Modern Warfare of Sanctions

Some days ago when the Crimean territory was annexed by Russia it led to the revival of the Cold War discussions. Ukraine, of course aggrieved with this Russian annexation asked for help from the European countries along with the US. The negotiations went on for a few days as to returning Crimea to Ukraine.

Soon, Crimea just remained a reason for the talks. The talks were now about steps to prevent further Russian expansion. The western media was portraying Vldamir Putin as a radical nationalist dictator who would go to any extent to regain control over the historical soviet territories. Nobody was talking about getting Crimea back to the Ukranians. It made the world paranoid of another confrontation between two mighty Nuclear Powers. Thus, it was not Russia or Vldamir Putin as is generally portrayed but the USA and the western media who revived the war talks and made Global Powers apprehensive.

Luckily for the World the stand-off never blew to be full-fledged nuclear confrontation and humanity was saved from seeing another bloody war. What is interesting though is how such confrontation was prevented. If one is to analyze the United States Foreign Policy or the Foreign Policy of any Western Power, one would realize that there has been a considerable shift in the way rogue powers are dealt with. The US and the other powerful western countries have had a bitter experience of direct participation in a war. Losing their men, machines and money the countries are now trying alternative strategies to effectively deal with rogue powers.

The strategy that these countries are using is that of ‘sanctions’. The Global Economy has become largely interdependent in the last decade or two. No country is self-sufficient and is heavily reliant on trade with other countries for a decent growth of its economy. Most of these trade involves import of cheap consumer goods from the manufacturing-intensive countries and export of natural resources like oil and gas.

The US adopted these strategy to successfully counter a nuclear powering Iran or North Korea. Iranian economy is largely dependent on the export of its oil to countries like India. Sanctions on Iran meant that US companies and companies from other countries who are part of this Sanctions regime cannot do business with Iran or an Iranian company. This means that fewer number of companies to insure the shipments from Iran. It also means reduced markets for sale of Iranian gas, allowing other buyers to leverage it to negotiate reduced prices with Iran.

Another reason why US Sanctions work is because, Global trade generally happens in US Dollars. Now sanctions by US means that the countries can not trade using the US Dollar. Take again for example, the Indian import of Iranian oil. Prior to the sanctions, India paid Iran through an escrow account in Iran in Dollars. After the sanctions, India has been paying Iran in Rupees which can be spent only in India on Indian goods and products. This is like “Big Bazaar will offer you a cashback. CONDITION: You can spend it only at Big Bazaar”. Further, sanctions against Iran means less buyers for the Iranian oil. Thus, more scope for India to bargain the price of Oil. Thus, US Sanctions also benefit the nations which are not part of the Sanctions regime. Bingo. Now these countries also start complying with the sanctions! (Iran’s GDP fell approximately by 6% and its inflation was close to 39% last year.)

The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Putin’s aides (members of the alleged ‘oligarchy’). The sanctions are aimed at freezing assets and imposing travel bans. The have been effective as both, the Russian Stock Market and the Russian currency , rouble have fallen after the sanctions. Also major credit rating agencies have downgraded Russia’s growth forecast for the year. According to S&P estimates, $60bn worth of investment has already left the country leaving the economy weak.

Sanctions and Trade Embargoes have been used as aggression-counter-strategy since a very long time. It was used against India, too; result of the nuclear tests at Pokhran during May, 1998. But never have they been so effective as they are now.  According to the study published by the Pitersen Institute finds that sanctions work as much as one third of the time. It seems that with the rapidly increasing global economic interdependence, economic interests thrive over radical nationalism.

 

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My life and times in New Delhi

From my settled dorm room in kochi to the bustling streets of Delhi, my one month in the city was certainly a wonderful and exciting experience. As I left Kochi with uncertain expectations and unsure confidence, I was gripped with an euphoria to intern in the National Capital.
Delhi has always been one of my favorite cities. The seat of political power of the nation, where every man supposedly wields some sort of political influence. A city where ‘everybody is a somebody and nobody is a nobody’. It was always exciting to visit Delhi; but staying there for a month was a bit overwhelming. But, from my first day itself I was subjected to surprising hospitality of the Dilliwallahs. Be it the ‘PG wale uncle’ or the cycle-rickshawwallas or the fellow commuters, everyone.
I interned at an Environmental law firm whose lawyers practiced at the famed National Green Tribunal (NGT). I got to visit the courtrooms of Justice Swatanter Kumar and other such judicial and ecological heavy weights. With all the resources to groom my interest in Environmental Law, the office was always a cheerful workplace. I had the most wonderful and intellectually enriching interactions with the people at the office about politics, law and the environment. Sometimes about life at other Law schools and other cities. Interactions, which surely made ‘going to work’ very very interesting.

Luckily for me, my stay in Delhi also coincided with the announcement of results of the General Elections 2014. The celebrations thereafter all throughout the city were a spectacle to watch. The formalities and processes of the new government formation could be keenly followed, that too from Ground Zero.

Midway through my stay in Delhi, the sand storm hit the city and there was the minor earthquake of course. The storm brought everything to a standstill. The metro line was disrupted and the cellphone networks were down. Massive tree felling had blocked major roads.
Unfortunately, during my stay in Delhi I had to counter high mercury levels, over-crowded buses, traffic jams and severe time crunches! I could not visit any of the big-hyped places. But I did enjoy my stay to the fullest-exploring the city as much as I could. The cafes at Hauz Khas village were perfect for spending the weekends.
An interactive mentor, an amazing co-intern, superb friends, a brilliant roommate and a fabulous city. As I prepare to leave this magnificent city, I look back to one of my most memorable and learning experience! An experience which has made me a bit more confident and a lot more curious. An experience which will encourage me to look at newer opportunities and explore exciting avenues.
Until we meet again the next time, Delhi! 🙂

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Ab ki baar Modi ki haar!

They took down Kafila; They censure free speech; but how long can they go?
Presenting the spirit of free and Open Media!
P.S.: Kafila is back! 😀

KAFILA - 10 years of a common journey

Yesterday from about 3 pm, nobody could get into Kafila. All we could see was a notice that said WordPress had suspended the blog for ‘violating terms of service’. We wrote immediately to WordPress, who replied that they would get back to us.  No reply from them so far, but Kafila suddenly reappeared at about 9 pm last night.

On a possibly unrelated note, we have all been noticing the mysterious disappearance from cyber space of much anti-Modi content, sometimes even his own previous speeches that do not fit his currently projected persona. Hmm.

Anyway, we’re celebrating Kafila’s return with this rousing anthem, in solidarity with all of us out there – from Mumbai to Banaras to Kudankulam. We’re here, and here we’ll stay. To Pakistan – a friendly reassurance – don’t bother about preparing for the sudden influx of a billion illegal immigrants!

We’ll see the bubble burst. Hum dekhenge.

CourtesyBombay ki…

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Protecting the Western Ghats: Gadgil vs. Kasturiranjan Committee Reports.

Jog Falls, semi-evergreen forests along India's Malabar Coast, Matheran Panorama Point Monsoon

The Western Ghats are among the 8 hottest biodiversity hotspots of the World. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The mountain range spreads across five south Indian States of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and is home to 5000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammals, 508 birds, 179 amphibian species. The populations of these Ghats are largely dependent on the forest resources of the Western Ghats for their livelihood. The Ghats are also well known for the rich mineral resources. Recently, Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) have set up their own mining facilities in these Ghats. Some of these facilities are in the ecologically fragile or the ecologically sensitive areas of the Ghats and are causing greater harm to the ecology of the Ghats. The Mining Corporations are accused of carrying out extensive mining with no regard to environmental safeguards and the livelihood of the local populations. These and other factors such as blatant use of chemical pesticides, mass deforestation for cultivating plantations, industrial development, etc. have at a few places, endangered the subsistence of these populations.

It was in these contexts that the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) also known as the Madhav Gadgil Commission and later the High Level Working Group (HLWG) or the Kasturiranjan Commission. The ministry decided to review the recommendations of the report submitted by Gadgil panel after chief ministers of various states had complained that it will affect their economies. Both the commissions faced criticisms from the representatives of the Ghat populations, Church Elders and Political Leaders on various counts. A thorough analysis of the findings of both the committees is necessary to understand the contentions of all stakeholders.

One of the major issues on which both the reports vastly disagree is that of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ). Reports of both the committees mandate identifying Ecologically Sensitive Zones but there are some variations in the Methodology. While Gadgil Committee identifies the whole of Western Ghats as an ecologically sensitive zone and then follow a 3 layered approach, the Kasturiranjan Committee has identified various villages that fall under the Ecologically Sensitive Zone. The Gadgil Committee Methodology takes into consideration various factors like Biological factors, cultural and historic significance, stakeholder evaluation, Hazard vulnerability, etc. On the other hand, the Kasturiranjan Committee checks if 20% of the village is covered by vegetation and medium fragmentation if the population density is less than 100/sq. km. The former follows a very subjective approach while identifying ESZs giving immense power to the Local Self Governments while the later has a very straight forward approach with none or a few discretionary powers to the local self governments. In Gadgil Committee’s method final power is given to the Local Panchayats or the Gram Sabhas while the committee provides only scientific background for taking appropriate decision.

Both the committee’s reports have provisions for promoting organic farming. But the issue has been addressed in a detailed manner in the Gadgil Committee’s Report. Gadgil Committee, apart from promoting organic farming, has given a time frame for the farmers to phase out pesticides and weedicides. It is 5 years for Zone 1, 8 for Zone 2 and 10 for Zone 3 and financial and technical support to be given during transition period. While the Kasturiranjan Committee’s report talks about organic farming, there is no specific time frame. Surprisingly it promotes cultivation of cash crops like coffee, tea and cardamon. The Gadgil Committee has come up with a very interesting concept of offering ‘conservation service charge’ to those who maintain natural vegetation, traditional cultivators, traditional breed of livestock, indigenous fishes, and sacred groves. Kasturiranjan Committee’s Report fails to address the issue of incentive-for-conservation altogether. Gadgil Committee has also addressed the issue of promoting Animal husbandry. The report talks about restoring community grasslands and forest grazing lands outside the protected areas. But, in their report they have considered the whole of Western Ghats to be a protected area. So, it is not clear how the grasslands will be restored in the Ghats.

Gadgil Committee recommendations prohibit any new polluting (red and orange category) industry in ESZ 1 and 2. It mandates the existing industries to switch to zero pollution and subject to strict regulation and social audit. New industries can be set up in ESZ 3 subject to strict regulation and social audit. It disallows any further mining licences for ESZ 1 and 2. The existing mining facilities are required to be phased out by 2016. Mining facilities in Zone 2 can be reviewed on a case by case basis. The Report permits mining in Zone 3, but only of scarce minerals and subject to social audit and EIA. These are crystal clear provisions giving clarity to the industries for setting up their facilities in these areas. On the other hand, Kasturiranjan Committee puts a blanket ban on highly polluting (red category) industries in ESZ 1 while permitting all types of industries in other zones.  This will be very dangerous to the ecology of these regions considering the current levels of pollution especially in the water bodies. Furthermore, it bans mining in areas where no mining takes place.

With regards to energy and power, the Gadgil Committee has specific provisions relating to setting up of energy generation facilities. The report allows new hydropower projects up to 10MW in ESZ 1; 10-25MW in ESZ 2 and larger projects in ESZ 3. It promotes biomass based or solar energy sources which do not harm the ecology of the region and sustain the local energy needs. The report also recommends decommissioning of dams and thermal projects which have crossed their viable life span (it is 30 to 50 years), those which are either underperforming or outlived their utility, silted up beyond acceptable standards, etc. The panel had recommended that no thermal power projects should be allowed in the ESA and the hydropower projects should be allowed only after “a cumulative study which assesses the impact of each project on the flow pattern of the rivers and forest and biodiversity loss” is conducted. The report fails to recommend concrete guidelines on what type of projects should be discontinued.

Implementing the recommendations of either of the committees will result in some sort of financial loss to the Western Ghats (WG) States. Both the Reports have recommended measures for financial compensation to the WG States. The Gadgil Committee puts the ball in the Centre’s court. It suggests that the Central Government should arrive at ways to compensate the WG states for their contribution to preserving the country’s large share of forests in their land area. Kasturiranjan Committee has come up with an innovative measure of compensation. It recommends of a measure called ‘Debt-for-nature-swap’. Debt-for-nature swaps are financial transactions in which a portion of the developing state’s debt is forgiven in exchange for local investments in environmental conservation measures.

Both the reports have provisions for Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs) or Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs). The methodology of both the committees in identifying these ESAs is different and so are the provisions for managing them. The Gadgil Committee follows a bottom up approach wherein the Government of India will create a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to manage the ESAs. The authority will consist of 33 members including a Chairman who will be a retired Supreme Court judge or an ecologist. Other members will include representatives of nodal ministries, experts in forestry, ecology, hydrology, soil science, etc, representatives of a dominant tribal group and one representative of Civic Society from each state. The committee also recommends a State Western Ghats Ecology Authority which will be chaired by a retired judge or an expert ecologist and nine other members. The members will consist of an environ-legal expert, ecologist, 3 eminent civil society representatives, Chairman of the State Pollution Control Board, Principal Secretary of the Dept. Of Environment and Forests, Representative of the State Planning Commission, Chairman of the State Biodiversity Board and a member secretary. On the other hand, Kasturiranjan Committee’s Report follows a top down approach. According to the Kasturiranjan Committee’s Report a High Level Working Group (incorporating 6 Chief Ministers, heads of the existing departments) and a Decision Support and Monitoring Centre will manage the ESAs.

Both the committees have a different approach towards development. The Gadgil Committee recommendations reflect an objective of completely decentralized development where local communities are empowered. The Committee recommends that let the local populations decide what they want and what they do not want. Its process of development is by inclusion and not exclusion of the local communities. Its recommendations focus on ensuring livelihood to the affected communities but certainly do not recommend their translocation. Kasturiranjan Committee’s report is more focused on enabling development in the Ghats but has few provisions for the direct welfare of the local people. It also follows a top down, undemocratic approach in which the local communities have no say in deciding their own future. Such a system will derail the democratic process and may infuriate the local populations due the lack of participation in the decision making process. It is important that the recommendations from both the communities which serve the best interests of the Western Ghats ecology and its local population are adopted and implemented. Politics over the implementation of reports will only hamper the conservation efforts of this biodiversity hotspot!

Comments and alternative opinions are welcome. Email at akshayshah274@gmail.com

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sahyadhris

 

 

My views on Narendra Modi

Of late, I have been accused of being a ardent(read as blind and unreasonable) Modi follower. Some of them have even gone to the extent of accusing me of following his Hindutva ideology and being divisive. I wish to clarify my position once and for all here. Yes, I am a Modi follower, but not a blind and surely not an unreasonable one. I support his candidature for Prime Ministership because of his proven administrative skills. This belief is not based on the propoganda done by him and his party but my own study based on the data on Government Websites. Whilst I support him, I do accept that he is not the perfect man for this post. How much ever he denies and takes refuge in the fact that the apex court has exonerated him, Mr. Modi failed to fulfil his moral duty during the 2002 riots.
But then look at this: After the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots this is what Rajiv Gandhi said, “When a big tree falls, the ground shakes.” Even after such an irresponsible justification for failing to prevent the riots, the nation gave him a chance and he proved his worth. It was unfortunate that he could not complete all his initiatives due to his assasination in 1991.
Similarly, I believe Narendra Modi should be given a chance. Mr. Modi is autocratic and pro-private ownership of business. He fails to inspire confidence among the minorities and comes of as a very divisive person. There are many more reasons to dislike him than to appreciate his skills. But, the nation needs a decisive leader like him right now. Also, India is a pretty sucessful and open democracy. Due you seriously believe that he can let happen another riot in this country and get away with it? Wouldn’t he have learned from his Gujarat experience, how costly his mistake proved to be. I support Modi, not because I am in love with him but because there is no other better and viable alternative. This is the unfortunate truth that the nation has to accept.

Comments and alternative opinions are welcome. Email at akshayshah274@gmail.com

Making sense of AAP in Delhi.

    As bad as the year was, 2013 ended with a great deal of hope. On December 8, the assembly election results were announced for the 4 major north indian states, viz. Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) was leading in all 4 but still a Government in Delhi looked to be a distant dream for it.

     Now as it happened, BJP and Akali Dal combine had won 32 seats in the 70 member Delhi assembly; just 4 short of a majority. If a similar scenario were to come up a few months ago, the equation would have been quite simple in favor of BJP. But the dynamics of politics in India had changed, marked by the entry of the populist Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) in the political foray. Led by the dynamic and humble, activist turned politician, Arvind kejriwal, the party, to almost everybody’s surprise won 28 seats, 8 short for a majority. The Congress managed to secure the 3rd spot with a mere count of 8 assembly seats while the others won 2.

   The Star Activist, Mr. Kejriwal, claiming to be the true representative of the common man, a champion for the cause of the poor had managed a historic feat in Delhi. AAP’s entry had raised the moral bar for all parties and no horse trading took place for securing the majority. Ultimately, when all hopes of making a government had faded and a reelection was seen as the only option, the Congress decided to support the 1st AAP Government in Delhi.

    But, Now as William Dalrymple has quoted in his book, City of Djinns, ‘Whoever has built a new city in Delhi has always lost it: the Pandava brethren, Prithviraj Chauhan, Feroz Shah Tughlaq, Shah Jehan.. They all tried to built new cities in Delhi and they lost them.’ The Britishers were no exception. And neither will be AAP.

     Recently, rebels like Vinod Kumar Binny and Tina Sharma came out in the open to criticize the AAP policies and administration in Delhi. Arvind Kejriwal a man who rose because of protests seems to be surrounded by protesters with various demands. Now this instances of failure of AAP, is not much of a surprise. AAP leaders have often compared themselves with African National Congress(ANC), a party who just like AAP rose from protests. But they do not realise that ANC, inspite of Mr. Mandela’s leadership and support from the trade unions and left parties started to show instances of failure after the First Democratic Elections itself.

    To study AAP’s failure in Delhi we need to understand how did AAP manage to create such a huge impact in such a short span of time. AAP grew by selling the idea of change. So what? Change has been thriving political plank used by all opposition parties since the emergence of multi-party politics in India. What AAP managed to do was sell the idea of change, differently. instead of projecting themselves as agents of change, like other political parties do, they projected themselves as change. Instead of saying ‘We will bring change’, they said ‘ We ARE change’. As they say, winners do not do different things, they do things, differently!

     To the surprise of many, the people of Delhi(especially the youth), who were fed up with corruption, price rise, inefficient governance, casteist politics bought AAP’s vision of change. AAP, a protests turned political party with Politicians of none or minimal political experience had to survive while carrying on their shoulders the load of sky-high expectations of the people of Delhi. What was also important for AAP was to realize that their performance in Lok Sabha polls of 2014 completely depended on their performance of their Government in Delhi.

       Before coming to power AAP leaders, especially, Arvind Kejriwal, made loads of promises, which if not impossible were very difficult to fulfil. Also many of the promises suffered conflicting interests. As soon as the party came to power they started working towards fulfilling their promises. The first day, all MLAs travelling in Autos and the Chief Minister himself, like the Hero from the bollywood film ‘Nayak’ travelling in the Metro. This, as populist and ideal as it may sound is not practical at all. And the AAP leaders took no time in realising this. Soon Innovas were offered and the CM Mr. Kejriwal was offered a 5-bedroom flat in the plush areas of Delhi. This was like cooked meat for the opposition to dig in. And the media was no different in criticizing them.

       Soon, even before AAP could celebrate its one month anniversary its policies were being criticized left and right by all alike, opposition leaders, journalists, businessmen and economists. The problem with AAP was that most of the members were prior bureaucrats or common men with no expertise in public administration. They thrived on a sudden surge of groundswell support and to appease them, they could go to any extent. Now we are back to the similar old times. All the excitement about the novelty of this experiment has died down and so have people’s hopes. Now what remains to be seen is how well AAP manages to recover from here before they are forgotten in the oblivion of times….

(For any responses, feedback, contradiction of ideas, please connect to the author. Email: akshayshah274@gmail.com)