Ecology neglect hits economy

Sheer Cosmetic Data

By Shivaji Sarkar

India is afflicted with some serious issues. The Kerala floods, overflowing of 32 of 35 dams and flooding of all districts and whether the planners or organisations like National Green Tribunal (NGT) have failed the country.
Then there is also the realm of statistics. It is not what it tells but how these are built up. The base figures that were changed in 2011 do they inflate performance or lowers it? Either way, if it is not reflecting the reality, it is not a healthy sign.
The Aadhar and its changing security paradigms too are important. Again it is linked to data security. There are also some aspects that speak of falling household savings and bank deposits.
It is customary to blame the government for any malaise. In these cases we find that there are many regulators or parallel organisations that have not served well.
The Kerala floods stand differently despite widespread rainfall across the country. It also calls for serious introspection and questions the functioning of many organsiations, State governments and the most importantly the NGT.
It appears that organisations like these are more concerned about trivial automobile emissions, said to be responsible for mere 2 per cent of pollution in urban areas, than the serious malaise and negligence of core ecological issues. Is not NGT expected to take moves to find out what the actual threats to the ecologies are?
It can shrug off the charges by saying that they are a regulator and not executors. It could have stopped Mumbai and Kochi airports being built on flood plains. Why did the NGT not do so? Additionally, the nation would like to know if it had acted on the Madhav Gadgil report or technically known as Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). The committee had classified 140,000 square km divided into three zones as ecologically sensitive. How could the Kerala government reject the report and today demand relief packages from the Centre for a calamity that is stated to be man-made?
The report was submitted in 2011, two years before the Kedarnath tragedy. In Uttarakhand too, the greed of man and the overflowing waters of Tehri Dam devastated the ecologically fragile Himalayan State. It seems nobody learns. Kerala’s ghats are also fragile and the way some of the hills collapsed with buildings and habitation testify greed takes the upper hand of the serious safety and conservation concerns.
It is people’s suffering and the nation has to stand by them. But is not the devastation today because of ignoring the basics. It also raises the question of building dams in sensitive zones while now worldwide it is recognised that dams create more problems.
That was the area of the Planning Commission now the NITI Ayog. It has sent billions of rupees literally down the waters. It is the devastation of the people’s hard earned money. They paid for these unsound projects. A nation on a course to growth must wonder why the experts could not succeed or the executives, as it was also in the case of Tehri Dam, ignored the warnings. It’s for whose profit?
The total expenditure for Tehri was $1 billion. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) cost benefit analysis concluded that the construction cost of the dam was twice the projected benefits. It may be so for many projects. These are simply ignored. It is everywhere like the Rs 72 crore going down the drains for turning a journalism institute into university in 2010, which never happened. Is a nation supposed to repeat mistakes?
Today the nation is struck with data jugglery of 2011. In retrospect it appears that the previous methodology was better and did not inflate gains as the new one has done for 2007-08. Was it changed for political concerns and are the revised data being dished out to put some political inheritors in dim light? Either way playing with data is dangerous.
That as a nation, we are playing too much with the data, is also evident the way everyday new methodologies are announced for Aadhar. Expert panel headed by Justice BN Srikrishna proposed amendments to bolster data protection. Then comes face recognition and several other changes. Meanwhile, there are reports that in Uttar Pradesh hackers diverted foodgrains worth millions by compromising Aadhar. Some foreign agencies are allegedly misusing these too. It all suggests relook at the entire UIDAI process and bares fact that Aadhar security is not that easy and it has to be done on war-footing.
The falling household savings rate reaching a critical low of 18.7 per cent in 2014-15, declining since 2011-12, when the ratio stood at 23 per cent, is a grave sign. India has progressed even during the Hindu rate of growth on this count alone. Whenever the savings equilibrium changed, the economy faced problems.
Today it has hit bank deposits. The reasons are the disincentives created by Manmohanomics through reduction of savings interest rates, taxing the savings and making it non-productive even for the geriatric people. The purpose was to boost speculative stock markets, which is today on a cosmetic rise and actually on a crashing course.
If India has to succeed household savings have to be encouraged. The taxes on savings have to go. The government must rethink how it can earn revenue if the people themselves are pauperized.
Besides, banks could also get back to health if people save. Their savings alone can boost development and growth. The banks cannot look for continuous recapitalisation through taxpayers’ money. It is a devious method. Incentivising savings and freeing it from taxes would help the government. Let us look at the method of 1960s, when massive National Savings Scheme mobilisations saved the government through decades.
Let the country go back to its traditional basics to save the nation and not just saving deposits. The traditional frugal living concept has aided the progress of this nation. Traditional knowledge used to take care of ecology, forest conservation, respecting the riverine plains and the nature.
Correcting neglect and decades of problems is not easy. Though all of it is not the creation of the government, but ultimately as nation’s driver it has to take severe measures. National debate on ecology, not just to reduce auto emission, boosting savings and protecting data is must. The path has to be established despite all problems. —INFA