjoys a certain degree of precedence in that entity’s decision-making.
It should come as no surprise that music might be used as a “provocation” for violence. “Another evidence of this attitude of exploitation is supplied by the Muslim demand on cow-slaughter and the stopping of music before mosques,” BR Ambedkar said in a chapter on communal violence. In all Muslim nations, music is permitted to be performed in front of mosques. Even in Afghanistan, which is not a secular nation, no one objects to music playing in front of a mosque. In India, however, the Muslims must insist on its halt for no other reason than the Hindus’ claim to it. In his revile and condemnation of Islam, BR Ambedkar, who was famed for his critique of Hinduism, was all the more blatantly caustic at best and brutally honest at worst. However, it’s ironic that two different treatises by the same man, critiquing two different communities, are read so differently, but they both display the most fascinating cocktail of discrimination and “victim card” we’ve ever seen, where even the onus of violence and arson by Islamists on the auspicious day of Ram Navami is laid at the Hindus’ feet.
“But nowhere was there any tu-tu mainmain (arguments)… much alone rioting and disturbance,” the first UP chief minister to take the oath for a second term remarked at a rally. This exemplifies UP’s new progressive mindset. There is no room for rioting and turmoil here. On the Ram Navami anniversary, UP exhibited this. In fact, the monk CM’s ace in the pack this election was Uttar Pradesh’s well-maintained law and order situation. Aside from Rana Ayyub’s habit of referring to Yogi Adityanath as a “militant Hindu monk,” UP is aggressively courting companies, boasting the lowest crime rates, and upholding religious peace as an ideal state need.
Uttar Pradesh has clearly gone a long way from Mulayam Singh’s notorious “ladke hai galti ho jaati hai”(To err is male) sexist argument against the death penalty for rape, to Yogi Adityanath’s “criminals will be shot” shout!
Academics, ideologues, and activists on the left have cleverly labeled and reduced secularism to expressing ugly and slanderous sentiments on Hindus and their cultures, hence demonstrating their “secular credentials” and “solidarity” with India’s minority groups. Yogi administration is questioning the established concept of secularism, which is based only on minority appeasement. Neither Vikas Dubey nor Mukhtar Ansari is safe in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh.
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