Neo colonialism on the climate change front

As India heads for Doha discussions on climate change this week, a question that arises is whether we would be entering into agreements similar to the ones the princely States of India entered with colonial powers. Like the way colonialism stymied our development, the climate talks too have the potential to crush our growth.

An old story
Pepper attracted foreign traders to Kerala for centuries and one of the things the Europeans wanted, back in the 18th century, was runner shoots of black pepper vines for planting.  As the story goes, then ruler of Calicut Zamorin asked his minister Mangattachan about the wisdom of allowing planting material to be taken to Europe when pepper exports earned much money for Kerala.  The Minister’s reply was that they could not take away the Thiruvathira Njattuvela. [Najattuvela means position of sun and there are 27 njattuvelas in Malayalam calendar. The Thiruvathira Njattuvela (15 days), occurs around the middle of South West monsoon which is considered suitable for planting shoots of pepper vines.] However, the situation now is that even the Thiruvathira Njattuvela would be taken away by the over-consumption of developed nations.


The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Frame Work Convention on Climate Change and the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol takes place from November 26 to December 7, 2012, at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar.


Carbon  loads

Historically, the USA has emitted nearly 50 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than India.  Rich countries have been responsible for about 70 per cent of the emissions between 1840 and 2006. (CSE ) However, they are not willing to shoulder the burden of reducing emissions in proportion.  The USA is yet to agree to bring down their emission levels to that of 1990 while the European Union has already brought it down by 16 per cent below1990 levels.

Global emissions have grown from 534 million tonnes of carbon in 1900 to 9265 million tonnes in 2011 (Earth Policy Institute).  Per capita emissions of USA were more than ten times that of India in 2011. And there is urgency in addressing the problem because climate change is at the doors.  However, countries are not making enough commitments to check global warming.

At Doha, developed countries would be trying to eliminate the differentiation between the developed and developing countries in cutting emissions. This has to be fought against by developing countries. The developed countries need be accountable for the carbon load they had dumped on the world knowingly and unknowingly over the years.


Forest Minister’s prescription for tiger menace

Kerala Forest Minister K. B. Ganesh Kumar has directed forest officials that tigers straying into populated areas should be trapped and kept in the zoo. This goes against the spirit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Tiger in zooThe Forest Minister should be probing the real reasons for tigers straying out of the wild instead of suggesting quick fix solutions. Some people have suggested that there is an “over-abundance” of tigers in Wayanad now. This needs a closer look.

In last few years, tigers have moved into areas they were not seen at least for the last few decades. There is indication that the tiger population in the State has gone up and tigers have moved into adjoining areas. In places like Kottoor, no conflicts between the newly arrived tigers and tribals living in the area have been reported.  This may be because the forests are healthy and with adequate availability of prey.  The status of forests around Agastyarkoodam had improved in recent years but the same cannot be said for Wayanad.

That a tiger need a territory for itself is well known. So, it only natural that tigers move out as their numbers grows.  With camera trappings and other technologies available now, the number tigers and the area available for them can easily be determined. If there are too many tigers as claimed, measures to shift some of the tigers to other suitable areas should be worked out. If it is not a problem of territory, steps should immediately be taken to improve status of forests as in Wayanad.  Studies in this respect should cover the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is possible that some problem in those States such as shortage of water could have forced the tigers to flee.

Till the studies are over, the Forest Department can tackle the lifting of domestic animals by tigers by providing adequate compensation. If compensation is good enough, agitated people could be pacified as long as there are no attacks on humans.  So, the Minister’s quick fix solution can perhaps wait.

Meanwhile, the Department should speed up its programme to shift people living within the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to other areas. This is a voluntary programme and people living in pockets inside the forests are willing to relocate. (This may not apply to people living on the periphery who are also threatened by tiger kills.)

It has turned out that the tiger that caused all the trouble was an unhealthy one. In such isolated cases, the Forest Minister’s prescription is correct. However, it should not be applied in all cases of tigers staying into populated areas. Much of the public protests,  which forced the Minister to make his statement, was the result of deliberate campaign and rumour mongering by vested interests.

Related: Media frenzy over tiger kills


A. K. Antony’s criticism is a warning to Congress-led coalition in Kerala

Defence Minister A. K. Antony has issued a warning to the UDF government in Kerala by expressing his anguish over the situation in Kerala at a function of Indo-Russian firm BrahMos Aerospace in Thiruvananthapuram.  The Defence Minister said that though Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and P. K. Kunhalikutty have been asking for projects for the State, he was not courageous enough to locate any project in Kerala after the UDF government came to power.

Defence Minister A. K. Antony

Defence Minister A. K. Antony in his office in New Delhi

Though Antony did not say it directly, he was warning that the Congress led coalition in the State (UDF) would not be able to retain the seats it had won in the last Lok Saba Elections unless its performance improves. It is significant that his warning comes at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reshuffled his Cabinet with a view to the elections due in 2014. As the Number Two in the Union Cabinet, Antony has to see that the Congress performs well in the next elections.

The UDF had won 16 seats in the last Lok Sabha election out of 20. Every school boy knows that the Front would not be able to retain them in the next elections under the present circumstances, not to speak of winning more seats.  When he was the Chief Minister in the State, Mr. Antony had not been able to lead the Front to a victory in the Assembly elections. As Union Minister he wants to be one who has contributed to victory of the Front in the next Lok Sabha elections.  However, he is admitting that he was unable to do anything for the State because of the situation in the State. He was not getting the cooperation he wanted.

It is also notable that Mr. Antony praised the (previous) LDF government in Kerala. He knows only too well that the Congress will have to fall back on the Left too if it did not win enough seats to form a government at the Centre.  So, he is building bridges. It is also a fact the previous government had facilitated establishment of defence projects in the State.

Antony could also be concerned about a number of other issues.  There is growing discord among the ruling Front constituents. They are even making unethical bargains. The front could lose votes if Congress played to their tunes on some of the controversial positions they are taking. There is also considerable discord in the Congress. The proposed reorganisation of KPCC is getting delayed. All this should worry Mr. Antony more than anyone else. So, it is not surprising that he has fired a salvo against the UDF government, though he is unlikely to repeat that as elections come closer.  The crucial point is how far the Congress and UDF constituents in the State would heed his warning and act in larger interests.

Above all these, there is a personal factor to Mr. Antony’s criticism. Image-conscious Antony is hurt by the fact that allegations had been raised over the take over the Kerala Hitech Industries by joint venture Brahmos Aerospace and that neither Mr. Chandy nor Kunhalikutty had come to his defence. In fact, the INTUC unit in the company joined hands with the AITUC union which raised the allegations. Mr. Antony would not have voiced his concerns openly but for this factor. His remarks stemmed from personal hurt and diminishing influence in Kerala politics. (Revised and tailpiece added as post script on 17/11/2011).

Surveillance cameras infringe privacy of citizens

Kerala Health Minister V. S. Sivakumar has announced that surveillance cameras would be installed in Ward 9 of the General Hospital in Trivandrum. Ward 9 is where the hospital authorities admit older persons who require geriatric and palliative care.

The ward is over crowed with double the number of patients against bed strength. There was complaint that the body of a patient who died was left in the ward for hours without moving it out to the mortuary. The Minister visited the ward in view of the the complaint and reports of pathetic conditions at the ward. His prescription of cameras (in addition to promise of more staff) would deprive the old men of their private moments. Many lie there half-naked often without any relative to care for them. The ward sometimes see emotional outbursts as well as intimate moments with family members.

Surveillance cameras in Trivandrum

Surveillance cameras in Trivandrum

It is not clear why the Minister wants cameras in the ward. Is it for the hospital superintendent or other to keep watch on what is going on in the ward? Is it to check whether bodies are lying on the floor? Is it assist the nurses in keeping tab on the patients owing to shortage of staff? Or is it to see whether the patients are being care for or is it to keep prying media men out of the precincts? Whatever it is, surveillance cameras in hospital wards is not a good idea.

It is not even good for classrooms. Some tuition masters and schools in the city have installed cameras in their classrooms to keep tab on the students. What kind of attitudes would children develop when they are aware that they are being constantly watched upon? Classrooms are not private places. Still, they have a right to some kind of privacy, at least during intervals.

Traffic police and Motor Vehicles Department are also increasingly using cameras for surveillance.There are more than 500 cameras installed in Trivandrum city while Kochi have about half the number. Cameras from private establishments are also being connected to the police control rooms. You will be watched as you pray at the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Trivandrum (though not at the sanctum sanctorum). Some residence associations are also setting up cameras to find people dumping waste in this locality though the legality of installing such surveillance by private persons in public places is in doubt.

Traffic surveillance camerasVehicles as well as citizens are under constant watch along the main thoroughfares of the city. Though the cameras help to book traffic offences by capturing screenshots of violations, police men are still on the streets directly booking offenders. So, harassment of drivers and corruption do not disappear.

Anyway, the police still need personnel at junctions to regulate traffic and it doubtful whether monitoring of the video feeds are constant. If effective monitoring of all junctions and other points are to be done, one requires a large number of personnel at the control rooms. This cannot be cost effective despite the advantages of the technology and falling costs of equipment. (The 57 cameras at Padmanabha Swamy temple reportedly cost about Rs. 15 millions).

Besides, misuse of the system by police as well as private citizens could not be ruled out. When police criminal nexus exists, surveillance could even aid criminals and quotation gangs. It is any way a case of big boss watching over the citizens from all angles. Police can use the system to track movements of politicians, journalists and others. Though it is said that camera surveillance would help to check crimes, it effectiveness is yet to be proved (except in the case of traffic offences). The advantage could be limited as cameras would only force shifting of occurrence of crimes  from city centres to the suburbs. Somewhere we have to strike a balance between privacy, surveillance and prevention of crimes.

Conclusions of empowered committee of SC in Mullaperiyar case

The final hearing of the Mullaperiyar case is likely to begin in February next year before the Supreme Court. (The date is tentatively fixed as February 19, 2013). The report of the Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court on Mullaperiyar Dam has gone totally against Kerala. So, Kerala will have to disprove the Committee’s findings or advance fresh and acceptable arguments if it is to win the case. The Court has said that that it would not accept fresh evidence including the Dam Break Analysis.

Baby dam

Baby dam saddling the main Mullaperiyar dam. Repairs were carried out to this dam despite objection from Kerala but with tacit support by officials. Another round of repairs are underway now, reportedly with the permission of the courts.      Photo: Roy Mathew

It is notable that the Committee has suggested repairs to the dam even while holding that the dam was hydrologically, structurally and seismically safe. The repairs have already begun.

The repairs proposed include treatment of upstream surface of dam, reaming of drainage holes, instrumentation and grouting of dam body. It has also suggested “periodical monitoring, analysis and leading away the seepage from toe of the dam towards downstream “.

The Committee found that the dam has not been adversely affected by leeching of lime dissolved in seepage water and rejected Kerala’s contentions in this regard. (That leaching has occurred is something that even Tamil Nadu had admitted. The dam had already been grouted for this reason and further grouting is proposed by the Committee itself. )
It said that the precautionary principle is not applicable as the dam has been found safe, and added that the Dam Break Flood Analysis and Emergency Action Plan do serve as precautionary measures. The findings of studies by Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkie and Delhi were rejected.

The Committee said that it did not accept the scare of a dam break flood wave because the Kerala government had not prepared dam break flood analysis. (The dam break analysis has since been done and it leaves little doubt that a dam break would be catastrophic.)

Conclusions of the Report in full at
Appraisal and analysis of various studies by EC Committee(Chapter VI of report)
Report of the Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court– all chapters
Mullaperiyar Dam break analysis by IIT Roorkee
Structural stability analysis of Mullaperiyar dam

Kochi Metro project and E. Sreedharan

The controversy over Kochi Metro Rail points to people’s lack of trust over Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his government, and for that matter, any government in Kerala. They trust octogenarian E. Sreedharan (former MD of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) to complete the Metro project efficiently and without much time lag.

Mr. Sreedharan naturally wants an organisation behind him and he wants the one that he is familiar with — the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). And DMRC had agreed to be behind him and the only formality that remained was ratification of agreement by the director boards of the DMRC and the Kochi Metro Rail Limited formed to implement the project.

Now the DMRC is backtracking under oblique pressure from politicians and bureaucrats who want to the contract to be entrusted to others.  It is clear that the arguments being advanced against DMRC participation are just being raised as excuses.  While every private company wants to expand, the public sector DMRC just wants to confine itself to Delhi!  It maintains that it is too preoccupied with its work in Delhi that it does not have the resources to undertake work in Kerala.

Delhi Metro

Delhi Metro       Photo: Roy Mathew

If this is true, one wonders why it had agreed to participate and had even undertaken preliminary works. If DMRC had any real problems in taking up the work, would not Mr. Sreedharan and others known that?

This is not to say that the DRMC could be the most qualified company to undertake the work. It depended on multinational companies for civil works, design, and installation of signaling and electrical works for Delhi Metro. The coaches were imported. As a contractor for the Delhi airport express metro line, the DMRC had faltered. It had built the line for Reliance and operations had to be suspended in six months for rectification of problems.

However, the bet here is on Mr. Sreedharan who has a clean image. The Opposition and large section of people believe that large scale corruption and delays would occur if Sreedharan is not overseeing the project.

Related blog post:
Project review (in Malayalam)