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Think differently, Mr Finance Minister

As I write this piece, the finance minister has dispatched the Union Budget 2011. The press is busy reflecting the views of business and industry lobbies, as they quibble over duty exemptions, insist on financial stimulus and other incentives, and cry for big-ticket reform—foreign direct investment in retail and insurance. The only other discussion is about the growing fiscal deficit: will the finance minister give in to populism while extending the programmes for the poor? Or will he raise taxes to pay for the growing developmental needs of the country? The finance minister, it would seem, is caught between two battles: of checking the bulge in fiscal irresponsibility and of meeting the need for delivering governance.

On the fast lane

I was grounded in a village in Alirajpur, Chaktala in Sondwa block, (Jhabua District Madhya Pradesh) due to travel sickness, while my colleague went to see some good work on the wadi concept being undertaken by a local NGO and funded by NABARD. When I woke up around 6 in the evening feeling reasonably normal, I was sitting at the doorway of the house, waiting for the return of others.

Fatal disconnect

The World Economic Forum—the gathering of power glitterati each year in Davos—has assessed the top risks the world faces in 2011. According to this analysis, climate change is the highest-ranking risk the world will face in the coming years, when its likelihood and impact are combined. What’s even more important is the interconnections between climate change and the other top risks: economic disparity (ranked 3), extreme weather events (ranked 5), extreme energy price volatility (ranked 6), geopolitical conflict (ranked 7), flooding and water security (9 and 10). The world—even according to the richest men—is in deep and desperate trouble.

Water v industry: where is the question?

Some hundred people, men and women, were gathered on the hill. Many more, I could see, were trudging up. Their faces were resolute. I asked why they were opposing the cement plant. Their answer was simple: “We cannot eat cement.” “But the plant will bring you employment and prosperity,” I said. The reply this time, with a touch of irritation, was: “We have our fields and now with the water in the tank we have good produce. We are not rich like you but we have food to eat.” I persisted, “But your land is not being taken away to build the plant. The government says it has only allocated village grazing land and wasteland to build the factory.” Their anger spilled out.

A different kind of black gold

Jhabua is home to a unique indigenous poultry breed called the Kadaknath. The tribals value the breed for its cultural as well as its health values and also consider it sacred. The bird is high in iron and amino acids and low in fat. It tolerates extreme heat and cold climatic conditions and requires minimal management inputs. The breed is disease resistant and is valued for the quality and flavour of its black meat. It is also locally known as Kali masi because the bird is black inside –out – skin, feathers, legs, meat, blood, etc.

How to approach environmentalism

2010 was a loud year for the environment. High profile projects—from Vedanta to Posco and Navi Mumbai airport to Lavasa—hit the headlines for non-compliance with environmental regulations. While 2009 was the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, it was only last year that we were all outraged by the disaster. The realisation of how every institution—the judiciary, parliament and government— had miserably failed to provide justice to the victims shocked us deeply.

The silent invasion

‘Only minral water availabale (sic)’ -- where in India can you see such a sign? Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi? Or even Bhopal, Indore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad? Sorry, this was in a hotel in Jhabua, the district capital of the tribal district of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. I asked the hotel manager, a school drop-out tribal, why he had put up this sign. He said that most of the customers demanded bottled water.

Deal won, stakes lost

Last fortnight we discussed the clandestine endgame afoot at Cancun to change the framework of the climate change negotiations to suit big and powerful polluters. Since then Cancun has concluded and a deal, in the form of a spate of agreements, has been gavelled into existence by the chair. Commentators and climate activists in the Western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.

The endgame at Cancun

As I write this, some 24 hours are left to finalise the agreement at the 16th Conference of Parties to the climate change convention being held in Cancun. At this moment it seems the predictable deadlock in talks will continue. Like all other global climate meetings, the world remains deeply divided on the matter of how to cut emissions of greenhouse gases that even today determine economic growth. Not much is expected to happen at the beach city of Cancun.

The Protocol in dispute

December 6, 2010

The post-2012 emissions reduction commitments for Annex 1 countries under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) are presently going nowhere. Japan had fired the first salvo when in the opening plenary, it categorically stated its opposition to the second commitment period of KP. Now, countries like Australia, Canada, and some European nations have joined the chorus to disband KP.

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