IPCC Report Dials Code Red For South Asia; Covid’s Urban Toll 13.9 Lakh

Delhi BJP leader detained over Jantar Mantar hate rally, SC to take up Pegasus on Monday while Home, PMO stay mum, BJP sweeps electoral bonds, and looking back on Roja and Monsoon Wedding

A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day

Aug 10, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

A Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice of India has given time to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to take instructions from the government on petitions demanding independent enquiry into the Pegasus snooping case. It will be taken up on Monday, when a notice could be issued to the government. The bench also asked the petitioners to answer the court’s queries through a proper debate in court and not outside, on social media. 

The apex court has ordered all the judges heading special MP/MLA courts to continue in service until further orders. The bench also directed that there can be no withdrawal of cases against accused legislators without leave of the state High Court.

Late at night, the Delhi Police detained former BJP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay and four others for their alleged role in raising slogans urging lethal violence against Muslims at Jantar Mantar on Sunday. Delhi Police had filed an FIR against persons unknown a day after inflammatory communal slogans were shouted at a rally less than 2 km from Parliament. BJP leader Gajendra Chauhan was also present. In contrast to its treatment of protesting farmers, the Delhi Police made no attempt to stop these people ― no barricades, no tear-gas or water cannon, no riot gear, no lathi-charge to ‘disperse’ them. 

Glacial retreat in the Hindu Kush, compounding effects of sea-level rise and intense tropical cyclones leading to flooding, erratic monsoons and intense heat stress are likely to impact India in the coming years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for 2021 has indicated. Increasing floods and landslides, the mushrooming of dams and hydropower projects would endanger the ecologically sensitive hill states. The report calls it a “code red” period for the world ― most changes are irreversible and cannot be remediated. The Indian Ocean is warming at a higher rate than other oceans and annual mean rainfall across the country may increase, with more severe rains expected over southern India in the coming decades, says the report.

A no-confidence resolution was passed against the Modi government on the last day of the 13-day long Kisan Sansad, the farmers’ parallel parliament, which ended yesterday. On the historic date of Quit India, on August 9, the Mahila (Women’s) Kisan Sansad was held, where farmers unanimously passed a resolution against the Modi government and corporate loot and pledged to take the movement to all parts of the country.

Disinvestment of the public sector would lead to loss of quota jobs, the Modi government has admitted in the Lok Sabha. Minister of State for Finance Bhagwat Kisanrao Karad said that the “reservation policy is applicable only in government companies”, whose status would change after  disinvestment.

Dissatisfied with the CBI’s sealed cover report which established no motive for the alleged murder of a Dhanbad district judge, the Supreme Court has asked the Jharkhand High Court Chief Justice to monitor the case. Another bench asked the Centre to submit in two weeks its action taken report on implementing the recommendations of a court-appointed National Task Force on allocation of oxygen for the pandemic.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel yesterday released the first tribal atlas of the state, with details on demographic indicators including population, child population, literacy, work participation rate, health facilities, education and sex ratio. After Jharkhand and Odisha, Chhattisgarh is the third state with a tribal atlas.

The International Press Institute called on the Andhra Pradesh government to immediately arrest and hold to account those responsible for the killing of Chennakeshavalu, a TV reporter.

The word ‘curry’ has become the subject of a heated debate in the West after a food blogger said it was rooted in colonialism and should not be used. Chaheti Bansal, 27, a Californian who posts south Asian recipes on Instagram, said in a video that has been viewed 3.6 million times: “There’s a saying that the food in India changes every 100 km and yet we’re still using this umbrella term popularised by white people who couldn’t be bothered to learn the actual names of our dishes.” But there’s another twist in the story ― ‘curry’ derives from medieval English ‘cury’, as in The Forme of Cury, a cookbook from the royal kitchens of Richard II. It’s pre-colonial, wholly English, and signifies a cooked dish.  

Canadian authorities have extended a ban on direct passenger flights from India to at least September. Passengers who enter Canada from India via a third country require a Covid-19 test from a country other than India. 

As The Leader got ready to felicitate the medal-winning Olympians, it was good to see who had pride of place. This is pure gold. 


Covid’s urban toll: 13.9 lakh

Officially, less than 3 lakh Indians have died of Covid-19 in 2021, but data from the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey reveals more than 13.9 lakh deaths in urban India alone. The survey covered 10,285 respondents from 203 cities and towns. Residents in Hyderabad and Delhi saw the most deaths in their family. Nearly half the respondents reported deaths for the lack of oxygen or timely treatment, putting paid to the Modi government’s lie that no one died for want of oxygen.  

The ground situation has not improved. Scroll reports that there is no government-run RT-PCR lab in 342 of India’s 742 districts (46%), while 306 districts (41.2%) lack both government and private labs. The largest gaps in testing infrastructure are in the Northeast. Of 120 districts across eight states in the region, 99 districts (82.5%) do not have a single RT-PCR lab. 


BJP sweeps electoral bonds

The BJP has cornered 76% of electoral bonds sold in the last financial year, reports NDTV, based on Election Commission data. Of the opaque bonds worth Rs 3,355 crore sold in 2019-20, the BJP got Rs 2,555 crore’s worth, a 75 per cent per cent jump over its Rs 1,450 tally the previous year! The collections of the Congress dropped by 17%. In 2018-19, it had received Rs 383 crore. In 2019-10, it received a mere Rs 318 crore ― 9% of the total. For three years, the Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of these opaque funds.


Home, PMO mum on Pegasus

Amid the row over the deployment of the Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware on the phones of journalists, activists and politicians, the Defence Ministry informed the Rajya Sabha that it has not had any transaction with the developers. The excuse that the Pegasus snooping matter is subjudice and cannot be raised in Parliament, which has been cited to deny an answer to a direct question from CPI MP Binoy Biswam, does not hold water. 

While the Defence Ministry has replied, no categorical statement has come from the Prime Minister’s Office or the Home Ministry, which control most of the intelligence agencies doing signals surveillance in India. What Bill Marczak of Citizen Lab told The Wire for the Pegasus Project makes it apparent that both R&AW and the IB are using Pegasus. “We use a variety of scanning techniques, including DNS Cache Probing,” he said, “to monitor NSO Group’s infrastructure and see where its customers are spying. One Indian customer, active since 2017, spies in India and abroad. A second customer, active since at least 2020, spies solely inside India.”


Vaccine supply still uncertain

While Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine was given the nod last week, the fifth to be approved in India, availability remains uncertain. The government expects supplies around September, after an agreement on volumes is reached. India can expect an initial supply of around 3-5 crore doses a month, an official toldThe Times of India. There has been much controversy over the projected numbers of Covishield and Covaxin doses available to the states, while the supply of the Russian Sputnik V is still insufficient.

Despite the approval of Moderna’s vaccine in June, not a single dose has been delivered due to wrangling over indemnity. It is unclear if J&J reached an agreement on indemnity. Pfizer is yet to seek permission. BBC looks at approved vaccines and vaccine candidates in India.


The Long Cable

Climate change comes home to South Asia; govt frees up coal mining

Shambhavi Madan

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), deploying the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system, has given the clearest call to action thus far on the biggest existential crisis of our time. While IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2013 had emphasised the tangible reality of global warming, arguing that industrial activity is likely to blame, the Sixth Report resolves all major uncertainties in past reports, extensively mapping several irreversible changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions. It puts together clinching evidence on climate change to depart from its previous version and unequivocally attribute global warming and weather and climate extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones to human activity. 

South Asian countries are among the most infrastructurally and culturally vulnerable to climate impacts and extreme weather events. Last year’s Cyclone Amphan displaced 4.9 million people, the biggest displacement due to an extreme weather event in 2020. A June 2021 report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reviewing the human and economic costs of climate change in India described the disproportionately violent impact on densely settled, low-income communities without risk-reducing infrastructure – vulnerabilities that will only worsen, based on the IPCC report’s scientific predictions for the region. The new report finds that the relative sea level around Asia has increased faster than the global average, with coastal area loss and shoreline retreat, and predicts that the regional mean sea level will continue to rise, making Asian countries including India even more vulnerable to cyclones. The Indian Ocean has warmed faster than the global average with the largest changes in the frequency of marine heatwaves, and anthropogenic warming is very likely to further decrease ocean oxygen concentrations – which spells hurricanes and strong adverse implications for marine ecosystems. 

For India, the report predicts further impacts on land temperature and rainfall. Dangerous heat stress thresholds such as HI>41°C could be crossed much more often in South Asia. Himalayan snow-covered areas, snow volumes and glacier volumes are projected to decline. And with more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, there will be changes in magnitude and seasonality of river flows. Apart from increasing vulnerabilities to floods and landslides, hydropower projects pose an escalating risk to the ecologically sensitive hill states. 

The IPCC Report’s interrelated parameters of scientific assessment speak to the scale and intensity of the relationship between anthropogenic activity and ecological decay. The key findings reveal with much certainty the scale of impact on human life – climate change is already affecting every inhabited region ― as well as the scale of ecosystem response to human activity. Human activities are proven to affect all the major climate system components, with some responding over decades and others over centuries. As COP26 draws near, the pressure on global leaders is on, as the structural instability of the Earth’s ecosystem suggests that we are careening towards planetary impasse.

The robust scientific evidence of the IPCC report is essentially an indictment of extractive capitalism and the fossil fuel industry, and as to the now evidently diminishing possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5C, the writing is on the wall – the need for rapid and large-scale action. 

Then, concentrations of lethal air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ammonia (NH3), ozone (O3) and Particulate Matter 2.5 recorded at their highest in South Asia, have a serious impact on lives. Just effective decarbonisation policies are not sufficient to bring SO2, NO2, O3 and NH3 to safe levels; clean energy and waste management would be needed. 

Even as the UN Secretary General publicly admits the necessity of transitioning to a low-carbon society and calls for a complete pause on coal plants after 2021, the BJP government is set on a different path, as reflected in its recent moves including the easing of private investment in coal mining – while also postponing tighter coal emission norms. There are grim times ahead, even if we act. If we don’t, it is clear that what will change will not just be the climate.

(Shambhavi Madan works at intersections of citizenship, technopolitics and spatiality, and is a contributor to https://www.environmentofindia.com/)


Reportedly

Could Bihar be the epicentre of political quakes once again? Going by the frisson created by Lalu Prasad Yadav’s moves and movements, and by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s latest statements, something is surely up. Kumar has said that the need for a caste-based census is driven by social concerns, not political exigencies. Given the Modi government’s bashfulness on the caste census question, this is significant. Now, he says he will do a state-wide census if Modi continues to dither on a national census of caste. “[Social concerns are] a reason why the demand [for caste-based census] has found resonance in many states,” he told reporters. “The reason why we have agreed to an all-party delegation is that in Bihar, there is unanimity on the issue. Resolutions to the effect have been passed in the legislature unanimously, twice.”


Without more judges, quick disposal of cases impossible

The Supreme Court has expressed anguish at the “recalcitrant attitude” of the Modi government in not appointing judges to high courts for years, though recommendations have been cleared by the Collegium. It said high courts must be manned by a number of judges, or it will become “almost impossible” to have early adjudication of even important matters, especially commercial disputes. 

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy said that the judicial institution faces such a scenario despite the timeline laid down by the apex court in April 20 this year, which appears to have not “moved the government”. In its April 20 order passed in a separate matter, the top court had expressed concern about the “crisis situation” in high courts which were grappling with 40-50 per cent vacancies and said the Centre should appoint judges within 3-4 weeks.


Prime number: 8 minutes
The average time taken by the Lok Sabha to pass each of the 11 bills it has seen through in the monsoon session. For the Rajya Sabha, it is nine bills and 17 minutes on an average. The Lok Sabha has not taken up a single issue for discussion.

Deep dive

Vinod Jose and Hartosh Singh Bal of The Caravan, winner of the Nieman Foundation’s 2021 Lyons Award, talk about politics, journalism, Covid-19 and free speech in India.


Opeds you don’t want to miss

  • Not only did the French government take the “unverified media reports” of the Pegasus Project seriously, writes Siddharth Varadarajan (a contributor to The Indian Cable), but it moved to protect the interests of its citizens who had, or might have, been subjected to illegal surveillance. In India, those victims have been thrown under the bus by the Modi government.

  • There seems to be a concerted effort to create a surveillance state, monitor free flow of information and use technology to control instead of empowering citizens, writes Mishi Choudhary. Where the government reads every face, political dissent is under permanent intimidation.

  • The ultra-easy money policy – characterised by low interest rates and excessively high liquidity – will end sooner rather than later. The beginning of the end is here, writes Manojit Saha.


Listen up

What exactly constitutes a good ‘escapist’ novel? Dragons? Wuxia warriors? The bygone eras of historic cities? Or something else? Supriya Nair and Deepanjana Paul explore in The LitPickers podcast


Watch Out

Girish Karnad was one of modern India’s greatest cultural figures, a Renaissance man who left behind a broad footprint. His memoirs, This Life at Play, showcases the early years of his fascinating life. Nasreen Munni Kabir, television producer, film director and author, Arundhati Ghosh, executive director, India Foundation for the Arts and Srinath Perur, translator of the book, discuss his work here.


Over and out

Roja was released eight months after its first song, Chinna Chinna Aase, was recorded on August 15, 1992, and earned AR Rahman instant recognition. Minmini, who gave her voice to the hit, was also noticed. She shared the pages of the lyrics she copied for the recording so many years ago. See the sheets here.

Twenty-one years after Monsoon Wedding, director Mira Nair describes it as “a real tonic, a rare thing that elicits joy.”  Soak it up.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.