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Holding our breath in India’s cities

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India's cities and PM2.5 - the official response has been to reject the WHO findings

India’s cities and PM2.5 – the official response has been to reject the WHO findings

The findings by the World Health Organisation on the quality of air in India’s cities are the strongest signal yet to our government (old and new, for the results of the 2014 general election will become known on 16 May) that economic ‘growth’ is a weapon that kills citizens through respiratory tract diseases and infections.

Amongst the 124 Indian cities in the new WHO database on urban air quality worldwide, one city only is at the WHO guideline for PM2.5 and one city only is just above the guidelines for PM10. As a bloc, the quality of air in India’s cities are at alarmingly high levels above the guidelines, above Asian averages (poor as they are, and even considering China’s recklessly poor record) and above world averages.

This is not a singular matter. Already, the WHO has warned that India has a high environmental disease burden, with a significant number of deaths annually associated with environmental risk factors. The Global Burden of Disease for 2010 ranked ambient air pollution as the fifth largest killer in India, three places behind household air pollution. Taken cumulatively, household and ambient air pollution constitute the single greatest risk factor that cause ill health -leading to preventable deaths – in India.

The WHO database contains results of ambient (outdoor) air pollution monitoring. Air quality is represented by ‘annual mean concentration’ (a yearly average) of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5, which means particles smaller than 10 or 2.5 microns). The WHO guideline values are: for PM2.5 – 10 micrograms/m3 annual mean; for PM10 – 20 micrograms/m3 annual mean. The two charts show just how dangerously above the WHO guidelines the air quality of our cities are.

India's cities and PM10 - it is the latest amongst many signs that India's GDP growth fever is a killer.

India’s cities and PM10 – it is the latest amongst many signs that India’s GDP growth fever is a killer.

Half of India’s urban population lives in cities where particulate pollution levels exceed the standards considered safe. A third of this population breathes air having critical levels of particulate pollution, which is considered to be extremely harmful. “We are also running out of ‘clean’ places. Small and big cities are now joined in the pain of pollution,” commented Down To Earth, the environment magazine.

Typically, the official Indian response was to question the WHO findings (these were carried out in the same way in 91 countries, and we don’t hear the other 90 complaining) and to reject them. The reason is easy to spot. Global offender Number One for air pollution amongst world cities is New Delhi, a city that has been pampered as the showcase for what the Congress government myopically calls “the India growth story”.

Hence government scientists are reported to have quickly said that WHO overestimated air pollution levels in New Delhi. “Delhi is not the dirtiest… certainly it is not that dangerous as projected,” said A B Akolkar, a member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board.

The same recidivist line was parroted by Gufran Beig, chief project scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (which otherwise does good work on the monsoon and on climate change). He is reported as having said that New Delhi’s air quality was better than Beijing’s, and that pollution levels in winter are relatively higher in New Delhi because of extreme weather events. Beig said: “The value which has been given in this (WHO) report is overestimating (pollution levels) for Delhi … the reality is that the yearly average is around 110 (micrograms).”

The WHO database has captured measurements from monitoring stations located in urban background, residential, commercial and mixed areas. The world’s average PM10 levels by region range from 26 to 208 micrograms/m3, with a world average of 71 micrograms/m3.

PM affects more people than any other pollutant. The major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. It consists of a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. The most health-damaging particles are those with a diameter of 10 microns or less, which can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.

Central and state governments show no inclination to join the obvious dots. These are, that with more fuels being burned to satisfy the electricity and transport needs of a middle class now addicted to irresponsible consumption, the ‘India growth story’ is what we are choking to death on.

Why corruption in India has grown, what must now be done

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Supporters of fasting social activist Anna Hazare marching towards Ramlila Maidan from India Gate, in New Delhi on Sunday night. Photo: The Hindu/Sushil Kumar Verma

There has been no progress in the disucssions between the government in India and the leaders of the massive movement against corruption, led by Anna Hazare, who is still on a protest fast in New Delhi [see earlier post on the movement]. A meeting of all the political parties was held on the issue of the Lokpal, an institution proposed to redress public grievances on corruption and abuse of public office. An excellent summary of the matters before the citizens of India, and the best choices available to achieve probity and equity has been provided by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in its note placed before the participants of the meeting of all political parties. Titled ‘Lokpal: For An Effective Anti-Corruption Body’, here is the full text of the note:

Introduction

Corruption has become a major public concern in the wake of successive scams unfolding over the past few years. In a country like India, where millions of people still suffer from acute poverty, hunger and lack of socio-economic opportunities, the pillage of public resources through corruption amounts to a crime of a very serious nature. Besides impeding economic development, accumulation of ill gotten wealth through corruption is widening the inequalities and ruining the moral fabric of our society.

The recent exposures in the 2G spectrum allocation case, CWG scam etc. have shown how thousands of crores worth of public resources have been illicitly cornered by a section of corporates, bureaucrats and ministers. What is worse, tainted ministers have been allowed to remain in office for months and the investigations manipulated, in order to obstruct the course of justice. While corruption in high places has been a feature of our political system for many decades, what has emerged as a dominant trend in the post-liberalization period is a thorough distortion of the policy-making process at the highest levels of the government. A nexus of big corporates, politicians and bureaucrats have matured under the neoliberal regime and is threatening to subvert our democracy. It is clear that the current economic regime has made our system more vulnerable to cronyism and criminality.

The battle against corruption, in order to be effective today, can be achieved only through a comprehensive reform of our political, legal, administrative and judicial systems and not through one-off or piece-meal measures. The establishment of an effective Lokpal institution is one such measure. This needs to be complemented by other measures. There has to be a grievance redressal set-up for citizens, based on a legislation. There has to be a National Judicial Commission to oversee the higher judiciary; there has to be electoral reforms to check the use of money power in elections which is another source of corruption. Urgent steps also need to be undertaken to reform our tax system to plug loopholes and unearth black money, much of which is stashed in offshore bank accounts and tax havens. Firm steps need to be taken to break the big business-politician-bureaucrat nexus. Only a comprehensive systemic reform can effectively curb corruption.

Lokpal Bill

The 74-year-old Gandhian has made it clear he will not end his hunger strike till his version of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill is adopted. Photo: NDTV

The institution of Ombudsman, which exists in many countries across the world, has provided avenues to redress public grievances on corruption and abuse of public office. However, the fact that the Lokpal Bill could not be passed in the Indian parliament in four decades exposes the lack of political will to fight corruption. Several governments in the past have taken it up only to shelve it later under various pretexts. The present government has also been compelled to initiate discussion on this bill because of public outcry over successive corruption scandals. It is imperative that a Lokpal Bill which deals with corruption in high places is tabled in the forthcoming session of parliament.

In the wake of the on-going debate on what should be the scope and role of the Lokpal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) wishes to set out its stand on the main issues concerning the constitution of a Lokpal.

1. Definition of Corruption

Corruption involves a whole range of activities from bribery, influence peddling, patronage or favour, nepotism, cronyism, electoral fraud, embezzlement, kickbacks to officials and involvement in organized crime. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 has defined the offences that constitute a corrupt act. This definition requires to be widened. The linkage between misuse of public power for private gain or enrichment is a highly restrictive understanding of corruption. In many cases, power is misused to benefit an entity like a private company which is not a ‘person’ as required under the PCA 1988. Often, there may be no traceable kickbacks or embezzlement but there may be a huge loss to the public exchequer and breach of public trust for example through sale of PSUs due to a willful misuse of power. The definition of corruption has to be widened to include “willfully giving any undue benefit to any person or entity or obtaining any undue benefit from any public servant in violation of laws or rules”.

2. Clarity on Functions

The Lokpal should essentially be a fact-finding body that receives complaints, enquires, investigates and forward cases to Special Courts where prima facie there is a case of corruption for prosecution and punishment in a time bound manner. It should have powers to recommend an enquiry and investigation suo moto. It should oversee the entire machinery related to corruption cases at the Central level. Finally, it should have the powers to recommend executive action and to approach Courts when these are not accepted. The Lokpal should be entrusted with quasi-judicial powers and autonomy to fulfill these functions in an independent, accountable, transparent and time-bound manner. The separation of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The institution of Lokpal should conform to this basic structure. An issue to be considered regarding the functions of a Lokpal is whether it will deal with corruption or will it also perform functions of grievance redressal. The CPI(M) favours separation of these functions. There must be a separate mechanism for grievance redressal. This should be set up by a separate legislation. The grievances of citizens about the citizens charter etc should be brought under this set up.

3. Selection & Composition of Lokpal

In a huge show of support for anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal on Sunday, over 100,000 people marched on the streets of Mumbai. Photo: The Hindu/AFP

The Lokpal Act should lay down an objective and transparent criteria such as competence, experience, qualification etc for the selection of candidates for appointment to the Lokpal. The selection committee should be broad-based consisting of members of the executive, leaders of parliament, members of the higher judiciary, jurists and academicians. The search committee constituted by the selection committee should also be broad-based. Composition: Apart from the chairperson, there should be 10 members in the Lokpal. Out of these four shall be judicial members, three can be persons with administrative and civil service backgrounds and the other three should be drawn from fields such as law, academics and social service. There should be no member drawn from commerce and industries just as there can be no politician.

4. Jurisdiction

While corruption in high places has to be tackled on a priority basis, for the ordinary citizen, it is the corruption faced by them in daily life and in dealings with public authorities that also needs to be urgently taken up. Much of this sphere of corruption falls in dealings with authorities at the states-level. The Lok Ayuktas set up on the lines of the Lokpal should bring all state government employees, local bodies and the state corporations under their purview. Further, a citizen’s grievances redressal machinery that we have proposed be set up separately, should address all grievances regarding delivery of basic services and entitlements for citizens.

a) Prime Minister: The Prime Minister should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal with adequate safeguards. The office of Prime Minister along with all public servants was brought under the purview of Lokpal by the V.P. Singh Government in 1989 and in all subsequent draft legislations, the Prime Minister has been placed under the Lokpal. In fact a Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Shri Pranab Mukherjee had made precisely this point while examining the 2001 Lokpal Bill. For the first time since 1989, this government presiding over a large number of scams, is unwilling to ensure accountability of the highest executive office. Clearly, all public servants of the Union Government within the definition in the Prevention of Corruption Act, which includes the Prime Minister, must fall within the purview of the Lokpal.

b) Judiciary: The judiciary too needs to be brought under scrutiny and made more accountable, and the stringent requirement of prior permission and sanction from the Chief Justice to file FIRs and investigate corruption charges has resulted in a de facto immunity to them. But the proposals to bring them under Lokpal encroach upon the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Supreme Court. If a mere allegation of mala fide is enough for the Lokpal to start an inquiry into the actions of judges, it may not allow judges to act without fear.

Complaints about corruption against the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts should be handled by a separate body, the National Judicial Commission. This Commission should take care of the appointments in the higher judiciary and oversee their conduct and enquire into the complaints of corruption. For this, necessary legislation will have to be passed. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 is woefully inadequate for this purpose.

c) Members of Parliament: At present, the scrutiny of the conduct of Members of Parliament with regard to any corrupt practice is weak and unsatisfactory. For Members of Parliament, Article 105 of the Constitution provides protection with regard to freedom of speech and voting. The real issue is how to ensure that this freedom and protection does not extend to acts of corruption by Members of Parliament. This can be done through an amendment to Article 105, on the lines recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. Alternatively, if feasible, there can be legislation that if any Member of Parliament indulges in any act of corruption that motivates his or her action in Parliament (voting, speaking etc.), then this act falls within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC.

5. Lok Ayuktas

In the states, Lok Ayuktas should be set up on the model of the Central Lokpal.

6. Protection of Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers must be protected in order to combat corruption. Monitoring and ensuring protection of whistleblowers can be a part of the mandate of Lokpal, but this needs a comprehensive statutory backing. The provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Information) Bill, 2010 needs to be strengthened and the bill enacted expeditiously.

7. Big Business-Public Servant Nexus

It is necessary to recognise that an important source of corruption since liberalisation stems from the corrupt nexus between big business and public servants. It is necessary for the Lokpal to have investigations in cases which involve business entities to recommend cancellation of licences, contracts, lease or agreements if it was obtained by corrupt means. The Lokpal should also have the power to recommend blacklisting companies from getting government contracts and licences. Similarly, if the beneficiary of an offence is a business entity, the Lokpal should have the power to recommend concrete steps to recover the loss caused to the public exchequer. The government should normally accept these recommendations and act upon it.

Conclusion

The CPI(M) holds that along with a law for setting up an independent Lokpal, simultaneous measures to strengthen the legal and administrative framework
against corruption are required. These include:

(1) Setting up of a National Judicial Commission to bring the conduct of judiciary under its purview
(2) Law to protect citizens charter for redressal of public grievances
(3) Amendment of Article 105 of the Constitution to bring MPs under anti-corruption scrutiny
(4) Electoral reforms to check money power in elections
(5) Setting up of Lok Ayuktas in the states to cover all public servants at the state-level
(6) Steps to unearth black money and confiscate the funds illegally stashed away in tax havens.

Written by makanaka

August 24, 2011 at 23:14

India rises against corruption

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Scores of Anna Hazare supporters arrive to court arrest at New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: The Hindu/V.V. Krishnan

The arrest of social activist and anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare has sparked off a massive wave of protests all over India, with reports of people courting arrest in major cities and opposition parties criticising the arrest of Hazare and his associates as a vicious attack on democratic and civil rights of citizens in India. Yesterday, 15 August 2011, was India’s Independence Day. Reports:

In Chennai, Gandhi’s secretary leads pro-Anna Hazare protests – Youngsters in the age group of 18 to 25 turned up in large numbers at a private wedding hall in Chennai on Tuesday to express solidarity with Anna Hazare and his fight against corruption.

Over 3000 detained in Mumbai after protests over Anna Hazare’s arrest – Over 3000 people were picked on the charges of unlawful assembly from across Mumbai on Tuesday after they held demonstrations protesting against the police action against activist Anna Hazare.

Hundreds turn up for anti-corruption protest in Bangalore – Close to 100 people volunteered for the indefinite fast against corruption and in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill here at the Freedom Park on Tuesday. Though not fasting, at least 500 more were present to lend their support to the movement.

Is Anna Hazare’s arrest the right move? – Anna Hazare on Tuesday courted arrest after being detained by Delhi Police at his residence ahead of his indefinite fast against corruption. His asscociates Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia were also taken into preventive custody.

Anna Hazare at Rajghat, New Delhi: Photo: The Telegraph

Anna Hazare sent to 7-day judicial custody – Anna Hazare has been sent to seven days in judicial custody and will be lodged New Delhi’s in Tihar Jail. Hazare’s supporters Manish Sisodia, Arvind Kejriwal, Darshak, Radheshyam, Suresh Pathare, Naveen Jaisingh and Dada Phatare have also been taken into custody.

Bangaloreans protest Anna’s arrest – Hundreds of people Tuesday gathered here in this Karnataka capital supporting a stronger Lokpal Bill and condemned the arrest of civil society activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi. “Such arrests cannot end the agitation against corruption.”

India against corruption: Refuses to offer bail, Kiran Bedi tweets – Former police officer Kiran Bedi tweeted on Tuesday that she has refused to offer bail after being detained with Anna Hazare and that she may be sent to Tihar Jail. “I have been asked to offer bail. I have refused to.”

Anna Hazare’s detention triggers protests across Maharashtra – Responding to social activist Anna Hazare’s call to fill jails as part of his campaign against corruption and demand for a strong Lokpal Bill, his supporters today courted arrests in Mumbai.

Lawyers back Hazare, stage protest – Lawyers on Tuesday staged protest outside the Delhi High Court premises against the arrest of Anna Hazare and his supporters who had planned to hold a fast in support of strong Lokpal Bill. “This is an Emergency-like situation.”

Written by makanaka

August 16, 2011 at 18:13

India Independence Day 2011

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A group of cycle-rickshaw drivers share a break and a chat in New Delhi

Written by makanaka

August 15, 2011 at 11:40

How the OECD dislikes poor Indians but covets their economy

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No you don't. Get your destructive sophistry away from my village and my community.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has just released its Survey of India, and has said that “India now has the opportunity to move towards sustained and socially inclusive double-digit growth if the right policies are put in place”. The OCED survey said India’s economy has ranked among the best performers over the past decade, and poverty has been falling faster than in many other emerging economies. Pending a detailed reading of the report I can’t see how “best performer” and “falling poverty” can be applied to India, but the social and environmental dimensions of India’s so-called eocnomic growth may not be within the OECD’s scope in such a survey.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría presented the Economic Survey of India in New Delhi and there said: “Policymakers are to be commended on the remarkable catch-up achieved in recent years, making India one of main driving forces of the global economy. The priority given to more socially inclusive economic growth is appropriate and further reforms are needed to achieve it.” There are more such conceptual conundrums here – catch up with who? And for what? What “socially inclusive” growth is Gurria talking about – India has the world’s largest population of malnourished children and the world’s largest population of hungry people. This has been so for the entire period that the OCED said India was “catching up”.

To ensure strong growth continues and is sufficiently inclusive, the government needs to target public expenditure better on the poor, the OECD has said. “Although high growth has reduced poverty, progress could have been faster. Hundreds of millions of people still live below the official poverty line. Malnutrition and poor health are still widespread.” Evidently the OECD India Survey 2011 team saw no contradiction between what they have praised and what exists. Against this backdrop, the report advocates a strengthened welfare system and improved access to health care. “Government spending on health is only around 1% of GDP – among the lowest rates in the world. Private health care provision is increasing but quality is highly variable. Better regulation and oversight is needed.” This is true, but the Survey’s objectives lead all solutions away from more and better public healthcare.

The irrelevance of the GDP squiggle to most Indians goes unnoticed by the OECD

The report said that around 9% of GDP is spent on energy and other subsidies, most of which fails to reach the poor, and that diesel subsidies should be phased out. For other energy products, such as kerosene and LPG, susbidies should be transformed into cash payments targeted to the poorest people in society. The government needs to ensure that its plan to shift kerosene and fertiliser subsidies into direct cash transfers is implemented quickly. Here the roll-out of a Universal Identity Number will help ensure payments go to the right people.

The recommendations in this para are full of threat. A quick look at the full Survey itself shows that there is special mention made of the fuel subsidy and the targeted public distribution of foodgrain. If the free marketeer reformists were to have their way, these would both be scrapped overnight, to be replaced by a weekly or monthly dole, transferred electronically and validated by a new national identification number which is in theory supposed to prevent fraud and exclusion. This is dangerous for the poor, because it makes them directly vulnerable to the worst symptoms of profiteering and corruption – already rampant despite safeguards – and because it removes the responsibility from the state for providing good quality and cheap social services and provisions of daily living. In this, the OECD Survey sounds exactly like the IMF.

So tell me, OECD boys and girls, what do you know about guavas and cane?

The OCED report has otherwise welcomed the planned introduction of a nationwide goods and services tax and suggested that in order to keep the overall rate low, the base should be as wide as possible (there go more paisas from the cash transfer to the poor). “Further fiscal consolidation is also called for, making more funds available for private investment” – which means more cutting of the health, education and rural development programmes. “Cutting red tape for businesses and further lowering barriers to trade and investment will help both companies and households. The report also notes that while progress has been made to improve infrastructure, even greater investment in this area is necessary to boost growth.”

The Survey has said that strengthening the financial system and promoting access to financial services is essential for strong and inclusive growth. (We’re quite sick and tired of hearing about ‘inclusive growth’ when the Indian government and its foreign advisers do all they can every single day to prevent it.) The report noted that many Indians still lack access to bank accounts although microfinance is improving opportunities in many communities. “The financial sector proved resilient during the global downturn but there remains scope for greater competition.” Hear, hear.

The Survey has said that education has been given high priority by India’s central and state governments and enrolment continues to grow fast – we call them degree factories for the globalisation mill. The report recommends more effective government regulation and funding. Incentives and professional development opportunities for teachers need to be strengthened while student loans for higher education should be more widely available.

Now I expect the usual round of endorsement, referencing and studious quoting to begin. Within a few months, the recommendations of the OCED India Survey 2011 will assume an oracular hue, never mind the reactionary and anti-poor real nature of its advice. The multilateral lending institutions – the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank – will cite the Survey repeatedly. So will state governments in India and the central government. The armoury of those who assault the poor and the marginalised of India has been strengthened by a new weapon – this is the OECD contribution to the people of India.

Germany and Iran, a long-running hypocrisy reprised by the blocking of India’s oil payments to Tehran

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The German government has stopped the government from India from paying for oil, bought from Iran, through a German bank. This action has been explained by the German government as halting its dealings with Iran, which America, Germany’s Nato ally, has placed under an economic blockade for allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

The extreme but characteristic hypocrisy of Germany with regard to countries of the Middle East has once again come to the fore with this action. Ever since the outbreak, in 1991, of the American invasion of Iraq, Germany’s private sector role in providing engineering and technical know-how to countries of the Middle East – specifically Iran, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Libya – has been exposed. (America’s own complicity in arming, supporting and dealing with all manner of governments is too well-known.) More on the German hypocrisy follows after a brief description of the immediate action.

New media have today reported that India has agreed to stop paying for its Iranian oil imports via Germany. Payments to a Hamburg-based bank handling international trade with Iran had been halted. The Handelsblatt business daily has reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel had intervened by instructing Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, to stop clearing payments from India headed to the bank, known as EIH, which is under USA but not EU sanctions.

Reuters has reported that this action will end “a trade conduit that had drawn strong disapproval from the United States and Israel” and that “the decision was a result of consultations between Berlin and New Delhi, and not pressure from Chancellor Angela Merkel at home or abroad to disrupt the payment scheme”. The news bulletin has been picked up by a number of small and regional newspapers in the USA, going under the headline ‘Germany won’t funnel oil money from India to Iran’.

The initial response from India, according to a few early reports, is that India’s finance ministry is now considering routing its payment for Iranian oil through a European bank which is ‘more neutral’ than the European Iranian Trade bank (EIH). The Indian Express has said that so far, India has paid 1.5 billion euros through EIH to the Iranian central bank. The Indian Express quoted a finance ministry official as having said: “EIH can’t be a long-term solution. We are looking at banks in Europe where Iranian central bank has an account. We will also open an account with (that) bank. We will have to look for a neutral bank, which EIH is not.”

India depends on Iran for about 15% of its crude oil imports. Iran is India’s second-biggest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. India had imported 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in 2009-10 and about 178,000 bpd during April-September. India, Asia’s third-largest oil consumer, imports over two-thirds of its oil needs and depends heavily on volumes from the West Asia to power its economy. India and Iran have been negotiating for months on ways to resolve the payment deadlock on a long-term basis and salvage the trade, which is worth around US$12 billion annually.

So much for India’s oil dealings with Iran. What moral standing has Germany in such a matter? Let’s revisit the recent past to see what Germany’s current imperialist ally in Libya – the USA – has itself had to say on German interest in Middle Eastern and North African business opportunities.

Foreign energy in Libya. Map: Stratfor

Remember Rabta? This was reported to be the largest chemical weapons factory in the developing world, and in the 1990s it was estimated that the Rabta factory’s potential output was between 8.5 and 33 tons of mustard gas and nerve agent daily. The Rabta plant, about 65 km south of Tripoli, was seen as having been buit and operated with the assistance of western (i.e. from western Europe) companies. At the time, it was the USA which concluded that a West German company played a central role in the design and construction of the rabta plant. Ronald Reagan was US president then and Helmut Kohl the German chancellor. The company was Imhausen-Chemie, and both the company and the feckless German government of the day claimed that all it was doing at Rabta was making plastic bags.

Let’s turn to Germany and Iran. Germany has been intensely involved in the international effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. Yet, while Chancellor Merkel has vocally stated her opposition to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, Germany has continued to be Iran’s largest trading partner in the EU and – whatever shape the coalition government in Berlin has taken – it has been pro-business, favouring commercial ties over the West’s security interests – this is typical, after all, for the country that until last year was the world’s biggest expoert economy, business comes first, never mind who it’s done with and what it’s used for. Germany’s exports to Iran reached about US$426 million in September 2009, while its imports were about US$140 million. This has been reported by The Jerusalem Post (September 29, 2009) and by Tehran Times (December 17, 2009). Which are the major companies that have, with the full knowledge and encouragement of the German government, done business in and with Iran? Some of the best-known are Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, BASF, Bayer, Herrenknecht and MAN Ferrostahl.

It is tiresome to hear sanctimonoius claptrap about Germany’s replacement of the primitive nationalisms of the past with multilateral principles of an integrated Europe, as its lying and double-dealing officials assure the European Parliament and international fora every so often. The “forgetting of power” in the West German peace movements and in the political language of détente used by its over-intellectualised political commentators is plain rubbish, for what Germany does abroad is quite different from what it says at home in Europa.

Food inflation crippled India’s households in 2010

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Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaThe price of a basket of staple foods has become crippling in rural and urban India. The government’s response is to favour agri-commodity markets, greater retail investment and more technology inputs. For food grower and consumer alike, the need for genuine farm swaraj has never been greater.

The retail prices of staple foods rose steadily through 2010, far exceeding in real terms what the Government of India and the financial system call “headline inflation”, and exceeding also the rate of the rise in food inflation as calculated for the country. These calculations ignore the effective inflation and its increase as experienced by the rural and urban household, and they ignore also the considerable regional variations in India of a typical monthly food basket.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaMoreover, from a household perspective an increase in the prices of food staples is not seen as an annual phenomenon, to be compared with some point 12 months in the past. It is intimately linked to employment (whether informal or seasonal), net income, and the pressures on the food budget from competing demands of medical treatment, education and expenses on fuel and energy.

When real net income remains unchanged for over a year or longer, the household suffers a contraction in the budget available for the food basket, and this contraction – often experienced by rural cultivator families and agricultural labour – is only very inadequately reflected by the national rate of increase in food inflation.

An indicator of the impact on households is provided by the price monitoring cell of the Department Of Consumer Affairs, Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. This cell records the retail and wholesale prices of essential commodities in 37 cities and towns in India. Data over a 36-month period (2008 January to 2010 December) for the prices of cereals, pulses, sugar, tea, milk and onions reveals the impact of the steady rise in the Indian household’s food basket.

In 33 cities and towns for which there are regular price entries, the price per kilo of the “fair average” quality of rice has risen by an average of 42% over the calendar period 2008 January to 2010 December. In 12 of these urban centres the increase has been over 50% (Vijayawada, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Patna, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Indore, Bhopal, Shimla, Karnal and Hisar).

The average price rise over the same period for a kilo of tur dal, for 32 cities for which there is regular price data, is 46%. In 11 of these urban centres the increase in the price of tur dal has been over 50% (Puducherry, Bengaluru, Patna, Agartala, Nagpur, Mumbai, Indore, Ahmedabad, Shimla, Jammu and New Delhi). Where wheat is concerned, from among the 27 cities and towns for which there are regular price entries over three years, in 10 the per kilo price rise is 30% and more.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaIf in search of a comforting cup of tea over which to rue the effect of the steady price rise, this too will cost a great deal more than it did three years ago. For 25 urban centres with regular price data, the average increase over the same period of 100 grams of loose tea leaf is 38% and in 11 of these cities and towns the increase is between 40% and 100%.

The sugar with which to sweeten that cup of tea has become prohibitively expensive over the January 2008 to December 2010 period. For the 32 cities and towns for which there is regular price data, the average price increase for a kilo of sugar is 102%, the range of increase being between 76% and 125%.

This increase for sugar – relatively homogenous for the price reporting centres – exhibits the countrywide nature of the price rise of the commodity. Nor is there a household economy case for substituting sugar for gur, or jaggery. For the 17 towns and cities reporting data for gur prices over the same 36-month period, the increase in price over the period has been an average 118% with 11 of these centres recording an increase of over 100%.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaAdding a third element of higher cost to the humble cup of tea is the price of milk. For the 25 towns and cities which recorded increases in the per litre price of milk over the 36-month period (one city recorded a drop) the average rise is 37%. In seven cities a litre of milk costs at least 50% more in December 2010 than what it did in January 2008 – Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Patna and Hyderabad.

In conspicuous contrast are the rates of increase in price of cooking media – groundnut oil, mustard oil and vanaspati. Over the January 2008 to December 2010 period the 37 urban centres recorded average price increases of 10%, 9% and 10% respectively for groundnut oil, mustard oil and vanaspati.

Finally, the volatile allium cepa, or common red onion. In 29 cities and towns reporting regularly the per kilo prices of onion, the increase in price of the vegetable has been astonishingly steep. The average increase for 29 cities is 197.5% and in 14 the increase has been 200% and above – New Delhi, Shimla, Ahmedabad, Indore, Mumbai, Rajkot, Agartala, Aizawl, Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Vijaywada. In pale comparison is the otherwise worrying average increase of 39.5% for a kilo of potatoes – this is the 36-month average increase recorded by 27 urban centres.

Blowing hot and cold in Beijing

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Climate change. Image courtesy UNEPThe science of understanding climate change has long given way, among two big Asian governments, to the politics of nationalism. This was evident in December 2009, even through the rubble of the ruined Copenhagen summit on climate change, and it was just as evident months earlier when both India and China, separately, said that they would not subscribe to any form of emission controls that would jeopardise their economic growth trajectories.

That’s the main act, which the countries of the western world like not at all. In the forefront of the finger-wagging western club are the USA accompanied by Britain and Australia (its ready allies), Germany and France (whose moralising manner and hypocritical practice deserve all the scorn they receive and then some) and sundry others from north America and western Europe. They have charged India and China with sabotaging the Copenhagen talks, and their allegations have turned up anew in a tape recording obtained by the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“Secret recordings obtained by Spiegel reveal how China and India prevented an agreement on tackling climate change at the crucial meeting,” said Der Spiegel. “The powerless Europeans were forced to look on as the agreement failed.” The German magazine, whose editorial instincts are about as sophisticated as the Spice Girls’ taste in clothes, lashed its reportage with large helpings of dime-novel suspense. “A hush came over the room. Even the mobile phones stopped ringing. It was Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at about 4 p.m. That was the moment when the world leaders meeting in Copenhagen abandoned their efforts to save the world.”

India's GHG emissions 2007, in million tons CO2

India's GHG emissions 2007, in million tons CO2

Laboured drama apart, Der Spiegel was only repeating instructions given to a supine western media from the ruling cabals in Berlin, Paris, London and of course Washington. Of course. Blame it on those upstart Asians, whose economic growth and global ambitions now threaten western civilisation. It’s a tiresome re-run of how easily development patronage can become scolding xenophobia. But what really happened at Copenhagen (and its entertaining versions) is only the background to a more interesting opera that has swung merrily on, between New Delhi and Beijing, and with unrelated cameos from scientists and economists, two tribes usually disconnected from one another by both design and inclination.

First, the government of India announced with some fanfare a report, ‘India’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2007’ which is the work of the new Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment. Jairam Ramesh, India’s minister for environment and forests, heaped praise on the Network and on India’s climate related ‘achievements’. “More than 80 scientists from 17 institutions across India have contributed to this Assessment,” he said, and added that they did so in “record time” (which is definitely not good from a science point of view).

Climate change. Image courtesy UNEPHe went on: “India has become the first ‘non-Annex I’ (developing) country to publish such updated numbers. We will be the first developing country to do so.” (Some Asian one-upmanship there.) “Interestingly, the emissions of USA and China are almost four times that of India in 2007. It is also noteworthy that the emissions intensity of India’s GDP declined by more than 30% during the period 1994-2007, due to the efforts and policies that we are proactively putting in place.” Ramesh went on in such vein, but the report served to underline India’s basic stance on the subject: no, we will not cap or control our emissions based on your standards and recommendations for as long as we are a developing country.

Second, Jairam went to Beijing. There he became very much more the manager rather than the politician, and made a number of plain-speaking statements. “Chinese do not talk as much as Indians, but Chinese perform better, they do much more. I am full of admiration for the way that China just gets to work, whereas [in] India [we] talk and talk and keep on talking,” he was quoted by Xinhua as saying on May 7. Next, he said that India’s Ministry of Home Affairs should not be paranoid about China and take a “much more relaxed” approach to Chinese investments and remove “needless” restrictions. This won him all sorts of applause from the media in China, but provoked instant ripostes from red-faced and bristling Home ministry mandarins in New Delhi.

Ramesh thereby earned the rare distinction of being praised in the lead editorial of the ‘China Daily‘, which together with the Xinhua news agency (Ramesh gave them an interview) sent out the signal to Chinese media that there was a ‘Copenhagen spirit’, South-South teamwork to counter western powers and a sound model to strengthen India-China friendship. “I see climate change as an opportunity to change the political climate between China and India,” Ramesh had told Xinhua. Typically, as soon as Ramesh returned to New Delhi there were furious outbursts and calls for his resignation, which is a distinctly Indian political pastime, the overuse of which recently resulted in Shashi Tharoor being booted out of his ministerial post.

Third, far more serious and quite unnoticed in New Delhi (although Beijing I’m sure has) was the release of what is quickly being called the ‘Hartwell paper‘, a political economy statement on current climate policy of emissions targets, and an effort funded in part by the London School of Economics. The authoring group says that international agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions are doomed to failure and must be replaced by a drive towards low-cost green energy. “The bottom line is that there will be little progress in accelerating the decarbonisation of the global economy until low carbon energy supply becomes reliably cheaper and provides reliability of supply,” says the paper. Which effectively means, the successors to the failed Copenhagen summit are doomed, and we should now pay great attention to the Ramesh doctrine of climate change management.

Asia’s epic urban sagas

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Courtesy UN-Habitat: Waterside shanties in the Philippines.

Courtesy UN-Habitat: Waterside shanties in the Philippines.

National governments and planning authorities in Dhaka, Islamabad and New Delhi are tending more and more to follow a single ideology – economic growth will drive down poverty – and a primary route to that misplaced objective, which is greater urbanisation. These governments are therefore commissioning a welter of studies and reports, from within and without, to show their citizens why more cities and towns are a good thing (jobs and citizen services, they say) and why mobilising a great deal of money to build infrastructure for these settlements is a good thing (more jobs, more ‘development’).

The cleverer authorities are linking South Asia’s rising urban trendline to a variety of socio-economic goods, such as product and monetary innovation, such as cities being the wellsprings of social entrepreneurship, such as greater tax receipts which will help accumulate funds for social sector spending on the poor and marginalised. For companies and banks that deal with the building of big infrastructure, its engineering, its operation and its financing, this is a persistent swell of good news, and this group is doing everything it can to sustain the urbanisation wave.

[You can find my full essay at Energy Bulletin]

The raw numbers are on the side of the powerful urban-centric cabal. Among the world’s cities ranked by average population growth rate per year (in per cent) for 2006-2020, there are 37 South Asian cities (Afghanistan 1, Bangladesh 3, India 25, Pakistan 8) and 8 in China in the top 100. In the next 100, there are 20 cities in China and 11 in India. Asia’s two biggest countries have between them 64 of the top 200 cities that are projected, by the global group of city mayors, to grow the fastest in the next decade. This extraordinary prognosis for the two most populous countries – both of which have become economic powers – has enormous implications for global energy, food and resource flows.

When China and India buy material (as they have been doing, with China’s headstart over the rest of the BRIC/BASIC group placing it in a league of resource acquisition by itself), entire populations of supplier countries will face the consequences. Moreover, much of the material the two countries will commandeer will be directed towards their cities. China’s urban population is already 45% of its total population, while India’s is 30% and set to grow faster than it has at any period until now. There are combined numbers so large in the cities of China and India that the implications of the consumption by this grouping alone have become too profound to internalise for planners and administrators. Amongst the 300 most populous cities in the world, 97 are in China and these 97 are home to 243.98 million people (2010 estimate); 26 are in India and these 26 are home to 90.38 million people (2010 estimate).

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields. The produce from such fields once fed the capital city of Panaji, which now imports food 130 kilometres from the neighbouring state of Karnataka

What do we know about India’s food consumption patterns? Let’s look at some numbers to illustrate this. India’s most admirable National Sample Survey Organisation has just begun releasing summary data from its 2007-08 survey of household consumption (the earlier such ’round’, as it is called, pertained to the 2004-05 period). In rural India, average monthly per capita cereal consumption was around 10.3 kg for the poorest 10% of the population. (The survey distributes both rural and urban populations by ten ‘deciles’ – bands of 10% – which correspond to level of consumption expenditure.) It was between 11 and 12 kg for each of the next six decile classes, and was above 12 kg for the top three decile groups.

This means that for rural India, there is a strong positive correlation between ability to spend on food and quantum of consumption of cereals – the greater the household income, they more it is able to spend on staple foodgrain. In urban India, per capita cereal consumption increased from under 9.5 kg to about 10 kg per month over the first four decile classes but then showed a tendency to fall slightly rather than to rise in parallel with further increases in total expenditure.

This indicates the fulfilment of staple foodgrain needs and that expenditure on food thereafter is on cereal substitutes, processed food or eating out (what the surveys call ‘purchased cooked meals’), and fruit. Average cereal consumption per person per month was 11.7 kg in rural India and 9.7 in urban India. From this it would appear that the average urban person’s monthly cereal intake was about 2 kg less (a difference of 67 gm per day) than that of the average rural person. But it needs to be factored in that in urban areas the cereal content of processed foods and eating out (‘purchased cooked meals’) gets left out in the estimation of cereal consumption, which is why the difference in cereal consumption between the two may be less than it appears.

The FAO food price index plotted from 2000 to early 2010

The FAO food price index plotted from 2000 to early 2010

India’s urban national average of per capita daily cereal consumption is 9.7 kg. At this average, we are able to gauge the cereal supply needs of cities with populations of over a million. Using population estimates for 2010 (from the City Mayors website database) we find:

Pimpri-Chinchwad (Maharashtra) with a metro population of 1.515 million consumes 483 tons of cereals a day
Nagpur (Maharashtra) with a metro population of 2.42 million consumes 772 tons of cereals a day
Varanasi (Bihar) with a metro population of 3.15 million consumes 1,005 tons of cereals a day
Ludhiana (Punjab) with a metro population of 4.40 million consumes 1,403 tons of cereals a day
Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) with a metro population of 6.29 million consumes 2,006 tons of cereals a day
Kolkata (West Bengal) with a metro population of 15.42 million consumes 4,918 tons of cereals a day
Mumbai (Maharashtra) with a metro population of 21.2 million consumes 6,761 tons of cereals a day

These daily consumption demands mean movement, by road and rail, of food produce citywards at prodigious scales. In Navi Mumbai, an urban satellite of Mumbai which is a fair-sized city by itself today, lies the food wholesale depot that marshals and redirects the daily procession of trucks, lorries, light commercial vehicles and pick-ups bringing food for Mumbai’s millions. The number of vehicular movements in this yard are reckoned to be over 2,000 every day which indicates the vast physical reach of the giant city’s food gathering subsystem, one that holds in its thrall a region that could comfortably encompass western Europe.