Pedda Vagu, the sinuous stream which originates in the Kerameri Hills of the Kumram Bheem Asifabad district in north Telangana, was a silent spectator of a ghastly incident over three months ago.
On November 10, a Koya tribal youth, 20-year-old Sidam Vighnesh, and his cousin, 12-year-old Sidam Srikanth, went fishing in Pedda Vagu. They laid their catch to dry on a flat boulder on the banks and went home. The next day, the two of them along with their neighbour P. Naveen (14) decided to divide the catch equally, so that they could use it as bait for bigger fish. Vighnesh went to the nearest semi-grown teak tree to pluck its leaves into which he could apportion the dried fish. Little did he know that a tiger lay in the thickly grown fire flame bush beside the teak.
“We thought Anna (brother) was playing hide and seek when he didn’t return. We approached the tree stealthily, but found him crouching near it,” Naveen recalls.
Vighnesh was gesturing to them frantically, asking them to leave as he had spotted the tiger. He did not notice that the feline was already creeping up on him. As Srikanth and Naveen ran for their lives, they heard Vighnesh scream.
Villagers from Digida, the remote hamlet in the Rebbana forest range where Vighnesh lived, rushed to the spot with drum beats and whistles, but they found neither Vighnesh nor the animal. Tell-tale signs of blood-soaked foliage, pug marks, and drag trail took them deep inside the thick forest, where, near a clearing, they found the body, a small portion ripped and eaten.
The tiger vanished into the woods on hearing the clamour, and then took a detour to head into the Pedda Vagu. “We saw the animal turn around midstream in an attempt to return. It fled after we threw stones,” recalls Kurshinga Diwakar, an eyewitness. This was the first human kill by a tiger in about 20-25 years in these parts.
A second victim
Eighteen days after the incident, on the other side of the Pedda Vagu in Penchikalpet forest range, Pasula Nirmala, 16, from Manneguda hamlet of Kondapalli village panchayat, was taken down by a tiger while picking cotton in a field.
“I was close by. Suddenly I heard her scream. I turned and saw her in the tiger’s jaws. Running behind, if I hadn’t fallen down on my face, I would have been able to save her,” rues her mother Pasula Lachhumamma.
But her nephew Annam Chakravarthi bravely ran behind the tiger and threw a stick at it. “The tiger dropped her and crouched. When I went closer and retrieved the body, the animal started following me, growling and roaring. It left the spot after we threw stones, but lurked in the surroundings for a long time,” says Chakravarthi, 20.
Following the ghastly deaths, the Telangana Forest Department has issued advisories to the villagers to be followed while moving outside their homes; supplied them with masks to be worn at the back of their head, to deflect tiger attacks; laid camera traps; and collected pug marks. A committee has been formed as per the standard operating procedure prescribed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), for technical guidance and monitoring of the situation on a day-to-day basis.
“We have stopped going for work in the fields after the tiger attacks. We are not sure how effective the masks are,” says Tekam Sunitha from Manneguda. Chintapudi Gundaiah, another villager, says tigers are not new to this territory, but this one is different as the presence of humans does not seem to scare it.
The human kills by a tiger have caused panic and dismay in the villages. But they are not surprising: widespread habitat destruction, cattle grazing and resource extraction, along with an increase in the tiger population, have led to a man-animal conflict in the region and a dwindling prey base for the tigers.
Crossing the border
For a tiger to be declared a man-eater, it should have committed a series of human kills and partaken the flesh, according to the NTCA. In these cases, the proof is inconclusive as the bodies were retrieved soon after.
Besides, there is always the question of the identity of the attacker as there are several tigers in the region. Five adult tigers (two female and three male) were moving around in the Rebbana and Penchikalpet forest ranges, which fall in the corridor region of the Kawal Tiger Reserve, when the incidents occurred.
According to sources, the suspect tiger, identified as A2, was a male which had drifted into the area from the periphery of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. It was among the big cats that had made the premises of the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station its home for want of territory in Tadoba, where the tiger population is rapidly expanding. Maharashtra forest officials have reportedly confirmed that this feline was typically unafraid of human presence. It was listed there for capture before it entered Telangana.
Efforts by the Telangana foresters to capture the animal, in coordination with their Maharashtra counterparts, have intensified since. Expert teams trained in the use of tranquilliser guns have been brought, and baits have been tied. The suspect, meanwhile, has been moving across the Pranahita river between the two States, keeping the foresters on their toes. Officials tracking the tiger say that the animal makes multiple kills in a short span, and does not return twice to the same kill, thereby thwarting attempts to capture it.
Areas outside the Tadoba and Tipeshwar tiger sanctuaries, which are located in the Chandrapur and Yavatmal districts of Maharashtra, respectively, have a sizeable tiger population. These tigers often cross the border in search of territory and enter the Kawal Tiger Reserve landscape in Telangana.
As per the All India Tiger Estimation, 2018 (Tiger Census) figures, the number of adult big cats in Maharashtra increased from 106 in 2006 to 312 in 2018 through successful conservation efforts. Of these, 93 were enumerated from regions outside the protected areas, such as the Chandrapur and Brahmapuri forest divisions.
The Kawal landscape, including the core, buffer and the corridor areas, recorded two adult tigers in the Census. According to the Forest Department, the number of adult tigers in the core and corridor areas has now grown to at least 10, owing to increased protection.
An extended habitat
The Kawal Tiger Reserve was notified in 2012. It covers an area of 2,015.35 sq km under the present Nirmal, Mancherial, Adilabad and Asifabad districts. Of this, 892.23 sq km is classified as the core area, and the remaining as buffer. Given its connectivity with Tadoba in the north and the Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh in the east, Kawal was hoped to be an extended habitat for the spillover tigers from both States.
To facilitate migration of the big cat, the Telangana Forest Department has, in its Tiger Conservation Plan submitted to the NTCA, declared a tiger corridor in the Kagaznagar and Asifabad forest divisions.
The foresters counted 26 tigers entering the Kawal landscape so far, based on the data obtained from camera traps and pug marks. But several big cats which came either left or disappeared, till the arrival of Phalguna, the matriarch that gave birth to two litters of four cubs each in the Kadamba forest range in the Kagaznagar division.
With many tigers disappearing, the corridor area earned the disrepute of being inhospitable to the striped cats. Very few could stay/survive due to serious man-animal conflict. Of Phalguna’s first litter, only one tigress is seen roaming in Chennur division, with a wire snare around its hip as a remnant of a failed poaching operation. None of its siblings can be seen as adult members anywhere in the core, buffer or corridor areas. From Phalguna’s second litter, two female tigers are presently seen moving in the forest ranges of the Asifabad-Kagaznagar divisions, while a male is reported to have crossed over to Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district in search of domain. Phalguna herself has not been seen for the past two years.
While foresters routinely explain away disappearance of every tiger as a migration to Maharashtra, doubts linger about the truth in these claims. Official records mention three tiger deaths in the region since 2016, of which the last two were discovered within a short gap in January 2019. Both the instances came to light only when tiger body parts were confiscated from poachers.
An uproar ensued and a public interest litigation was filed in the Telangana High Court by wildlife conservationist Diya Sur Banerjee, who sought judicial intervention for unified control of the Kawal Tiger Reserve. “I had done a survey for the High Court, which exposed roads and electric wires going through the core area. Deliberate electrocution caused the tiger deaths. Like any other tiger reserve, Kawal too should have one demarcated core and one buffer which helps in unified protection and management,” Banerjee said, while speaking on her petition.
Responding to the petition, the High Court issued a slew of directions, which included controlling poaching, aerial bunched electric cabling in the core area, and unified command.
This led to a major reshuffle in the Telangana Forest Department. Anti-poaching measures were intensified, and wire snares and other poaching devices were confiscated from the farmers who used them against marauding wild boars. Subsequently, the number of tigers entering and surviving in Telangana has increased.
The next issue is heavy fragmentation of the habitat in the corridor region. As a consequence, tigers are unable to cross over to the core area.
Agricultural encroachments into the reserve forest are aplenty, especially in Kagaznagar division, often with political sanction. According to the Forest Department, encroachments in the Kagaznagar division amounted to nearly 17% of the forest land in the division. The Forest Department claims that the majority of them happened around the time of promulgation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, owing to ignorance about the cut-off date, and misconceptions about the future regularisation.
The corridor area has 111 villages, of which 30-40 are unnotified tribal hamlets. Acres of cotton crop welcome visitors to these villages. ‘Cotton mafia’ is how the Forest Department officials and NGOs term the chain of cotton trading right from sowing up to the sale.
“The Sahukar lends us everything — seeds, fertilizers and pesticides — and helps us with money for the labour too. After the crop is harvested, he comes to the doorstep and purchases it,” says Manepally Chinnaiah from Manneguda. The Sahukar is not keen on investing in foodgrains. The higher the area under cotton, the louder the chimes in his coffers. Fertile forest lands brought under cotton cultivation yield better crop and double his profits. Besides, cotton does not need irrigation.
Kondapalle village, under the limits of which the tiger claimed its second victim Nirmala from a cotton field, has agricultural intrusions into the forest lands to the extent of 1,500 to 1,600 acres. In fact, a very narrow forest link remains amid a vast expanse of agricultural fields, due to which encounters with tigers have become common.
Also, since 2005, more than 200 new families have arrived and settled in the village with 480 households. “Since 2010, forest felling spiralled in the hope that the State of Telangana, once formed, would regularise the land. Blade tractors were deployed for clearing the woods. All this could not have happened without the connivance of the Forest Department. Now, officials from the department are claiming even our own titled lands as theirs,” says the Sarpanch of the Kondapalli Panchayat, Sanjeev Upasi.
Since registrations have been stopped for the lands till a joint survey is conducted by Revenue and Forest officials, none of the benefits announced by the government for the farming community are reaching the villagers. This issue assumed more importance than the tribal girl’s death when the villagers gheraoed Forest Minister A. Indrakaran Reddy, demanding titles for the lands, during his visit to the girl’s family.
‘Podu’, a form of shifting cultivation practised by Adivasis, is routinely invoked by political leaders to justify forest felling. But when an exorbitant premium is placed on land value, it is a fact that cultivation never shifts once the forest is cleared. “In the past, when there was plenty of forest area and populations were low, ‘Podu’ was perhaps a sustainable practice, but not anymore. In northern Telangana, the routine encroachments by non-tribal people with political patronage cannot be termed as ‘Podu’,” says Imran Siddiqui, founder of the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society and NTCA’s representative in the committee formed in the aftermath of tiger attacks.
Inhabitants and foresters
The Mannewar Gond tribals populating the Manneguda hamlet do not have much land anyway. Even the little they had got in the Forest Rights settlement has been lost to moneylenders. Pasula Nirmala’s parents lost theirs to the Pranahita-Chevella project which is shelved now. The family has to depend on daily wage labour and occasional hunting for livelihood, as a result of which they are seen as wildlife poachers by the foresters.
However, when it comes to forest felling, all communities in the village use the services of this tribe. “Tribals hardly gain anything from forest clearance. They become pawns in the hands of other communities who use them to file cases against us,” says Forest Range Officer, Rebbana, B. Purnima.
The Revenue Department routinely grants land titles to the villagers in the same survey numbers previously allotted to the Forest Department for compensatory afforestation, which complicates the problem.
Mistrust defines the relations between the inhabitants and the foresters, evident in the former’s assumption that the feline attacker was let loose by the department in order to evict the villagers. The same suspicion was aired by the MP of Adilabad, Soyam Bapu Rao, who had warned the Forest Department officials to capture the tiger soon or see it poisoned.
Uniformed personnel slap criminal cases and penalties against people over small pretexts such as carrying an axe into the forest. Confrontations between villagers and the forest officials are frequent and occasionally violent.
Though relocation of villages from the core areas is part of the Project Tiger funded up to 60% by the NTCA, the initiative has not taken off in Telangana, as the State government has not released its grant, even after two villages were identified for a pilot and the residents volunteered to shift.
No smooth journey for the big cat
State and Central government projects in the corridor area too act as major disturbances for the migration of tigers. The Goleti mines of the Singareni Collieries and a minor irrigation project on Pedda Vagu at Ada village are existing disturbances, while a third broad gauge railway line connecting with the national capital, and the expansion of a national highway between Mancherial and Chandrapur, are upcoming hindrances.
“For Project Tiger to be sustainable, there should be undisturbed right of way for the tigers from Central India up to the Eastern Ghats. If they are obstructed from migrating, their gene pool can’t be maintained and inbreeding will threaten the very existence of the species,” says Field Divisional Officer, Kagaznagar, M. Vijaya Kumar.
As a consequence of habitat destruction, cattle grazing and resource extraction, there is a dwindling prey base for the tigers. For a sustainable prey base, there should be a minimum of 15 ungulates per sq km, as per the Wildlife Institute of India’s norms. Frequent cattle kills in the corridor area are evidence that the tiger is unable to hunt its natural prey.
“We are taking measures such as ridge-to-valley water shed management and grassland development to improve the prey base. We are making attempts to reduce biotic pressures. They are paying off, and we are hopeful that one female tiger making the core area its home and breeding here will change the picture of conservation in this region,” says Field Director-Project Tiger of Kawal Tiger Reserve, C.P. Vinod Kumar.
Calls are also mounting to declare the corridor area as the ‘satellite core’ of the Kawal Tiger Reserve, for intensive monitoring and better funding.
Considering that each tiger/tigress requires an inviolate territory of 25 to 40 sq km, all these measures could fall short of any result, if the human-animal conflict is not reduced to its minimum.
If the experience of Maharashtra and Telangana is any lesson, tiger conservation cannot be seen in isolation from the associated issues of poverty and livelihoods, which in turn determine political will. Without collaboration of actual stakeholders, there is a risk of Project Tiger becoming counterproductive.
This year in Uttar Pradesh, thousands of farmers gathered on January 29, at the government inter-college ground, Muzaffarnagar, following a call by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president, Naresh Tikait, for a ‘mahapanchayat’ to express solidarity with the protest at the Ghazipur border led by his brother, Rakesh Tikait. Among the key speakers was Ghulam Mohammad Jaula, the most influential Muslim leader of the BKU, and considered to be a close friend of the late Mahendra Singh Tikait.
The presence of Mr. Jaula and Muslim farmers at the meet has been read as a sign of a re-emerging Jat-Muslim alliance under thekisanidentity after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots affected the social fabric in rural western U.P. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its regional leadership were behind a local caste dispute growing into a communal issue that polarised villages along religious lines. At the time, it seemed that Jat farmers had suddenly claimed the Hindutva identity.
But that did not happen overnight. The farmers’ polity has had deep roots while farmers’ mobilisations have a long history in the western U.P. region. The ongoing agrarian change and crisis generated by neoliberal economic policies have shifted the agrarian economy to non-farm occupations. These new developments caused fissures in the farmer’s polity in the northwestern region, giving the BJP a political advantage. Recent events indicate a revival of the farmers’ identity as a community.
The Jats have dominated landownership in large parts of western U.P. since at least the mid-19th century. Muslims form a section of the Jats, and both groups have co-existed in the villages.
Between the mid-1960s- to late 1980s, the Green Revolution boosted the Jats. As landowners, they have been patrons (jajmans)of the artisan-services and labour castes who are largely Pasmanda Muslims. The artisan-service castes are either landless or small-marginal landowners. The BKU has provided an inclusive platform to various rural groups including labourers, marginal and middle farmers across religions. In the 1980s, the BKU led by Mahendra Singh Tikait, along with Muslim farmers and landless labourers, organised protest movements for cheap electricity and higher crop prices.
However, in the early 1990s, when the Green Revolution had advanced, farmers’ income stagnated and land holdings became smaller through subdivisions. Neoliberal economic policies, a decline of state subsidies to agriculture, the rising cost of farming inputs, growing stagnation in farm production, and ecological precarity, all led to non-farm economic activities, and a further weakening of Jat farmers and the BKU’s politics.
Definite social changes
Increasingly, villagers are found more at urban sites than in the fields. Face-to-face interactions among different communities and individuals, once common, are now a rarity. Farmers who would depend on the artisan-service castes for everyday services (repairing agricultural implements, hair dressing and washing clothes) now look to new technologies or nearby towns for these services. The breakdown of thejajmanisystem has resulted in a cash flow. The young generation across caste groups has come under the spell of the consumer culture. Villagers who live on non-farm incomes and remittances now self-identify as middle class. Family, kinship and an obligation-based rural economy have been transformed into an individual-centric economy based on skills and cash transactions. Intra-caste, family and kin inequalities are on the rise. The formation of rural middle class is under way which includes the Muslim artisan-service castes. Independence fromjajmanirelations combined with universal suffrage has not only created political competition between the Jats and their clients but also changed their mutually dependent economic interests into competing ones.
In the resultant shift in attitudes among the younger generation toward the dominant caste patrons, the young generation of artisan-service castes are now asserting their rights. Such assertion by the marginalised groups often leads to skirmishes and conflicts. But the disintegration of vertical relations and everyday face-to-face interactions between different caste-communities and individuals (who work in urban areas), and the growing disconnect from the village and its social norms have all weakened the capacity of rural society to absorb and resolve everyday conflicts.
More importantly, these changes have also reduced the ability of the Jats and other dominant castes to use their power and resolve conflicts in their favour.
Shifting identities, BJP’s rise
Distress in agriculture has led Jats to look for new avenues of employment as well as new political alliances. In a globalising economy, these shifts have brought the younger generation in proximity with the large urban Hindu middle class, influencing their tastes, language, rituals, symbols, politics and ethos. Changes in aspirations and identities forged by the new mediatised culture and mobilities have created an altered socio-cultural landscape. Communication and entertainment technologies have aided new social and economic connections, providing spaces for different socio-political formations. Economic and spatial mobilities have fragmented the Jat community.
By giving representation and political offices, the BJP has tapped into the political and economic aspirations of youth. An increasing number have shifted away from their Arya Samaj roots and joined different religious and spiritual sects that are urban based and have spread to rural western U.P. With agricultural and village festivals on the decline, Hindu rituals and festivals, and religious meetings and functions organised by member-groups of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are the new centre of focus. The BJP has appropriated their symbols of pride by organising celebrations such as on the birth centenary or ‘sacrifice day’ of Jat freedom fighters. Certain TV channels (Astha) have become quite popular too. Increased interactions with the wider world have had an influence on the sense of caste and religion.
Similarly, religious channels such as QTV and Peace TV are quite popular among the Muslims in this region and who are also influenced by ideas shared by young Muslims who work in West Asia about being Muslims there. In the last three decades, backward Muslims have begun to exhibit (pan-Islamic) religious symbols in public places. There are now more men and women participating in the Tablighi Jamaat, a religious movement. The ideas, norms and practices of the Tablighi Jamaat have changed the public presence of the Muslim identity. There is a growing intensification of a pan- and fundamentalist-religiosity among Muslims and Hindus in the region.
Crises and a re-assemblage
The political aspirations of the rising new middle class among the Jats had fragmented and weakened thekisanidentity and polity in the region. In the general elections (2014 and 2019), and the U.P. Assembly elections (2017), the Rashtriya Lok Dal lost badly and a new political leadership emerged among the Jats. This new leadership of the BJP represented the aspirations of youth who perceived Muslims as a threat. However, continued agrarian distress, rising electricity charges, diesel and fertilizer costs, and unpaid dues of sugarcane by mills have severely affected Hindu and Muslim Jat farmers.
The Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government’s stringent anti-cattle slaughter measures have devastated already broken farmers as stray cattle ruin crops. The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit the rural economy. Jat farmers have had a hard time getting agricultural labour and help since a large number of Muslim artisan and service castes displaced by the 2013 riot have left the villages. These everyday hardships have changed their perceptions about each other. The realisation for cooperation is what compelled leaders such as Mr. Jaula, Vipin Baliyan, and Puran Singh to organise joint Hindu-Muslimkisanpanchayats in 2017 and 2018. Rakesh Tikait, under the banner of the BKU, organised a massive rally just before the 2019 election and led a march to Delhi. Both Hindu and Muslim farmers were participants.
In addition, the Centre’s three reform farm laws have not only created fear among the farmers of losing land but have also disenchanted them as far as the BJP is concerned. Finally, the events of the night of January 27, 2021 have hurt the dignity of Hindu and Muslim Jat farmers, and accelerated the process towards a new farmers’ alliance. The ongoing farmers’ movement has shown the potential to heal old wounds and unite the polarised western U.P. society. A new dawn beckons amidst the many insurmountable fault lines.
Satendra Kumar teaches at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, University of Allahabad, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. The views expressed are personal
Last year tested the strength of our communities and the resilience of our countries. It was a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, for Australians, it also started with the most devastating bushfires in our history.
For all its challenges, 2020 demonstrated the importance of innovation, resources and leadership to protect and support our communities and countries.
Climate change is an increasingly pressing global issue, which will require our collective will to ensure a sustainable future for our countries and for the world. By working together, we can reduce emissions — which will remain critical to ensuring global average temperatures stay well below 2° Centigrade — and adapt and build resilience to the climate change already occurring.
Opportunity at summit
The virtual Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Netherlands on January 25-26 provided a valuable opportunity to the international community for collective action to realise a more climate-resilient future. At the summit, Australia reaffirmed our commitment to ambitious and practical action to combat the impacts of climate change at home, in our region, and around the world.
Australia is one of the driest inhabited continents in the world. We also have the oldest living cultures and some of the richest biodiversity in the world. We are fortunate to be able to learn from the continuing connection of the First Australians, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, to their country. For over 65,000 years their traditional knowledge and practices have preserved and protected Australia’s natural environment.
The recent bushfires demonstrated the importance of bringing together traditional Indigenous knowledge about the land with modern science. Indigenous Rangers are on the frontline of this work, preserving and protecting Australia’s natural and cultural heritage. For example, using traditional fire management practices, through cool and controlled burns.
Australia has committed over Rs. 1,500 crore to making our natural resources, environment and water infrastructure more resilient to drought and climate disasters. We are spending more than Rs. 200 crore on bushfire recovery efforts, supporting local communities to design their own economic, social and environmental recovery. This includes the important job of regenerating habitats, helping native animals recover and building knowledge for better land management. By July 2021, Australia will establish a new National Resilience, Relief and Recovery Agency to drive the reduction of natural disaster risk, enhance natural disaster resilience and ensure effective relief and recovery to all hazards. While our adaptation and resilience work starts at home, Australia is also committed to supporting neighbouring and global communities tackle climate change.
Australia has pledged at least Rs. 150 crore over the period 2020 to 2025 for global climate finance; Rs. 50 crore of this funding will directly help our Pacific neighbours deploy renewable energy, and improve their climate change and disaster resilience.
We are sharing our climate adaptation expertise, experiences and skills with the world through our development programme and the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.
Working with India
Australia’s strong support for the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, spearheaded by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is another example of how we are working together with partners — such as India — to help ensure our infrastructure is resilient and adapts to the effects of a changing climate.
As is our ongoing engagement with the International Solar Alliance — a global initiative designed to harness solar power to provide for the energy needs of members of the alliance.
Our work with India on Water Resources Management is another important initiative initiated by India and designed to further enhance each country’s water management capabilities and share expertise and best practice.
To support our resilience and adaption efforts, Australia is also investing in and developing the green technologies of tomorrow. Indeed, Australia is aiming to leverage Rs. 7,000 crore of new investment in low emissions technologies by 2030.
To get there, we recently released our Technology Investment Roadmap — a comprehensive plan to invest in the technologies we need to bring emissions down, here and around the world.
We are focussed on accelerating technologies like hydrogen, carbon capture use and storage, soil carbon, energy storage to backup renewables and decarbonise transport, and low or zero emissions steel and aluminium. Dr. Alan Finkel, Australia’s Special Adviser for Low-Emissions Technologies, spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January on the enormous potential of these technologies to support the global transition to net zero emissions.
Widespread global deployment of those technologies will reduce emissions or eliminate them in sectors responsible for 90% of the world's emissions — 4,500 crore tonnes. Our goal is to get the cost of deploying these new technologies to parity with existing, higher-emitting alternatives. This is a practical pathway to achieve net zero emissions that also presents economic opportunity.
But of course, we cannot do it alone, which is why we are working with the major economies in the region — such as India — to transfer technologies which will support lower global emissions.
The Australia-India Joint Energy Dialogue will strengthen cooperation between our two countries in pumped hydro storage, cost-effective battery technologies, hydrogen and coal gasification, adoption of clean energy technology, fly ash management technologies, and solar forecasting and scheduling. And there are many more opportunities for Australia and India on low-emissions technology which we will continue to explore together as partners.
Partnerships are key
Whether in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, or tackling the ongoing challenge posed by climate change, we need to embrace innovation and strengthen global partnerships. We need to consider those most in need, engage all stakeholders equally and respect indigenous culture and knowledge in taking climate action.
Our scientists tell us that, even with the most ambitious global emissions reductions, we will still need to adapt to changes in our climate over the coming decades. Practical actions that help us adapt to those changes and strengthen the resilience of our local environments are critical.
Together with India, we can make a difference.
Barry O’Farrell is the Australian High Commissioner to India
India’s Internet-based Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming services have operationalised a code of self-regulation from February 10, soon after the I&B Ministry announced that it had prepared a set of guidelines and directives for the industry. The inexorable growth of OTT channels has infused creative talent into film-making, aided by the absence of overbearing censors and vested interests, although it might be argued that it also has a small minority pursuing crass commercialism. COVID-19 buoyed subscription revenues from home-bound viewers for OTT ventures streaming films, reality shows, serials and documentaries, and with cinemas closed, even broke the industry taboo against online-first film releases. Yet, the urgency of this code arises not from any challenge to law and order or morality posed by films, but the gauntlet of police and court cases that film-makers and the channels are now having to run. Governments are also lending tacit support to the view that creative expression may be becoming too influential to be left free. The FIRs in U.P. against the Amazon Prime Video series,Tandav, invoking legal provisions on cyber terrorism, obscenity, promoting social enmity and defiling places of worship, on the ground that its portrayal of god was derogatory, and a plea in M.P. on the same series seeking a court direction to bring OTT channels under censorship laws indicate the growing oppressive environment. It is time the Centre took a firm stand against displays of manufactured outrage and let newer channels of creativity flourish.
The collective initiative of the OTT services under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, which places emphasis on abiding by the IPC, laws on women’s and children’s rights, copyright and age-appropriate certification and parental control, while upholding Constitutional provisions on free speech, should be given an opportunity to work. Such a voluntary code is consistent with the recommendations of the I&B Ministry’s Expert Committee on film certification chaired by Shyam Benegal in 2016. The panel upheld creative expression and full ownership of any visual production, leaving viewing decisions to audiences, more accurately classifying films by viewer age, and ensuring transparency in the way reviewing bodies are constituted. The idea that films must be pre-censored and arbitrary cuts made by government-appointed nominees, mostly out of prejudice, is antiquated and repugnant to liberal societies. Clearly, a plethora of laws are available to assess, based on complaints, whether there has been an egregious violation of law, and this determination ought to be made by unimpeachable bodies representing a wide spectrum of civil society. A policed approach to films and media can only grow a monoculture of propaganda.
U.S. President Joe Biden has sounded the starting bell for the great game of bilateral give-and-take between Washington and major world powers, including India and China, when he made his first calls, as President, to key allies and partner nations. Already, it is evident that the issues and tensions that will define the cadence of U.S.-India ties and U.S.-China ties are variegated and embrace the complexity of today’s multi-dimensionally interconnected world. While some analysts complained that Mr. Biden took “too long” to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on February 8, it is noteworthy that the call was shortly after the White House had reached out to immediate neighbours and treaty allies, thereby indicating that Washington’s engagement with India will continue to be a priority. Mr. Biden’s call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which came two days later, reflected a sharper, even strident, exchange of views, with palpable diplomatic choke points, including China’s actions towards Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Uighur minority community in Xinjiang, making their presence felt in the call readouts. What is clear is that the Biden administration will seek to retain a few elements of the Trump White House paradigm — such as persisting with trade tariffs — while pursuing foreign policy objectives that resonate far more closely with core Democratic Party values, including fighting for the integrity of democratic institutions abroad.
Indeed, the Biden White House’s insistence on keeping respect for democratic institutions front and centre amidst the gamut of bilateral issues might be causing South Block some discomfort. Given the State Department’s comments so far on the farmers’ protest in the NCR, including statements that could be interpreted as pushback against Internet outages imposed at the protest locations, Mr. Biden’s flagging “his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world”, and a “shared commitment to democratic values” as the “bedrock for the U.S.-India relationship”, might not be the solace Mr. Modi’s foreign policy team was looking for. But Mr. Biden has adopted a softer approach with New Delhi than he did with Beijing — he had “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices”, in addition to the points of diplomatic tension regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. In their core message, Mr. Biden’s calls to Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi hint that unlike the transactional approach of the “America First” dogma, the thread of the U.S.’s foreign policy paradigm now will comprise progressive values, a commitment to internationalism, and reliance on regional cooperation on global governance subjects including climate change. Indeed, this could put the brakes on the accelerating global trend toward nationalism in foreign policy across the world.