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Patidars’ agitation and the downfall of “Gujarat model”

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By Amulya Ganguli 

Nothing shows the distortions that have vitiated the policy of reservations more starkly than the agitation by the financially and politically influential Patel community in Gujarat for inclusion in the backward-caste category to avail of the quota system in the allocation of government jobs and educational opportunities.

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Behind their quest for safety in the reserved categories is the evident failure of the much-vaunted ‘Gujarat model’ of development which was touted by Narendra Modi as the panacea for the entire country.

Yet, since the preference for reservations is a throwback to the days of scarcity during the licence-permit-control raj, the latest upsurge shows that little has changed in the economy. The scourge of joblessness remains as potent under the pro-market dispensation as it was under the controlled economy.

Even then, there is something odd about an enterprising community like the Patels wanting the government to act as their nanny, as it were.

The OBC (Other Backward Class) of the Hindi belt, too, comprised dominant groups in the countryside when they secured 27 percent reservations for themselves in 1990.

But unlike the Patels, they occupied a lowly position socially. As B.P. Mandal, a former chief minister of Bihar and author of the Mandal commission report recommending 27 percent reservation, said, he was not allowed as a school student to eat with his upper caste companions by the Brahmin principal. Mandal was discriminated against although he belonged to a wealthy landowning family.

But the Patels or Patidars – the word means the same as zamindars – never experienced such social disadvantages. Not surprisingly, they were part of the anti-reservation movements in Gujarat in the late 1970s and early 1980s directed against the Congress-led state government’s KHAM vote bank comprising Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims.

It is strange, therefore, that the Patels of the Patel-motel fame (they run a large number of roadside hotels across the US) should now want to take a step back into the backward caste category.

Such a regressive outlook is all the more curious because the Patels, like most Gujaratis, are known for their entrepreneurship. For them to seek reservations in government establishments cannot be easily explained when the country has opted for a pro-market economy with its emphasis on the private sector.

The role of the government and the public sector is therefore expected to shrink in the coming years. As such, it makes little point to seek employment in these sectors.

Similarly, seeking admission via reservations in government schools and colleges doesn’t make any sense because of the preference of parents now to admit their children in English-medium private schools as these are believed to be better at preparing the students to face the challenges of a globalized environment.

In a way, the agitation by the Patels for OBC status is similar to the one by the Gujjars of Rajasthan who wanted a relegation from their existing backward caste category to a Scheduled Tribe (ST) classification since the recognition of Jats as OBCs in the state eroded the availability of reserved jobs.

This kind of a backward march is the result of dwindling employment opportunities at a time when the private sector is not expanding fast enough to make up for the reduction of government jobs. Besides, the Gujarat model may be more hype than reality.

Till now, the failures of this model have been noted by Amartya Sen and other Leftists in social sectors such as infant mortality, whose rate is as high as 60.9 per 1,000 children in Gujarat against 16.2 in Kerala. Moreover, the percentage of people below the poverty line in Gujarat is 31.6 against 19.6 in Kerala.

But the latest disturbances point to failures in the commercial segment as well with the small and medium enterprises not faring well and the capital-intensive industries not creating enough jobs.

While the phenomenon of jobless growth where robots replace humans on the shop floor is one aspect of the scene in Gujarat, another is how reservations have come to be viewed as the panacea for such situations, especially when those searching for jobs or educational opportunities find their prospects blocked not by deserving individuals but by beneficiaries of allotted quotas where castes are the passwords.

In a system where the accident of birth trumps merit, the demand by the leader of the Gujarat agitators, 22-year-old Hardik Patel, that either the provision of all facilities be determined by caste or that the system should be thrown open to all will appear justifiable.

Arguably, the gross misuse of reservations by myopic politicians intent on catering for particular support groups has led to this volatile situation. The worst example of such misuse is how the Supreme Court’s directive on excluding the creamy layer or the successful beneficiaries from the quota system has been negated by a constant upward revision of the criteria for such exclusion by the ruling politicians.

For Modi, the fire in his backyard is the most worrisome of the problems which he faces. And there are many – an economy which refuses to look up, the imbroglio over pension for ex-servicemen and an agitation in the Film and Television Institute of India which underlines the government’s insensitivity to matters of popular culture.

(IANS)

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)