‘I am Both a Trader And a Consumer, So I Burn From Both Ends’

Harkishan, a grocery shopkeeper in South Delhi’s Munirka locality, feels his business is declining for the first time in two decades

I have been running a grocery shop in Munirka for the last 20 years. Earlier, everything used to run fine, but now it is not like that. For the first time in my life, I am experiencing that my business is on a decline. And it owes to multiple factors, not just one.

I do not want to say anything about the government’s claim about the economy, as its statements are contradictory. On the one hand, the government claims economic stability and growth; on the other hand, it says inflation is at its peak. How can both be possible at the same time?

As far as I could see the small and medium shopkeepers are now closing their shops and looking for some other work. Basically, people’s purchasing power has become weak. It has directly affected small and medium-level traders like us. Earlier a bottle of edible oil used to cost ₹80-90, but today its price has become Rs.170-180. Our commission and sales have also gone down. Similarly, the prices of milk have increased continuously and the sale has also reduced a lot as compared to earlier. Earlier the person who used to buy 2-3 litres of milk now takes just one or half litres of milk.

ALSO READ: ‘I Know Not About Economics, But am Managing Fine’

At the same time, the online market has also spoiled our business. Recession in business and inflation has also affected us badly. I am a small shopkeeper. The decline in business has affected my personal life as well. We also have to buy vegetables and gas. Since everyone’s consumption level has changed, so am I experiencing a decline in my consumption? Being a shopkeeper and a consumer both, I feel the heat from both sides. Today, we have to think every day about our livelihood. If things continue like this, we don’t know how we will manage our families.

We are small traders. We can see that this government has given all the facilities and discounts to big companies and traders. It is continuing on this path as a policy. Most small businesses are run on cash, but the demonetisation announced abruptly a few years ago hit us badly. Demonetisation was the first nail in the small business grave; we have not recovered since then. Now the Supreme Court is saying that demonetisation was a justified decision. I cannot comment upon the court but at least say candidly that it had a really bad effect on our business. 

Whatever the government’s claim about the economy, but according to me the condition of the economy is not good.  Earlier, an LPG cylinder was available for Rs.300-400 and it used to remain the same for many days. Today there is no guarantee of price stability. We have witnessed a three-fold rise in gas cylinders in the last few years and cannot say it will go up or remain so. Just at the time of the elections, we see that the prices become stable for the time being, But as the elections get over the same story repeats.

The same is happening with the prices of petrol and diesel. Earlier we used to get diesel at ₹60-70 per litre, now it has crossed a hundred. I really don’t know how much their prices will increase further.

(As told to Nityanand Gayen)

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‘Pathaan Has Injected a Fresh Lease of Life Into Bollywood’

Priyanka Gupta, a socialite and social worker from Lucknow, says the Shahrukh Khan-starrer ticks all the boxes to qualify as a super-duper entertainer

I am very choosy about the movies to be watched in a theatre. Therefore, before buying tickets for Pathaan, I checked its reviews in the media, sought responses of my friends and the occupancy in the cinema halls before placing my buck on it. I am happy to say that the ticket-money was well spent; the film just blew my mind.

Though I am not a die-hard fan of Shahrukh Khan, from the terrific response of the audience in the cinema halls, I can tell you that the Hindi audience was long waiting for an entertainer like Pathaan. This SRK-entertainer has lived up to the expectations and the hype created before the release. Be it the star power, action sequences, choreography, twist & turns, or the high pitch of Rashtravad (nationalism), the movie ticks all the boxes to qualify as a paisa-wasool blockbuster.

The movie’s never-before kind of success came as a big relief for the cinema hall owners, who had been reeling under financial hardships since Covid times. Even after the theatres had reopened, most of the movies were run of the mill and could not book adequate profit. Not just theatre owners, it has also brought much-needed succour for the struggling Bollywood. Many critics had begun to write off Bollywood studios in favour of the South Indian cinema.

Looking into the gloom that prevailed for the past couple of years, Pathaan comes as a breath of fresh air. I think the negative campaign by various outfits against Shahrukh Khan may have also worked in its favour. The audience is not a fool. If the movie gives us the bang for our buck, we shall watch it. I am glad that wisdom prevailed over negativity. All those Boycott Bollywood, saffron bikini, body-shaming messages finally fell flat on their face.

Gupta (left) calls Pathaan a complete entertainer

Deepika Padukone is not the only star who has worn a bhagwa color outfit in a song. I can count any number of songs on fingertips where heroines had put on clothes of similar colour in far more ‘outrageous’ settings with bawdy lyrics. But Team Shahrukh has to face bigger scrutiny for reasons that I would not like to discuss or elaborate here.

ALSO READ: ‘Pathaan Brings Old World Revelry To Theatres’

The story line is entertaining, so is the background music, action sequences (however unbelievable) and a fast pace. Watching it on a large screen was an engrossing experience. I particularly found the Salman Khan’s cameo as one of the movie’s finest moments; Sallu’s entry set the audience on fire. But overall, it was a collective fare. Shahrukh Khan, Deepika, John Abraham, along with other co-stars, delivered a complete massala hit that Bollywood is known for.

The bottom line is audience will decide for themselves which movie to watch and which movie to abandon. Those who are trying to set an agenda in the field of entertainment will not succeed. To quote a cinematic line for the occasion, Indian audience only wants three things from a movie: Entertainment, entertainment and… entertainment.

As told to Rajat Rai

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Pathaan Watching Experience

‘Pathaan Brings Back Old World Fans Revelry To Movie Theatres’

Rituparna Sengupta, who teaches and writes on literature & popular culture, says the movie is a cracking response to the vitriolic trolling SRK has faced lately

I went to watch Pathaan after coming across media reports and social-media videos of over-the-top audience reactions to the film. As a cinema buff and a student of popular culture, I was curious about the movie, especially since the last time a Bollywood film elicited such a charged reaction within the theatre was last year, with The Kashmir Files, though it belongs to a different genre. I was also intrigued by the discourse around Pathaan, dubbed as the triumphant return of not only ‘King Khan’ but also of the single-screen-theatre-like film-viewing experience, with the audience clapping, rooting and whistling in pure joy.

I went for a morning show and found that, indeed, there was this current of jubilance in the audience. Many were taking photos and videos of the film’s scenes, not for pirating it, but just to record memories of watching it on the big screen. The atmosphere was electric.

People came to watch Pathaan for varied reasons—ranging from SRK fandom, to showing solidarity against the vitriolic propaganda against the actor and his family, to the timing of the film’s release (Republic Day). But what interests me is the film’s symbolic value, at multiple levels.

The espionage thriller is a masculine, testosterone-driven drama with loud and flashy stunts, exotic locations, femme fatales, etc. For a romantic hero like SRK—massively popular among female fans—to play such a protagonist, is a gamble. However, instead of ‘hardening’ Shah Rukh Khan to meet the demands of the genre, the film allows SRK to bend the genre to suit his strengths–something that pays off well.

Sengupta (left) says ‘Pathaan’ has trademark romantic SRK at work

For instance, instead of the brash arrogance of the spy hero, here we have a charming character who wears himself lightly and is comfortable not being in the centre of the frame always. We see trademark SRK at work here–husky whispers, eyes-teasing and passionate by-turns, unafraid to Be vulnerable, joking and pretending to be more inept than he is. The way the Pathaan romances with Rubai (Deepika Padukone) is in his characteristic too-near-but-no-further titillating fashion. There is an old world charm about Pathaan’s ‘chivalry’.

ALSO READ: Cancel Culture is Coronavirus of Bollywood

Then there is the suffusion of references to earlier Bollywood films in Pathaan, especially to SRK’s oeuvre, which offer a nostalgic treat to many like me who grew up attached to these films. Watching SRK crooning ‘Tu hai meri Karen’ to a Russian woman, sent the audience tittering in delight, and, similarly, the exclamation ‘Bhaag Pathaan, bhaag!’ brought to mind a similar scene from the cult favourite, Karan Arjun.

I think the highlight for many who watched the film were the sequences that brought together Shah Rukh and Salman (in a surprise cameo) who have been seen as forming the ruling Khan triad (along with Aamir) in Bollywood of the post-liberalisation decades. To see these competing actors come together as allies, but also in such good humour, was fun.

The film’s political standpoint is conservative, but in a cultural climate where jingoism is incentivised and Bollywood is succumbing to it, the film takes pains to clarify its preference for a popular, secular patriotism. When a rogue Indian agent (played by John Abraham) taunts Pathaan about his unrequited love for ‘Bharat Mata’, Pathaan responds with ‘Jai Hind’ and JFK’s iconic quote about not asking what the nation can do for you but what you can do for it. On the face value, it’s a cliché, but seen as the response of a hounded star who has responded to Islamophobic vitriol with dignified silence, it becomes eloquent.

The film builds up Pathaan’s character as a people’s hero—someone whose identity is not defined by parentage or religion, but by the affection and trust of the people who welcome him, give him his name, and a mission to fulfill–being the molten gold that holds together the broken pieces of a wounded nation. And it is the symbolic charge of this ‘Pathaan promise’ of a people’s beloved star, which has made the film the phenomenon it is.

(The narrator is Visiting Faculty of English at Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana)

As told to Amit Sengupta

South Delhi locality

‘I Know Little About Economy, But I Am Managing Fine’

Naveen, 39, who sells mobile accessories in a South Delhi locality, says there are hardships in life but he is happy and has no worries

Is the Indian economy in a crisis? Are thousands of people jobless? Is there hunger and poverty in large areas of the country? I don’t know. It could be true. As for me, I have no complaints and I am happy with the economy and my life, and I have no great expectations or deep regrets. I live a humble life and I am able to manage.

I live in a simple DDA flat with my mother and relatives. Life has not been easy. However, I am able to cope with it all.

Standing here on the stairs, for long hours, shouting out to customers, selling my stuff, this is my comfort zone. Some ignore me, some buy my stuff. No one bothers me, and no one tells me to go away. I feel comfortable here, and many regular customers know me. I have no desire for a shop or a permanent job – as of now this work is fine for me.

I come here at 12 noon and stay back till late evening, even after dark. Most days I am able to make enough money, though it’s almost 2 am today and I have not had a single customer. Sometimes, in fact, many times, people buy my mobile accessories. Some buy many plastic glasses in one go. I sell one glass for ₹5. If they buy 50 glasses, it comes to ₹250. In that case, I earn around ₹30 or more. I make enough to survive with my mother.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Claims On Economy Do Not Reflect In My Kitchen’

During the lockdown, thousands of people suffered. There were no jobs. Shops were shut. There was a universal crisis. However, I suffered no such crisis. I set up my make-shift shop outside my humble house and business was not so bad even during the pandemic and the lockdown. The cops were kind to me, and the area officers know me since I have been a child. So no one created any trouble for me. I was able to make some earnings even during that period of crisis. So, let other people say whatever – I really did not suffer so badly during and after the lockdown. I am happy with my little earnings.

I don’t have big dreams. Of course, I too have aspirations like everyone else, but I am not really chasing the money to become a crorepati. I would be happy to continue standing here and selling my stuff in the days to come. Little is enough for me.

Do you want to take my picture? Let me tell you, I don’t want any publicity (he wears his mask to block the picture). However, if taking my picture benefits you in some way, and helps you in your job, you are welcome to click my picture. (Takes his mask off). Thank you.

As told to Amit Sengupta

Read more: https://lokmarg.com/

Herd Immunity

‘India Has Attained Herd Immunity; No Need To Fear Covid Variants’

Dr AK Arun, a renowned public health scientist, rues that India lacks accurate data on treatment and deaths due to Covid, which would help us prepare for any future health emergency

There have been reports of a resurge of Covid cases in many countries. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of the new sub-variant XBB.1.5 is rising. This is more dangerous in spreading infection than the sub-variant BF.7.

There are ten different sub-variants of SARS-CoV-2 in India and BF.7 is one of them. So far, all of the four known cases of BF.7 in India have recovered by home isolation. They did not need to be admitted to the hospital. Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization has expressed concern over XBB.1.5, another sub-variant of the omicron variant. There are more than 300 subtypes of Omicron itself, of which XBB.1.5 is a recombinant virus that can kill antibodies in the body. Therefore, there is a need to monitor the situation.

It is being said that the situation has worsened in China after the lockdown was completely lifted. Epidemiologists also blame China’s “zero Covid policy” for the resurgence of Corona infections in the country. Due to strict lockdowns, herd immunity in people could not be achieved.

India’s case is different. Over last two year when Covid infection was rampant, Indians have achieved herd immunity. Thus the chances of controlling it are high and there is no need to panic. Although the Omicron variant of Corona has been constantly mutating into new forms since last month, its deadly impact has not been witnessed in India so far.

ALSO READ: ‘If Covid Rebounds, All Must Be Treated Uniformly’

In the absence of proper protocol in the initial phase of the epidemic, doctors indiscriminately used steroids etc. Unnecessary medicines given to a Corona-affected patient were also black-marketed because the doctors themselves were not clear about what and why the medicine should be given. In most cases, the patient’s attendants were deciding whether to administer such a medicine to the patient, whatever the price. It is possible that post-Covid complications are the outcome of indiscriminate use of these medicines than the infection itself.

There have also been different viewpoints on the Covid deaths in India. Data related to any epidemic, especially a global epidemic, is important for any study. Since 2021, no concrete data has been available from government institutions. Atul Kotwal, executive director of the National Health System Resource Center, admits that there are problems with the Covid data. Dr T. Sundararaman, former executive director of the same institute, justifies the WHO figures in terms of deaths due to Corona in India. For, we lack an accurate mechanism to collect death data; only 21 per cent of the deaths are recorded by the registrar.

Another challenge is to handle the fear mongering about the Covid virus. The atmosphere of anxiety that has arisen among people post two Covid waves can lead to ill-will about certain people, places or communities. This can have serious impact on society as well the mental health of people. We must deal with this sense of stigma.

For this, we have to understand that the virus does not look at social class, race, community or nationality. In such cases, we should put ourselves in the shoes of an affected person or community. The dissemination of information must be fair and free of any bigotry.

(Dr AK Arun is a national award-winning Homeopathy practitioner and headed the research team of the Delhi Government on alternative cures for COVID-19)

As told to Abhishek Srivastava

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Joshimath Cracks

‘Joshimath Paid The Price For Our Environmental Sins’

Anoop Nautiyal, a social worker from Uttarakhand, says successive state govts chose to pay heed to the hydroelectric lobby but not ecologists and scientists

The tragedy of Joshimath took decades to be scripted. Since 1975, experts and environmentalists have been raising alarm over the fragile ecology but they remained neglected. These warnings are in the public domain, so successive state governments cannot wash their hands of the responsibilities.

This is the price of our own collective ‘sins’. Citizens, local contractors, and municipal authorities are as much to blame as the government. The present situation is one of fire-fighting after the flames have engulfed. We have lost a hill town forever. There is no option left than to shift the entire population to another settlement as was done in Tehri when the entire villages in the dam belt were shifted to New Tehri town.

An old saying goes: There is no greater disaster than greed. This adage fits well into the Joshimath subsidence. And it won’t stop at Joshimath. Many other towns will have the same fate in near future. Those in line with a Joshimath-like fate include Karnaprayag and Gopeshwar in Chamoli district, Ghansali in Tehri, Munshiyari and Dharchula in Pithoragarh, Bhatwari in Uttarkashi; Pauri, and Nainital in Kumaon region.

Hydroelectric projects have contributed the most in increasing the current episode. The present calamity must force us to deliberate and brainstorm on how to save other towns. The state system, by its natural responsibility, which becomes more prominent in a hilly state like Uttarakhand, has not been able to develop a solution. From the great earthquake of Garhwal in the year 1803 to the disaster of 2013 and the current disaster of February 2021 and Joshimath… this process continues to be ‘man-made’ than ‘natural’.

ALSO READ: ‘Not Just Joshimath, Entire State Sitting On A Powder Keg’

Scientific and social organizations have been continuously giving suggestions and warnings. Environment Ministry committees, CAG, High Court, and Supreme Court have intervened several times. The media has been highlighting the irregularities time and again, but the governments have always looked at it casually. A large part of society and scientists concerns remained neglected.

For example, in 1982, considering the scientific arguments of the ‘Chipko Movement’, it was decided to stop the construction of the ‘Vishnu Prayag Project’ or shortly before the construction of three hydroelectric projects in the upper reaches of Bhagirathi was stopped. But the hydropower lobby has been influencing the politics of the country. As a result, these projects never paid enough attention to the environment.

It’s high time that we woke up as a race and as a society – or in the near future, we will be left with no such place to admire and adore.

As Told To Rajat Rai

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‘If Covid Rebounds, Govt Must Ensure Uniform Treatment For All’

PU Vinod Sharma, a travel agent based in Ghaziabad, recalls how he was refused bed by a big private hospital despite his critical condition but treated with care at a Govt-run facility

There has been news reports about the possibility of Covid-19 making a comeback in the form of a new variant. The mere mention of Covid-19 wave reminds me of the ordeal I faced during the deadly Delta wave in the summer of 2021. I can still rewind the terrible memories, the shock of it all, and the trauma.

After contacting the virus, when my oxygen level was dropping fast, I was rushed to one of the chains of a famous and flourishing private hospital near Delhi-Ghaziabad border. Most of the time, I was not even aware of what was going on. For 12 hours, I waited for a bed before being told to look for the treatment elsewhere. Though I was given an O2 cylinder, the oxymeter showed my oxygen levels to be between 40 and 50.

I was in a critical state. It was traumatic for my wife who was alone with me at that time of the night, with no clue where to take me; desperate and helpless, she rushed me from this hospital to that, all in vain. I presume thousands of other citizens were facing a similar nightmare, struck by the virus, even while everything seemed to be collapsing in the health care system.

A friend advised that I try the Delhi Government-run Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital nearby. My family rushed there while I was gasping for breath, almost unconscious. I was lucky to get a bed, and, perhaps, the best medical treatment I could get in those chaotic times.

Family selfie time for PU Vinod

Despite the tremendous pressure, 24X7, including the fear of an infection, the doctors, nurses and other staff worked overtime with the patients, tirelessly. I was given oxygen and full medical treatment – free of cost. After a few days I realized that they have saved my life from the brink of death, even while a big private hospital unethically told me to leave at midnight and fend for myself.

ALSO READ: ‘India Can Tackle Any Covid Wave Now’

The sanitation was of high standards despite the rush of patients crowding in; the toilets were reasonably clean, given the circumstances. Three wholesome meals were provided. There was always medical assistance close by. We could talk on phone or make video phone calls to our family members and friends, if need be. Food and other things could be provided to the staff by the families to be delivered to the patients – if needed.

This was a much better arrangement and the patients felt reassured both by the medical staff, as much as by the presence of family members and well-wishers – even if it be through a video call. This was unlike many private hospitals where patients were isolated and quarantined, not able to communicate with their families. They were also not being told about their medical status, leaving them in confusion and fear. In one hall of a private hospital there were 15 patients (I did not get a bed and was waiting) with only two nurses, who were overworked and tired.

I would strongly recommend the following in the case of another pandemic emergency — there should be no discrimination towards patients across their economic and social status. In the previous wave, some rich and powerful were able to, reportedly, ‘book’ beds in advance; the appropriation of hospital space with money power even while others might be of greater need of critical care. Indeed, there should be no paucity of beds in the first instance, but the influential just cannot buy of beds and critical care. Besides, all private hospitals, including those who were charging high amounts, should be held accountable by law.

Second, the treatment I got during such an emergency situation in a Delhi-government-run hospital, which did its best under many constrains, should be fine-tuned and implemented across the entire hospital system. That should be the finest model of critical healthcare applied across the country, and not only in big cities like Delhi. Indeed, once again, I take this opportunity to thank the brave and dedicated medical team of Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital in Delhi, with the deepest feelings of gratitude and respect.

As told to Amit Sengupta

Ashwani Mehta, an Indian Navy veteran and a social worker based in Lucknow, says India has learnt its lessons from past Covid waves and is positioned well to handle any health calamity

‘Hybrid Immunity Will Help Us Tackle A Fresh Covid Wave’

Ashwani Mehta, an Indian Navy veteran and a social worker based in Lucknow, says India has learnt its lessons from past Covid waves and is positioned well to handle any health calamity

Covid-19 pandemic was a challenge not just for India but for the entire world. We indeed suffered a lot because of population density but a strong leadership at the centre and our robust medical research infrastructure helped us come out of the tragedy stronger. We not only developed an effective vaccine in record time but also produced and delivered serum to many countries.

As far as the new variant of the COVID -Omicron sub-variant BF.7 is concerned, we are well prepared and better positioned to handle any possible surge in future. The pandemic era taught us some lessons and the progress that India has achieved over the past few years has left the world astonished. India has set an example for generations to follow.

Looking at the situation in China, things have again started deteriorating due to a renewed surge. The Chinese authorities are reeling under the fresh wave and, in spite of trying to hide figures, a very high number of casualties.

Mehta says India has no reasons to fear a new surge

In comparision, India has no reasons to fear or to go on the back-foot as infection in India is currently under control. We belong to a generation that was left on the ground (mitti) to play… this helped us develop natural immunity. Post-Covid, a large part of our population has got vaccinated. Thus, we have among us a hybrid immunity – a combination of vaccination and natural immunity. As far as the backlashes of the new variant of the Corona virus is concerned, we are at safe. Therefore India is in a better position to fight the pandemic than China.

ALSO READ: ‘I Still Get Jitters When I Hear Covid Isn’t Over’

Having said that, I request our fellow countrymen to get vaccinated and if they already have, get the booster dose. According to the ICMR study, 65 to 70 percent of the population was affected by the wave of corona that had come to the fore in India. In some states, the number was even higher. Experts believe that this vast spread has created herd immunity.

Some such studies have also come out where it is mentioned that due to both natural and corona vaccine, the immunity will remain effective for a long time. Most people in India have acquired this immunity through dual contagian. Yet, as a responsible citizen, I request every Indian to remain prepared to fight against all any probable calamities and contribute to the nation building.

As told to Rajat Rai

Read more:

Covid Is Not Over Yet

‘I Get Jitters When I Hear Covid-19 Is Not Over Yet’

Satya Priya Shankar, 39, a Mumbai-based school teacher, says Govt must be mindful of the long-term implications of the pandemic which deepened the poverty pit

The covid-19 pandemic has been the first of its kind of health calamity the world witnessed in the 21st century. The cyclical slowdown that set in the Indian economy before the outbreak of the pandemic got intensified on the back of cliff effects and setbacks generated by the pandemic.

It is obvious that the pandemic has had a deep, searing impact on the Indian economy, in terms of both total monetary activity and livelihoods. The financial well-being of the masses had been struggling for several years before then too, with falling investment and employment. Covid gave it a fatal push, raising inequalities and challenging health and nutrition. We are constantly hearing that contagion is not over yet and the next wave is expected very soon. This news is giving us jitters, as we have to start saving a certain amount of our earnings to deal with lockdowns and pay cuts.

For the migrant working class in the informal sector, the loss of livelihood and the inability to meet the basic necessities of everyday living, such as housing and food, were the major concerns. Consequently, waves of workers and their families were forced into long treks to their faraway homes along roads and railway tracks crisscrossing the country. The middle class like us, in contrast, remained cloistered in their homes, with their health risk perceptions and economic insecurities.

ALSO READ: ‘I Lost My Partner To Covid, And I Blame Govt For It’

There is a section of the middle class that comprises shopkeepers, small transporters, catering, hospitality, entertainment; lawyers, self-employed professionals, teachers in private schools & colleges, running coaching centers, etc. Two waves of the virus have left this section as vulnerable as it experienced great financial stress due to restrictions and lockdowns.

It was this section that bore the brunt of the two coronavirus waves the most. With lockdowns and closures, their earnings completely dried up, and the expenses in the form of the family running cost, ongoing EMI, home and personal loans, fees of school and college-going children, rent, electricity bills, etc kept on piling on top of that we faced salary deductions too in the name of COVID. As a result, apart from financial stress, we had mental as well as physical stress too. We slogged for years to graduate from the lower to the middle class but these two waves of coronavirus pushed one-third of us back to the lower class with earnings of less than ₹700 per day.

The growing inequalities can create more consumption by the super-rich, but that will not be enough to dig the economy out of its current hole. A government in denial of this obvious fact can only make things worse.

In a nutshell, the government needs to take cognizance of this vulnerable section of the middle class which is meek, has no voice, is helpless, and lives under tremendous stress. They are prepared to do anything to fill their belly even after acquiring degrees like MBA, LLB, B.tech, B.Ed, etc. It will be most befitting if some attention is paid to this class too.

As told to Deepti Sharma

Read more: https://lokmarg.com/

Joshimath Disaster

‘Not Just Joshimath, Entire Uttarakhand is Sitting on a Powder Keg’

Suresh Nautiyal, a veteran environmentalist based in Uttarakhand, says consecutive governments have systematically blown away the gains of Chipko Movement

They have torn apart the heart of the hills in Uttarakhand. And this has been going on for decades, under all governments, be it the Congress or BJP. Indeed, the entire state is sitting on the brink of a man-made catastrophe.

Governments have cared two hoots for the vulnerable ecology of the hill state and willfully aligned with corporations, contractors, industrial companies and the construction mafia to irretrievably damage the inherent balance of nature. Roads, big dams which displaced thousands, real estate and mindless constructions violating all norms, unknown tunnels and aggressive religious tourism has all turned the clock to its current, tragic fate.

The murder of natural streams and rivers, the massacre of trees, the non-stop destruction of the organic eco-system in the relentless race for a capitalist model of unplanned development, blindly copying big cities in the plains, has ravaged the pristine ‘Dev Bhoomi’.

Joshimath is located on a ridge cut through by streams that descend from Vishnuprayag where Dhauliganga and Alaknanda rivers converge. Serious apprehensions were expressed in 2013 that the tunnels of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Project of the NTPC could cause huge damage.

A recent report by geologists and scientists like Dr SP Sati, Naveen Juyal and Shubhra Sharma was ignored. They said the slopes around the town were in delicate and unstable condition. Predictably, their concerns and warnings were overlooked.

Nautiyal (inset) believes Char Dham Project is another disaster in the making

The government-appointed Mishra Commission’s report, submitted in 1978, had clearly stated that no major construction work be carried out in Joshimath, as well as in the Niti and Mana valleys, since this region is situated on moraines.

ALSO READ: Lessons To Be Learnt From Kerala Disaster

Several authoritative reports predicted this impending catastrophe. But, they continued to build tunnels, structures and digging, to appease their masters, and to legitimize the big thermal power plant project. Now the entire town, a major landmark in the pilgrim and adventure route, is sitting on a volcanic moment of destruction, with thousands of people and homes under threat, and the authorities are pretending that they had no clue!

The 125-km Rishikesh-Karnaprayag railway line, being constructed reportedly at a whopping cost of Rs 20,000-crore, will lead to the construction of 35 bridges and 17 tunnels. The project cost will inevitably increase in the years to come. Hence, one can see the ‘real reason’ behind this project!

This has been a pattern in the entire state from Harsil to Karnaprayag, which is literally sitting on perennial landslides. So much so, pleas by civil society groups have been dumped in the garbage can. We have been pleading for so long for an alternative eco-friendly approach to development because of the special conditions in the hills, but they refuse to listen.

Several towns like Gangotri, Uttarkashi and Gopeshwar are sinking. Landsides, cloudbursts and flash floods are inevitable and have become part of the tragic lives of the condemned people of Uttarakhand.

Now, they have cut lakhs of trees for the expressway and multi-lane for the ‘Char Dham Yatra’, the pet project of the prime minister. This has effectively destroyed all the gains of the Chipko Movement and after. This will certainly have an extremely damaging impact on the fragile Himalayan eco-system.

The central and state government, therefore, should treat the situation as an emergency, and immediately stop all construction work in the state, including thermal power projects. And this must include the PM’s pet project. Indeed, we need a serious rethink. Or else, one Joshimath would follow another!

(The narrator is a member of the Uttarakhand Chintan Group founded in 2007)

As told to Amit Sengupta

Read more: https://lokmarg.com/