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When business rules our kitchens

Once again there is a food safety scare. A deadly strain of E coli bacterium has hit Germany, where it has taken the lives of 25 people and affected another 2,300 till date. German food inspectors on the trail of the source of contamination ha­ve as yet made two errors—blaming Spanish cucumbers and then organic bean sprouts—but no breakthrough.

From forestry to productive forestry

My position on the need to re-position forests in development (see ‘Rethink growth with forest capital’, Down To Earth, May 16-31) has brought me a huge response. On the one hand are those who argue that functions of forests already include conservation vital to life; they need to be valued and protected. The unsaid (and often stressed) corollary is that any discussion on the need to improve productivity of forests through the involvement of people needs to be shunned. The stretched and simplistic positioning of this view is that forests and people cannot go together.

Rethink growth with forest capital

Can you love tigers but hate forests? This is the question that troubled me as I visited the middle of India last fortnight. I was in Nagpur, where local politicians, conservationists and officials were discussing what needed to be done in this chronically poor and backward region endowed with forests and tiger habitats.

Shifting sands of (mal) development

We were on a beach. Somewhere close to Puducherry. The sight was surreal: half-smashed houses with wide open fronts, people still living in them. The devastation was caused not by a sea storm or a cyclone, but by the eroded beach. The sea had crept up to the village; there was no protection between the sea and the village.

The big idea for change: bamboo as grass

“Stroke of the pen” reform is critical as in many cases policy is dastardly and change is laggardly. The essential element is to find that big-ticket item that can have impact on a scale and at a pace that is needed. I believe Union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh’s letter addressed to all chief ministers clarifying that bamboo is indeed a grass and not timber, is such an item.

Connected events and difficult future

Two major events happening at two ends of the world—Japan’s natural disaster and nuclear fallout and unrest in Libya and other countries of the region—have one thing in common. Energy. The fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, hit by earthquake and then the tsunami, has not yet been contained. As I write this, news is breaking about possible contamination of the seawater surrounding the damaged installation. Fears are it could lead to groundwater contamination and radioactive toxins in the food and fish. Last week there was a scare when Tokyo’s water was reported to have iodine 131 in excess of safe limits. Nobody really knows how badly the core of the reactor is damaged. Nobody’s clear how Fukushima’s problems will be buried.

Indian scientists: missing in action

I suspect Indian scientists have retired hurt to the pavilion. They were exposed to nasty public scrutiny on a deal made by a premier science research establishment, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with Devas, a private company, on the allocation of spectrum. The public’s verdict was that the arrangement was a scandal; public resources had been given away for a song. The government, already scam-bruised, hastily scrapped the contract. Since then there has been dead silence among the powerful scientific leaders of the country, with one exception. Kiran Karnik, a former employee of ISRO and board member of Devas, spoke out. He explained it is wrong to equate this deal with the scam of mobile telephony, where it was alleged that the minister fiddled with procedures to hand out spectrum at throwaway prices. The reason is that this band of spectrum called S-band, reserved for use in satellites, is different from terrestrial spectrum used by mobile operators. In the S-band the users are different, risks are higher and the customer base is smaller. Hence, the cost calculations done for terrestrial spectrum cannot be used to estimate the loss to the exchequer in the ISRO-Devas contract.

Think differently, Mr Finance Minister

As I write this piece, the finance minister has dispatched the Union Budget 2011. The press is busy reflecting the views of business and industry lobbies, as they quibble over duty exemptions, insist on financial stimulus and other incentives, and cry for big-ticket reform—foreign direct investment in retail and insurance. The only other discussion is about the growing fiscal deficit: will the finance minister give in to populism while extending the programmes for the poor? Or will he raise taxes to pay for the growing developmental needs of the country? The finance minister, it would seem, is caught between two battles: of checking the bulge in fiscal irresponsibility and of meeting the need for delivering governance.

On the fast lane

I was grounded in a village in Alirajpur, Chaktala in Sondwa block, (Jhabua District Madhya Pradesh) due to travel sickness, while my colleague went to see some good work on the wadi concept being undertaken by a local NGO and funded by NABARD. When I woke up around 6 in the evening feeling reasonably normal, I was sitting at the doorway of the house, waiting for the return of others.

Fatal disconnect

The World Economic Forum—the gathering of power glitterati each year in Davos—has assessed the top risks the world faces in 2011. According to this analysis, climate change is the highest-ranking risk the world will face in the coming years, when its likelihood and impact are combined. What’s even more important is the interconnections between climate change and the other top risks: economic disparity (ranked 3), extreme weather events (ranked 5), extreme energy price volatility (ranked 6), geopolitical conflict (ranked 7), flooding and water security (9 and 10). The world—even according to the richest men—is in deep and desperate trouble.

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