Monsoon blues

Vishal Sharma
Monsoon is a period of great relish. With rains; sometimes never ending drizzles, the whole atmosphere comes alive. The thick foliage; small plants, large trees, shrubs, herbs, potted plants and even the lawns in homes look greener than they are at any time in the year. Earth seems to open up to receive rains. Ants, roaches, mice, earthworms and other pests come out to welcome the rains. Monsoon is the harbinger of life for pests; it’s fun time for insects of all hues. We see varieties of pests intruding in our spaces when monsoon rolls in. Monsoon rains are nectar of life for them
Monsoon this year has arrived with a lot of fury. The scenes of flooding and landslides across different states in northern India these days have flooded our tv screens. A large number of people have lost their lives, and property worth millions of rupees have been washed away. There is nothing new in it ! However, every time there is death and destruction in the wake of floods, the previous year’s mayhem looks a little less devastating.
Let’s face it. It makes for a very bad viewing. At the time India was blasting a rocket to south pole of moon-a sign of India stepping into the exclusive grouping of advanced countries, Yamuna went rouge and overflowed its banks drowning much of Delhi. Two contrasting images of rising India on tv screens brought into sharp focus the contradictions that exist in present day India !
But then this is how India has always been ! While it has been developing technology across many sectors; rewriting the present day IT paradigm, building fighter jets, preparing for manned mission to moon etc., there are people here pulling carts for living, sleeping on footpaths, answering nature’s call in the wee hours near railway lines etc. Physically, India has lived in two distinct forms; or continue to live in two forms- one completely unrecognisable from the other. Rather, two absolutely disparate Indias co- exist and do so peacefully !
When there are no such natural events like floods, we don’t get to see the other India as much. Part of the reason is it does not find much of a place in the pages of the newspapers. TV anchors have other much more serious issues to reflect and debate on while social media is too caught up in following the fad. The received wisdom is that media has to show to the people what people need or must know and not what it thinks they need or must know. But then we are the product of the times we are in ! If a thing does not sell or if there is more value in selling the opposite narrative regardless of its newsy or ethical import, why bother about the former.
When a bad thing happens often enough, it should be a part of our intellectual milieu. Particularly if its impact goes beyond the normal. But monsoon floods that keep hitting us year after year are part of our cultural milieu. Whether floods hit Assam or Bihar or when monsoons drive the waters to rise up from within their long snaky confines and threaten our way of life in the northern India, the pathology of pain associated with it is a part of our cultural discourse. We discuss; we debate and that’s where all ends! It is almost as if we have become attuned to floods coming and us going through it like going through motions.
Beyond debate, we would do with an effective pre-emptive response to deal with massive flooding. If it was there, the images of people and vehicles being swept away would not be there or at least the damage would not be at this scale . An advance warning could have helped contained the damage!
Some of the tv images have shown a few residential and commercial structures near the water bodies that have been prone to routinely swelling up during monsoons in the past caving in. Local municipal bodies should have been alert to it and not allowed these constructions so close to the water bodies. There is on the face of it, therefore, a lot to reflect for these entities.
Under the Paris Agreement of 2015, India has submitted its first set of Nationally Determined Contributions. NDCs are a set of long-term goals to cut carbon emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Every country signatory to the Paris Agreement has to submit these NDCs, and update them every five years.
The world’s third largest emitter has committed to reduce the “emissions intensity” of its GDP to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030.
While all of this is fine, India needs to go beyond even Paris Accord commitments and see what it should or rather can do to minimise the impact of climate change on it. Indian is a peninsula and, therefore, its lower half is and will always be vulnerable to the climate change effects engendered by the deep waters of Indian ocean. Its upper half has always been hit by the western disturbance or exposed to ravages of monsoon, which has set up floods and massive landslides in its wake; leading up to huge destruction of life and property.
India’s geography will not change and so won’t the challenges it faces on that score. Juxtapose this with the massive population India has and the housing it needs for its ever rising population, which can come about only with more and more felling of trees and clearing of jungles, and the consequential challenges India faces are huge. In fact, India’s geography and its rising population place an added burden on it to set for itself different set of goals to extenuate climate change effects. These goals may be more stringent than those set out under Paris Accord. But then India does not have any option. Its quest for growth and development, therefore, needs to be tempered with a new climate change mitigation strategy suited to meet the unique challenges it faces.
It’s indeed a difficult choice. But one, it can avoid at its peril.
( The writer is a Milken IFC Fellow on Capital Markets)