Articles

Nature And Modern Life : Mission For 21st Century

LIVING WITH NATURE IN MODERN FORM - MISSION FOR THE TWENTYFIRST CENTURY

NATURE AND MODERN LIFE

Three years ago we started this series, with the encouragement of and blessings from Dr. N Mahalingam. We have covered a lot of ground on issues relating to the modern world, the Indian context and actions required for maximising benefits for All Indians. Our all covered all Indians, present now and to be born in the future and also those who may make India their home. But it did not mean each one will get an equal measure of everything.

There are limitations from Nature. First of all, the immense diversity of Nature would mean attempts towards a single uniformity is not possible. One size-fit-all solutions will not work except for the beauty of the words appearing as slogans and hypes.

We have emphasized all through the series, the importance of agriculture (which includes other primary forms life like animals, birds etc...) in human life. Whatever be modern forms of life styles, it will continue to occupy the primary position especially for larger counties like India fascinated by IT sector and large money that is obtained form foreign (developed country) contracts as outsourced job orders, (but only to a small fraction of educated Indians) the country’s policy makers as and the middle class had built up a scenario of “Services sector” and “Knowledge Economy” being the panacea for achieving a “developed India”. The benefits of liberalisation and globalisation in 1991, was virtually hijacked by the IT sector lobby leading to growing neglect of Agriculture, Mining and Manufacturing Sector.

DEVELOPED INDIA

The major national exercise done Technology Information, forecasting and assessment Council (TIFAC) which led to the book “India 2020: Vision for a New Millennium” by Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam and Y.S. Rajan, emphasised a balanced approach. It pointed out that Agriculture and Agro-Processing have to play a very major role for India along with Mining and  Manufacturing. It is sad that much of those specific action plans were drowned in slogans of “Services Economy” and “Sunset Industries” (which were the traditional huge employment generating manufacturing and mining sectors).

Under the slogan of “Services sector”, financial sector grew jacking up GDP figures. Reality sector grew on this hype, with large assistance from the black money already available “freely” in India. Corruption grew leaps and bounds and crony capitalism is a natural consequence.

Thus the concept of evenly developed India was the casualty. India has now a skewed development based partly on the hard work of Kisans, equally hard struggles of Micro-small-Medium-Enterprises MSME’s who have to face corrupt Government machinery, terrible electric power shut downs and severe global competition from countries like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam etc...), a few honest big companies, and rest of it through crony capitalism, crony imperialism (of nurtured imports ranging form Defence to gas to coal to machineries to electronics to software).

Governments, activists, media, “popular” intellectuals, some gullible middle class persons and politicians think that this terrible skew which leaves out a huge bulky base (BB) out of productive economic activity, can be corrected through a series of “doles” through enactment of Bills for universal education, universal employment guarantee or a compensation, universal food security through govt supplied grains etc... - all through tax money.

If wealth is not created, it cannot be distributed. This simple law of life is conveniently forgotten. Net result is that Indian people suffer.

WHAT HAVE WE COVERED SO FAR?

Agriculture: With the above in view, it was but natural that the first six articles covered various facets of Agriculture. The emphasis was on many reforms needed to the governance of agriculture; to free it from the shackles of govt controls, some of them being knee-jerk reactions to market reactions; vote bank politics etc... More importantly we have also addressed the modern technologies that need to be adopted to reduce rain-dependence. The sixth article was about the role of Biotechnology and the need to adopt many of it and against the irrational activism that creates scare about GM crops.

Standards: The seventh article addresses a very important issue about the STANDARDS. This is forgotten or ignored by agriculturists, MSME’s and even big businesses persons. Much of the bureaucracy considers such issue as another file or sending a delegation to international meetings. Politicians do not bother about them at all. Mostly some vocal activists and media looking for spicy news, build slogans on this issue; some even catching the attention of honourable courts, who are not fully equipped to look at the totality of impact on all Indians. If Europe has adopted or USA has adopted it, then India should! It is a sign of a developed, modern advanced India! It is well known that a number of such activists are supported by commercial / vested interests from developed countries. They lobby for everything: low emission cars; anti-GM; ban on pesticides; ban on some medicines; ban on plastic bags; new standards for home /l ocal made wines; food purity etc... The regime of World Trade Organisation (WTO) covers Agriculture; it refers to phytosanitary conditions. Under that proviso, many of India’s agricultural produce can be denied access to other countries thus affecting Indian agricultural exports. They may even, some day, cleverly argue that Indian five-and-three-star hotels should only procure international quality produce as otherwise they are being subsidised by poor quality Indian local produce! Note, only very recently European Union countries raised some objections (sought clarifications!) about India’s Food security programme and whether it will disturb world trade!.

It is not our case that Indian products should not have tighter standards. But it invariably means higher cost of production and higher price. Can all Indians afford to pay, should be an important criterion. If the people of those developed countries evolved over many decades over such lower standards, why should India leap frog, leaving a large number of Indians in the lurch?

As a classic example let those who can afford even to import their bottled water do so! Let them not shout for tighter standards when resources need to be put in cleaning municipal water supplies to supply reasonably hygienic water for all. 

There is also special article on Animals and Birds for health and wealth recently as article 32. This is crucial for agriculture and involve many standards. 

I will cite two of my actual experiences in coordinating internationally on the emerging standards, amongst the many in which I was involved during my professional career. During the 1970’s and 1980’s many of the currently existing standards, rules, and laws regarding the peaceful uses of outer space (PUOS) were coordinated in the UN committee on it: UN COPUOS. It still operates. India through ISRO was an active participant; I therefore had an active role. We could see the clever ways in which the developed countries tried to push for new standards which will push back the gains made by countries like India and China in catching up with space technology.

For example they pushed for very strong tightening of standards orbital slot location in Geostationary Orbit (GSO).

This would have made the satellite control systems very costly and also such technologies were denied to India, China etc... who had, by then, nearly mastered the earlier technologies used by the West. But the idea was sold in a clever way to other developing countries saying that it is like parking in New York (where UN meetings took place and N.Y. was notorious for congestion). But in reality in those decades, GSO was nearly empty. We also equally countered their move by talking to the representatives of developing countries and exposing the hidden agenda, of keeping the technology applications only to themselves. There were many such instances.

Later during 1990’s when I was with TIFAC we came across another interesting case. TIFAC was then successfully executing Sugar Technology Mission (STM). One day the Mission director J.J. Bhagat came to me and said that he learnt from Sugar Industry sources that Indian Ministry of Health going to accept a new standard for sulphur content of sugar, proposed by some world organisations and developed countries. It would put most Indian Sugar industry in jeopardy. TIFAC itself  at that time was working with a few Indian sugar industries on technologies to make new sulphur free processes. But it would take time for all Indian sugar industry to adopt.

Moreover, the amount of sulphur involved was negligible. It was not of any harmful proportion, nor were there compelling reasons through scientific studies. Such geo commercial politics are not uncommon even now!.

Also in India there was / is poor coordination between departments / ministries on such emerging issues. Health ministry officials just took it as Health issue and left it for the “Indian delegation” to deal with, without the back up studies on its impact on India. Fortunately STM / TIFAC which came under the Department of Science and Technology (STM) was alerted by sugar Industry; we had good coordination with Ministry of Food under which subject of sugar came. A strong delegation from India was sent and this proposal was postponed for future.

Among the arguments given was “why target sugar alone for sulphur? What about whiskey? One peg of whiskey has more sulphur than the whole day consumption of sugar in tea / coffee etc...” There were other arguments as well.

On the other side, TIFAC’s alert to leather industry during early 1990’s about their use of azo dyes which were carcinogenic and therefore would be banned by Germany and others, was not taken seriously by the Ministry. When the ban from Germany came into effect, later (It was published by Germany years in advance) there was a hue and cry! Indian media talked of Western conspiracy!

Yes some emerging standards are good. We need not oppose all of them. Standard makers (in its draft forms) always give a lead time for implementation. We need to prepare technologically and equip the existing industry and workforce to adapt.

The way we in India had ignored the dimensions of technologies and standards, during the GATT negotiations since 1990’s till it came to final stages of WTO, will make history! It is in this context, foresight is crucial which was addressed separately in this series of articles.

We can give more examples. We have done in our Kisan World article have alerted our intellectuals and public to be aware of this modern tool called STANDARDS, which are used for domination of markets. Let us be alert, and use realistic standards for Indian people in which they can have confidence. Let us be more closer to Nature, in doing so. This alertness and having our own level of standards are crucial for modernising India and all Indians.

BASIC ISSUES ABOUT LIVING WITH NATURE AND DILEMMAS:

Article 8, is still valid and I would request the readers to revisit it. Living with Nature in the modern forms is a great challenge. We will all be bombarded with new knowledge, fast changes, severe competitions, and unforeseen disasters (including items like financial sector, Wall Street, collapse of 2008, the consequences of which are felt even now). In addition hundreds of TV channels and trillions of bytes in social cyber media hit us. Terrorism is becoming endemic. Similarly many viruses from HIV, H1N1 to avian flu to many more variants are causing serious deaths.

Population is on the rise, due to the totality of modern facilities, as longevity goes up which may soon reach 100 years for whose who are born in the 21st century (born after 2000).

Finding some reasonable answers and have a balanced life for all, is the challenge, we need to face and find practical solutions. In fact the entire series is meant to equip the readers with a mental make up (mind set) to find solutions all through their lives.

DISASTERS AND NATURE’S PERILS:

Ninth article, was on Disaster Management. A recent article (29th) in the series addressed it too. As human societies grow in size and get more prosperous, the impacts of (losses due to) natural disasters and human induced disasters become huge. When we are struggling to build up infrastructure, large portions of Utttarakhand is washed away. Orissa and some parts of coastal Andhra face regular and severe cyclones. When the human kind assiduously tried to control CO2 missions from its industries, Nature burns many thousands of hectares of forests and bushes releasing many tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere, and also causing damage to human and animal lives.

Dangers to humanity and infrastructures built for modern life are not just from earth alone, there are cosmic sources as well. These are described in Article 29. Such perils from Nature can perhaps not be eliminated by human beings even after several centuries. But humans can learn to anticipate and build up mechanisms to minimise damage. Building such capabilities against “external dangers” can hopefully, also provide a platform for the human kind to work together instead of being at war.

GLOBALISATION AND RELATED ISSUES:

World has a reasonable experience in the fast moving Globalisation of today for about three decades. It was heralded as a WIN-WIN for all by the free-trade protagonists. While it has brought in a number of benefits for many countries including India, the fast growth of recent decades was due to that) there are serious other issues which are worrisome. Stating this is not a case for getting into isolationism or controlled economy of the past (44 years after independence). Globalisation of economics / markets bring in concerns of other parts of the world: how they look at modern life, how they look at the relations to Nature etc... Also the competition sharpens. The efficiency demanded of Indian economy and therefore of productivity of Indians come into sharp focus. In a globalized economy and market place, those which are less efficient and of lower productivity lose out. Part of the current problems inIndia (in sharp contrast to China) are due to the fact that India ignored many issues which are addressed in this article.

Immediately associated issue is about the knowledge asymmetry between the developed world / developed companies and developing countries / laggard companies. This knowledge asymmetry is pervasive in India in polity, business, academia, “intellectual space” etc... We have to learn to look at the mirror and rectify the problem instead of being complacent that we are a great “knowledge super power”.

LEARNING:

Continual learning will therefore be crucial for all segments of society and all sectors of economy. Without such a learning there can be no innovation; no ability to take advantage of modern knowledge; no capacity to live with Nature, drawing less from it and gaining more benefits for all Indians.

Articles 12, 13 and 14 address various aspects of such learning societies with strong emphasis on the Indian context. In articles 17 and 18, specific emphasis is given to the preparation for ushering into a continual learning paradigm in the Indian economic sctors: agriculture, manufacturing and services. The specifics given here address immediate, short term and medium term actions with the long term view of living with Nature in the modern forms.

GOVERNANCE

All what we can understand, learn, know and aspire about India, can be achieved only with a proper form of governance. There are several facets to it. These are addressed in article 15 - Governance Creative and Adaptive; article 22 - Governance - Essential and Critical; article 25 - Corruption: Corrosive and cancerous; article 30 - Youthful Indians: what is future? We have also discussed solutions for having good governance in all other articles.

The emphasis based on the empirical experience of India over the past six-and-half decades as well as other countries, is one of  strong decentralisation, learning from Biology and Evolution.

There is thus a Chapter 21 on Ideology of Diversity : Role of Youth; and also one on the Values for a Sustainable World in article 27.

The last article was about the Identity crises engulfing India and how to restore a balance through our tradition and languages. This ia a larger issue of governance and polity.

MISCELLANEOUS

Other important but stand alone type of articles are: article 16 on Numbers : how to understand them; limitations of “scientific” findings etc... This is crucial to understand, as often the numbers projected in public domain are either foolish or mischievous. To live in modern world, we need to acquire individual capability to understand what is behind a projected number: be it for investing in a stock or selecting a school or buying a product!

Another one is on Access of Affordable Medical Services. This is a crucial issue. Copying the West is of no use. There have been successful experiences of mobile diagnostic centres in India... They will increase access many fold with very low investment costs. There is no question of having modern life for all Indians, without reasonably easy access to modern medical services. In a similar way India unique solutions need to found for Waste Minimisation and Utilisation (Article 26), Use of Plastics (Article 3), as well as acceptance of and facilitation of organic growth of slums with reasonable access to modern life (Article 35). In a similar way, India would have to shun the “throw away” culture promoted by the Western societies and seek its own methods for Maintenance as a mainstay of sustainability. Maintenance as a profession needs to be respected and a large workforce skilled for it; today it exists more-or less in a ‘jugaad mode.

For the modern life multiple changes within a generation is a reality. Therefore capability to foresee through modern tools of foresight (TIFAC is one example) are crucial; but foresight does not mean just to give a “vision” and forget the details. Foresight and attention-to-details need to be integrated. This is  addressed in Article 24 with some examples.

Another interesting article in this connection is the scenarios of Alternate Worlds 2030 (Article 28). It contains several clues as to the choices of paths for India.

The scenario of Alternate World 2030 given by us in that article, based on an US study and our own additions in the Indian context (for facilitating Indian options/solutions well in advance) was only an example. The world is churning. Geopolitics due to the compulsions of domestic economy, job losses, availability of a new energy sources like shale gas as well as decades long frustrations, fears and hatred which were building up in some societies (as in the Middle East now and also some parts of Asia, South Asia etc., in addition to continuing turmoils in Africa etc., are confluencing now. USA itself has now many fissures on policies. China is growing and yet its systemic problems are very serious too-from its opaque banking system to serious corruption to newer aspirations of the middle class etc...

It is not easy to speculate on them. Indian media – TV channels, newspapers, cyber media and even social networks - don't care about these issues. We are too engrossed in some local micro – micro issues alone: a murder, a rape, a scam, a CAG Report, an accusation by an activist etc... Not that they do not have a space for consideration. But we do not even worry now about the border with Pakistan and the impending elections in Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives. Most Indian elites won’t even think of Myanmar; rapid changes are going to be there, challenging much of our low end trade! Do we convert challenges into opportunities or a potential disaster which strikes like a cyclone because we did not care for the early warning.

On the other end of the spectrum, military strategies in the developed world have transformed radically. To quote General William L Shelton, Commander, Air Force Space Command USA. “Our military satellites are technological marvels providing time-critical global access, global persistence, and awareness. These system not only provide foundational game-changing capabilities for our joint forces, they also have become vital assets for the global community and our world economy”.

Thus Indian and Indians need to live in a such a world of geo-politics churning local politics in other countries impacting others including India, global commercial competition (fair, unfair and clever), high levels of military capabilities already achieved or being achieved/access by other countries as well as various forms of terrorisms being witnessed within India, with terrorists achieving almost a walk-in type of capability to strike the places of their choice.

Indian elite, intellectuals, activists and general public, cannot afford to ignore these dimensions of life. Living with Nature does not mean a passive, “green” and slow moving life. It also demands the ability to be aware of and agile for all that is happening and be prepared for what may emerge. It requires a special vitality to enjoy Nature.

NATURE, COLLECTIVE AND INDIVIDUAL

Having discussed all the above, let us remind ourselves that they have to be in the human context. Humanity has to exist as a part of Nature! But a theoretical Nature, as an invisible invocation when human beings have to sacrifice their good lives cannot make sense. All the earlier socialistic rhetoric of collective good as against individual good, has boomeranged. Now people, especially youth, are strongly oriented for  individual “good”, quite understandably. If individual as a unit is forgotten collective is vacuous. If collective is completely ignored for instant individual gratification, collective will collapse and individuals will collapse as well.

This is where the “laws of Nature” comes in. There has to be a balance between human individual and human collective; and well beyond the super collective biospheres earth, oceans, atmosphere, space, outer space etc... which is what Nature is. Nature is not a mere laundry list of such items. It is the sum total of these and many more which we do not know now, but will know later. Our ideas of Nature itself is an evolutionary, growing one. Similarly the collective and individual is a symbiosis.

It is not difficult to find firm and final answers. But posing questions and searching for answer, will help individuals, and the collective of individuals.

These issues are discussed in three articles (Article 19 and 20 Nature Common Good; Global and Local and Article 33 Individual and Collective). The relationship between Local(s) and Global is somewhat similar to relationship between Individuals and Collective.

I would request the readers of Kisan World to ponder over these questions

FURTHER ON:

We had attempted in this brief article to take stock of what we have covered so far. Naturally many of the articles addressed immediate issues for better life for all Indians. They therefore addressed the mitty-gritty of govt. policies, technological options, skilling of Indians at various socio-economic levels (Bulky-Base, Lower Middle Class, Middle Class, Upper Middle Class, Rich and super Rich) etc...

Often times in these articles, we had to appeal for a mind set change from the current one-size fit-all centralised solutions and governance systems towards decentralised, diversity-accepting-governance systems. This is crucial to succeed and to give good life for all Indians (in fact for all people of the world if their countries try to apply these principles in their contexts).

This conclusion and appeal is not only based on the human empirical experience in many countries so far including India, but is also based on modern understanding of biology and Nature: Diversity is the essential guiding principle. Life is not a mass production line which turns out ‘uniform’ products in a six-sigma conditions of quality.

Continual learning from the coded – messages of the past and the current experiences as well as continual adaptation is the essence of life. There is competition yet a balance; attempts for predation but self-limitations to that. 

Of course, we cannot, within a human society, adopt some of the ruthless punishments which Nature gives. But we need to create mechanisms for self-limitation and self-control for individual and collective levels.

We can learn a lot from Nature about symbiosis and syncretism. Many older civilisations like India have successfully lived lives them for centuries. Some of these are being threatened now either through some sub-collective Identities or individual extremisms.

We hope to address some of these in the forth coming articles. In the meanwhile, I will be grateful, if the readers send me their comments, critiques and also about some of the many important issues which have not been addressed yet. It will help me to learn more and share with you some of my ideas on them.

Y S Rajan

31-10-2013