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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 50, New Delhi, November 27, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Nov 27, 2021

Saturday 27 November 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, November 27, 2021

Promises at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow by our Prime Minister had no parliamentary consensus or approval across political parties that we know of. In the days ahead the Winter session of Parliament will meet to a packed schedule. It is not likely that there will be any discussion there, on India’s energy transition & environmental plans with a focus on Climate Change. Such matters are not considered as requiring urgent attention. We can only hope there is rigorous Parliamentary debate on these questions in the future. Environmental, Climate, or Energy transitions issues have barely made it to the election manifestos and programmes of the Political parties. In the months ahead Elections are coming up in the States of UP, Punjab, and Goa but environmental concerns are totally absent in the campaign talk. The Prime Minister with a Chief Minister in tow has been inaugurating projects not very suitable environmentally, an expressway, an airport, and multiple defense projects in UP all part of this campaign. It is time that all of India’s Political parties begin to seriously take up ecological questions in their internal and public discussions and stances. Our country is heavily dependent on fossil fuels (petroleum and gas products mostly for transport) and on coal for electricity (providing for over 70%) which is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. In 2021 alone the consumption of coal in India was around 930 million tonnes but that is not enough and the Government is on a coal expansion mode — more commercial coal mining and new coal blocks auctioned recently in the forested and Adivasi areas. The dirty economy of coal that runs and pays the operations involves hundreds of billions of dollars. Between 13 to 20 million workers are said to be involved in coal mining, its transport, and its manipulation in Power, and steel factories, brickworks using coal etc. A phase-out of Coal would involve a gigantic operation with plans to eventually shut some four hundred coal mines in India, create alternative jobs for labour, fund decommissioning of the plants, and create full-blown alternative energy sources for the steel plants and power stations. Plans for all these should be made long ahead most of all in coal mining states (central and eastern states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh) for an appropriate transition with practical alternatives for workers and with the involvement of Trade unions. In recent years the per-unit cost of production of electricity from renewables such as Solar has come down compared to fossil fuel-guzzling power plants. But there is no doubt that the costs of installing large-scale solar capacities (or other renewables) moving from one energy source to another will be considerable. But the discussion now cannot be about energy transition only, it has to also involve overall planning for Climate-friendly and ecologically sustainable economic development. Huge resources will be required for replanning, rebuilding, and re-configuring our economy, our cities, our transport systems, our electrical grid and transmission systems, drainage systems. In the recent past, we have been seeing a near-drowning out of our cities with a drainage collapse in many states faced with intense rain. These events are all connected to Global warming that is driving freak weather and our infrastructure is not geared to withstand the conditions. At the same time, we have been seeing extreme pollution of our rivers or air and a growing shortage of water and these of our entirely of our own making. Standing up to the climate crisis is not restricted to commitments and pledges over Net Zero Carbon that we make at international events. We have to stop a mindless building spree in ecologically sensitive zones …. our whole national developmental logic has to be environmentally sensitive. The Prime Minister speaking on Constitution day on November 26 held at Vigyan Bhavan said “The resources and the path which led to the western countries reaching the status of ’developed’, today there is an attempt to restrict the same resources and the same path for developing countries … to stop the progress of developing nations Environment as an issue is also being attempted to be hijack to achieve this end” [1] Such third-worldist talk pointing fingers at the West is surprisingly similar to anti-imperialist takes by some of our friends on the left [2] and in environmental circles alike [3] in India. We are not denying that climate finance is under the control of many powerful international entities and that we live in an unequal world. We have to develop ecologically sensitive economic & social plans ground up and reconfigure our priorities nationally. We seem to have all the money when it comes to Defence & Military projects, Bullet trains but when environmental concerns are flagged they are seen as bottlenecks to slowdown ‘development’ and that requires massive foreign funders. We cannot be taking the same polluting path of wasteful & high energy use as the industrialised West. Some opposition political parties are running governments in States that are bigger in population terms than many countries in the world (e.g. West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh). These opposition party-managed states could lead by example of governance and demonstrate foresight in alternative planning that is environmentally informed with solid plans for a transition. We have just seen a huge year-long single-issue social movement of farmers that stood its ground to fight certain laws promoting neoliberalism in farming, but the ecological crisis connected to agriculture is not their concern. Environmental matters can no longer be off-limits and have to be taken up everywhere but they too must be made accountable, they cant be left to Green Capitalists, technocrats, and bankers alone. Trade unions, cooperatives, consumers groups, citizens groups of all kinds & political parties can’t be let off the hook either, they must broaden their horizons and play their part.

o o

Tributes:

David Craig, a teacher, a poet who wrote on literature and social history passed away a few days ago in England. He had worked in Sri Lanka in the late 1950s as a lecturer at the University of Peradeniya and later on his return to England as a tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association in North Yorkshire

Kavita Nagpal the well-known art critic, writer, storyteller, and a deeply committed street theatre activist who also co-founded Jan Natya Manch (JNM) passed away on November 24, 2021.

Abani Roy a leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and had been a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament, representing West Bengal passed away on November 25, 2021.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

November 27, 2021 – HK

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