தலையங்கம் - 03-07-2021

அரசியல் சாசனப் பிரிவு 21-இன் கீழ், வாழ்வதற்கான அடிப்படை உரிமை என்பது உணவுக்கான உரிமையையும் உள்ளடக்கியது என்று கருத்து தெரிவித்திருக்கிறது உச்சநீதிமன்றம். இந்த மாத இறுதிக்குள் அனைத்து மாநிலங்களும் 'ஒரே நாடு ஒரே குடும்ப அட்டை' திட்டத்தை நடைமுறைப்படுத்த வலியுறுத்துகிறது, கடந்த செவ்வாய்க்கிழமை உச்சநீதிமன்றம் பிறப்பித்திருக்கும் உத்தரவு. 

வரவேற்புற்குரிய உத்தரவுதான் இது என்றாலும்கூட, எந்த அளவுக்கு நடைமுறை சாத்தியம் என்பதை ஆராயத் தோன்றுகிறது.  நீதிமன்றம் உத்தரவுகள் பிறப்பிப்பது என்பது வேறு, நிர்வாக ரீதியாக அவற்றையெல்லாம் நடைமுறைப்படுத்துவது என்பது வேறு.

அனைவருக்கும் உணவு என்கிற அடிப்படையில் உச்சநீதிமன்றத்தின் அக்கறையும் உத்தரவும் ஐயப்பாட்டுக்கு இடமில்லாமல் வரவேற்புற்குரியவை. முந்தைய மன்மோகன் சிங் அரசின் 'ஒரே நாடு ஒரே குடும்ப அட்டை' என்கிற கனவுத் திட்டத்தை, கடந்த மூன்று ஆண்டுகளாக மோடி அரசும் நிறைவேற்றும் முயற்சியில் இறங்கியிருக்கிறது என்பதை இங்கே குறிப்பிட வேண்டும். 


இந்தியாவின் பொது விநியோகக் கட்டமைப்பின் கீழ் 81.4 கோடி பயனாளிகள் காணப்படுகிறார்கள். கிராமப்புறத்தில் 75%, நகர்ப்புறத்தில் 50% மக்கள் பொது விநியோகத் திட்டத்தின் மூலமாக உணவுப் பாதுகாப்பைப் பெறுகிறார்கள். இந்தியாவிலுள்ள 28 மாநிலங்களும், எட்டு ஒன்றிய பிரதேசங்களும் 'ஒரே நாடு ஒரே குடும்ப அட்டை' திட்டத்தை நடைமுறைப்படுத்துவதற்கான கட்டமைப்புடன் இருக்கின்றன. இன்றைய நிலையில் 92% நியாய விலைக் கடைகள் மின்னணு விற்பனை இயந்திரங்களால் இணைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. 91% குடும்ப அட்டைகள் ஆதார் அட்டையுடன் இணைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. அதனால் 'ஒரே நாடு ஒரே குடும்ப அட்டை' திட்டத்தை நிறைவேற்றுவது சிரமமாக இருக்காது என்று உச்சநீதிமன்ற விவாதத்தின்போது மனுதாரர் சார்பில் வாதிடப்பட்டது.

கடந்த மார்ச் மாத நாடாளுமன்ற நிலைக்குழு அறிக்கையின்படி அஸ்ஸாம், தில்லி இரண்டு மாநிலங்களிலும் நியாயவிலைக் கடைகள் இன்னும் முழுமையாக மின்னணு விற்பனை இயந்திரங்களால் இணைக்கப்படவில்லை. மேற்கு வங்கத்தில் குடும்ப அட்டை களில் 80%தான் ஆதார் அட்டையுடன் இணைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. சத்தீஸ்கரில் ஆதார் அட்டை இணைப்பு இன்னும் பாதிகூட நிறைவுபெறவில்லை. நிர்வாகம் முனைப்புக் காட்டினால் இந்தக் குறைபாடுகளை அகற்றுவது பெரிய பிரச்னையாக இருக்காது.


கடந்த ஆண்டு பொது முடக்கத்தின்போது மத்திய அரசு அறிவித்த ரூ.3,500 கோடி மதிப்பிலான எட்டு லட்சம் டன் கோதுமை, அரிசி மட்டுமல்லாமல் 50,000 டன் பருப்பு உள்ளிட்டவை இந்தியா முழுவதும் விநியோகிக்க முடிந்ததற்கு நியாயவிலைக் கடை கட்டமைப்புதான் காரணம். அதே நேரத்தில், வேலையில்லாததால் வருவாய் இழந்து தத்தளித்த புலம்பெயர்ந்த தொழிலாளர்கள், நியாயவிலைக் கடைகளில் பொது விநியோக சட்டத்தின் அடிப்படையில் உணவு மானியத்தை பெற முடியவில்லை. 

எல்லா மாநிலங்களும் தங்கள் மாநிலத்தவர்க்கு நிவாரணம் வழங்குவதில் காட்டிய முனைப்பை, புலம்பெயர்ந்த தொழிலாளர்களிடம் காட்டவில்லை. ஏனென்றால், அவர்களுக்கு குடும்ப அட்டையும் இல்லை, வாக்குரிமையும் இல்லை. அதனால்தான் 'ஒரே நாடு ஒரே குடும்ப அட்டை' என்கிற திட்டம் இந்தப் பிரச்னைக்குத் தீர்வாகப் பலராலும் முன்மொழியப்படுகிறது.

இந்தியப் பொருளாதார ஆய்வறிக்கை 2017-இன்படி, 2011-16 ஆண்டுகளுக்கு இடையில் ஏறத்தாழ 90 லட்சம் பேர் ஆண்டுதோறும் மாநிலங்களுக்கு இடையில் பணி நிமித்தமாக இடம்பெயர்கிறார்கள். மிக அதிகமான புலம்பெயர்ந்த தொழிலாளர்கள் காணப்படுவது மனைவணிகம் - குடியிருப்புக் கட்டுமானத் தொழிலில்தான். ஏறத்தாழ நான்கு கோடி பேர் அந்தத் துறையில் பணியாற்றுகிறார்கள். அடுத்தாற்போல செங்கல் சூளை (1 கோடி), சுரங்கம், போக்குவரத்து, ஹோட்டல் உள்ளிட்டவை அதிகளவில் புலம்பெயர்ந்த தொழிலாளர்களுக்கு வேலைவாய்ப்பை வழங்குகின்றன.


புலம்பெயர்தல் என்பது தொழில்மயமாதல், நகர்மயமாதல்  ஆகியவற்றிலிருந்து பிரிக்க முடியாதது என்பதை உலகிலுள்ள எல்லா நாடுகளுமே அனுபவபூர்வமாக உணர்ந்திருக்கின்றன. வரலாற்றில் இதுவரை இல்லாத அளவுக்கு இந்தியர்கள் தேசிய அளவிலும் சர்வதேச அளவிலும் புலம்பெயர்ந்து கொண்டிருக்கிறார்கள். அந்த நிலையில் இந்தியாவிலுள்ள எல்லா மாநிலங்களும் தங்களது மாநிலத்தின் பொருளாதார வளர்ச்சிக்கு அடித்தளமான புலம் பெயர்ந்தவர்களின் நலனை உறுதிப்படுத்தியாக வேண்டிய கட்டாயம் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது. 

'மண்ணின் மைந்தர்களுக்கே முன்னுரிமை' என்கிற வாதம் இனிமேலும் எடுபடுமா என்பது சந்தேகம்தான். தமிழ்நாடு உள்பட தொழில் துறையில் முன்னேற விழையும் எந்தவொரு மாநிலமும் தனது எல்லையை மற்ற மாநிலத்தவர்களுக்கு மூடி வைப்பது என்பது இனி இயலாத ஒன்று. 


செல்லிடப்பேசி எண்ணை மாற்றாமல் எப்படி ஒரு சேவை நிறுவனத்திடமிருந்து இன்னொரு சேவை நிறுவனத்துக்கு மாற முடிகிறதோ, அதேபோல குடும்ப அட்டைகளும் எண்மப் பதிவு செய்யப்பட்டு, இணைய வழியில் மாநிலத்துக்கு மாநிலம் மாற்றுவதற்கான வழிமுறையை உருவாக்க வேண்டியது காலத்தின் கட்டாயம். ரேஷன் பெறும் உரிமை மட்டுமல்ல, பணிபுரியும் இடத்தில் வாக்களிக்கும் உரிமையும் வழங்கப்படும்போதுதான் புலம்பெயர்ந்தவர்களின் அடிப்படை உரிமையும் பாதுகாப்பும் உறுதிப்படும்.

'ஒரே நாடு ஒரே குடும்ப அட்டை' என்பது சாத்தியம்தான். அதேநேரத்தில், அதற்கு உச்சநீதிமன்றம் காலக்கெடு விதிப்பதும், நிர்வாக ரீதியான திட்டமிடல் இல்லாமல் இருப்பதும் குழப்பத்தைத்தான் விளைவிக்கும்.

--Source: dinamani.com
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The defunct Coca-Cola building in Plachimada was recently converted by the Kerala government

In Plachimada, a small Adivasi village in Palakkad district of Kerala, a building, once infamous, was lying derelict and abandoned until recently. Overrun by weeds and bushes, it was hard to imagine that this building was once the bottling plant of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the Indian subsidiary of the Atlanta-based manufacturer of aerated drinks. Spread over 34 acres, the 35,000 sq ft ‘Coke building’, as it is referred to by the locals, used to look haunted. Winds would whistle through broken windowpanes and snakes would lie hidden in the thick undergrowth. People rarely loitered in the area.

Today, the sprawling single-storey edifice wears a fresh coat of paint. The ‘Coca-Cola’ logo has disappeared from the entrance of the building, which smells of disinfectants and paint. The contested site now serves an important purpose, to meet the challenges of the times. The Government of Kerala has spruced up and converted the building into a COVID-19 care facility. The company that had once caused grief to the locals closed the plant and left long ago, but the building remained a symbol of despair. While the government believes that it has now become a sign of hope for all those affected by the raging pandemic, the villagers of Plachimada are not as enthused.

A transformed space

The miraculous transformation took barely six weeks. The local bodies, helmed by the Perumatty Grama Panchayat in Palakkad, led the efforts. The building had caught the attention of the local administrators during the peak of the second COVID-19 wave in May. Palakkad was seeing more than 3,500 infections every day on average and a test positivity rate of more than 30%. The State Minister for Power, K. Krishnankutty, who wields great influence in the eastern Chittur belt, including the Perumatty Grama Panchayat, is largely credited for converting the Coke building into a healthcare facility with a clear eye on a possible third wave of the pandemic sweeping across the district.

It was important for the administration to ensure that the building was swiftly transformed. In May, discussions on the project assumed a sense of urgency. In just a day, 200-odd volunteers under the leadership of the Perumatty Grama Panchayat president, Risha Premkumar, cleared the weeds and bushes in the compound of the plant. Eight neighbouring panchayats under the Chittur Block joined hands and offered to donate up to Rs. 10 lakh each when the District Disaster Management Authority and the Chittur Block Panchayat chipped in Rs. 30 lakh each. With Rs. 1.4 crore in their pocket, the authorities were excited to take up the work of the new COVID-19 care centre. Officials in Coca-Cola chipped in too, offering their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds to renovate the building. According to sources in the government, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages has spent Rs. 60 lakh from its CSR funds in three phases, including to repair the building. Officials of the company refused to speak to this reporter.

With money flowing in, new toilets were built and water facilities arranged. Apart from electrical partitioning and plumbing work, the Nirmithi Kendra arranged cots, beds, and electrical fittings. A new spacious kitchen was set up with facilities to cater to more than 600 people. Engineers with experience in the medical field oversaw the setting up of a triage facility and sheds for biomedical waste disposal. With everyone working at a frenzied pace, the goal was accomplished in about six weeks.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan could barely conceal his excitement when he inaugurated the hospital virtually on June 17. He was all praise not only for the officials of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages but also for all those who worked to build the treatment centre. “Four weeks is record time in setting up such a huge facility. The Plachimada treatment centre will give us a fillip in the fight against COVID-19. The centre will be most suited for COVID-19 treatment as it is located quite a distance away from areas where people live,” he said.

The care facility has 550 beds. Of them, 100 are oxygen beds, 50 are ICU beds and 20 have ventilators. It also has air-conditioned ready-made cabins, a portable X-ray console, a round-the-clock pharmacy, and a COVID-19 outpatient wing. The capacity of the oxygen tank set up at the centre can be enhanced from 1 KL to 2 KL.

At the time of going to press, 40 COVID-19 patients had sought admission at the facility. “The infrastructure is right. We can accommodate 400 patients now. Very soon, we will raise it to full capacity,” said Nenmara Divisional Forest Officer R. Sivaprasad, the nodal officer of the centre. Doctors and nurses have been appointed to take care of 200 patients round the clock. The patients here are not as fearful and concerned about the virus as those in other parts of the State. For now, none of them is critically ill. At present, only B-category patients are being admitted.

A water-guzzling plant

The unusual silence in the hospital is in contrast to the pitched struggle of the people in Plachimada some two decades ago. The people don’t show the same excitement that politicians and the government authorities display about the COVID-19 care facility.

Santhi C.S., a 43-year-old Adivasi woman who was at the forefront of the agitation against Coca-Cola, said: “The people of this village are still suffering. We haven’t been given a single paisa of compensation. So, how can we smile?”

Many who were part of the agitation echoed her sentiments. They said that applauding the transformation of a plant that had destroyed their water resources would amount to “making fun of the cause for which they stood”. Santhi, an ASHA worker, had been jailed several times along with other leaders of the agitation. She had also undergone a week-long hunger strike. “They are cheating us. These political leaders have their vested interests,” she said.

Wariness about official promises and initiatives stems from the events in Plachimada that grabbed global attention in the early 2000s. A few months after Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages began operation in Plachimada in 2000, the villagers in the neighbouring areas began to face problems. According to one study by Dr Sathish Chandran, the water in some open wells and shallow bore wells which the villagers depended on began to taste strong and bitter; according to another study by Jananeethi, an NGO, it started tasting salty and hard after the company began manufacturing.

The plant, the villagers realised soon, was a water-guzzler: it drew about 20 lakh litres of groundwater from six bore wells and two ponds in the area every day. As a consequence, local wells were slowly sucked dry. As the company had extracted excess groundwater, the villagers began to drink water with high levels of calcium and magnesium.

Studies conducted at a laboratory at the University of Exeter, U.K., found high levels of lead and cadmium in the sludge from the factory. The villagers had not been aware of the health threats posed by these metals until activists and scientists informed them about it. The sludge was initially sold to the farmers as fertilizer. Later, it was given free. When protests erupted, the sludge was dumped by the roadside.

“Many of us developed skin rashes and deformities. Although we stopped consuming the contaminated water in our wells, many of us had already fallen sick because of it,” recalled Santhi.

M. Thankavelu, son of Mayilamma, the ‘Plachimada Heroine’ who stood at the forefront of the agitation until her death in 2007, was at the brink of death after he contracted psoriasis. “Like my mother, I too contracted this terrible disease from our exposure to toxic water. I could not move out of my house for about a year. I never thought I could survive to speak to you now,” he said.

C. Murugan, a paddy labourer from Plachimada, said that at least half a dozen people had miscarriages because of the contaminated water.

With water rapidly depleting and giving them all kinds of health problems, the residents soon became parched. Many had to trek long distances for potable water. Their primary livelihood from farming was affected and agricultural production declined.

From April 2002 to March 2004, Plachimada witnessed fierce and protracted protests, under the banner of the Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy (Anti-Coca-Cola People’s Struggle Committee), demanding people’s right to natural resources, especially water. Groups from different parts of the country joined the agitation. National activists like Medha Patkar and Vandana Shiva inspired the protesters. Hundreds of protesters, including women and children, were arrested and beaten up. Soon, the agitation turned into a long legal battle.

A world water conference organised near Plachimada in January 2004 adopted a declaration which stated that “it is our fundamental obligation to prevent water scarcity and pollution and to preserve it for generations... Water is not a commodity. We should resist all criminal attempts to marketise, privatise and corporatise water. Only through these means can we ensure the fundamental and inalienable right to water for the people all over the world”.

The people won the agitation in 2005 when the company finally put up the shutters and left Plachimada. In 2017, Coca-Cola submitted to the Supreme Court that it had no intentions of resuming operations in Plachimada. Santhi, the joint convener of the protest body, said that it was not a mere victory of their agitation; “it was a victory of all such struggles to come”.

Waiting for compensation

However, the people of Plachimada remain disappointed. Governments have come and gone, but their promises have not been fulfilled. “The transformation of the building seems to be an effort to whitewash the actions of the multinational company. Governments have always been supporting the company. That’s why our leaders have not given the villagers who suffered from water pollution a single paisa in compensation,” alleged Arumughan Pathichira, State general convener of the Samara Samithy. “If the government is honest, let it give the victims their compensation. We have no objection to the COVID-19 hospital; it is very important. But the government should have confiscated the property and compensated the victims,” he said. Arumughan warned that the villagers would strengthen their agitation until the victims are duly compensated.

A government-appointed high-level committee headed by the then Additional Chief Secretary, K. Jayakumar, had assessed the degradation of the environment and damage suffered by the people of Plachimada and recommended a compensation of Rs. 216.24 crore to be paid to them. The committee had also recommended setting up a tribunal for proper distribution of damages. Although the State Assembly passed the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Tribunal Bill in 2011, it did not get the Centre’s nod. And though the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government had assured the people that a tribunal would be formed, in its 2016 Assembly election manifesto, this promise has not been kept. The LDF has got a consecutive second term in Kerala but the people of Plachimada are not hopeful.

Coca-Cola has consistently opposed the setting up of a tribunal. It has claimed that the estimated losses were computed through a flawed process. According to Coca-Cola, its operations in Plachimada did not cause any water depletion or environmental damage as the company had followed the same process in the village as it did around the world.

The residents of the village scoff at this claim. “Everyone knows that the company has left leaving behind a trail of misery . We need compensation,” said Sakthivel K., general convener of the Samara Samithy. Sakthivel was among the dozen-odd agitators who were arrested by the police on June 17 for protesting outside the new COVID-19 facility while the Chief Minister was inaugurating it. Front-line leaders of the Samara Samithy — Vijayan Ambalakkad and Vilayodi Venugopal — also courted arrest along with Sakthivel.

Preparing for a third wave

For the State government, this new facility is more than politics. Minister Krishnankutty, who has been involved throughout the process, said the Plachimada facility will go a long way in strengthening the district’s preparedness to face another wave of COVID-19 infections. “We are thinking about how we can overcome the problems we faced in the second wave. Such a hospital in government control will help provide care for COVID-19 patients from all sections. We can ensure equity in treatment for everyone in the rural sector,” he said.

Water for the facility will be drawn from a large pond within the compound. It will be used after UV filtering. Two tanks of 10,000 L capacity each have been set up and fresh pipelines have been laid for the purpose. Sivaprasad said that potable water was available and storage capacity would be enhanced when more patients come. Today, almost all houses in the village have pipeline connections and water is being pumped in from the Bharathappuzha river.

The facility is close to Kerala’s border with Tamil Nadu. If the COVID-19 situation worsens during a third wave, the hospital can be opened for the people from Tamil Nadu as well. The Palakkad district administration has given consent for this.

“We are happy we could use the abandoned factory to gear up for the next phase of the pandemic,” said Premkumar. “We had faced many shortcomings when we set up a first-line treatment centre for COVID-19 at the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Park at Kanjikode. Here, we have been able to address all of them,” she said.

State Health Minister Veena George recently visited the Plachimada hospital and said that the State was prepared to face a third wave. Problems that the district saw during the second wave included a shortage of oxygen beds, ICU beds and ventilators. Some private hospitals refused to set aside beds for COVID-19 treatment. A recent assessment also found that a large number of category-A patients had occupied the beds, leading to a shortage of beds for category-B patients. Given the failure to treat non-COVID-19 cases, long distances from houses to hospitals, and non-cooperation of some private hospitals, cases shot up in Palakkad in recent months.

A committee of officials and people’s representatives will be in charge of the Plachimada COVID-19 hospital. But the people still want closure for their past suffering. Kanniyamma, 75, said the early 2000s were a terrible time. “We lost peace, our drinking water, our sound health,” she said. The State government may have seized an opportunity to heal Plachimada, but its residents are still far from being placated.

An atmosphere of unpredictability prevails as regards India-China relations, even as China embarks on its 100th anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Memories of the bloodiest clash in recent decades that occurred in the Galwan Heights in June last year, are still vivid in India’s memory. The situation in Eastern Ladakh currently remains tense. After some progress in talks over troop disengagement in the vicinity of Pangong Tso Lake and the Kailash ranges, matters have since reached a stalemate. Meanwhile, there is new information on China’s manoeuvres in the border regions across Ladakh. China is reportedly raising new militia units comprising local Tibetan youth, to be deployed in Eastern Ladakh, for both high altitude warfare and surveillance. India has, meanwhile, been expressing its concern to China about the continuing ‘close up deployments’, which has only produced a strong verbal riposte from China.

All this has left an indelible imprint on the state of relations between the two Asian giants, who share a several thousand kilometre land border. Answers to the question as to why China chose to attack Indian positions in Ladakh, without any provocation, causing the death of a platoon of soldiers belonging to the Bihar Regiment, are still not forthcoming. An answer needs to be found before a reset in India-China relations can take place.

Global concerns

India’s concerns about China are grounded in reality. Other nations today have, however, begun expressing concern about the threat posed by China to the existing world order. During the past month, both the G-7 and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have criticised China for its military ambitions and the threat it posed to world peace. China is, however, unlikely to be deterred by any of this, and its mindset is best revealed by its actions in the South and East China Seas, its treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, and its actions in Hong Kong.

A lesser nation might be deterred by the kind of criticism that China faces today, but it does not seem to impact China. Moreover, and notwithstanding the hype surrounding India’s membership of the Quad and the role assigned to it by the United States and the other western powers in the Indo-Pacific, to think that this may have rattled China, compelling it to indulge in actions that verge on the erratic would be a mistake. China could be expected to have fully catered for all such eventualities.

Going back into the past

We may, hence, need to look elsewhere to find a proper explanation for China’s behaviourvis-à-visIndia, and also elsewhere. Delving into China’s recent past, and examining periods when it possibly acted in a similar erratic manner, may provide some clues. In the late 1950s and 1960s, China’s then Chairman, Mao Tse Tung/Mao Zedong, when finding himself in a difficult situation on account of his ill-conceived policies and programmes (history tells us that Mao confronted one of the worst famines in history on account of his misadventure of the Great Leap Forward Movement) rather than accepting his mistake and retracing his steps, embarked on his campaign to attack India, in spite of the close friendship that existed at the time between the two countries.

Later, it was surmised, that Mao’s actions were intended partly to divert attention from China’s internal turmoils at the time, and possibly more important, to counter the dissidents who existed within the CPC, and who were critical of Mao’s autocratic attitude and his ill-conceived policies. Other instances of this kind exist and can be quoted: Deng Xiaoping’s behaviour following the Tiananmen Square movement in the 1980s, is an excellent example.

A leader in a hurry

Xi Jinping is seen today as a Mao clone, someone who seeks to achieve the same kind of dominance over the CPC as the latter. Like Mao, he is a man in a hurry, seeking to consolidate his power and achieve a pre-eminence of the kind enjoyed by Chinese Emperors in the past. He has assiduously attempted to accelerate the pace at which China expects to overtake the U.S. as the world’s number one super power which, however, seems to be stalling for a variety of reasons. China’s attempt, under Mr. Xi, to become the world’s most powerful military is also nowhere in sight.

On the other hand, China’s misadventure in the Ladakh heights in June last year, exposed certain shortfalls with regard to mechanisation of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), diminishing the latter’s hopes of becoming fully mechanised by the time the PLA celebrates its Centenary in 2027. Much of the blame for both situations is being attributed to Mr. Xi. Given the extent of concentration of power in his hands, this is leading many in the Party to question Mr. Xi’s claims to omniscience.

Apart from this, several of Mr. Xi’s other ideas have run into difficulties. His plans to remake the global order on terms favourable to the CPC seem to have gone awry. The Chinese economy — though performing better than most other world economies — is showing signs of slowing down. Mr. Xi had been betting on technological prowess and economic heft to achieve the kind of geo-political transformation that he wished for, but this is clearly not happening at present.

Most important, and despite having accumulated so much power, Mr. Xi seems to be finding it difficult to push through his ‘new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics’ (through which he hoped to demarcate himself from his immediate predecessors like Hu Jintao) and is intended to be his lasting legacy.

There are some clues

Undoubtedly, therefore, Mr. Xi is finding himself in a difficult situation, including within the Party. There is an old Chinese proverb that says “the wind sweeping through the tower heralds a storm rising in the mountain” and this, perhaps, provides a clue to Mr. Xi’s, and Chinese, behaviour in the recent period. The extent of inner-party tensions is little known to the world outside, given the opacity of Chinese society, but the existence of dissidence or dissension within the CPC is no secret, however.

While it is generally believed that the CPC is a monolith entity, the reality is otherwise. In the 100 years of its existence, the CPC is known to have gone through several transformations, many of an ideational nature, leading to serious upheavals. Deep fissures have existed, and perhaps, still exist, within the party, though the extent may not be known outside. What is generally seen is that during such periods, China’s attitude often borders on the erratic. The question is whether something of this nature is occurring at present inside the CPC and China.

It is tempting to think that history is again being repeated, and China’s recent erratic behaviour is largely due to growing inner-party criticism of Mr. Xi’s policies and actions, rather than due to extraneous factors. The Ladakh adventure (or misadventure) could well have been a misguided attempt by Mr. Xi to demonstrate to his opponents within the CPC that he is well and truly in command. One could also anticipate that this could well be a prelude to a limited purge of dissenters within the highest echelons of the CPC.

An accumulation of problems does produce in closed societies (such as China) a ‘pressure cooker’ syndrome, where the safety valve is often in the hands of the leadership. If the latter is precariously poised, and out of sync with reality, it leads to erratic behaviour. What may be aggravating Chinese leadership concerns at this time also is that the world is seemingly tilting towards India at this juncture, regarding it as more sophisticated, diplomatically, and more flexible, ideologically, compared to an increasingly obdurate China. Within the CPC itself, there are reportedly quite a few who prefer ‘peaceful coexistence’ to sustain peace, as compared to Mr. Xi’s more muscular approaches.

India needs to be on guard

A final thought. It is worth remembering that Mr. Xi is one of the few world leaders known to have made a study of Goethe’s works, includingFaust. Not only that, some of Mr. Xi’s actions, such as modelling himself on Mao and a practising advocate of Maoism 2.0 — despite the humiliation both he and his father suffered at the hands of Mao prior to, and during the Cultural Revolution — tend to make him out to be something of a Faustian character. Was Mr. Xi, through his aggressive behaviour in Ladakh, and notwithstanding the warm relations that he is known to have with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, preparing the ground for a ‘Faustian Bargain’. If so, Mr. Xi has made yet another serious miscalculation, not only about the ground situation but also the mood of the nation and its leadership. This could cost him dear. What all this suggests is that ‘peace is not at hand’, and that India should expect, and prepare for, more situations of this kind, with many more provocations coming from China.

M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

Over the past decade, India has made great strides in expanding energy access in rural areas. Credible estimates suggest a near doubling of electrified rural households, from 55% in 2010 to 96% in 2020 (World Bank, 2021; https://bit.ly/2UeGqpA).

However, the measure of access to power supply, has been the number of households that have been connected to the electricity grid. While this is a significant measure, it discounts large areas of essential and productive human activities such as public schools and primary health centres. And despite greater electrification, power supply is often unreliable in rural areas.

A recent ruling by Rajasthan’s power regulator points to this yawning gap, but also suggests solutions that other States could emulate. The Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission (RERC) has ordered the State’s three power distribution companies, or discoms (the Jaipur, Ajmet and Jodhpur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited) to solarise unelectrified public schools. This has the potential to electrify about 1,500 government-run schools in the remote parts of the State with roof-top solar panels and generate about 15 megawatts (MW) of power. The RERC has also suggested installation of batteries to ensure storage of power.

Apart from enabling education, this ruling would benefit several other crucial aspects of rural life. Government schools serve as public spaces in rural areas. They doubled up as COVID-19 care centres in the past year (https://bit.ly/367tq7V) and have housed villagers from extreme weather such as storms and floods, apart from turning into polling centres come election season.

Battery storage of power ensures that they cater to children’s after-school activities. Schools could also extend power supply to mid-day meal kitchens, toilets, and motorised water pumps and not limit it to powering fans and lights in classrooms.

Clean energy drive

The RERC order also directs Rajasthan’s cash-strapped discoms to seek corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds for the solarising drive and allows schools ownership of the power systems in a phased manner. This removes the burden of infrastructure development expenses on discoms, while also ensuring clean energy for the schools.

The power that is generated could also be counted towards the discoms’ Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO). RPO is the proportion of power that distribution companies must procure from renewable sources. This ratio is a gradual annual progression to encourage greater use of renewable energy and to provide for a phased manner to reduce dependence on climate warming fossil fuels.

Achieving a target

In 2019, Rajasthan set itself an ambitious target of producing 30 GW of solar energy by 2025 (Rajasthan government, 2019). It currently has an installed capacity of about 5 GW (https://bit.ly/3ycyjIT), most of which are from large-scale utility plants, or solar parks with ground-mounted panels. The State must install at least 7 GW every year for the next four years to achieve this target. This is not impossible, but it would require investment and installation on a war footing.

While Rajasthan is India’s largest State in terms of land mass with vast, sparsely populated tracts available to install solar parks, bulk infrastructure of this scale is susceptible to extreme weather events. With climate change increasing the possibility of such events, a decentralised model of power generation would prove to be more climate resilient.

Taking a cue from the RERC ruling, a greater number of public buildings could be used to install roof-top solar panels. Buildings such as primary health centres, panchayat offices, railway stations and bus stops could easily be transitioned to utilising clean energy. And with battery storage, the susceptibility of grid infrastructure to extreme weather events could be mitigated. This is called climate proofing.

For instance, the power blackout in the American State of Texas due to an extreme weather event earlier this year was caused due to inadequately climate-proofed natural gas equipment, which supplied domestic electricity. While the State’s Governor Greg Abbott blamed it on frozen wind turbines and solar panels, about 70% of power that is generated in Texas is from natural gas and coal-fired power plants. Windmill power is about 20% and solar is a mere 1.1%.

Large-scale projects are generally financed by companies that wish to profit from economies of scale. They are less interested in investing in rural electricity as it is not as lucrative. Large-grid based projects add to the supply of power in urban areas, and therefore, only marginally further greater energy access goals.

As solar installations become inexpensive and with rapidly advancing battery storage technologies, decentralised solar power generation has become a reality. A State such as Rajasthan, which is most exposed to solar irradiation, could set an example by making its urban and rural centres, power generators, consumers, and suppliers in the same breath. Indeed, its government has an ambitious plan to catapult the State into being a power “exporter”, but it must consider the possibility of achieving this through means that do not destroy the environment and are most productive, cost-effective, and optimal for human activity.

Working together

One of the hurdles to holistic, climate resilient, clean energy access is the lack of convergence between government departments.

In Rajasthan, for instance, the discoms could work with the State’s Education Department to determine the schools that require electrification, and their expected demand and infrastructure expenses. They could then liaise with the CSR arms of companies to generate funding, and with industry to produce cost-effective solar photovoltaic panels and batteries. Sustaining these new power systems would require some unlearning and re-learning, but it is not unimaginable.

Harsha Meenawat and Bharath Jairaj are researchers at the World Resources Institute, India’s Energy Programme

The European Union’s decision to enforce a “Green Pass” to allow travel within the EU from July 1, and linked to specified vaccines, has set off a storm of protest from several quarters including India. According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that sets the guidelines, the vaccines given “conditional marketing authorisation” were Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech), Vaccine Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Spikevax (Moderna) and Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), which makes it clear that neither of India’s vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, as well as Russia’s and China’s, would be eligible for the EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC), as the Green Pass is formally called. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar took up the exclusion strongly with EU authorities this week, particularly the case of Covishield, which is made under licensing and certification from AstraZeneca, and cleared by WHO. India has argued that the entire idea of “vaccine passports” would leave developing nations and the global south at a disadvantage, as they have restricted vaccine access. An unspoken but valid criticism is that there is a hint of racism in the action — the EMA list only includes vaccines already used by Europe and North America. A letter of protest on the EMA’s decision was also issued by the African Union and the Africa CDC this week, which called Covishield the “backbone” of the COVAX alliance’s programme, that has been administered in many African countries. The EMA list is not binding however, and countries can choose to include others individually. After India’s vocal protests, and its subtle threat to impose reciprocal measures, at least a third of the EU has said they would recognise Covishield (Estonia has accepted Covishield and Covaxin).

While the news that Austria, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland (not an EU member) have accommodated India’s concerns is welcome, there are still some hurdles before Indian travellers. Most of these countries are not at present accepting Indian travellers at all, as no non-essential travel is allowed to EU countries, and the spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India, has meant further travel restrictions. In addition, Indians who have taken doses of Covaxin will need to wait even longer, until this vaccine receives WHO clearance. Finally, as more nations complete their vaccine programmes, they will seek to tighten their border controls with “vaccine passports” and longer quarantines in order to curtail the spread of new variants. While it is necessary for the Government to keep up with these actions worldwide, and battle discriminatory practices, the real imperative remains to vaccinate as many Indians as possible, given that more than six months after the Indian inoculation programme began, only 4.4% of those eligible have been fully vaccinated.

The digital divide in India’s school education system, reflected by the absence of computers and Internet access on campus, emerges starkly from the Education Ministry’s Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+), for the pre-pandemic year of 2019-20. Physical infrastructure has traditionally meant good buildings, playgrounds, libraries and access to water and toilets, but the advent of hybrid learning even ahead of the coronavirus crisis has made essential online access and computers key adjuncts to make the learning process more engaging. During 2020-21, it became painfully evident that most students had to rely on remote learning, but many faced the double jeopardy of not possessing their own computing devices and smartphones at home, and their schools remaining in the dark without such facilities. In remote areas, particularly in the Northeast, many had to travel closer to mobile phone towers to access the Internet on shared phones to get their lessons. The latest data confirm that a mere 22% of schools across the country on average had Internet access, while government institutions fared much worse at 11%. On the second metric of functional computer access, the national average was 37% and for government schools, 28.5%. Beyond the averages, the range of deficits reflects deep asymmetries: 87.84% of Kerala schools and 85.69% in Delhi had an Internet facility, compared to 6.46% in Odisha, 8.5% in Bihar, 10% in West Bengal and 13.62% in Uttar Pradesh.

Students and teachers not being able to use computers and the Internet is acknowledged to be a form of deprivation, especially during the pandemic, just as the inability to attend in-person classes is another. Many scholars see the teaching-learning process as multi-dimensional, helping to inculcate social skills. COVID-19 has, however, compelled all countries to evaluate hybrid education models, with a mix of lessons delivered virtually now and on campus later when the virus threat abates. In such a multi-layered process, bringing computers and the Internet to all schools cannot be delayed any longer. The Centre must explore all options, such as the National Broadband Mission, the BSNL network and other service providers, to connect schools, including all government institutions that are severely deprived; the upcoming 5G standard with the benefit of high wireless bandwidth may also be able to help bridge the gap quickly. Getting computers to schools should also not be difficult because, apart from public funding, communities, corporates and hardware makers can use recycling and donation options. The UDISE+ shows that many schools have fallen through the net, and they need urgent help to get connected.