News & Events
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1.Take Nature for granted at your own peril
Scientists are investigating the cause of the flash floods near Chamoli in Uttarakhand on Sunday that have killed 25 people and left nearly 200 missing. What is clear is that steady warming of the planet has played a role. Rising temperatures have led to the retreat of glaciers and formation of proglacial lakes, bodies of water from the ice that has melted hemmed in by boulders and sediments, which, when breached, can result in flash floods like the one in Uttarakhand.
The flash flood is a reminder that the world in which India seeks rapid growth is constrained by climate change. Direct linkage between the flash floods and construction of ongoing power or road projects is being touted, but remains to be established, though decades of activity has contributed to destabilising the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.
This requires more robust consideration, remedial and mitigation efforts. Given the country’s population density and density of human habitats, developmental deficits and the need to grow the economy to improve the living standards of all its people, India needs to adopt an approach to development that puts an economic value on nature.
This would mean treating nature as an asset much like produced capital such as roads, ports and other infrastructure that is a part of the country’s wealth. Destruction of nature would, in this light, be treated as loss of wealth. Considering ways to minimise the loss of an asset would be part of the mainstream planning process. India must grow its economy but its growth story must put sustainability, resource efficiency and reduced waste at its core. This is essential, and not just because potential investors from across the world have environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns on their minds.
2.They Proved Best In Worst of Times
As every year, this year as well, The Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence recognise exceptional achievement in meeting consumer needs, creating value and beating the competition.
Winners of as many as five of the nine award categories are from the field of finance: Company of the Year HDFC, Emerging Company of the Year ICICI Lombard, Lifetime Achiever Aditya Puri of HDFC Bank, Global Indian Piyush Gupta of DBS Bank and Business Reformer Shaktikanta Das, RBI governor.
Two more awardees are from the services sector: TCS for Corporate Citizen and Apollo Hospital leaders Preetha Reddy and Suneetha Reddy as Businesswomen of the Year. That leaves just two laureates from the world of manufacturing: Business Leader of the Year Pawan Munjal of Hero MotoCorp and Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla.
It is easy to ascribe the preponderance of service sector companies among the best of the land to the pandemic and the inability of manufacturing companies to get their employees to work from home, unlike in the case of service sector employees. That would be to ignore the preponderance of service sector firms among corporate India’s leading lights. This does not mean that India cannot do well in manufacturing.
That Hero MotoCorp, which had been rattled by Japanese collaborator Honda’s exit from their joint venture and technology partnership seven years ago, should have sold its 100 millionth bike in the tail end of the pandemic is testament to the resilience of Indian manufacturing. So is Adar Poonawalla’s bold bet on manufacturing the Covid vaccine licensed from AstraZeneca. Had Bharat Biotech’s vaccine trials been complete and its results had turned out positive when the ET Awards jury met, it, too, would probably have qualified for an award.
It is striking that all the awardees are global — in scale and sales, sourcing of capital, benchmarking of standards, collaboration or decision-making horizon. But it should not be surprising: the champions of an emerging market must think global. So, appropriately does the jury that chose them.
3. Garhwal tragedy: The fragile but vital ecology of the Himalayas is demanding it be respected
On Sunday Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district saw massive flooding sweep away the entirety of the Rishiganga hydropower project, alongside a significant chunk of the Tapovan project. More tragically, at least 150 people were reported missing. Amidst search and rescue operations, confusion persisted about exactly what had caused the staggering surge of water. Above all, the many uncertainties spoke to how heavy duty infrastructural push in this ecologically sensitive region is taking place without rigorous enough local research. The danger here is that instead of mitigating the climate challenge, ill-conceived projects could end up multiplying the risks – and for all of India that lives downstream of the Himalayan rivers.
In a savage irony, the Chamoli village Raini that was in the centre of Sunday’s maelstrom was also the cradle of the Chipko movement in the 1970s. Although environmentally respectful development has come into its own in the world since then, that is more true in theory than practice. In Uttarakhand, the Kedarnath tragedy of 2013 was supposed to be a wakeup call. While it was an extreme weather event that caused the Chorabari glacier to burst at that time, damage was compounded by unchecked construction on the riverbed.
Following the recommendations of the Chopra committee, the Union environment ministry did accept the need for caution and careful study when it came to “deforestation/ tunnelling/ blasting/ reservoir formation” in zones in the higher Himalayan region that are naturally unstable. But to repeat, theory and practice can diverge sharply. The Rishiganga project, for example, has seen allegations of “using explosives and blasting the mountains” flouting all norms. Much controversy has also surrounded the Char Dham project which involves unprecedented widening of roads in the mountain state. A Supreme Court constituted high-powered committee has warned of “irreversible damage”.
The fact is that simultaneous pursuit of environmental and economic goods in a democracy does involve complex calculations. In this, the importance of expert knowledge cannot be overstated. Policy decisions shaping such projects must be swayed by scientists, not contractors and builders. This challenge is hardly limited to Uttarakhand. Several calamities in the south are correlated to disdain for the Gadgil committee’s counsel on Western Ghats. Our cities need to be saved from drowning, our rivers from drying, everything is interconnected. This is why India must do a much better balancing act.
4.Get it right: Bank privatisation must make a good start. Don’t go Air India way
Two public sector banks and one general insurer are to be privatised. It marks a big shift in approach, because privatisation of banks has been a politically tricky issue. A large unionised workforce will oppose it and none of the political parties have a constituency within that believes in privatisation. Therefore, the signal on privatisation through the Budget by the Narendra Modi government is very positive. There’s a catch, though. Earlier attempts at privatisation show that just intent isn’t enough to pull it off. Intent needs to be backed by sound strategy.
India’s public sector banks have seen change in the last three years after the government tried to build scale through mergers, and also bring a wider geographical footprint under each bank. After three rounds of consolidation public sector banks have shrunk from 27 in March 2017 to 12 in April 2020. Now, two are to be privatised. This presents a tricky situation as the government doesn’t want to exit commercial operations in the financial sector. It’s been identified as a strategic sector where the government wants to retain a “minimum” presence.
It may be tempting to retain the better run and profitable public sector banks and try to sell the weakest. Such an attempt is unlikely to succeed. For example, the attempt to sell Air India three years ago didn’t attract a single bid, because the attached conditions were unattractive. Poor management of banks may have rendered the weakest of them unattractive for any buyer. If the government’s aim is to restrict its presence to a bare minimum, it’s best to begin privatisation with sounder banks. Bids shouldn’t be restricted to Indian buyers as foreign banks have been present in India for long. It’s important to make a good beginning.
5. Maharashtra: Don’t probe celebrity tweets | HT Editorial
The social media storm around the farm protests last week has now taken a new turn. First, popular artiste, Rihanna — along with others such as environmentalist Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, niece of United States Vice-President Kamala Harris — tweeted in solidarity with the protests. The ministry of external affairs then put out a statement blaming “vested interest groups” for propaganda and put forth the government’s version. Many popular Indian figures — including cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, veteran singer Lata Mangeshkar, badminton champion Saina Nehiwal and actor Akshay Kumar, among others — tweeted using the same hashtag as the government, backing the State’s narrative on how this was a matter of Indian sovereignty.
And now, Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh has said that the state intelligence department will investigate these tweets by Indian celebrities, to check is there was pressure on them to tweet. Mr Deshmukh’s statement comes a day after the Congress in Maharashtra complained against the tweets and demanded a probe to investigate if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had exerted pressure on “national heroes” for this advocacy.
The Maharashtra government is wrong. The tweets may well have been encouraged by the central government — but as citizens, Indian celebrities have a right to tweet, irrespective of whether their view is aligned with that of the ruling party at the Centre or not. If they were under pressure, they have the right to approach the authorities concerned. But Maharashtra’s probe appears to be in line with its past attempts to browbeat pro-BJP voices in the state. This is undemocratic and the government must step back.