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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 26, New Delhi, June 12, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 12, 2021

Saturday 12 June 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 12, 2021

We remain in the midst of a major public health crisis since March 2020 but neither the Government nor the Opposition or the Society at large seems to have become more inclined or better prepared to handle public health issues. Not only has there been a huge lack of preparedness on the health front, but also a failure to adequately respond to the major economic slowdown — with some 250 million people slipping into poverty levels and a hundred million losing jobs. Millions still need to be vaccinated and but we have had a shortage of vaccines; there are hardly any major visible economic measures that are needed to help the vulnerable people facing an economic crisis. We have seen that the government unprepared, with reactive and halting short-term crisis responses. The health crisis has been dealt with essentially in a disaster response framework and may never move beyond. This is the story of the past year but if we try to draw a wide social & ecological picture we will see the crying need to plan a response to the wider crisis that the planners and governments aren’t taking very seriously.

By the wider crisis we mean the ecological and freak weather crisis – it is very real and growing every year, massive smog and air pollution every winter, pollution of our rivers, mass flooding, drought in huge areas, growing water scarcity, the growing frequency of storms and cyclones. But here too we see only a crisis response from event to event.

India has a coastline of over 8,000 km that is facing new conditions shaped by climate change. In the past two decades, the frequency of cyclonic events has multiplied, major towns and districts along the eastern coastline – Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Nellore and East Godavari, Krishna, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, Yanam in Puducherry, Balasore, Bhadrak, Cuttack in Odisha, South and 24 North Pargana, Medinipur, and Kolkata in West Bengal. Bengal has been struck by two cyclones just this year damaging thousands of homes in Bengal.

On the western coast we recently saw Cyclone Tauktae with winds of up to 200 km per hour, leaving more than 50 dead in Gujarat (& damaging thousands of homes) and Maharashtra states and large barges ran aground with workers who service the Bombay High offshore drilling platform.

The country has an estimated four million people dependent on marine fishing for a living. In major events like tsunamis, storms, and cyclones, hundreds of fishermen are affected or go missing. Marine resources are also depleting and fishermen can’t compete with trawlers Many of them will have to find alternative occupations as the coasts face extreme weather conditions (and also coastal pollution events). Transitions have to be imagined and not just the evacuations for short-term shelter. There is an Adaptation Fund for Climate Change but there have to be very realistic plans for Adaptation to Climate Change

In our cities, we have a growing problem with how we handle water. There are umpteen instances of water-borne diseases in our cities linked to pollution in the rivers (and open drains) Major sections of Delhi’s Yamuna, Chennai’s Cooum, and Mumbai’s Mithi and Ulhas rivers, have become polluted. The public health professionals seem not too bothered by polluted rivers, it’s seen as a problem of the Ministry of Water Resources and Environment.

We have just witnessed a huge ecological disaster off the coast of Colombo, in Sri Lanka where a Singapore-based vessel the MV Xpress Pearl caught fire and sank. Sri Lankan and Indian navies made efforts to douse the flames on the burning ship. Dangerous substances carried as cargo have sunk. Ecologists have warned of long-term damage that can’t be repaired by the damages the shipowner would pay. The Indian Government must help in every way it can. Ecological protection of coasts should be an area of joint long-term cooperation involving scientists and coastal communities and across borders too.

There is a dire need to do sensitive ecological planning & policy for the long-term and going beyond a disaster response mode for multiple crises of the future.

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The near confirmation of victory of the Peruvian left candidate in the just concluded Presidential elections is big news indeed. Pedro Castillo, a primary school teacher, and trade unionist was hardly known before winning the first round of the election. That he managed to upset a highly funded media campaign of his competitor from ultra-right is pretty astonishing. It is also major news since the old-style anti-system murderous far-left cult — Shining Path guerrillas had done devastating damage in society to the very idea of the left having anything to do with emancipatory politics (and having more to do a celebration of mindless violence) and had in fact catapulted to eventual victory the ultra-right Alberto Fujimori with the express agenda of brutal counter-violence to eliminate the violent far left. It looks doubtful that Castillo will lead to any fresh thinking on left politics e.g. taking an ecological turn and rethink the extractivist game that all regimes have played along. The comrade from the marginalised profound rural Peru has some pretty crazy ideas about involving the youth and civil society in a paramilitary towards enforcement of ‘decent social habits’ and the armed defence for sake of socialist justice etc. This comes from his past as a one-time peasant militia leader. He has some pretty dogmatic and socially conservative mindset but it is certainly possible that he may manage to enforce a new taxation regime vis a vis the powerful copper mining firms and push for a welfarist programme. Let us wait and watch, the story unfold.

Tributes:

Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the well-known Bengali filmmaker passed away in Kolkata on June 10, 2021. He had won National Film Award for Best Feature Film five times

We pay our tributes.

June 12, 2021 – The Editors

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