Mayawati: Vision of Development and Handbag!

MAYAWATI’S STATUE-BUILDING spree has been termed as a demonstration of her narcissism. Remember that Uttar Pradesh  is one of the most underdeveloped states in the country. In the last assembly elections, the people of Uttar Pradesh had given their Behenji an entire term to rule them. They believed in her “Sarv Jan Hitay Sarv Jan Sukhay” slogan and delivered their mandate. I have “serious objections” to those who are raising the point that Behenji is wasting our money. We must understand that every politician has his/her own vision.

Maywati's Statue
Maywati's Statue

Mayawati seriously believes that development can be achieved through building statues. So that is what she is doing. There might be a power crisis in the state but the people should not worry because the electricity that will “light the statues” will also give their homes some light. Something is better than nothing. She might not be doing anything to bring investments to the state, but her decision to erect statues has generated employment for hundreds.
This was the precisely the reason why Ambedkar Park was razed and a new monument was erected in Lucknow in memory of Manyawar Kanshi Ram. Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula had the same objective in mind when he ordered the building of the Imambara after his people were unable to make ends meet after a bad drought. What’s wrong with it? Elephant statues await you in Lucknow. The elephant is a symbol of power. Mayawati is powerful and so is the state of Uttar Pradesh. The state has a population that exceeds even that of neighbouring Pakistan.

To ensure that we remain powerful, we pay no heed towards the population problem and it ensures that the  state plays a big role in the country’s politics. This is the precise reason that we have a “developed” state and why it is scaling new heights. The power and water crisis, lack of infrastructure, investments, and law and order, are just the words used by politicos. But by now, we have “adapted” to it. So who cares for these “words”. Do remember to contribute towards the fund of Behenji’s birthday. You could end up risking your life.

The state might not have any jobs for its students but it has ensured that the state becomes an old age home with children moving to other states for employment. This must be a way to control the population of the state. The new parks and statues will attract more tourists and will increase the wealth in the “Sarkari Khajana” for more “such developmental schemes”. The curriculum of the state board may see some changes as well. We need some reforms in education and it will be great to have a dedicated lesson on “Mayawati and her development vision for Uttar Pradesh.”

Twenty years down the line, I will walk on the lanes of Lucknow with my kids. They will gawk at the statue of the lady with a handbag. I will tell them that it was our Behenji who made this state developed and  prosperous. The parks that we enjoy, were built under her regime. 

But that bag which you see carries MY MONEY.

Always a blind spot

I look at the rhetoric surrounding Elections 2009 and wonder – has any political party promised to improve the state of the environment for you and me? Or thought about our right to fresh air or clean water – commodities that have become a rarity in an urbanising India?

Over the past few weeks I’ve studied the manifestos of all political parties and silently witnessed the city around me change. Ancient trees are being decapitated for wider roads, a park’s been taken over for a multiplex and a storm drain, a barrier against monsoon floods, has been filled with sand to make way for a parking lot. Grab and construct is the new mantra for the ‘development’ of our cities.

We spend three hours on an average on roads, stuck in traffic jams, while one in every five Indians suffers from respiratory disorders. Indian cities are headed towards an urban disaster. Take the depleting quality of the air we breathe or the water we drink (that’s if we get it in our taps); while rivers turn into noxious black threads with methane bubbling on their surfaces and landfill sites expand.

Analysts predict that in the next thirty years, more than half of India will be living in urban areas. But does any leader or political party have a vision to address the impending environmental problems? Caste and religion continue to dominate the rhetoric of Election 2009, but is global India, with a growth rate of 9 per cent, doing anything about the toxic gas chambers that are our cities or the brown sludge flowing from our taps?

You could dismiss my angst for clean air and water as an elitist preoccupation that doesn’t affect a majority of the population. But take a look at the alarming figures collected by the Central Pollution Control Board and the Centre for Science and Environment. Out of the 100 Indian cities monitored, almost half have critical levels of particulate matter. Fifty-two cities hit critical levels, 36 have high levels and a mere 19 are at moderate levels. Only three cities – Dewas, Tirupati and Kozhikode – recorded low pollution levels.

Adding to the gas chambers are toxic gases like nitrogen oxide – a major contributor to acid rain and global warming – that are on the rise even in smaller cities like Jamshedpur, Dhanbad, Nashik and Chandrapur. Indian cities can be cured of the curse of pollution, but various policy measures will have to be initiated. One way out could be the introduction of compressed natural gas in the public transport system, and financial incentives for people to buy more fuel-efficient cars or to switch to public transport.

If we look at the availability of water in Indian cities, the situation is no different. According to a 2007 World Bank study on 27 cities, the average duration of water supply was not more than four hours and in some, like Rajkot, it’s less than 0.3 hours. Not even one Indian city gets continuous water supply, and a majority are in the red in terms of plummeting ground water tables. Besides, in the poorer parts of our nation, people have to buy water and have to spend, on an average, one to two hours per day foraging for it.

And what about the impending threat from climate change? There is now enough scientific evidence to show that climate change will first affect the poor, with disastrous consequences for India’s farmers and fishermen. But has any political party woken up to this threat? The BJP, interestingly, has a separate section on the environment in its manifesto, referring to the need to move towards a low-carbon economy. Does that mean it will scrap the 54-odd thermal power projects that were cleared under the UPA government? Climate change may already be upon us in many ways. But one look at the National Climate Change Action Plan launched by the Prime Minister will tell us that most of the targets under the eight missions are non-measurable, so there’s no way to measure the outgoing government’s performance.

And how ‘green’ are our politicians themselves? While one has drained the wetlands of an endangered bird only to build an airstrip in his native village, another, with strong prime ministerial aspirations, spent more than Rs 80 crore ravaging a green belt on the edge of the Okhla bird sanctuary, while yet another in Madhya Pradesh got the course of a river diverted, to make it flow close to his private resort. Media campaigns ask voters to stop complaining and go out and vote. Yes, I too will go and vote. But I am still waiting for that one political party or candidate who promises me, a citizen of India, my right to clean air and water.

By: Bahar Dutt
(This article appeared in ‘Hindustan Times’ on May 5, 2009)

Biofuels: The answer to India’s energy crisis

Bio fuels are being increasingly used as a climate friendly source of energy as opposed to other energy production methods. Bio fuels are derived from plants and emit less carbon dioxide and hence result in less green house effect.
Bio fuels have been an important source of energy in the United States of America, Brazil and several European countries. In Brazil and the United States of America bio ethanol is produced as a substitute for gasoline, while in the European countries biodiesel is produced.
In a developing country like India Bio fuels could come to the rescue of lakhs of villages which still do not have any electricity. Bio fuels could easily be used to solve the local energy problems of such villages. Fifty percent of these villages are still not electrified and depend on kerosene for their daily needs. Burning of kerosene is highly inefficient and known to have adverse effects on the health of the people. It is in this regard the bio fuels could be used to cater to the local needs of families for their household purposes as well as the production of oil. Straight vegetable oils or SVO’s are increasingly being used in parts of Africa and even parts of South East Asia as they can respond to the energy needs in villages. Jatropha plantation can be used to produce oil which can be used at the household level and excess oil can also be sold to other people. One hectare of jatropha plantation is equivalent to producing almost one and a half ton of oil every year which is more than enough for the local consumption. In addition to this there will be self sufficiency for the farmer and he could also financially empower himself by selling the extra produce.
But a recent study conducted by an institute in America shows that though Bio fuels solve the energy crisis of thousands of people and emit less carbon di oxide in the atmosphere but are not as earth friendly as they appear to be. Because of modern farming practices, Bio fuels release “Nitrous oxide” more commonly referred to as the Dentist’s laughing gas which is quiet more insulating than carbon di oxide.
Also doubts were raised on Bio fuels as there was a food crisis all over the world which was ironically considered to be because of people in the sub contintent. But the truth is that corn is used to manufacture bio fuels in America and latest studies have also shown that it has almost 0.9 to 1.5 times the global warming effect as that of gasoline. Bio fuels from rape seed are said to have a greater effect on global warming though bio fuel derived from sugarcane in Brazil is said to cause less global warming.
In the Indian context jatropha plantations could be used to energy and do not have too many effects on the environment. Bio fuels are a great method of energy production and farmers and scientists should try and use better methods so as to reduce global warming.
Though Bio fuels are the best answer to the energy crisis that India is facing, the right methods need to be employed to have the best effects else like in other countries if the wrong fertilizers are used, bio fuels could have unintended harmful consequences. Bio fuels should hence use land and energy efficiently and hence can be the answer to the energy crisis that India faces currently.

Mumbai Rains: Wake up BMC..!!!

Rains in MumbaiYes it’s raining….and everyone is enjoying that. It’s the blessing of rain God who came down for the rescue of Mumbaikars from the sweating summer. But since every coin has two faces, so when it comes for Mumbai rains , there are lots of problem.Trains, traffics, low-lying areas, schools and colleges suffer and more than that people suffer. Though civic officials have always claimed to clean the sewer and drainage systems before the arrival of monsoons but as soon as it rains, much to the dismay of officials and citizens, our roads are full of muck, which makes life miserable for few months. Even a crystal ball would fail to answer the all-important question – whether the suburbs are ready to face the monsoon showers. I reckon it’s always been the spirit of Mumbaites that they carry on with their daily lives during monsoons. Recently, a close friend of mine jokingly said that he should seriously consider taking swimming lessons before it starts raining and make himself well equipped and prepared for the onslaught. But jokes apart, I don’t know why the same story repeats every year. Mumbai is considered one of the major cities in India. If it’s a case of unconditional heavy rains, then we can consider but when we are aware what worse can happen then why BMC is not taking appropriate steps to curb the problem of drainage system, potholes etc. And often we say it is spirit of Mumbaikars, but we don’t think why the spirit of Mumbaikars are being put at stake all time. The reason behind these failures may be many factors such as babus sitting in parliament, no new innovations, same old methods of water harvesting etc. Or otherwise we need to find a amusing solution of giving vacation to schools and colleges in rainy season. Why we should suffer if we are paying adequate taxes and following government imposed laws. We say India is developing country and of course we are proud of that, but looking at the present scenario , we need some drastic step to fix this problem. I don’t want to get back to 26/7, but BMC have already got lessons and by now they should have come up with improved drainage system. Please wake up BMC…!!!!

Rag pickers in modern day India

THE RAG pickers are as much a part of our society as we are. Just that they do not have the most respected or a dignified nine to five job. It’s a rag picker’s pride that he is not a beggar or a thief. You will find them almost every where scavenging the garbage cans and the garbage dumping grounds. No, it’s not food that they are after, though if they find a half eaten apple or two, it would well be a bonus for them. And it is not just rags that they are after. But they are on a constant look out for plastic, clothes, metal pieces, boxes and a host of other things that you and I throw away nonchalantly every day.

Most of these rag pickers are young children. As they have no source of income of their own and are often orphans or street dwellers, rag picking seems to be their favourite pastime and their main source of income as well. They scrounge around every day as soon as the waste gets deposited early in the morning at the main garbage centres. But it is not as simple as just finding the stuff and selling it to the ‘kabaadi walla’ shops. The garbage picking industry has a hierarchal format with there being several middlemen who make the most of these innocent children, much like the organised retail industry.

Rag PickersIn the capital Delhi itself, there are more than one lakh rag pickers with most of them being young children. Young children for whom education has been promised from time to time, but this promise is never kept. Forget education, these children have to work incessantly in the most harshest of environments and yet find it difficult to make ends meet. The rag picker earns at an average about Rs 10-50 a day. And it is because of several middlemen that they lose out big time.

The government has tried to do a lot for the young children. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the free mid-day meal programme and many other initiatives. But how successful have they been. The metro cities have the largest number of rag pickers in the country. They are not people belonging to any specific caste but are there because they suffer from poverty and the options that may choose from in order to survive are either theft, begging or rag picking. But the begging industry is a much more organised one, not giving enough scope for survival.

It’s often that these rag pickers go down drains and nallahs in search of the precious wastes. You may not often see them, because they aren’t really a part of your world. They are the people of a side of India that is truly incredible. But the government’s initiatives to get these people out of this life that they are a part of haven’t really created an impact. Some serious thoughts need to be put into this by the government for this concerning the futures of lakhs of children who might otherwise have had great careers ahead but because of the wrong choice of profession, it was nipped in the bud.

It is high time to stand up and demand action. It is time to engage the disengaged. In all the name of modernity and development, let us not ignore the harsh realities that are a part of our society and do affect us in some way or the other. We are already losing thousands of these children to terrible diseases every year. At the age where they should be playing in the open, they are made to work in the most inhumane and suffocating atmospheres. The time is now to take action for the betterment of these rag pickers, else many of them will continue to sacrifice their lives.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Investment Vs Justice

VictimBHOPAL, THE capital city of Madhya Pradesh, is also known as the centre of the ’biggest industrial disaster’ or the ‘Hiroshima of chemical industry’. On December 3, 1984, a union carbide pesticide producing plant leaked highly toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate into the air of a densely populated region of Bhopal. Of the 800,000 people living in Bhopal at that time, 2,000 died immediately, 300,000 were injured and as many as 8,000 have died since.Due to the accident, many people suffered from various diseases and disorders even till many years later. The worst part is that people living near the premises of the site still continue to suffer. People living around the Union Carbide plant site have two options when it comes to drinking water. Either they are forced to drink the contaminated groundwater, which continues to be affected by toxic wastes dumped in the plant premises, or the municipal water is supplied from the nearby Raslakhedi village, known for a huge sewer. The water from both sources has been officially declared unfit for drinking.

The Bhopal gas tragedy is a catastrophe that has no parallel in industrial history. Yet the people who have suffered are still awaiting justice, even after more than 23 years. On Wednesday, victims of the tragedy protested against the inaction on the part of the government to nail the culprits. The fight that the survivors of the tragedy are leading is now not restricted to them only. In 2001, Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide for $9.3 billion, despite this, Dow has refused to accept moral responsibility and does not take accountability for the Bhopal gas tragedy. Even our Commerce Minister has also commented that ’Dow cannot be held accountable for Union Carbide’s liabilities’.

Union Carbide and its former chairperson, Warren Anderson, both of whom face charges of culpable homicide and grievous assault, are absconding from Indian courts since 1992. By virtue of its acquisition of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical has inherited Carbide’s civil liabilities – of clean-up and compensation for water to the affected people. Also, in acquiring Union Carbide, Dow was well aware that it was inheriting an absconder.

The government went a step ahead and in the year 2006, it approved the collaboration between Reliance and Dow for the transfer of Union Carbide-owned patented technology. But according to the activists, this is illegal as Union Carbide’s assets in India are subject to confiscation as per the 1992 order of the Bhopal magistrate.

Instead of showing some sympathy and the will to fight for the victims, the government is worried about loosing the investment in the country. They feel any overtures to hold Dow liable for Bhopal-related issues will scare away Dow’s promised $1 billion investment in India and also discourage other American investors. Dow even admitted paying $22,000 (Rs 88 lakhs) as bribe to agriculture ministry officials to expedite registration of the three pesticides namely Dursban, Nurelle and Pride.

The company had to pay a fine of $ 325,000 (Rs 1.43 crores) to the Securities Exchange Commission for violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act last year. Dow tried to wash its hands off the controversy but there was substantial evidence against them. Dursban pesticide is banned in the US, as it is a neuro-toxin that can cause permanent damage to children’s brains but we are registering such pesticides so that we don’t loose investment. After all, who cares about the people when we have the population of over 1.1 billion.

In May 2007, Sharad Pawar said that the enquiry in this matter was going on by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The probe is concluded. But the report is gathering dust. Meanwhile, the pesticides and the culprits are roaming free and poisoning the children. Dow Chemicals should not be allowed to expand its operation in India until justice is meted out to the victims. Indian state’s unwillingness to discourage foreign private investment has been a crucial factor in the continuing injustice in Bhopal!

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India today. Its been 60 years. Right??

Pride in being an Indian, nostalgia for what it must have been like in those heady days ahead of August 15th 1947. Looking at sepia-tinted images of Rajpath on the day India achieved freedom, one can imagine the frenzied crowds, the sense of utter joy at being a free nation. We take freedom for granted today. We couldn’t have been quite so bindaas 60 years ago. That perhaps is our greatest achievement, creating a sense of uninhibited freedom among millions (spit where you want, vote for whom you wish!).

Few gave this country a chance of survival 60 years ago. The prevailing wisdom was that India would crack apart into dozens of princely states, that the centre would simply not hold. By contrast, it was expected that Pakistan would be a more homogenous nation,united by religion. As it has turned out, Pakistan has become a nation undermined from within by religious fanaticism and an emasculated middle class. Sure, India too has its crisis points in the form of an imperfect democracy battling poverty, farmer suicides and unemployment, but despite the imperfections, it has been astonishingly resilient.

In the remarkable book, India after Gandhi, historian Ramachandra Guha had once tried to unravel the enigma of India.

“Why does India survive?”, he asked in his final chapter.

His answer, a sense of a shared symbols – cricket, cinema, music – a respect for diversity, and above all, a remarkable constitution that guarantees fundamental rights and enshrines the principle of one man one vote. I think this country owes a huge debt to the framers of the constitution. I cannot think of a more progressive document anywhere in the world, one that respected individual rights above all . We must be blessed that in the 1940s a collection of rare public figures came together to frame the constitution. It might be difficult to imagine this in our polarised times, but in the 1940s, Indians had the sagacity to realise that people of differing ideological persuasions needed to be brought together so that every possible talent could be harnessed. Maybe, we need to read our history books once again to understand the true meaning of freedom, of being an independent nation. Today’s young and restless I fear often have little knowledge or interest in history.

  • How many young Andhraites know of the sacrifice of Potti Sriramalu, the man whose fast unto death led to the formation of the modern Andhra Pradesh, and laid the basis for liguistic states?
  • How many young Maharashtrians know of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement and the sacrifice of those who fought for their state?
  • Is any young Punjabi interested in reading the biography of Tara Singh?
  • The Forward Bloc may keep the flame of Netaji alive, but do young Bengalis bother to read his life story?

Sadly, we are becoming a country ignorant of our history. We seem more comfortable with the quick fix cinematic idea of Gandhi in Munnabhai, than doing anything to really try and understand the man behind the Mahatma. In the 60th year of Independence, we need to make a pledge: a pledge to try and appreciate our history a little more.Remember that old chestnut:

“Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.”

Rachit Chandra

A Truth little inconvenient…

I was though never insensitive to the critical and burning issue of environmental hazards, but the subject didn’t merit enough attention to put an extra effort in creative awareness. I used to really get agitated when I would see long processions of school children jamming the road. The scene was never a soothing one to my eyes when I would see students shouting slogans against those pollute the environment. The activity would further congest roads, ( be it of any city ) leading to unnecessary delays.

My views on subject drastically changed when recently I had a chance to watch an amazing environmental film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ that showed how man mercilessly cuts the tree that provides him shade in the scorching heat.
The film daringly showed how the industrial cities of the world have contributed in badly polluting the environment, depleting ozone layer and increasing toxicants in the air. It showed how the limited resource of fresh water has become unfit for consumption. It showed how the global warming has gradually affected glaciers and ice caps, raising the level of ocean waters and posing a great threat to the coastal cities. The scenes in the film predicted that within four to five decades the Earth would no longer be able to sustain life and that the end was far nearer than it seemed. The stark reality really jolted me out of the deep slumber I was in.
The knowledge of this grave truth calmed me down to a great extent that I actually began to admire those school children who walked miles to create awareness about our deteriorating environment. Today I don’t mind if I have to wait for a procession to pass, and I feel sorry for those who lose patience because they do not understand the gravity of the situation. The ignorance about the subject is too much and we have very little time left to reverse the process of self-annihilation. These school children are doing a great service to humanity and we must support them. After all, it is our own existence which is at stake…

Nano: The cheapest car in the World!

The People’s Car‘Innovation and Evolution’ were the Words echoing at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi as Ratan Tata dramatically unveiled the much awaited People’s Car a the 9th Auto Expo. ‘A Quest to conquer, a conquest for leadership and a conquest for achieving new avenues. Ratan Tata’s dream, his vision, his people’s car which every Indian can afford has finally arrived. Continue reading Nano: The cheapest car in the World!