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  • Writer's pictureShatakshi Gawade

Thinking cautiously for India's resilient future

Our trustee and faculty member Ajay Phatak's response to Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (Government of India) Nitin Gadkari’s message:

I would first like to congratulate Hon. Shri. Nitin Gadkariji for starting to think ahead, even when many of us have lost track of the future. I believe that this is a great opportunity for us as a country to chart a path of resilient future and development of the last citizen of this country. Many of these comments are based on my learning at the Ecological Society, Pune.

  1. भारत करोना लढ्यात आघाडीवर. १ महिन्यात लढा संपण्याची शक्यता

The rate at which infections are growing shows exponential nature, which means we are likely to see 60,000 - 1,00,000 cases within these 3 weeks – at a current rate of 15.7%. We will need to be very careful orchestrating how the economy reboots. (It is worth noting that world went from 1M cases to 2M cases in just 6 days). Considering the tests that we can conduct at high specificity and sensitivity are but a few (only PCR test at this juncture), our numbers are yet not clearly known. We need to be cognizant of that as well. We might still need to focus on rebooting the economy. First the farm economy, then all other essential goods and services. Need to continue with all the work that can happen remotely. Should be done remotely. Consider immunity test and introduce all those who have been cured, into the economy. We can follow this with those in the 20-50 year old group. With due training of this group, they can try and ensure that they remain off the seniors even in multigenerational houses. Focusing on technologies and hence such workforce, which offer a way forward – offering products as a service should be boosted. These could be IOT, communications, data analytics.

2. सरकारने माल वाहतूक, बंदरे, निर्यात चालू केली

Starting goods transport is good – however it is very important that all the drivers and people in the ecosystem are tested and positives are isolated. These people will get in touch with far too many people and hence a stricter protocol may be necessary. Proactive monitoring of such people for any conditions will go a long way.

3. कारखाने (काळजीपूर्वक) चालू करायला परवानगी

Important that the companies publish their own protocols over and above Govt. recommendation to ensure safety of people and hence continuity of business. Social distancing, staggered working, staggered lunches. Observe absolute times and not allow extension/overtime. Promote working from home for all possible work.

4. ३९ आरोग्य / सुरक्षा वस्तूंचे वेगवान उत्पादन सुरू

This is important and I am sure the production facilities will take due care to ensure that enough PPEs and other medical equipment as required. Also important will be provide boost to these and such technologies including remote monitoring to enable safety and create additional bandwidth for medical professions.

5. चीनमधून येणारा औषधांची कच्च्या मालाची आयात बंद करून भारतात मोठ्या प्रमाणात उत्पादन सुरू

Even while this cannot happen overnight and needs to be a planned process over time, it is a welcome step. Hopefully this too will open up at least a few opportunities for new jobs. The plan should be published and inputs from industry and experts sought as soon as possible. (SMEs and indigenous companies in this quest must be given preference)

6. सर्व high-tech वैद्यकीय उपकरण उत्पादने भारतात तयार होण्यासाठी ४ medical device parks सुरू

This is good and useful. However – there needs to be strong emphasis on prevention – which means how to develop better immune systems for ALL citizens. Good point that Ayush is publishing guidelines for strengthening immune systems. Promoting food (and right lifestyle) as medicine will be a step in the right direction.

7. जपान चीनमधील इन्व्हेस्टमेंट्स बाहेर हलवणार व अमेरिका चीनकडून आयात थांबवणार. याचा भारतीय उद्योगाला मोठा फायदा होणार

While this is a great opportunity, we must focus on our own economy, markets and strengthening the domestic ecosystems of fair distribution of benefits on highest priority.

8. रस्ते बाधकाम वेग दुप्पट करणार

All the focus on infrastructure is similar to continuation of the new deal adapted by the US and its infrastructure spending program in the 1950’s. It might be a great opportunity to strengthen local infrastructure on higher priority before looking at developing infra for new airports and ports for export. It is crucial to invest in better bus stands first than airports.

9. नदी वाहतूक व नदीजोड प्रकल्प चालू होणार

Transportation using water channels is welcome, with a hope that it will not add to water pollution. This is least energy intensive mode of transport and hence good from the emissions perspective as well.

However, river linking - is a huge point of contention and will certainly cause significant damage to ecosystems. These and such changes to our rivers and water channels would bring in many more challenges. This scale of intervention in natural systems is completely uncalled for. Such disturbances have, if ever, rarely produced any lasting benefits to the humans. These interventions will also need enormous amount of energy and disturbance in the natural ecosystems, which we would go through only if we have not learnt from such interventions and their long term impacts in the past. Agriculture can thrive based on local and endemic food crops, food forests and agroforestry depending on availability of water in that region. Region specific water management strategies must be adapted rather than considering a uniform availability and therefore uniform agricultural practices. Considering the diverse agro and geo climatic zones in India, the type of crops and vegetation in various regions is region specific and zone specific. We should take advantage of this situation to improve resilience than trying to standardize and lose opportunities to feed our population well through harnessing diversity.

On another count - the benefits of lockdown that we have been seeing on environment and also on people (clean air, clean water) should be mulled over and exploring ideas to maintain these benefits through appropriate policy intervention for keeping our rivers clean and in the healthy state should be the priority right now – that we see as a window of opportunity,

10. broadgauge metro सुरू करणार

11. उद्योगांना १०% जास्त working capital देणार, ३१ डिसें पर्यंत टॅक्स भरण्याची मुदत वाढवणार

These will be useful only as short term measure.

12. ग्रामीण अर्थव्यवस्थेला priority देणार २ वर्षात ५ लाख कोटी वार्षिक उलाढालीचे लक्ष्य

This is one area where we should certainly focus. Not so much from the GDP number perspective but from a perspective of job creation. This is the ONLY area and even Hon. Minister admits, can generate meaningful employment to the poorer people in India. Strengthening the local economy – for 2 reasons – limiting overcrowding of the cities and ensuring good opportunities for our citizens in villages and towns to make significant progress. Linking these activities to markets will only increase the strain on resources, environment and ecology and corresponding impact on us. Markets demand ‘more’ of certain things and there is almost a compulsion of producing what the cities want – than what might be good for the local economy.

Impact of distributed economy on epidemics: These distributed localized economies will also limit the potential spread of this or such epidmics and pandemics in future making the region more robust and resilient. Considering we have already seen 5 epidemics since 2003 – it is mandatory that we develop a systemic response to be able to handle such situations in coming months and years. This response must necessarily be preventive and much less curative – considering our population. Even when we speak of prevention, it must be creating strong immune systems for our citizens and not just making vaccines available, as and when. Town – Village partnerships could also work very well. Distributed work will go a long way. Consider distributed energy and bio-fertilizer plants in rural areas. These will also serve as entrepreneurship opportunities and generare local employment.

Real focus must be on how our village citizens would make progress by staying in their villages. How can we provide a boost to the rural infrastructure and strengthen the local rural economy. Our assumptions that people will migrate to cities must now change and we should invest in making our Rural areas stronger and even more important more resilient to such shocks, which are very likely in the future. Some steps which are crucial include moving away from cash crops to a great extent, thereby building resilience on food (and therefore sustenance) of the rural population. Also useful will be limiting export of agricultural commodities – as it essentially means export of precious water and energy used up in growing these crops. Adding diversity in food consumed creates further resilience. Consumption of local grains, fruits and vegetables boosts nutrition as also food availability. Local management of water as a resource (largely ground water) is very critical for our villages to do better.

13. पेट्रोल, तेलबिया आयात कमी करण्यासाठी ग्रामीण उद्योगांमार्फत biodiesel / ethanol व तेलबियांचे विक्रमी उत्पादन करणार. दुग्ध, कुक्कुट उद्योग वाढवण्यासाठीही योजना

Ethanol to an extent might bring in some resilience in our ability to move around, however the Food Vs. Fuel crisis could hit us if we walk too far. Biodiesel based on naturally occurring forest produce if scaled up would mean reduced re-generation of these species in forests or potential monocropping or energy plantations – which must be managed very well, if we go down this path. Even then the produce will be limited and we must start living in the naturally available energy envelope. Even with all this – Gadkari’s aspiration of reducing import of OIL by 70% is stretched unless we aggressively move towards policies which drive reduction in aggregate fossil fuel use. Raring cattle for meat and dairy has a severe adverse impact of land use and correspondingly further loss of habitats and forests responsible for endemic biodiversity, which is responsible for maintaining ecosystems integrity and hence continuing delivery of ecosystem services. Special emphasis on animal husbandry could have these unintended side effects – which must be factored in the plans and policies. There is a need to consider the living conditions of animals and birds that we continue to breed in the context of many viral diseases linked to animal products.

14. electronics व printing paper आयात कमी करण्यासाठी योजना

While this is welcome, it is important that paper mills have ‘sustainably managed forests’ and the paper industry does not draw from the native forest!

Our ability to design and manufacture core electronics hardware like ICs and memory chips etc., will go a long way in establishing integrated prowess in the ICT sector. Today we depend close to 100% for all critical hardware components.

(१५) भारताला लवकरच ५ trillion सुपरपाॅवर बनवण्यासाठी एकजुटीने प्रयत्न सुरू

Our objective must be to ensure that the last person in our nation thrives and all life thrives along with her. We will need to rethink our priority of excessively focusing on GDP as the sole driver of development. We need to factor in development of Humans and environment together (not at the expense of each other) in this quest for progress. We have learnt well through this episode that our current economic system is terribly fragile. We have an opportunity to transform to a new more robust and resilient economic system irrespective of the GDP numbers.

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