This picture was taken by a man right before boarding a bus (Mumbai-Pune) at a stoppage known as Bisleri stop in Andheri, Mumbai, perhaps, a day before Diwali. It’s not a masterpiece clicked by some professional photographer with a pro-DSLR camera. The image is noisy and somewhat blur, but despite that it’s really one of those powerful images that touches our heart and leaves deep impressions. The image has put things in perspective.
The picture was posted on a social media platform and it stirred a debate in which many Indians and a few foreigners took part.
A woman is creating a ‘Rangoli’ outside her shed to celebrate India’s most popular festival Diwali – the festival of lights, the day when triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’ was marked.
It’s difficult to figure out whether the lady in the picture deserves appreciation for her spirit of celebration while living on a roadside shed or to mourn for this deprived soul and millions like others.
But after looking at this image, India must realize that the battle against poverty is still on. Corruption within us is the modern Ravana, who has abducted humanity, looted them of all ethical and moral values. Corruption has diluted sense of kindness, empathy, compassion, justice, and equality.
In this country, life is hell without wealth. Poor are getting poorer, rich are getting richer. Poverty is the ugliest creation of corruption in India’s political and social sphere. The governments, irrespective of which party is in power, have eaten the nation like termites. The structure looks intact, but inside, it’s being turned into powder.
Number of poor is so high in India that even world’s average poverty ratio depends on it.
The policymakers have been deceiving people by deliberately keeping poverty line low, according to Angus Deaton of Princeton University, a noble laureate in economics. The statistical exercise has become political due to policymakers who want to show that Indian economy is lifting.
Indian government’s official poverty line is a vital economic statistic, but its validity and methodology have always been debated. The poverty line in India is based on consumer expenditure surveys of the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). That implies a poor household is defined as one with an expenditure level below a specific poverty line.
While it helps deceiving people to gain votes, keeping the poverty line at such a low means millions of people, who are officially considered lifted above poverty line but are poor in true terms, are deprived of the government assistance they deserve to come out of their misery.
India’s poverty line, as defined by Suresh Tendulkar Committee in 2011, is based on monthly spending on food, education, health, electricity and transport. According to Indian government, a person who spends a penny above Rs.27.2 in rural areas and Rs.33 in urban areas a day are living above the poverty line. A family of five that spends anything over Rs.4, 080 per month in rural area and Rs, 5,000 in urban areas is above poverty line. Isn’t it too low?
Presently, one cup of tea with an ‘aloo parantha’ at cheapest roadside food stalls cost Rs. 30 in urban area. So, how Rs. 33.3 a day are sufficient to survive?
According to a committee headed by former Reserve Bank Governor C Rangarajan, 20.9% (363 million) of India’s 1.2 billion people were living below poverty line in 2011-12. His panel had set poverty line at Rs. 32 and Rs 47 a day in rural and urban area respectively. The government claims that between 2009-10 and 2011-12, India has lifted 91.6 million people out of poverty and poverty ratio fell from 38.2% to 29.5%. But that is according to definition of poverty line set by government. Quality of life as an aspect of poverty eradication is still missing.
According to an estimate mentioned in Rangarajan’s report, 57% of a rural family’s budget and 47% of an urban family’s budget is spent to procure food alone.
According to economists and critics, a low poverty line has benefited government to project that millions have been lifted above poverty line when actual state of affairs is lot worse.
Let’s take a look at developed nations and their criteria for defining poverty. In United Kingdom, any citizen living with a current net income of less than Rs. 22,500 a week (over 3,000 a day), is poor.
In US, an individual with annual income less than $11,770 is below the Federal Poverty Level. A family of two and a family of four earning less than $15,930 and $24,520 per year respectively are poor.
Even South Africa’s poverty line was higher than that of India.
India’s latest Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC) projects a picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation. According to the survey, in which 300 million households were surveyed, 73% lived in rural areas and less than 5% earn enough to pay taxes. Only 2.5% of the total owned a 4-wheeler vehicle and less than 10% claimed salaried jobs. The literacy rate in rural India is also saddening. About 37.7% of residents can’t read or write.
However, discussion rarely talked about these facts. While a few criticized extravagancies of rich over marriages and birthday parties when poor are starving to death, some others admitted how badly this image has hurt them. A foreigner put the misery of poor in the following words,
It’s really sad, but their cultural behavior is detrimental to progress. The whole country is covered with trash, they have no appreciation for hygiene, and they have no respect for one another. My dad worked there for a couple months and said it was the most miserable experience of his life. He said it seemed like people would kill people over for next to nothing. Like no one makes way for ambulances. They don’t care that someone is dying, they don’t want to be inconvenienced for a moment. It’s just one of those situations that money won’t fix.
Some others didn’t see any valid reason why they should restrict their spending just because others don’t have the same means. There were people who were so much moved by this image that they wanted to do something for that poor lady and the poor kid standing right behind her. May be, a box of sweets or money would help. As matter of fact, it does sound inefficient and insufficient to do a charity for one day for one person when the problem is gigantic. Crores of other continues to live their whole life below poverty line, hand-to-mouth. Misery haunts them their entire life.
Unfortunately, poverty is a catalyst for many other ill effects such as illiteracy, poor mental health, lack of awareness regarding their constitutional rights, anti-social behavior, maximum domestic violence and ill environment for children growing in these slums.
Slums or mohalla’s where these people are forced to spend their entire life are eyesores for government, businessmen, and property dealers. These people are hated for their unhygienic lifestyle and stinking locality consisting of ugly sheds. Try to remember scenes from the movie “Slumdog Millionair”. The reality is way far horrible for poor souls fighting for survival. Quality of life is the least thing that’ll come to their mind.
The government sanctions billions of rupees for development of slums and housing projects but very little have changed even after nearly 70 years of Independence. The poverty isn’t a natural phenomenon. It is manmade. Also, the corruption in government can’t be attributed to only politicians. Individual acts of corruption and silence of people also accounts for our nation’s misery. Our elected leaders are also a projection of our society.
India’s politicians have learnt well from British trick of ‘divide and rule’. India is divided by bars of caste, religion, region, class or status. Indian people have still not learned to respect common interests and community participation.
Biggest cause, as it seems, is that the people are deceived by those whom they consider their leaders. The creed of politicians has become vicious. It needs to be replaced and, eventually, it will be. But that’ll be possible only after individual reforms. All that people need to do is to be honest with themselves.
PIL Filed in HP High Court Re-Ignites Quest for Recognizing Pahari (Himachali) as Hill State’s Official Language
Shimla- November 10, 2021, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Monday passed an order concerning a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to recognize Pahari (Himachali) as an official language of the state. The petition also sought effective steps on the part of the government to preserve and promote the Pahari language in the State as its culture and language give it a distinct identity.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by Arsh Dhanotia with a prayer that the state be directed to declare Pahari (Himachali) as one of the official languages in the State of Himachal Pradesh in any script and also promote further research towards a long-term formal Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script.
Bhawani Pratap Singh Kutlahria, the advocate for the petitioner, argued in the court that the State Government be directed to promote Pahari (Himachali) and other local languages as the medium of instruction in primary and middle-level schools as per the New Education Policy, 2020. On behalf of the petitioner, he also prayed the court to direct the state government to include Pahari (Himachali) language as a separate category for the 2021 Census and simultaneously undertake an awareness campaign to create awareness amongst the masses, especially the youth of the State who speak Pahari (Himachali), to get it marked as their mother tongue in the upcoming Census.
A bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Sabina while disposing off the PIL stated,
“The direction as has been prayed for, cannot be issued to the State Government until and unless it is established on record that the Pahari (Himachali) language has its own script and that a common Pahari dialect is spoken throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh. We, however, set the petitioner at liberty to approach the Department of Language Art & Culture to the Government of Himachal Pradesh with his demand for undertaking research to promote a common Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script. If the petitioner approaches the respondents-State through its Additional Chief Secretary (Language Art & Culture) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh) for the prayer made in the Civil Writ Public Interest Litigation, it would be for the said authority to consider the same in accordance with the law.”
Additionally, the petition had emphasised that Sanskrit, which is the second official language of the state, had only 936 speakers according to the 2011 census and Pahari (Himachali) dialect chain which is spoken by more than 40 lakh people was being neglected and has not been made an official language even after having so many speakers.
The petition also highlighted works of Former Chief Minister Late YS Parmar and Former Education Minister Late Narain Chand Parashar towards the promotion of the Pahari (Himachali) language.
What’s Pahari (Himachali) Language, How Many Districts It Covers
It is to be noted that according to the petitioner, Pahari (Himachali) is a combined term used for the Western Pahari dialect chain spoken in Himachal Pradesh and majorly includes Kangri, Mandeali, Chambeali, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri. According to him ever since the creation of Himachal Pradesh, there has been a demand for recognition of Pahari (Himachali) under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and it is also officially listed with 37 more languages as a language which is in significant demand to be included in the scheduled languages category.
In his plea, he also stated that the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha in 1970 and 2010 have also passed resolutions concerning the promotion and development of Pahari (Himachali).
Himachal’s Snow Covered Area Has Decreased, Poses Big Threat to State Economy’s Lifelines: Report
Shimla-The area under snow cover in Himachal Pradesh has declined by 18.5% according to a recent report published by State Centre on Climate Change (SCCC) and Space Application Center (ISRO) Ahmedabad. The report revealed this decreasing trend for the five major river basins in the State.
As the report points out, the high altitude regions of Himachal Pradesh receive precipitation mainly in the form of snow during the winter season. One-third of the geographical area of the state is covered by a thick blanket of snow during the winter season. Rivers like Chenab, Beas, Parvati, Baspa, Spiti, Ravi, Sutlej and its tributaries flowing through Himachal are dependent on snowfall in winter. These rivers mainly feed into the Indus water system and a decline at this rate rings a death knell for water and also food security for millions of people from Himachal to Kashmir, the plains of Punjab, the food bowl of the country.
Using images and data received from satellites, the report states, that the winter precipitation was mapped in all the basins from October 2020 to May 2021 (a period of two years). The findings indicate that there has been an average decrease of 8.92 percent in Chenab basin, 18.54 percent in Beas basin, 23.16 percent in Ravi basin, 23.49 percent in Sutlej basin compared to last year. The ice covered area of Chenab basin was 7154.11 sq km in 2019-20, which has come down to 6515.91 sq km in 2020-21. Similarly, Beas basin was reduced from 2457.68 to 2002.03 square kilometer, Ravi basin from 2108.13 square kilometer to 1619.82 square kilometer and Sutlej from 11823.1 square kilometer to 9045 square kilometers. Overall, the snow covered area was reduced from 23542 square kilometer to 19183 square kilometer in the entire Himachal.
Sutlej Basin covers 45 per cent of the total geographical area of Himachal and it is the longest river of the state. It flows for around 320 kms here, passing through Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Solan and Bilaspur districts, along its course. The above study shows that the maximum reduction in snow cover has occurred in the Sutlej basin. An area of 4359 square kilometers under snow cover has decreased for the whole state, of which more than half of the Sutlej Basin.
Just two years ago another study had indicated that more than half of glaciers in Sutlej Basin are set to vanish by 2050. Yet another study also showed that the Sutlej basin has the highest 562 number of glacial lakes. These lakes stand the risk of sudden outbursts, which then causes flash floods downstream as the valley has already experienced. So, while the crisis that is unfolding, be it deglaciation, lake formation or reduction in area under snow cover, it seems that the Sutlej river basin is more vulnerable to these changes.
Prakash Bhandari, an environmental researcher and activist and member of Himdhara Collective expressing his concern states that the situation in the Sutlej river basin is certainly indicative of a serious climate emergency and it is critical to look into the drivers of this both local and global.
“The Sutlej basin catchment is the largest and so the changes visible here are more significant. Many factors have worked together to create this crisis which should be studied closely. There is no doubt that global warming is contributing to these changes. But the local conditions also play a role in reducing or increasing its impact”, he says.
The upper reaches of the Sutlej Valley, especially areas like Kinnaur are geologically fragile, with sharp gradients and loose soil strata. Vegetation is in a very small area so the proneness to erosion. We have seen the catastrophic impacts of flashfloods and landslides over the last decade and a half, where crores worth of property has been damaged. This year saw a spate of landslides where lives were lost. “In such a sensitive and also strategically important area, changes in the landscape will have far reaching and irreversible impacts. More construction activities will lead to more deforestation, more erosion”.
Construction of dams has been rampant in the Sutlej valley, a phenomena that started post independence and continues today. If all of the planned dams are built the Sutlej will be cho-a-cloc with more then 150, large and small projects. At the bottom of the valley in Bilaspur is the Bhakra Dam, built almost 6 decades ago, which has a size of 168 sq km and a storage capacity of 9.340 cubic km. Is. This is followed by the Kol Dam which extends for 42 km up to Sunni, which has a total storage capacity of 90 million cubic metres. Nathpa Jhakri Project which is 27.394 kms. is long. When a dam is built, a huge amount of water is stored. The debris of many villages, trees etc. also gets absorbed inside the dam. When water is stagnant, it receives heat from the Sun to form mist in the surrounding area by evaporation and simultaneously generates methane gas. The experience of the lake formed by the Kol dam at Tattapani in Mandi district shows that the area is experiencing heavy haze which was not there earlier.
“In the 30s and 40s, Shikari Devi and Kamrunag used to have snow on the peaks for about 6 months, which now could barely stop for only 2 months. The air route distance of Shikari Devi and Kamrunag is only 26 to 30 kms from Tattapani lake. At the same time, their distance is not much from the cement factories of Darlaghat, Sundernagar”, the elders in the area say. “Today, fog is prevalent and this has also made the area warmer”.
Due to the warming of the weather due to the clouds formed from the mist, the snow has started melting quickly. Apart from this the local crop patterns are affected. Post the 1990s, the Sutlej became a site for run of the river hydroelectric projects using extensive underground tunneling. This involves massive use of explosives for blasting through the mountains. Of the 23,000 MW worth of projects to be constructed in Himachal more than 10,000, a third are from this valley alone. Kinnaur continues to be a hydel powerhouse with 10 run of the river projects in progress and 30 more to be set up including two mega projects of 1500 MW and 1000 MW each. This paints a scary picture.
Interactive Sutlej River-Basin Map indicate Hydropower Station location
It is not just the hydro-electric dams but unplanned tourism and other development activities like mining, cement plants, road expansion and mindless construction across the high Himalayan regions have also add to the shift in local weather patterns, land use changes and thus the ecological crisis. But the reason why we should put the limelight on hydropower is that this is being pushed as “Green Energy”, in the name of climate change mitigation. As opposed to other forms of generating power, hydropower projects are said to cause lesser carbon emissions, which is why there has been a global push to shift to renewable resources. But the climate emergency in the Himalayas has put a question mark on ‘water’ as a renewable resource.
The question then arises that with all this data indicating a steady decline in river discharge and snow cover have our planners and policy makers not considered what will happen to these projects? Will they be able to generate the power they propose to? The people of Himalaya have to wake up to this wastage of public resources. Scarce funds should be diverted to better planning for securing local livelihoods by protecting the forest ecosystems and water sources for the future.
Feature Images: unsplash/@raimondklavins
Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States
Shimla-Yesterday, the Centre government directed the state governments to take immediate measure in wake of the spread of more infectious Delta Plus variant. As the Delta Plus variant is posing a threat of the third wave, the states were told to take steps like preventing crowds, increase testing, more focus on surveillance, contact tracing and put boosting vaccine coverage on a priority basis. Following it, Himachal Pradesh Government might have announced an alert over Delta plus variant, but there wasn’t any follow up on instructions passed by scientists and health experts to take strict restrictive measures ahead of the impending third wave.
To make it worse, high rank officials and political leaders were seen flouting Covid-19 SOPs on several occasion, which sent wrong messages to the masses. The pictures and videos showing flouting of Covid appropriate behavior by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and Directorial General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, alongwith other staff for Anupam Kher is the most recent to mention. A group photograph and video of the same were widely circulated on social media and invited huge criticism from the people.
So far, the state has not reported any case of the Delta Plus variant. But the neighboring states – Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir – reported their first cases yesterday. This puts the boarding areas, like in Una district, at a higher risk. Chief Secretary to HP Government, Anil Khachi, yesterday said samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
Despite repeated warnings of Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2.1.), Himachal Pradesh has thrown its borders open to all and lifted all restrictions for inter-state travel in just one go. From June 23 onwards, the state government removed the condition for registering on the e-pass portal for visitors intending to enter the state. In the Cabinet meeting held on June 22, 201, the government first decided that e-pass restrictions would be removed from July 1, but later it changed the decision and instead implemented it immediately.
This haphazard decision is said to have come under huge pressure from the hospitality industry – the worst-hit sector, leading to financial crisis and mass unemployment among its stakeholders. Related associations had been approaching Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with their pleas to provide relief, but mostly faced disappointment. The stakeholders say the state government didn’t provide any significant relief, which is making the survival of the industry difficult.
Also, stakeholder of the industry, especially hoteliers, had been demanding the removal of restrictions and conditions on the entry of tourists to Himachal so that they could fetch the remaining peak tourist season.
With its inability to offer relief, the HP Government took the chance to waive off restrictions in a haste.
At the same time, the state government has decided to conduct offline examinations for the undergraduate classes starting from July. A section of the students had been condemning the HP government for scheduling exams without vaccinating students. Some student bodies had been asking the government as to why online classes were possible but not online exams.
The state government also waived off restrictions on timings for the opening of markets/shops.
As scientists and health experts warn of the virulence of the new variant and with neighboring states already on alert after reporting cases of the new variant, the HP government hasn’t even mentioned any intention to at least put a check on the visitor from the states where cases of Delta Plus are being reported. Carrying an RT-PCR negative report for visitors from such states/cities would have been a wiser step.
Officially, the state is on alert, but no measures have been announced to check the entry and spread of the variant into the state. The state government does speak of preparing for the anticipated third wave, but there is hardly any long-term preventive strategy. The Covid appropriate behavior is hard to adopt when markets and tourist places are crowded with visitors.
Why Delta Plus is a Big Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the Delta variant as ‘Variant of Concern’.
The Centre and scientific/medical institutes in India also agree with that Delta Plus as a variant of concern and could be the cause of impending third wave. Last Tuesday, based on the findings of INSACOG, the Union Health Ministry had alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID19.
INSACOG had warned that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
“Delta variant is more resistant to medication, treatment and vaccination. Therefore, people who have been vaccinated can still be affected by this variant and can go on to get a clinical illness, Archana Dhawan Bajaj, director, Nurture IVF, told a national English Daily.
“Neutralising antibodies against this variant post-vaccination seem to be nearly five times lower in people who have already been vaccinated than the other variants,” she said.
Further, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, ex-Head Scientist of Epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, has also expressed concern over the reports that Delta Plus has reported pathophysiologic change and affecting different organs. Dr Raman says that it could transfer from cell to cell and would more likely produce neurological symptoms as a common manifestation.
So far India has reported 51 cases of the Delta Plus variant.
Delta Plus variant is a variant of Delta with an additional mutation -B.1.617.2.1.