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Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s recent meeting with Pakistani envoy has a message for India



by Pathik Hasan

Pakistan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Imran Ahmed Siddiqui’s recent meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was comprehensively covered in the media. It only shows the strategic significance of the meeting. The meeting has messages for the region, including some ominous signs for India, as it has the potential to change the entire regional geopolitical game.

Bangladesh is indeed a trusted friend of India in the South Asian region. Bangladesh-India relations can be described as “all-weather friendship”, just like the ties between Pakistan and China.

According to a report in the leading Pakistani media outlet Dawn, Sheikh Hasina invited Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit Bangladesh. Pakistani media outlets reported that Sheikh Hasina also expressed her interest in visiting Pakistan. This could be a significant development in terms of regional geopolitics, provided the news is correct.

Recent incidents in Bangladesh surrounding the violent acts during the Hindu festival of Durga Puja have indeed created some distance between New Delhi and Dhaka. This followed issues like India’s National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act, which had already caused tension between Bangladesh and India. Delay in the resolution of long-pending issues like the signing of the Teesta water-sharing deal despite Dhaka’s persistent demands, killing of civilians across the Bangladesh border, as also the onion crisis have sowed some distrust between the two longtime friends.

Sheikh Hasina’s counter to India’s angry diplomatic note on the recent killings of Bangladesh’s Hindus and vandalisation of their property and socio-cultural symbol has not been particularly palatable to New Delhi. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reacted that neighbouring countries like India should also be vigilant to ensure that religion is not used to divide people, against the backdrop of communal clashes in several parts of her country during Durga Puja.

In view of the rising incidents of hate crimes against the Muslims in India and the Narendra Modi government’s biased policies towards minorities, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned New Delhi that these incidents could affect the Hindu community in her country.

However, Bangladesh is going to emerge as a self-sufficient economic power in the region. As such, India needs to behave in a more friendly manner.

Overtures from Islamabad

During his meeting with Sheikh Hasina at the Prime Minister’s official residence Ganobhaban, the newly appointed Pakistan High Commissioner handed over to her a message from Imran Khan. The Bangladeshi prime minister has recently conveyed in writing to Pakistan her acceptance of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s invitation, which was extended last July. No dates have been set as yet for the trip. PM Ms Hasina has also invited PM Mr Khan to visit Bangladesh. The Pakistani side has proposed to Bangladesh to prepare a road map for the prime minister’s trip so that it is fruitful. Moreover, Islamabad is seeking the revival of bilateral mechanisms like the foreign secretaries’ dialogue, which has not been held for nearly 13 years.

After the meeting, the Bangladesh premier’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim, in his briefing to reporters, said Sheikh Hasina told the envoy that South Asian countries should be freed from the curse of hunger and illiteracy and needed to work for the welfare of the people of the region. The Prime Minister further said that the foreign policy of Bangladesh formulated by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is “friendship with all, not enmity with anyone”.

During the meeting, High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui said Pakistan is interested in developing its relations with Bangladesh. He also gifted a photo album, painting, and video footage of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s visit to Pakistan as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to attend the 1974 OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) Summit. Hasina thanked the High Commissioner for handing over the historical memorabilia. She also commended the publication of a calligraphy book in Bengali by Pakistan on the occasion of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence

Ambassador at Large Mohammad Ziauddin and the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Ahmed Kaikaus were present during the interaction. While the detailed deliberations of the meeting were not made public, multiple issues are likely to have cropped up at the discussion table.

Alarm bells for India?

This should ring the alarm bell for India. China and Pakistan are always scouring for opportunities by utilizing any kind of strain in Bangladesh-India ties, and would obviously try to exploit the present regional political scenario.

In this context, one assumes that India would strive to keep its warm relations with Bangladesh at its level best. India should keep its promises made earlier to Bangladesh. India shouldn’t point an accusing finger at Bangladesh for the recent incidents.

Indian politicians should do well to stay away from making remarks or come up with statements that may disturb the Bangladesh-India friendly ties. Such comments can only create a gulf between Bangladesh and India, which is undesirable. It is well established that the Bangladesh government is going all out to take concrete actions against culprits who were involved in recent communal violence in Bangladesh. India and the world know that Bangladesh is a secular country.

PM Hasina is a person of liberal views with a secular outlook. India should stop spreading baseless propaganda against Bangladesh. Indian media agencies and religious organizations should desist from circulating any events and issues which can potentially cause damage to the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India.

New Delhi should take effective steps to stop border killings across the Bangladesh-India border. The long-pending Teesta issue must be resolved. Interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh by some Indian political leaders must be stopped.

India should behave as an ‘all-weather ally” just as China does towards Pakistan. Otherwise, India might lose its most trustworthy and reliable friend in the world. India and Bangladesh had, have, and will have – hopefully – eternal strategic ties. Bangladesh needs India and vice versa. Indian leaders should take serious note of the recent meeting of the Pakistan envoy with the Bangladesh PM. A single negative incident between India and Bangladesh has the potential of changing the regional geopolitical scenario.

The article first appeared in South Asia Monitor on October 28, 2021.

Courtesy: Pressenza

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The Love for All Animals



Love for Living Animals: The Javan Rhinoceros Communicates Through Secretions on its Foot


We must safeguard the web of life and care about the other living species that we share this planet with. Pygmy tarsiers eat and host bugs that we’ve seen at home — insects, spiders, lizards, bedbugs, lice, fleas, roundworms, and tapeworms. The vaquitas are preyed upon by large sharks and killer whales, keeping them away from us. But only 10 vaquitas are left and in their absence, the diet of sharks and whales may change. A tiger in the wild indicates that the forest it inhabits is healthy and diverse. As of now, there are 3,900 tigers in the wild globally, and more than twice as many (8,000) in captivity. By protecting the web of life, we build a kinder world for everyone.

The Javan Rhino, only found in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia, is critically endangered. It’s not just because only 75 of them are alive, but also because the park where they are located is too small for a growing future population.

They are the most threatened of all five rhino species. Their small population may lead to inbreeding, which will cause poor genetic variability. Forthcoming rhinos will be more vulnerable to disease.

Javan Rhinos, the second smallest rhino globally, have the smallest horn of all rhinos, at 10 inches. If its horn is broken, a new one will grow. Only the male Javan rhino has a horn.

The Javan rhino never reproduces in captivity. However, 25 individuals were placed at Ujung Kulon National Park in 1967. Today, they number 75, but the Park is too small for more Javan rhinos, so a new area is being studied to accommodate this growing population. Also, Ujung Kulon is near a volcano that has instigated tsunami waves in the past.

In Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, the last Javan rhino was killed by poachers, for its horn, making them extinct in the country in 2011. There is an excessive demand for their horns as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for pain and fever, despite studies showing that no medicinal value is in the horn.

A Day in its Life

A Javan rhino spends more than half of the day in mud holes for their body temperature, to prevent sunburn, eliminate skin parasites, and avoid insects. If the mudhole is too small, the Javan rhino will deepen it with its horn and feet, turning puddles into pools. It is believed that Javan rhinos depend on the forest for protection from solar radiation.

After the Javan rhino is done relaxing, it will look for food. It will scrape the sides of its mud hole with its horn for plants. Then it will leave the hole and seek thick vegetation on the ground.

In the absence of a horn, this rhino still has its pointed upper lip to grab food. Its diet is a rich variety of leaves, shoots, twigs, and fruits. In one day it will eat as much food as a healthy person will eat in one year.

Still Much to Learn

Scientists say there is much to learn about the Javan rhino’s biology. They are observing the rhino and studying its dung. Javan rhinos don’t communicate vocally, although they’re capable of making sounds.

Instead, they communicate through, first, a spray of urine, second, a secretion from its foot glands, third, twisted saplings, and fourth, scrapes on the ground made with secretions released from its foot.

An example of a Javan rhino sound can be heard here. They have more aggressive sounds when two males fight over a female, or when a male and female fight before mating.

Scientists use camera traps to better understand this rhinoceros. Some things they have learned:

  1. Unlike humans that have evolved steadily to the way we look today, the Javan Rhino is believed to have remained unchanged for over one million years.

  2. Space. If you keep a silent, respectful distance from a Javan rhino, you will be allowed to observe it and photograph it until it tires and moves away. This was the experience of wildlife photographer Stephen Belcher.

  3. However, you mustn’t approach a javan rhino. Otherwise, they will attack humans by plunging their long sharp lower teeth into your body.

  4. Solitary animals. The Javan rhino lives alone, but may sometimes be with other rhinos in places rich with mud holes for wallowing, or areas where there is a large deposit of mineral salts. The rhinos use these salt licks to get essential nutrients like calcium, sodium, magnesium, and zinc.

  5. Occasionally young Javan rhinos will come together in pairs or small groups.

  6. Javan rhinos also interact during mating season, or when a female is caring for its young. A Javan rhino female is pregnant for 16 to 19 months and gives birth to a single calf every 2 ½ to 5 years. On very rare occasions, she’ll bear two calves. The calf separates from its mother at three years old. The lifespan of a Javan rhino is from 35-40 years in the wild.

  7. Courtship behavior is one of the rare times this animal will vocalize. Sometimes males will use their saber-like sharp incisors to fight each other during mating season for a female. Other times, a male and female Javan rhino will fight and growl loudly, followed by mating. In other cases, a male and female rhino may eat vegetation together. Suddenly, they’ll engage in a 200 meters long chase.

  8. Javan rhinos have poor eyesight, but their smelling and hearing are keen.

  9. Forest: Although the Javan rhino prefers ground vegetation to tree vegetation, they still use the forest for protection from solar radiation. Also, a forest has fewer water supply fluctuations. They also eat saplings from forest trees. The Javan rhino’s habitat requires a mesh of glades, and patches of forest.

Threats to the Javan rhino

At the start of the 20th century, 500,000 Rhinoceroses ran through much of Southeast Asia including Calcutta, India, Borneo, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, the Sumatra, and Java. They lived in tropical rainforests, floodplains, and grasslands.

Now, there are only 29,000 rhinoceroses left in the world. Out of that number, 75 are Javan rhinos with only one habitat, Ujung Kulon National Park. Despite this, there are still some dangers, such as:

  1. The 2018 tsunami, caused by the eruption of the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano, resulted in 10 feet high waves. Four hundred and thirty people died, two park rangers among them. Park buildings and ships were destroyed. This tsunami hit the north coast. If it had hit the south coast, all the Javan rhinos left in the world would have died.

  2. Anak Krakatau volcano is active. In August 1883, Krakatau erupted, resulting in 60 feet high waves. This volcano can wipe out the entire Javan rhino population in one fell swoop.

  3. Arengu palm. This invasive tree has overtaken 60% of Ujung Kulon National Park. It’s a tall tree, and its fronds block sunlight needed for ground vegetation. This results in food reduction and poor nutritional quality of what remains. The WWF is removing the Arenga palm trees, and restoring natural vegetation and food plants for the rhinos.

  4. Disease. In 1981 and 1982, five rhinos died in Ujung Kulon. The Morris Animal Foundation blamed the tabanid flies, horse flies, and deer flies, all of which can spread parasites that result in hemorrhagic septicemia, an acute, highly fatal form of pasteurellosis, causing death. A free vaccination program for livestock by the local government is in progress to address this.

  5. Habitat loss. Ujung Kulon is the last remaining habitat for the critically endangered Javan rhino species. However, another location is being eyed and studied to see if it can accommodate Javan rhinos.

  6. Poaching. In colonial times Javan rhinos were displayed as trophies. Now, they’re hunted for their horns. This continues to threaten the 75 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon.

What is Being Done

Many conservationist groups are working to save ecosystems, plants, and other animals by saving the Javan rhino first. Some groups doing this are:

  1. Save The Rhino. This group seeks to produce 2,000 to 2,500 Javan rhinos within the next 150 years. This is the number required for Javan rhinos for possible long-term survival. They do this by:

  • Protecting the Javan rhinos and their habitat.
  • Searching for new habitats to translocate Javan rhinos.
  • Providing ranger kits that include quality shoes, backpacks, and accommodation.
  • Expanding Dog squads to track and apprehend poachers.
  • Detecting illegally smuggled wildlife products.
  • Funding for veterinary interventions.
  • Providing transmitters and radio frequency tags to help track rhinos in the wild.
  1. WWF. The World Wildlife Fund and its partners found a possible habitat area for new Javan rhinos. As a result, they are: Conducting a feasibility study of the habitat.

  • Establishing management structures
  • Enlisting surrounding communities to protect the area. Engaging scientific research to inform conservation and management efforts.
  • Planning to remove all Arenga palm trees in Ujung Kulon
  • Planting suitable vegetation for the rhinos.
  • Patrolling against poachers with community help.
  • Addressing illegal trade through local and international law enforcement to subject traffickers to justice.
  1. The Morris Foundation funds studies focused on saving the Javan rhino.

  2. The International Rhino Foundation and the staff of Ujung Kulon National Park protect the Javan rhino. Javan rhinos are the flagship species of the Western Java Rainforests ecoregion.

Ecological Importance of the Javan Rhino

The Javan rhino does a lot of good for an ecosystem. For example:

  1. Javan rhinos keep an ecosystem healthy and balanced. By consuming so much vegetation, they help shape the landscape and keep plant life populations in check, and permit soil space for new plants to grow. Other animals in the ecosystem also benefit from this.

  2. The Javan is the most adaptable feeder of all rhino species. Biologists have identified 300 species of food that they eat.

  3. Javan rhinos topple vegetation and crush it with their feet and body weight, so it can wallow in the mud. This provides natural plant trimming that strengthens the forest. It also stores CO2 and releases clean air.

  4. Many plants and animals cohabit an area with Javan rhinos. Protecting the rhinos keeps all plants and animals in the ecosystem protected too, such as antelopes, buffalo, elephants, and large carnivores.

  5. Local people depend on natural resources from the rhino’s habitat for food and fuel. Ecotourism can generate income for locals.

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Ending the Spyware Trade




An Indian-led initiative is trying to ensure that the scandal surrounding the large-scale use of NSO Group’s Pegasus cyber-weapon does not simply die down (as previous scandals have).

We reproduce this call to organise and continue campaigning around some basic principles.

Dear friends, dear friends,

Warm greetings from India. You all know that we are going through a steady erosion of our democracy led by a right wing (Hindu) government under the leadership of Narendra Modi. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with its vast network of ideological supporters in India and abroad, seeks to establish a Hindutva majoritarian state based on the deprivation of its social, religious and other minorities. The groundwork has been laid: citizenship rules have been changed, constitutional protections for minorities are being steadily withdrawn, and hate crimes have become a daily occurrence. Anyone who opposes the supremacist version of this new Indian state regime is being persecuted and punished by legal and illegal means. It is in this context that we write to you today: The Pegasus scandal has revealed that more than 300 Indian journalists, activists, opposition leaders and civilians, the entire top echelon of democratic dissent against the current regime, were being spied on with Israeli cyber weapons bought with public money.

There is something disconcerting about the revelations, though none of us are really surprised. We in India have long been aware that technological collaboration between India and Israel is not just a matter of exchanging security capabilities as many would have us believe. The parent entities of the One India movement have long maintained deep ties with the Israeli apartheid state. The current import of NSO Group’s Pegasus to India, along with many other Israeli policing and warfare technologies, is a direct result of the Indian government’s new policy of positing Israel as an ideological and governance model. Two recent examples are worth mentioning: India’s Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 mirrors the Israeli Law of Return, and the repeal of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir has initiated “Israel-style settlements” in what was once the only province where India’s Hindu population was a minority and for this reason protected.

Ideological exchanges are not new, but the wholesale adoption of security methodologies is, with our new India being the world’s largest importer of Israeli arms, spending about a billion dollars of public money every year. This exorbitant exchange of war and repression technologies has continued unabated, even as India has lost more than half a million people due to Covid-related mismanagement and a severe medical infrastructure deficit. As in other cases of government apathy for people’s lives and rights, people who tried to report on the Covid crisis were criminally prosecuted or beaten by mobs. The story continues: all dissenters are treated as enemies of the state and the worst dehumanising treatment is reserved for them. The recent revelations of the Bhima Koregaon case, have shown that state agencies are going to the extent of planting evidence to incriminate human rights defenders who have spent their entire lives living and defending the voices of the most marginalised sections of the country. The Pegasus project has shown us a glimpse of the enormous technological capacity in the hands of state agencies to violate the privacy of citizens, as well as the lack of moral scruples of those in power to deploy military grade weapons to silence the truth and those who speak it, and that too using public money. We refuse to accept this in silence!

While we resist and do our best, we know very well that we cannot be alone in this struggle. Only a global movement will be able to raise the question of the legitimacy of cyber weapons, in particular those coming from Israel. The question we ask ourselves is: do we want these weapons among us, and can they ever be used for any good? We are also convinced that these weapons, developed in a context of brutal repression and apartheid, can only be used for such purposes.

We therefore call on organisations, concerned individuals and people’s movements to join together in a global campaign to impose a moratorium on the trade in spyware. We invite you to sign the declaration below to build together a convergence of global movements opposing the trade and use of spyware and cyberweapons, including NSO Group’s Pegasus.

Text of the statement:

These are not security products. They do not provide any kind of protection, any kind of prophylaxis. They don’t make vaccines: all they sell is the virus”.

Edward Snowden on commercial spyware

The Pegasus investigation has revealed the extent of Israeli cyber-weapons penetration against journalists, human rights defenders, opposition leaders and heads of state around the world. Contrary to the claims of the creators of these spyware programmes, it is clear that Pegasus was used primarily by authoritarian regimes or such figures within governments, and only for anti-democratic purposes: to weaken the voices of the people and suppress both the truth and those who speak it.

It is no wonder that Pegasus’ presence or instrumental role is found in the most serious violations of current times: symbolised by the brazen murder of journalists Jamal Khashoggi and Cecilio Pineda Birto. Research in 2016 and 2021 reflects that half of the world’s countries have deployed Pegasus against those they considered threats to their authority. Between 2016 and now, despite multiple lawsuits and condemnations from global bodies, NSO Group has continued to thrive, receiving Israel’s endorsement and becoming part of the unicorn startup club with a $1 billion valuation.

But NSO Group is just the tip of the iceberg. The production and export of “intrusion software”, once the preserve of elite state intelligence units and security firms seeking to protect resources and people from hackers, is now an unregulated global industry worth billions of dollars in worldwide commerce. The numbers reflect the proliferation of such weapons that seek to deliver our most intimate thoughts and actions to regimes willing to pay to control them. And the proliferation shows: in recent years, these spying programmes have been instrumental in breaking up protests, deportations, torture and assassinations in Hong Kong, Egypt, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Ethiopia, Libya, Turkey, Hungary and the United States, to name but a few. We cannot forget India, which has not only used Pegasus against all breath of opposition to the current Hindu nationalist regime, but has also used spyware to criminalise activists who have spent their lives working with and for the people, including the 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy, who died in judicial custody last month.

The shock of having been duped, all over the world, has yet to sink in: how is it possible that such anti-people spyware could have been developed, exported and bought by governments with public money, and then weaponised against our best voices? As stories emerge of how these intrusions have been used as weapons of attack, here are some ideas of which we are quite sure:

This is not a “misuse” of spyware/cyberweapons: these technologies are designed for repression. Produced and sold in the name of security, these technologies are systematically used for mass surveillance, as well as targeted spying and incapacitation, as has been publicly known since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US National Security Agency.

It is no coincidence that Israel is the market leader and spearhead of these military products being sold to the world. Like the NSO Group, multiple Israeli cyber-espionage companies are founded and staffed by the Israeli military’s Unit 8200, which is responsible for cyber-espionage. Like NSO, these companies work in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Sponsored by the Israeli apartheid state and part of its diplomacy, these companies critically assist the Israeli regime’s colonialism in the region. Why are Israeli arms the market leader? Illegal occupation, apartheid and colonialism against the Palestinian people provide the perfect “sample population” for research, development and “field testing” of such technologies of subjugation, particularly cyber weapons such as Pegasus.

The only possible response to the unanimity with which governments around the world are legitimising the use of such weapons is an international solidarity of peoples and popular struggles, especially those who are targeted by these spying programmes for their defence of human rights and for speaking truth to power. What we want is a total halt, a global moratorium on the production and trade of such weapons, echoing the call made by UN experts, human rights bodies, media institutions, academics and civil society groups around the world.

It is time we are able to see through the façade of “security” to clearly see these weapons for what they are: tools of repression, whose sole purpose is to silence peoples’ voices. We must put an end to these weapons!

In the past, these efforts have ended police training exchange programmes with Israel, pressured governments to end contracts with Israeli arms companies, and brought together people’s tribunals over Israel’s aid to militarisation in Latin America. Only a global and intersectional struggle can put an end to the proliferation of the indefensible espionage industry.

Our struggles are connected and together we are stronger.

To sign on with signatures here (page in Spanish)

Source: Pressenza

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Sustainable Development: Strategies for the long road ahead in Indian cities



Sustainable Development: Strategies for the long road ahead in Indian cities


Kudi Kunta, a freshwater lake in Hyderabad, spread across 8.04 acres, is now a dumping ground for plastic, waste and untreated sewage. Pic: Kolla Krishna Madhavi

The COVID pandemic has exposed our hollow development strategies aimed at achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), to which India is a signatory. This hasn’t just brought to the fore the need for revisiting our strategy to move forward for a better and equitable world harmonious with nature. At the same time, it has also thrown light on how the present processes will not help in achieving any landmark advancement in attaining close proximity to the sustainable development goals.

Instead, what we are witnessing is a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. To elucidate further, here are a few critical areas that require immediate intervention if we are to aim for holistic sustainable development:

A. Climate change

This is a topic assuming increasing importance, calling for responsible interventions across the world. The anatomy of this silent crisis vividly explains the challenges the world is faced with. Half of the world’s human made atmospheric carbon dioxide was emitted in the last 30 years and in this period, 20 companies (mainly energy and cement companies) produced 33% of world’s total emissions, even as they lobbied for subsidies for fossil fuels, etc.

Read more: What’s causing climate risks in our smaller cities and towns?

B. Biodiversity

Losses of biodiversity and of redundancy, which I call mutual living together of species, is accelerating at a rate not found in any record since the cretaceous extinction some 66 million years ago. Yet, there is one school of scientific-capitalist thought that argues that we should not worry about the loss to biodiversity. To a point raised that if the honeybees become extinct, human beings will also be lost, these scientists say: “Not to worry, even if we lose them, we can have robotic honey bees!”

C. Nitrogen

Vast excesses of nitrogen emission through fertilisers and other chemicals are polluting water bodies and the soil itself, risking anoxic extinctions (caused by an absence or deficiency of oxygen).

D. Land use patterns

Change in land use patterns for industrial growth is causing water scarcity in many parts of the country. The mainstream argument on climate change is often described as paralysed with theories of reductionism. Many parts of the complex interactive systems that overplay such a change are being negated and the solutions suggested often ignore the larger systemic issues.

Take for example the changes brought about in the Andaman and Nicobar islands for real estate development, or in the new laws promulgated in Lakshadweep island proposing changes in laws and rules to make it another Maldives. The changes brought in J&K, the redevelopment of the central vista or the changes in the Environment Impact Assessment laws all thwart the very idea of sustainable development. All these new laws push into the background environment issues, especially the complex interplays of a system, which are directly linked to climate change, that need to be taken into consideration.

The Green New Deal which is gaining ground in the US and the push for democratic control of companies in the UK led by Labour Party parliamentarians all suggest that \climate change issue cannot be limited to mere reductionism. Rather a system different from the present neo-liberal capitalism based on accelerating production has to be sought.

This issue was pointed out by none other than John Closs in the UN Habitat III at Quito in 2016 stating that the laissez faire system of planning and building our world and cities is absolutely unsustainable. We must go back to the basics of planning and ensure that we build a free and equitable world.

Read more: Urbanisation comes at a price in Delhi

Why? This leads me to my second argument that there is a strong relationship between climate change, demand for climate justice and the sustainability of people, inequality and gender parity. The last four decades of unbridled neo-liberal capitalism, under which privatisation was a key driver along with commoditisation of key public use segments like health, has been a big reason for widening of inequities in the world.

Commoditising basic rights

Let me explain how. Things and utilities that were of use-value for people and society, were systematically converted into exchange value. That is to say commoditisation of such utilities were considered a public good.

Take for example water. Do we consider water a right or a need? The Washington Consensus, one of the big pushers for this line of thought, would have us believe that water is a need and anyone in the market can provide that. Jargon like 24×7 water supply became the hallmark of such campaigns and public utilities were asked, or were motivated, to abandon this important responsibility of ensuring water supply in favour of the private sector.

Likewise health, education and many other sectors and utilities that were considered to be the responsibility of the state or its apparatus were systematically handed over to private corporate giants. We find the worst effects of this policy in this pandemic crisis, reminding us that privatization of health cannot be a sustainable development model.

According to Ursula Hews, an economist, nearly 20 large TNCs shifted their portfolio from finance to utilities realising their potential for amassing wealth.

Read more: Opinion: How ‘privatisation’ and ‘PPP models’ have left Indians to die

Urban governance

The second area of phenomenal wealth generation or accumulation of capital has been the changing nature of city governance. City governance today has metamorphosised from managers to entrepreneurs, which has serious repercussions on the inequity indices in the urban world.

One major area where has happened in a big way is real estate. Instead of taxing the capital, it was allowed to make huge dividends at the cost of the public assets. Take for example the privatization of urban commons. In India it would mean open spaces, water bodies, parks, etc. We handed these over to the real estate capital at throw away prices and now we find ourselves in a housing crisis situation.

Likewise, cities were systematically asked to hand over their planning process, which even otherwise they had little control over, to large corporate consultants. They would prepare plans on city development, city mobility, city sanitation, solar city, smart city and what not. And a cursory review of these plans reveals that instead of emphasising sustainability or sustainable development, most of these plans smack of capital intensive technologies to be employed in finding solutions.

These are completely unsustainable ways of development and can in no way contribute to achieving the SDGs.

Many degrees of separation

The shape of Indian cities has changed considerably. From 75%, the informal sector has jumped to 93% of city economies. An Oxfam report stated that the gap between the top 10% asset holders and bottom 10% asset holders in rural India is 500 times, whereas in urban India it is 50,000 times!

No wonder then that the pandemic has shattered the lives and livelihoods of the informal sector where 85% of workers have no social security and nearly 90% earn less than Rs 8,500 per month. Women are the worst affected.

The pandemic has shattered the lives and livelihoods in the informal sector, where 85% of workers have no social security and nearly 90% earn less than Rs 8,500 per month. Women are the worst affected.
Representational image by Carla Antonini/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The other big divide already visible is the great digital gap. Any claim by the tech companies that digitisation of services will bridge this gap is completely erroneous. We are already witnessing this gap in access to online classes, and people applying for vaccination. In digitisation of services, the key question is how do we democratize the gains of technology.

This leads me to the third argument on the unsustainability of urban governance as practiced today. As the underlying principle for such governance is still neo-liberal capitalism, the democratic structure of elections poses a serious threat to this strategy. Hence ways of bypassing the elected councils is being sought.

For instance, the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) in the smart cities programme are a way to bypass the elected councils, as these vehicles decide which form of development is to be prioritised. It does not need a genius to see this increases inequity amongst regions and people and completely defeats the objectives of sustainable development.

Tall claims

On June 3rd, Niti Ayog released a report claiming India has shown significant improvement in Sustainability Deveopment Goals (SDG) in 2020, the year the pandemic’s first wave hit the world. The report highlights the gains in clean energy, urban development and health. The areas of concern identified in the report were economic growth, decent work, industry, innovation and infrastructure.

The State of India’s Environment Report 2021 revealed that India’s rank dropped two place from 115 last year. The segments where it was significantly behind: achieving food security, gender equality and promoting inclusive and sustainable development.

India in fact ranked below its neighbours, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Among states, Kerala remained at the top, followed by Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh. At the bottom were Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam.

Even with its low overall score of just over 60 out of 100, some analysts have questioned the methodology used in the reports preparation.

Gender inequity

Coming finally to gender inequity, which is linked to all the above and is presently at its worst in the country. The feudal and patriarchal mindset will never allow women an equal path to economic development. No wonder that India slipped 28 places to 140th rank among 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, becoming the third worst performer in South Asia.

On economic participation, this gap widened by three per cent. On political empowerment, India regressed 13.5 percentage points; even as the decrease in women’s’ labour participation rate fell from 24.8 to 22.3%. Estimated earned income of women in India is only 20 per cent of men’s, and we are at the bottom 10 globally on this indicator. Discrimination against women is also reflected in the health and survival front. India ranks in the bottom five in the world on this score.

All this data screams out that this situation cannot be changed by the present capitalist order. The Ease of Living Index further reinforced that it is capitalism that needs to be rebuilt with a human face.

The changes to present development strategy, to make it more aligned to the pursuit of the sustainable development goals, have to be in politics. That would entail creating a participatory model of governance, fighting for the commons, collectivisation, alternative planning in mobility, and decentralisation and democratisation of various processes of planning and decision making.

We can no longer afford to be smug, complacent and indifferent to this imminent threat to humankind. It is time we rectify this by looking ahead with measures to correct the collective failures that makes us look behind in shame.

This article flows from my intervention in a training programme organised by IMPRI, NIDM and on a three-day online training programme on Gender Equality, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals on May 29th.

Source: Citizen Matters India

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