Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Front to the wall

Pankaj Sekhsaria


Don’t commit nuisance: the message painted on the city walls intrigued me when I was a child. ‘Nuisance’, I remember finding out in the dictionary, meant various things: annoyance, bother and trouble among others. So what exactly did this message refer to? If one chose to ‘commit nuisance’, could it be prevented by a message on a wall?

The realisation dawned on me only much later. This particular use of ‘nuisance’ will not be found in any dictionary of the English language. It is, rather, an excellent instance of a uniquely Indian usage, referring as it does to a characteristic of Indian males that the wordsmiths of English dictionaries have yet to discover.

This unwritten definition of ‘nuisance’ is what could be called the Indian male’s ‘front to the wall’ syndrome. That this syndrome is rampant is evident across India, but most particularly and prominently in towns and cities, because this is where most of the walls are to be found. A line of males will stand with their fronts to the wall, and proceed to display the highest degree of civic sense. The entire other half of the species may well scream Nuisance! at such an idea, but who’s listening?

And whoever thought that a Don’t commit nuisance message on the wall in question would stop such behaviour must have been a diehard optimist. I say this not because I don’t think people (men, that is) would listen, but because they probably would not understand. Even if I were among the fraction of India’s population that reads English, has access to a dictionary, and, moreover, has the inclination to refer to the dictionary, I would have no idea, as I faced the wall, what it was that I was supposed to not commit. ‘Nuisance’ was something committed by one who stops traffic, throws a stone at a bus or eve-teases a girl walking by. I would only be relieving myself – and what harm can that cause anybody?

Would things be different, then, if the message were more explicit? For a long time I thought that the front-to-the-wall syndrome was primarily found in the North Indian male. South India, after all, has a claim to being more educated, cultured – civilised, even. But a recent visit to Bangalore, a city that is supposed be leading the world on many fronts, was something of an eye-opener.
Painted on the walls of none other than the National Tuberculosis Institute was a message as clear and precise as can be. Do not urinate, it screamed in a prominent red. And indeed, the wall did not appear to have been used. But whether that was because people (men, that is) understood the English and obeyed the instructions is difficult to say. The reason
could well have been that the wall stood along a road with heavy traffic, and that the footpath was
hardly wide enough to walk on, let alone allow one to stand and do one’s business. Perhaps this is another reason to do away with footpaths on Indian roads entirely: remove the footpath, and remove the issue of encroachment entirely. Pedestrians be damned, either way.

More recently, I was driving along a bridge near the Egmore railway station in the heart of Madras, when a message on the walls on the other side of the road caught my eye. Clean city, clean values, they read, elegantly. After we’d passed four such notices, we finally saw him: our good old friend in the lungi – back to the traffic, front to the wall.

But back to North India. Our next port of call is Dehradun. Dehradun was a real shocker. It was a cold evening in November of last year. I was standing on the road outside my hotel having a cup of chai, watching a marriage party move slowly towards the hotel’s lawns. There was the loud band and the procession vigorously dancing, followed by the bridegroom in a safari suit astride a majestic white horse. Even as the groom sat patiently atop the decorated animal, five members of the dancing party (five men, I mean) approached the wall that stood by the road. One by one they came and went. Then, my heart skipped a beat as I saw the groom dismount – and amble towards the wall.

No! Not here, not now! I wanted to scream to this strapping young man, dressed up for his very own nuptials. The venue was just around the corner, in fact on the other side of that very wall. Facilities of all kinds would certainly exist. Why here? Why now?

I don’t think there could have been any answer. “India”, someone once told me, “is one great open-air male urinal.” Its motto: Anywhere, any time. What to do?

Jessica Schnabel

Himal, July 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Huge sea level rises are coming...

...unless we act now
25 July 2007

James Hansen heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. A physicist and astronomer by training, he began his career studying the clouds on Venus. Since the late 1970s he has been studying and modelling the human impact on Earth's climate, and has published more than 100 papers. He entered the public spotlight in the 1980s with his outspoken testimony to Congressional committees on climate change.
Last year he made headlines when he spoke out against attempts by the US administration to gag climate scientists.


I find it almost inconceivable that "business as usual" climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in metres within a century. Am I the only scientist who thinks so?

Last year I testified in a case brought by car manufacturers to
challenge California's new laws on vehicle emissions. Under questioning from the lawyer, I conceded that I was not a glaciologist. The lawyer then asked me to identify glaciologists who agreed publicly with my assertion that sea level is likely to rise more than a metre this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow: "Name one!"

I could not, at that moment. I was dismayed, because in Conversations and email exchanges with relevant scientists I sensed a deep concern about the stability of ice sheets in the face of "business as usual" global warming scenarios, which assume that emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to increase. Why might scientists be reticent to express concerns about something so important?

I suspect it is because of what I call the "John Mercer effect". In
1978, when global warming was beginning to get attention from government agencies, Mercer suggested that global warming could lead to disastrous disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Although it was not obvious who was right on the science, I noticed that researchers who suggested that his paper was alarmist were regarded as more authoritative.It seems to me that scientists downplaying the dangers of climate change fare better when it comes to getting funding. Drawing attention to the dangers of global warming may or may not have helped increase funding for the relevant scientific areas, but it surely did not help individuals like Mercer who stuck their heads out.

I can vouch for that from my own experience. After I published a paper in 1981 that described the likely effects of fossil fuel use, the US Department of Energy reversed a decision to fund my group's research, specifically criticising aspects of that paper.

I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. Caveats are essential to science. They are born in scepticism, and scepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and discovery. However, in a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. "Scientific reticence" can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters.

So why do I think a sea level rise of metres would be a near certainty if greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing? Because while the growth of great ice sheets takes millennia, the disintegration of ice sheets is a wet process that can proceed rapidly.

Sea level is already rising at a moderate rate. In the past decade, it increased by 3 centimetres, about double the average rate during the preceding century. The rate of sea level rise over the 20th century was itself probably greater than the rate in the prior millennium, and this is due at least in part to human activity. About half of the increase is accounted for by thermal expansion of ocean water as a result of global warming. Melting mountain glaciers worldwide are responsible for several centimetres of the increase."While the growth of great ice sheets takes millennia, they can disintegrate rapidly"

Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to the rise in recent years. Gravity measurements by the GRACE satellites have recently shown that the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica are each losing about 150 cubic kilometres of ice per year. Spread over the oceans, this is close to 1 millimetre a year, or 10 centimetres per century.


The current rate of sea level change is not without consequences.
However, the primary issue is whether global warming will reach a level such that ice sheets begin to disintegrate in a rapid, non-linear fashion on West Antarctica, Greenland or both. Once well under way, such a collapse might be impossible to stop, because there are multiple positive feedbacks. In that event, a sea level rise of several metres at least would be expected.

As an example, let us say that ice sheet melting adds 1 centimetre to sea level for the decade 2005 to 2015, and that this doubles each decade until the West Antarctic ice sheet is largely depleted. This would yield a rise in sea level of more than 5 metres by 2095.

Of course, I cannot prove that my choice of a 10-year doubling time is accurate but I'd bet $1000 to a doughnut that it provides a far better estimate of the ice sheet's contribution to sea level rise than a linear response. In my opinion, if the world warms by 2 °C to 3 °C, such massive sea level rise is inevitable, and a substantial fraction of the rise would occur within a century. Business-as-usual global warming would almost surely send the planet beyond a tipping point, guaranteeing a disastrous degree of sea level rise.

Although some ice sheet experts believe that the ice sheets are more stable, I believe that their view is partly based on the faulty assumption that the Earth has been as much as 2 °C warmer in previous interglacial periods, when the sea level was at most a few metres higher than at present. There is strong evidence that the Earth now is within 1 °C of its highest temperature in the past million years. Oxygen isotopes in the deep-ocean fossil plankton known as foraminifera reveal that the Earth was last 2 °C to 3 °C warmer around 3 million years ago, with carbon dioxide levels of perhaps 350 to 450 parts per million. It was a dramatically different planet then, with no Arctic sea ice in the warm
seasons and sea level about 25 metres higher, give or take 10 metres.

There is not a sufficiently widespread appreciation of the implications of putting back into the air a large fraction of the carbon stored in the ground over epochs of geologic time. The climate forcing caused by these greenhouse gases would dwarf the climate forcing for any time in the past several hundred thousand years - the period for which accurate records of atmospheric composition are available from ice cores.

Models based on the business-as-usual scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict a global warming of at least 3 °C by the end of this century. What many people do not realise is that these models generally include only fast feedback processes: changes in sea ice, clouds, water vapour and aerosols. Actual global warming would be greater as slow feedbacks come into play: increased vegetation at high latitudes, ice sheet shrinkage and further greenhouse gas emissions from the land and sea in response to global warming.

The IPCC's latest projection for sea level rise this century is 18 to 59 centimetres. Though it explicitly notes that it was unable to include possible dynamical responses of the ice sheets in its calculations, the provision of such specific numbers encourages a predictable public belief that the projected sea level change is moderate, and indeed smaller than in the previous IPCC report. There have been numerous media reports of "reduced" predictions of sea level rise, and commentators have denigrated suggestions that business-as-usual emissions may cause a sea level rise measured in metres. However, if these IPCC numbers are taken as predictions of actual sea level rise, as they have been by the public, they imply that the ice sheets can miraculously survive a business-as-usual climate forcing assault for a millennium or longer.

There are glaciologists who anticipate such long response times, because their ice sheet models have been designed to match past climate changes. However, work by my group shows that the typical 6000-year timescale for ice sheet disintegration in the past reflects the gradual changes in Earth's orbit that drove climate changes at the time, rather than any inherent limit for how long it takes ice sheets to disintegrate.

Indeed, the palaeoclimate record contains numerous examples of ice
sheets yielding sea level rises of several metres per century when
forcings were smaller than that of the business-as-usual scenario. For example, about 14,000 years ago, sea level rose approximately 20 metres in 400 years, or about 1 metre every 20 years.

There is growing evidence that the global warming already under way
could bring a comparably rapid rise in sea level. The process begins with human-made greenhouse gases, which cause the atmosphere to be more opaque to infrared radiation, thus decreasing radiation of heat to space. As a result, the Earth is gaining more heat than it is losing: currently 0.5 to 1 watts per square metre. This planetary energy imbalance is sufficient to melt ice corresponding to 1 metre of sea level rise per decade, if the extra energy were used entirely for that purpose - and the energy imbalance could double if emissions keep growing.

So where is the extra energy going? A small part of it is warming the atmosphere and thus contributing to one key feedback on the ice sheets: the "albedo flip" that occurs when snow and ice begin to melt.Snow-covered ice reflects back to space most of the sunlight striking it, but as warming air causes melting on the surface, the darker ice absorbs much more solar energy. This increases the planetary energy imbalance and can lead to more melting. Most of the resulting meltwater burrows through the ice sheet, lubricating its base and speeding up the discharge of icebergs to the ocean.

The area with summer melt on Greenland has increased from around 450,000 square kilometres when satellite observations began in 1979 to more than 600,000 square kilometres in 2002. Seismometers around the world have detected an increasing number of earthquakes on Greenland near the outlets of major ice streams. The earthquakes are an indication that large pieces of the ice sheet lurch forward and then grind to a halt because of friction with the ground. The number of these "ice quakes" doubled between 1993 and the late 1990s, and it has since doubled again. It is not yet clear whether the quake number is proportional to ice loss, but the rapid increase is cause for concern about the long-term stability of the ice sheet.

Additional global warming of 2 °C to 3 °C is expected to cause local warming of about 5 °C over Greenland. This would spread summer melt over practically the entire ice sheet and considerably lengthen the melt season. In my opinion it is inconceivable that the ice sheet could withstand such increased meltwater for long before starting to disintegrate rapidly, but it is very difficult to predict when such a period of large, rapid change would begin.

Summer melt on West Antarctica has received less attention than on
Greenland, but it is more important. The West Antarctic ice sheet, which rests on bedrock far below sea level, is more vulnerable as it is being attacked from below by warming ocean water, as well as from above by a warming atmosphere. Satellite observations reveal increasing areas of summer melt on the West Antarctic ice sheet, and also a longer melt season.


The warming atmosphere and increased absorption of sunlight are not the only factors that will increase surface melt. If there is a significant loss of ice, the surfaces of the ice sheets will be at lower altitudes, where the air is warmer, causing additional melt: another positive feedback.

Most of the excess energy due to the planetary imbalance is going into the ocean rather than the atmosphere, because it takes about 1000 times as much energy to heat the oceans by 1 °C as it does to heat the atmosphere as much. The acceleration of ice sheet disintegration depends on how much of the extra ocean heat is transferred to the ice.

This transfer can occur in two main ways: by the speeding up of glaciers resulting in more ice being discharged into the oceans, and by direct transfer of heat from the water underneath and against fringing ice shelves. Since fringing ice shelves float on water, their melting does not raise sea level directly. However, ice shelves hold back the ice sheets resting on land or on the seabed, so as the ice shelves melt or break up, the ice streams draining the ice sheets accelerate, providing another positive feedback effect.

An example was recently seen on the Antarctic Peninsula. The combined effect of surface melt and ice shelf thinning from below led to the sudden collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf, which was followed by the acceleration of glacial tributaries far inland.

Positive feedback from loss of buttressing ice shelves will influence some Greenland ice streams, but the West Antarctic ice sheet will be affected much more. The local warming and melt that preceded the Larsen B collapse was only a fraction of the expected warming in the West Antarctic under business-as-usual scenarios. In fact, observations show the ocean around West Antarctica is already warming, ice shelves are thinning by several metres per year, and glaciers are discharging more icebergs.

There are also some negative feedbacks, in the short term at least. As the discharge of ice increases, regional cooling by the icebergs will be significant. This cooling can lead to increased sea ice and cloud cover, and thus increased reflection of sunlight. However, cooling of the ocean surface by melting ice also reduces heat radiation from the water surface. This increases the planetary energy imbalance, thus supplying additional energy for ice melt. Models confirm that the cooling effect of melting ice is temporary and that there will be a net increase in ocean heat uptake around West Antarctica and Greenland as greenhouse gases increase.

Another negative feedback is increasing snowfall on ice sheet interiors, because of the higher moisture content of the warming atmosphere. Some models predict that ice sheets will grow overall with global warming, but those models do not include realistic processes of ice sheet disintegration. Palaeoclimate data confirms the common-sense expectation that the net effect is for ice sheets to shrink as the world warms,as the GRACE satellites show is happening already.

The findings in the Antarctic are the most disconcerting. Warming there has been limited in recent decades, in part due to the effects of ozone depletion. The fact that West Antarctica is losing mass at a significant rate suggests that the thinning ice shelves are already beginning to affect ice discharge rates.

So far, warming of the ocean surface around Antarctica has been small compared with the rest of the world, as models predict, but that limited warming is expected to increase. The detection of recent, increasing summer surface melt on West Antarctica raises the danger that feedbacks among these processes could lead to non-linear growth of ice discharge from Antarctica.

This problem is urgent. The non-linear response could easily run out of control, both because of the positive feedbacks and because of inertias in the system.

Ocean warming and thus melting of ice shelves will continue even if CO2 levels are stabilised, because the ocean response time is long and the temperature at depth is far from equilibrium for current forcing. Ice sheets also have inertia and are far from equilibrium. There is also inertia in human systems: even if it is decided that changes must be made, it may take decades to replace infrastructure.

The threat of large sea level change is a principal element in my
argument that the global community must aim to restrict any further
global warming to less than 1 °C above the temperature in 2000. This implies a CO2 limit of about 450 parts per million or less. Such scenarios require almost immediate changes to get energy and greenhouse gas emissions onto a fundamentally different path.

Is my perspective on this problem really so different than that of other relevant members of the scientific community? Based on interactions with others, I conclude that there is not such a great gap. The apparent differences may arise partly from a natural reluctance to speak out.

Reticence is fine for the IPCC. Individual scientists also can choose to stay within a comfort zone, and not worry that they may say something that proves to be slightly wrong. But perhaps we should consider our legacy from a broader perspective. Do we not know enough to say more? Using the fact that a glacier on Greenland slowed after speeding up as "proof" that reticence is appropriate is little different from the common misconception that a cold weather snap disproves global warming.

The broader picture strongly indicates that ice sheets will respond in a non-linear fashion to global warming - and are already beginning to do so. There is enough information now, in my opinion, to make it a near certainty that business-as-usual scenarios will lead to disastrous multi-metre sea level rise on the century time scale.

This article is based on a paper in the open-access journal
Environmental Research Letters (DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/2/2/024002)

From issue 2614 of New Scientist magazine, 25 July 2007, page 30-34


Whittling away at NPV costs
What is the right compensation for forest lands that are converted to non-forest use? How can this be calculated? Increasingly, one finds that project proponents are mounting a range of arguments to plead for the reduction of, or outright exemption from bearing such costs. Kanchi Kohli reports.

27 July 2007 - Many development and industrial projects in India require diversion of forest land to erect dams, operate mines, construct industries or build roads. Any project proponent, government or private must apply for forest clearance before the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), before this conversion of land can take place. This proposal is to be submitted via the Forest Department of the state government in question, and is heard by a Forest Advisory Committee, which then grants - or rejects - the clearance that is sought. If clearances are given, then compensation for the lost forest land is also to be decided by the ministry and the regulators.

In this framework, in theory, regulation and oversight are built into the approvals process, and as a result, environmental protection should go hand in hand with industrial development. But in fact, what we find is that year after year forests have been diverted, submerged, or felled, and continue to do so. Judging by the outcomes alone, clearly there is not an adequate compensatory mechanism for the loss of forests.

What is the right compensation for forest lands that are converted to non-forest use? How can this be calculated? Can the loss of forests be compensated for in monetary terms alone? Is it appropriate to actually valuate forests economically? What about cultural and spiritual associations of people with forests, or the livelihoods associated with these areas? How can these be compensated for?

The establishment of CAMPA

This discussion on valuation of forests has been taken up in the Supreme Court of India as part of the Interlocutory Application (I.A.) No.566 of 2000 in the T N Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India (Writ Petition (civil) 202 of 1995). This is a matter related to the utilisation of funds for compensatory afforestation, and determining a net present value for the diversion of forest land for non-forest use.

Five years after the issue was taken up in the Supreme Court, the bench comprising of Y K Sabharwal, Arijit Pasayat and S H Kapadia passed a detailed order on 29 September 2005 on the valuation of forests. While recognising the importance of forests in sustaining life, the order attempted to address several questions, some of which are: should the user agency not be required to compensate for the diversion of the forest land in the light of the consequential loss and benefits accruing from the forests? If yes, should the user agency be required to make a payment of Net Present Value (NPV) of such diverted forest land? What should be the guidelines for NPV and how can the NPV be calculated and determined? Should some projects be exempted from this? (See: www.forestcaseindia .org for full order. Also see this earlier article). The court order defines NPV as, "the present value (PV) of net cash flow from a project, discounted by the cost of capital".

The 29 September 2005 order traces the evolution of the case from the year 2000 onwards. The genesis of the matter was in the discussions in the court around the lack of compliance of the compensatory afforestation efforts in return for forest lands being lost due to diversion for non-forest use. On the direction of the court, the MoEF developed a scheme in 2002, which was commented upon by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), a monitoring body of the court on forest related matters. The CEC's recommendations were largely accepted by the MoEF. The CEC had observed in its recommendations that, in addition to funds realised for compensatory afforestation, NPV shall be recovered from the project proponent/user agency seeking diversion of forest land for non-forest use. NPV would be calculated at the rate of Rs.5.80 lakhs per hectare to Rs.9.20 lakhs per hectare of the forest land lost, depending upon the quality and density of the land diverted for non-forest use.

In 2004, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) was notified for the purpose of management of money towards compensatory afforestation, NPVs, and any other funds recoverable in pursuance of the court's orders.

A series of exemptions sought

Ever since payment of NPV became mandatory, project proponents have filed a number of applications in the Supreme Court and the CEC asking for exemptions or reductions in the amount to be paid as NPV. In a number of instances, these requests were from public sector units (PSUs). Here are a few instances representing a diverse set of cases:

· At a hearing on 16 December 2005, the advocate for South Eastern Coalfields pleaded before the court that the company is a PSU and a sum of Rs.600 crores is a very large amount to pay. He argued that the PSU could deposit the money, if the amount were lower. The court did not agree to this request. However, ordered that responses in the case might be filed by the respondents of the case.

· On 5 May 2006, one of the matters listed for hearing had the main contention that the Indian Army may be exempt from the payment of NPV. The then counsel for the MoEF, A D N Rao pointed out that that the army often takes over large amounts of land, however uses only 10 per cent of it; presumably this meant that even when forest land was given to the army, only a small portion of it would be converted to non-forest use. It was suggested in the court by the amicus curiae (friend of the court) that the issue needs examination; this was agreed to by the Supreme Court bench and the Ministry of Defence was allowed to carry out the activities in question with an exemption from NPV compensation.

· At a hearing on 14 July 2006, the advocate for Power Grid Corporation of India argued on the issue of payment of NPV for paying of a 765 KV line running across the Chambal River . He highlighted that only 4 kilometers of the entire transmission line will be going through forest land. Therefore the NPV for the diversion of forest land should be 5 per cent of the cost of the line passing through forest land, and should not be determined by looking at the entire project cost. The matter was referred to the CEC for further detailed examination. It was also argued that no trees would be cut; only pruning will be done to facilitate clean passages for the lines.

· On 8 December 2006, among other matters, the case of the National Highway Authority of India's (NHAI) construction of a bypass to the city of Kota was considered. The NPV in this case had been calculated as Rs.25 crores. The counsel for NHAI argued that this construction involved the building of a bridge over River Chambal, and forest land is being used only for the two ends of the bridge. Therefore the entire cost of the bridge should not be taken while calculating the NPV. The court held an opinion that the details of the amount of NPV applicable is an issue for discussion in the larger NPV matter being deliberated upon, and not specifically for this case alone.

· On 9 March 2007, the court considered a case related to the construction of a reservoir and pipeline involving the Chambal Ghariyal Sanctuary. The project proponent highlighted that they were being asked to pay 5 per cent of the total cost of the project as the NPV for the diversion of the forest land. But, they argued, the construction involved only 1 kilometre of the forest land, and therefore the calculation should done keeping that in mind, i.e. 5 per cent of the construction cost which is within the sanctuary area. The court granted this request, as an exceptional case.

· More recently, at a hearing on 10 July 2007 before the CEC, representatives of the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) used a judgment in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in the Supreme Court seeking exemption from payment from NPV. While the specific judgment was not deliberated at the hearing, the CEC simply asked NEEPCO to refer to the 26 September 2005 order, and sought explanation as to why the company should be exempt from the payment of NPV. They referred to the case of the Lower Subansiri hydro electric project in Aruanachal Pradesh where National Hydro Power Corporation has paid an amount of Rs.300 crores as NPV. More specifics were sought in writing from NEEPCO.

The progress of each of these cases to date is too voluminous to present here. These examples, however, represent the different arguments that have been used in the court to get one's way around the payment of NPV. Further, it is noteworthy that each situation has been argued differently at different points of time. If a range of arguments can be mounted against the need for NPV, then the very purpose of establishing costs for such diversion of land becomes diluted, and it remains to be seen how the court rules on such diverse claims.

The Supreme Court has set up a committee under the Chairpersonship of environmental economist Dr. Kanchan Chopra of the Institute of Economic Growth to establish in a detailed manner how NPV can be calculated. The committee has submitted its report, but this is yet to be discussed in court. For the moment, however, the September 2005 order still holds, and surely project proponents are having to face up to costs they would previously have ignored.

One shortcoming noticed in nearly all the arguments so far is that the value of forests is being determined in purely economic terms. A simple economic value allows project proponents to pay off huge amounts, or increasingly, develop fine arguments to scuttle the need for such payment. Many other considerations are invariably lost: the assessment of loss of the spiritual association with various patches of forests that communities have had over generations; the evaluation of how much life forests that are being diverted support or would do so in the future; the habitats of wildlife in these forests; and so on. Sadly, such principles rarely have a place in development policy and planning in India today, leave alone the legal arena.

Kanchi Kohli
27 Jul 2007

Kanchi Kohli is based in New Delhi and a member of the Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group.

URL for this article:
http://www.indiatog ether.org/ 2007/jul/ env-nonpv. htm

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hunger strike over India's lost paradise

By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi

Published: 27 July 2007


The images are distressing. Two men lie in hospital beds surrounded by their friends. The men barely move, too weak to even sit up. Occasionally, perhaps, one of them will move his head slowly. The friends stroke their foreheads or else rub their feet.

This is a hunger-strike for the YouTube generation. The two men - Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Gvasto Lepcha - whose protest has been posted on the popular online video site, have not eaten for 39 days. Doctors at the hospital where they lie in the remote Indian state of Sikkim say they are getting weaker each day. There are serious concerns about the functioning of the men's kidneys.

The cause that has led these two men to take this drastic action and for their friends to post this powerful video on the internet is the very land on which they and their families live. A massive hydro-electric power scheme backed by the state government, consisting of more than 20 individual projects, threatens to drive the men and their neighbours from the land close to the Teesta river in the Dzongu region of the state. Campaigners say the project is illegal and claim the authorities have failed to obtain the necessary assessment of the impact the schemes will have.

This land is not only pristine - including as it does parts of a national park on which lies the world's third- highest mountain and a biosphere reserve - but to the people of the region it is also sacred.

The two men refusing food are both Lepcha, the indigenous people who have lived on the mountains for centuries and whose name for the region, Mayel Luang, roughly translates as "paradise". Some clans believe they were created by mother nature, others that mother nature created two deities who then created the Lepcha. The massive Kangchenjunga, reaching up to 28,169 feet, is considered holy.

"Their health is not very good. They are both in the hospital," said Sherab Lepcha, a member of the group Affected Citizens of Teesta who visits the two men every day. "[But] they are very determined."

The issue of hydro-electric schemes and dams driving people off the land in India is nothing new. Throughout the 1990s, there were widespread protests against the construction of massive dams in places such as Gujarat.

Activists have calculated that over the past 50 years, perhaps 33 million Indians have been forced from their land by such projects.

These protests drew the support of several high-profile figures, including the novelist and activist Arundhati Roy, who wrote of the victims in her essay The Greater Common Good: "The millions of displaced people don't exist any more. When history is written, they won't be in it. Not even as statistics. Some of them have subsequently been displaced three and four times - a dam, an artillery range, another dam, a uranium mine, a power project. Once they start rolling, there's no resting place."

The campaign against the projects on the Teesta river has so far gained little attention beyond the immediate locality and within the environmental community. That may be partly because of Sikkim's remoteness. This landlocked Himalayan region bordered by Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, was a semi-autonomous kingdom until as recently as 1975 when it became the 22nd state of the Indian Union. Today, Sikkim is India's least populous state and is famed for its wilderness areas and unspoilt landscapes.

Campaigners say that the hydro-electricity projects will forever change that and have a huge impact on the local people. "Displacement and resettlement is a highly conflictive and difficult issue, and the affected communities often become impoverished in the process," said Ann Ann-Kathrin Schneider, of the International Rivers Network, a US-based campaign group. "However, the displacement of indigenous people is even more difficult and there are practically no examples in the world where the resettlement of indigenous people has not destroyed their culture and social cohesion, as well as totally destroying their ability to economically support themselves."

Indeed, the campaigners say powerful impacts of the first of the hydro schemes - the 510 megawatt Teesta V project, which is under construction - have already been felt. "The work ... especially the construction of the tunnels for the water that will be diverted for hydro-power generation, has already caused much hardship," said Ms Schneider.

"Water resources have dried up, landslides in areas were people live have been caused and houses have been partly demolished by the construction of the tunnels. The dust pollution that is a by-product of the construction activity is so high that children in schools in the area are affected and fruit trees and other agricultural activities are affected. The productivity of the orchards and the fields has considerably reduced."

Proposals to build the series of dams and harness up to 3500mw of power first emerged in the late 1990s, and despite the protests the state government of Sikkim has so far not backed down from pressing ahead. It readily admits it is lured by the source of wealth the project represents, and says it has negotiated a deal with the private developer of 12 per cent of the generated energy for the first 15 years after completion.

The government believes that the Teesta is ideal for generating electricity because the river plunges down deep gorges, dropping 13,123 feet (4,000 metres) over its initial 50 miles.

In a statement, the state government said it had initiated hydro-electricity schemes to utilise the available natural resource to attain self-reliance, in order to raise the Sikkimese people's socio-economic position and generate adequate revenue for the state.

But the Lepchas are not convinced. Sherab Lepcha, worried about the fate of his friends in the hospital, added: "If the people are driven off the land, there will be nowhere for cultivation. There will be nowhere to go."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tourism and HIV-AIDS

This was recently posted on andamanicobar@yahoogroups.co.in

Dear Forum members, I am taking on the notice posted some time ago regarding the spread of HIV/AIDS on the Andamans. I tried to get in touch with people mentioned but was not lucky so far. Therefore, I am posting now message and hope for some interesting replies.

Medium and long-term impact of HIV/AIDS in the tourism context

Tourism has the potential to exacerbate the HIV-AIDS endemic and further complicate matters for vulnerable people in tourist destinations. At the same time, tourism has the potential to be a vehicle for raising consciousness about the issue of HIV-AIDS as well as forging links of solidarity between people and people thus contributing to the eventual solutions. The most immediate medium-term social and economic effect of HIV/AIDS is that it will begin to destroy the tourist industry if a country becomes identified or stigmatized as having high levels of HIV/AIDS. This may discourage visitors even if they are not "sex tourists", because they will worry about the safety of hospitals, blood supplies, dentists and emergency medical services.

Beyond this immediate impact, the longer-term impact of infection channeled from the tourist sector into the wider economy and society may be very profound indeed. It may include the loss of highly skilled specialists, of teachers (and thus the education of the next generation), of careers for the young and old; It may lead to decline in production in important economicsectors and people die prematurely.

ECOT (www.ecotonline.org) is currently gathering information from all around the world about HIV/AIDS prevention activities linked to tourism / in tourism destinations, and to identify initiatives and projects run by civil society groups and others to prevent the increase of AIDS in the tourism context.

If you have any information or thoughts about this issue please write to
Julia (Program Coordinator of ECOT) at julia@ecotonline.org

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ethical shopping...

Ethical shopping is just another way of showing how rich you are

The middle classes congratulate themselves on going green, then carry on buying and flying as much as before

George Monbiot
Tuesday July 24, 2007
The Guardian

It wasn't meant to happen like this. The climate scientists told us that our winters would become wetter and our summers drier. So I can't claim that these floods were caused by climate change, or are even consistent with the models. But, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, they offer us a glimpse of the possible winter world that we will inhabit if we don't sort ourselves out.

With rising sea levels and more winter rain - and remember that when the trees are dormant and the soils saturated, there are fewer places for the rain to go - all it will take is a freshwater flood to coincide with a high spring tide and we have a formula for full-blown disaster. We have now seen how localised floods can wipe out essential services and overwhelm emergency workers. But this month's events don't even register beside some of the predictions circulating in learned journals. Our primary political struggle must be to prevent the breakup of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. The only question now worth asking about climate change is how.

Dozens of new books seem to provide an answer: we can save the world by embracing "better, greener lifestyles". Last week, for instance, the Guardian published an extract from A Slice of Organic Life, the book by Sheherazade Goldsmith - married to the very rich environmentalist Zac - in which she teaches us "to live within nature's limits". It's easy. Just make your own bread, butter, cheese, jam, chutneys and pickles, keep a milking cow, a few pigs, goats, geese, ducks, chickens, beehives, gardens and orchards. Well, what are you waiting for?

Her book contains plenty of useful advice, and she comes across as modest, sincere and well-informed. But of lobbying for political change, there is not a word. You can save the planet from your own kitchen - if you have endless time and plenty of land. When I was reading it on the train, another passenger asked me if he could take a look. He flicked through it for a moment, and then summed up the problem in seven words: "This is for people who don't work."

The media's obsession with beauty, wealth and fame blights every issue it touches, but none more so than green politics. There is an inherent conflict between the aspirational lifestyle journalism that makes readers feel better about themselves and sells country kitchens, and the central demand of environmentalism - that we should consume less. "None of these changes represents a sacrifice," Goldsmith tells us. "Being more conscientious isn't about giving up things." But it is if, like her, you own more than one home when others have none. Uncomfortable as this is for both the media and its advertisers, giving things up is an essential component of going green. A section on ethical shopping in Goldsmith's book advises us to buy organic, buy seasonal, buy local, buy sustainable, buy recycled. But it says nothing about buying less.

Green consumerism is becoming a pox on the planet. If it merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing - one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first. I am now drowning in a tide of ecojunk. Over the past six months, our coat pegs have become clogged with organic cotton bags, which - filled with packets of ginseng tea and jojoba oil bath salts - are now the obligatory gift at every environmental event. I have several lifetimes' supply of ballpoint pens made with recycled paper and about half a dozen miniature solar chargers for gadgets that I do not possess.

Last week the Telegraph told its readers not to abandon the fight to save the planet. "There is still hope, and the middle classes, with their composters and eco-gadgets, will be leading the way." It made some helpful suggestions, such as a "hydrogen-powered model racing car", which, for £74.99, comes with a solar panel, an electrolyser and a fuel cell. God knows what rare metals and energy-intensive processes were used to manufacture it. In the name of environmental consciousness, we have simply created new opportunities for surplus capital.

Ethical shopping is in danger of becoming another signifier of social status. I have met people who have bought solar panels and wind turbines before they have insulated their lofts, partly because they love gadgets but partly, I suspect, because everyone can then see how conscientious and how rich they are. We are often told that buying such products encourages us to think more widely about environmental challenges, but it is just as likely to be depoliticising. Green consumerism is another form of atomisation - a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping.

The middle classes rebrand their lives, congratulate themselves on going green, and carry on buying and flying as much as before. It is easy to picture a situation in which the whole world religiously buys green products and its carbon emissions continue to soar.

As many environmentalists argue, it is true that most people find aspirational green living more attractive than dour puritanism. But it can also be alienating. I have met plenty of farm labourers and tenants who are desperate to start a farm of their own but have been excluded by what they call "horsiculture": small parcels of agricultural land that are being bought up for pony paddocks and hobby farms. In places such as Surrey and the New Forest, farmland is now fetching up to £30,000 an acre as City bonuses are used to buy organic lifestyles. When the new owners dress up as milkmaids and then tell the excluded how to make butter, they run the risk of turning environmentalism into the whim of the elite.

Challenge the new green consumerism and you become a prig and a party pooper, the spectre at the feast. Against the shiny new world of organic aspirations you are forced to raise drab and boringly equitable restraints: carbon rationing, contraction and convergence, tougher building regulations, coach lanes on motorways. No colour supplement will carry an article about that. No rock star could live comfortably within his carbon ration.

But these measures, and the long hard political battle that is needed to bring them about, are unfortunately required to prevent the catastrophe that the recent floods presage - rather than merely playing at being green. Only when these measures have been applied does green consumerism become a substitute for current spending, rather than a supplement to it. They are harder to sell, not least because they cannot be bought from mail order catalogues. Hard political choices will have to be made, and the economic elite and its spending habits must be challenged, rather than groomed and flattered. The multimillionaires who have embraced the green agenda might suddenly discover another urgent cause.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

NFI Media Fellowships

Announcement: The 13th National Media Fellowship Programme, 2006-07

For Print and Photo Journalists

In order to facilitate a more informed development policy dialogue and to encourage publication of well researched articles on development issues, National Foundation for India has announced EIGHT fellowships under the print media category and TWO under the photojournalist category. The fellowships amount to Rs 1 lakh each.

Themes of the fellowships
A wide range of issues of importance to ordinary Indians, their battle for a better life and development related issues including Community Health, Elementary Education, Livelihood Security, Local Governance, Peace and Justice, and Gender Equity.

National Foundation for India (NFI) is an autonomous, professionally managed grant making organization. Its mission is to help create a just and equitable society by enabling marginalized communities to improve the quality of their own lives, and by improving public understanding. NFI’s thematic programme areas are Community Health, Elementary Education, Livelihood Security, Local Governance, Peace and Justice, Citizens and Society and Development Journalism.

The last date for receipt of applications is August 30 2007. The details of the Fellowship programme can be obtained from Sentimongla Kechüchar, Programme Officer, National Foundation for India Core 4A, Upper Ground Floor, India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road New Delhi 110 003 Tel: 011-24641864/8465/8490/8491/8492, Fax: 011-24641867 email: sentimong@nfi.org.in / info@nfi.org.in ;

You can download the application guidelines from our website: http://www.nfi.org.in

Buddhist monks pray for Sikkim's sake

TimePublished on Thursday , July 19, 2007 at 14:57 in Nation section


Gangtok (Sikkim): It's been one month since the beginning of a hunger strike against the 22 hydel power projects in Sikkim. There's been no response from the government yet, but activists in Gangtok are now getting support from unexpected quarters -- through prayers.

Says a Buddhist monk, Sonam Paljor, "When the river is diverted like, when the rocks are drilled, when the trees are cut, then it is our responsibility as Buddhist monks to pray. Our prayers start: may there be enlightenment of all beings."

These prayers are part of an attraction that draws tourists from across the world, but this , the lamas of Sikkim are praying for an entirely different cause.

These are prayers in the time of crisis, prayers they believe will save the wonderful land called Sikkim.

It's not the first time that Buddhist monks are supporting the cause. They have protested against hydel projects in Sikkim earlier too and successfully.

" We were able to bring a lot of awareness and stop the West Rathonghchu project. Sikkim is a place for meditation," says Sonam Paljor.

This time too, the monks are optimistic that their prayers and smiles will stop the hydel power projects especially the eight projects in Dzongu, the heart of their sacred land in the lap of the Kanchanjunga mountain.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Man Asian Literary Prize - Long List

The 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize - Longlist Announced
Adrienne Clarkson named Chair of the panel of judges


Hong Kong, 20 July 2007 - The Administrative Committee for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize has today announced the longlist of works for this inaugural prize:

Tulsi Badrinath, The Living God
Sanjay Bahadur, The Sound Of Water
Kankana Basu, Cappuccino Dusk
Sanjiv Bhatla, InJustice
Shahbano Bilgrami, Without Dreams
Saikat Chakraborty, The Amnesiac
Jose Dalisay Jr., Soledad's Sister
Reeti Gadekar, Families at Home
Xiaolu Guo, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
Ameena Hussein, The Moon in the Water
Nu Nu Yi Inwa, Smile As They Bow
Jiang Rong, Wolf Totem
Hitomi Kanehara, Autofiction
N S Madhavan, Litanies of Dutch Battery
Laxmi Narayan Mishra, The Little God
Mo Yan, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
Nalini Rajan, The Pangolin's Tale
Chiew-Siah Tei, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes
Shreekumar Varma, Maria's Room
Anuradha Vijayakrishnan, Seeing The Girl
Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, Pichaikuppan
Xu Xi, Habit of a Foreign Sky
Egoyan Zheng, Fleeting Light

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

SamirSpeak: Ram Naam Sat Hai

By *Samir Acharya*
Arson and attempt to murder
On 2nd July 07, Nu, a Great Andamanese woman was set on fire by a miscreant at Adi Basera, the Guest House for the primitive tribal groups. It can be called a custodial attempt to murder. No less serious than the incident of a rape/near rape of a Jarawa female while she was undergoing treatment in GB Pant Hospital which was a case of custodial rape.
Mr. Jaipal Singh, a Member of the Constitutional Assembly of India that gave us our Constitution is on record having told the assembly as a " jungli as an adivasi" that Sir, if there is any group of Indian people that has been shabbily treated, it is my people. They have been disgracefully treated, neglected for the last 6,000 years. The history of the Indus Valley civilization, a child of which I am, shows quite clearly that it is the newcomers - most of you here are intruders, as far as I am concerned - it is the newcomers who have driven away my people from the Indus Valley to
the jungle fastness…. The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at his word. I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter of independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected.
If Nu were articulate, she would have said the same thing. Having driven us out from our homeland with drugs and disease, you have resettled us in one tiny Island, the Strait Island and created a protected area for us at Port Blair (Adi Basera, the guest house for the PTGs) where a miscreant entered and set me on fire. The hopes of Jaipal Singh, even after 57 years, have not been fruitful.

Quarries, money and politicians
Bhakta the great, Bhakta the lovable, Bhakta the champion of the
marginalized! Bhakta came forward and demanded permitting the closed down quarries to operate in South Andamans within 72 hours of the closure.
Fantastic!!! He is so concerned about the loss of livelihood of the quarry workers…………!! Quarry workers? I always thought that the quarries today are highly automated. Unlike the yesteryear's painstaking breaking of boulders/rocks, today, we blast, put the boulders in a crusher and load the products with a mechanical shovel on trucks to transport the material. How many workers
are employed?
Mr. Bhakta, at his age, must be shortsighted. The crushers in the
Brichgunj- Corbyn"s Cove axis destroyed and will continue to destroy the farmer's fields and plantations (refuge and over burden from the quarries), the health of the citizens with airborne dust particles, (no quarry use a sprayer to contain this. Anyway, where is the water to spray?). The water security, not only of the local inhabitants, but also of the citizens of South Andaman in general is in shambles.
Has not Mr. Bhakta read the statement of the Prime Minister that not only Andamans, but the whole Country is going to suffer from water-scarcity in times to come? Come to think of it, not only India, but also the whole world is facing a crisis of availability of fresh water. But Mr. Bhakta had given up reading a long time ago; we do not expect him to know.
Great news! If winter comes, can spring be far behind? So, Lord Vishnu has come to the rescue of his Bhakta. He came, embraced his Bhakta and pledged his wholehearted support to the cause of the quarry operators.
A former mandarin of the White House had said (regarding the Middle East situation in the sixties), "Only the kingdom of heaven is run on righteousness. The kingdoms on earth are run on oil". The political parties are run on grafts from contractors including quarry operators. So, RAM NAAM SAT HAI !!

Contact Samir Acharya. Email: samiracharya.sane@gmail.com

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Co-Existence at 908 Deccan Gymkhana

The oppurtunistic mongoose and two tolerant cats...

908 Deccan Gymkhana in Pune is the address of Kalpavriksh, where I work. The area still has some good vegetation and shrubbery between the buildings and within building compounds, allowing for good bird sightings and on occasions like this one, bigger surprises...
Here is a sequence of pictures taken just the other day

A tentative, hungry mongoose...

First, interested cats...

And then, two uninterested cats...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Common Wealth or Kiss of Death ?

Delhi’s Date with the CW Games 2010
Amita Baviskar

I am sitting across the desk from Shiela Dikshit in a room that is alive with irony. We are talking about the Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in 2010. The Chief Minister’s office is located in what used to be the Players’ Building, a hostel meant for Asiad’82. Asiad’82 came and went, but the Players’ Building wasn’t ready on time. For fifteen years, it remained a concrete shell looming over the west bank of the Yamuna off Vikas Marg till the Dikshit government came to its rescue. So does the ghost of games past haunt the CM? Does the spectre of prestigious projects overrunning their deadline give Ms Dikshit sleepless nights?

The clock’s ticking away and there is little progress to show on the ground. Yet the Chief Minister is cheerful and upbeat, pointing out that construction technology now allows mega-projects to be completed within months. The Commonwealth (CW) Games are her show, her grand vision to make Delhi a ‘world-class city’, words that have been repeated so often that they have become Harry Potter-esque incantations, charms endowed with magical powers. Say ‘world-class’ and you conjure up a gleaming cityscape of skyscrapers, fast-flowing traffic, and neon-lit branded shops and restaurants, with unlimited power and water. The Games offer an opportunity to fast forward into this future.

The Games also offer an opportunity for urban renewal and development. When Barcelona and Manchester hosted similar events, they seized the chance to reinvent their cities, turning depressed industrial areas into vibrant cultural centres. A similar turnaround is possible in Delhi too. For a prestigious event like the Games, money is no object. The government’s purse is open wide. Having a conspicuous deadline hovering over their heads presses an otherwise lethargic bureaucracy into action. Money and motivation can be powerful galvanizing forces to get the city going, to upgrade infrastructure, to create lasting resources, to provide jobs and, crucially, enhance that extra something that makes a city special. Delhi’s distinctive appeal lies in its historical heritage and greenery, and in the warmth and vitality of its street life. The Games can be an opportunity to buttress the city’s strengths while addressing its chronic infrastructural shortages.

So I embarked on a self-guided Dilli darshan, to see for myself how this mega-event would transform the city’s landscape and our lives. I went armed with facts and figures culled from Delhi government documents and the Games website, and I returned shell-shocked, dismayed with what the Games will bring to our city.

I began at the Indira Gandhi (IG) stadium on Ring Road, close by the Delhi Secretariat. This, together with the Jawaharlal Nehru (JN) Stadium, was the showpiece of Asiad’82. The mammoth indoor stadium, its retractable roof hailed as a triumph of technology, is now decrepit, its roof frozen with rust. Apart from the occasional Bollywood Nite and badminton tournament, nothing happens here. The morose chaukidar I met said, ‘madam, chhat se pani leak hota hai’. Situated on the subsidence-prone Yamuna bank, the stadium is actually tilting to one side, a bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All this is quite amusing but for the fact that crores of rupees – your money and mine – went to pay for this white elephant. The JN stadium has also remained under-used for the last 25 years. When was the last time you went to watch something there? Probably never. But, you will be happy to learn that another 1250 crores of our money will now be spent to renovate these and other existing venues. And then, after a couple of weeks of use in October 2010, they will again relapse into comatose concreteness.

If this has been the sorry fate of our last big building spree, why are we building four new air-conditioned stadiums? Why are we spending more crores on buildings that are destined to be dinosaurs from the day they are conceived? Is this the best way to use public money? Or is this the best way to line builders’ pockets? A spanking new stadium at the IG complex; another one in the Yamuna Sports Complex near Anand Vihar; one more at the Tyagaraj Complex near INA Market; and another one at Siri Fort. Each one of these will swallow up precious open space and saddle us with a bigger tax burden. Another stadium will be built at the JN stadium venue but, mercifully, it will be a less expensive open-air one. According to the Delhi Games website, this one will ‘provide a lasting legacy for the sport of Lawn Bowls’. Yeah, that’s what this city really needs, Lawn Bowls.

Back in the 1980s, large chunks of the Siri Fort forest were cleared to construct the Asiad Village and other amenities. After the Games, the houses were sold off, creating a pretty little posh colony for senior bureaucrats and sundry well-connected folk. In my book, that’s land grab, a neat government scam to convert public green spaces into private property. The remaining Siri Forest is now headed the same way, with parts to be ‘converted’ (read ‘clear-felled’) into a site for the new stadium. Why won’t the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) use the vacant police wireless ground that’s right next door? Well, because it can’t be bothered with the tedious land acquisition process. So hundreds of trees will be cut. Big deal, they say. We’re talking national prestige and world-class city here; what’s a few trees?

DDA’s reluctance to acquire land from another government agency is reportedly behind its decision to not use the Safdarjung Airport as the site for the CW Games Village. K. T. Ravindran, urban planner and architect, points out, ‘The abandoned airfield and its surrounding land have, in fact, been earmarked for sports in the Delhi Master Plan’. The place is close to the main Games venues, which minimizes travel time for participants and traffic disruptions for the rest of the city. Well-designed temporary structures, as suggested by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, would be a low-cost, environment-friendly option. But when I asked the CM about this, she firmly shook her head and said, ‘No, it’s too close to the Prime Minister’s house. Security risk’. At the time, I was suitably impressed but, later, I wondered. Security risk? That athletes might attack the PM? Or that the PM might attack the athletes? You figure it out.

So we have the disastrous decision to locate the Games Village on the Yamuna’s east bank, next to the Akshardham temple. Environmentalists have gone hoarse repeating this, but it still hasn’t registered for our city’s government. This is a flood plain. The river needs this space to accommodate its monsoon swell. This land recharges our city’s groundwater. For Delhi’s ecological security, it is of paramount importance that the floodplain be left untouched. It should be a no-go zone for construction. But the Dikshit government is committed to channelizing the river and turning the river bed into real estate. Think of the Thames Embankment, it says, what a glittering jewel in London’s crown. But the Yamuna is not the Thames; its rhythm is harmonized to the distinctive tempo of the Indian subcontinent’s seasons. With the bulk of its flow concentrated in the monsoons, the Yamuna is liable to breach its embankments if denied its present expanse. The Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, a coalition of environmental and social activists, has analyzed the history of floods in the city and the evidence it presents is grim. As the Abhiyan points out, we already have too many buildings on the riverfront that shouldn’t be there: three power plants, the Delhi Secretariat and the Akshardham temple. We don’t need more, and certainly not a sprawling 150 acre strip of Games Village houses, hotels and malls.

Wait a minute, you say, hotels and malls? What’s that got to do with the Games? Everything, it seems. The Games are meant to boost growth and tourism, you see. They’re only a means to leverage funds for the bigger business of making the economy boom. So there are more than six hotel sites for sale in the Village and Parsvnath Builders has already strung up bunting that flutters in the wind, announcing its new mall next to Akshardham. Malls are right up there in the government’s list of what Delhi desperately needs, along with Lawn Bowls. And hotels. According to the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India, that unbiased source the Delhi government likes to quote, we’ll need 20,000 more hotel rooms for foreign and domestic visitors. Which is all very exciting till we recall that Asiad’82 fetched us a grand total of 200 (no, this is not a typo) – two hundred – foreign tourists, according to a National Institute of Urban Affairs study. Why these off-the-wall projections of a tourism tsunami? To create a buzz, because building castles in the air lets the government justify the concrete messes it creates on the ground. No one stops to ask: does Delhi need to grow? Isn’t more growth for Delhi like giving a hyperactive child an energy-boosting tonic – a recipe for mayhem? We are already straining at the seams of our infrastructure, do we need the additional demand of energy-intensive, traffic-congesting, green area-swallowing malls and hotels?

Putting the Games Village jamna-paar has other implications too. All the other Games venues but one are located across the river. Which means the organizers will have to ferry about 8,000 participants over to the other side. There is no direct westward access from the Village site to the Nizamuddin bridge which, at the best of times, can be a bottleneck. So the Public Works Department (PWD) has conceived an elaborate series of flyovers and underpasses on the east bank, culminating on the other side in the justly infamous ‘tunnel road’ from the Nizamuddin bridge to JN stadium via Lodhi Road. The tunnel will cut through Sundar Nursery, a haven for tree-lovers, and pass by Humayun’s tomb, endangering a heritage that holds Sufi Delhi’s soul. The monuments around Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah enshrine Delhi’s mystic past, offering the sacred as a counterpoint to the secular thrust of the rest of the city. In the mad rush of contemporary life, when we need these spiritual sanctuaries more than ever, they are under threat. Seven centuries they’ve been here, only to be ruined for a two-week long event, a blip on the timeline of this ancient city.

This is what I don’t get. First they take a stupid decision like locating the Games Village on the eastern floodplain of the Yamuna. Then they make it worse by piling up other foolish schemes on top of it. In the name of transport infrastructure, we get more roads, flyovers, tunnels (another one was proposed from east Delhi to CP) which rapidly choke up, when what we need is demand-management that checks the phenomenal growth of private vehicles in the city. Why are we spending Rs 1250 crores on creating more road space, cutting trees and footpaths and making life worse for pedestrians and cyclists? Two reasons, neither of which the government can afford to ignore: one, upper-class Delhi’s car-centric view of their city and, two, the big bucks involved in roadworks. The Games have unleashed a feeding frenzy among those who give out contracts and those who execute them. Inflated tenders are the order of the day. That’s the political economy of large projects, impolitic to ignore yet impossible to document. I hear stories of the enormous sums passed under the table to get the tunnel road sanctioned, even as the Delhi Urban Arts Commission and the Archaeological Survey of India have been valiantly standing up to pressure from the highest quarters. These are rumours, yet they don’t feel far-fetched. This is how the city runs, this is how elections are funded, it’s quid pro quo.

Up the river at Wazirabad, there’s another colossus coming up: the Signature Bridge. Whose signature, I wondered, till Shiela Dikshit claimed ownership with quiet pride. Part of the give-tourism-a-boost-by-building-on-the-river grand vision, the bridge and the surrounding 1,000-acre park will cost Rs 1,000 crores. People will ascend its 185-metre height in bubble lifts and dine in rooftop restaurants with panoramic views of… ahem, Khajuri-Bhajanpura resettlement colony and the Najafgarh Ganda Nala, with Jahangirpuri and Bhalaswa resettlement colonies and landfill on the horizon. I just can’t wait.

Meanwhile, an earlier bridge built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq that was used for six centuries and the tomb of Shah Alam, a Tughlaq-era saint, are at risk from the Wazirabad construction. Erased from the landscape, their traces will linger only in the meticulous archives of INTACH.

So much waste. Rs 40 crores spent in Melbourne last year to have Rani, Saif and Ash say ‘See you in India’. Kind of expensive for an invitation card, don’t you think? Another 49 crore rupees for free air travel, board and lodging for athletes and officials from all 71 countries. Yes, free! This is our fabled Indian hospitality, unprecedented in the world of multi-discipline Games. These freebies are how India won the bid against Hamilton, Canada. The estimated cost is already Rs 7,000 crores and climbing by the day. The CM is vague, ‘People say the Games will pay for themselves’. The only Games to have made money were the Los Angeles summer Olympics in 1984. Munich residents are still paying a special tax for the 1976 Olympics. Guess who will be stuck with the bill for this one?

Sorry to break up the party, folks, but we’re still a poor country and Delhi is still a struggling third world city. Just visit a government school or hospital and you’ll know. There’s a lot this city can do with Rs 7,000 crores. That sum could fund low-income housing for 3.5 lakh families, allowing those who were evicted from the Yamuna Pushta and elsewhere to live with dignity and security. It could finance ten Sewage Treatment Plants, each capable of cleaning 10 million litres a day, taking the Yamuna closer to its original unpolluted state. Unglamorous yet urgent needs like shelter and sanitation, health and education, are crying out for funds. Fulfil these and we’ll make Delhi truly world-class.

National prestige means that we are supposed to support the Games, wave our flag and feel proud. But prestige at what price? I am proud of Delhi, proud of its living heritage and culture. And I don’t want the Games or the mirage of a ‘world-class city’ to destroy what’s special about it. I want my money used for making Delhi better – for everyone, not just a handful of contractors, real estate developers, businessmen and politicians. Let’s cut the Games down to size and reclaim the city – for citizens and for the environment.

Projects and tasks

Estimated cost

(in crores of rupees)

Renovating existing venues


New Games Village


Flyovers, underpasses etc.


Four new stadiums


Signature Bridge and tourist centre


Bhalaswa tourist park


Organizing Committee’s expenses




Contact Amita Baviskar. Email: baviskar1@vsnl.com