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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 51 New Delhi December 12, 2015

Public Intervention Despite Heavy Odds

Sunday 13 December 2015, by SC


The most significant of the political developments of the last few days was captured by The Indian Express headline of December 7: “India, Pakistan break the ice off camera in Bangkok”—a reference to the meetings between India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, and his Pakistani counterpart, Nasir Khan Janjua, as also Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary, that took place the previous day in the Thai capital, Bangkok, far from the prying eyes of the media. These meetings paved the way for real bilateral dialogue between the two states after several months. Of course the actual push for the talks came after the two countries’ PMs met on the sidelines of the global meeting on climate change in Paris some days ago. Thus the frosty atmosphere that had come to prevail has been reversed, at least for the present.

Hence the visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad on December 7 and 8 to attend the Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan in the Pakistan capital and her meetings with the Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and Foreign M in i st er S artaj Aziz have brought abo ut a welcome turn in India-Pakistan rela tions after several flip-flops on the part of South Block.

Despite the obvious importance of this political development, this is of marginal value compared to what India has been experiencing at present—the devastation wrought in the wake of continuous rains in the southern city of Chennai and the problems posed by the exceedingly high levels of air pollution in the national Capital. What happened in Chennai has been brought out in sharp relief in The Indian Express editorial of December 5:

The government in Tamil Nadu may appear to have drowned in the surging waters of Adyar and the Cooum, but the people of Chennai seem to have pulled themselves up to face the worst. Though the navy, police and national disaster management teams have undertaken a massive rescue mission, the city’s residents have become the real heroes as Chennai’s infrastructure crumbled under record rain...

In this time of crisis, social media became the forum for the back and forth of messages offering help. SMSs began to do the rounds with phone numbers to call for food and shelter. People across the city opened up their homes and offered refuge to the less fortunate....

As a landing point for cyclonic storms raging in from the Bay of Bengal, Chennai knows from past experience that the government is often too slow in responding to natural disasters and even more so to one of its own making. An early start to relief and rehabilitation helps to put life back on track. The current civic activism also reflects a sense of ownership of the city, which has been nurtured by state propaganda.

As for air pollution in the national Capital, the situation is turning from bad to worse. In this condition, the Kejriwal Government has taken some concrete steps to tackle the problem. These include the shut-down of a coal-fired plant in Badarpur and early switchover to Euro-VI emission norms. Allowing cars with odd and even licence plates on the roads every alternate day has also been contemplated. But for the last move to succeed, there is no option but to improve the public transport system.

What is most reassuring is that in Chennai in particular and also in Delhi, public intervention is playing a key role in the face of stupenduous odds. Such public activism needs to be encouraged and reinforced if we have to effectively combat nature’s fury heightened by the perplexities of climate change.

December 9 S.C.