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Cleaning Up the Ganges: A Free Markets Alternative

Saurabh Malkar

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My recent reading of an article detailing the amount of money squandered on the cleanup of the Ganges River prompted me to look into the conundrum. The Ganges is one of the most critical rivers in India – economically and culturally. It begins its journey in the Himalayas and ends up in the Bay of Bengal.

Along its over one and a half thousand miles long course, it serves as a source of irrigation for most of the farmland in the plains of North India, hosts large population centers, and draws in millions of religious Hindus and foreign tourists every year.

As expected with any major river supporting commerce, urban centers, and tourism, the Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world and has stubbornly maintained its notoriety for many decades.

According to one estimate around $735 million has been spent on the cleanup of the Ganges River since 1986. Narendra Modi’s appointment as the Prime Minister of India in 2014 saw a budgetary allocation of $3 billion towards bringing the much-revered river back to life. Over two years in, the cleanup operation is behind schedule and rudderless, while having utilized a billion dollars of the allocated money.

This comes as no surprise because that’s how government projects unfold. They are third party purchases where the government uses money it doesn’t own to buy goods and services that it doesn’t consume. Neither does it care about the price, nor does it obsess over the quality.

Bureaucrats burned over $65,000 (a significant sum in the Indian context) on holding a meeting to discuss the cleanup project. A large chunk of the sum was spent on paying for officials’ travel expenses. Floral decorations, an unnecessary fixture, cost 10 times what it would have cost on a first party purchase.

In an exhaustive article published in The New Yorker, George Black, meticulously walks the reader through the details of pollution, while weaving in the political and cultural forces that are intricately connected to the current morass.

The origins of the Ganges’ pollution can be traced back to four chief activities: waste (human and non-human) from religious rituals, crematory debris, industrial effluence, and raw sewage from urban population centers on the banks of the river.

The Ganges is the one of the most sacred elements of Hindu mythology. It’s no wonder that it is often apotheosized and is referred to as ‘mata,’ meaning mother. Hindus from all over the country descend upon the Ganges at specific points along its course (which happen to be major population centers) to pay homage and wash themselves (literally) off their sins. The result is heaps of paper, plastic, flower petals, and other materials that make up a standard religious offering, clustered at the banks, forming a thick layer on the water, disrupting the flow. Not to mention, people don’t hesitate to relieve themselves whilst standing in the water.

For a devout Hindu, being cremated on the banks of the Ganges is the most sublime farewell they can hope to get. Thus, the riverbank, at certain locations, is dotted with funeral fires with ashes flying around and settling on the water, giving the surface a matt grey appearance. Once the fire dies out, the leftovers – a mix of ash, un-burnt wood, and human remains – are thrown into the water.

The riverbanks are a perfect place for setting up industries and factories. With a large, unmonitored flowing body of water available to the factory owners, disposing of industrial waste is a breeze. The bustling city of Kanpur along the banks of the Ganges is famous for its leather tanneries – a multi-billion dollar export industry. But the tanning process is chemically intensive and heavily polluting. Only a third of the tanneries treat the waste before dumping it into the river. The others just let it run off untreated through open surface drains/gutters and sluiceways.

Varanasi (Benares) is a city of immense religious importance to Hindus. This city exemplifies the ‘Indian exotica’ that many tourists come over to visit. But built in ancient times, it’s full of narrow alleys that make up a Byzantine network. Due to structural impediments and a deeply corrupt and incompetent government, the city doesn’t have a sewer system and relies upon open surface drains, natural gradients, and sluiceways to direct untreated, raw sewage into the river.

In some ways, the Ganges suffers in a similar manner as did the River Thames in the mid-nineteenth century. And just like the inept British government at the time failed to clean up the Thames, so does the inherently corrupt, incompetent, and indolent present-day Indian governance flounders with the Ganges.

And just like a radical reform helped clean up the Thames, a similar profound change of gears might just revive the Ganges. I am speaking of using the principles of free markets and limited government to tackle this sticky and stinky problem.

The first major step will require ‘privatizing’ the Ganges. Although its sounds heretical, we need to be realistic and take note of the fact that places of worship under private management are often maintained in pristine condition.

The course of the river could be broken down into segments based on the purpose it serves and could be leased out to companies that specialize in clean up and management of natural resources. The bidding process should be accessible to both domestic and foreign competitors. Firms should be free to manage the allotted segments as they wish so long as they don’t hurt the environment, neighboring businesses, and people’s religious sentiments. The firms could generate revenues out of making access to the riverbanks a paid and gated affair. They should also be free to impose reasonable restrictions on activities that produce huge cleanup costs and untoward environmental consequences.

Thus, private firms will treat the land and water resource as business, attempting to reap profits out of managing them, and in turn achieving the desired environmental goals.

Segments that are utilized for irrigation and industrial setups should be leased off to appropriate contractors, perhaps in the waste management and irrigation solutions industries. The tanneries could be introduced to contractors in waste treatment to come up with mutually agreeable solutions to tackling waste dumping. Mandating tanneries to have their own treatment solutions could incentivize a cooperative effort between them and the waste treatment firms.

Using a private-public partnership model (PPP), a modern underground sewage system, including treatment plants, could be planned out for the numerous population centers that dot the banks of the Ganges.

Oversight of the above contracts and processes should be handled by environment watchdogs, comprised usually of concerned private individuals, or by professional private auditors. The overseers should report to the independent, constitutionally-sanctioned environmental watchdog and judicature – the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

The NGT, at present, doesn’t have the judicial prowess and reach of a court of law. With ambiguity surrounding the jurisdiction and judicial reach of the NGT, the legal framework for environmental crimes is fraught with loopholes and question marks.

Conferring the NGT with judicial legitimacy, clarifying its jurisdiction, and ordaining it as an environmental crimes’ special court will go a long way in ensuring compliance on the part of all actors in the marketplace.

Appointing a diverse jury of civil engineers, activists, environmental engineers, and scientists will help develop a well-rounded perspective on cases.

Big-box contractors should be introduced to startups, of which there are quite a few, to develop innovative solutions to commonplace problems like water surface litter management and leaching of industrial chemicals in the water amongst others.

While the free markets aren’t a panacea to all problems, they have shown to produce better results than central planning or the lip service of a politician occupying the bully pulpit. With the government failing to deliver results after over thirty years of different attempts at the hands of several administrations and bucket loads of money thrown down the drain, it’s about time to give the ‘invisible hand’ a try.

An ex-dentist and a business graduate who is greatly influenced by American conservatism and western values. Having born and brought up in a non-western, third world country, he provides an ‘outside-in’ view on western values. As a budding writer and analyst, he is very much stoked about western culture and looks forward to expound and learn more. Mr. Malkar receives correspondence at saurabh.malkar[at]gmail.com. To read his 140-character commentary on Twitter, follow him at @saurabh_malkar

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South Asia

PTI Government in Pakistan: To full-fill its promise on curbing Corruption

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Big achievements of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf) Government in Pakistan. Corruption is an international phenomenon, especially among developing and underdeveloped countries. Corruption is a major hurdle in the fight against poverty and development. However, the beneficiary of corruption is still the developed world. The rulers from developing and underdeveloped world, transfer all their black money to developed countries and in the end, developed world enjoy out of their black money.

Pakistan, being a developing country, no exception to this curse. During the last few governments, it was very much visible. Either it was financial corruption of moral corruption, all are equally harmful to the country. Previous few governments, appointed corrupt and unqualified persons on key posts and used them as their front men in corruption.

Some of their front men were an evil genius and committed heinous crimes in such a technical manner that it is very difficult to find out evidence. Either it is fake accounts or various forms of money laundering or in the form of subsidies or government grants, commissions or kickbacks in projects or procurement, bribes or gift, all are the same but with different forms to harm the socio-economic of this country.

It was in the manifesto of PTI, and part of its slogan during the election campaign, to fight against corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech on several occasions has promised with the nation that, he will fix all corrupt, irrespective of their status in the society. It is logical to start from the big fish and later on to common corrupt officials at junior levels.

Pakistan’s judiciary and the military are also on the same page and extending full support to the PTI government’s mission to eliminate corruption from this society once for all. The recent arrests are just the beginning of accountability and have to go on a long journey. May it take one term or even next term, but the accountability process must keep on going till the eradication of corruption completely.

Pakistan is under the heavy foreign-debt, worth US Dollars 100 billion approximately. Who took this huge loan? Have they worked out, how to pay back? Have they spent all the loans on the development of Pakistan? Why this loan has not been trickled down impact? Why this heavy loan could not improve Pakistan’s economy? How useful was this loan to common man of Pakistan? Why IMF could not improve the governance of Pakistan? Why IMF failed to improve performance of Pakistan? Why IMF could not give positive advice to Government of Pakistan? The lenders also need to be blamed for lending without any feasibility and failure of IMF packages offered to Pakistan during last one decade or so long. Why few families (rulers) become more rich and country become poorer?

If the sitting governments of that times have been borrowing without any planning or homework or without considering how to pay back, all of them must be held responsible for this heinous crime against the nation. Whether they are inside Pakistan or left the country, they must be arrested and brought back to face justice.

If only a few corrupt families are arrested and asked for the return of looted money, Pakistan can get rid of its major part of foreign-debt. We may not need any bailout package from the IMF or any help from any friendly country. All the looted money must be returned, all the illegal assets must be confiscated and suctioned out. All the recovered money must be used to pay back our foreign-debt.

There is no need to impose additional taxes and duties on the common man. Electricity, Fuel, Gas and consumer products may be kept on the original position. It is illogical that the common man, who is not responsible for the debt and still suffers due to the corruption of rulers.  It is desired, the previous rulers, who have pushed the country into economic chaos, should be held responsible and all damages need to be compensated by them only. There is no need to punish the whole nation for few criminals. Recovery from previous corrupt rulers is very much do-able and very much possible, above all very much desired. There are examples available in the world, how they recovered looted money from their big shots.  Saudi Arabia has done it well. China is a role model to be followed in this regard.  The Chinese government is willing to share its experience and expertise in fighting against corruption.

Our internal resources may be utilized fully to control corruption and recover all black money. Even if there is a need to introduce new legislation, the Government should not hesitate. Masses in Pakistan stands with Government on this issue. The government should move smartly in this direction with full strength and confidence. Public support is already there.  However, if the Government fails to accomplish this task, it may lose popularity.

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South Asia

Gentlemen’s game or Propaganda? Cricket and the India-Pakistan Voices

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Can a sport be utilized as an effective propaganda tool? And if so, does it ideally mean that government intrusion is a necessity for its success? The answer to this question lies in the reflection of the cricket scenario in Asia. Although recognized as a gentlemen’s game, much can be said about its dichotomy as a weapon in the ever-growing war between India and Pakistan. Cricket propaganda has become a major trend over the past decade between the two countries as competition remains scarce with the political tensions and matches are seen as a great opportunity to reflect those political tensions. 

Recently, the tension between the two countries escalated with a suicide bombing attack sponsored by the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This grave attack resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, which in the opinion of the Indian government was an act of war leading them to raise the issue on the global platform. Surprising, one of the biggest acts of public response, with the usual backlash of the country’s rights over the Kashmir valley, was a call to abandon the upcoming match between the two countries following the start of the ICC cricket world cup. Although, the Modi government did conduct airstrikes against Pakistan, leading to a major confrontation between the two countries along the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border between the two countries), a large scale debate about whether India should abandon the game was a hotly debated topic in the country.

It is worth noticing that later the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), did hand over the matter to the Modi government, after which the decision was inclined towards the sportsmanship of the country, however, both the Indian cricket team and the BCCI were not ready to desert the will of the public that easily. Involved in an ODI series with Australia, the Indian team walked out wearing military caps as a sign of apparent solidarity with the troopers killed in the terrorist attack. Never before had Team India taken it upon themselves to spread such jingoistic propaganda on a global scale and make such overt statement. The rise of the protestors in Pakistan were met with official statements from the International body of Cricket (ICC), stating their approval as a means of “support” to the Indian team for a fund-raising effort for their fallen soldiers.  

Similarly, in an act of nationalistic fervor, the BCCI decided to get Pakistan banned from the upcoming world-cup prior to its commencement but was severely backlashed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to keep politics away from the sanctity of the game. Although BCCI was unsuccessful in passing an unrealistic degree of order, given their large scale influence on the International body, it was clear that cricket had become an additional weapon of mass destruction and means of propaganda between the two countries.

So has the situation become better now? Recently, an Ad-war following the start of the world cup has emerged between the two countries, given their highly anticipated upcoming clash on the 16th of June. Ahead of the Sunday clash-guaranteed to put both the nations at a standstill- Star Sport’s Mauka ad ( loosely translated to a chance of winning) has captured the attention of the Indian fans, as the video has garnered over 2.5 million views after it was published on 10th June 2019. This video currently stands as a reprise an extension of the “Patakhe kab podhenge” campaign (clumsily translated to “When will be get to burn crackers”), wherein a Pakistani fan never gets a chance to burn his crackers as Pakistan is always defeated by India on a world cup stage, as indicated by the records as well. However, the new Mauka ad seems to recognize the importance of June 16th as Father’s day and does not fail to interject the role of India as a father in comparison Pakistan, as a means of cheeky humor which received large scale reaction from the Pakistani fans.

As a means of response, a Pakistani news channel Jazz Tv published a video with a character impersonating Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian air force pilot who was captured, briefly held and then released under the pretense of the Geneva Convention. The character is seen sporting the pilot’s handlebar mustache with a fake South Indian accent and is dressed in the Indian team jersey, following which an interrogator asks him to give back the teacup he has been holding, as a means to denote how the cup belongs to Pakistan. This video was met with the usual support from the Pakistani fans and deemed ‘racist’ by the Indian fans, accounting to the portrayal of the esteemed pilot with a fake southern accent. Although, tension has been running high between the countries for some time now, both the nations have resorted to extending their tensions to the cricket pitch as well, ensuring large scale traction for their upcoming matches.

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South Asia

Modi’s Operandi

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Same old Modi puts himself in throne again but with different mandate this time. This time he came with much force and appeared more vigilant. Sweeping an electoral win with more than 300 seats out of 543 and restricting Indian National Congress to mere 52 seats. This clearly shows that India gave priority to nationalism over any other set of idea. Prior to previous electoral year i.e. 2014,Modi lured with promises of social and economic reforms and upheaval. Which sunk badly as some of the predicaments are still in the society. From being miserable in improving the job sector that gave rise to unemployment rate to the inducing grieves to the farmers, Modi bagged some failures as well in his previous tenure.

Whereas this time bait was the Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which Mr. Modi and his members of the den enjoyed the feast by winning the election. By using hate mandate, Modi successfully maneuvered himself and his party in to the realms of Delhi. Before elections, his unfortunate adventurous voyage with its neighbor and rival Pakistan made a lucid chance to portray himself as heroic figure. Modi flaunted anger and hate towards its immediate neighbor. It profited him in shape of getting a majority in the lower house of the Indian political saga. Hate sentiments were provoked and inducted in common minds. Question herby rises that how Hindu nationalism can or will transform India?

During previous reign of Mr. Modi, clear social and religious divisions were drawn onto the Indian society. This was mechanized in recent elections as well by promoting nationalism or more likely Hinduism. One of the tactics that was opted by BJP and Modi is persuasion of fears of Indian society and Hindu ideology and presenting himself as the only savior. Modi portrayed himself as the only option for Hindu caste to save Hindu ideology from external threats.

Modi has always been fond of shifting Indian secular discourse towards a Hindu nationalist sermon. His previous tenure and the plight minorities faced during that time testifies his aims. Now he has been elected for another five years. This time he has secured almost 56% of the lower house that clearly means that Mr. Modi will have to face no hurdle in his way towards passing a legislation.

Media and Modi has always been close aides to each other. This nexus was also prominent in the recent elections as Social and Electronic media, both were eminent in glaring Modi-ism. It ultimately cultivated his ideology in the minds of a common viewer hence reflecting it in the election results. His election campaign was given more coverage than any other thing on TV. The election soap series continued feeding the people of the India. Without any doubt, there have been immense flow of monetary funds in the veins on Indian media during the election time.

Modi’s Bharatya Jantya Party or BJP’s Modi have already drawn a plan to be executed in the society. Selection of candidates that were given tickets and won were some of the most extremist in nature. Shakshi Mahraj, a newly elected member of parliament on BJP’s seat already has more than 30 criminal cases against him. Another newly elected BJP’s Member of Parliament, Pragya Singh Thakur remarked Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as “a patriot”. Not only this, selections for new cabinet members clearly indicated where Mr. Modi would be leading Indian society. Amit Shah who is also a president of BJP has ironically been selected as India’s Home Minister. There is a clear chance thatnew reforms might be religion centric rather than being focused on governance. BJP will clearly exhibit the Hindu ideology in governance that would further raise concerns for the minorities in India.

The Indian future and the question of Indian minorities seems bleak. Modi created a narrative on abhorrence and nationalism, he won elections on this mandate but now he has to defend it and every word of hatred that came out of his mouth may be realized through his actions. It puts Indian society in a dismal situation.

It is arduous to analyze that how large populous has voted in favor of hate mandate prompted by Modi. But there is a chance that Indian society might be falling prey to reverse psychology. It indulged itself so deep and intense in criticizing and accusing its neighbor, Pakistan, for being extremist and conservative society that it itself is becoming one.

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