The flight of capital, talent and workforce

The flight that took industrialist Sabu M. Jacob from Kerala to a warm reception in Telangana is a microcosm of what is routinely and often silently happening in Kerala.

Capital, talent and workforce have been leaving Kerala over decades.  The best efforts to industrialise Kerala took place in the last few decades of Travancore Government. Subsequent democratic governments only saw the decline of traditional industries. The first major industry to move out of Kerala in a significant manner was the cashew industry. The coir industry declined, but remained in the State like the wood industries as it is not easy to shift the raw materials from Kerala.

Kerala has always lagged in manufacturing. Service industries dominated; but that needed money to come in from outside either in the form of remittances from Keralites working outside or tourists. What distinguishes Sabu Jacob’s Kitex Garments is that it is a rare (for Kerala) 100 per cent export-oriented manufacturing unit in the State.

A unit of Kitex group

One of the major constraints for manufacturing units in Kerala is environmental factors.  And the major allegations being raised against Kitex Garments and related companies is that it is polluting a river, and that it is not paying minimum wages.  But to a neutral observer, it is clear that Kitex is the least polluting of several major industrial units in Ernakulam district. Clearly, there is selective amnesia from the part of officials and politicians. It is not clear whether Kitex did not pay minimum wages to any particular section of the workers. But generally, the workers there are satisfied about their wages.

Militant trade unionism, which is fortunately on the decline now, and greedy full-time politicians have been the bane of all industrial enterprises in the State. There are signs that the latter too may face a decline in the future. In fact, the fight between Sabu Jacob and politicians from both the ruling and Opposition fronts is a political fight—a backlash, at least from a few entrepreneurs, to the exploitative tactics of politicians.

Twenty20
Sabu Jacob had floated his own political party Twenty20 to fight the situation. He captured control of several panchayats from regular politicians, and fielded candidates from eight constituencies in the last Assembly elections. His candidates failed to win in the Assembly elections because the entrepreneur failed to take certain things into consideration that makes a successful political campaign.

His selection of candidates was something similar to his company selecting it managers. The candidates were qualified but lacked popularity. If Twenty20 had fielded actor Sreenivasan or had roped in technocrat E. Sreedharan, the outcome might have been different.

Their campaign style too was defective. The candidates often started speeches with their biodata and there were not many local people accompanying them during house-to-house campaigns. Sabu Jacob’s speech showed feudal tendencies with him often reminding people of the services of his father and family. He also declared that it was in people’s interest to vote for Twenty20 (as they were benefiting from his hand-outs and good governance in the panchayats) and he would go his away if his party was defeated. This was when the biggest stake holder was Mr. Jacob himself. The party had no declared policy on most subjects or position on hot topics in the State.

But Mr. Jacob always stressed the need for creation of employment in the State and highlighted the flight of the youth from the State for jobs outside the State.

Migration of workforce
What the party was raising was something that should have been serious concern to the State for long. Early migration from Kerala started to Burma (now Myanmar) and Malaysia before independence.  After independence, small numbers of people were migrating to the United States, Canada and European countries. But it was the construction boom in the Gulf in the seventies and eighties that turned migrations into a flood. Now people also migrate to Australia and New Zealand.

According to government agency NORKA, about 40 lakh Keralites are now working abroad. While those in Gulf countries will return, almost all of those migrating to developed countries will never return.  Number of Keralites working in other States is given as 13.74 lakhs.

According to 2011 census, the total workforce in Kerala is about 116 lakhs which comes to 34.78 per cent of the population.  (This means that, on an average, one employed person supports two others). This is apparently against the resident population.  But as many as 63.74 lakh people work outside Kerala. This means that about a third of the State’s actual working population is forced to seek jobs outside the State. This is a serious situation which needs to be corrected urgently.

Tailpiece:
Whatever the political parties in the State are saying against Kitex Garments, the investors are supporting the company deciding to have investments in Telangana. The price of shares of Kitex Garments shot up by about 80 per cent in three days after Sabu Jacob left for Telangana. On July 13, there were no sellers for the share, indicating that the share price may go up further.
It is indeed a vote of confidence for Telangana and the negative vote for industrial climate in Kerala.

Additional information update
The company has filed a case against revision of minimum wages to the workers. The case is pending decision.

Congress MLA P. T. Thomas has told the media that the company has not installed reverse osmosis plant at its factory as agreed to a meeting called by K. Babu who was Minister in 2012. Why the UDF and LDF governments had not enforced the decision is a larger question.

It is alleged that there is discrimination against non-supporters of Twenty20 in the Kizhakkambalam panchayat and that the panchayat authorities do not attend certain meetings attended by local member of the Assembly.

While opposing Athirappally project …

Athirappally water fall on the Chalakudy River of Kerala, India.

People opposing the Athirappally project in Kerala should be willing to pay a higher price for electricity and set apart some space on their roof tops for solar power.

The alternative to hydel power for the State, as of now, is thermal power which is costly. Thermal projects cause more pollution than hydel projects. (Hydel projects cause pollution during construction work and reservoir emits greenhouse gases.) Besides, thermal projects use up a finite fuel sources.

So, one has to prefer Athirappally over thermal power. However, environmentalists have several objections specific to Athirappally project in view of its proximity to forests and the impact on the river system. Apart from biodiversity of the forests at some distance from the project site and the issue of displacement of a small group of tribals, the other issues are either weak or amenable to mitigation. The ‘forests’ in the immediate vicinity of the project are forest plantations and riverine vegetation. The conservation potential of the riverine vegetation at the project site is limited because the adjoining flora is plantations. Otherwise, we should allow the plantations to revert to forests.

A run-of-the-river project (without much dammed storage) need not cause any shortage of water in the Chalakkudy River if flow of water is synchronised with release of water from dams upstream of the river and regulated to allow reasonable flow for the Athirappally water fall. This may, however, reduce cost-effectiveness of the project.

A better option will be to avoid construction of the dam with the ultimate objective of decommissioning all major dams in the State in future. For that, we have to avoid dependence on thermal power and go for renewable sources of energy. Currently, rooftop solar power is considerably costlier than the power supplied by Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). The Board now has schemes to set up rooftop solar power units, funded either by the home/building owner or the KSEB. One has to go for solar power and other renewable sources while saying no to Athirappally project.

KSEB is currently going slow viable small hydroelectric projects. The Board as well as the government has a responsible to plan for energy security of the State instead of playing cat and mouse games.

Save Kurinji Campaign enters new phase

kurinji-bloom in bloom

kurinji in bloom at Kurinjimala Sanctuary, Kerala, India

The Save Kurinji Campaign was started by a group of youngsters in the eighties against destruction of the shola grasslands of Munnar and Palani Hills and its flagship species neelakurinji (Strobilanthuskunthiana) which flowers once in 12 years.

The first of its campaign march from Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu to Munnar in Kerala was inaugurated by none other than Zafar Rashid Futehally (1920 – 2013), Indian naturalist and conservationist best known for his work as the secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society in 1989.

The campaigners marched from Kodaikanal to highlight the loss of sholas to plantations of eucalyptus, wattle and pine. Besides the Save Kurinji Campaign Council, those associated with the campaign included the Palani Hills Conservation Council and High Range Wildlife Preservation Association. This led to increased awareness about the importance of sholas and their flora and fauna. Campaign marches and other programmes were organised in the subsequent decades also.

At that time there was few studies about sholas. But soon there were several, including a book on shola forest published by the Kerala Forest Research Institute.The studies and campaigns led to stoppage of eucalyptus plantations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu though those planted already continued to affect the ecosystem.

In 2006, the campaign met with its major success with the LDF government declaring 3200 hectares of kurinji habitat near Munnar as Kurinjimala sanctuary for protection of kurinji and its habitat. The then Forest Minister Benoy Viswam took special interest in conserving the habitat. Before that, the UDF government led by OommenChandy had cleared the area of ganja cultivators and set up a forest station at Kadavari. The Palani (Kodaikanal ) wildlife sanctuary was formed in 2013 by Tamil Nadu government.

The Eravikulam National Park in Kerala was already a protected area for conservation of shola grasslands. The Year 2006 was a year of flowering of kurinji in several areas including the Park. The Forest Department paid special attention to keeping the Park free of fires in summer. Protective measures were also extended to the newly formed Kurinjimala sanctuary. This helped in maturing of the seeds of kurinji and its propagation. The results are expected to be seen this year when the kurinji plants in these areas are due for their next cycle of flowering (between July and October).

As phase of the next phase of the campaign, those who participated in earlier save kurinji marches and younger nature lovers will be gathering in Kodaikanal on June 1 to 3 to relive the memories and chart out campaign for consolidation of the gains. As done in 1989, they will be going around the Kodai Lake to mark the beginning of next phase of campaign.

It was another ordeal for endosulfan victims

endosulfan stir

Endosulfan victims and their mothers on hunger strike before the Secretariat

The hunger strike by endosulfan victims and mothers before Kerala Secretariat ended last week after the Government conceded most of their demands.

However, the demands conceded were the ones that the government had conceded as back as in January 2014 following their dharna before the Chief Minister’s residence. Implementation was lagging and the victims had to launch another stir to get yet another assurance that they would be implemented.

The only concrete gain from the agitation was a specific decision to include about 600 more persons from Kasaragod district under the government’s list for providing compensation. Whether other promises would be kept within the term of the present government is to be seen.

In fact, the approach of successive government to the endosulfan problem had been far from satisfactory. It is more than five years since the National Human Rights Commission recommended compensation and other measures. Still the compensation has not reached all.

Though it was a problem that should have been addressed on a war footing, governments often chose to ignore the problem. It was convenient for them to do so, because the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala was responsible for aerial spraying of endosulfan. None of the officials who were responsible for using such dangerous methods of application of pesticides in a populated area, and that too in excess quantities and over water bodies, were never held accountable.

As to rehabilitative and remediative measures, the government could not even do what the voluntary agencies could. It is notable that even the BUDS schools set up by the government did not have facilities for use by physically challenged persons. Even western closets were absent.

As the water bodies were contaminated, the government took no steps to supply pure drinking water to the affected area for two decades after the problem became known. When Rajiv Gandhi drinking water mission was implemented in kasaragod district, the villages chosen for the project were not the endosulfan affected. Decontamination was never attempted. In fact, the remaining stocks of endosulfan with the Corporation are yet to be removed safety from the area.

This blog has said that the settlement two years ago was aimed at fooling the victims. This time also, the situation is only marginally better.

Mullaperiyar- fresh litigation will be ill-advised at this stage

Kerala Government plans to approach the Supreme Court yet again on the Mullaperiyar issue— this time over the alleged failures of the supervisory committee appointed by the Court to properly manage release of water from Dam through the spillways.

This is just an attempt by the politicians to buy time and hoodwink the public. The supervisory committee has representatives of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and Central Water Commission. The question of failure to issue timely warning before release of water through the spillways is a matter that the State government should be able to settle administratively, if necessary seeking intervention of the Centre. It will not be appropriate to agitate the Supreme Court now.

Moreover, it is not Kerala’s case that the Tamil Nadu did not warn it of impending release of water. There were reports that Theni Collector did so a few days ago. The complaint is that the Idukki Collector was not informed six hours before the release. Tamil Nadu apparently wanted to record that the water level touched 142 feet. When water level reached 141.9, it became imperative for Tamil Nadu to release water immediately as the inflow was very heavy. There needs to be an understanding on gradual release of water without waiting for the water level to touch 142 feet.

Kerala should also insist upon its lower riparian rights. The Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court had mooted construction of a tunnel to drain water into Periyar River downstream. This is also important from the point of view of safety. All modern dams have Bottom outlet tunnel which will facilitate emptying of the dam in case of an emergency—the Mullaperiyar dam does not have one, being one designed in the 19th century.

Every time Kerala has gone to Court over the Mullaperiyar issue, it has led to closure of its options. It has already lost its case that Tamil Nadu should raise the water level of Mullaperiyar beyond 136 feet only after exhausting storage at Vaigai Dam and that the spillway shutters should be opened gradually. In fact, when Kerala is arguing that the dam is not safe, it should be prepared for sudden release of water. This was what was lacking downstream of Mullaperiyar this Monday.

Kerala has failed to set up monitoring facilities it proposed on earlier occasions downstream of the Dam. Around 50 monitoring installations on the dam and reservoir, under control of Tamil Nadu, are reportedly not functioning. This is an issue that Kerala should be taking up legally or administratively. Even a modern dam without functioning monitoring equipment is unsafe.

Kerala had rushed to nullify a Supreme Court order of 2006 though legislation within weeks of the Court issuing the order. The legislature in its wisdom fixed the water level at 136 feet without building up supporting material. The Kerala Dam Safety Authority, which is a quasi judicial body, on the other had could have commissioned international studies on Mullaperiyar under the law and fixed the water level appropriately which would have been difficult to question before the Supreme Court.

When the Court quashed the law, Kerala suffered a multiple blow. Its arguments had led to the Supreme Court appointing a supervisory committee. As the supervisory committee of the Supreme Court is now managing the water level, it could put blame on Tamil Nadu only if it disregarded directives of the committee. Kerala will not even be able claim damages from Tamil Nadu for any losses caused by release of water or dam failure.

Kerala had ample time to prepare internationally acceptable documents on safety of Mullaperyar Dam from 2006 and even before. But it always rushed to do studies at the last minute. When safety of the people was paramount, one of the first studies it commissioned over a short span of time after 2006 was on submergence of forests and wildlife. (An analysis of errors in that study is available here. The author had to admit before Court that he had done a copycat job of work done by a State agency.)

Though there was an erroneous observation in the 2006 judgment (See Mullaperiyar- behind the veil.) that waters from Mullaperiyar would be contained in Idukki reservoir in case of failure of the former, Kerala failed to complete and produce the Dam Break Analysis before the Supreme Court in the case filed by Tamil Nadu challenging Kerala’s dam safety law.


 

Extract from judgment
Extract from the judgment of Supreme Court in ORIGINAL SUIT NO. 3 OF 2006 between Tamil Nadu and Kerala

Though the State Information Commission has ruled that this and other studies are public documents, the Principal Secretary of Water Resources Department has issued an illegal order against release of documents pertaining to the Mullaperiyar Dam as long as the issue is under litigation. Perhaps this is one reason why it wants another litigation.

As its strategies have failed so far, it is high time that it reconstituted the Mullaperiyar Special Cell with fresh talent and drew up fresh strategies.

For further reading:

Mullaperiyar: Kerala seeks review of Probable Maximum Flood

 

 

 

 

The ecology of cow slaughter ban

cowCow slaughter ban is something that was introduced in India thousands of years ago with good intentions though it has lost its rationale today (except for extreme Hindutva forces).

The ban has its roots in pastoral, and later, agrarian societies that grew along the Gangetic plains. Though the region was fertile, floods and droughts were frequent. When a drought strikes and grains become scarce, the natural tendency is to kill animals for food. Besides, water requirements of animals are high. So, it is extremely difficult to maintain domestic animals during a drought.

However, if massive killings of cattle took place, it would destroy even hopes of revival of the economy after drought. When tractors and other machinery were not there, draught animals were critical for revival of agriculture. While killing of cattle en masse could not be stopped, it was important to save at least the cows. If cows are there, even a single surviving bull can sire many calves. (Even now, a practice is there in North India of offering a bull to the community with connotations of bringing prosperity for the donor).

Some wise men apparently thought that the best way to effect conservation of cattle was to formulate it in the form of a religious edict. Obviously, this edict has lost its relevance today because we have better methods of farm management including artificial insemination and modes to transport grains across large distances in case of a regional drought. (Note that hauling loads of grain too required draught animals in olden days.)

Now, cow is no more central to the economy. However, certain other religious beliefs like those surrounding sacred groves in Kerala, for example, retain their relevance even today. Cattle also have role to play in organic farming even today, though that does not negate their slaughter.

It is also worth examining whether vegetarianism has any advantage over consumption of non-vegetarian food. Evolutionary history shows that Homo sapiens were never strict vegetarians. They started as hunter gathers and are omnivorous. Besides, a 100 per cent vegetarian dish can deprive you of some essential nutrients. Milk products and egg can make up for that to some extent. (So, here also cow becomes important). However, it is to be noted that in some regions of the world, you have to be heavily dependent on meat because of scarcity of vegetables and grain. In the arctic region, no vegetable is available locally. And people like the Eskimos, Inuits and the Cree traditionally survived entirely on meat. (They too have beliefs that ensure survival of animal species. The Crees have a method of determining whether the animal is “willing” or ready to be killed. If not, they will spare it.)

However, vegetarianism reduces your carbon footprint. More resources are needed to produce meat compared to vegetables. This is why even U. S. President Barack Obama is concerned about increasing meat consumption in Asia. He wants Asians to eschew meat consumption to keep American dream alive. So, RSS and the US have common interest though for differing reasons.

As human cultures and technology progress, it is expected that cruelty against animals will come down irrespective of whether it is a cow or bull or a goat. However, one should not be creating communal divides over the issue and commit bigger cruelty against fellow human beings.

‘Health sector like others should reduce its climate footprint’

skyAs concerns about climate change are rising, Director of World Health Organisation (Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health) Dr Maria Neira has made a call that the health sector too should lower its climate footprint.

Hospitals, as they operate today, are energy-intensive enterprises that contribute substantially to climate change. To reduce their environmental impact, they can adopt basic measures such as reducing toxic waste, using safer chemicals and purchasing eco-friendly products, she says.

She cites the example of a hospital in Jaipur, a 350-bed health facility that cut its total energy bill by half between 2005 and 2008 through solar-powered water heaters and lightning. In Brazil, one efficiency project reduced the demand for electricity of a group of 101 hospitals by 1035 kilowatts at a cost savings of 25 per cent.

But for the Jaipur hospital, the situation in India is no different from rest of the world. Hospitals consume a lot of electricity. In addition, they waste a lot of energy by subjecting patients to unnecessary procedures, just to make money. There is no attempt to reduce waste though facilities have come up for disposal of biomedical waste.

WHO estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250000 deaths a year between 2030 and 2050— mostly from malaria, diarrhoea, heat exposure and under-nutrition. That is, if human beings do not take steps to reduce their carbon foot print, the living earth will. However, the irony will be that the victims will be the poorer sections of the society; not the people who pollute the most.

The United States is doing little to reduce its emissions, while India and other nations have offered to reduce emissions intensity significantly. A study by Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, the per capita household consumption expenditure of US is double that of an EU-28 household, 24 times a Chinese one, 44 times an Indian’s, 64 times a household in Bangladesh and 173 times a Malawi household.

Energy system in the US would remain fossil fuel heavy with 76 per cent of total primary energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030. Renewables contribution would just be 15 per cent by 2030. While India goes ahead with his ambitious plan to reduce climate footprint, it should also press that the United Nations and others make an equal, if not better, contribution. Those who created the problems should also be pressed to foot the bill.

Rahul Gandhi’s ‘war over sea’, a misplaced adventure?

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is reportedly planning an outreach programme in Chavakkad in Thrissur district next week to take up the cause of traditional fishermen. The most pressing issue there is described as the woes of fishermen resulting from the Central Government’s decision to impose ban on fishing for 61 days. He is ill-advised to take up this issue as a shorter ban on fishing is not actually in the interests of traditional fishermen.

It may be recalled that the traditional fishermen had launched a series of agitations for three-month ban on bottom trawling during monsoon led by persons like Fr. Thomas Kocheri and Sr. Philomin Mary in the eighties. The mechanised boat owners were strongly opposed to the ban though it was aimed at conservation of fish resources.

Fishermen's agitation

Fishermen blocking the highway at Alappuzha in 1985 demanding, among other things, ban on trawling.      Photo: Roy Mathew

Congress leader K. Karunakaran was not in favour of the ban and had used police to suppress the agitation when he was the Chief Minister. However, even Congress supporters in the Dheevara Sabha were forced to take a stand in favour of the ban. The agitation led to appointment of various committees to study the issue. Finally, the government decided to have a shorter ban of about 45 days though this was not a scientifically sound decision. Expert committees had called for a longer ban during monsoon to cover the entire breeding season of fishes.

What has changed between now and then is that more of the traditional fishermen have become owners or workers of mechanized fishing boats. The same forces which opposed the ban for quick returns and lobbied with Karunakaran are now behind Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s move. The only difference is that more ‘traditional fishermen’ are now with them. However, this assessment would depend on whether someone is ‘traditional’ by birth or by use of the fishing gears.

Scientifically, the only thing that has changed is confirmation of the fact that all (economically valuable) fishes do not breed during monsoon. Experts in the eighties have either discounted this fact or did not have adequate data to come to a conclusion. This may necessitate deeper look into the recommendation and possibly modification of the ban on a regional basis. More important may be the need to declare marine reserves like wildlife sanctuaries.

A shorter ban will not fully serve the purpose and a two month ban is reasonable considering all the factors. However, stricter enforcement of ban on net types and mesh sizes will be more crucial to conservation of marine resources. Fishlings ought to be allowed to grow to certain sizes before they are harvested.

Related Report:

After land, Rahul to wage war over sea

India opposes ban on pollutants

Stockholm Convention

TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE: Delegates to MoP of Stockholm Convention vote on whether to take a vote on listing, by raising flags, in Geneva on Saturday. Photo: Secretariat of BRS Conventions

India has been blocking moves at the Conference of Parties of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to list more chemicals for elimination from worldwide use. This precipitated a division for the first time in the history of the Conference— which used to take decisions by consensus, at Geneva on May 16, 2015.

The vote was for listing of pentachlorophenol, an organochlorine compound used as pesticide and disinfectant, for elimination (which will lead to ban on their production and use by member countries). Residues of the pesticide have been detected in the environment in wildlife and human biomonitoring studies.

Switzerland pressed for a vote on listing of pentachlorophenol after efforts to reach a consensus failed. The Conference first took a vote on whether matter should be decided through division. Then it voted 94 against two in favour of listing with eight abstaining. The decision is not binding on India.

The Conference this time was part of combined meetings of Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions. India opposed listing of trichlorfon at the Conference of Parties of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade also, leading to deferment of decision for want of consensus. India was the only country to oppose the proposal.

It was after much remonstrance that India agreed to the resolution on elimination of endosulfan in 2011 with riders (specific exemptions that included use on multiple crop-pest complexes). Though the Convention came up with alternatives to endosulfan as decided at its 2011 Conference, India is yet take steps for ratification of the decision through approval of Parliament. This was despite findings of serious harm caused by the pesticide in Kerala and Karnataka, and possibly in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu also.

Observers had alleged that representatives of the pesticide lobby were present in the Indian delegation at the 2011 Conference of Parties to prevent the listing of endosulfan. It is not yet known whether similar situation arose this year also with new government in power. However, it is very clear that India’s opinion at the International fora is dictated by the interests of pesticide companies rather than its population or the world at large.

Regulation is lacking or unenforceable (for want of proper enforcement machinery, laboratories and political will) in India though a substantial portion of the food consumed in the country is contaminated to various levels. Pesticides are often applied unnecessarily and in excess of recommendations in agriculture fields as well as godowns in most States. A national level analysis by government of more than 16000 samples of vegetables, fruits, spices, grains and other food items showed that more than 500 samples had pesticide residues above the limits prescribed by Food Safety Standard Authority of India.