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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 33, New Delhi, July 31, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, July 31, 2021

Friday 30 July 2021


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, July 31, 2021

Frequent events of extreme weather are likely to be the norm now and the tipping point in the climate crisis seems to be approaching …. Globally, land temperatures are about 1.2C hotter than in pre-industrial times. Governments are supposed to meet in November 2021 in Glasgow, at the Cop26 UN climate summit, to talk ways of preventing the world from heating by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Consultants from Climate change industry and lobbyists from greenwashed capitalism will be there too. But little is expected to change since ecological amnesia the business of ignoring & denying all the damage to nature rules the minds of the elites.

Forest fires have been simultaneously reported from multiple locations (The Amazon forest in Brazil, to Australia, Ukraine, Canada, and California in the US); The temperatures have been so high that an estimated billion seashore animals may have died. Intense rain and flooding, made news in the past weeks striking parts of Western Europe — Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and England and beyond in Turkey, in Central China (a million people have been displaced in the Henan province) and striking the subcontinent in Bangladesh (damaging thousands of makeshift homes of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh) and in India close to a million people have been affected in floods in Maharashtra. Flash floods, torrential rain, and landslides hit Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, in Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and in parts of Karnataka state. Floods have come and gone for hundreds of years in recorded memory but the scale and fury are growing and we are abysmally prepared.

The officials will sanction flood relief or drought relief as they have done in the past, remain in denial about any ecological crisis…. The Government of India is encouraging the country’s corporate firms to flout environmental norms and helping industries bypass the environmental impact studies or public hearings before starting their projects.

The news media is mostly kept in check. Influential news coverage on anything happens on TV, and the TV changes tune to something ‘new’ the next day. In a matter of months, the public forgets what had happened not too long ago.

In June 2013 devastating floods hit the mountainous state of Uttarakhand. A barrage of water, mud, and rocks, brought on by a heavy monsoon hit the pilgrimage town of Kedarnath and nearby villages in Uttarakhand, taking down homes and infrastructure. Some 6,000 people died in those flash floods. Come storm, come rain, the Modi government in power since May 2014, remains undeterred in expanding the expressways into the mountains of Uttarakhand despite all appeals by ecologists.

On February 7, 2021, the inhabitants of Raini village in Chamoli district (the original home of the 1970s Chipko environmental movement) witnessed a mountain load of water, ice, and stone ram through the mountain valley taking with it the bridges, roads, and two hydropower dams, killing 200 people. Big dam promoters & builder’s lobbies have friends in high places, villagers from Chipko’s Raini village had gone to the Uttrakhand High Court in 2019 with concerns that rock blasting for dams along the river had destabilised the mountain and requested the cancellation of dams that affected their region. The High Court of Uttrakhand recently dismissed this petition by villagers and said they were under someone’s influence, who had ulterior motives, & imposed on them a fine of Rs 50,000.

Now, just a few months later in July 2021 landslides have blocked the Rishikesh-Badrinath national highway number 7 near Chamoli.

We can barely deal with ‘natural’ disasters, floods, the less said about our Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic but we keep doing all to leap towards new ‘man-made’ disasters. Undoubtedly, Disaster business is big business. Technocratic fantasies of conquering nature — on fixing the ‘water shortage or the flood problem’ continue to rule in the corridors of power. A multi-million dollar Ken-Betwa river interlinking project between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is the latest such folly now underway despite concerns from environmentalists and hydrologists. In August 2016 a Committee of the National Board of Wildlife recommended clearance to the Ken Betwa Link Project. This project when completed will submerge over 6000 hectares of forest. The Supreme Court-appointed Empowered Committee in its report of Aug 2019 raised big questions on the appropriateness of the ’wildlife clearance’. The Ministry of Environment gave permission to this project to cut 2.3 million trees on grounds that the government would provide needed land to the forest department for afforestation. In the past few years, the officials have failed to find such land so the government is now pressuring the Ministry of Environment and Forests to drop this condition. Thanks to such dedication to environmental destruction, India is far removed from any preparedness for the Climate Crisis. Its tall claims at international summits need to be had with a pinch of salt.

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A minority might say there is no shortage of idiotic political schemes in our country. But in the new social climate in India majoritarianism & nationalism have become an area of big investment and appeal for certain political players competing with the BJP. A fine example is the populist Aam Admi Party (AAP) Government in Delhi which has made a budget allocation of Rs 84 crore (over 11 US million dollars) of tax payer’s money to install giant-sized Indian national flags in 500 locations across Delhi. This is part of the Delhi state government’s ‘Deshbhakti budget’ (Nation Worship Budget) for the year 2021 to 2022]. Who knows, what the flag-waving Government will do next for us, and how a city full of nation worshippers will behave after living under the shadow of the national flag at every park and public square.

July 31, 2021 – The Editors

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