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Showing posts from April 18, 2015

Transforming our cities: On water, Singapore shows the way(Indian Express)

Most Indian cities suffer from acute shortages and poor quality of water. Singapore, a country whose water challenge was perhaps the worst faced by any country in the world in the mid-1960s, has transformed its water scenario. We often dismiss outside experience as being irrelevant for India’s development efforts. With a water crisis staring urban India in the face, perhaps it is time we understood how Singapore turned its water story around. Singapore imported 55 per cent of its water for consumption from Johor, in the neighbouring state of Malaysia, in August 1965. By proclaiming that “every other policy has to bend at the knees for our water survival,” Lee Kuan Yew, the iconic leader and first prime minister of Singapore who passed away recently, communicated to his people and to the world in no uncertain terms his government’s commitment to water sustainability. Singapore has successfully combined simple conventional means to capture and store rainwater and treat used water with …

How we failed Ambedkar(Indian Express)

India seems to have more history wars than a genuinely historical consciousness. Representing the past is fraught with controversy. This is even more so when the contemporary political stakes of history are high. We often engage with history to construct a pedigree for ourselves, not to come to terms with the past. Some of the current opening of historical questions has been overdue. The simplistic versions of history that the Congress peddled, that narrowing of icons it encouraged, needed to be challenged. And the culture of secrecy created by undue denial of access to documents has licensed conspiracy theories about the past. It is also the case that, as social undercurrents shift, so will the sense of the past. The BJP’s big push to appropriate B.R. Ambedkar, beginning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ubiquitous references to him in 2014, is understandable. It exposes the Congress’s own fraught relationship with the past. Even if motivated by opportunism, the BJP’s move is a si…

If you do not hear the farmer(Essay ,Indian Express)

During the election campaign, the BJP had promised a 50 per cent profit margin on minimum support prices to farmers. But over the past year, the optimism of farmers has turned to despair. Since the parliamentary elections, basmati paddy prices have fallen by 35 per cent and cotton by 25 per cent. The era of cooperative federalism notwithstanding, the Centre practically decreed that states not announce a crop bonus. Sugarcane farmers’ dues continue to pile up. The Shanta Kumar Committee recommendation to dismantle the Food Corporation of India is worrisome. Most farmers were compelled to buy urea in the black market, paying a 40 per cent premium, something that never happened in the UPA years. All this irritates farmers more than the amendments to the land acquisition act. As if this were not enough, potato prices have crashed by 80 per cent and rubber prices are just 40 per cent of what they were three years ago. Milk prices have also come down by 15 per cent since last year, while f…

The oil games(Indian Express)

Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. An incoherent war on the Islamic State. A chill wind blowing away trace memories of an Arab Spring. And now, a framework nuclear agreement with Iran. A region that can simultaneously set the direction of the global economy, global politics and global climate has rarely seemed as full of contradiction: breakthrough is juxtaposed with impasse, conflict and failure. Of course, aside from the historical and geopolitical significance of the Middle East, the key link between the region and the world is through its sway over oil supplies. Yet, oil markets have been notably muted in their reactions to the turbulence of the region. Even when prices spiked on concerns that shipments through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait would be disrupted by the Yemeni crisis, the progression of the nuclear deal with Iran acted to send them back down. What is going on? Is the Middle East’s outsized influence on oil a thing of the past? Can we bank on cheap oil forever? Does the prospect o…

Worse than war(Indian Express)

An adolescent girl is kidnapped from her village in Iraq and will be sold or given away to fighters of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) as a sex slave. In a detention centre in Syria, a man is sexually assaulted to punish him for his political affiliations, real or imagined. In South Sudan, a woman must make the choice between feeding her family or being attacked by armed men when she tries to harvest crops. In Bosnia, a woman passes the place where she was raped every day during the war there 20 years ago. This is the reality for women, children and men facing the threat of sexual violence in conflict around the world. This past year was one of tremendous progress in the fight against conflict-related sexual violence. In June 2014, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London brought together thousands of policymakers, researchers, civil society actors and survivors who made renewed commitments to eradicate this human rights violation. Coun…

A call to account(Economics ,Indian Express)

The Satyam verdict from a special CBI court has reopened the debate on the role of the statutory auditor or public accountant. The Companies Act, 2013, written against the backdrop of Satyam, provides for mandatory audit rotation in the case of listed companies and certain other classes of companies, limits the number of audits an individual auditor can carry out, prohibits business relationships between auditor and auditee and restricts the non-audit services an auditor can provide an audit client. Importantly, it also provides for class action against an audit firm, whereas hitherto, liability could be fastened only on the individual auditor and not on the firm in which he is a partner or employee. Well intentioned as these measures are, they are not enough. For example, alongside the Satyam verdict comes news of a report by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), suggesting that the books of a third of the BSE 500 companies are dodgy (‘A third of top 500 firms’ books dodgy’…

In New Delhi, do as Beijing does(Pollution ,Indin Express)

Adopt more stringent fuel quality and emission standards — and push for the national automobile pollution and fuel authority Approximately 20 years ago, in 1995, a process was started that held great promise for ameliorating the serious air pollution problem in Delhi. Under a provision of the Indian Constitution, environmental lawyer M.C. Mehta filed a public interest litigation with the Supreme Court, seeking relief from the serious health risks caused by motor vehicle pollution. The court responded with a series of orders between 1996 and 2001 that reduced the sulphur content of diesel and petrol, eliminated leaded petrol, required premixed lubricating oil and petrol to replace the loose supply of these fuels for two-stroke engines and ordered the retirement of commercial vehicles older than 15 years. Most notably, the court ordered the conversion of all commercial passenger vehicles — buses, taxis and three-wheelers — to compressed natural gas (CNG). As a direct result of these mea…

Out Of My Mind: Rest in peace( Ambedkar ,Indian Express)

I was a teenager studying at Ruia College in Matunga. One day in December, I saw a long queue had formed starting somewhere away and it wound around just across from our college doubling in length. The people who were queuing were patient but sad. You could see that they were poor and yet they had managed to put on their best, often ragged torn clothes. Here were the Lower Depths. I asked around why this long queue. I was told they were patiently waiting to pay their respects to Babasaheb Ambedkar who had just died. The sight changed my view of politics. I had of course been aware of Dr Ambedkar. I knew he had started Siddharth College. I was also aware of the Republican Party he had founded. What I had not realised was the depth of his following among the downtrodden. The word Dalit had not taken as strong a root in popular language as it has now done. As an upper-caste middle-class boy, I had been brought up like all caste Hindus to be blind to the existence, let alone the plight, …

Clarity on Kashmir(Indian Express)

You know, I know and every Pakistani I know also knows that there is never going to be ‘azadi’ for Kashmir. Nobody seriously believes that there will be another redrawing of India’s borders. So it is time that this becomes the fundamental principle of a new policy to deal with our oldest political problem. Prime Minister Modi has the best chance of finding a permanent solution, since Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and he must seize the chance. Atalji tried but failed because instead of a fresh start he chose to adopt the same Kashmir policy that successive Congress governments followed since 1947. This was a crucial mistake. Prime Minister Modi has indicated that he is not burdened by past Congress mistakes and that he is ready for a new beginning. Otherwise the BJP would not be part of a government led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Before writing this piece, I had a chat with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, one of the architects of the Common Minimum Programme. He suggested that I read it. I d…