Addressing the Core Issue: Reducing Population

The debate on the impact of population growth essentially centres around two contrary views. The Malthusian view[i] is predicated on the proposition that human population grows in geometric progression whereas food supply grows in arithmetic proportion. Food supply will hence run out, giving rise to the need to curtail population growth. Malthus believed that high rates of population will permanently condemn societies to a perpetual state of under development. This theory received the support of economists such as JS Mills and JM Keynes. Karl Marx, however, gave a contrary view, which was supported by sociologists. Marx stated that the widespread poverty and misery of the working-class people was not due to an eternal law of nature as propounded by Malthus but to the misconceived organisation of society and by the unequal distribution of the wealth and its accumulation by capitalists.

The debate essentially revolves around four key issues:[ii]

Do small families improve the prospects of children?

Is a rapidly growing population detrimental to economic growth?

Is high fertility a result of low income and poverty?

Is rapid population growth a symptom, rather than a cause, of poor economic performance?

Food shortages, of which Malthus expressed concern have been largely overcome by advances in science and improved agriculture. However, this does not take away from the fact that larger populations require greater consumption, which stresses the environment, pollutes the atmosphere and causes environmental degradation, which is already causing concerns to people across the globe.

The population of the world, which stood at around 2.6 billion in 1950, took just 37 years to nearly double to 5 billion in 1987, adding an additional 2.4 billion people to the planet. The next billion was added in just 12 years, making the world’s population touch the 7 billion marks in 1999. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion, and peak at around 11 billion by 2100.[iii]

In the Indian subcontinent, an examination of the populations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, between independence in 1947, to the present times, reveals that the population of India increased fourfold during this period. The population of Pakistan, for the same period, increased seven times and Bangladesh, six times. In India, the rate of population increase was not uniform, increasing about six times among the Muslim population and three times among the rest.[iv] There is a view that the unbridled growth of population in India and in other parts of the world has adversely impacted development initiatives to reduce poverty and has also led to substantive environmental degradation.

In her book, Building the Population Bomb (Oxford University Press, 2021), Emily Klancher Merchant states that overpopulation has been blamed for everything from climate change to poverty. She however posits that it is not population growth but global socio-economic inequality and environmental degradation that are the causative factors and that society incorrectly blamed a “population bomb” for problems that had other causes. “A wrong diagnosis,” she avers, produces ineffective solutions. In this, she echoes the Marxian viewpoint.

That is perhaps an oversimplification of a problem which has multiple dimensions, but Ms Merchant is not the only one who believes that reducing poverty will ipso facto, lead to a reduction in population. In their book, ‘Population and Development, Dennis Ahlburg and Robert Cassen note that, while it is believed that more rapid population growth increases poverty by reducing real wages, the relationship with poverty is ‘neither obvious nor well established’. They question the assumption that an increase in the labour force necessarily reduces wages, but caution that the relationship between population and poverty varies considerably across regions, countries, growth sectors and policy environments.[v]

In a study carried out, examining the link between population and per capita income growth and poverty, a case study of Uganda is instructive. Uganda achieved reasonable economic growth while also experiencing high population growth. However, the evidence garnered in the study also suggested that “the currently high population growth puts a considerable break on per capita growth prospects in Uganda”. The study further went to state that high population growth led to low achievement in poverty reduction, which concomitantly, made it very difficult to make substantial improvements in poverty reduction and per capita growth.[vi]

There is no gainsaying the fact that unbridled population growth hinders poverty alleviation programmes, attenuates consumption and waste and has a negative impact on societies and the worlds eco-system. The examples of South Korea and Taiwan—two countries which have successfully controlled population growth, are instructive in this regard. Both these countries have seen rapid increases in per capita incomes as birth rates declined, giving them a positive demographic dividend.[vii]

There is a need to control population growth through policy initiatives through expanding education and health care, especially for the girl child, and on implementing voluntary family planning programmes. This can succeed, as seen in an experiment conducted in the Matlab region of Bangladesh, in a controlled population group, a portion of which was provided with free services and supplies, home visits by well-trained female family-planning workers, and comprehensive media communication. The programme also had an outreach to husbands, village heads and religious leaders to obviate any backlash from the male population. The results indicated a substantial decline in fertility rates—1.5 percent— between the targeted population and the non-targeted population in the controlled area. This shows that family planning programmes can succeed in conservative societies. Other countries such as Iran and Rwanda too have shown similar results.[viii]

Over the years, based on empirical data, a causal relationship has been established between rising prosperity and declining fertility. Both East Asia and some countries of South East Asia are examples of this trend that as incomes rise, fertility tends to fall and between national income growth and falling birth rates as also between family incomes and fertility. Improved economic conditions, therefore, do lead to a decline in birth rates.[ix] But for the converse to hold true, would require good governance models. In any case, the debate should now focus on both aspects: Good governance and taking measures to reduce the birth rates. Both should go hand in hand, simultaneously.

India should lay emphasis on population control measures that are enlightened and in the interest of women. Improved education and health care for the girl child, better and improved access to reproductive health control, a concerted media campaign on the need and necessity for small families, sensitising religious and local leaders on the issue and making them part of the programme, are some of the initiatives which could be taken. Alongside, must be legislation to encourage the small family norm, through incentives and disincentives. The recent bill passed in parliament, bringing the age of marriage of girls on parity with boys to 21 years is a welcome step.

The resources of the earth are limited and population control is the need of the hour. This is also in conformity with the goals as laid down by the United Nations. While population trends are not explicitly mentioned in the SDGs, but several of the SDGs are directly or indirectly related to future demographic trends. As humans are the only polluters in the planet, restricting their unbridled growth must remain the core issue for India and the world.

Author Brief Bio: Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch is Director, India Foundation and Editor, India Foundation Journal.


[i] Based on the book, An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Robert Malthus.



[iv] Data interpolated from census of India and from other sources.

[v] Ahlburg, Dennis & Cassen, Robert. (1993). Population and development. International Handbook of Development Economics, Volumes 1 & 2.


[vii] John Bongaarts, Development: Slow down population growth, available at

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Note 2.


COP26: Can the World do more to prevent Global Warming

“India is the only big economy which has delivered in letter and spirit on the Paris Commitment”[i] stated Prime Minister Modi in his address at Glasgow COP 26 Summit on 2nd November. He noted that India with 17% of the world’s population was responsible for only 5% of greenhouse gas emissions annually. He committed India to achieve the target of net-zero emissions by 2070 and reducing CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons by 2030. In one fell swoop, he silenced the critics (except of course the professional India baiters) and assumed leadership in the battle against climate change.

If the road ahead is bound to get more difficult, the journey thus far for India (and the developing nations) has not been easy either. “India has been a late starter and much of its infrastructure remains to be built. China’s emissions rise is likely to flatten as its years of intensive growth will soon be behind it, when it reaches its peak by 2030”.[ii] As such India’s GHG emissions are bound to rise, attracting mounting pressure, economic and political, from the sinners’ turned saints.

Climate change poses an existential crisis to mankind and is well described as Covid-like epidemic ‘in slow motion’. That comprehension has finally dawned on the decision-makers and the populace at large, the world over. What is still missing is a genuine sense of urgency and willingness to collectively put the shoulder to the wheel.  Politicking, buck-passing and grandstanding, remain the order of the day, while the steady build-up of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere is choking the lungs of mother nature with ruinous consequences.

This short paper aims to look at the magnitude of the crisis, reasons for foot-dragging by the rich countries, and practical measures by the comity of nations to contain/reverse the damage. Humanity has no choice but to rise to the occasion. The only imponderable is whether or not substantive climate action will be initiated before nature’s balance is disrupted irreversibly.


In the last 200 years, global temperature has risen by at least 1%. This is the result of the huge stock of greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the process of carbon-intensive development of the industrialised world with little regard for the environment. It is as if a thick blanket has enveloped the earth. Here it is important to distinguish between GHG stock and flow. The latter is the addition of GHG annually which currently measures a whopping 51 billion tons, while ‘stock’ represents the cumulative quantity of pollutants released by mankind. The restrictions imposed around the world during the Covid pandemic saw an overall decline in CO2 emissions of 5.6% in 2020.[iii]

GHG remains in the atmosphere for over 100 years and therein lies the foremost challenge. Even if the emissions are brought down to zero, it would take a century for the environmental poison to dissipate. Methane (CH4) is 262% and nitrous oxide (N2O) is 123% of the levels in 1750 when human activities started disrupting Earth’s natural equilibrium. “The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere breached the milestone of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just five years later, it exceeded 413 ppm”.[iv] Roughly half of the CO2 emitted by human activities today remains in the atmosphere. The other half is absorbed by oceans and land ecosystems, which act as “sinks.”

The challenge will get compounded with the addition of some 3 billion inhabitants in Africa between 2020-2100. The African population is expected to increase from 1.3 billion to 4.3 billion despite significant resource constraints, socio-political instability and security deficit. This would greatly aggravate inter and intrastate strife. Most of the increase will come in sub-Saharan Africa, which is expected to more than triple in population by 2100.[v] Meanwhile, the European population would shrink. The Asian population is likely to increase from 4.6 billion in 2020 to 5.3 billion in 2055, when it would start shrinking. China’s population should peak in 2031, while India’s should grow until 2059 to touch 1.7 billion.

In spite of damaging the environment, polluting the rivers, cutting down trees, and generating unconscionable levels of plastic waste, experts were divided about the extent of the actual impact on the climate. Many believed and some still do, that climate change is a boogie meant to extract resources from the industrialised world and pave the way for the development of new forms of energy and technologies, to the detriment of oil-producing nations. Nevertheless, the first serious attempt at taking stock of the situation was made at the Rio conference in 1992 which recognised the need for taking corrective measures and put the onus essentially on the industrialised world under the principle of ‘polluter pays’. Both mitigation and adaptation measures were envisaged. It was agreed that the rich nations will help the developing countries in curtailing pollution and enhancing energy efficiency.

The 1997 Kyoto Summit which was meant to concretise the gains of Rio turned out to be a tame affair. President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol but was unable to secure Senate backing. A bigger fiasco was to follow in 2017 when President Donald Trump, a climate sceptic, decided to pull out of the Paris Accord (2015). The withdrawal came into effect three years later thanks to an inbuilt stipulation that no nation will be able to quit before 3 years of signing it.  Mercifully, with the change of regime, President Biden re-joined the Accord.  All the same such a yo-yo approach does not augur well for effective climate action, particularly since the US is the lead actor in the matter. Given the inevitable electoral cycle in the US, the COP (Conference of the Parties) would have to brace for such disruptions, unless there is a groundswell of support for effective climate action in the US and politicians fear a voter blowback for being seen as a naysayer.

Climate solutions entail a cost, are not attractive politically and gains are intangible. In other words, climate action does not win votes, as it is an investment into the well-being of future generations while politics is mostly about instant gratification. There are a handful of leaders who have the vision to recognise that the present generation has a fiduciary responsibility to leave the earth habitable. Meanwhile, the industrialised world has been looking at ways to wriggle out of the commitments. They ganged up to gradually chip away at their responsibilities to facilitate mitigation and adaptation by the rest of the world. The first to be attacked was the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) which front-loaded action by the developed Nations.

In 2000, the biggest polluters were the US and European Union, both in terms of absolute and per capita emissions. India’s per capita emissions, for example, was barely 5% of that of Europe. By 2020, the per capita gap started to shrink, emissions by the developed nations have peaked or are close to peaking while that of the developing countries are naturally rising. It may be pertinent to note here that though at the receiving end, the developing countries have not been very successful in staking out common positions nor do they have institutionalised consultative mechanisms like the G7. Just to cite one example, Brazil, South Africa, India and China constituted a group called ‘BASIC’ in November 2009, to co-ordinate positions on negotiations on climate change. They worked well during COP 17 in Copenhagen and COP 18 in Doha in 2012. However, China broke ranks when it outgrew BASIC. “As the run-up to the 2015 Paris climate conference showed, China’s interests in climate change negotiations could now be reconciled with those of the US. It was the China-US joint announcement and statement that largely produced the Paris outcomes” writes Shivshankar Menon.[vi]

The 2015 Paris Conference introduced the concept of voluntary commitments “in the form of ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDC) targets, to be communicated by each signatory to the UNFCCC. It represented “a ‘bottom-up’ approach where countries themselves decide by how much they will reduce their emissions” by a certain year. It essentially forces developing countries to share the burden and responsibility of climate action and dilutes the principle of CBDR reached in Rio. The Paris Agreement was signed by almost all (193) countries in the world at COP21 in Paris in 2015. Its other salient outcome was an agreement to limit the rise in the global average temperature to ‘well below’ 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and ideally to 1.5 degrees;[vii] strengthen the ability of nations to adapt to climate change and build resilience; and align all finance flows with ‘a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’. The affluent nations committed to providing $100 billion annually by 2020 which constitutes the core for climate action.

Glasgow Summit of COP26

The NDCs submitted under the Paris Agreement were collectively not ambitious enough to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees, forget 1.5 degrees. However, there is a provision for the signatories to submit more ambitious – NDCs every five years, known as the ‘ratchet mechanism’. COP26 was the first test of this ambition-raising function. And that objective was well served. 126 countries submitted new NDC targets while 41 countries did not, as of 12 November 2021. The new NDC targets cover 90.8% of global emissions.[viii]

The UK has, for instance, pledged to reduce emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and 78 per cent by 2035. The European Union (EU) is aiming at a reduction of at least 55 per cent by 2030 relative to 1990 levels, and the US is targeting ‘a reduction of 50-52 per cent’ compared to 2005 levels. Considerable skepticism existed among the participants at Glasgow summit. Hardly anyone spoke of climate justice and the rich nations remained hesitant to walk the talk. It further sanctified the concept of net-zero emissions.

Magnitude of the Challenge

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 levels were roughly 280 ppm, which rose by the early 21st century to 384 ppm and by 2020 to 413.2 ppm.[ix] The US has emitted 399 billion tonnes (bt) of CO2 or 25% of the global total since 1751. China, which was a late starter, has already released 200 bt of pollutants since 1899 or 13.8% of the global total, as compared to a mere 3.21% by India over the same period. But Chinese annual emissions are now the highest at 10.17 bt annually or 20% of the global total. They will continue to rise and peak by 2030. Emissions of Europe and the US have already peaked.

Graph: GHG emissions from the top 10 emitting regions[x]

Security, health and economic impact

The impact would be as under:[xi]

  • By 2050, more than 143 million people could be driven from their homes by conflict over food and water insecurity and climate-driven natural disasters according to the World Bank.
  • Rising temperatures threaten biodiversity, with one million species in danger of extinction that affect crop growth, fisheries, and livestock.
  • Warmer temperatures could expose as many as one billion people to deadly infectious diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya.
  • A warmer climate could lead to an additional 250,000 people dying of diseases including malaria each year between 2030 and 2050, as per the World Health Organisation.
  • The Red Cross estimates that more than 50 million people around the world have been jointly affected by COVID-19 and climate change.
  • An additional one million people could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030 due to climate change as per World Bank estimates
  • By 2050 at least 300 million people who live in coastal areas will be threatened by dangerous flooding.
  • A Stanford University study found that climate change has increased economic inequality between developed and developing nations by 25% since 1960.

COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the impact of climate-driven challenges and disrupt efforts to address them. Climate-driven disasters threaten to overwhelm local health systems at a time when they are already under extreme stress, and the costs of damage and recovery from a natural disaster when compounded with the pandemic are estimated to be as much as 20% higher than normal.

Where does India stand?

India is the 7th most vulnerable country to climate change, according to Global Climate Risk Index 2021, both in the mainland and her over 7000 km long coastline. The good news is that India is “now ranked 10th in fighting climate change”[xii] —and is probably the only G20 country compliant with its commitments and the Paris agreement. India has already reduced the emissions intensity of GDP by 28% over 2005 against its target of 33-35 percent by 2030 and increased her installed capacity of renewable energy to 38.5% against its target of 40% by 2030. At Glasgow, India committed 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030 equivalent to almost 50% of her capacity.

The task is cut out for India especially as the “energy investment requirement will rise from about USD 70-80 billion annually to USD 160 billion. Much of India’s wealth is yet to be created. It is estimated that 60% percent of India’s capital stock—factories and buildings that will exist in 2040—is yet to be built”.[xiii] Therefore, the adoption of green technologies is the best option for growth, to create a more responsible and sustainable economy. “USD 10 billion of FDI in the past 20 has been received in the renewable energy sector but there has been a slowdown since. Also, in the last 2-3 years Indian investment in the renewable energy sector especially wind energy has fallen.”[xiv] India has taken a slew of salutary initiatives to mitigate the impact of and adapt to climate change including launching the National green hydrogen mission to promote production and usage of green hydrogen across sectors; a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) of 25 countries to reduce risk through research innovations and share of good practices has been established; ISA or the International Solar Alliance was unveiled in 2015 along with France which now has 101 member-countries (the US joined in Glasgow) to promote solar energy. A Rs. 400 / ton cess on coal (or carbon tax) has been quietly imposed.

India has substantial low-grade coal reserves and her dependence on coal-fired thermal plants will continue for the foreseeable future. Coal-based plants are the most polluting. Chinese coal consumption comprises 50% of the global total and India’s 11%. “For years, climate geopolitics was premised on the approach that developed economies must bear the lion’s share of mitigating climate crisis. It was considered unfeasible to impose the same burden on developing economies. India has reshaped that understanding of climate commitments fundamentally—we have shifted the global balance of power by showing that developing countries can lead the way in pledging comprehensive climate targets while also successfully meeting their socioeconomic objectives”[xv] says Minister Puri, making a virtue of necessity.

But on the flip side, partly due to the Covid pandemic, mass poverty has risen in India from 60 to 134 million as per Pew Research Centre measured on the yardstick of people earning up to USD 2 in PPP terms.[xvi] India has also become the 3rd largest emitter of GHG globally, contributing 6.6% of the total as against 27% by China and 11% by the US. But in per capita terms, Chinese emissions are four-fold that of India.

Major steps being taken to combat climate change

Renewable and Nuclear Energy

Two-thirds of global energy is generated by fossil fuels, which account for 67% of annual GHG emissions. Oil-producing countries and multinational oil corporations have considerable clout and resources to lobby the decision-makers and blunt any campaign to kick the oil addiction. The better way is to innovate and come up with green energy solutions like renewable energy which today is the cheapest form of energy. The green premium, for the generation of renewable power, especially solar, has come down dramatically. As per IEA (International Energy Agency), “The world’s best solar power schemes now offer the ‘cheapest electricity in history’ with the technology cheaper than coal and gas in most major countries”.[xvii] But battery storage poses a huge challenge as a cost is as high as dollars 200 per unit. According to IEA report the technology for energy transition up to 2030 is proven and known. But only 50% of the technology needed for the transition during 2030-2040 has been developed so far.

The Fukushima incident adversely impacted national plans of enhancing nuclear energy capacity. IEA recommends that nuclear energy comprise 10% of the total capacity of a nation. The reason is that, other than renewable energy, nuclear power is the cleanest. It is impossible to switch to 100% renewable energy capacity as the generation is weather-dependent. Therefore, to avoid blackouts and ensure continuous supply some amount of nuclear capacity is necessary. Taking all factors into consideration, Bill Gates in his new book also recommends nuclear power as the best non-renewable energy source.

Presently, France is the biggest user of nuclear energy comprising 70% of its total capacity; it is about 20% in the case of the US and Europe and a mere 2% in India. 4% of Chinese capacity is nuclear but could rise to 10% by 2030 as some 150 nuclear plants are proposed to be established.[xviii] Research on producing three types of hydrogen power is being stepped up. The big difference is that the burning of hydrogen produces water instead of CO2.

Green Buildings

Globally, the buildings sector consumes more than half of all electricity for heating, cooling and lighting and accounts for 28 percent of energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions. Green buildings represent one of the biggest investment opportunities of the next decade—USD 24.7 trillion across emerging market cities by 2030.[xix] Most of this growth will occur in residential construction, particularly in middle-income countries. Most of this investment potential—$17.8 trillion—lies in East Asia Pacific and South Asia, where more than half of the world’s urban population will live in 2030. The investment opportunity in residential construction, estimated at $15.7 trillion, represents 60 percent of the market. There is a strong business case for growing the green buildings market. Construction of Green buildings could cost up to 12 percent more, which is easily offset by a reduction in operational costs up to 37 percent, higher sale premiums of up to 31 percent; up to 23 percent higher occupancy rates, and higher rental income of up to 8 percent.[xx]

Climate Finance

The transfer of “climate finance and low-cost climate technologies have become more important. India expects developed countries to provide climate finance of USD 1 trillion at the earliest. Today, it is necessary, that as we track the progress made in climate mitigation, we should also track climate finance. “The proper justice would be that the countries which do not live up to their promises made on climate finance, pressure should be put on them”, said PM Modi, who did not mince his words at the Glasgow summit.[xxi]

A Green Climate Fund was established in 2010 by some 190 countries to help developing countries respond to climate change. The fund has raised over USD 10 billion since 2014, and has directed resources to projects dedicated to both mitigation and adaptation. Through partnering with a number of international organisations, NGOs, and private sector companies, the fund has helped build resilience for an estimated 350 million people worldwide. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry recently stated that the United States would recommit to the Fund as part of renewed efforts to support global climate finance.

Over a decade ago, developed countries promised to mobilise USD 100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries deal with the worst impacts of global warming and invest in green energy sources. In 2019, rich nations raised USD 80 billion for climate action but mostly on commercial terms. In November 2021 U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to double his contribution to USD 11.4 billion, but that money is for 2024 and hasn’t been approved by Congress.

Rich countries now estimate they have raised between $88 billion and $90 billion annually, and are seeking to reach the $100 billion goal in 2022.[xxii] Truth be told, there is no paucity of resources in the developed world—only a lack of political will.


The solution to the climate challenge is innovation and technology, especially green technology. Significant initiatives have been taken in the last few years. Green banks are being set up. Buildings are going green. Green energy or renewable energy, especially solar, has become the cheapest to install, generate and maintain. Even more significantly, the employment opportunities being created in establishing renewable energy facilities are more than conventional energy. But as noted above, this is just a beginning and the journey ahead is far more uphill. Availability of climate finance on soft terms is critical for the success of mitigation and adaptation measures by developing nations. The difficulty is that the need for climate justice does not weigh on the conscience of the western world.

A sticking point which has angered the poorer nations is the failure of rich countries to make good on their promise. The poorer nations rightly state that they cannot cut emissions faster without the cash. As per the figures collated by the OECD, almost no progress has ben made between 2018 and 2019.[xxiii] It is quite evident that despite the tall talk and half-hearted commitments to help the developing countries in adapting to climate change, the rich countries will try to get away with as little as possible. As most of the growth will come from emerging markets and the least developed countries, it would be efficacious if they transition straight away to Green Technologies and energy, instead of crossing the pit in two leaps, which would entail delays and higher costs. Lack of money cannot be held as an excuse. The pandemic has shown that governments can find money where necessary.[xxiv]

While some amount of finance and green technologies will be contributed by the affluent nations, realistically, the heavy lifting will have to be done by the developing countries themselves, from their own resources. And in reality, they have no choice, as the cost of neglecting climate action will be too high to bear.

A holistic approach will have to be followed entailing action and changes in every sphere especially lifestyle; aggressive recycling and cutting down on waste; creating environmental consciousness at home, school and public space; reducing and eventually eliminating green premium; increasing R&D budgets for innovation in green technologies; information exchange, adoption of best practices, imposing penalties like carbon tax and providing incentives for adoption of green practices.

Author Brief Bio: Amb. Vishnu Prakash, has served as High Commissioner to Ottawa, Ambassador to Seoul, Official Spokesperson of Foreign Office and Consul General to Shanghai. He has also done postings in Moscow, New York, Vladivostok, Tokyo, Islamabad and Cairo. Since retirement in Nov. 2016, he has turned a foreign affairs analyst & commentator, with special focus on the Indo-Pacific region


[i] Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi at COP26 Summit in Glasgow

[ii] Shyam Saran, How India Sees the World: From Kautilya to the 21st Century

[iii] Fall in CO2 emissions

[iv] Greenhouse Gas Bulletin: Another Year Another Record


[vi] Shivshankar Menon, “India and the Asian geopolitics: The Past, Present”, Penguin, pp 329

[vii] What is COP26 and why is it important?

[viii] CAT Climate Target Update Tracker



[xi] Climate Change and the Developing World: A Disproportionate Impact:

[xii] India among top 10 countries with higher climate performance: Report

[xiii] Net-zero presents many opportunities for India — and challenges

[xiv] Vivekananda International Foundation webinar of 22 November 2021: Talk by Dinkar Srivastava

[xv] HTLS 2021: India’s energy growth from scarcity to justice to security

[xvi] In the pandemic, India’s middle class shrinks and poverty spreads while China sees smaller changes

[xvii] Solar is now ‘cheapest electricity in history’, confirms IEA

[xviii] Note 14.

[xix] Green buildings represent one of the biggest investment opportunities of the next decade

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Note 1.

[xxii] Climate finance

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Climate Change: The Slow Motion Pandemic


Technological solutions addressing India’s environmental concerns

Steady depletion of the environment has been a global concern for the past few decades and has precipitated a climate emergency. This is especially true for countries like India where the sheer size of population increases the magnitude of the challenges of balancing development and ecology. As the world’s second most populous country and a powerhouse economy, India has multi-dimensional challenges that lead to poor environmental outcomes. Considering that fulfilling a need as fundamental as food is the duty of the state and agriculture is a well-known source of pollution, fostering the practice of sustainable agriculture will remain critical in meeting the sustained demand for nutrition while adapting to the climatic changes, and securing the livelihood of farmers who make up about 43 per cent of income-generating Indians.[i] By the same criterion of population, India is also at risk of becoming the junkpile capital of the world, unless well-thought out and calibrated measures are taken to establish the processes to pivot it into a circular economy. It is intriguing to see that technologies like plastics or pesticides that were once indicators of development and were deemed necessary for a better life have turned into the major contributors to pollution, affecting all aspects of human life. However, there is little doubt that in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, technology will play a vital role in mitigating the socio-economic concerns caused by environmental degradation. Technology has to be the mainstay of this transition – whether to fill the gaps or to promote innovation.

Sustainable agriculture for nutrition and income security

India has traditionally been an agrarian country and is among the top 10 agri produce exporters, providing a fairly large amount of rice, cotton, soya beans and meat to the world.[ii] In turn, Indian agri exports ensure nutrition security globally and income generation for farmers locally. However, agriculture is threatened by the changing climatic patterns – untimely rainfall and rise in sea level that increases the challenges of farmers, while increasing the demand for climate-resilient seeds, an R&D-intense area where India is still making progress.

Agriculture is an input-intensive activity where use of water for irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides, farm machinery and tilling add to the adverse environmental impact. Besides, it is also an established source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A report by the International Energy Agency states that India emitted 2,299 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2018, contributing about 7 per cent of the global emissions.[iii] Agriculture and livestock owned a share of 18 per cent of gross national emissions, i.e., more than 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Making agriculture sustainable will encompass using less chemicals and reducing the intensity of use of natural resources like water, and smart, frontier technologies like Internet of Things (IoT).

The term IoT refers to physical devices embedded with sensors, software, processing ability, and other technologies and are connected through the Internet or other communications networks so as to enable them to exchange data with other devices and systems. The benefits of using IoT in farming are:

  • It enables remote monitoring of farm conditions and infrastructure, thereby saving time and labour on routine activities
  • It helps transform information into data and improve decision making by analysing them
  • It generates faster and quicker insights from data across the value-chain, and helps farmers respond to market needs
  • It promotes efficiency in food production by reducing wastage and ensures safe and sustainable food to our customers through better traceability, thereby creating positive impact on a farmer’s income

According to IBM estimates, IoT may help farmers increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050. Apart from better pest management and weather forecasting, IoT, with the help of sensors, could save up to 50 billion gallons of water every year by optimizing water usage.[iv] To drive the uptake of digital technology in agriculture, Agriculture Victoria has rolled out a 12-million dollar on-farm Internet of Things trial in four regions for sheep, cropping, dairy and horticulture farmers.[v]

IoT can be used for a host of agricultural activities, including:

Irrigation and water quality management: India is a frontrunner in exporting rice, one of the most water-intensive crops – producing a pound of rice may need up to 2,273 litres (500 gallons) of water[vi] and flood irrigation, a highly inefficient method, is preferred by farmers in the north-western India. This has substantially stressed the groundwater level in these states and enabling better insight about irrigation can help people counter the growing threat of drinking water. The Internet of Things is a critical ingredient in optimising water use for irrigation in farming and related activities. There are four factors which can nudge farmers to adopt smart irrigation systems. These are: integration of real-time weather forecast data, enabling synchronization of the systems with moisture sensors installed in the farm, control of the system from anywhere in the world, and reducing farmer’s input cost while helping to conserve limited water resources. When combined with sensor nodes powered with wireless communication, it can help in monitoring the water quality as well. Such a system can measure the physical and chemical parameters of the water such as temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen, and the data can be viewed on Internet-powered devices using cloud services.

Integrated pest management: Though agrochemical use by Indian farmers is far less than the global average, most of the farmers are unaware of which fertilizer or pesticide to use for which crop and at what stage. This often leads to problems like residue or contamination of water bodies. While the government has proposed methods like Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), the uptake across India has been sporadic. As a result, adopting integrated pest management (IPM), an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on controlled use of pesticides and fertilizers, becomes imperative. It helps increase the quality of the crop even as it reduces the input cost for farmers. However, implementing integrated pest management requires real-time information on pest infestation. IoT infrastructure can play an important role by collecting disease and insect pest information using sensor nodes, and processing the data for enabling action. Even in cases where farmers are not comfortable handling devices on the system, local Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVKs) can be connected on the platform to inform farmers about pest infestation status of their farms and guide them about the type and of pesticides they need to use.

Soil quality monitoring: The quality and fertility of soil are dependent on factors such as soil temperature, soil moisture, and microbial diversity. However, seemingly unrelated factors such as air temperature may also impact the quality and fertility of soil. Sensors connected to IoT systems can monitor the parameters and help farmers make informed decisions on sowing the seeds, use of irrigation or harvesting the crop, thereby reducing manual effort and water usage, thus controlling cost and environmental impact. They are also easy to install and low maintenance. IoT systems can be used for backup data securely, review historical or instant data to track trends or predict irrigation needs, and set up reminders. It also makes overwatering or underwatering of crops less likely and may arrest depletion of groundwater by promoting water conservation.

Other advanced technologies for sustainable agriculture: Tractors are one of the best friends a farmer can have. It reduces the effort to prepare the ground for sowing. However, a tractor can weigh anything between 1700-2600 kg[vii] that also exerts intense pressure on the soil. This may lead to compaction of soil, affecting its ability to hold water and making water and nutrients available to the plant. Deploying small robots instead of tractors can prevent soil’s exposure to this pressure as well as help farmers to take care of their crops better – these robots can be fitted with geotagging-enabled cameras, equipment for precise broadcasting of pesticide, and planting saplings. Adopting genome editing can also help in better practice of sustainability in agriculture. Genetic modification of select crops, e.g., fruits, can have twin benefits of saving them from being plucked too raw and use chemical ripening agents for making them consumable and preventing them from rotting naturally. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates, more than 40 per cent of food produced in India is wasted, costing the country an estimated US$14 billion every year.[viii] Genome editing can help fruits like banana, which releases ethylene gas upon ripening that leads to ripening of other bananas in the proximity, to produce less of the plant hormone and remain healthy looking without any brown patches.[ix] Owing to the volatile public sentiment towards GM crops and genome editing, a transparent and robust governance framework is necessary before implementing such measures.

Case study: Shepparton East orchard, Australia

In 2015, Maurice Silverstein decided to upgrade his irrigation system to an automated drip system on his apple and pear orchard at Shepparton East, Australia. This upgraded system will allow him to access real-time soil moisture readings from sensors across the orchard and will also shift from sprays to drip irrigation, promoting more efficient and less water usage. It will alert him to problems in the system, such as blockages or leaks, and can be controlled by an app on his phone, empowering him to respond more quickly than relying on field inspections alone. This system allowed Maurice to be more efficient with his time and water, even as allowing him greater flexibility in terms of movement. Though he needs to be close at hand to fix any problems, he can manage his irrigation system and his orchard from anywhere that has internet coverage.

Case study: Detection of borer insects in tomatoes, India[x]

A study presented at the International Conference on Computing and Communication Systems in Shilong in 2015 discussed an investigation on IoT-based borer insect detection in tomatoes using a robot attached to a wireless web camera and Azure cloud service. The web camera used in the investigation took videos of tomato plantation real-time and sent the data to the Java enabled Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) where the detection in unripe tomato is done. The information was then processed by the database stored at the Azure cloud platform for matching with appropriate pesticide amalgamation, following which a robot sprayed appropriate amounts of pesticides on the tomato plants.

The process consisted of two stages. In stage 1, real-time video feed from wireless webcam, accessed at Cloud end, was converted into grayscale imagery. Image segmentation was performed later to eliminate leaves and branches, and images of tomatoes were retained by performing dilation, following which RGB images of tomatoes were retrieved using masking of dilated images. In stage 2, the number and type of pest on the tomatoes were identified, and an adequate amount of pesticide was sprayed over the tomatoes.

Waste management for better environment and economy

It is not startling to realise that India is home to 17.7 per cent of the world population and as per a 2016 estimate, generates more than one-tenth of global waste. India produces an estimated 277 million tonnes of municipal solid waste every year, of which 77 per cent is disposed of in the open or end up in landfills, 18 per cent is made compost and 5 per cent is recycled. However, according to the “Swachhata Sandesh Newsletter” by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), as of January 2020, 84,475 wards of India produced 147,613 metric tonnes of solid waste every day. The tally is led by Maharashtra (22,080 MT a day), Uttar Pradesh (15,500 MT a day), Tamil Nadu (15,437 MT a day), Delhi (10,500 MT a day) and Gujarat (10,274 MT a day).[xi]

Inefficient management of solid municipal waste and poor implementation of existing regulations have made it a major source of air and water pollution in India. New-age, smart technologies can help us integrate waste management, monitor collection and disposal, and minimize the environmental impact due to waste mismanagement. Integrated waste management systems, powered by Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) monitoring systems, can monitor automatically, and operate from a centralised control station to ensure efficiency and will require minimum manual intervention, reducing margin of error. Smart technologies can be used in the fields of:

Waste segregation: Despite several attempts, instilling a culture of segregated waste disposal remains a dream in India. Technology can help improve the situation with innovations like smart bins. These sensor-powered, pre-programmed bins can enforce waste segregation and trigger a warning when the wrong type of waste is dumped in it. The bins may also come with interactive screens to guide users on next steps for a safe disposal of that type of waste. Improving waste segregation at source is at the heart of efficient management and will play a vital role in optimising the whole chain.

Waste collection:[xii] Currently, trucks carrying dumpsters to landfills are powered by fossil fuel, particularly diesel. This makes the waste disposal process a double jeopardy – while landfills themselves are a source of pollution, emissions from the trucks add to the pollutants in the air. Deploying a fleet management technology, common in the logistics sector, can optimize the waste collection step in the chain. Fleet management technologies use a network of sensors connected through GPS to create and analyse data to identify the best route for the fleet or individual vehicles, as required. This will help trucks to avoid traffic and not only reduce emissions but also enable maximum trash collection in less time. Besides, using vacuum suction to empty garbage bins through a network of underground pneumatic tubes can help in increasing the speed of waste collection and disposal.

Other advanced collection and disposal technologies:[xiii] Advanced economies have made substantial effort to improve their waste management measures, some of which may prove useful for India as well. One such innovation is a solar-powered waste compactor. This is a smart device that registers the bin’s fill level in real time and activates an automatic waste compaction. The compactor-bin has effectively increased a normal trash bin’s capacity by up to 5-8 times. A similar technology is an ultrasonic trash can sensor that regularly informs the user on how full is the container and helps in reducing the cost of overfilling a skip. Another similar intervention is an image-based trash can sensor that is connected through GPS and automatically monitors both fullness and contents. The sensor also determines which containers need service each day, schedules routes and allocates jobs to drivers.

Waste-to-energy generation: This is a well-known technology for recycling residual waste that uses combustion to provide heat and power, and in turn, reduces the speed of landfills that dot the fringes of all metropolitan and smaller cities in India. Though waste-to-energy is around for some time, the uptake has remained a challenge. There is little doubt that increasing the uptake of this technology will substantially reduce waste disposal to landfills and generate clean, reliable energy from a renewable fuel source, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emission. However, the technology faces hurdles in India due to various operational and design problems, lack of segregation of waste at source being the primary one.

Case Study: New York (the US) and The Hague (The Netherlands)[xiv]

New York has one of the more complicated waste management ecosystems in North America. The city is home to about 8.6 million people and employs around 72 hundred waste collectors to keep itself clean and sanitary. Times Square alone receives a daily footfall of about 500,000 pedestrians, creating roughly 15,300 pounds of garbage. In March 2013, as part of the largest public space recycling initiative in New York City, 30 smart waste and recycling stations were deployed in Times Square. These units were capable of waste compaction, equipped with real-time fill level monitoring and collection notifications. Connected to smart stations, these units increased the total trash collection capacity by nearly 200 per cent while the frequency of collection per bin decreased by half.

In 2009, the city of Hague in the Netherlands began installing underground trash bins that can hold a larger quantity of waste. By 2017, there were 6,100 such units installed below the pavements with the top of the bin coming out of the ground at waist height. More than half of these bins are sensor-enabled, allowing officials to remotely monitor the fill levels of containers and set up ‘smart schedules’ for emptying them. The Hague’s success with these underground containers put the city as an example of innovative waste solutions in a 2017 New York City Zero Waste Design guidelines report.

Case study: A zero-waste film set (India)[xv]

A gathering is an ideal setting for waste generation – be that a feast, a meeting, or work, e.g., shooting of a film. However, a recently-released Bollywood cinema titled ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’ ensured that the city, which acts as its setting, does not start a landfill with its 17,000 kgs of waste generated in three months.

Six steps followed by the team include:

  • Replacing plastic water bottles with water dispensers and reusable water bottles
  • Using biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes and big bottles of toiletries instead of small disposable ones
  • Providing colour-coded bins for disposing solid and liquid waste and PPEs
  • Deploying a trained crew for segregating waste at source
  • Distributing leftover food among low-income families in the area
  • Recycling the waste into bricks, lamps, and other products


The prevailing discourse on environment-friendly technology often overlooks their hidden harms. Besides, most of these technologies are capital-intensive in nature. While COVID-19 has pushed the world to think about the environment with commitment, harnessing only capital-intensive solutions can cause ‘greenflation’ and affect overall productivity and growth of the country. For low-and-middle-income countries like India, access to advanced technologies to mitigate environmental concerns is almost always affected by lack of knowhow, adequate funds, and scepticism on part of the user. These can be addressed by focusing on easy-to-use and cost-effective technologies as well as right policy and regulatory interventions, and their implementation to promote adoption of technological solutions.

However, when it comes to environmental challenges, there is no better way to save the planet than to prevent the damage. Interestingly, though sustainable agriculture and waste management are India’s bigger ‘trouble’s, they overlap when it comes to food waste. A UN report in March 2021 states that household food waste in India is about 68.7 million tonnes a year. Food waste alone is a major source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that global food loss and waste generate 4.4 Gt CO2 eq every year, or about 8 per cent of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, effectively making the contribution of food wastage emissions to global warming almost equivalent to global road transport emissions.[xvi] According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), stopping food waste can reduce all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by about 6 to 8 per cent.[xvii] However, the bigger concern is, wasting food also aggravates the overall greenhouse gas emissions scenario as it adds to the emissions caused during the production, processing, and marketing of these products. Besides, it adds on to India’s burgeoning and unmanageable waste burden. Therefore, in addition to sourcing or developing technologies to address the environmental challenges at hand, it is equally urgent to create awareness about the pitfalls of irresponsible consumption and nudge for behavioural change in consumers.

Author Brief Bio: Parul Soni is Global Managing Partner of Thinkthrough Consulting and founder and Secretary General of Association of Business Women in Commerce and Industry (ABWCI) – a Virtual Chamber of Commerce for Women. He is a consummate professional with over 25 years of experience and expertise in international investment, bilateral and multilateral trade, cross-border policies, regional trade agreements and negotiations at national and international levels. He has worked in over 54 countries with Fortune 500 companies, global alliances, industry associations, international development organizations and knowledge institutions. He has been working actively with fast-growing Indian entrepreneurial and global organisations for establishing and expanding their presence across South Asia.



















Aviation & Environment – The Way Ahead

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC) was finally held from 1-12 November 2021, in Glasgow, UK. With climate change intensifying, scientists are warning that humanity is running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels. The Emissions Gap Report 2021 shows that new national climate pledges combined with other mitigation measures put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century.[i] That is well above the goals of the Paris climate agreement and would lead to catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate. To keep global warming below 1.5°C this century, the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

Civil air flights continue to see very high growth especially in major developing nations and emerging economies. This includes both passenger and cargo movement. New airports are being built and old modernised to cater to the increasing demand. Aviation affects the environment in many ways: people living near airports are exposed to noise from aircraft; streams, rivers, and wetlands may be exposed to pollutants discharged in storm water runoff from airports; and aircraft engines emit pollutants to the atmosphere. India is amongst the top five fastest growing markets. Besides flight and ground safety, environmental protection is the most important issue for all aircraft operations.

Global aviation contributes about two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and are growing with growth in aviation. But aviation supports eight percent of the world’s economic activity in terms of GDP. As a result of massive increase in air travel by 2025, it is estimated that the total CO2 emission due to commercial aviation may reach around 1.5 billion tons. The amount of nitrogen oxide (NO) around airports, may rise from 2.5 million tons in 2000 to 6.1 million tons by 2025. The number of people who may be seriously affected by aircraft noise may rise from 24 million in 2000 to 30.5 million by 2025. However, analysts believe that the aviation related greenhouse gas emissions figure should peak at around 3 percent due to sustained actions being evolved by the governments and industry.

Many actions need to be taken. The aircraft engines have to be made more efficient with lesser emissions. Managing the airport construction related pollution, operating waste, e-waste, noise and chemical emissions are many of the concerns requiring technological solutions. Ecological airport redesign, changes in air and ground operating procedures, and eco-friendly initiatives can alleviate environmental pressures without causing passenger and operational stress. The terms ‘Sustainable Aviation’ or ‘Green Aviation’ are increasingly being used to address the technological and socio-economic issues facing the aviation industry to meet the environmental challenges of twenty-first century. The environmental programs have to be scientifically evolved specific to each airport. Balance has to be maintained between social, economic and environmental imperatives. The ultimate goal is to produce the greatest improvement in the quality of life of the citizens.

Greenfield Airports and Biodiversity

Airports have considerable effect on city’s urban development and have negative impacts on the environment. At a local level, even though noise seems to be the main concern, air emissions, resource (energy and water) availability, waste and water management, and ecosystems and land use planning constitute issues that are directly linked to local communities’ tolerance. Environmental impact and sustainability require life cycle sustenance. Selecting a site for airport or its expansion, must look at ecological balance, bird and animal habitats, compatible land use, landscape deterioration and biodiversity damage. We need to avoid building on green spaces and work with local communities and organisations to conserve biodiversity on sites near airports.

Climate Change

Internationally, aviation is considered one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Even though aircraft emissions are not included in Kyoto protocol, emissions that are directly controlled by airport operators are ground-based, and therefore are subject to national targets. Air pollution caused due to various reasons including the burning of aviation fuel greatly contributes to climate change. Disruptive weather affects aviation the most. The most important measures require improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, ground fleet conversions, low emission power generation plants on site or renewable energy supplies. Geothermal, hydropower, solar or wind power is used to cover a significant proportion of energy needs. Many airports focus on achieving carbon neutral operations by offsetting carbon emissions that they cannot eliminate.

Air Pollution

Degradation of local air quality is another issue. The most significant sources of air pollution (lead emissions) are aircraft, airside and landside vehicles, ground support equipment, fuel storage, engine testing, fire training and road traffic. Burning of aircraft wheel tyre rubber during landing and take-off contributes to particle matter in the air, and fuel transfer and storage facilities contribute to increased volatile organic compound (VOC) concentration. Key pollutants of concern include oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, sulphur oxide and carbon dioxide. The most common applied measures to control air pollution include air quality monitoring systems, air traffic management, promotion of green transport, reduction in commercial vehicle trips to-and-from airports by providing efficient public transport like airport metro etc.

Noise Pollution

Noise disturbance is a difficult issue to evaluate as it is open to subjective reactions. There are significant consequences on the surrounding areas as take-off and landings are a major source of noise. Large airports normally install noise monitoring systems, put operating restrictions and limits, manage air traffic, create anti-noise barriers, and support home insulation etc. Adverse effects on people living close to an airport, could include interference with communication, sleep disturbance, annoyance responses, performance effects and cardiovascular and psycho-physiological effects. Aircraft flying at a height of 10,000 ft above ground do not usually produce ‘significant’ noise impact. Noise monitoring computer software models produce aircraft-wise noise footprints to help calculate noise levels around the airport. These noise ‘contours’ can then be placed on a map to see which communities are subjected to different degrees of noise levels.

All commercial aircraft are supposed to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO’s) noise certification standards. The ‘balanced approach’ is reduction of aircraft noise at source; land-use planning and management measures; and noise abatement operational procedures and restrictions. Avoiding overflying residential areas hospitals and schools as far as possible; using least affected runway(s) and routes; using continuous descent approaches and departure noise abatement techniques; avoiding unnecessary use of auxiliary power units by aircraft on-stand; building barriers and engine test-pens to contain and deflect noise; towing aircraft instead of using jet engines to taxi; limiting night operations; applying different operational charges based on the noisiness of the aircraft, are some of the measures.

Supersonic/Hypersonic Flights

Concorde was the only supersonic airliner in commercial use. Many countries did not permit its operations or even overflights in view of sonic booms and resultant high sound and vibrations. Even military aircraft are allowed supersonic training flights in restricted areas away from population centres. Sonic booms over hospitals have resulted in premature deliveries of babies. However, the human beings want to travel faster. Hypersonic flight is already a reality. Hypersonic airliner could do Mumbai to New York in just two hours. The saving grace is that hypersonic flight would normally be at very high altitudes closer to space.

Waste Management

Airports generate large amounts of waste, including a considerable proportion by companies involved in cargo handling, retail, flight catering, and aircraft maintenance. As most of the waste produced at airports is generated by customers and contractors, it is important to encourage good waste management practices. A holistic waste management approach would include efficient disposal and recycling of engineering material and human waste.

Water Management

As airports cover large areas of land, it creates large amounts of runoff water which has to be effectively managed to comply with environmental standards before being discharged. Water is a valuable resource, one that needs to be used sparingly. Airport water run-offs are known to contain high levels of chemicals and toxic substances coming from aircraft and airfield de-icing, fuel spillage, fire-fighting foam, chemicals and oils from aircraft and vehicle maintenance, detergents used for aircraft and vehicle cleaning etc. Waste water and effluents need proper management to avoid polluting the environment. Most common measures applied against these are waste-water and sewage plants, drainage systems, surface and ground water quality monitoring, oil/hydrocarbons and grease separators, use of biologically degraded de-icing and anti-icing agents etc. As infrastructure providers, airports use significant volumes of water in operations. Regular water usage monitoring, leak detection and targeting, and introducing water conservation practices are important. Airports may install various leak detection systems, install water reduction devices and implement water recycling operations to reduce the demand of potable water. Drainage and rain water harvesting have to be inbuilt.

Need for Green Aero-engines

Among the many factors requiring attention, the aircraft engine requires special addressing. Most airliners nowadays fly at above 30,000 feet (9 km) altitude. Therefore, the majority of aircraft emissions are injected into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (typically 9 – 13 km in altitude). The resulting impacts are unique. The impact of burning fossil fuels at altitude is approximately double that due to burning the same fuels at ground level. This requires technological innovations and intervention. New aircraft and engine designs/technologies, and alternative materials need to be evolved. Interestingly, the most important role in an airplane’s fuel efficiency is also of the engines. Any solution must thus look at both. The two most-widely used aircraft today—the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 have shown that newer models of the same aircraft, with better engines, can not only carry more passengers and payload, but do so while burning nearly 25 percent lesser fuel.

Sustainable and Green Aero-Engines

Sustainable and Green Aero-Engines (SAGE) initiatives are being taken both in the European Union and in the USA, to develop aero-engine technologies, with new engine architectures that offer opportunities for reduction in CO2 emissions relative to current turbofans. Emissions of CO2, H2O, O2 and N2 which are products of hydrocarbon fuel combustion are all function of engine fuel burn efficiency. Areas being addressed include lightweight low pressure systems for turbofans; composite fan blades and high efficiency low pressure turbine; advanced engine externals and installations including novel noise attenuation; high efficiency Low Pressure (LP) spool technology while further advancing high speed turbine design; option of an aggressive mid turbine inter-duct; high efficiency and lightweight compressor and turbine; and low emission combustion chamber for next generation rotary-craft engine. Developments in controls and electronics, lightweight metallic and composite materials, hydraulic and pneumatic systems, and novel manufacturing methods, specific aero-engine parts, like casing, tanks, pipes, high temperature materials such turbine blades, and sensors would require attention.

SAGE 2 Project

European Union’s SAGE 2 project headed by Rolls-Royce and Safran focuses on demonstrating the technologies such as composite propeller blades with aero-acoustic optimisation, electric de-icing system and equipment. The gas generator used in the SAGE 2 open rotor demonstrator is derived from a Snecma M88 engine. The Airbus A340-300 MSN001 aircraft is being used as a flight test vehicle, with one full size Contra Rotating Open Rotor (CROR) pusher engine attached to a representative pylon and engine mount. Open rotor technologies offer the potential for significant reductions in fuel burn and CO2 emissions relative to turbofan engines of equivalent thrust. Open rotor engines remove the limitation by operating the propeller blades without a surrounding nacelle, thus enabling ultrahigh bypass ratios to be achieved. Installation of the open rotor engine on the airframe has its complexities, as the airflow through the propellers interacts with the supporting airframe structure in a different manner. The trend for Very High Bypass Ratio (VHBR) engines requires technology developments across a broad range of complex gas turbine systems, from fan inlet through the complete compression, combustion and turbine to exhaust.

CAEP Targets

The aircraft engines account for most of the noise and fuel consumption characteristics of airplanes. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has a Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) since 1983. Aircraft are required to meet the engine certification standards adopted by ICAO. Of particular relevance is the Standard for NOx, a precursor for ozone, which at altitude is a greenhouse gas. Standard for NOx was first adopted in 1981. It was made more stringent in 1993, 1999, 2005 and 2011. CAEP/8 standard was set in 2010. The CAEP medium and long-term NOx technology goals was to target reduction by 45% of CAEP/6 standard by 2016; and 60% by 2026. GE clean-sheet engine GE9X class engines employ modern technologies give better specific fuel consumption (SFC). It means 10 percent lower fuel costs even when compared to the 300ER. The engine has 15db noise levels well within stage 4 margin, and 29 percent emissions within CAEP/8 margin. Novel cycles that increase bypass ratios, incorporation of lean burn technology is evolving. ICAO is developing the first non-volatile PM (nvPM) standards (covering soot or black carbon particles) for turbofan/turbojet engines. Similarly, standards are being set for turboprops, helicopter turbo-shaft, and APU engines. The nvPM standard will help better assess impact.

Design Considerations

Changes in engine design or operation might include ultra-high bypass turbofans; open rotor engines; use of alternative fuels; relocating engines on the body of the aircraft such that engine noise gets deflected upwards. An example of a ‘green’ design change can be seen in the blended wing and body of the subscale, flying X-48B aircraft prototype. Other concepts may include capitalising on the potential of advanced electrical power technologies such as batteries or fuel cells to reduce the amount of fuel needed. Using High-tech engines, propeller efficiency, advanced aerodynamics, low-drag airframe etc. can result in higher fuel saving and less gaseous emissions. Improvement in performance can be achieved by moving from a component-based design to a fully integrated design by including wing, tail, belly fairing, pylon, engine, high lift devices etc. into the solution. At the April 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show, a high-efficiency composite cycle piston-turbofan hybrid engine for 2050, combining a geared turbofan with a piston engine core was presented. The 2.87 m diameter, 16-blade fan gives a 33.7 ultra-high bypass ratio. The 11,200 lb. (49.7 kN) engine could power a 50-seat regional jet. Although the engine weight increases by 30 percent, the overall aircraft fuel consumption is reduced by 15 percent.

New Engine Concepts

Two new engine concepts currently under investigation include the ‘Combined Brayton Cycle Aero Engine’ and ‘Multi-Fuel Hybrid Engine’. Even though modern engines are supposedly very efficient, a large part of the energy input is ejected as waste heat (over 50%). Improving performance by heat recovery is the requirement. A heat exchanger integrated in a turbofan core can convert recovered heat into useful power which can be used for onboard systems or to power an electrically driven fan to produce auxiliary thrust. A dual combustion chamber, with first stage between HP Compressor and HP Turbine burning cryogenic fuel like Hydrogen/Methane or liquid natural gas, and the second combustor at an inter-stage uses kerosene/bio-fuel in the flameless combustion mode is being considered. High temperature generated in the first stage, allows flameless combustion in the inter-stage, thus reducing CO, NOx etc. Cryogenic bleed air cooling can enhance the engine thermodynamic efficiency by cooling the bleed air thus allowing increase in temperature of the fuel. contra-rotating fans (CRF) can use boundary layer ingestion to reduce both noise emission and improve propulsive efficiency.

Next Generation Innovations

Developed under the US Department of Defense’s Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) and adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) programs, is the GE Adaptive Cycle Engine (ACE). Unlike traditional engines with fixed airflow, the GE ACE is a variable cycle engine that will automatically alternate between a high-thrust mode for maximum power and a high-efficiency mode for optimum fuel savings. ACE is designed to increase combat aircraft thrust by up to 20 percent, improve fuel consumption by 25 percent to extend range by more than 30 percent, and provide significantly more aircraft heat dissipation capacity. These adaptive features are coupled with an additional stream of cooling air to improve fuel efficiency and dissipate aircraft heat load. The joint GE/U.S. Government investment of more than US$ 1Billion, the ACE engine will incorporate both heat-resistant materials and additive manufactured components. In the ADVENT program, GE reached the highest combined compressor and turbine temperatures ever. The Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) is underway. The challenge remains in going to higher overall pressure ratio engines due to increasing cooling air temperatures, constraints imposed by developing new material technologies and detrimental weight and drag impact on ultra-high bypass ratio engines. GE Aviation’s Passport engines feature a higher-pressure ratio and a compressor made of new—and unnamed—advanced materials. GE predicts that the engines will achieve 8 percent lower fuel consumption and considerably lower NOx emissions. The pulse detonation engine (PDE), which has the potential to radically increase thermal efficiency, is one of the more exciting propulsion technologies being researched. PDE uses detonation waves to combust the fuel and oxidiser mixture. Instead of burning it, it explodes it. In theory it can be used up to Mach 5.0.

Some of the statistics around aero engines can explain the challenges of engine technologies, and why very few manufacture modern engines. Each wide-chord fan blade exerts a centrifugal force of around 70 tons, equivalent to the weight of a modern locomotive; each high-pressure turbine blade generates the same amount of power as a Formula 1 car; and the turbine discs will now have a “dual microstructure” to give different mechanical properties at the centre and at the edge of the disc.

Electric and Solar Engines

A number of electrically powered aircraft, such as the QinetiQ Zephyr have been designed since the 1960s. Some are used as military drones. In 2007, France flew a conventional light aircraft powered by an 18 kW electric motor using lithium polymer batteries, and became the first electric aircraft to receive an airworthiness certificate. Solar-powered manned aircraft designed to fly both day and night without the need for fuel are already under development. Solar electric propulsion have been performed through the manned ‘Solar Impulse’ and the unmanned NASA ‘Pathfinder’ aircraft. Many big companies, such as Siemens, are developing high performance electric engines for aircraft use. Small multi-copter UAVs are almost always powered by electric motors.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is fast evolving. A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical device that uses a chemical process to convert hydrogen to electrical power, which in turn can drive one or more electric propulsion motors on the unmanned aerial vehicle. Electricity, water and heat are the only products of this chemical process, which makes hydrogen an extremely clean fuel. Hydrogen fuel cells are smaller, lighter, more versatile and more resilient than alternatives like batteries or small gasoline and diesel engines. Unlike batteries, hydrogen fuel cells do not need to be recharged. Simply connect a carbon fibre hydrogen storage tank to the fuel cell, and fly! Drones powered by a hydrogen fuel cell have much longer range and flight duration than a comparably sized battery-powered aircraft. Typical rotary and fixed wing platforms can fly up to three times longer with hydrogen fuel cell onboard. UAVs are already flying far beyond the capabilities of drones powered by batteries or gasoline engines. Operators of fixed-wing or multi-rotor platforms can fly up to three times longer with proven hydrogen fuel cell onboard.

The 600-watt and 1200-watt liquid-cooled hydrogen fuel cells and compressed hydrogen fuel source are ideal for military and commercial missions of all kinds, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), search and rescue, law enforcement, infrastructure and agriculture inspections, and other missions where silent operation and long duration flights are critical. The hydrogen fuel cell advantages can be summed as nearly three times the range or flight time of batteries, no need for recharging, all-temperature performance, faster turnaround times between missions, no environmental footprint, virtually noise-free, logistic simplicity, liquid-cooled technology operates more efficiently at high altitudes than air-cooled fuel cells, and longer service life. Hydrogen fuel cell technology will be increasingly used on larger aircraft.

Flight Planning Tools

The flight efficiency approach requires choosing optimum flight routes. All aircraft operators and computerised flight plan service providers exchange and compare their flight plans with the best filed flight plan accepted by the integrated initial flight plan processing system. Special software tools show shortest route plans. Dynamism through the application of the Flexible Use of Airspace (FUA) concept, under which the military release airspace to civil aviation helps. The flight planning from aircraft start-up to switch-off can be a great tool to reduce engine use and fuel consumption. This allows substantial savings in distance flown, time, fuel and environment. The air and ground crew, the airline operator, air and radar controllers, among many others can play a significant role.

India’s Aviation Environmental Regulations

India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which is responsible for all aspects of enforcement and regulation has an Aviation Environmental Unit. All operators such as the airlines, navigation service providers and airport authorities too, have environmental cells. It is mandatory to submit to DGCA monthly fuel consumption data to set up a carbon dioxide emission inventory. The DGCA sponsored noise study for Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) Delhi has now become the standard for all major airports in India. DGCA has laid down guidelines for noise measurement and monitoring at airports, including noise mapping, validation, action plan, noise reporting and proposed aviation noise limits. The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation’s Green Aviation Policy, 2019 aims to achieve the sustainable and inclusive growth of the aviation industry in the country and remedy the ecological concerns posed by the industry. The policy creates a regulatory framework to remedy the environmental issues created by the civil aviation industry by identifying key areas that require guiding principles and regulations.

Environmental Initiatives – Indian Airports

Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), New Delhi, was the first Indian green-field airport build with international best practices keeping environmental excellence and sustainable work practices in mind. The focus was on natural resource conservation, pollution preventions and environmental skill development. All the aspects and associated impacts due to services and operations is based on ISO 14001:2004 Environment Management Systems (EMS). IGIA ensured building green infrastructure, renewable energy initiatives, climate change & greenhouse gas management, followed international environmental standards and controls, and resource conservations (water, energy, & materials). Noise abatement is one of the key areas. Automatic aircraft noise monitoring System is installed in approach’s of all runways and identify noisy aircraft. Distribution of aircraft movement across the three runways is based on time of the day and individual aircraft noise levels. Inputs from noise complaint system are also factored in. Continuous decent approach is followed to reduce noise. IGIA has target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Other major Indian airports have introduced many energy efficient technologies such as energy efficient air-conditioning and water chillers, solar water heating, solar boundary lighting, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or electric ground vehicles, LED lighting, waste water treatment plants, and high efficiency pumps. Cochin, Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh airports have already installed solar power plants. Bangalore and Hyderabad airport solar projects are under implementation.  Ultimate aim is to make the airports carbon neutral. Bangalore has 273 hectare of green belt and 971 hectare of natural greenery. Chandigarh International airport uses only natural light during day and mostly LED lighting thereafter. It also has a transparent glass roof with low heat gain that cuts down air conditioning requirement.


Advances in engine architecture, aerodynamics, and materials have resulted in today’s aircraft engines consuming 40 percent less fuel — and emitting 40 percent less CO2 — than engines manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s. Each kilogram of fuel saved reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 3.16 kg. Modern aircrafts are 30-40% more efficient than those of 15 years ago. Fixed electrical ground power can reduce the amount of fuel burn used on ground power by up to 85%.

However, we cannot be satisfied with the pace of progress from the past. The next set of engine technologies, including open fan architectures, hybrid-electric and electric propulsion concepts, and advanced thermal management concepts, offer the potential to achieve at least a 20 percent additional improvement in fuel efficiency compared to today’s state of the art single-aisle aircraft engines. Industry initiatives to approve and adopt 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and investigate hydrogen as the zero-carbon fuel of the future should deliver. Aero-engines of the future will be more and more fuel efficient and environment friendly. The future of flight will be defined by how the aviation industry innovates to lower emissions and improves fuel efficiency. Global warming is causing global mean sea level to rise in two ways. First, glaciers and ice sheets worldwide are melting and adding water to the ocean. Second, the volume of the ocean is expanding as the water warms. On future pathways with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise could be as high as 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) above 2000 levels by 2100. More than 260 airports are at risk of getting submerged due to such a sea level rise or coastal flooding. Up to 20% of flight routes could be disrupted. Therefore, time to act is now, lest it becomes too late.

Author Brief Bio: Air Marshal Anil Chopra, PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM is a QFI, test pilot, and a pioneer of Mirage-2000 fleet. He was AOC J&K, ACAS (Inspections) and retired as Air Officer-in-charge Personnel (AOP). Post retirement, he served as a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal. Presently, he is the Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi.



Politics and Economics of Climate Change: Opportunities for India

Any event can be easily manipulated politically if the intent from the start is to set a narrative contrary to the belief of the people, the geography, culture or history. The Western world has mastered that art. History reveals the attitude of the West to first get a foothold, and then overlook well-established ideals of sustainable development used by local societies. Following a consumerist approach, they have manipulated and replaced those models for their own benefit—monetary, political and social.

By controlling the branding and shaping of perceptions they control mindsets, which enables them to propagate matters in a chosen manner. By glamourising their own lifestyles, they create new markets. Simultaneously, they sow insecurity in the minds of the target social group. Climate Change is one such notion that has been twisted into politics and economics. It is a term coined only by the West and they have succeeded in making it look or seem more attractive than it really is.

What is Climate Change

Weather is essentially the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time. Although a definite time scale cannot be attached to it, weather conditions can change rapidly or last for weeks. Climate is the synthesis of weather for a long enough period for reliable statistical determination of its properties. Changes in weather are collectively known as climate. Unlike the weather, where the change is instantaneous or may last for weeks, the climate is relatively constant from year to year or century to century.

Nevertheless, there is evidence of fluctuations or variations in climate. When these fluctuations follow a particular trend, it is called a climatic trend. These fluctuations may themselves be cyclic in nature and are known as a climatic cycle. Over a longer period of time, climatic fluctuations may be such that they will shift the climate of a given area. Such changes in climate are called climate change. Various terms like climatic variations, climatic fluctuation, climatic trend, climatic cycle and climatic change refer to relevant time scales and are mostly just terminologies.

Variations in climate on geological time scales run into millions of years. Such variations in climate that occurred during recent history dating back to perhaps a few thousand years are collectively called climatic change. Changes in climate usually occur over a period of 100 to 150 years and are termed secular or instrumental changes. Other variations in climate that happen within a period of less than 30 to 35 years are used to calculate values of climatic normals. These variations are too rapid to be considered climatic change.

Are we in a Climate Change?

Article 1 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as: “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”. Thus, the UNFCCC makes a distinction between ‘climate change’ due to human activities altering the atmospheric composition and ‘natural climate variability’ that occurs due to natural causes.

It is unanimously agreed that the earth is warming. How much of this warming can be directly attributed to or caused by human activity is not clear? Their effects are extremely difficult to assess, though accumulations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are more than likely taking their toll. What is clear is that, globally, 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the previous one. 2001-2010 has been the warmest decade on record.

Average global air temperatures over land and sea surface in 2014 were 0.57 °C (1.03°F) above the long-term average of 14.00°C (57.2 °F) for the 1961-1990 reference period. By comparison, temperatures were 0.55 °C (1.00°F) above average in 2010 and 0.54°C (0.98°F) above average in 2005, according to WMO calculations. The estimated margin of uncertainty was 0.10°C (0.18°F).

Is it man-made?

It’s our recklessness that we multiply uncontrollably, deforest, burn stubble and use chemicals, knowing well that they cause destruction and degradation. We understand that if we do not take action now it will be too late! Ironically, we ourselves are products of climatic change. Had climate not changed, reptiles and mammoths would have ruled the earth and there would be no coal. We are a product of such transformations and this climate change will ultimately pave way for other ecosystems to evolve.

We cannot master the functionality of nature or its ways. What we see today might not be there tomorrow and there might be something new in the climate that we still do not know about. However, to link every event in the atmosphere to global warming defies logic. What we do know is that climate change has acquired a new dimension in the form of opening up new battles, disputes and new war including perception war.

The Politics of Climate Change

Climate change is a natural event but the concept can and has been used to convey manipulative motives more than it has been dealt with naturally. Ever since the term came into use, it is strongly used to build narratives that are even contradictory and are altered in different regions and for various purposes by assorted groups.

When a model of change is not in sync sustainably, does not adjust naturally, and is laced with consumerism, it speaks of hidden intents and motives. When it is being done with the purpose of changing the perception of people, it is nothing but a deception of the highest order, an epidemic (infodemic) and a form of war (perception war). Solutions turn political when there are many unexplained truths and a refusal to accept change is woven into the scheme of things.

Climate Change is politics when its interpretation is manipulated, converted into economics and used in trade. It becomes a weapon to threaten and destabilise countries. With different narratives in mind, Climate Change is used as a power projection. Politics comes into play with the setting of a narrative and usually involves hiding the truth by justifying lies. To begin with, Climatic Change has been used by its supporters with an aim to shift blame. Secondly, when it involves treatment, it is using economics and business. Climate Change politics is about looking away from simple solutions. Thirdly, it gets converted into a tool that is used to threaten all those who do not subscribe to a particular view. Towards this end, facts are doctored, information deliberately hidden, some arrangements camouflaged, and scientific knowledge is interpreted with a hidden agenda.

The Industrial Revolution and Crony Capitalism

The industrial revolution saw almost all the western economies present a consumerist model that was capital-driven and energy and resource-intensive. There was little thought given to the impact this would have on the environment. Now, having created a dirty world, the same creators are scrambling to treat the negative effects.

Crony consumerism has generated waste that required constant management. Energy use at every stage created the present man-made climate change. The industrial revolution created by Western economies has now become one of the greatest catastrophes to infest mankind. The waste generated by the combined western world in the last 200 years still remains in the atmosphere and is now the greatest cause of global warming. It is the biggest source of all greenhouse gases and subsequent environmental degradation. Western economies have made every effort possible to hide and manipulate this fact from the world. They seek to absolve themselves from the magnitude of damage caused by them and are shifting the blame to developing economies. They have also outsourced manufacturing and thus have exported pollution and emissions to developing countries.

Having used coal lavishly during their industrial revolution phase, the Western world now wants to prevent developing countries from using this cheap source of energy. This comes at a time when the developing world wants to attain a better GDP to come to some degree of parity and has just started to use coal on an industrial scale.

Food Consumption Patterns

Food consumption habits, tastes and pattern of the West leaves much to be desired. Let us examine the issue of meat production and consumption. Meat production causes global warming at a much higher rate than the cultivation of vegetables and grains. 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock and their by-products. The industry accounts for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. Cows produce around 150 billion gallons of methane each day. Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2) and is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 over a 20-year time frame. Livestock farming is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. It stays trapped in the atmosphere for 150 years. Agricultural practices in the western world are also highly energy-intensive and without principles of ecological conservation. The higher rate of production ignores the cost involved in terms of energy and other inputs. The same goes for their livestock farming. The West carries on with it since they think they are correct and have the right to do so. To top it all, they convince the world of the correctness of this practice and shamelessly defend it too.

The Fashion Industry Camouflages Intent

Unmonitored growth of the fashion industry contributes to extreme levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The western world hides the truth to maintain its superiority in branding and identity, apathetically to an extent of affecting global warming. In fact, the industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions which is more than the emissions for all international flights and maritime shipping, combined.

Carbon dioxide emissions in the manufacture of polyester are three times more than those for cotton. By 2030, such emissions from the manufacture of textile alone are projected to increase more than 60 percent.

Pets come with Climatic Price” Tags

When it comes to climate change, fondness for pets is not far behind. There are 470 million pet dogs and 370 million pet cats on the planet, and they all add to climate change. An average-size cat generates 310 kg of CO2e per year, an average-size dog produces 770 kg of CO2e per year, and a large dog creates 2,500 kg of CO2e per year. Over 64 million tons of greenhouse gases are released only because of America’s pet cats’ and dogs’ eating habits. A minor shift will bring about change, though of a minuscule level.

Travel has side effects

Travel generates huge amounts of carbon. The travel industry accounts for 8 percent of global carbon emissions and tends to grow at a rate of 4% annually. It is the need of the hour to promote carbon offsetting to compensate and reduce travel emissions. Visitors from high-income countries contribute to a majority of this footprint. Also, we indeed to promote local tourism to cut on air travel. Unless the lifestyle, GDP-oriented consumerist model, and the so-called industrial revolution-based model are changed, climate change will remain.

Narratives and Concealments as Politics

It is ironic that several narratives are aided with concealments that abound in the world. While the whole world is undergoing warming at a differential rate, there are many anomalies too. The role of methane and Trifluromethyl Sulphur Pentaflouride has been inconsistent and so has been on Ozone hole whose mechanism of formation left some in quandary and also which never grew to the desired size once the West found a market for new alternative to CFC.

The information on Arctic as well as the information and interpretation on glacier melts is inconsistent and contradictory. The causes of Arctic warming and its domino effects remain mired in contradictions. What is never even mentioned is that water temperature increases in the Arctic region contribute significantly to carbon dioxide and methane emissions and the resulting warming leads to more thawing—an effect called ‘positive feedback’.

One may not even know the truth behind the narrative related to petroleum reserves and their potential for the world but here too, the negative consequences are glossed over. The truth behind fusion reactors being environment friendly too are not very clear, neither is the reality behind the damage that could be caused by the lithium batteries. The impact of disposing of solar cells when they have lived their life is hidden too. The reality of the environmental impact of nuclear power, solar panels is replaced with another narrative. Misconceptions associated with limitless energy remain disguised. Such narratives are set in the name of so-called development and globalisation. It was western societies that coined the term ‘Climatic Change’. They then funded think tanks to pour doubts over global warming, and then later hired retired scientists to shower scorn over climate science. This resulted in enormous bias in their so-called researches that lacked objectivity. Though the West comes out with researches on global warming at frequent intervals the aim is to seed doubts and therefore the intent of the researchers even if the research was absolutely right.

Global Warming and Power Politics

The likely impact of global warming is a scary eye-opener. Projections indicate that in the US, rising seas will render important naval bases (like Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida) essentially useless. A good number of islands and many coastal cities around the world are on the brink of submerging.

While the polar warming raises concern, contrastingly, the same areas will benefit from a more temperate climate. Greenland may have a flourishing agricultural industry by the middle of this century. 40 years ago, Arctic ice was near impenetrable. Submarines could navigate the Arctic Ocean, but not destroyers or cruisers. That is no longer the case. As the ice caps melt, there will be a geopolitical ocean-heist in the far north to gain control of aquatic hydrocarbons, deep-seabed mining and shipping routes. With Russia on one side of the Arctic and five NATO nations on the other (Canada, Denmark by virtue of Greenland, Iceland, Norway and the US), the possibility of conflict is likely to rise just like the ocean levels. The USA of course will be the last country to give any advantage to the Russians.

In the Arctic, where temperatures are rising doubly as the global normal, Russia, China and others are formally trying to establish a geopolitical foothold over the region. Resources here that were once under the ice, now stand exposed. The melting of permafrost in Siberia will pave way for the expansion of the agricultural area and its simultaneous effect will be felt on the food security of Russia too with an added muscle power to its politics. China can use Tibetan region and its snow cover to alter the albedo and affect the monsoons.

Checking Russia, China and other Choke Points

Phasing out oil imports will help reduce the income and geopolitical power of countries like Russia, which currently relies heavily on the EU market. Of course, the loss of this key source of Russian revenue could lead to instability in the near term. Strategically, as oil becomes less relevant, the old strategic chokepoints — starting with the Strait of Hormuz, Bab-el-Mandeb strait will become less dangerous. These seaborne passages have preoccupied military strategists for decades. But as the oil age passes, they will be less subject to competition for access and control by regional and global powers.

Business Economics as Politics

A transition, either economic, technological or perceptual is a good business proposition as it offers opportunities that never existed before. It could be in the form of technological development. To begin with, developing countries have already been converted into trash bins of recycling. Developed countries have smartly outsourced all the dirty manufacturing and made the third world a dump yard for pollutants. Energy shift and transition in the Middle East economies will mean conversion to solar energy. The new climate change politics is creating and has created two different blocks, “petra” and “electra” with a concomitant effect on control of energy politics and consequently power politics.

Greater emphasis on electric power reliance will allow China to rise and petrostates will fall —or so says conventional wisdom. In reality, the geopolitical fallout of a clean energy transition will be far more subtle, complex, and counterintuitive. But politics and economics will always speculate. China also dominates the market for some of the commodities—such as lithium and cobalt—that are critical inputs for many clean energy technologies such as batteries. This naturally raises national security risks, particularly in military and communications applications, where these commodities are also crucial.

Shrinking demand for oil and gas will mean lower prices, implying that even if petrostates gain market share, they would still see revenues collapse. West Asia will have a lot of stranded assets to deal with once there is a shift in energy and power structure. Unable to sustain themselves, these organisations will become mere tools for negotiations. Of course, the reality is more complicated

The future scenario could will be that some petrostates may be tomorrow’s electrostates. Saudi Arabia, for example, which has abundant, low-cost solar power, announced a US$ 5 billion project to turn renewable energy into hydrogen, and has also sent Japan the world’s first blue ammonia shipment. Other countries rich in cheap renewable power, such as Chile, may also emerge as the superpowers of a new hydrogen-based economy. Moreover, advances in carbon-capture technology could create opportunities for natural gas to play a role in a low-carbon economy, either directly or converted to other fuels such as hydrogen. Such energy transition in itself will shift power away from those controlling and exporting fossil fuels to those who master green technologies of the future. Gradually eliminating fossil fuels and reducing its dependence on energy imports will vastly improve European Union’s strategic position. In 2019, 74% of their gas and 87% of their oil came from imports. Fossil-fuel products worth US$ 386 billion or €320 billion came from abroad that year.

In short, the western countries used untested unsustainable energy and distributed toxic pollutants into cleaner environments. They invaded developing countries and industrialised them on their own paradigms of consumerism and crony capitalism. Then they de-industrialised themselves by exporting dirty industries. Now, citing environmental ethics, western powers are blaming the same countries to which they exported their emissions and are asking them to pay for cleaning the garbage and dirt that they themselves created everywhere! To prevent genuine forthcoming action, western funded think tanks pour doubts into minds over who is responsible for global warming. Unprincipled retired ‘scientists’ are being hired to pour scorn over climate science.

Politics of Solution and the Perception War

Manmade climatic change should not have taken place in the first place. Simple sustainable solutions exist, but they are not being propagated by the polluters. Global powers keep on inserting infodemics to alter the truths, to discard genuine and easy solutions for their own purposes.

To begin with, tackling CO2 emissions is simple. The Covid 19 pandemic showed us that the lockdowns imposed in 2020-21, which halted social and economic activities led to global carbon dioxide emissions dropping by 6.4% or 2.3 billion tonnes. While lockdowns are not being advocated, global warming can be tackled using simple natural systems. In order to make the transit from an energy-intensive society to a more ecocentric one, (commercially speaking to electric one), we will have to stop producing pollutants and greenhouse gases. Reducing the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere can be achieved through dietary changes and through innovate building designs that consume less energy. We will also have to follow environment-friendly practices like afforestation, carbon storage by expanding wetlands, expand mariculture through seaweeds and kelp farming and encourage basalt weathering.

In terms of dietary habits, a shift to reduced calorie consumption (2000 calories per day instead of 2500 calories) will suffice. Today, about 20% of the world overeats and it leads to obesity. A diet shift is also suggested to cut down the consumption of proteins to the recommended level. We need to focus more on plant-based proteins and cut down on meat-based ones. When protein requirements are to the order of 55 grams of proteins per day, there is little need to consume 75-90 grams of protein daily. In addition, cutting down on beef consumption and cattle in general from our daily diet will offer both dietary and environmental benefits. It saves agriculture for land use and reduces greenhouse gases. Rather than beef, one can choose poultry, fish, and, of course, legumes.

Other simple solutions include lifestyle changes that can be supplemented with other changes like changes to building design, curbs on commuting habits, and weekend spending. That means altering the lifestyle and brand image of the West and homogenisation of lifestyle to be closer to nature.

The world has involved itself in various conventions and concepts. These include the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (1972), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) or UN Environment, UNFCCC: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol (COP 3; UNFCCC Summit 1997) and other important UNFCCC Summits Post Kyoto, the last one being the Katowice (Poland) Climate Change Conference 2018. They have practically achieved nothing.

The new solutions such as the Net Zero concept, bears testimony to the ongoing manipulative streak. In simple words, net-zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.

Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero. Rather, net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

The emission-reduction targets for 2050 or 2070, for rich and developed countries seem an eyewash. The same rich countries whose unregulated emissions over several decades are mainly responsible for global warming and consequent climate change assured the rest of the world to wait. They did nothing other than boost pollution. The net-zero formulation does not assign any emission reduction targets to any country. Theoretically, a country can become carbon-neutral at its current level of emissions, or even by increasing its emissions, if it is able to absorb or remove more. From the perspective of the developed world, it is a big relief, because now the burden is shared by everyone, and does not fall only on them. Glorifying its net-zero targets the West is putting pressure on the developing nations. India constitutes around 18% of the global population but contributes less than 5% of pollution.

The West is under the illusion that the important target is how much you are going to put into the atmosphere, before reaching net-zero. They assume that emissions from burning coal can be compensated in real-time by protecting a forest. This is ignorance given the fact that plants need time to grow whilst cutting fossil fuel emissions has immediate results. The fact is carbon removal does not take place in real-time.

India is opposing this net-zero target since it is likely to be the most impacted by it. Over the next two to three decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions. Most of the carbon removal technologies right now are either unreliable or very expensive. In any case, India is not in a position to control emissions on account of various ongoing development projects aimed at taking the country forward. These projects are worth USD 28 trillion.

Opportunities for India

The earth has enough regenerating capacity environmentally. Economically, Japan and Germany are live examples of how a country can be rebuilt from the rubble after the harshness of World War II. There are many advantages that a country can gain when it starts afresh because it can remodel itself, insert a lot of lateral thinking, and look at creating new opportunities.

India is in a position to take leadership in environment protection through its soft power reach to include prevention, improvement and control. This can be done through its local wisdom and knowledge, weaving indigenous people with technology and making the historical knowledge gained through millennia to get identified and respected and implemented by the world (Gleb Raygorodetsky, Why Traditional Knowledge Holds the Key to Climate Change)

Managing Indigenous Societies and their Knowledge throughout the world

  • Indigenous people and their traditional ways of life have contributed little to climate change, but ironically are the most adversely affected by it. This is because of their geographic and historic dependence on local biological diversity, ecosystem services and cultural landscapes as a source of sustenance and well-being. These indigenous people are located predominantly at the social-ecological margins of human habitation—such as small islands, tropical forests, high-altitude zones, coasts, desert margins and the circumpolar Arctic.
  • The indigenous people, comprise only four per cent of the world’s population (between 250 to 300 million people). They utilise 22 per cent of the world’s land surface but maintain 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85 per cent of the world’s protected areas. They are the real victims of climate change.
  • Indigenous lands also contain hundreds of gigatons of carbon—a recognition that is gradually dawning on industrialised countries that seek to secure significant carbon stocks in an effort to mitigate climate change.
  • Indigenous observations and interpretations of meteorological phenomena are at a much finer scale, have considerable temporal depth and highlight elements that may be marginal or even new to scientists.
  • Indigenous peoples’ observations contribute importantly to advancing climate science, and have meaningful experiences applicable at the local level.
  • Resilience in the face of change is embedded in indigenous knowledge and know-how, diversified resources and livelihoods, social institutions and networks, and cultural values and attitudes.

This local knowledge can be utilised through several mechanisms. It includes workshops with the help of several other partners (UNDP, UNESCO, and CBD) — to promote respect for the local and traditional knowledge at the national and local levels. For indigenous peoples, such workshops will provide an opportunity not only to present their experiences and knowledge about climate change in their communities, but to gain valuable information on global climate processes that are affecting their communities. Moreover, indigenous people learn about other indigenous climate change-related experiences, while scientists gain opportunities to ground-truth (field check) climate models and scenarios.

India can actually play a pivotal role in not only ending the suffering of indigenous people but utilising their knowledge and experience of being a 15,000-year-old actual civilisation. India can model Universities based on such experience on the lines of Barefoot College in Tilonia, but will need to create a realistic model that is visible and invisible as per its choosing. This is where India can truly be a ‘Vishva Guru’. This model will help a new diplomacy for India-Eco-Diplomacy. It will also empower a lot of local communities across the globe. India is the only country that has the willingness and ability to provide a platform to showcase the indigenous genius to the entire world.

By creating an eco-centric approach that sets value and importance on the entire environment and all life in it, India can lead the whole world to make the shift! By fusing management and technology with minimal investment, India can showcase its carbon capture methods to the whole world. India needs to create self-reliant models of independent units with zero emissions that are environmentally sustainable in different agro-climatic regions. This model could be adopted by different countries with a similar climate like Mali, Cambodia, Siberia and Argentina. India can have a strong stand at the Conference Of Parties COP26 of the UN Climate Change Conference and play a major role in carrying its offshoots. She can set examples by expanding and reclaiming wetlands to capture and sequester carbon deposits. Wetlands cover about 6 to 9% of the earth’s surface and sequester roughly 35% of the global terrestrial carbon.

Although forests were considered the best natural protection against climate change, recent research shows that seaweed is the most effective natural way of absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. India has a large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that can be used to remove huge amounts of carbon deposits and provide protein to its citizens from seaweed. The 7500 odd km of coastline is an effective way to grow and nurture kelp—a type of seaweed whose farming is considered to be a remedy for all the ills associated with global warming. Kelp can grow as much as 20 cm every day. It not only absorbs carbon dioxide but also de-acidifies the ocean water. By drawing CO₂ out of the waters they allow our oceans to absorb even more CO₂ from the atmosphere.

With the largest basaltic exposure in the world, India can additionally use basalt weathering technology to absorb carbon deposits. Basalt weathering means mixing crushed basalt with soil, which slowly dissolves and reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonates. This method would allow between 0.5 billion and 2 billion tonnes of CO2 to be separated from the atmosphere each year.

Going ‘local’ is India’s recent mantra, though this life pattern is from ancient Indian wisdom. Our distinct set of concepts and thought patterns include theories based on the revival and evolution of local wisdom that is seldom found elsewhere in the world. These concepts can be weaved with our minimalistic living lifestyle and our nature-centric development visions. They are suited for different geographical settings that can be used anywhere in the world with similar agro-climatic conditions.

Minimalistic living strives to only use things that serve a purpose. It’s about simple living and having only what one needs to go about daily life. It is a smart rendezvous of technology, attitude and curbing the desires for sustainably. The components of the model include energy management, water management, vegetarian diet management, housing using natural ingredients and zero energy agriculture linked with satellites. Rural India works like a partially closed ecosystem in which energy obtained from plant photosynthetic is used to grow crops.  This in turn provides an essential energy input to grow more food and is an endless cycle. This can be co-joined with new farming technologies developed with countries like Israel, as well as agricultural technologies based on minimum energy.

The second solution is the modification and linkage of the Happiness model of Bhutan. Both these models wean away countries from a GDP-based development model, but also provide alternative sustainable income on India’s soft power platform.

The third is the extension of PM Modi’s concept of ‘One Sun, One World. One Grid’ (OSOWOG) initiative organised along with the Chatth festival (the only festival that worships the Sun). It aims to raise awareness about various ways to harness energy from the Sun. It aims to build a transnational grid that would allow countries to source solar power from regions where it is daytime to meet their green energy needs when their own installed solar capacity is not generating energy.

India is actually at cusp of change to unleash a new knowledge to the world, cleanse the world of its infodemics on climate change, weave the world communities into making the earth a liveable, sustainable and a more beautiful place.

Author Brief Bio: Prof K. Siddhartha is an Earth Scientist, Knowledge and Perception Management Consultant and Thought leadership trainer. A strategic thinker, he has been advisor to several Governments. He has written 116 research articles, authored 43 books, and is a mentor to a large number of civil servants in India.


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  1. D Balasubramanian, ‘Hold no brief for beef’: Shifting diets for a sustainable food future

  1. Climate Change – Politics vs Economics | K. Siddhartha, Pradeep Kapur and Vibhuti Jha

  1. Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change,

  1. Shane Tomlinson, The Geopolitics of Climate Change

  1. Geopolitics of Climate Change

  1. John R. Allen & Bruce Jones, What climate change will mean for US security and geopolitics, 04 Feb 2021

  1. The Connection Between Climate Change and Geopolitics, 03 Nov 2021

  1. Jason Bordoff, Everything You Think About the Geopolitics of Climate Change Is Wrong, 05 Oct 2020

  1. James Stavridis, As the World Warms, Geopolitics Are Heating Up Too, 06 Nv 2021

  2. Anton Vespalov, How Climate Change Is Shaping International Relations, 17 Dec 2020

  1. PM Narendra Modi’s commitments at COP26 summit on climate change

  1. Gleb Raygorodetsky, Why Traditional Knowledge Holds the Key to Climate Change


Vedic Averments for Cosmic Environmental Tranquility

Nature’s wrath is currently wreaking havoc on the entire planet. This situation is not only proving to be detrimental for the human race, but it is also causing severe harm to other sentient species. This undesirable state of affairs is largely caused by human beings, who have broken the cosmic laws and caused environmental degradation to an unprecedented level. All human efforts to preserve Nature in the name of planting trees, restraining the use of plastic and opting for eco-friendly products have had little impact on the health of the planet. The need of the hour, therefore, is total change, wholesome approach, holistic view, and organismic well-being.

The Vedas are the world’s oldest texts. They focus on a natural code of conduct and an all-encompassing cosmic law that encompasses every spec of the universe, from a tiny ant to the massive galaxies. In contrast to Western and Abrahamic thought, where the environment is viewed as isolated and human-centric, the Vedic perspective on environment is devoid of any splits. Each life is wholesome and is a vital part of the ‘One Whole Reality.’ This thought makes Bhārata as not only an environmentally protective but also an environmentally conscious nation that propagates ‘Unity in Diversity’. In this regard the Bhagvadgītā states,

I equivalently indwell in all creatures. I have no likes or aversions towards any life form.[i]

Further, the Īśopaniṣad asserts:

The entirety of cosmos is pervaded by Īśvara who is the ‘Self’ of all movable and immovable entities.[ii]

It is therefore clear that the entire cosmos is a manifestation of the non-dual ‘Ultimate.’ The Vedas propound that the Divine not only envelops the entire cosmos, but also indwells all entities and manifests Himself as the dog, the sparrow, the Ganges, and the entire material and immaterial world. The following verses shed light on the same,

I am One and I become many [iii]

That Ultimate Truth is ‘One’ known by the wise as many [iv]

As white light passes through a prism and splits into seven colours, the Divine, who is non-dual, appears as assorted names and forms as a result of Māyā.[v] Therefore, according to the Vedas, ‘Environment’ should be understood with the connotation of ‘Brahman’[vi]. Thus, there exists unity among all entities that are born and nourished in the compassionate lap of ‘Mother Nature’.

The term “Environment/Nature” must not be limited to trees, animals, birds, rivers and mountains, rather “It” is internal, external, individual, cosmic, exclusive and non-exclusive. It is to be recognised that it is human’s inner contamination, unrest, and mental greed that manifests as external pollutions, and disharmony. ‘Mother Nature,’ nurtures every being till we respect Her. However, if we try to exploit Her, She responds internally as metal stress, physically as diseases, environmentally as natural calamities, and universally as cumulative disharmony. Outer acts of environmental protection can aid us in our mission to support the cosmos, but they are far from being a permanent cure for cosmic discord. In this regard, Svāmī Vivekānanda aptly states,

“The miseries of the world cannot be cured by physical help alone. Unless a man’s nature changes, physical needs will continue to arise and miseries will continue to be felt. No amount of physical help will cure these miseries. Ignorance is the mother of all evils and of the misery that we see. Let man have light, let them be pure, spiritually strong and educated; then alone misery will cease. We may convert every house of the country into a charitable asylum and fill the land with hospitals but the misery will continue to exist until man’s character changes”[vii]

It is essential to recognise that each life and form has a crucial role to play in the grand scheme of the universe. Realisation of non-duality with all lives leads to harmony in the truest sense declares the Yajurveda,

He who sees the Self in all and all in the Self has no sense of revulsion by the reason of the vision of non-duality. When all beings have been realized as the ‘Self’ there remains no delusion and no sadness.[viii]

The Vedas regard ‘Nature’ as all-encompassing and holds an intimate relationship with It. They refer to ‘It’ as not only the ‘Highest Reality,’ but also revere Its various manifestations (sun, moon, rivers, birds, etc.) as mother, father, protector, friend, son, and more. ‘Environment’ is that ‘Unitary Principle’ which the Vedas have spoken about repeatedly. All beings of the universe are indwelled, saturated and are that very ‘Principle’ which they mistakenly consider as distinct. This non-dual Vedic vision elevates ‘Mother Nature’ to the highest plinth. As a result, the Vedas instruct us to work for the good of all beings instead of being limited to only the human race. Let us now consider some Vedic averments about Environmental harmony.

The Divine Pan͂camāhābhūtas

‘Bhūmi’ is depicted by the Vedas as a compassionate, benevolent, nurturing, and bountiful ‘Mother’ who nurtures all creatures without discrimination. She is revered, and hymns of Her majesty adorn the entire body of the Vedas.  She is the one who bestows cosmic peace and prosperity. Her grandeur can be understood by the following verses,

The ‘Earth’ just like the Mother Cow, confers upon all the creatures the gifts of delight. She nurtures and provides for all.[ix] May Goddess Earth, the nourisher of all beings eradicates all evils and lead us to the highest state of being.[x]

Āpaḥ’ is regarded by the Vedas as ‘Divine’ ‘Life’, ‘Nectar’ and as the finest of ‘Physicians’. It is no wonder that all important pilgrimages were set up near water bodies. The Vedas declare water as the best of medicines.[xi] In Its absence no medicine can work and it is the greatest of healers.[xii] It can cure all maladies including genetic and cardiovascular disorders. In this regard the Vedas state:

May the ‘Divine Waters’ protect us and flow down on us for quenching our thirst and lead us to peace and perfection. You are You are the Mighty One.[xiii] We seek your healing powers.[xiv]

Unfortunately, man has exploited water bodies in the most heinous manner. Water pollution causes a variety of problems, including the degradation of aquatic ecosystems caused by excessive use of chemicals and pathogens, plastic debris, sewage pesticides, industrial leaks, and hydraulic fracturing, to name a few. Water pollution has damaged the health and beauty of the water bodies, the well-being of aquatic species and the overall health of the planet. It has also negatively impacted the quality of plants, trees, and crops. It is to be remembered that in the wellness of life-enriching waters bodies lies the wellness of the entire cosmos.

‘Vāyu’ is the life force, and the cosmic breath. The Vedas contain a number of hymns that extol ‘It.’ The meaning of the word ‘Vāyu’ as the ‘Uniting Ultimate Principle’ has been expounded in the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa,

The entire universe is woven in a string and that string is ‘Vāyu’.[xv]

Therefore, the word ‘Vāyu’ has a broader meaning and is only casually translated as ‘Air’ which has a much-limited connotation. ‘Vāyu’ is itself living and thus ‘It’ becomes the essence of life. Unfortunately, the human race has done incalculable harm to ‘It’ while shrouded in ignorance. Polluted air not only endangers humans, but it also harms animals, birds, and puts undue strain on trees and plants. Every year, thousands of humans, animals, and birds die prematurely as a result of air pollution.[xvi]

‘Ākāśa’ and sound are inextricably linked, and this is the source of noise pollution. Taittiryopaniṣad (Yajurveda) discusses two types of Ākāśa i.e., one within the body and one outside of it.[xvii] However, human has not only polluted his inner space but is going on polluting the outer spaces. All of this has not only added to the planet’s pollution but in his desire to conquer outer space, he has added to space debris.  The Yajurveda advises the human race:

Do not destroy the space [xviii]

‘Agni’ is both divine and purifying. ‘It’ is the destroyer of greed, passion, and ignorance on a philosophical level. At a mundane level, it is the destroyer of negativities and diseases. In a spiritual sense, It burns away selfish desires and leads to a state where cosmic welfare becomes one’s vision and mission. According to the Yajurveda’s Navagṛhasūktam:

The light of wisdom Agni! Let us be vigilant while we work for ourselves and for all creatures of the cosmos. May we all remain together, even with the departed souls of our forefathers with whom you connect us like a thread.[xix]

Therefore, it is clear that Fire is meant for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, humans manipulate it in the most atrocious manner. Fire is used to burn down forests and various animals that live in them in order to capture land for the sake of high-end infrastructure. It is used to incite riots and destroy national property, as well as to burn a young girl for dowry. All of these crimes sprout from tainted internal states, and as long as we do not burn the dirt that we hold within, we will go on destroying the world.

The Celestial Plant Kingdom and Forests

The Vedic verses revere forests, trees, plants and herbs as conscious divine beings that provide Amṛta (oxygen), Ouśadhi (herbs), Anna (food), Phala (fruits), Puṣpa (flowers), Cāyā (shade), Saundarya (beauty) and Jīvan (life). Tree are encrusted with divinity and so, the five parts that they have – Jada (roots), Prakāṇda (trunk), Śākhā (branches), Patra (leaves), Phala (fruits) and Puṣpa (flowers) are a boon to the universe. They are called Viśadūśaṇī’[xx] because they are the destroyers of poison (pollution). Therefore, uprooting a tree means uprooting the entire cosmos, and cutting down a tree means cutting down one’s own survival. In this regard the Vedas make it clear,

Extend no violence towards Trees.[xxi] Do not cut or uproot them for they are the destroyers of pollution [xxii] Forests, trees, herbs and mountains are said to be the protectors of all.[xxiii]

The Ṛigveda further highlights,

‘The Divine trees and curative herbs appeared three Yugas before the emergence of Deities and billions of years before the origin of any other being. The ‘Divine’ manifested as trees, herbs and plants at various places on the earth. These Godly appearances were meant to destroy pain, suffering, ailments and heal wounds of all living creatures. They further remove infections and weakness. They have a positive and wholesome effect and lead to complete wellness. Trees and herbs nurture, protect and bless all lives with material and spiritual advancement like a mother and thus they are also referred to as ‘Mātraḥ’. The Holy Trees and plants lead us to Mokṣa by destroying diseases, misery and take us beyond the realm of birth and death. Trees and herbs have supreme powers and those creatures who submit to them are bestowed with lifelong wellness. Without any discrimination between man and animal, these saintly trees and herbs have equally blessed all beings.[xxiv]

The Vedas also declare that the plant kingdom is conscious and sensitive, like humans and animals. They are born, they die, they experience pain-pleasure, they sleep, they are susceptible to illness, and they bleed when they are broken, uprooted, or cut down.[xxv] The Mahābhārata in this regard states:

“Trees and plants drink water through their roots and make their food through sunlight. They digest the food due to the presence of Vāyu and Agni that is within them. When they are injured, they experience unimaginable pain. They are affected by pleasant and foul smells. They do fall sick and feel weakness and wellness. A creeper exactly knows how and where to climb, this proves that they have a divine vision (in Indian philosophy vision and sight are separate. A being may not have sight which is connected to material eyes but it has a vision which is connected to the inner states of being). Despite being physically strong, trees are extremely sensitive to weather, kind-harsh words, pure-impure thoughts, good-bad touch’.[xxvi]

‘Vana’ is home to millions of celestial beings. Forests add to the aesthetics of the planet. The Vedas, in fact, see the entire universe as a forest in which all beings must live according to their Dharma. However, today, man has turned a deaf ear to the Vedic voices. Deforestation has resulted in the destruction of biodiversity, decreased oxygen, extinction of plant and animal species, damaged ozone layer, global warming, natural disasters, and climate change.

Yajña, Maṇtras, Balī  and Animals

‘Yajña or Havan’ promotes environmental wellness, quality of life, atmospheric purity, inner and outer well-being. Scientifically, Yajña produces gases like ethyl oxide (C2H4O), propylene (C3H6), acetylene (C2H2), and others[xxvii] that combat pollution and balances O2 (oxygen) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. The Yajurveda discusses the removal of various pollutions; tranquility, prosperity, cosmic health; glories of trees, benefits of seasons and more through Yajña.[xxviii] Dr.Swami Satya Prakash Saraswati in his book ‘Aum Agnihotra-An Ancient Process of Fumigation (A Study From the Chemical Standpoint)’ states:

“in the materials of Agnihotra some elements produce the formaldehyde gas(CH2O) which spreads in the atmosphere without undergoing any change. Even carbon dioxide (CO2) transforms to a large extent into formaldehyde gas (CH2O) which is a strong germicide. This gas is activated only when it comes in contact with water vapours. This is the reason why the Havankuṇda is sprinkled with water from all four sides.” [xxix]

‘Maṇtra’ is a sacred and scientific collection of words, sounds, phonemes, and syllables. It is a codification of a certain cosmic force that links the material world and the Supreme Consciousness. Maṇtras are the primordial rhythms of creation[xxx] that bring about harmony within and without, on an individual as well as on the cosmic level, in the Pañcamāhābhūtas and for the sake of Sarvbhūtahita.

‘Balī’ is a widely misunderstood word. If one comprehends the Vedic wisdom, he will conclude that Vedic teachings and rituals are meant for cosmic concord. This vision of coherence stems from the recognition that we are all interrelated, necessitating the development of ethical norms of behaviour toward oneself and the entire creation.  Nevertheless, a few misinterpret the Vedic rituals and deem them to be such in which an animal is sacrificed in order to appease a Deity and earn rewards. In the Śābarabhāṣya inflicting of injury has been pronounced forbidden. It is said that ‘Śyena’ which may be interpreted as “a ceremony where the intention is to cause harm to others” is not propagated in the Vedas, rather, the text announce,

“If a man desires Śyena (inflicting injury upon another), one must do so entirely because he wishes and not because of any text”[xxxi]

The Practice of ‘Ahiṃsā’ is the foundation of Indian thought and appears in the Śatapathabrahman as ‘Non-injury’ with the connotation of morality. The Vedas repeatedly instruct that animals must not be harmed. However, man’s self-centred approach has driven him to purposefully misconstrue the Vedic voices. The Yajurveda declares:

“Animals are not to be killed or harmed .[xxxii] They are the bedrock of a prosperous society.[xxxiii] Animals should be protected and must live fearlessly.[xxxiv]

Today, a few deceitful scholars claim that the Vedas is in favour of animal sacrifice (paśu balī).’ However, this is a blatantly fallacious elucidation. Just as in the English language there are Homonyms[xxxv], i.e. the word ‘Round’ could mean circle, interview round, moving aimlessly or talking in a way that confuses someone. Similarly, the word ‘Balī’ has many meanings. Let’s have a look at the same:

  • ‘Balī’ is the technical terminology for ‘Wrinkles’ in the Rasaśāstra (Ayurveda).[xxxvi]
  • ‘Balī’ is one of the 108 names of Lord Kṛṣna.[xxxvii]
  • ‘Balī’ is the name of the Demon King ‘Mahābalī’ and means ‘The One With Great Power and Strength’.[xxxviii]
  • Balī’ refers to an austere or hermit.[xxxix]
  • ‘Balī’ connotes to ‘Balīdāna’ (self-sacrificing one’s comforts, alms, food or time for the sake of others).
  • ‘Balī’ is the name of the King of the Yādavas[xl]
  • ‘Balī’ is the name of the Vānararāja Ānav[xli] in the great epic Māhābhārata.
  • ‘Balī’ is the daily Dāna offered to sages, humans, dogs, cows, and crows.[xlii]
  • The term ‘Balī’ also suggests a compulsory tax or levy that is given to the King.[xliii]
  • ‘Balī’ refers to a Deity who protects the Pātālaloka.[xliv]
  • ‘Balī’ means a ceremonial food offering to Lord who protects all in accordance to the Śaivāgamas.[xlv]
  • ‘Balī’ is used in Vāstuśāstra for a diagram with eighty-one squares and a cluster of Deities that are drawn on the ground and where the structural construction has to take place.[xlvi]
  • ‘Balī’ in Jainism, refers to the name of the sixth Prativāsudeva.[xlvii]

Let us now also have a look at the various meanings of the word ‘Paśu’.

  • ‘Paśu’ is the individual soul (including human) in Śaiva Siddhānta while Patī is ‘Supreme Śiva’.[xlviii]
  • ‘Paśu’ refers to all embodied souls (humans included) in the cosmos in the Śhilpaśāstra.[xlix]
  • As per Vāyupurāṇa, Ṛṣi Kaśyapa is said to be the ancestor of Paśus (humans, animals and plants) along with Gaṇdharva, Devas and Asuras[l] suggesting that despite varied forms we all have the same roots.

From the foregoing, it becomes clear that the word ‘Paśu’ doesn’t refer to merely an animal nor does the word ‘Balī’ mean ‘killing’. Thus, Paśu Balī’  cannot be interpreted as ‘Animal Sacrifice’. This notion appears to be imposed on the Vedas which are far from promoting any ceremony involving violence or injury to any life. The misinterpretation of the word ‘Balī’ can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as:

  • A lack of grasp of the original texts and the approach required to interpret them (i.e. in accordance with Deśa-Kāla-Paristhiti.
  • Inadequate knowledge of San
  • Studying the Vedas with preconceived notions and biases.
  • Resolutely misinterpreting the Vedic to promote violence, disharmony and non-vegetarianism.
  • Deliberately undermining the Vedas as a text of authority in order to destroy Vedic culture, philosophy, and history in the long run.

Today, ‘Animals, Birds, and All Sentient Beings’ exist in fright. Rooted in ignorance, man has exploited them to the point of absurdity. He slaughters them savagely for their skin, organs, hanging them up as a piece of décor, or just devouring them as a meal. The pitiful condition of these celestial beings is a question mark on human morals, ethics, education and life. Contrary to this view, animals have been revered in the Vedas as ‘Ṣodaśkalāḥ (bejewelled with sixteen celestial arts)[li]  and as ‘Maḥ (worthy of worship for their love and grace).[lii] They have adorned Indian culture, art, architecture, philosophy, religion, traditions and life in general. The Vedic texts consider them to be the manifestation of God (Vibhūtis).[liii] In this regard states the Vibhūtiyogaḥ of the Śrīmad Bhagwadgīta,

Amongst the horses I am ‘Ucchaṣvā’ that emerged during the churning of the ocean. Amongst the elephants, know Me as ‘Airāvta’, Amongst the cows, I am ‘Kāmadhenu’. Amongst snakes, I am the ‘King Vāsuki’. Amongst the Nāgas, I am ‘Ananta’ and amongst water beings, I exist as ‘Varuṇadeva’. Amongst the animals, I am ‘Mṛga’, ‘Siha’ and amongst birds, I am ‘Gruḍa’. As a purifier of all lives, I am ‘Vāyu’. Amongst the beings of sea, I am ‘Magara’ and amongst sacred rivers, I am ‘The Gaṇgā.’[liv] I exist as the Ātman in the hearts of all living creatures and I am the beginning, middle and end of all these beings.[lv]

Each animal, bird and insect is associated with a Deity and embodies Its energies. Thus, revering that animal necessitates adoring that Deity. Bulls, dogs, snakes and scorpions are associated with Lord Śiva. Elephants are worshiped as ‘Gaṇeśa’. Lions are associated with ‘Ādi Śakti Durgā’. Crocodiles are connected to ‘Goddess Gaṇgā and Yamunā’. Further, in order to re-establish Dharma, ‘Mahāviṣṇu’ appears as a Maṭsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Nṛsiṃha and more. Even the smallest of insect is considered Divine. ‘Bhrāmarī’, a wasp who ended the demon Arunāsūra is associated with ‘Goddess Pārvatī’.[lvi]

Gaumātā holds an extraordinary place in Vedas. Her physical, religious, economic, environmental, social, cosmic, and spiritual vaue is extolled in the Vedas. She is revered as Goddess Lakṣmī[lvii]and must never be killed or harmed (Aghnayeyam).[lviii] Vedas annonce Her as a noble being endowed with splendour, divinity, purity, beauty, nonviolence, tranquillity, knowledge, compassion and the ability to nourish all beings.[lix] A society that invests in Her health and wellness flourishes by leaps and bounds.

‘Ṣvāna (dog)’ is declared as Godly in the Vedas. The Rudramsūkta of the Kṛṣna Yajurveda states,

I bow to Rudra, who controls the dogs, who is Himself the dog and who protects the dogs.[lx]

The Atharvaveda associates Rudra (A fearsome form of Lord Śiva) with Dogs.[lxi] The Goddess Dog ‘Saramā’ appears in the Ṛgveda.[lxii] The text also refers to Dogs as divine messengers and states,

Salutations to the two Divine broad-nosed messengers (Śyamā and Śabla)  who take away our souls. For the sake of leading humans to auspiciousness, you graced mankind by staying amongst them (as dogs).[lxiii]

Further, in Maṅdala five of the Ṛgveda, Dogs are described as the knower of ‘Herbs’ and ‘All Wise’ suggesting that they have high intuitive powers and high realms of existence.[lxiv] They are also referred to as ‘Vastoṣpati (the lord and protectors of the house)’.[lxv] Mahaṛṣi Pāṇini in the Aṣṭādhyāyī, refers to them as ‘Sārmeyaḥ’ (the one whose feet bring luck and prosperity). The great epic Mahābhārata starts and ends with the Divine Dog.[lxvi] Further, before the battle of Mahābhārata, Arjuna prays to a Dog faced form Goddess Durgā known as ‘Kokāmukha’ Lord Dattātreya who represents the unity of Brahamā-Viṣṇu-Maheśa accepted Dogs as His Guru and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya realized Dogs as the source of all wisdom ‘Vedas’.[lxvii]

The Vedas in-depth talk of Siṁha, Aṣva, Mayūra, Garuḍa, Sarpa, Maṭsya and other sentient beings. The Śatapathabrahman announces human as also animal.[lxviii] Birds and animals in the Vedas are described as self-healers and knowers of herbs.[lxix] They can sense natural disasters and death.[lxx] The Atharvaveda mentions the establishment of Gauśālā and Paṣuśālā for the protection of aged, injured, handicapped, and ill animals.[lxxi] For their well-being, the society must provide these sentient beings with adequate food, medicine, food and fresh water[lxxii]. The Vedas also announce that these beings live in communities and grieve the death or injury of their members.[lxxiii] The text further declares,

Animals must live without any fear[lxxiv]


The Vedas voice that there is comprehensive harmonisation among all aspects of existence. This Vedic principle of ‘Ṛta’ embodies the sublime, regulated and harmonious operation of the cosmos. The text talks about an intrinsic relationship of Self-sameness between an individual and the cosmos. Therefore, just as the human body is the dwelling of an individual being, the cosmos is the divine abode of the Supreme Being and so, if anyone purposes to settle conflicts of any sort (environmental, political, social and more) he/she must initiate with the immediate rather than the mediate, proximate rather than the remote and with the visible rather than the invisible. Further, it is to be lucidly understood that one is never in conflict with others instead the conflict is always with one’s own inner states. The seeds of discord, greed and animosity sprouts within us and manifests into external struggles and pollutions. Therefore, if we want global environmental peace, we must first be at peace with ourselves.

It is evident that the Vedas have a comprehensive outlook towards Cosmic Environmental Harmony. They are embellished with rites, verses, and philosophies that promote universal-welfare. The text recognises everything as being present in the Divine and the Divine being present in all entities. Along these lines, ‘Environment’ is just another name for that ‘Ultimate Reality’. The ‘Environment’ that man elects to harm exists as non-dual from him and so he damages his own survival when he hurts ‘Mother Nature’. This non-dualistic vision can develop only with an education that is scientific, forward looking and wholesome but at the same time it is rooted in ancient wisdom, spirituality and cosmic compassion.

The Vedas advocate an organic cosmology that is devoid of distinctions which makes it a universal and all-encompassing. It is crucial to recognise that these timeless scriptures are incredibly scientific and have influenced many modern breakthroughs, hypotheses, researches and studies. The Vedas are not at odds with science and technology for as long as it serves to promote overall well-being. Only when modern science wishes for human-centric development at the cost of ruthlessly destroying forests, water bodies and animals is when there is a prominent gap between Vedic thought and modern science. Only when the entire cosmos is taken into account with unified vision of wholesome welfare of beings will science be seen as all-encompassing and complete. At present science exists in a very limited space. It is for the humans, of the humans and by the humans. All its developments stand upon the graves of innumerable sentient beings and on the delicate body of ‘Mother Nature’.

As long as man exists in the realms of dualism, he will be the cause of pain, misery and destruction of the world. It is time that the human race contemplates upon the Vedic averments in order to realise tranquility within and in the entire cosmos.

Eko vaśī sarvabhūtāntarātmā ekam rūpam bahudhā yaḥ karoti

(That One alone indwells all beings and That One alone becomes manifold)



Author Brief Bio: Dr. Vandana Sharma ‘Diya’ is a well-known Scholar of Advaita Vedānta Darśana. With a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Bhārtiya Darśan Śāstra (Indian Philosophy) from the Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu, she went on to study the Advaita Vedānta Darśana and Bhagwadgītā Śaṅkarabhāṣya at the Chinmaya Mission Foundation, Ernakulam, Kerala. Dr. Sharma further earned a Ph.D. in Advaita Vedānta from the same university. She has to her credit several research articles published in national and international journals.

[i]Shankaracarya,‘Shrimadbhagvadgitabhashya’, ManavPrabodhanPranyasa, Bikaner,Rajasthan,2016,pp.146-147(V.9.29).

[ii]Swami Gambhirananda(Tr),‘Eight Upanishads:Isa,Kena,Katha,Taittirya,Vol.1 with commentary of Shankaracharya’,Advaita Ashrama,Himalayas,1957,pp.4-6.(V.1,Ishopnishad)

[iii]Swami Nikhilananda,‘The Upnishad-Taittirya and Chandogya with Commentary of ShankarAcharyaa,Vol.4,(Chandogya Upanishad)’, Harper & Brothers Publisher,New York,1959,pp.294-295(V.6.2.3).

[iv]Griffith Ralph T.H,‘The Rigveda’,Védico Antiguo Einglés,Spain,1896,p.275(V.1.164.46).

[v]Maya-power through which the ‘One Infinite’ appears as ‘Diverse Finite’.

[vi]Brahman-the Ultimate Principle.

[vii]Swami Vivekananda,‘Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’, Partha Sinha Digital Publication,2019, p.36.

[viii]Swami Gambhirananda,p.12-13,(V.6, Ishavasyaopnishad, Yajurveda)

[ix]Rigveda, Durvamrittikasuktam,V.5(10th Mandal);Also see Mahanarayanopnishad.

[x]Mahanarayanopnishad (V.10.1.9)


[xii]Ibid, V.1.5.4.


[xiv]Yajurveda,Taittiriya Aranyaka,V.4.42.19.

[xv] Raja Ram Mohan Roy,‘Vedic Physics, Scientific Origin of Hinduism’,Golden Egg Publishing,Toronto,1999, p.84.(V.1.192,Jaiminiya Brahman;V.1.24,Yajurveda;V.8.7,3.10,Shatapathabrahman).

[xvi]Wikipedia Contributors, 2021, ‘Air Pollution’.

[xvii]Swami Gambhirananda,p.248,V.1.6.1,Taittiriyaopanshad(sayaeśoantarhṛdyaākāś)




[xxi]Yajurveda V.6.22.

[xxii]Rigveda, V.14.8.

[xxiii]Ibid., V.5.41.11,p.72.


[xxv]Dwivedi Kapildev,pp.79-80.

[xxvi]Mahabharata, Shantiparva,V.184.10-18.

[xxvii]Dwivedi Kapildev,p.278.


[xxix]Swami Prakash Satya,‘Aum Agnihotra-An Ancient Process  of Fumigation(A Study From the Chemical Standpoint)’, Jan Gyan Prakashan,India,1974,pp.71-73.

[xxx] Holdrege Barbara,‘Veda and Torah: Transcending the Textuality of Scripture’,Sunny Press,New York,1996,pp.347.

[xxxi]Jha Ganganatha,‘Shbarabhashya’,Oriental Institute,SadhnaPress,Badroda,1933,p.7.



[xxxiv]Yajurveda;V.36.22,(abhaya aḥ paśubhyaḥ|).

[xxxv]Homonyms-Words with same spelling,pronunciations but different meanings.

[xxxvi]WisdomLib, 2015, ‘Rasashastra’,

[xxxvii]Fifty-eighth name of Lord Krishna(Om Baline Namaha)

[xxxviii]Williams George,‘Handbook of Hindu Mythology’,Oxford University Press, London,2008,pp.73–74.

[xxxix]Wisdom Lib, 2020, ‘Bali’,

[xl]Bhagavata, Skandha,V.10.

[xli]Harivaśa,V.1.31;Ch.9:Mahabharata, Ādiparva

[xlii]See Panchmahayajna

[xliii]Bhagavatapurana, V.I.13,40-41; II.31, 48,.

[xliv]Parākhyatantra, V. 5.44-45 (10thcen Saiva-Siddhanta Tantra work).

[xlv]Wisdom Lib, 2015, ‘Saivism’.


[xlvii]Prativasudevas are those who are considered anti-heroic.

[xlviii]Banerjee Jitendra Nath, ‘The Hindu Concept of God’, America Star Books, Maryland, 2011, pp.51-59

[xlix]Ibid, ‘pp.51-59






[lv]Ibid, V.10.20,p.155

[lvi] Devibhagvatam, ch.13,




[lx]Yajurveda,Taittiryasamhita Rudramsukta,V.4.5.4.


[lxii]Ibid,1.62.3;1.72.8;3.31.6; 4.16.8; 5.45.7;5.45.8




[lxvi]Mahabharat begins with Janmejaya and his brothers, who are preparing to execute a sacrificial ceremony. When suddenly, a puppy appeared, the brothers hit him ruthlessly. The injured puppy ran to its mother, sobbing, and recounted the storey. “Why was my child beaten up when he had committed no crime?” the mother went and asked the brothers. She thus, cursed them and the marks the start of Mahabharata.  The great epic concludes with Yudhishthir refusing to enter heaven without his dog, only to discover that the dog was none but Lord in disguise.

[lxvii]Vidyarayana Madhava, Swami  Tapasyananda (Tr), ‘Shankara Digvijay’, Ramakrishna Matha, Chennai, 2008, pp.60






[lxxiii]Rigveda,V.8.46.31(carthegaṇe, śivatneṣu)



China’s Culpability for Climate Change


The nature of international relations has been constantly changing over decades and centuries, as the nature of threats to humankind’s continued survival has been evolving. If the transition from the 19th to the 20th century saw the emergence and the re-emergence of the conflicts over physical boundaries between states comprising the international system, then the transition from the 20th to the 21st century saw the emergence of the non-state actor as a potent threat in international relations. The 21st century, as juxtaposed to the previous centuries, is undergoing a host of changes ranging from cyber warfare to increase in artificial intelligence to biological warfare to the emergence of a global scale pandemic—all of which seriously threaten the continued existence of humankind. What has also become identified as a potent threat in the 21st century is climate change. While climate change per se did not emerge overnight and is an outcome of centuries of pollution, the problem has reached alarming levels given the massive number of changes taking place owing to climate change. What is more worrisome is the fact that while climate change has been recognised as a threat to humankind, states of the international system still undertake an outdated, almost territorial approach on the issue, refusing to take responsibility for change and trying to extract maximum benefits out of the existing international system for the fulfilment of their own narrow selfish interests.

The challenge becomes a type of protracted conflict as developed countries of the rich North constantly seek to evade their historic responsibility for polluting the world for decades, while trying to put emission caps on the developing world. For the developing world this becomes challenging as levels of development are directly proportional with carbon emissions. A halt to emissions also means a halt to economic development which in turn will jeopardise the lives of billions living in the developing world.

In the recent past India and China have often joined hands at climate change negotiations to remind the developed rich North of their historic responsibility for climate change and to negotiate caps on emissions in accordance with countries’ responsibilities for global warming. However, what has also been witnessed with regards to China is a peculiarity in this context. While China is a developing country and does not have the same historic responsibility as the developed world, China currently is also the biggest emitter of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions, and it accounted for more than 27 percent of total global emissions in 2020 (BBC, 2021). China emits more greenhouse gases than the entire developed world, with the US being the second largest emitter at 11 percent while India was third with 6.6 percent of the emissions (Ibid.).

China’s emissions have more than tripled in the past three decades. In fact, while Xi Jinping previously stated that China would strictly control coal fired generation projects, China has only been increasing construction of coal-fired plants (Volvovicci, Brunstrom and Nichols, 2021). State owned Bank of China has been constantly financing overseas coal projects with its funding reaching USD 35 billion since 2015 (Stanway, 2021). In September this year, Xi Jinping stated that China will not build new coal fired projects abroad. However, facts on the ground state something else, as the energy crisis that China finds itself amidst will push China to consume more coal to ensure continued electricity supply. Power cuts of various magnitudes have been witnessed in at least 20 provinces across China since mid-August this year. Shortage of coal supplies, tougher government mandates to reduce emissions and a greater demand from manufacturers have all contributed to the current situation (Lee, 2021). The energy crisis has halted production in various factories across China, which is going to have an impact on an already slowing economy. Therefore, China will have to balance its act between clean energy and declining growth rates. In this context, it becomes pertinent to look at some of the pledges Xi has made in the past regarding usage of clean energy.

Xi’s pledges regarding combating climate change

Even though Xi Jinping did not attend the COP 26 this year, he had announced last year that China’s carbon emissions will begin to decline by 2030 and that China will reach carbon neutrality by 2060 (Ibid.). For the purpose, China introduced a dual control policy which requires Chinese provinces to limit energy use and to cut energy intensity, which is defined as the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). The dual control system was first set in China’s 11th Five Year Plan (2006-10). However, it has gained in significance post Xi assuming the reins of power and committing to China peaking carbon emissions by 2030 and to becoming carbon neutral by 2060 (CGTN, 2021). The plan was to set a five-year target of energy consumption and energy intensity for different provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in an effort to reasonably manage the indicators of total energy consumption and energy intensity (Ibid.).

During the 2015-2020 period, China had a national target for a reduction in energy intensity of 15 percent. The latest five-year plan adopted in March this year targeted a further 13.5 percent cut by 2025 (Gao, 2021). Because of these plans, phased goals were set in place, and it was assumed that by 2025 the dual control system would be more complete with better allocation of energy resources and better energy utilisation. In this context, it becomes pertinent to take a closer look at how Chinese provinces have performed with regard to the dual control system.

In mid-August this year, China’s economic planning agency announced that 20 provinces had failed to meet their targets in the first half of 2021 (Lee, 2021). In late 2020, several provinces were reported to be struggling to meet their targets, as difficulties got exacerbated by COVID19. Some provinces even took drastic measures of cutting off power supplies to comply with the targets. This led to a realisation that an examination of the efficacy of those targets are needed. In the meantime, China’s carbon emissions went up 15 percent year in year in the first quarter of 2021 (Xie, 2021).

To deal with the possibilities of further power shortages, China is pushing miners to ramp up coal production and is increasing imports so that power stations can rebuild stockpiles before the winter heating season begins (Singh and Xu, 2021). China’s imports of coal jumped 76 percent in September this year from a year ago (National Development and Reform Commission, 2021). This is despite the pressures and the announcements made to meet targets for reducing carbon emissions. In addition to the impacts of the dual control policy, China’s thermal coal supplies have also been impacted by the recent floods in Shanxi province which is a key coal producing province (Reuters, 2021). China is already the world’s largest coal consumer and of late it has been grappling with a growing energy crisis brought on by shortages caused by natural as well as humanmade causes. The result has been shortages and record high prices.

A closer observation at China’s emissions reveals that while per person China’s emissions are about half of those of the US, its 1.4 billion population and its breakneck speed economic growth, reliant heavily upon coal energy; have pushed it way ahead of other countries in terms of overall emissions. It was first in 2006 that China became the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2006 and is now responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s overall greenhouse gas emissions (Brown, 2021). Instead of shutting down coalfired power stations, China is actually building new ones at more than 60 locations across the country with many sites having more than one plant (Ibid.). In this context, it becomes pertinent to understand China’s coal reliance. The following graph shows how coal consumption has grown over the years in China.

Graph 1: China’s Total Coal Energy Consumption

Unit: 10,000 tons

Source: National Bureau of Statistics, China Statistical Books 1991-2018, People’s Republic of China

Beginning from the 1990s onwards, China’s reliance on coal to spur economic development began. Its coal consumption has only grown over the years as seen in graph 1, in tandem with its economic growth rates. China’s coal consumption grew from 1.36 billion tonnes per year in the year 2000 to 4.24 billion tonnes per year in 2013, which represents an annual growth rate of 12 per cent (Qi and Lu, 2016). By 2015 itself, China accounted for 50 per cent of the global demand for coal (Ibid.).

In fact, in 2020 during the pandemic, China was the only major industrial power whose carbon emissions rose, as the central government relaxed a traffic light system designed to reduce overcapacity among coal burning state owned enterprises with a plethora of coal power projects given the go ahead (Cash, 2021). Because of China’s coal addiction, it faces the difficulties of energies transition. What also remains a big hurdle is the existence of big energy and manufacturing lobbies which laud the central government’s placing of higher emission caps while these big polluting lobbies continue their pollution spree.

In 2019, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), issued a new policy for reorganising the state-owned enterprises which dominate coal generation. The first of such an announcement was made in November 2019, followed by a more detailed statement in May 20 (Huidian Dianping, 2019). The details listed were about reorganisation efforts in the Northwest region, where coal overcapacity and financial losses are maximum. The SASAC had also stated that the plans would likely be expanded to other coal intensive parts of the country. The plan called for stricter controls of coal capacity, elimination of outdated capacity, reductions in coal-fired capacity for the Northwestern region and mergers of SOEs to form a single coal generation SOE for each of the provinces in the region (Dupuy, 2020). While the SASAC’s plans are laudable, it was argued that the plans for consolidation of ownership threaten the wholesale electricity markets that the National Development and Reform Commission was fostering and that SASAC’s planned mergers would dampen competition (Ibid).

Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Planning and Environmental Affairs, which tracks environmental and climate records of big corporations stated that achieving climate targets while fulfilling other demanding targets needs a good transitioning strategy and so far, there are still major gaps (Stanway, 2021). China has a per capita level of carbon dioxide emissions that is far above that of countries with a similar level of per capita GDP (AFP, 2021). In fact, in 2019, China’s per capita emissions reached 10.1 tons, almost tripling over the las two decades. This was just slightly below average levels across the OECD bloc, which stood at 10.5 tons per capita in 2019. China’s per capita emissions even though significantly lower than the U.S. at 17.6 tons per capita still is significantly high. According to Larsen, Pitt, Grant and Houser (2021), China’s per capita emissions exceeded the OECD average in 2020, as China’s net greenhouse gas emissions grew about 1.7 percent while emissions from almost all the other countries declined sharply during the pandemic (Larsen, Pitt, Grant and Houser, 2021).

China’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 9 percent in the first quarter of 2021 as compared to pre-pandemic levels (Reuters, 2021). This rise was driven by a carbon intensive economic recovery and massive hikes in outputs of steel and cement, which in turn rose as part of the attempts to reinvigorate and jump start the economy as part of post pandemic recoveries. Output from the industry and construction sector increased by 2.8 percent, steel by 7 percent and cement and coal mining by 2.5 percent and 1.4 percent respectively last year (Bloomberg, 2021). This raises questions whether the country can meet its 2060 carbon neutrality pledge. As such, China’s energy trajectory since COP 21 contradicts the goals. Even though the new five-year plan of 2021-2025 shows a lot of intent regarding carbon neutrality, numbers give out a completely different story. In this context it becomes pertinent to analyse China’s COP 21 goals.

China’s Between COP21 and COP26: Xi’s Pledges

In 2015, at the COP 21, Xi, while urging developed countries to fulfil their commitments to providing funds to developing countries to tackle climate change, pledged that China has plans to achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 (Liu, 2015). He had also pledged that China would become carbon neutral before 2060. In 2021, even though Xi did not attend the COP26, China submitted its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to fight climate change, which were published on the website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which showed that China aims to see its carbon dioxide emissions peak before 2030 and it aims to become carbon neutral before 2060. This was in tandem with the pledges Xi had made earlier. The point to remember is that the NDCs are non-binding national climate change plans that must be submitted regularly to the United Nations as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement and countries may enhance their ambitions if they are able to do so.

This year, ahead of the COP 26, China enhanced its ambitions, as it committed to raising the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to 25 percent by 2030, which is higher than its previous pledge of 20 percent. China also pledged to increasing its wind and solar power capacity to more than 1,200 gigawatts. China is already leading the world in renewable energy production figures, and it is the world’s largest producer of solar and wind energy (OECD, 2021). It also is the largest domestic and outbound investor in renewable energy (Jaeger, Joffe, Song, 2017). In 2016 itself, a year after COP 21, four of the world’s five biggest renewable energy deals were made by Chinese companies (Slezak, 2017). By 2017, China owned five of the world’s six largest solar module manufacturing companies and the world’s largest turbine manufacturer (Mooney, 2017). In fact, solar energy is slated to become the largest primary source of energy by 2035. China’s wind and solar capacity is to rise to above 1,200 GW in 2030 from 530 GW in 2020 (Pillai, 2021).

However, what is also a factor to consider in China’s futures in the realm of carbon neutrality is that urbanisation currently stands at 65 percent, and this will go up to 78 percent in 2050 (Ibid). Population and economic development will continue to increase as well, implying a growth in electricity consumption. Economic growth remains a top priority, as stated at the annual ‘two sessions’ in March (Liu, Liu and You, 2021). While China has made strides in renewable energy, fact remains that it is not adequately developed to meet the needs of the entire country. Su Wei, the deputy general of the National Development and Reform Commission stated in April this year that China’s energy structure is dominated by coal power, and that as compared to wind and solar power which are “intermittent and unstable” coal is a stable source of power. He also said that while coal is readily available, renewable energy needs to develop further in China. He added that because of this, for a period of time, China will need to use coal power (Cheng, 2021). This is in complete contrast to Xi’s statements of April this year when he had said that the country will reduce coal usage beginning in 2026 (Ibid.)

In addition to Su’s statement being in complete juxtaposition to what Xi had said in April regarding reducing dependence on coal, point also to note is that China, as stated previously is grappling with its worst electricity shortages in years and has asked miners to increase coal production to supply major power plants! China relies on coal-fired power generation, which is a huge contributor to carbon emissions! Also, the complete absence of Xi Jinping on COP26 also brings forth several questions on China’s seriousness regarding dealing with issues of climate change. Xi delivered a written statement to the opening session of the COP26, which however, did not offer any new climate pledges than what Xi had already made in the past.

Even though China’s 14th five-year plan (2021-26) has outlined an 18 percent reduction target for carbon dioxide intensity and a 13.5 percent reduction target for energy intensity from 2021 to 2025, and has introduced the idea of an emissions cap, it has not really gone so far as to set one (Liu, Liu and You, 2021). However, as displayed by the power crunch this year, which prompted China to redirect support to polluting fossil fuels, China faces an immense difficulty of balancing long-term climate goals with short term energy security. The reason why China did not make any new commitments at the COP 26 is the prevailing domestic uncertainties, because of which China has been hesitant to embrace stronger near-term targets.


China’s strides in renewable energy undoubtedly are laudable and in fact make it in a position to steer discussions on climate change and how to address the challenges. Because of these strides, China felt it was in a place to demonstrate global leadership, which is why after joining the Paris Agreement, China made laudable pledges to combat climate change including plans to reduce carbon dependence. The reinvigorated emphasis on the dual control policy was a step to combat coal usage in China. However, as stated previously, 20 provinces had failed to meet their targets as part of the dual control policy! Also, because of the historical dependence China has on coal, the introduction of sudden controls on coal usage led to a shortage of electricity in the country, which in turn led policymakers to revert to usage of fossil fuels. Additionally, the floods in coal producing provinces like Shanxi dealt a blow to electricity production, which in turn spurred the power outages across the country.

China’s dependence and addiction to coal is displayed by the fact that China delivered 60 train loads of coal to Henan province per day in July when the province reported urgent shortages of fuel to generate electricity, after major transport routes were blocked by an unprecedented deluge (Global Times, 2021). China’s plans thus seem to be in complete contradiction with the pledges Xi had made. Also, as reflected by the failure of 20 provinces to meet coal reduction targets, there is a dangerous lack of urgency in the country. Because of the back and forth between announced policies and prevailing ground realities Chinese attempts to assert its role in the world as a leader is clearly not showing up. Achieving a material and socio-economic transformation that supports the move away from coal needs major changes in governance, policies, planning, investment and organisations practices at various levels. The Chinese political economy is dominated by vested interests and complicated by perverse incentives for unsustainable production.

SOEs in energy intensive industries along with several officials with vested interests have zero or limited interest in curbing emissions or adhering to limitations on coal usage. Central officials often acquiesce or fail to rein them in (Green, 2020). On the contrary there have been drastic increases in coal fired power station development in the last few years (Myllyverta, Zhang and Shen, 2020). Research by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air shows how hundreds of billions of dollars in the post COVID-19 stimulus being earmarked for energy intensive industrial projects. These exceed the planned spending on low carbon energy threefold!

Facts such as these call for caution regarding China’s pledges on climate change; particularly its 2060 carbon neutral target. Between now and 2060 a lot can happen and from the trends it is visible that the government’s medium-term targets give it space to increase emissions until 2030!  China is actually culpable for greater levels of pollution and global warming, and Xi’s pledges are only a cover for about another decade of fossil fuel based industrial expansion!

Author Brief Bio: Dr. Sriparna Pathak is an Associate Professor at the School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana, India. She is also the Director of the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies at the School.



National Population Policy: A Survival Imperative


In his monumental work, “An Essay on the Principle of Population”,[i] Robert Malthus postulated that while population grows exponentially, food production grows linearly. So, a catastrophe will occur, either by famine, disease or war, to bring down the population. Although the population in the world and India has been growing spectacularly, no catastrophe of a great dimension has occurred to bring down population or its growth because food production has increased more phenomenally than population growth. This is due to increase in farmland, better irrigation, use of fertilisers and pesticides, crop rotation and improved storage of food grains; in other words, application of science and technology for agriculture.

In the 1960s, food scarcity in India was overcome only through massive food aid from the US, with the then US President, Lyndon Johnson authorising food shipments to India under PL-480.[ii] The aid was however leveraged to secure support for US foreign policy goals, with India giving assurance that it would implement agricultural reforms and temper criticism of US policy regarding Vietnam.[iii] Importing food grains was humiliating, and in 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri exhorted people to chant ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’. The ‘Green Revolution’ was brought about by planting newly developed grains (wheat and rice) and using fertilisers. This raised the yield, though it did not improve food grain availability per person. However, the spectre of famine vanished, largely due to better distribution. Improvement in irrigation facilities and rapid economic growth also helped to drought proof the country.[iv] Today, India feeds over 800 million “poor” people by giving them free/subsidised food items. The amount spent detracts from investments needed for overall development—economic and social.

An increase in food grain availability may stop starvation but not ill health, illiteracy, lack of proper housing and work and employment and improvement in standards of living and achievement and respect for the country in the comity of nations. Poverty reduction by controlling growth in population, as was done by China, is hence an imperative for national development. As humans are the only species in the planet who consistently degrade the environment, a reduction in population will concomitantly also lead to the preservation of the environment. India must, therefore, have a population policy which can ensure the achievement of development goals—economic, social and security. Family size must hence be regulated through positive and negative incentives and disincentives respectively and be made applicable uniformly across the board, to all sections of people, regardless of religion, region, caste and economic status. Uneven growth of population as between sections of people leads to social strife and demographic disequilibrium, which is best avoided.

Impact of India’s Population Growth

India’s population, which stood at 35.69 crore in 1951[v] increased to 121.08 crore in 2011[vi] and is estimated to be 139.9 crore in 2021.[vii] An increase of four times since 1951, clearly puts unsustainable pressure on the land and water resources, which remain constant. To sustain the growing population, forest lands are being depleted, disturbing the eco-system leading to multiple negative consequences.

Soon after independence, the redoubtable industrialist and statesman, JRD Tata, raised the issue with Nehru, of the importance of population control. “But Jeh”, replied Nehru, “population is our strength!” Undeterred, JRD raised the subject again in 1951, but got little traction, and so Mr Tata, through the agency he founded, the Family Planning Association of India, pursued a campaign to promote family planning.[viii] JRD’s advocacy of population control not only in and for India, but on a world-wide scale got for him the United Nation’s Population Award in October 1992.[ix]

Dr. Ambedkar, too, understood the linkage between poverty and population. His views on birth control are reflected in the speech which Mr. P. J. Roham delivered, but which was written, as stated by Roham, by Dr Ambedkar. Here, Ambedkar called for limiting the family units, and urged the government to carry on an intensive propaganda in favour of birth-control among the masses.[x] In the Manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) for General Elections to Lok Sabha in 1952, he wrote about his party’s policy in regard to poverty and population. “The problem of poverty”, he wrote, “is a problem of controlling the excessive growth of population… for the purpose of reducing population it (SCF) would advocate an intensive propaganda in favour of birth control among the people. It will advocate the opening of birth control clinics in different parts of the country. It regards the growing rate in the increase of population in the country so grave and evil that it would not hesitate to advocate more drastic methods of controlling it”.

India has, unfortunately, paid little heed to the sage advice of both JRD Tata and Dr Ambedkar. But it is time to think seriously on this subject, both as a poverty alleviation measure and also as an instrument of protecting the environment. While the Chief Minister of Assam, Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma as well as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Shri Yogi Adityanath are now advocating population control measures, the initiative needs to be taken on a national level. Unfortunately, population control measures are denounced by some Muslim leaders and their allies, ostensibly on the grounds that it violates Muslim personal law.

China’s rise has been aided by its success in controlling its population. They had a one child policy from mid 1970s and two children per family from 2015 which has now been increased to three children per family. India faces multiple challenges in attempting the Chinese model, due to religious differences, caste fragmentation and differences in economic and educational levels. This gets exacerbated due to India being a multi-party, periodically election-conducting nation-state, wherein politicians exploit differences to garner the popular mandate. That notwithstanding, the need for a population policy is dire and can no longer be overlooked.

A National Population Policy for India

India is a welfare state where large doles are given for food, education and other social welfare schemes. As part of the policy, such assistance could be restricted to those having two children or less. Curbs could also be placed on those having more than two children in applying for government jobs or for selling public office.

Extensive educative campaigns must be undertaken to explain the consequences of run-away growth in population and that too unevenly among different sections before promulgation and periodic revisions in national population policies. The following needs to be highlighted:

  • All people must always have despite droughts, famine and floods and epidemics, earthquakes, storms and cyclones and such natural disasters adequate fuel and food so that there are none or fewest deaths at all times.
  • People must be well nourished, healthy, educated and able and willing to work to earn their livelihood and live in reasonable comfort.
  • People must have adequate housing, either of their own or within affordable rent.
  • Death at birth and infant mortality must be nil or nearly so and life expectancy should be rising.
  • The use of natural resources below and above the ground—minerals, rivers, forests, air, fauna should not lead to unliveable conditions for humans, through reckless exploitation, which leads to environmental degradation. Most importantly, the civilisational and cultural heritage of Bharat, must be preserved.
  • Different rates of growth of populations as between states, regions, castes and religions should not lead to dissonance within society.
  • The population and its growth rate in the country should be related to the means of sustenance and economic well-being of the people.
  • The environment must be preserved.

Demographic Shifts:

The current conflict in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims is a result of demographic changes that have taken place over the last few decades. In India, demographic changes could lead to communal strife on a very large scale, if not corrected even at this late stage. While India’s population since independence has increased four times, this increase is not spread evenly across religious groups. The Muslim population has grown six times during this period as against the population of other religious groups increasing only three times.

Muslim population growth relative to Hindus should be a matter of serious concern as it is driven both by political and theological considerations. This has already led to population inversion in some parts of India, especially in the states of Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, leading to fissures within society.

Changes in religious demographics over time in India

Unequal Rates of Growth Among States and Communities

Population increase in Southern states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh is much slower that states in the North, such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This could lead to a North-South divide, as seat allocation in Parliament is done on the basis of population.

Article 81 of the Constitution requires that each state receive seats in proportion to its population. The Seventh Amendment (1956) capped the maximum number of elected seats at 520. After adjustments under the Fourteenth Amendment (1962), the Thirty-First Amendment (1973), and the Goa, Daman and Diu Reorganisation Act (1987), the Lok Sabha now has a maximum sanctioned strength of 552 (530 from the states, 20 from the UTs, and two presidentially appointed members from the Anglo-Indian community) making a total of 545 representatives. The seats were to be revised every 10 years, but this revision was suspended by the Forty-Second Amendment enacted in 1976, until after the 2001 Census. In 2002, parliament, through the Eighty-Fourth Amendment, extended the suspension till the census to be held post 2026, which in effect means to 2031.[xi]

The aspect of seat allocation based on population has grave implications. The states that have performed well in controlling the population stand to lose as against the states that have performed poorly. If such a policy is implemented, the loss of political power to states that have performed well, will likely create a cleavage between those that have fared better, leading to political turmoil and upheaval. It is thus important that all states take urgent steps, not just to stabilise population growth, but to reduce the same.

Comparison of Growth between some North and Southern States

Preserving Territorial, National and Cultural Integrity

India’s population policy should not only aim at controlling the growth of   population but also preserve the integrity, sovereignty and civilisational and cultural heritage of the country. History gives examples of destruction of a country’s cultural milieu by differential growth of the populations aimed at claiming political separation and superiority as seen in Lebanon. In Netherlands, the Catholics were in a minority. They wanted to become the majority, so they nurtured large families and over time, the protestants were reduced to a minority. The same phenomena appear to be happening in parts of India: Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and certain other parts of India. In these states as well as in others, Muslims have been able to prevail upon the ruling parties through group voting strength, to carve out Muslim majority districts: Malappuram in Kerala, Mewat in Gurugram and Malerkotla in Punjab are examples. The motive is political power. Writing in the Jamaat-e-Islami weekly, “Radiance,” Dr Omar Khalidi, stated: “we need Muslim districts for three reasons. First, concentrated areas provide security; second, to provide an environment that is conducive to our cultural independence; third, to provide a political base through which our people can be elected…at preset, our numbers don’t add up to elect adequate legislators. Hyderabad and Rangareddy in Andhra Pradesh and Gulbarga (Karnataka) and certain Thalukas could be merged to create Deccan province (with Muslim majority).[xii]

Different Treatment to different Religions

India’s populations are dealt with differently in some respects, based on among others, religion, language and caste considerations. Article 30 of the Indian Constitution grants to religious and linguistic minorities, certain rights and privileges with respect to establishing and managing any type and number of educational institutions, a right and privilege not available to the Hindu majority. What percent of the total population qualifies to be reckoned as minority is also not specified in the Constitution nor by the Supreme Court. While Hindus on an all-India basis are the majority, they are a minority in several states (J&K, Punjab, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and very soon in Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh). Minority Commissions are established only in Hindu majority states; not in Hindu minority states. Muslim personal law permits a man to have four wives and inheritance is also dictated by their personal law. There is a need to look into such issues, and for the nation to be governed by a uniform civil code, so that all people can be treated alike. The minority status is discriminatory as it affects the economic and welfare prospects of people. Governments in States and in the Centre have Minority Welfare Departments and Minority Finance Corporations, funding not only education, welfare and commercial ventures of minorities but also their places of worship. This militates against the very concept of secularism, as enshrined in the Constitution.


Population growth is impacting negatively on India’s cities, all of which have grown far beyond the capacity of the civic agencies to provide adequate amenities. Growth of population has also impacted negatively in the rural areas, where land holdings are diminishing and are becoming smaller. Population growth is also impacting on job availability, which is getting more severe due to mechanisation, automation and robotisation. Population reduction is therefore a necessity, which needs to be pursued with full zeal, through a dynamic national population policy.

Inter alia, such a policy must focus on:

  • Extensive and intensive education and information about the perils of large families and large populations which negate poverty alleviation efforts, increase unemployment, lead to under-nourishment among women and children, and create conflict in the scramble for limited resource availability.
  • Humans are the only polluters in the planet. Reducing the population will ipso facto, lead to reduction in pollution level, reduction of the carbon footprint, and help in preservation of the environment.
  • Limiting family size must now be a national imperative. Appropriate legislation to that effect must be made, to include legislating incentives and disincentives to promote small family norms.
  • Legislate Uniform Civil Code as mandated by the Directive Principles of the Constitution and criminalise polygamy.
  • Preserve the millennial Indian culture and civilisation values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Loka Sangraha and Dharma.

Author Brief Bio: Dr T.H Chowdary is Chairman, Pragna Bharati, Founder: Center for Telecom Management & Studies, Fellow: Tata Consultancy Services and Convenor, Bharatiya Dharma Rakshana Samakhya. A former: IT Advisor, GOAP and Founder CMD, VSNL, he is also a Padma Shri awardee.


[ii] Public Law 480 (PL-480) is “Agricultural Trade Development Assistance Act”, signed on Law on July 10, 1954 by President Dwight D Eisenhower. Also known as “Food for Peace,” it is a funding avenue by which US food can be used for Overseas Aid.







[ix] Ibid.

[x] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol.2, First Edition, Compiled and Edited by Vasant Moon, pp 263, available at





There are few things certain in life – one is death, second is change and the other is waste. No one can stop these things in our lives.” – unknown


Why are our cities so ugly? The answer has much to do with the way we live. Let us look at some statistics:

  • According to Time magazine, humans produce 290 billion kg of faeces and 1.98 billion litres of urine per year.1
  • An average person excretes or generates about 0.74 kilograms of solid waste per day, worldwide.2
  • Every year an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide, more than half of these needles and syringes are dangerously thrown away or disposed of thereafter.3
  • Liquid waste – dirty water, wash water, organic liquids, detergents and rainwater is usually found in households, businesses, and industries.
  • Approximately 1,400 sq. km landfill area would be required for dumping municipal solid waste in India by 2047—almost equal to the combined area of Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chennai—3 of the 5 most populous cities of India.4

Any unwanted solid, liquid or gaseous substance discarded or thrown out by households, or commercial establishments can be considered as waste. According to the Press Information Bureau, waste can be segmented into three categories:

  • Biodegradable or organic waste (food and kitchen waste, green waste vegetables, flower, leaves, fruits and paper, etc.).
  • Inert and non-biodegradable waste (construction and demolition waste, dirt, debris, etc.).
  • Recyclable waste (plastic, paper, bottles, glasses, etc.).

Waste management is a universal issue that affects every single individual or government providing civic amenities to its people. Almost 50 per cent of India’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050 leading to a five per cent growth in the volume of waste generated per year.5 As towns and cities develop economically, and the population grows, waste generated is expected to increase drastically from 2.01 billion tons today to 3.40 billion tons in 2050.

As of date over 377 million people—31 per cent of the Indian population—live in 7,935 towns and cities and generate around a massive amount of 277.1 million tons of solid waste per annum. According to a 2019 India Today report, the country produces more than 1.50 lakh metric tons of solid waste daily. This is increasing every day with the burgeoning economy, urbanisation and population.6 India today produces more than 80 per cent of waste generated in South Asia and 13 per cent of the world per annum.7 According to a World Bank study, India is one of the world’s highest waste-generating nations.8 As a result most Indian towns and cities are ugly to look at and littered with garbage.

Waste Management

Human activities are the cause behind most kinds of waste, and the way it is stored, collected and disposed of poses a risk to the environment and public health. According to Planning Commission, Maharashtra generates the highest (22,080 MT per day) and Sikkim generates the lowest (89 MT per day) amount of waste. Among the Union Territories (UTs) Delhi produces the highest amount of waste, while Daman & Diu are the lowest waste generators.9

According to the World Bank’s What a Waste 2.0 report, the world generates 2.01 billion tons of municipal waste annually at least 33% of which is not managed in an environmentally safe manner.10 Improper handling and disposal of waste harms the environment and public health. It is a leading cause of soil, water and air pollution. Unsafe disposal of hazardous waste contaminates the soil and water causing serious health problems and leading to air pollution in the surrounding area.

Uncontrolled or mismanaged waste lying around attracts flies, rats, and other creatures which spread infectious diseases. The polluted environment and ineffective waste management serves as a breeding ground for disease vectors and leads to several respiratory problems and diseases like Japanese Encephalitis, jaundice, cholera, colitis, diarrhoea, worm, dysentery, and skin diseases. The US Public Health Service has identified 22 diseases including asthma, heart attack, and emphysema due to burning garbage and faecal matter in municipal waste. Unmanaged and decomposed garbage attracts rodents, which lead to diseases like dengue and malaria.

Environmental contamination is a global issue. Poorly managed waste is contaminating the world’s oceans, clogging drains and harming humans, plants and animals. All over the world, about one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute and some 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used once and thrown away every year. Ten of the world’s biggest rivers flush around eight million tons—more than 90 per cent of the plastic waste into the oceans every year.11

The real magnitude of the problem is for everyone to see. This phenomenal amount of plastic waste is enough to fill up 2,400 Olympic stadiums or 4.8 million olympic-sized swimming pools. It weighs equal to 3.4 million adult blue whales or 1,376 Empire State Buildings. Imagine that’s just 12 per cent of the total waste generated each year.12 Already, according to the ‘World Air Quality Report, 2020’, prepared by Swiss organisation IQAir, Delhi is the world’s 10th most polluted city and most polluted capital city globally.13 Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh is the second most polluted city in the world after Hotan in China.14

Twenty-two of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. India, Pakistan and China collectively account for 94 out of the top 100 most polluted cities in the world. The largest number of cities in the list of top 10 most polluted cities in the world is in India.15 India ranks highest with 46 of the world’s 100 most polluted cities followed by China (42), Pakistan (6), and Bangladesh (4) in terms of air quality index. These include Noida, Greater Noida, Lucknow, Kanpur, Meerut, Agra, Bulandshahr, Bisrakh, and Muzaffarnagar (in Uttar Pradesh), Faridabad, Jind, Fatehabad, Bandhwari, Gurugram, Yamuna Nagar, Rohtak, Dharuhera and Hisar (Haryana), and Bhiwadi (Rajasthan).16

According to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, people in Delhi breathe the worst air between November 1 and November 15 every year followed by Noida (488), Ghaziabad (486), Greater Noida (478), Faridabad (460), and Gurugram (448). 17 As per a scientific paper on the health and economic impact of air pollution, 1.7 million deaths—i.e. 18 per cent of the total deaths in the country in India in 2019 were attributable to air pollution.18

Managing waste properly is essential for building sustainable and liveable cities, but it remains a challenge for many developing countries and cities. Effective waste management is expensive, often comprising 20%–50% of municipal budgets. Operating this essential municipal service requires integrated systems that are efficient, sustainable, and socially supported.

Is Garbage-Free India a Distant Dream?

Solid waste management is one of the necessities to keep the town and cities clean. Solid waste management is a serious problem in India not just because of environmental concerns but also because of the enormous quantities generated every day. Experts believe that India is following a flawed system of waste disposal and management. Almost all municipal authorities indiscriminately dump solid waste in dump yards within or outside the city. Waste dumping and open burning continue to be the principal methods of waste disposal in India. These dump yards are known to frequently catch fire. An 18-ft high inferno at Deonar19 in Mumbai in 2016 went on for three months, pumping tons of cancer-causing smoke caused by burning plastic and leather. Burning garbage is the third biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in India.

Heavy metals and toxic liquid in the rotten garbage is absorbed into the soil or water bodies. This leads to contamination of the entire food chain and rivers, endangering humans, plants and animals. According to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, only about 75–80% of the municipal waste is collected scientifically and only 22–28% of this waste (27,000 MT per day) is processed and treated. The remaining 80 per cent (1,08,000 MT per day) is dumped in an unhygienic manner in landfill sites leading to health and environmental degradation.20 The stench and ugly sight of garbage dumped on the roadside, clogging of the drains and garbage floating on the surface of the rivers, particularly during the rainy season, is a common sight in India.

It is estimated that urban municipal solid waste will increase to 387.8 million tons in 2030 and 543.3 million tons by 2050.21 At the rate at which we are littering hazardous waste we would need about 88 sq. km of land—the size of New Delhi—just to dump it by 2050, according to an Assocham and PwC joint report.22 “This will eventually render the land unfit for any other use for as long as a half-century before it can be stabilised for other uses,” says the report, ‘Waste Management in India: Shifting Gears.’

The solution lies in a garbage-free India as a part of the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’.

Objectives of Waste Management

The main objective of waste management is to reduce the harmful effects of the discarded pile of waste on health and the environment and improve the quality of life of people living or working in the vicinity. The philosophy behind waste management is governed by 3R’s namely, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. In other words, only a minimal amount of waste should be generated, and a substantial amount of this waste should either be reused or recycled. To do so, it is particularly important to:

  • prevent the generation of waste.
  • promote reuse of waste.
  • promote biological recovery of waste and recycling of materials.
  • promote energy use of waste not suited for recycling.
  • ensure that the treatment and disposal of waste does not cause any harmful impacts.

According to a recent report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM)-NEC, India is among the top five countries in the world, in terms of e-waste generation next only to China, the USA, Japan and Germany.23 The study concludes that, though India generates 2 million tons of e-waste—discarded electronic devices and gadgets like computer monitors, mobile phones, chargers, compact discs, headphones, televisions, air conditioners, and refrigerators, only 4.3 lakh tons is recycled per annum.

The e-waste products contain toxic substances like lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, plastic, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), BFRs (brominated flame retardants), barium, beryllium, and carcinogens such as carbon black and heavy metals which can cause severe health problems to those handling the waste. Mismanagement of e-waste and prolonged exposure to pollutants released by e-waste adversely affects the crops, and drinking water, consumed by both humans and animals. They can also lead to kidney damage, respiratory diseases, skin disorders, and lung cancer.

The Stumbling Blocks – Drawbacks of the Present System

India is predicted to reach an estimated 125 million tons of waste, making it the largest waste contributor in the world by 2048. The current waste management practice in India involves collecting waste from sources through a community collective bin system, which gets transported to a low-lying landfill system with intermediate processing of Municipal Solid Waste. The open dumping practice leads to problems like pollution and health hazards.

The major problems affecting solid waste management are unscientific treatment, improper collection of waste, and ethical problems. This in turn leads to hazards like environmental degradation, water pollution, soil pollution, and air pollution. Some of the other bottleneck areas include:

  • No storage of waste at source
  • No system of primary collection from doorsteps
  • Irregular street sweeping
  • Waste storage depots are a problem
  • Transportation of waste is not satisfactory
  • Processing of waste: only a few cities have been practicing this
  • Disposal of waste is a neglected area and the current practices are grossly unscientific

Waste to Wealth

Waste is a valuable resource with the potential to generate innumerable environmental and monetary benefits if properly treated. For instance, did you know that recycling 5 PET bottle produces enough fibre for making one t-shirt? The Waste Management market in India is said to be a USD 14 billion opportunity by 2025.24 India has the potential to generate 3GW of electricity from waste by 2050. Some of the sunshine areas of waste management include municipal solid waste, electronic waste, bio-medical waste, and agricultural waste. This is both a challenge as well as a golden opportunity. India is set to become the world’s most populous country as per projections of the United Nations with 7 new megacities by 2027. At this growth rate, India would need landfills almost 90 per cent of the size of Bengaluru for dumping the waste if left untreated.

Case Studies: Best Practices of Solid Waste Management around the World

Waste is generally viewed as dirty with no value; this limited thinking is why waste management is not given the weightage it deserves. Every city is different when it comes to solid waste generation and management. Here are some of the fascinating, innovative and eco-friendly waste management strategies being implemented all over the globe.

Kamikatsu, Japan:

There is a Japanese word ‘mottainai’ which in other words means “don’t waste anything worthy”. The spirit behind it is to use all things as long as possible. It represents the island nation’s commitment towards waste management and ‘zero-waste’. Kamikatsu, a small town approximately 40 kilometres from Tokushima city in the mountains of Shikoku Island in Japan, signed a ‘zero-waste’ declaration in 2003. Today, Kamikatsu is a ‘zero waste’ town without even a trash collection system. The residents themselves segregate the waste into 45 categories. 80 per cent of this waste is recycled and only 20 per cent goes to landfills. The residents voluntarily wash, sort, and carry their trash to the recycling centre and make sure that it lands up in the right bin. Kamikatsu’s heroic efforts have inspired other communities in Japan to take up the zero-waste challenge.

Mexico City, Mexico

Bordo Poniente dump, just outside Mexico City used to be one of the world’s biggest open-air landfills. Hundreds of trucks were used to dump more than 12,000 tons of waste each day. In 2011, Mexico City authorities decided to close down the 927-acre Bordo Poniente landfill. The idea behind this was to convert millions of tons of garbage to energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million tons annually. BMLMX, a power company, signed a contract with the Mexican government to utilise the biogas from the landfill site to generate 250 GWh electricity—enough to illuminate about 35,000 homes and the streets of Mexico for 25 years. This is, apart from the creation of short and long-term jobs for contractors, service providers and labour in the construction, operation and maintenance of the landfill gas capture system. As yet another spin-off, a cement company agreed to buy 3,000 tons of dry waste daily to burn as fuel as well as produce organic fertiliser for the city’s parks and gardens in the composting plant.

Malang City, Indonesia

With a garbage output of 200,000 tons a day, Indonesia ranks as the second-highest generator of plastic waste worldwide. Almost half of the population of Indonesia earns less than USD 2 a day and a majority of them do not have any health insurance. Though both the issues—waste management and healthcare may seem unconnected, Dr Gamala Albinsaid, the CEO of Indonesia Medika, a healthcare company, saw this as an opportunity and created Garbage Clinical Insurance (GCI), a micro health insurance program that lets people trade garbage for medical services and medicines. There was a time when people used to think that garbage is worthless and healthcare is expensive, but now they feel that garbage can be valuable and after all healthcare isn’t necessarily so expensive.


Over the last few decades, Sweden has emerged as one of the global leaders in waste management. Strange though it may sound, it is a fact that Sweden has run out of trash and is now asking other countries for their garbage to keep its recycling plants running. Less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste goes into the landfill dump. Over 50 per cent of the waste generated in Sweden is burned in waste-to-energy facilities. The 32 waste management plants in Sweden produce heat for 810,000 Swedish households and electricity for about 250,000 private homes in the freezing Swedish winter. The country has adopted a recycling policy that funnels all the energy generated by burning waste into the national heating network.

Semakau Landfill, Singapore

The word ‘landfill’ immediately creates the image of a smelly mountain of rubbish. But Semakau Island, created by reclaiming land between two small islands, eight kilometres off the coast of Singapore, is different. The world’s first offshore landfill site (island) was created entirely from the sea space at USD 399 with a capacity of 63 million cubic meters. Semakau landfill receives about 1,400 tons of incineration ash and 600 tons of non-incinerable waste every day and is expected to meet Singapore’s need for landfill space beyond the year 2040. The landfill operation will eventually create an island made almost entirely of waste. Semakau landfill has been constructed to contain all wastes within the landfill area and keep the surrounding marine ecosystem and sea waters pollution-free. Great care has also been taken to keep the landfill clean, and odour free. Semakau landfill was opened to members of the public for recreational activities. Since then, the island has gained popularity with nature lovers due to its rich biodiversity.


The world is not our personal ashtray. When we throw anything, it must go where it is meant to be. As has rightly been stated, if we don’t want to live in a trash can, we should stop making it one.

Waste management is not a complex, unsolved puzzle. Many solutions already exist. What is needed is urgent action at all levels of society. We ourselves are the cause and cure behind the dumps of garbage. It is time now, to get our act together and as a society, keep our environment clean and green.

Author Brief Bio: Mr Neeraj Mahajan isa media professional with over 30 years of experience in print, electronic, web and mobile media. He is the Editor of Taazakhabar News and World News Report



COP 26: THE INDIAN VIEWPOINT – An Interview with Shri Bhupender Yadav, Union Cabinet Minister of Labour and Employment, Environment, Forest and Climate Change

Gaurie Dwivedi

Thank you, Mr. Yadav for speaking to India Foundation. The talking point across the world is about the COP 26 milestones, the decisions that have been taken, and more importantly, the parallel narrative that is being built about how India pulled down a collective effort. How do you first view the larger effort that is currently on and then we can get onto the nitty-gritty of India’s position?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

A major milestone for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations was the Paris Agreement in 2015. In principle, it was accepted by almost all the nations across the globe. There were two basic spirits of the Paris Agreement. First is Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and the second is climate finance. Due to the increasing global warming, every nation was concerned and had concurring opinion that solutions needed to be implemented for its mitigation and adaptation. For the question about ‘how’ to implement these solutions, the answer was ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility”. We all have the same target, that the world should be saved from climate change, but every nation would have to take decisions based on their national circumstances. That is why even the targets set in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were based on individual national circumstances of different countries. Second, the major countries, the ones who captured maximum carbon space during the industrial development, committed that they would give compensation and climate finance for these contributions. This is why, when this discussion came up in Glasgow, it was asserted that as per ‘CBDR,’ each country has the right to take decisions about energy production. A fundamental of ‘Climate Justice’ is also poverty eradication. In fact, India is one of those countries who impose maximum tax on fossil fuels. Our petrol and diesel tax is among the highest. On the other hand, we provide ‘Ujjwala’ subsidies to 12 crore women. This way, the smoke that would be created in their rooms due to biofuel combustion is decreased. This has brought change in the lives of 12 crore women. For this reason, our point was, and not just us but all the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China)—and even other developing countries had this common point—that the principle of CBDR be accepted. Common but differentiated responsibility according to national circumstances and subsidy will be continued, subject to the poverty eradication and vulnerability of the local society. We only presented this principle, the voice of the developing countries in front of the world.

Gaurie Dwivedi

When I said that a narrative is being built, it has to be seen that India’s per capita emission is just one-seventh or one-eighth of the US and is also even lower than China’s. Considering how big a polluter China is, they must take bigger steps. But, when the negotiation was on in COP 26, India was connected to these countries, considered alongside China, which somehow undermines our efforts. How do you view the situation?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

India is among those countries who achieved the NDCs they declared in Paris. And not just achieved, we also fixed ambitious targets. In our renewable energy production, we reached 165 GW. We now took a target of 500 GW. Even before that we targeted 450 GW. We said that we will take our renewable capacity to 40%, and we achieved that goal and now we are moving to 50%. We said that we will reduce carbon emissions and we did reduce them. The biggest point is that under our Honourable PM, Shri Narendra Modi Ji’s Panchamrit, India presented a new action-oriented example to the world. We will cut our carbon emissions due to development by 1 billion tonnes by 2030. It is a cumulative effect and is being done very scientifically. We believe in action along with vision. After 2015 Paris Agreement, India joined three major action programmes with regard to climate change. First, we started International Solar Alliance with France. Today, 102 nations of the world are members of the Solar Alliance. This significant achievement happened in Glasgow, and is not limited to International Solar Alliance alone. We are now moving towards ‘One Sun, One Grid, One World’. Countries like France, UK, Australia, US and others have come forward for this. Second, we are working on how to promote green technology in sectors which are major carbon emitters like cement, aluminium and others. Corporates and various countries are coming together to deliberate on this issue, on the platform of Lead IT that we have created along with Sweden for this purpose. Third, India has also been doing great work on the Disaster Resilient Infrastructure platform that we have with UK. This time our honourable PM came together with the PM of Australia and the PM of UK to create the IRIS platform to help small island nations with their vulnerabilities. This once again shows both our vision and action. 

Gaurie Dwivedi

According to you, what are the major steps that India needs to take in the next five to eight years and what are the steps for which the world needs to put in collaborative effort?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

One crucial issue is the target of Panchamrit that our honourable PM Modi ji has shown. Second is technological development. How do we move towards green energy? We are working on increasing our solar energy generation capacity and alongside have also initiated a National Hydrogen Mission. We also have to look into changing and adapting our lifestyle practices. Simultaneously, we also have to increase the global carbon sink. I believe that the developed countries, who not only have a moral responsibility but also a pledge, should come forward for technology transfer and climate finance. They must accept their large amounts of carbon emissions and historical wrongdoings that they have committed. In this matter, India fervently leads all the developing countries.

Gaurie Dwivedi

If developed countries need to move ahead in this direction, there needs to be a realisation that 2009 level of fundings cannot be expected in 2021 or 2030. In this regard, how are the developed countries being pushed to fulfil their responsibilities in terms of funding?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

India has been exerting a great deal of pressure on this issue. You earlier talked about making collective efforts. Our honourable PM gave the mantra of ‘environment-friendly lifestyle’. If this time, there were six or seven decisions taken in this direction, it was because of India’s strong representation of the voices of developing countries. Firstly, in Glasgow, all developed countries expressed deep regret that they couldn’t provide climate finance. Now they would have to do more for this responsibility. Besides expressing deep regrets, they also need to take action. Second, an ad-hoc committee was discussed for deliberating the definition of climate finance. Discussion also took place over continuation of long-term finance. A draft would also be prepared about adaptation, between the time-frames from Glasgow to Sharm el-Sheikh. Most importantly, we have always held that if they do not carry forward the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) and the CERs (Certified Emission Reductions) from the Kyoto protocol, then there would be no credibility to the issue of carbon credits that they wish to raise. We believe that this issue raised by India and other developing countries has been fully accepted as part of Article 6 of the rule book of Paris Agreement. We still hold that developed countries should come forward to fulfil their responsibilities.

Gaurie Dwivedi

Recently, Germany announced a funding commitment of 1.2 billion Euros for India to fight climate change. Do you believe that issue of environment leadership that India has been raising would give an impetus to increase funding and solve this problem of funding?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

With regard to funding, I believe that there needs to be more clarity on climate finance. This must happen with pace. As far as India’s initiatives are concerned, India has not only set ambitious targets, but has also fulfilled them. One of the major threats of climate change is desertification of land; to address that we are running a joint-programme of eight ministries. We are undertaking major projects such as NCAP to solve the problem of air pollution. Over ten of our ministries are working on various initiatives with regard to environment including Swachh Bharat mission, Ujjwala Yojana, Unnati project etc, as well as work in the agriculture sector. All those techniques, adaptation practices and mitigation measures that are needed to be taken by modern societies are being implemented by India.

Gaurie Dwivedi

Do we need to change our perspective about environment? We need to be careful, conscious and aware that when we talk about environment or climate, it is one of the foremost threats to the world at large. Do you think that this larger transformation has not happened by now? It is an ongoing process and would not happen in a day but do you think that there should be more work in this direction by the civil society, academia, research and other?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

This is a fact that environment awareness needs to come and environment education has to be pushed. Climate Justice also needs to be brought to the fore. The issue of lifestyle should also be raised. We have 17% population of the world but account for just 4% of total carbon emissions. Hence, our per capita emissions are very low. There is also an issue of lifestyle, which must be discussed. Our honourable PM has also focused on this issue. Besides lifestyle changes, we also need to put impetus on our biodiversity, flora, fauna and our other issues. The world needs to rapidly progress in adoption of green technology, which is environment-friendly, through technology transfer. Meanwhile, nations must also fulfil their responsibilities towards their citizens. This is such a balancing act in which all nations need to work together, because the impact of climate change transcends geographical boundaries and has a cumulative global effect. That is why every country must contribute, based on their national circumstances. India strongly believes in these thoughts and regularly asserts them. Climate Justice is an important part of Climate Change. Eradication of poverty is a crucial part of Climate Justice. That is why every country must take this into account while going forward.

Gaurie Dwivedi

There is a great deal of concern that technology transfer is not taking place. What do you think should be the roadmap ahead? Should it include public-private partnerships, or B2B or remain only in government-government (G2G) sector?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

This should be open and include all forms and modes. The way we are digitally empowered across the world, knowledge-sharing, transfer and knowledge base are fundamental but what is important is that we become more open, responsible and poor-friendly towards knowledge sharing.

Gaurie Dwivedi

Would the government focus more on the idea of green-hubs or do you believe that this can be just one aspect of the solution while a holistic solution needs to be 360 degrees?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

We need a 360-degree solution. Green sink must rise but along with that we also need to look at desertification of land, problems in coastal areas, adoption of new agricultural practices, threats from rising emissions from new cities and other critical aspects. Our earth is under a layer of gases and rising emissions of CO2 and other gases is having a significant impact on the same. Even in this regard, nations need to take action considering their national circumstances. Just few months back, India’s Cabinet also approved the Kigali amendment which talks about phasing down of these hydrofluorocarbons. Such decisions are being taken across the globe, but what is necessary is that it involves capacity building of all countries. This is why, when the issue of loss and damages, time-framework and measurement methods was raised in Glasgow, India put forward the point that developing countries should be equipped with both capacity and finance and this was agreed to. I believe that if our framework to gauge global warming is strengthened, the world would be better able to face the upcoming threats in a collective manner.

Gaurie Dwivedi

When we talk about India in the context of climate and environment, a major issue that comes up is of air pollution. Now it has passed the phase of challenge and evolved to become an emergency. What kind of measures do you think need to be taken? How much do you envisage the role of states and the federal structure? Is there going to be a holistic solution to it or will people continue to suffer?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

Indeed, there are solutions. You have asked an important question. I wish to point out that air pollution and climate change are two different aspects. But since you have asked this question in the context of India, I will answer. The 15th Finance Commission has announced a Rs 4,400 crore package that we have also started distributing to states. Our honourable PM has also started National Clean Air Mission Programme and we have started regional meetings for it as well. Recently, we had the first meeting in Mumbai and we are going to conduct more meetings across the country. We have selected 138 cities which are reeling with air pollution. We have signed MOUs with their municipalities and released certain guidelines for them which covers issues including garbage combustion, vehicular pollution, dust pollution, thermal power plant mitigations, industrial pollutions. We have chalked out plans for these issues and even worked out a method for measurement.

Second, under environment ministry we have also released the ‘Prana portal’ for public awareness on the issue. Indian government has also brought a Special Act for Delhi-NCR region. For the first time, we have given legal recognition to air sheds. To manage Delhi’s pollution, we moved from BS-IV to BS-VI petrol and nationally, we have introduced a scrapping policy. In Delhi, we have diverted traffic to eastern peripheral expressway and western expressway and brought policy to measure dust pollution. We are shifting the entire industry to PNG to reduce industrial pollution. In a few days, our National Air Quality Control Authority, which has technicians and experts, is going to bring forth a mega programme to solve the pollution of Delhi-NCR region. We have also introduced few new ways to deal with stubble burning to reduce its pollution. First, we have distributed machines to end the stubble. Nearly Rs 700 crore have been expended by the Central Government for the same. Second, the government worked, both independently as well as in collaboration with various groups, on decomposition of the stubble to convert it to manure. This was done on nearly 1 lakh acre land in both Punjab and Haryana and about 6 lakh acre land in Uttar Pradesh. Thirdly, we also worked on utilising it as biofuel. Nearly 1,500 tons was acquired by NTPC, which was a pretty big tender. To utilise it as animal fodder in future, a small pilot project was run to dispatch it to Kutch and Western Rajasthan, where there are cattle in large numbers but lack of fodder. Even though it was at a small scale, the pilot project did take place. In COP 26, one Indian youth got award for Takachar, a firm that works on converting stubble to product while in the cutting phase itself, and then directly sending it for biofuel. In future, there would be more such experiments. Comprehensively, we nudged and appealed to the farmers to not simply burn the stubble but to rather utilise it to increase their production and incomes or use it as manure. In light of the four-five new initiatives, I believe we would be better able to handle the problem in future.

Gaurie Dwivedi

My last question: As 2021 draws to a close, what would be the two-three defining initiatives by your ministry in the post-COP26 world, in 2022, in light of all the developments of this year?

Shri Bhupender Yadav

Our Ministry has brought forth changes in two Acts which have been forwarded to various committees of the Parliament. First, we are providing approval to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Treaty in the Wildlife Act, to uphold the international standards of wildlife protection in our country. Second, biodiversity is one such field that can help our farmers and tribals to prosper through the rich flora of our country. We are working on increasing their productivity through innovation and academic research of international standard. Third, there are a lot of lakes in our country. We are targeting to get Ramsar Convention status to 75 lakes. As of now, we have been successful in getting 47 lakes registered. Ten of our beaches have got blue tag and we plan on working more for their conservation. Similarly, we are looking into the issue of Western Ghats. We also aim to push forward our National Clean Air Programme with more sincerity. We have great institutions in our country like Biological Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India, which efficiently raise the issues of flora and fauna, and we plan on strengthening such institutions. 14 of our tiger reserves have got accreditation so we aim to work with more rigour in this direction. To make our environment clearances more nature friendly and development based, we are also working to improve our Parivesh portal. I believe that with these targets we would be able to protect our biodiversity, lead to more afforestation, and push forward an environment-friendly development in the country.

Brief Bio:

*Shri Bhupender Yadav is Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Labour and Employment, Government of India.

*Ms Gaurie Dwivedi is a Journalist and Author.


Together, We Win”: Regional Military Cooperation for HADR

On Dec 07, 2021, the late Gen Bipin Rawat, CDS, highlighted the importance of simplifying defence cooperation within a region. He was addressing delegates from BIMSTEC Nations at a Curtain Raiser event held at Delhi, for PANEX-21- an HADR (Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief) exercise envisioning greater regional cooperation.[i]

PANEX-21 is the third in the series of BIMSTEC HADR exercises, and is ground-breaking in two ways. Firstly, the theme of the exercise is ‘Response to Natural Disasters in the backdrop of a Pandemic’, exploring the new challenge where existing rescue and relief SOPs must be modified in line with pandemic management protocols. Secondly, the militaries of the member nations are participating for the first time, indicating that the role of the Armed Forces is expanding into Operations Other Than War (OOTW) to include HADR. The motto for the exercise, quite aptly, is “Together, We Win”.

Why Do We Need Regional HADR Cooperation?

In the past, western developed nations were the leading providers of humanitarian assistance, leveraging their economic and military prowess to project “soft power” across the globe. However, the changing world order, the increased interdependence on multilateral issues within a region and the economic rise of nations (especially in South and South East Asia) has seen a reversal of western ‘expeditionary’ HADR operations, with regional groupings providing similar assistance.

For example, to enhance ASEAN’s collective response to disasters, member states developed the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) and established the AHA centre for coordinating disaster management issues. Catalysed by experiences gained and lessons learnt during the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan experience, the “One ASEAN-One Response” Declaration was inked in September 2016 to “increase the speed, the scale and the solidarity of ASEAN’s response”. Mr. Said Faisal, former Executive Director of the AHA Centre, has said “Speed is about how fast we can move. Scale is about how big the resources that we can mobilise. Solidarity is about doing this together. It is about a united response in the region”.[ii]

Many experts believe there is a clear case for regional cooperation for Disaster Management because the primary impacts of large-scale disasters are often felt across national borders. Second and third order impacts on economy, healthcare and rebuilding are definitely of regional concern. Speaking at a seminar during PANEX-21, Mr. Md. Mosharaf Hossain, Director, Connectivity and Security Division, BIMSTEC Secretariat, said that there was a need to explore the feasibility of a “One Region-One Response” policy.[iii]

The diversity of capabilities, expertise and structures in different nations in a region can be leveraged as an opportunity for promoting regional cooperation on disaster response by sharing of information, experiences and best practices. From Disaster Risk Reduction technologies to pooling of resources by trusted partners within a region, a joint approach can make better facilities available as well as speed up response times—all leading to saving valuable lives and limiting disaster damage.  Finally, regional cooperation in “Building Back Better” would catalyse a rebound for the regional economy.

Why include the Military?

Militaries have expertise in surveillance & reconnaissance, evacuation, restoration of communications, debris clearance & quick construction, medical and surgical assistance in field conditions, setting up of relief infrastructure, green field supply chain establishment and so on. The UN urges that militaries should be used during humanitarian situations only as a “last resort” for international responses, but their deployment to manage disasters is quite common in the Indo-Pacific region.

The military’s capabilities to mobilise in the disaster aftermath, provide logistics support and human resources, their disciplined approach and set command and control structures, have always been useful in disaster situations. With limited resources during disasters, almost every developing nation leverages its Armed Forces for HADR.

The militaries, in turn, have acquitted themselves exceedingly well in all spheres in HADR operations, and earned the goodwill of the citizens of their own countries. Trans-border deployments have also taken place under bilateral arrangements, including after the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, cyclones Nargis (2008) and Mora (2017) and the Rohingya refugee crisis (2018).

Among the quickest to respond to the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015, India garnered worldwide praise for ‘Operation Maitri’ by deploying specialised medical and relief teams from the Army and Air Force. In 2020, Indian Naval Ship Kesari was dispatched with military medical teams, essential medicines and food items to the Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles following separate requests from these countries during the pandemic. Hence, there is a strong case for inclusion of military components when creating a regional apparatus for HADR cooperation.  Apart from the humanitarian angle, there are spin-off advantages for the militaries, as well: –

  • Military Diplomacy. This is a good outreach to extend support and increase the area of influence. It is also a form of military cooperation without a “security” It provides opportunities for militaries in the region to train and operate jointly and increase military-to-military contact, without the raised eyebrows associated with a “military exercise” or a military grouping. The significant goodwill generated can smoothen the way for other alliances, activities and even interventions.
  • Military Messaging. Mobilisation of military assets for HADR deployments is showcased as soft-power outreach, but essentially, HADR readiness is also a pointer of operational readiness. The speed and scale of deployment sends the right messages.
  • Research and Innovation. While actual deployments would be based on the scope and nature of disaster, routine joint training and sharing of best practices in the Preparatory Phase of the Disaster Management Cycle itself is a major platform for showcasing the research, innovations and best practices from the Defence Research as well as private manufacturers. For example, “Raksha Kawach”, a simple but effective innovation by Lt Col Paul of the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, India[iv] was showcased at PANEX-21. The mechanism is for reducing the contagious aerosols from a COVID patient and minimising the risks to HCW as well as other patients, which would be beneficial to other countries in the region. Similarly, from passive DRDO innovations like a quick deployable isolation hospital to “Dual Use” technologies for surveillance, communications and rescue operations can be showcased, in an increasingly competitive world.
  • Maintenance of Peace. The Disaster aftermath is often a breeding ground for law-and-order problems, and the presence of a disciplined and respected force quells despair that forces the community to sink into lawlessness. By a limited stretch of imagination, a quick response to contain the damage in the recipient country also messages inimical forces. Disasters also expose certain socio-economic and security vulnerabilities of the affected area, where adversaries with specific agendas would rush to fill the void and gain traction for specific narratives. Military deployment for HADR ops under the regional umbrella can thwart this threat to a considerable extent for the greater good of both the recipient nation as well as the donor.

When to use the Military

It is important to lay down terms of reference for the employment of militaries for this secondary role, to obviate sensitivities and respect jurisdictions. Military operations for HADR must always be in support of a regional or national HADR agency, as a tool to supplement the existing relief mechanism.

Deployment must always be at the request of the recipient state, under a Regional Framework Agreement. The regional grouping HQ or secretariat may take the decision for regional military deployment based on:

  • The scale of the disaster
  • Nature of response/aid needed
  • Proximity and capability of other responders
  • Need for specialised military equipment.

The final utilisation and deployment must be under the aegis of the recipient state, with a regional control cell coordinating the regional and global relief efforts. Necessary clearances and readiness of humanitarian support and relief material, teams and equipment must be worked out in the preparatory phase itself. This calls for institutionalisation of diplomatic and legal protocols for regional humanitarian response.

One Framework for One Region- One Response

The offer of military assets to another country for HADR operations is usually coordinated through bilateral offers of disaster assistance. The pooling in of military resources at the regional level is certain to result in economy of effort and optimising the efficiency of response.

ASEAN has already done so with its Concept Paper on the ASEAN Militaries Ready Group (AMRG), a coordinated military capacity that would deploy under the ‘One ASEAN, One Response’ framework. The ‘Expert Working Group’ of ASEAN Defence Ministers developed standard operating procedures to streamline the management of multilateral military teams for rapid and coordinated deployment to disaster areas. The concept for AMRG was thus born.[v]

A similar arrangement exists in the Caribbean, where ‘CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit’ is a regional response mechanism that mobilises and deploys to CARICOM States after disaster strikes, but the AMRG model is more evolved, resulting in a truly multilateral approach to HADR and showcasing ASEAN as the pioneer in multilateral military cooperation for OOTW.

The complexity of regional military support for HADR involves synchronisation of regional efforts for risk assessment, institutionalisation of contributing assets, jurisdictional issues, security and legal sanction for other militaries, coordination of move and deployment and harmonisation of response plans. Thus, there is a need to set up a regional organisational structure and framework treaties.

Regional Organisational Structure

For HADR to move away from bilateral or multilateral trappings to a truly regional paradigm, an organisational structure with embedded channels of control & communications is a prerequisite. The common ground of agreement in a humanitarian crisis scenario needs to be deliberated, found, accepted and evolved into a regional institutional & legal framework to ease coordination of relief efforts in a dynamic, chaotic post disaster environment.

Since different nations have different capacities and capabilities, a mapping of these military assets volunteered by member countries will need to be done, recommended under the following heads:

  • Mobility Assets: Ships, transport aircraft, vehicles, engineering and plant equipment.
  • Communication Assets : Quick deployable towers, satellite communication sets, radio sets.
  • Surveillance and Reconnaissance Assets : Drones, Quadcopters, Unmanned Ground Vehicles, radars, surveillance aircraft.
  • Search, Rescue and Evacuation Assets: Special Forces, Heartbeat sensors, rafts, Helicopters.
  • Medical Assets: Quick deployment teams and medical/surgical equipment or medicines, field hospitals or surgical centres, diagnostic laboratories etc.
  • Survival Assets: Relief aid packages including foodstuff, blankets, tentage, storage shelters, mobile sanitation arrangements, electricity generators etc.
  • Human Resource Assets: Experts in technology, communications, debris clearance, logisticians, doctors.
  • Capacity Building Assets: Training facilities, conduct of exercises, SOPs etc.

To harmonise efforts of multiple stakeholders from transnational to local levels for containment, mitigation and response in the event of a disaster, the regional grouping must evolve and formalise institutional and legal frameworks for information dissemination, mobilisation of resources, interoperability, channels of communication & cooperation to include military assets.

On occurrence of a disaster that needs a regional response, the affected member state may requisition the regional coordinator. This may be for specific assistance or a general call for help. In the latter case, an ‘Empowered Group of Experts’ may lay out the specifics. Based on the prioritisation and time of requirement of specific assets, their movement from donor members will be coordinated under the ratified framework.

Hence it is imperative that the militaries of all nations be co-opted in the formulation of the institutional arrangements. They must also participate in various HADR exercises at national and regional levels to enhance training and interoperability.

A Note of Caution

Governmental and military organisations historically prefer structures that are strictly hierarchical, promoting clear channels of information flow (Need to Know) and accountability through Chain of Command (executive orders). However, Disaster Response is an arena where information is scanty and fragmented, communications are jeopardised, and decisions made will affect lives.  Effective incident response is relative to four key capabilities[vi]:

  • Rapid adaptation in response to changing conditions.
  • Management of distributed information.
  • Effective coordination between responders.
  • Emergent collective action.

Philippines experience in response to the Typhoon Washi (2010) by the existing hierarchical response structure failed to build relationships between responding agencies at the ground level which were severely restricted due to bureaucratic protocols[vii].

An organisation with great degree of formalisation requires more time and effort just to comply with bureaucratic protocols. For disaster response, rigid and hierarchical structures must be changed in favour of flexible organisational structures based on shared leadership, making it possible to adapt faster to dynamic situations.[viii]

Hence, it is imperative that the regional apparatus must facilitate rapid bonding of contingents, ensure reliable common operating picture/situational awareness, quick decision making in a chaotic disaster environment, without infringing perceived national jurisdictions and trespassing on the local sensitivities.

Interoperability would be key, which needs evolution of a common vocabulary for overcoming language barriers, compatible communication systems and simple protocols, participative training and military to military coordination by joint HADR exercises as well as open channels of communication. All the above requirements point towards a flat and modular structure and not a tall and hierarchical one.

Why should we start with BIMSTEC?

BIMSTEC is substantial. BIMSTEC accounts for 22% of the global population – over 1.5 billion people – and has a combined economy of USD 2.7 trillion (GDP).[ix]  It is often repeated that the grouping has potential to interface between South Asia and South East Asia (read ASEAN) or even bridge South East Asia with the Gulf Countries.

BIMSTEC is relevant. With the effectiveness of SAARC being watered down,[x] all eyes are now on BIMSTEC towards fructification of the Neighbourhood First and Act East policies. This was also signalled by PM Modi’s invitations to BIMSTEC leaders for the swearing in ceremony for his second term, in place of SAARC leaders whom he had invited the first time.

BIMSTEC is Disaster Prone. The “World’s Hazard Belt”, the Indian Ocean Region, is naturally prone to disasters due to a combination of hydrological and geological factors. Within Asia, 30% of all natural disasters in Asia affect the BIMSTEC grouping.  Disasters in the past five years affected 1.28 billion people and resulted in damages of over USD 154 billion[xi] and this is not counting the COVID pandemic.

Leadership is Aligned. BIMSTEC leaders have already encouraged closer cooperation in disaster management through info-sharing, adoption of preventive measures, joint action on relief and rehabilitation and capacity building.

Initiatives have already been taken. BIMSTEC has already taken baby steps in HADR collaboration by way of three joint exercises, the latest one being PANEX-21 at Pune. The BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate (BCWC) is established and provides information and capacity building assistance to member nations. India is also providing Disaster Early Warnings and has set up a link between BIMSTEC countries through the Tsunami Early Warning Centre.[xii]

This is an opportune time. The Draft Charter of BIMSTEC secretariat is likely to be ratified in the 5th Summit likely to be held soon. 14 erstwhile shared areas of interest are being whittled down to 7 sectors, with a Member State as lead country in coordinating activities in each sector.

Disaster Management will be clubbed under the Security Sector with India as the Lead Country. This is a golden opportunity to press for greater regional cooperation, because “Together, we win!” the cooperation model, once validated, can be suitably modified for other regional groupings.

CDS Gen Bipin Rawat’s last public appearance was when he addressed delegates for the PANEX-21 Curtain Raiser. He spoke about highlighted the importance of drawing ‘Common Legal Frameworks and Information Sharing Mechanism’ to simplify Defence Cooperation among BIMSTEC Nations.[xiii] The time has come for this vision to be realised.

Author Brief Bio: Colonel Rajat Mohan Bhatt is a serving Army officer. He is an alumnus of Sherwood College, the Defence Services Staff College, Army War College and the College of Defence Management. He possesses a PG diploma in Disaster Management.

[i] PIB Press release at

[ii] One ASEAN, One Response declaration from

[iii] Recorded by the author during PANEX-21 Seminar, Session II, Pune , 20 Dec 2021.


[v] Trung, Nguyen T., “Ability of the ASEAN Military Ready Group to Provide Effective Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations”, Defense Technical Information Centre (US DoD) report from

[vi] Nowell, B., Steelman, T., Velez, A.-L. K., & Yang, Z. (2017). The Structure of Effective Governance of Disaster Response Networks: Insights From the Field. American Review of Public Administration Vol. 48(7), 699-715.

[vii] Jovita, H. D., Nurmandi, A., Mutiarin, D., & Purnomo, E. P. (2018). Why does network governance fail in managing post-disaster conditions in the Philippines?. Jàmbá Journal of Disaster Risk Studies, 10(1).

[viii] Gaspary, E., Moura, G., & Wegner, D. (2020). How does the organisational structure influence a work environment for innovation? Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 24(2,3), 132-153.

[ix] MEA. (2020). Brief on BIMSTEC. Delhi.

[x] Jawad Falak, Implacable Failures of the SAARC,  21 Jun 2017, from

[xi] Data from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED, Belgium)




Book – Balochistan: In the Crosshairs of History

Author: Sandhya Jain

Publisher: K W Publishers Pvt Ltd;

Hardcover:  346 pages

Book Review by Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch

The book, “Balochistan: In the Crosshairs of History,” authored by Sandhya Jain, is an exceptionally well researched treatise on Balochistan. Brilliantly researched and presented in a very readable format, the book covers in its swathe the entire gamut of Baloch identity and history, the machinations which led to the Baloch lands being hived off to Iran and Afghanistan, and the traumatic manner in which Balochistan was forcibly merged with Pakistan. Thereafter begins the quest by the Baloch people to regain their independence from the stifling oppression of the Pakistani state, a quest which continues upto the present times, in the hope that someday, the Baloch people will finally regain their freedom.

Spread over 347,190 square kms Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, with 43.6 percent of the total land mass. But in terms of population, it is Pakistan’s smallest province with less than five percent of the total population. The contrast between territory and population largely shapes Balochistan’s particular situation and problems. It contains most of Pakistan’s mineral and energy resources but its small population gives it little say both in Pakistan’s national politics and over how its huge resources are developed.

In the Middle Ages, the decline of the Caliphate in the 11th century CE led to the rise of the Baloch in Makran. Mir Chakar, the leader of the Rind Tribe, laid the foundation for large scale Baloch migration into those lands in the late 15th Century after he had briefly conquered Punjab and Sindh. However, the present land boundary of Balochistan was a creation of British imperialism largely for geographical, administrative and security reasons. It was an artificial construct which divided the Baloch lands between the British Empire of India and the Persian Empire to the West, when the Goldsmid Line was drawn in 1871, giving away almost a quarter of Baloch territory to Iran. The Durand Line, drawn in 1893, further ceded a strip of Baloch land to Afghanistan. The British then divided the Baloch areas under their influence into three parts, one of which became the Kalat State, with Lasbela, Kharan and Makran as its vassals. One part became British Balochistan and the third was the tribal areas. Sir Robert Sandeman, who later became the Chief Commissioner of Balochistan, was the architect of British strategy in the region and he negotiated a number of treaties with the Khan of Kalat during 1854 to 1901. Through these treaties the British Government gained control over the leased territory of Chaghi, Bolan Pass, Quetta and other areas.

The principality which Baloch Nationalists regard as the historic Baloch national state was that of Kalat, founded in 1638. In 1876, the British signed a treaty with the Khan of Kalat by which Kalat and its dependant territories came under British suzerainty. In a meeting held in Delhi on 4th August 1947 between Lord Mountbatten and the Khan of Kalat, and which was attended by Mr Jinnah, Lord Mountbatten assured the Khan that the state of Kalat would revert to its pre 1876 status and become independent on 15 August 1947. The rulers of Kharan and Lasbela were informed by the British that they had been placed under the suzerainty of the Khan. Control over the Marri and Bugti regions was also reverted to the Khan thereby bringing the entire Baloch areas of British India under the direct or indirect control of Mir Ahmad Yaar, the Khan of Kalat. The Khan declared his independence on 15 August 1947 and offered a special relationship to Pakistan in the field of defence, foreign affairs and communication. But the state was usurped by Jinnah, with the Khan of Kalat being forced to sign the instrument of accession. The legal entity of Kalat was abolished and most of the members of the Balochistan cabinet were arrested or exiled from Balochistan. Thus began the resistance to Pakistani rule.

The quest for independence is an ember which the Baloch people have kept lit in their hearts. The various insurgencies which keep erupting from time to time is a testament to the spirit of freedom which the Baloch people keep in their breasts despite the ruthlessness with which the Pakistani state continues to suppress them. This aspect is highlighted by the author along with her prognosis for what the future holds. A combination of geo-political factors have, unfortunately placed Balochistan in an unenviable position wherein both their neighbours—Iran and Afghanistan—are actually wary of Baloch independence as this will ignite passions in the Sistan and Baluchestan province of Iran as well as in the Baloch population in Afghanistan, which may seek merger with the larger Baloch grouping. Baloch independence thus appears to be a chimera, as external support, which is an essential component of such movements, is not available. India can do little to help as it lacks land connectivity to Balochistan.

The author has also delved into the economic exploitation of Balochistan and how the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (C-PEC) is aggravating tension amongst the Baloch people, especially with Gwadar being developed as a port by China. Balochistan’s coastline with the Arabian Sea has five official ports, but it also has several unofficial natural small jetties which are exploited by smugglers and drug traffickers, which adds to the volatility in the region. In the final chapter of her book, the author has delved into the geo-strategic significance of the region and the interplay of regional and global dynamics which continue to pan out to the detriment of Balochistan.

This is a book which must be read by a wide audience, from college students to military personnel, from diplomats to researchers in think tanks and from history buffs to the lay reader. The author brings out with amazing clarity, the interplay of social dynamics within the various Baloch communities as well as within Pakistani society as a whole and juxtaposes these into the regional and global dynamics that are continually playing out in the region. A great deal of scholarship has gone into the writing of this book as evidenced by the extensive footnotes at the end of each chapter. Besides its eminent readability, it is also a great scholarly work, which can be used as a reference book and thus eminently qualifies to adorn the bookshelves of all libraries.

Brief Bio: Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation.


A Changing World Order: Challenges for India


The last couple of years have witnessed two cataclysmic events which are now shaping a new world order. The first of these was the emergence of a pandemic, caused by the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which caused the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).  The first reported case of COVID-19 occurred in China as early as November 2019. The virus would soon engulf the world in a pandemic that still has not been brought under control, despite the fact that we now have a vaccine to ward off the more lethal aspects of the disease. The second event was the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban on 15 August 2021. Both these events, when viewed through the prism of national security, throw up a series of possible challenges which India may have to confront in the coming years. These would require to be addressed at the highest policy making levels.

Three additional factors that will contribute to global instability, and which India will have to confront are the impact of climate change, the global thirst for natural resources and the quest to be a leader in the development of advanced technology.

The Pandemic

SARS-CoV-2 is possibly a man-made virus, which emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), in Wuhan, China. Chinese reticence in the matter and the fact that it withheld information, has fuelled suspicions of a “lab-leak”.[i] But the strategic implications are important for India to take note of. We are entering the era of bio-weapons and while these may have been banned by the UN Biological Weapons Convention, which effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons,[ii] many countries still continue to carry out such experiments, and may even have stockpiled such weapons. The possibility of such man-made disasters occurring in the future, or the deliberate use of such weapons by a hostile power, hence cannot be ruled out.

India had limited resources to handle the pandemic in early 2020, but facilities were soon ramped up and through preventive measures such as closing down the country, a large-scale tragedy was averted. But we cannot be in a governance mode which is only dependant on shutting off people from work in order to save lives, as this impinges on the livelihood of the poorest of India’s poor. We need to have organisations and systems in place to provide early warning of emergencies which may occur due to biological or any other form of attack and have plans in place to deal with such eventualities. The strategy must be to formulate preemptive policies on national emergencies and not act through disaster management procedures. This requires a measure of political unity across party lines and a very agile and forward-looking bureaucracy, which can assess a situation and take focussed action on a geographical area to contain the spread, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Obviously, a lot of advanced thinking and contingency planning would be required, which can be put into motion as and when the need arises. For this, all organs of the state must work in synergy to overcome the challenge at hand. Prompt action is important. India did not study the China case immediately after it occurred, perhaps because the Chinese kept a tight lid on the matter. In any case, the information available was sketchy and little was known then about SARS-CoV-2, but in future, all our embassies abroad as well as the health ministry in the Centre and in each state need to keep track of any such occurrence anywhere in the world, to enable a more strategised and coordinated approach to tackling future pandemics.

On the positive side, the efforts of India’s scientist in developing a vaccine, which many thought was not possible for India to achieve, was indeed laudable. The Prime Minister and his government gave full support to all such efforts, which was why India has emerged as the major supplier of vaccines, not just for its own population, but also to the world.

A major fall out of the pandemic has been the disruption of supply chains. The supply shock that started in China in February 2020 was followed by a demand shock as the global economy shut down exposing vulnerabilities in many critical sectors and leading now to what can loosely be termed as economic nationalism.[iii] This is a lesson India and indeed the rest of the world has learnt to its cost, as many countries had critical dependencies on China. The need for diversification of imports for critical items, especially in critical sectors such as pharma has to be ensured, to avoid shortages in times of crisis.

The Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was a foregone conclusion, once an agreement was reached between the US representatives and the Taliban leadership in Doha on 29 February 2020.[iv] The Afghan government was not part of the accord which further eroded its credibility. President Biden committed the US to withdraw all forces in Afghanistan by 31 August, the deadline being given to mark the passage of two decades of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States. The Taliban however did not wait for the deadline to end and by mid-August, in a series of attacks on the Afghan forces, had taken over most parts of the country and were on the outskirts of Kabul. By the evening of 15 August, Kabul fell to the Taliban without a shot being fired, leaving the country in total control of the Taliban.

The implications of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan are many. It marks a shift in the geo-strategic landscape of Central Asia, with the US no longer a major voice in the region. Surprisingly, none of the regional players, especially Russia and China have moved in to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of US forces. As of 31 October 2021, no country has accorded recognition to the new regime. An essential condition to regime recognition will be a more inclusive government and the grant of rights to women in Afghanistan. The Taliban may be constrained in treading a more liberal path as other terrorist outfits in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State could exploit this to further their own agenda. In the meantime, the possibility of Islamic terrorist organisations making their way to Afghanistan, to seek a safe haven, is high. This could lead to such groups using Afghan territory to plot attacks in other parts of the globe. How the situation unfolds is to be seen, but the possibility of Afghanistan slipping into civil war remains a high possibility.

For India, the events in Afghanistan can have three possible major repercussions. One, it could lead to a spurt in terrorist activity within the Union Territory of J&K. This is premised on the possibility of Pakistan sending in terrorists from Pakistan based organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which were earlier fighting alongside the Taliban and which now can be used against India. This level of threat however, will pose but a limited challenge to India, as security in the hinterland as also along the Line of Control is adequate to deal with such elements.

A more insidious threat however, is the spurt in radicalisation that could occur within India, through a virulent Islamic ideology emanating from Afghanistan, calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in India. Some of the states that could be vulnerable to such an insidious form of subversion are West Bengal and Kerala as also the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian agencies would need to keep a tight watch on the social media and on the activities of subversive groups to prevent such an occurrence from gaining credence. It would show in civil disturbance movements which could align themselves with political groups and NGOs, ostensibly to highlight local concerns, but with an ulterior motive of destabilising the state.

The third threat that could possibly manifest is the Pakistani state coming under Taliban rule, facilitated by the military. While the possibility is low, seeing the extent to which Pakistani society has been radicalised, it cannot be summarily dismissed either. The danger to India would be a human crisis in Pakistan that could potentially lead to millions of Pakistanis fleeing their homes to seek shelter in India, just as the Afghans are fleeing their homeland now. How such a situation is to be dealt with, should it come about, needs to thought of and factored into our security calculus.

Non-Conventional Threats

The threats we face are not confined to the internal and external security domains but reflect in other sectors as well. Here, I make mention of three potential areas of concern, whose impact on India could be debilitating. The first of these is the impact of climate change leading to a rise in ocean levels. Amongst India’s neighbours, Bangladesh would be greatly impacted, with large swathes of its land mass getting submerged. This could possibly lead to a lead to a huge human migration, with the only refuge being in India. How such a contingency can be handled, would also need to be a part of the security matrix of the country.

Shortage of resources caused by a black swan event could also be a critical destabilising factor. We need to look into probable events that could occur, such as the possibility of a conflagration taking place in the Gulf, which could potentially lead to the closure of oil producing facilities as well as of shipping across the Strait of Hormuz. As India is dependant on energy from the Gulf, such an eventuality would be catastrophic and would set back India’s development effort by many years.

Of equal import is the need to protect our indigenous industry. Not just our hostile neighbours, but all our competitors would like to see India dependant on them. As an example, there is a distinct attempt being made to stifle India’s copper and aluminium production. The intent is covered under the garb of environmental protection and other such social causes. But we need to take a deeper look at who the beneficiaries are in this game and ask why buying from them is not creating similar environmental concerns in their country. We need to stop being gullible and chart a course that is in India’s interest and not get enslaved again by foreign powers.

Advanced technologies will play a major role in the ability of major powers to gain dominance in the world order. Emerging fields such as Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, spatial computing, Green Hydrogen, Biometrics, Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, Blockchain, Robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) are some of the exciting technologies that will shape the way we live, work and interact with each other. The leaders in these fields will be the dominant players in the new world order, and India cannot miss the bus as we did earlier in the industrial revolution. This is a filed where competition is intense and the line between friend and foe get blurred. India will not only have to invest in these technologies, but will have to ensure the safety of our scientific manpower.


The challenges India faces in the emerging new world order are immense and encompass a wide range of conventional and non-conventional threats. Our ability to maintain social harmony will be a critical factor to enable the achievement of development goals. We have a political leadership that has the vision to take India forward, but it would require a very agile bureaucracy to foresee potential challenges and to implement the goals set out. A change of mindset in the bureaucracy from controllers to facilitators is also the need of the hour. Bharat can rise if the ordinary Indian is unshackled, the society remains cohesive and an environment for excellence is created across all domains.

Author Brief Bio: Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation.


[i] Amy Maxmen & Smriti Mallapaty, The COVID lab-leak hypothesis: what scientists do and don’t know available at





A World Union Based On Resurgent Asianism

Hindu and Buddhist priests and monks were the first people to carry India’s influence across its boundaries two millennia ago. The Buddhist monks largely chose the land routes with the exception of Sri Lanka, where Buddhism was taken by the son and daughter of emperor Ashoka – Mahinda and Sanghamitra – in 3rd century BCE. Monks from Northern India had traveled to Tibet, China, Mongolia and Bhutan carrying the religion of Buddha. On the other hand, the Hindu priests too managed to reach countries as far as Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia in the initial centuries of the first millennium carrying with them the benign religion of Hinduism. While there were references to instances of the Greek and Hindu scholars exchanging philosophical ideas in the pre-Christian era, recorded evidence of Hindu influence over the countries in the Indian Ocean region dates back to 4thcentury CE.

Almost for a millennium after that, the region, which is today described as South East Asia, used to be called as Greater India. Although the southern empires like the Cholas and Pandyas had undertaken military expeditions through the great oceans to expand their influence over remote islands like Borneo and Bali, it in effect remained cultural only to a great extent. The religion and culture of the benign colonisers were heartily welcomed by the subject societies leading to establishment of not only the religious customs and traditions but also large temples and monuments. From Bali in Indonesia to Cham areas in Vietnam to Angkor Vat ruins in Cambodia, the living and historical evidences of the influence of India is conspicuous to this day.

History progressed, and socio-politico-religious realities of these lands had undergone major changes over centuries. India too was preoccupied with its battles against the invaders for almost a millennium, and hence had no time for its cultural empire. Yet, the historical memories did not fade away. When the time came to unshackle from the imperialist yoke, India did not think only about itself, but the entire Asian neighbourhood. If Rishi Aurobindo talked about Asian renaissance as India’s historic responsibility, Gandhi and Nehru talked about Asian relations for anti-imperialist brotherhood.

In his address to a radio station in Tamil Nadu on the eve of independence, which also happened to be his birthday, Rishi Aurobindo talked about his five dreams.[i]  While advocating for freedom and unity for people of India as his first dream, Aurobindo turned to Asian resurgence as his second dream in which India had an important role to play. “Asia has arisen; large parts are now quite free or are at this moment being liberated; its other still subject or partly subject parts are moving through whatever struggles towards freedom. Only a little has to be done and that will be done today or tomorrow. There, India has her part to play and has begun to play it with energy and ability which already indicate the measure of her possibilities and the place she can take in the council of nations,” he exhorted.

A few months before Aurobindo’s exhortation came the Asian Relations Conference on 23-25 March 1947 called by Jawahar Lal Nehru with the objective of bringing about a “psychological revolution,” “a new imagination of Asia”. There were 230 delegates and observers from 30 countries at the conference, highlighting the faith and trust reposed by many of them in India’s leadership. A new ‘Asianism’ or ‘Third Worldism’ was born at the conference. Unlike the Asianism of India thus far, which was limited to the cultural remnants in Greater India, Nehru’s mission was to create an Asian federation that would eventually be a step in the direction of greater world federation. Interestingly, Aurobindo too talks about the same idea as his third dream a few months later.

Although Nehru declared that his intention was not “against anybody,” he and other speakers at the conference were equally categorical that the new Asianism would make sure that Asians wouldn’t become the “playthings of others”. There was a clear desire articulated by many speakers at the conference that Asia should be free of Western influences. It cannot be Communist either. Hence the idea that Asian nations should form a coalition as Third World countries.

Gandhi was invited to deliver a speech on the last day of the conference. He made certain interesting observations. Terming all wise men from Zoroaster to Buddha to Jesus to Mohammad – not to talk of Rama and Krishna – to be belonging to East, Gandhi emphasised on Asia’s antidotal message to the West. “What I want you to understand is the message of Asia. It is not to be learnt through the western spectacles or by imitating the atom bomb. In this age of democracy, in this age of awakening of the poorest of the poor, you can redeliver this message with the greatest emphasis. You will complete the conquest of the West, not through vengeance, because you have been exploited, but with real understanding. I am sanguine, if all of you put your hearts together – not merely heads – to understand the secret of the message these wise men of the East have left to us, and if we really become worthy of that great message, the conquest of the West will be completed. This conquest will be loved by the West itself”, Gandhi told the conference.[ii]

Asian Relations Conference did not survive for long. Nehru’s Asianism dream died its quiet death after the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned nations in Indonesia in 1955. But Asianism and Third Worldism did not die. Asianism survived through different experimentations in the region like EAS, SAARC, BIMSTEC and IORA. It manifested through the principle of ‘Neighbourhood First’ in 1990s and transformed into the principle of ‘together we grow’ under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Third Worldism took the shape of non-alignment in later years and ‘strategic autonomy’ today.

At a time when a new Cold War is beginning to threaten the world order, India needed to turn a leaf or two from the old-world politics of Asian centrality and strategic neutrality. More importantly, it should realise that it has a much bigger role to play in the world politics than what Nehru had intended to seven decades ago.

Asianism of the last century did not succeed partly because India and China – two large nations in the region – could not get along. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 had thrown water over Indian romanticism about leading the Third World with Asian centrality. But the fact that its immediate playground is its Asian neighbourhood was never forgotten. With the formation of SAARC and BIMSTEC, it tried to return to its pet theme. It evolved further when India became a full dialogue partner with ASEAN in 1995 and developed its own ‘Look East policy’.

Nelson Mandela, the legendary leader of South Africa visited India in the same year. That visit had resulted in the birth of another regional coalition called the Indian Ocean Rim Association – IORA. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, the Look East policy has been upgraded into Act East policy. Through these initiatives India tried to revive its Asianism theme. It had its Achilles’ Heel to its west in Pakistan and by extension the Arab and Islamic Middle East and West Asia. In the last few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has successfully attempted to overcome the jinx and build stronger ties with that region too.

While the 20th century ended with the collapse of the Cold War politics, the world did not remain multilateral for long. A new Cold War is taking shape in the new century with Eurasia and Indo-Pacific emerging as the epicentres of global power politics. Unlike the last century when the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States was fought in far away Pacific-Atlantic region, the new Cold War is raging in India’s immediate neighbourhood.

One of the central themes of the Asianism of 1940s and 50s was that Asia wouldn’t be allowed to become a playground of big power rivalry. In his Shangri La address in 2018 at Singapore, Prime Minister Modi reiterated it by insisting on Indo-pacific region to be inclusive and peaceful.[iii] Many Asian nations aspire for it as new war clouds gather in the region.

Like at the time of budding Asianism in the last century, China remains a challenge in this region now also. During the last Cold War, China benefitted massively by siding openly with America from 1970s onwards. China’s current economic prosperity is a gift of America in the 1980s and 90s. India cannot afford such politics because the new Cold War is being fought at its doorstep. Aggression of China in the Indo-Pacific region and formation of new military alliances like AUKUS led by America to counter that aggression have the potential to turn the Asian region into an Armageddon. Together, they will bring highest number of nuclear submarines in India’s backyard.

India needs to recalibrate its response to this evolving challenge carefully. Western Quad may be a romantic idea to checkmate China in UAE and Israel, but what is more important for India is the Indian Ocean region. Countries in this region look up to India as the biggest power in the neighbourhood. At the Asian Relations Conference, there were a large number of leaders present from this region and they were the most supportive of all to India’s leadership. In a way, it is India’s natural region of comfort.

India needs to invest more energy on this region. It’s relations with immediate neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, with whom it shares a strong cultural and people-to-people bonds, need greater attention. China’s footprints are all over in the region. India needs to go beyond its diplomats and build newer and firmer bridges with leaders and peoples in these countries.

There is a misplaced obsession with India’s soft power potential in its neighbourhood among sections of Indian political establishment. It is time we realised that soft power in its conventional form is an over-used and outlived concept. Need of the hour is smart or sharp power, where the cultural advantages are used strategically to secure national interests. Building an International Airport at the Buddhist pilgrim centre of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh by Modi government is one such example of smart power in action.[iv]

While we should continue to benefit from our growing bonds with America and other western powers, we must never give up on the core principles of foreign policy set at the time of independence that include Asian centrality, inclusivity, and strategic autonomy. While China is a ‘risen power,’ India is the ‘rising power’ in the region and if strategised well, it has the potential to play the pivotal role in building a ‘world union’ envisaged by Aurobindo and other leaders of independence on the basis of a resurgent Asianism.


Author Brief Bio: Shri Ram Madhav is an Indian politician, author and thinker who is the Former National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is a Member of the Board of Governors of India Foundation. He also serves as a Member of the National Executive of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).







Afghanistan and the New Grand Chessboard

The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan has triggered a new ‘Great Game’. From the time Tsarist Russia and the British Empire vied for influence in Central Asia, Afghanistan has been a pivot of great power rivalry. While London and Moscow avoided conflict and the British retreat from the subcontinent in 1947 provided a lull, things changed with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Moscow retreated a decade later, leading to the eventual rise of the Taliban, till the 2001 terror attacks on American soil led to US intervention. Washington’s retreat two decades later facilitated the Taliban’s return; its impact is reverberating across the globe.


Soon after Taliban walked unopposed into Kabul on 15 August 2021, President Joe Biden announced a security alliance on 15 September 2021, comprising Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, known now by its acronym – AUKUS.[1] This nuclear coalition was created to bypass a declining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and European Union (EU), balance the constraints of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), defend Taiwan, and contain China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. The AUKUS stunned Washington’s NATO and EU allies; France’s US$ 90 billion submarine deal with Australia was collateral damage.

Mocked by critics as an Anglo-Saxon pact, AUKUS is an alliance of three nations, neither of whom have land links with Eurasia. Britain, once the paramount naval power, is keen to return to Oceania, while the United States is the world’s preeminent naval power. Between them, they can provide heft to the Australian navy and help overcome Canberra’s concerns about a direct attack from Beijing, to which it has closest proximity. Australia was the natural choice to complete the alliance as it is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence gathering system presided over by the United States.

The new trilateral alliance was needed because pacts like A-NZ-US have long been dead. Moreover, New Zealand had opted for nuclear disarmament in 1985 and reiterated its decision to deny nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered ships access to its ports.[2] The European Union is not a military power and some members desire a truce with China that is now the EU’s largest trading partner and investor. Europe also relies on Russian oil and gas for energy. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is keen on a vast free trade area that includes China. Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin, however, welcomed the pact as ASEAN member states lack the military resources to maintain peace and security in the region.[3]

The key concern in Washington and London is Taiwan, which the People’s Republic of China may try to seize by force. Analyst Ram Madhav observes in the event of conflict in the Taiwan Straits, Washington would need Australia as a base as the Okinawa base in Japan has become obsolete with China’s improved missile capability.[4] The AUKUS Pact will bring the trio to Taiwan’s rescue. At the G7 summit in Cornwall, UK, in June 2021, Japan emphasised the importance of Taiwan’s security. Analyst Thierry Meyssan believes that Biden, Morrison and Johnson discussed the new alliance in Cornwall.[5]

The presence of Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton in Washington suggests the pact goes deeper than buying nuclear submarines and could cover space, missiles, quantum computing, cyber-warfare, underwater systems, long-range strike capabilities, artificial intelligence and grey warfare on the internet. Vice-Admiral David Johnston, Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force, also attended the White House meeting.

The AUKUS will equip Australia with Tomahawks and Hornet missiles and involve it in research into hypersonic missiles that can compete with Russian nuclear missiles.[6] Over 18-months, the allies will decide whether the British or American submarine is the best option for Canberra, along with workforce, shipyard and training needs. Construction would begin “within the decade” and the first submarines could be operational by end-2030s.

Diplomatic engagements, however, continue. On September 10, President Xi Jinping made a telephone call to President Biden to resolve the issue of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecom giant Huawei, who was detained in Canada at Washington’s request in December 2018. She was released on September 24 after all charges were dropped; simultaneously, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, held soon after Meng’s arrest, were released from Chinese jails and sent back to Canada.[7]

On September 28-29, the 16th round of US-PRC Defence Policy Coordination talks were held between Michael Chase, US deputy assistant secretary of defence for China, and Chinese Major General Huang Xueping, via video conference. In early September, Beijing urged Canberra to facilitate its joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, hinting at the need for cooperation despite some glitches (Beijing imposed punitive sanctions against Australia because Canberra sought an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic). In return for TPP-11 membership, Beijing could reopen its markets to Australian products before the elections of 2022.[8]

Meanwhile, President Biden spoke with President Macron on September 22; France agreed to send back the French ambassador to Washington.[9] The two leaders will meet in Europe in late October. It is pertinent that France is the only European nation with nearly two million citizens in the Indo-Pacific, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 11 million sq. km., and a military presence of 8,000 personnel. It is an important pillar of America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

President Macron also spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on telephone on September 21.[10] They reaffirmed a commitment to act jointly in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, including in the framework of the Europe-India relationship and European initiatives in the Indo-Pacific. Both leaders expressed concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, and urged the new authorities in Kabul to sever ties with international terrorism, permit humanitarian bodies to operate throughout the country, respect the fundamental rights of Afghan women and men, and permit evacuation operations to continue unhindered.


The burning question, after the AUKUS emerged as potentially the world’s most powerful military bloc, is how will it complement the Quad? The Quad members resent China’s claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, but have articulated a broad social agenda and shied away from being perceived as an “Asian NATO”. As India is the only member sharing a large land border with China, the advent of AUKUS has spared New Delhi from being “driven” into military confrontation outside its comfort zone. India’s goals are to protect its northern frontiers and the Indian Ocean Sea lanes.

Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla explained that the Quad is a “plurilateral grouping of countries with a shared vision of their attributes and values,” while the AUKUS is a trilateral security alliance.[11] Shringla said there is no link between the Quad and the Malabar naval exercise conducted by the navies of India, US and Japan, which Australia joined for the second consecutive year in 2021. However, the Quad agenda includes counterterrorism exercises and could include Quad-plus exercises such as the French-led La Perouse exercise in the Bay of Bengal in early 2021.

As the AUKUS and Quad summits were hosted simultaneously by President Biden, the Australian Prime Minister brought his intelligence chiefs for additional heft: Andrew Shearer (director general, Office of National Intelligence); Rachel Noble (head of Australian Signals Directorate); Mike Burgess (ASIO chief); and Paul Symon (chief of overseas spy network, Australian Secret Intelligence Service). They interacted with their counterparts from India and Japan during the Quad dialogue.

The Biden Administration had hosted the first-ever virtual summit of leaders in March 2021, and on September 24, it hosted the first in-person summit, attended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.[12] The Quad identified several areas of co-operation, notably COVID and Global Health (including delivering free vaccines in the Indo-Pacific); Infrastructure; Climate (including a Clean-Hydrogen Partnership); Critical and Emerging Technologies (including a Semiconductor Supply Chain Initiative; 5G Deployment and Diversification; Biotechnology Scanning); Cybersecurity (including sharing Satellite Data to Protect the Earth and its Waters); and People-to-People Exchange and Education (including a Quad Fellowship to nurture next-generation talent in all countries in the STEM fields).

The members observed that Beijing achieves supremacy by controlling technologies, building infrastructure and creating dependencies by encouraging debt. They proposed providing reliable alternatives to China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) by building better infrastructure, ensuring equitable growth, fighting climate change and controlling pandemics. Offering infrastructure could meet a felt need of developing countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Since 2015, the member countries have collectively delivered thousands of projects and over US$ 48 billion in official finance for infrastructure in the region.

The Coronavirus pandemic revived the altruistic spirit and Quad pledged to provide 1.2 billion Covid vaccine doses in the Indo-Pacific by 2022, in addition to doses financed through COVAX, India’s decision to resume export of Covid-19 vaccines, including to COVAX, beginning October 2021, was acclaimed widely.[13] A Quad-Plus group has been formed with New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam, to coordinate responses to the pandemic.

The meeting highlighted the security threats posed by China and Pakistan, and the need to monitor Pakistan’s ambitions in Afghanistan by ensuring that UN Security Council resolution 2593, passed in August under India’s presidency, is upheld. It urged that Afghan territory should not be used to shelter or train terrorists. The joint statement denounced “the use of terrorist proxies” (Pakistan-sponsored) and called for “denying any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to launch or plan terror attacks, including cross-border attacks”.[14]


On 17 September 2021, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon hosted the 21st meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in hybrid format. Prime Minister Modi, who attended virtually, highlighted the dangers of growing radicalisation and extremism in the broader SCO region and proposed that SCO consider working to promote moderation and scientific and rational thought with the region’s youth.[15] The SCO Summit was followed by an outreach session on Afghanistan between SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). In his message, Modi suggested that SCO develop a code of ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism in the region, and highlighted the risks of drugs, arms and human trafficking from Afghanistan.[16]

Iran entered the SCO as a full-fledged member. President Ebrahim Raisi expressed Iran’s desire to expand ties with countries in Central and East Asia.[17] He said Iran brings major geopolitical advantages to the group, including its large population, abundant mineral wealth and strategic location in the Middle East. China is keen to expand its BRI westward. Russian President Vladimir Putin observed that the MoU between the SCO Secretariat and Eurasian Economic Commission will further Russia’s idea of a Greater Eurasia Partnership covering the SCO, the Eurasian Economic Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the BRI.

After the Quad summit, some analysts suggested that India align completely with the United States and withdraw from the SCO. This is unwarranted as India straddles two tumultuous regions: Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific. It faces strategic and security challenges in Eurasia and needs the Indo-Pacific for trade. India’s main security concern is terrorism and Washington’s ability to restrain terrorist militias in Pakistan and Afghanistan has declined sharply. A favourable development is that Moscow and Beijing are also threatened by terror outfits in the Af-Pak region (IS-K, Al Qaeda, ETIM etc.)

The SCO is an Eurasian political, economic and security alliance, including three-fifths of the Eurasian landmass, 40 per cent of world population and over 20 per cent of global GDP. It promotes trade, cultural and humanitarian cooperation among its members and espouses a multipolar world order and adherence to the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. There is little merit in exiting this organisation. India is not an island, but a major Asian nation linked with the Eurasian landmass. It needs the goodwill of land neighbours to mitigate the challenges it faces. Currently, and in the foreseeable future, it faces no major threat in the IOR and thus should not lose the leverage afforded by a land-based fraternity. However, amidst fast-changing regional dynamics, India may benefit by focusing on strategic autonomy and Asian centrality. As great powers converge on the Indo-Pacific, it must concentrate on its neighbourhood while minding its strategic interests in Eurasia and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.


The assumption that some countries would be friendly towards the Taliban proved premature; at the time of writing even Islamabad had not recognised the new regime in Kabul. Iran refused recognition after the Taliban failed to form an inclusive government and its shabby treatment of (Shia) Tajiks and Hazaras. Ankara followed, angry at the exclusion of Turkmen (Turkish-speakers) in the cabinet. But the more serious problem is the surfacing of deep schisms within the Taliban barely a fortnight after its victory, which put a question mark on the regime’s longevity.

The Durand Line drawn by the British in 1893 and inherited by Pakistan in 1947, which divided the Pashtun community and was disowned by successive Afghanistan governments, is currently dividing the ‘moderates’ (Doha group) and ‘hardliners’ (Haqqani Network). The ‘moderates’ led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar favour inclusion of all ethnic groups and women in the cabinet so that the regime gains international approval; they oppose the Durand Line. The Haqqani Network that dominates the government, however, wishes to recognise the Durand Line in gratitude for Pakistan protecting and nurturing the group during the two decades of American occupation.

Differences erupted on September 3, 2021, with reports of fisticuffs between Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and a cabinet minister, and injuries on both sides as their respective followers opened fire. Reports of the incident and possible death of Baradar were strenuously denied even as Inter-Services Intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, rushed to Kabul on September 4 to help finalise the cabinet and entrench the Haqqani Network. Mullah Baradar disappeared from public view, surfacing only on September 13 in an audio clip claiming he was well. Later, in an interview to the state-run television, Baradar said he was travelling and denied any discord. In reply to a question, he said he could not meet Qatar foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on September 12 as he did not know that Al-Thani was coming!

However, on September 15, BBC reported that there were heated exchanges between Deputy Prime Minister Baradar and Minister for Refugees Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani at the presidential palace. The disputes centred on cabinet formation and who should take credit for the victory in Afghanistan. As it was a smooth takeover, Baradar felt credit was due to the diplomacy of the Doha group; the Haqqani group disagreed.[18] After the fight, Baradar reportedly went to Kandahar to confer with Haibatullah Akhundzada, Amir of the Emirate. Here again, mystery persists as the supreme leader has not been seen in public for over two years, not even after returning to Kandahar after the Taliban victory.

Kabul is also grappling with a financial crisis as Washington froze over US$ 9 billion in funds held in the US Federal Reserve after the Taliban took over the country. In August 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) froze over US$ 440 million in aid (due August 23, 2021) and blocked access to Special Drawing Rights assets that can be converted to government-backed money, due to “lack of clarity within the international community” over recognising a government in Afghanistan.[19] Soon, the World Bank suspended funding for projects in Afghanistan and the independent money transfer company, Western Union, suspended services to Afghanistan.

Lacking the financial resources to help the Taliban regime, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited several countries to garner support for Afghanistan. So far, Pakistan and Qatar have sent humanitarian aid (food and medicine) and China has pledged a minuscule US$ 31 million in aid. Pakistan National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf warned that the world faces the spectre of refugees, drugs, weapons, and transnational terrorism from a destabilised Afghanistan. Conceding that Taliban leaders need to govern Afghanistan more inclusively, he pleaded that the international community create a “conducive environment” or Pakistan would be left to “bear the brunt of any negative spillover from Afghanistan”.[20]

It is pertinent that the Taliban removed Uyghur freedom fighters from Afghanistan’s border with China. Unsurprisingly, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated, “China is our most important partner … [We] care a lot about the Belt and Road project…We own rich copper mines, which, thanks to the Chinese, will be modernised. Finally, China represents our ticket to the markets around the world”.[21] Scholar Andrew Small, however, believes that Beijing may make some modest investments, but longer-term investments would depend on there being enough stability and security to make them viable.

The financial crisis is severe; there are reports that Taliban fighters are pressing local people for money to buy fuel and food, even seizing food from people in Kunduz, Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan, Kapisa and Ghazni provinces. The Taliban is unable to pay its fighters in the provinces or salaries to public servants, or even settle import tariffs on containers of food that have arrived at Karachi port. Yet, it is adamant not to allow women and girls to return to their jobs and schools so that the country can receive international aid.

Taliban brutalities have sent waves of panic across the country. Despite formal promises of amnesty for those who served the previous regime, members of the Afghan diaspora are reporting revenge killings.[22] In several provinces, former officers of the Special Forces and women employees of the previous government have been killed at home, in front of their families. At times, family members were also murdered. The killings are filmed and sent to commanders in Arg.

On September 24, Taliban fighters forced 482 Hazara families to leave their homes in Gizab, Daikundi province, and bombed the houses when the families resisted. The people say this is “ethnic cleansing”. On October 10, journalists reported that a Taliban court gave 2000 Hazara families in the fifth district of Mazar city, Balkh province, three days to evacuate their homes.

A Shia Mosque bombed in Kunduz during Friday prayers on October 8 killed over 70 persons and injuring nearly 150; Islamic State-Khorasan claimed responsibility. On October 9, the fourth mass grave was found in Rokha district of Panjshir; all bodies had hands tied behind their backs. Unfazed by the rising sense of horror in the international community, Taliban co-founder Mullah Nooruddin Turabi told Associated Press that they will restore punishments such as executions and amputation of hands, though perhaps not in public. He said, “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

On October 15, the Islamic State attacked another Shia Mosque in Kandahar, causing heavy casualties that had not been counted at the time of writing.[23] Within hours of the attack came reports that Fatemiyoun (Fatimid Division) of Afghan Shia Hazara fighters, trained by late Gen Soleimani to fight Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, were returning from Syria. Some had returned in June after IS was marginalised. The development could make Iran a regional stakeholder in Afghanistan.

Impact in Pakistan

Pakistan soon witnessed violence in North and South Waziristan districts that impacted business and trade as the militants indulge in extortion and kill those who do not or cannot pay. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Quetta, Baluchistan that took many lives. Emboldened by the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, the TTP is promising to bring Sharia to Pakistan, causing concern in Islamabad.[24]

The October 1 ceasefire between Islamabad and the TTP collapsed almost immediately as the TTP hit a military vehicle in Spinwam, North Waziristan, killing five Frontier Corps soldiers on October 2. On October 4, TTP claimed to have killed two Pakistani soldiers in Ghariom Tehsil, North Waziristan. Further, reports suggest that East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and TTP were behind the Dasu terror attack that killed nine Chinese on July 14, 2021, and the August 20 attack by a suicide bomber on Gwadar East Bay expressway project, killing two Pakistanis and injuring three persons, including a Chinese national. More significantly, Islamic State-Khorasan and al Qaeda are operating independently after their cadres were released from Afghan prisons in August. The IS-K was behind the terror attack on Kabul Airport on August 26, while the United States was evacuating its embassy staff and allies; it aimed at undermining the Taliban.[25] The TTP reportedly receives ideological guidance from al-Qaeda and funds from Islamic State.

Anti-Taliban resistance

Military experts say the National Resistance Front (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud, former vice president Amrullah Saleh and former minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi needs to recapture Badakshan province to link Tajikistan and Panjshir, in order to have a winning chance. It is pertinent that as Washington was planning its final withdrawal, the Taliban employed a sophisticated drone unit to assassinate Piram Qul, an ethnic Uzbek warlord and veteran of the anti-Soviet war in the 1980s.[26] Qul joined many anti-Taliban Afghan factions, including Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Jamiati-i-Islami; his stronghold was in Takhar province on the Tajikistan border. He was assassinated on May 2, 2021, after which the Taliban moved against Atta Muhammad Noor (Ustad Atta), a powerful ethnic Tajik, former governor of Balkh province and overlord of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. His home was attacked on July 1, when he was hosting a meeting with other warlords and politicians.[27] Though Atta escaped unhurt, he disappeared by the time the Taliban captured Mazar-e-Sharif on August 14.

However, a section of the Afghan army fled to Uzbekistan when the Taliban approached Kabul.[28] As the Taliban fails to provide food, water, medicines and economic security, and IS-K and/or al Qaeda operate in the country, Moscow may be forced to allow an anti-Taliban force to support the Panjshir Resistance from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Russia could underwrite the security of both nations via the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). New Delhi could offer passive support as it fears that Taliban rule could inspire radical Sunni fighters in Kashmir.

International Diplomacy

The annual meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), scheduled for September, was cancelled by the foreign ministers’ meeting (September 23, 2021) after Islamabad insisted on including the Taliban regime that has not been recognised by the international community.[29]

The British representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, met with Taliban leaders, including acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi of Taliban’s political office in Qatar, on October 5, to discuss aid to mitigate Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.[30] Gass stressed the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming an incubator for terrorism, and the need for continued safe passage for those wanting to leave the country. He raised the issue of treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls.

Russia has invited Taliban representatives to join international talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on October 20, which India has agreed to join.[31] A US delegation met with Taliban representatives in Doha on October 9 and 10, 2021.[32]The State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated that the US delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US citizens, other foreign nationals and America’s Afghan partners, besides human rights, and the participation of women and girls in society. The US expressed a desire to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people.


Author Brief Bio: Sandhya Jain is a political analyst, independent researcher, and author of multiple books. She is also editor of the platform Vijayvaani



[2] AFP, Australian nuclear submarines will be banned from New Zealand waters, Sep 16, 2021.

[3] RFA, Philippines Throws Support Behind AUKUS Pact, 19 September 2021.

[4] OPEN magazine, The Middle Path, Ram Madhav  | 29 Sep, 2021.

[5] Voltaire Network, The AUKUS preparing a nuclear war to sustain Taiwan, Thierry Meyssan, Sep 23, 2021.

[6] India Narrative, US, UK equipping Australia with nuclear submarines as AUKUS alliance is born to counter China, Sep 16, 2021.

[7] BBC, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou freed by Canada arrives home in China, Sep 25, 2021.

[8] Reuters, China applies to join Pacific trade pact to boost economic clout, Sep 17, 2021.

[9] CNN, Biden holds first call with French President Macron since diplomatic crisis erupted, Sep 22, 2021.

[10] India Today, PM Modi, French President Macron discuss bilateral collaboration in Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan situation. Sep 21, 2021.

[11] NDTV, Quad To Remain Unaffected By Australia-UK-US Alliance: Foreign Secretary Sep 21, 2021.

[12] Economic Times, The ‘Quad’ meets in the White House as China looks warily on, Sep 27, 2021.

[13] India Today, India’s decision to resume export of Covid-19 vaccines, Sep 25, 2021.

[14] Joint Statement from Quad Leaders, Sep 24, 2021.

[15] PIB, Prime Minister virtually participates in 21st Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Sep 17, 2021.

[16] The Hindustan Times, Global community must ensure Afghan soil is not used for terrorism: Modi at SCO-CSTO meet, Sep 17, 2021.

[17] RepublicWorld, Iran’s President Raisi Calls For Enhancing Economic Ties With SCO Members In Tajikistan, Sep 17, 2021.

[18] BBC, Afghanistan: Taliban leaders in bust-up at presidential palace, sources say, Sep 15, 2021.

[19] BBC, IMF suspends Afghanistan’s access to funds, August 19, 2021.,of%20the%20country%20last%20weekend.

[20] The Hindu, Pakistan can’t accept more Afghan refugees, says NSA, Sep 16, 2021.

[21] LiveMint, China is our most important partner, say Taliban, Sep 3, 2021.

[22] BBC, Afghanistan crisis: Taliban kill civilians in resistance stronghold, Sep 13, 2021.

[23] The Guardian, Heavy casualties’ as explosion hits Shia mosque in Afghanistan, October 15, 2021.

[24] BBC Urdu, Violence surges in Pakistan’s tribal belt as Taliban, IS-K go on attack, October 14, 2021.

[25], ISIS-K: The group behind the Kabul airport attack sees the Afghan Taliban as a strategic rival, Aug 27, 2021.

[26] Newlines magazine, The Drone Unit that Helped the Taliban Win the War, Sep 15, 2021.

[27] Tolonews, Mortar Hits Residence of Atta Noor, Ex-Balkh Governor, July 1, 2021.

[28] Reuters, Uzbekistan says hundreds of Afghan soldiers flee over border with dozens of aircraft, August 16, 2021.

[29] Outlook, SAARC Summit Stands Cancelled As Pakistan Insists On Taliban’s Participation, Sep 22, 2021.

[30] Aljazeera, British PM’s envoy holds talks with Taliban in Afghanistan, Oct 5, 2021.

[31] Indian Express, India accepts Russia’s invite for talks with Taliban next week: Oct 15, 2021.

[32] U.S. Delegation Meeting with Senior Taliban Representatives in Doha, Oct 10, 2021.


Non-State Actors and the Emerging Security Challenges – Islamic State of Khorasan in Perspective


With the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan the entire geo-strategic environment in greater South Asia has taken a turn for the worse. The Taliban’s ascent to power poses reconfiguration of the strategic dynamics in the region. Contrary to the general perception, it is not the Taliban that would be the net contributor to the security volatility in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Currently there are close to a dozen radical Islamic non-state outfits operating in Afghanistan. However, the most powerful and dreaded of them happen to be the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K). The radical intervention of the IS-K, in the region’s geopolitical affairs, can be deeply problematic.

This essay has four key objectives. First, it argues why failures in governance leads to that political entity becoming an attractive haven for non-state actors such as terrorist outfits. It does so by introducing the theory of state failure to explain this phenomenon. While staying on that theme, it suggests, how a collapsed state, such as Afghanistan under the Taliban, lacking recognition (both internal and external) has become the preferred destination for many non-state actors with ambitions of undermining regional stability.

Second, while staying on the topic of non-state actors it examines the ideological and strategic characters of the Islamic State in general and IS-K in particular. Third, it suggests why the Taliban and the IS-K having their origins in the same religion and a shared radical outlook find themselves in the opposite sides of the ring. Fourth, the essay maps out the future security challenges emanating from the IS-K beyond Afghanistan.

In the conclusion, this essay proposes, that given this all-encompassing threat, the states in the region will do well by shifting their focus from the traditional inter-state conflict dynamics and devote their energy and resource to tackling the growing menace of IS-K.

State Collapse

Afghanistan, prior to the Taliban takeover on 15 August 2021, was a failed state. However, given the manner of their ascent to power, the country’s subsequent isolation from the international community precipitated the state failure leading to a state collapse.

According to realist international relations theory, viable states are characterised by high degrees of socio-political cohesion. They also possess the ability to respond to the citizens’ everyday needs on a continual basis. These attributes allow them to withstand all manners of security challenges. A weak, failing and collapsed state, by contrast, is one that not only lacks internal socio-political cohesion but are incapable of addressing the multi-dimensional security needs of its citizenry. These weak, failing or collapsed states, as Barry Buzan puts it, exist in a “condition of effective civil war which mirrors all the worst and none of the best features of viable states (Buzan, 1991: 100-101).

Weak, failing or a collapsed states are plagued by several security deficiencies. They face fundamental existential challenges emanating from ethnic, tribal, cultural, religious contestations leading to social fragmentation along those lines. Such internal divisive dynamics severely undermine the effective functioning of the state and in turn create security and strategic nightmares for that country and those adjacent to it.

States are the fundamental units of the international system and are responsible for maintaining both order and justice within their defined borders and behave as responsible members of the global community (Misra, 2004: 11). A collapsed state, by contrast is one which not only lacks legitimacy within but is also shunned by the international community. Lacking respectability at home and abroad, it soon fails to live up to its fundamental role of addressing the question of internal order and international personality.

Compared to a ‘viable state’ a ‘collapsed state’ is often at a disadvantage when it comes to defending itself from corrupt and destabilising forces or ideas (Misra, 2004: 9). Stripped bare of resources to maintain the process of governance and existing on the margins of international society as pariahs, owing to the lack of legal recognition, collapsed states are vulnerable to invidious external influences and intervention by non-state actors. Owing to this existential vacuum for the regime, many competing and contending non-state actors flock to the borders of this collapsed state to act out their own religious and political vision.

Collapsed states are a calamitous challenge for their citizenry and neighbours. Without a legally recognised government, the citizens in a collapsed state are more likely to come under the influence of radical non-state actors and their spurious ideologies. Since the authority of the central government is contested, many anti-state actors can take advantage of the prevailing chaos and enlist supporters to undermine the authority of the regime and freely export their own spurious ideologies.

For Robert I. Rotberg, an early proponent of the theory of state collapse, a collapsed state is characterised by “tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous, and contested bitterly by warring factions. In most failed states, government troops battle armed revolts led by one or more rivals. Occasionally, the official authorities in a failed state face two or more insurgencies, varieties of civil unrest, different degrees of communal discontent, and a plethora of dissent directed at the state and at groups within the state (Rotberg, 2003: 5). The prevalent atmosphere in Afghanistan under the Taliban easily fits the definition of a collapsed state as spelt out by Rotberg’s study.

The Taliban are painfully conscious of the fact that they have inherited a dysfunctional economy, a fearful citizenry, a civil society in flight, a near-total absence of foreign reserves, a hostile international system, and ambiguous external supporters and partners. To make matters worse, Afghanistan, under the previous government, was dependent on external aid to cover 75 percent of its budget. The Afghan economy is already in a free fall with a tumbling national currency and a deep financial crisis. Under the circumstances, Afghanistan fast slid into a state collapse whereby the regime failed to address both the human security as well as material security needs of its citizenry.

A violent cartographic vision

The elephant in the room, of course, is IS-K. Before we consign Afghanistan and the region to its vortex of violence, it would be worth asking what the nature and character of this outfit is. What does it stand for? What makes it different from another terror organisation such as the Taliban?

IS-K was set up in January 2015 at the height of IS’s power in Iraq and Syria, before its self-declared caliphate was defeated and dismantled by a US-led coalition (Gardner, 2021). In IS geopolitics, the physical space of occupied Syria and Iraq is the heartland of the end of the world of Islam. Its eastward flank constitutes the Islamic State of Khorasan / IS-K (Giustozzi, 2018). The Islamic State announced its expansion to the Khorasan region in 2015, which historically encompasses parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The eastern territorial flanks dominated by the Muslims came to be known as the Khorasan province that necessitated taking over by IS faithful and soldiers. With that objective in mind, the IS had announced its expansion into the Khorasan region way back in 2015. Historically, the region encompassed parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While the original Islamic State (IS) was decimated through the armed campaigns by the U.S. and a host of international actors in 2019, it managed to permeate its cartographic and strategic vision among those who subscribed to its ideology long before its demise. According to the geopolitical vision prior to its decimation, the landmass of Iraq and Syria constituted the heartland of Islam (Misra, 2015). Once displaced, plenty of ISIL fighters escaped to the chaotic landscape of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the eastern arm of their prophetic land. Once in this terrain, they have been responsible for internecine turf war with other established militant groups in the region – including the Taliban – and have unleashed their terror on both non-combatant and military targets. While the coalition forces have come under their attack in over hundreds of occasions, it is the civilian populace that have borne the brunt of their violence. IS-K has been responsible for killing innocent civilians, nurses, doctors, pregnant women and children.

In the latest of its attacks, it killed nearly two hundred people near Kabul airport which included 13 U.S. servicemen. Ever since, they have been on a killing spree across Afghanistan – mostly targeting minority Shia community members and other Taliban interests. Ousted from Syria and Iraq, the IS is in desperate search for a homeland. The crises in Afghanistan with a Muslim populace suits its core objective of using it as its base. Since the IS-K has to establish a safe haven for itself in areas of Afghanistan that the Taliban have been controlling for some time, and the Taliban have not agreed to share space with this emerging competitor, there have been these sporadic clashes between the two (Guistozzi, 2001).

The core differences

According to some analysts, the global Islamic State movement is also now depicting Afghanistan as the epicentre of its ideological struggle. The group’s main propaganda organs have trumpeted the successes of its Afghan affiliate, describing the anti-Taliban campaign in an official statement as a “new stage in the blessed jihad” (George,Warrick & DeYoung, 2021). It is worth mentioning, that the Taliban have fought with the IS(K) since its emergence in 2015. During the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan both the groups fought against the external forces as well as against each other. IS-K and the Taliban have been locked in bloody battles with one another for some time.

In recent months, the Taliban has intercepted and killed several IS assassins across Afghanistan. But why this armed encounter between two radical Islamic militant outfits? One is, of course, perturbed by the fact that if both were fighting against the external occupation of Afghanistan, why were they not partners? Why do IS-K and the Taliban clash as militant organisations? To answer these questions, we need to examine the core ideological and political difference that exists between the two. As Frank Gardner, BBC’s long-term security correspondent argues, IS-K have major differences with the Taliban, accusing them of abandoning Jihad and the battlefield in favour of a negotiated peace settlement hammered out in “posh hotels” in Doha, Qatar. Similarly, IS-K considers Taliban militants “apostates,” making their killing lawful under their interpretation of Islamic law (Gardner, 2021).

In terms of its ideological and strategic rivalry, the IS-K hates the Taliban as much as the West (The Economist, 2021). According to a Deutsche Welle analysis, “an ideological gulf separates the two militant groups. While the IS belongs to the Salafist movement of Islam; the Taliban adhere to the Deobandi school (DW, 2021).

This is substantiated by several critics. According to a contemporary observer of IS, Afzal Ashraf.

While the Taliban seems content — at least for now — with an emirate for themselves within Afghanistan, the Islamic State group in Afghanistan and Pakistan strives to establish a caliphate throughout South and Central Asia and has also embraced the Islamic State’s call for a worldwide jihad against non-Muslims (Ashraf, DW, 2021).

With that objective in view, it has established parallel government structures and cells across Afghanistan. This strategy was revealed upon the Taliban’s killing of IS(K)’s shadow governor in the Nangarhar province in mid-October 2021. One might ask what objection the IS(K) should have when there is a fellow Islamic regime is in power in Afghanistan? IS-K views the Afghan Taliban both as its strategic rival in a saturated militant landscape, and as an ideological opponent (Jadoon, Mines & Sayed, 2021). Furthermore, IS-K smears the Taliban’s efforts to form an emirate based on national boundaries, which is directly opposed to the Islamic State’s vision of a global caliphate (Jadoon, Mines & Sayed, 2021).

Apart from the larger geopolitical objective of creating a larger Islamic umma across the Muslim world in the Middle East and South and Central Asia, IS also has its specific take on a rule-based Islamic legal governance. Its gripe with the Taliban stems from the fact that the latter is not interpreting and following an orthodox Sharia law. “For IS-K, the Taliban’s views are not strict enough. IS fighters have called the Taliban apostates and bad Muslims because of their willingness to negotiate a peace deal with the United States. By doing so, they betrayed the goals of the jihad, IS fighters said (DW, 2021).”

According to its original ideological precept, to rid the Islamic world of adversaries who do not follow “true” Islamic principles necessitates an epic military engagement. But to engage its foes in this grand war, IS needs to take the combat to them. It knows that attacking its foes on their own turf will force them to join its cause (Misra, 2015). This might explain the IS-K’s terror engagement with another terror outfit such as the Taliban. Furthermore, IS-K’s activism in the region is linked to the question of its very survival. After having been routed in Iraq and Syria, the group is in desperate need to find a host geography from where to operate. As Graeme Wood in his engaging essay on the Islamic State has very eloquently put it: “Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding” (Wood, 2015).

Given Af-Pak regions porous ethno-geographical borders and a relatively receptive audience, the group rightly believes the region offers the best striking chance to regroup, return to its activism and establish a new homeland for its ideology and governance. The IS-K’s moves in this regard is a strategic shift borne out of pure necessity. It rightly feels the Taliban and the Pakistani state cannot compete with it, either in terms of its specific brand of violence or building an oppositional consensus based on a specific borderless Islamic worldview. That being the objective, it is likely to up the ante.

In terms of strategic parity, there is a lot of difference between the Taliban and the IS-K. While the Taliban is in possession of a state, the IS-K remains stateless. Similarly, while the Taliban is playing to assume the identity of a legitimate government, the IS-K will forever remain a terrorist front. Added to that is the issue of military equivalence between the two.  “The Islamic State has far fewer fighters in Afghanistan than the Taliban — roughly 2,000 according to the latest United Nations estimate, compared to Taliban ranks estimated at more than 70,000 — but many fear it could grow if the Taliban fractures or if disaffected Taliban members seeking a return to the battlefield peel off to join other groups” (George,Warrick & DeYoung, 2021).

This inherent strategic imbalance, however, is unlikely to deter IS-K from undertaking larger and bolder terror objectives.  The group and its sleeper cells are also emboldened by the fact that they represent a strand within Afghanistan-Pakistan region who are receptive to a radical Islamic politics but do not necessarily identify with the Taliban’s core ideology.

Terrorists against a terrorist regime

The linkage between state collapse and terrorism is conclusively established by several different academic and policy studies (Zartman, 1995; Rotberg, 2003; Misra, 2004; Fukuyama, 2006). In fact, one of the key indicators of state collapse is the growth of criminal violence in the country under review (Rotberg, 2003: 5).

Afghanistan under the Taliban is experiencing prolonged encounters with non-state terrorists, growing threat of radicalisation, violent sectarianism and cross-border terrorist infiltration. Paradoxical as it may seem, there are nearly half-a-dozen non-state terrorist outfits operating in the country whose key intention is to undermine the authority of the ruling regime and undermine the stability in the region. Prominent of these outfits with the most likely lethal power is the Islamic State of Khorasan (henceforth IS-K). The group has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks on the Taliban interests and Afghan civilians killing hundreds in the process.

After orchestrating a swift control of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, the Taliban were quick to declare their victory over their U.S. and NATO detractors. What they did not count on was the dissent and opposition within. “After taking over Afghanistan last month, the Taliban claimed that security “has been assured” and that the county was taken out of the “quagmire of war”. But a series of attacks carried out by an affiliate of the ISIL/ ISIS, the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K) group in recent weeks has shattered the claims of security (Haris & Latifi, 2021).

The Islamic State “has positioned Afghanistan as a foremost priority — both in terms of media and military activity — since the withdrawal of the U.S. and the Taliban’s subsequent takeover” (George,Warrick & DeYoung, 2021). Sworn rivals of the Taliban, the IS-K pose the biggest threat to Afghanistan and regional peace.

In Afghanistan, the IS-K has emerged as “the most significant threat to the Taliban’s dominion as well as to public safety. So far, the Taliban has failed to contain the terrorists, who have staged numerous attacks (Raghavan, 2021).” Although the Taliban have expressed in the past their commitment to an Afghanistan where the country’s territory cannot be used by other non-state actors for their own ideological cause (Misra, 2021), given their tenuous hold over the country they are unlikely to be in a position to thwart the IS-K threat. The entire IS-K initiative is of extreme concern to the ruling regime in Kabul. Whether the new regime is going to be primarily Pashtun-led, a government of national unity, an inclusive political formation or an extremely conservative one, irrespective of the nature and character this new government, the challenges it is likely to face from the IS-K can be debilitating.

Should the IS-K cells and operatives decide to rupture the Taliban’s authority, the latter cannot maintain its sovereignty effectively. There are two reasons why the new regime will find it hard to address the challenges coming from these operatives. First, the members belonging to this outfit in the country are not necessarily Arabs – to whom IS ideology is originally attributed to. Most of IS-K members are indigenous Afghans who may be outwardly sympathetic to the Taliban but could be maintaining a hard-line position in private. They are not necessarily bought over by the current regimes ideological disposition and outlook on governance.

IS-K has the capacity to easily blend into the mainstream and attack the interests of the Afghan state with relative ease. It is this inability to distinguish and differentiate them from the rest which would prove extremely challenging to the regime – should it decide to weed them out at some point. If it does try to confront IS-K in the home territory, then, the regime stands being exposed to violent surprise attacks in every possible context and scenario. Pursuing a live and let live policy is not going to be of any help to the Taliban either. Turning a blind eye to their militancy stands capsizing the very effectiveness of the Taliban’s core ideology, governance and ultimately regime survival.

If events on the ground are anything to go by, it amply proves that Afghanistan will remain the playground of various radical Islamic outfits. That its future is going to be mired by bouts of sectarian violence is proved by the indiscriminate suicide bomb attacks by IS-K and perhaps many other radical outfits. These gory events demonstrate the fact that the regime is incapable of addressing these threats. Present day Afghanistan is a country rife with suicide bombings and empty of liveable opportunities. With al Qaeda sleeper cells operating throughout the country, the IS-K intermittent bombings, and the neighbouring Uighur radical Islamic incursion, in all likelihood Afghanistan will slide back into a terrorist safe haven fairly soon.

Proliferation of IS-K radicalism

The Af-Pak areas have been plagued by the perennial problem of lack of credible government presence. The area has lacked enough government both visible and invisible to enforce law. As the state has remained weak in the periphery and at times non-existent, it has remained in the grip of non-state violence.

IS-K is “a complex and fluid amalgam of extremist ideologies and actors. Its reach is spilling over from its traditional stronghold in Nangarhar and risks inflaming sectarian fissures as far afield as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China, and India” (Muggah & Rohozinski, 2021). What is, at the moment, a small but highly active offensive against the Taliban-led government, the IS-K dynamics of insurgent violence is likely to spread to the rest of Afghanistan and the region. Unlike the Taliban, which has its focus on Afghanistan, IS-K exhibits regional and millenarian ambitions such as uniting Muslims across South Asia, Central Asia and beyond (Muggah & Rohozinski, 2021). Given that Pakistan is imploding with the rise of several hard-line radical religio-political movements, it is a matter of time before the IS-K finds a favourable condition to spread its mayhem into the neighbouring areas.

The gravity of IS-K threat is well appreciated in the upper echelons of military circles in Pakistan. Despite Pakistan having a history of hobnobbing with various terrorist outfits, for the better part of its career as a newly independent country, there is reckoning among the military as well as political leadership in the country, that they can ill afford the rise of a violent militant outfit such as IS-K which seeks to undermine the very basis of nation-state. In its bid to stem the rising tide of IS-K, the government in Islamabad has undertaken several concrete steps. Principal among these is relaying “raw information as well as helping the Taliban to monitor phone and Internet communication to identify IS-K members and operational hubs” (George,Warrick & DeYoung, 2021).

Although neither a failing state like its immediate neighbour Pakistan, or a collapsed state like Afghanistan under the Taliban, India is nonetheless a vulnerable state when it comes to countering the influence and expansionism of IS-K.  India’s challenging internal religious make up and territorial insurgencies would prove a fertile ground for IS-K’s permeation. An ongoing Islamic insurgency in the restive union territory of Jammu and Kashmir can facilitate establishment of alliances between indigenous and external militants. New Delhi is intimately conscious of the likely impact of a violent IS-K uprising in Afghanistan. Already, security and intelligence agencies in India are bracing for armed attacks by the group in India’s troubled territory of Jammu and Kashmir (Sharma, 2021).

Added to that are the fears of IS-K inspired radicalisation in various pockets throughout India with known history of Islamic insurgency. Indian recruits have featured prominently in several recent IS terror undertakings. In the year 2020, while claiming responsibility for the Nangarhar jailbreak in eastern Afghanistan, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)’s propaganda wing released photographs of 11 attackers, including three Indian recruits from the south-eastern province of Kerala (Basit & Sinan Siyech, 2020). This attack came in the back of 25 March 2020 attack on a Sikh Gurudwara in Kabul by the IS-K which killed some 25 innocent civilians. According to the IS press release, following the incidence, one of four-member team that was behind this attack was an Indian (Dixit, 2020). Mohammed Mushin aka Abu Khalid al-Hindi who was a member of this team came from Kerala’s Kasargod district who had earlier joined the Islamic State.

That the IS and its eastern wing IS-K, is serious about promoting large-scale religious violence in India is proven by the fact that since February 2020, it is bringing out a monthly propaganda magazine called Voice of Hind, with exclusive coverage of events in India. Despite this outreach, critics have repeatedly argued that IS finding a sympathetic audience in India will be marginal. According to this view, “at its peak, IS successfully recruited over 40,000 supporters and sympathisers using the internet and social media platforms from 120 countries around the world. Yet Indians did not amount to more than 200 according to the most liberal figures (Basit & Sinan Siyech, 2020).

True, while IS recruiting drive among Indian Muslims may have been a lacklustre affair in the past, it is unlikely to remain so in the future. Indian radical Islamist’s participation in any future IS-K undertaking is likely to grow and consolidate. This is due to three key factors. First, the previous IS Caliphate undertaking was geographically in a faraway part of the world. This had limited resonance on the Indian sympathisers to the cause. A full-blown IS-K insurgency in Af-Pak region would prompt a sizeable number of participants from India to engage in its ideological and militant cause.

Second, as Raffaello Pantucci, Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) puts it, “India was the birthplace of the Deobandi movement, a sect that was a source of ideas for the Taliban, and the conflict in Kashmir has for years been a rallying cry for extremist groups” (Pantucci, 2020). Third, worryingly, Islamic State-Khorasan’s modest territorial footprint in Afghanistan and Pakistan is bolstered by a widening digital presence across Central and South Asia (Muggah, and Rohozinski, 2021). Simply put, despite having a robust governing structure, India is likely to fall prey to the IS-K terror cells owing to the above two reasons. Given various degrees of dissent among some Indian Muslims towards the state, the IS-K would reach out to this constituency, not only to stay relevant among a melee of various terror outfits operating in the region but also to rebuild its ranks.


The US and NATO troop withdrawal from the country has provided a “god-sent” opportunity to a whole host of violent jihadi groups whose primary objective is to ferment chaos and perpetuate anarchy. The battle between rival powers to gain strategic depth in the chaotic Afghanistan-Pakistan region is not a turf war between various state and non-state actors as many observers and analysts would like to point. It is a battle for the very political survival of many actors who have a stake in the larger geopolitical future in the region.

While the Taliban will be busy maintaining its control over the restive population of Afghanistan, there will be one or more key non-Taliban radical forces who would seek to undermine the security in the Af-Pak region and the greater South Asia. For the key actors in the region each will be driven by their own realpolitik concerns. Their respective conduct will be based more on practical rather than principled, moral, or even ideological considerations. Contrary to general strategic scripts, the Taliban has as much an interest in undermining the IS-K as other polities such as Pakistan and India. For the Taliban, reigning in the IS-K will be the very basis to its own political survival in the deeply divided fractious politics of Afghanistan.

It is bad news for everyone. The hardliner, the liberal the secular and the autocratic states are all going to face the heat when it comes to the rise and expansion of the IS-K. As for the regional actors, perhaps it is too early to send out torches and pitch forks to deal with the growing menace of IS-K. But it does not hurt to be prudent and follow a pragmatic policy of greater vigilance to address the likely security threat of this groups sympathisers and affiliates across the greater South Asian region.

Author Brief Bio : Prof Amalendu Misra, PhD, is a Professor of International Politics, Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. 


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  6. The Economist (2021) ‘What is the Islamic State Khorasan Province?’, 27August.
  7. Wood, Graeme (2015) ‘What ISIS Really Wants’, The Atlantic, March.

24. Zartman, I William (1995) Collapsed States The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.


Future of India-Afghan Relations

Asia primarily has four regional security complexes, namely West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and South Asia. Afghanistan occupies a location of geo-strategic importance as it lies on the periphery of all four, without merging into any of them. It is one of the few nations that remained neutral during the two world wars. Afghanistan has been more of an insulator, than a buffer, between these four complexes. Despite strong forces in its neighbourhood, it has retained its inherent characteristics of internal warlordism, cross-border terrorism and drugs trade.

The Taliban, which has now taken over Afghanistan, were earlier in power from 1996 till 2001. That rule was characterised by a harsh Islamic law, discrimination against women, providing patronage to terrorism and opium cultivation. Only three countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan accorded formal recognition to that government. Origins of the Taliban lie in the guerrilla training of young Pashtuns in the Pakistani seminaries in the cross-border Pashtun belt. A doctrinal mix of a more moderate ‘Pashtunwali’ and a fundamentalist Islam has resulted in an inconsistent ideology, this asymmetry being a source of a larger divide in the Taliban.

Though the Afghanistan political matrix has undergone great changes since 1973, Taliban has retained its significance therein, despite the loss of its founder leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and thousands of its cadres. Its ideology has been shaped by the regional security environment and the fact that Afghanistan is a land locked country, which makes befriending Pakistan and Iran a prerequisite for trade and survival.

Regional Dynamics

The neighbouring regions of Central Asia and West Asia, particularly West Asia, are torn by internal conflicts and intervention of major powers. They are global destabilisers. Geopolitical and security literature has termed these areas as shatterbelts[i]. Afghanistan, lying between these two regions, itself is facing a combination of civil wars and interventionist actions of other countries, often leading to great power competition.

Rawalpindi has always exercised significant financial, diplomatic and operational control over the guerrilla activities of Taliban. The Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), a military outfit, was present at the initial government formation at Kabul in September 2021. Pakistan seeks a Taliban-controlled government in Kabul to secure its western borders and keep the Durand Line quandary under control. Pakistan’s rivalry with India has prompted the latter to consider Afghanistan as a form of operational strategic depth. Afghanistan has thus become a secondary theatre of this rivalry.

The Taliban leadership is well aware of these historically adversarial relations between its former mentor, Pakistan, and its beneficiary, India. This has given the Taliban leadership a chance to take advantage of both sides. Recent incidents in the narcotics trade can be viewed from this angle. Nonetheless, this opens a window of opportunity for India.

The Taliban Leadership

The Taliban leadership council is called the Rahbari Shura or the Quetta Shura. It decides on all political and military matters and operates a shadow government through nine commissions and three administrative organs, akin to the ministries of the Taliban government. Most of the Taliban leadership are from the Mujahideen and received their schooling in Afghanistan. Their ideology, thus, is more related to the Afghan tribal way of life.

When Pakistan created the Taliban in the 1990s, inductees were mostly Pashtuns from the madrassas in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Ideology of the new inductee Pashtuns was different from that of Afghanistan. The movement’s ideology has transformed over the past two decades from a ‘traditionalist’ Islam conforming to the concepts of Eastern Pashtun villages to one more characteristically conforming with the Arab world. Anand Gopal and Alex Strick van Linschoten, in their June 2017 paper “Ideology in the Afghan Taliban”, have made three important observations regarding dynamism of Taliban ideology[ii].

  • Firstly, though the Taliban’s ideology was rooted in the pre-1979 rural South Pashtun, and did get distorted during the civil war, it was never allowed to become an alien phenomenon, or a product of extremist Pakistani madrassas.
  • Secondly, the original Taliban’s ideology has undergone a metamorphosis from Pashtunwali and is now closer to the Arab form of political Islam. The objectives and methodology have shifted in important ways.
  • Thirdly, the Taliban’s actions never reflected an unreasoned imitation of an ideology. They have been the result of an internal logic, reflecting a pragmatic concern for statecraft.

Taliban’s Relations with Major Terrorist Groups

The current multi-layered leadership of Taliban is a mix of war veterans from the Mujahideen and guerrilla warfare trainees of the ISI from madrassas in Pakistan. Their occupational activities have brought them in contact with other terrorist groups. Some significant linkages are as under.

  • Al-Qaeda. Taliban is a nationalist movement of Afghanistan, whereas al-Qaeda has acquired a global footprint. The latter is bound to the Taliban by a pledge of allegiance, “bay’ah,” which was first offered in the 1990s by Osama Bin Laden to Mullah Omar and which has been renewed several times since, though not always publicly acknowledged by the Taliban.[iii] It is unlikely that the Taliban will sever their ties with the al-Qaeda, now that they hold power, despite the assurances given in the Doha Agreement in February 2020.
  • Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The (Afghanistan) Taliban received active support from TTP which is ideologically intertwined with groups like al-Qaeda. The TTP too has pledged “Bayah” to the Afghan Taliban, which is a matter of concern to Pakistan. The TTP aims to make Pakistan a Sharia compliant state and their attacks on the Pakistani forces have intensified after Kabul fell to the Taliban.[iv]
  • Islamic State. The Taliban has reportedly fought the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which is a rival of al-Qaeda and has an estimated 2,500 members in Afghanistan. Some districts in Afghanistan are reportedly under ISIS control.
  • East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). ETIM is active in the Uighur insurgency in Xinjiang province of West China. It is said to receive training and other logistic support from Taliban.

The Taliban leadership would be under immense international diplomatic and economic pressures to terminate its narcotics trade and support to terrorist activities. Particularly in regard to the latter, external pressures separated from any domestic will, are likely to run into a blind alley. This has potential to lead to a non-optimal situation wherein aid in kind may be more readily available with a general reluctance amongst nations to transfer cash.

Foreign Policy

Afghanistan has always attracted big power attention due to its location at the confluence of multiple regional security complexes. This interest has been rekindled by the energy resources of Central and West Asia and China’s quest for a land access to the Indian Ocean. Pakistan’s influence on Taliban affairs, further complicated by the India-Pakistan rivalry, has drawn Afghanistan into a different security convolute. Taliban’s deciding to keep its released prisoners at Qatar, rather than Pakistan, appear to be a step to managing this conflict.

Taliban’s foreign policy formulation has been based on factors quite akin to those on which Afghan foreign policy has historically been devised. For successful governance of the nation, Taliban will need to address certain critical aspects in the financially bankrupt and war-ravaged nation.

  • Afghanistan is a large supplier of dry fruits and has rich mineral deposits all across the country. There are currently more than 1,400 discovered mineral deposits of gems, copper, iron, ore, gold, and lithium in Afghanistan, estimated by US officials as being worth at least US $3 trillion.[v] This potential can be optimally exploited by technical collaboration with more advanced nations, which in turn will improve its trade deficit too.
  • Human resource development, such as higher education facilities and integrating women into the work force will be essential. Educating a nation is costly and has a long lead time. An intermediary measure would be to seek scholarships for higher education courses in friendly countries.
  • Economic infrastructure, such as roads and dams, will help usher in prosperity in Afghanistan.
  • A well-equipped and trained police force is essential for governance.

All these activities require finances that Afghanistan does not have. Any income from the narcotics trade will be closely monitored by the international community. When last in power, Taliban had tried to generate a renewable source of revenue by progressing a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India with the American Unocal Corporation. This did not take off due to political and security instability. Loans from multilateral financial institutions and aid from friendly nations could provide a solution. This underscores the need to establish and maintain good relations with other nations even if it runs contrary to its earlier core ideology.

India’s Concerns

India’s core strategic interests in Afghanistan lie in regional stability and development without external interference. A stable, democratic Afghanistan that is relatively modernist and inclusive would minimise external interference in the country, thereby avoiding geopolitical imbalances in the region. It would also open up the region for flow of energy resources from the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian Republics through pipelines, which would benefit India besides other stake holders. How that is to be achieved would remain a challenge for India, especially with the Taliban government.

A core interest for India would be an Afghanistan that does not become a haven for terrorist groups from across the world. The eradication of all terrorist activities emanating from the region is hence a priority for India, which includes state-sponsored terrorist nurseries and havens along either side of the Durand Line. In a May 2020 statement, the Taliban disassociated itself from the Kashmir insurgency[vi]. That statement reversed the Taliban’s past ardent opposition to Indian presence in Kashmir by terming the Kashmir situation as a ‘domestic issue of other countries that the movement did not seek to interfere in’.[vii] Whether the Taliban sticks to this commitment remains to be seen.

Pakistan’s quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan would not affect India strategically as Pakistan’s internal fault lines will deny it success. Pakistan’s commitment to the Sunni cause in Afghanistan has led to violence against its own Shia minority—a strategic error that is potentially of the same gravity as that which cost it East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Indias Aid Paradigm

Afghanistan needs sustained external aid to develop in its preferred areas. International aid is generally directed towards the donor nation attaining economic, political or security benefits; however, a pillar of New Delhi’s aid to Kabul has been development partnership. This aid is formulated primarily on basis of Kabul’s stated needs.

India, as the sixth largest donor to Afghanistan, has given over US $ 4 billion aid in the last two decades. It has built more than 2,500 miles of roads, which includes the 218-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram Road to the Afghanistan-Iran border for facilitating movement of goods and services to the Iranian port at Chabahar. This highway, completed in 2010, connects Iran with the Garland Highway, which links Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kunduz. It has built the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (AIFD), also called ‘Salma Dam’, in Herat District, hydropower plants, electricity transmission lines, hospitals, schools and the country’s new parliament building. Three major characteristics of Indian aid are that it is bereft of any strings attached, overheads are minimised by use of its existing structures and it is provided as per the end-use determined by Kabul.

Where India goes from here, after the Taliban takeover, will depend to a large extent on the type of government the Taliban runs. In February 2020, the Taliban’s political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency that the Taliban has “no issue with any country”. Then on 26 August 2021, in an interview to the News Channel CNN-News 18, the same spokesperson candidly stated that the Taliban would be happy if India completed the ongoing projects and would welcome any new projects which were for the welfare of the people.[viii] How this ultimately pans out is yet to be seen, but it would be prudent to keep in mind the fact that the Taliban government in power is not inclusive and is largely controlled by the Haqqani Network, which in turn is beholden to Pakistan. So further assistance by India will depend on how the situation in Afghanistan evolves.

India’s Afghan Policy and Future Options

New Delhi has consistently supported a strong, democratic and violence free Afghanistan due to the latter’s insulator status between the four regional security complexes of Asia. Afghanistan is party to dominant conflict in South Asia and has pronounced significance to peace and stability in the region. Its inclusion in SAARC in 2007 was promoted by India in order to expedite its strategic integration into the South Asian regional order. The current situation In Afghanistan provides India the opportunity at international power projection, as all major powers have a stake in the manner the Afghan situation pans out. The cost of engagement has to be seen in the context of the cost of non-engagement, so some form of outreach to the Taliban may be inevitable, though this does not mean formal recognition of the government. Indian would need to closely watch the growing congruence between the Taliban and Pakistan, as also the forays that China may make in Afghanistan to pursue its economic interests.

The Indian response will have to be based on how the situation evolves. Should Afghanistan slip into civil war, then Indian support to forces that desire an inclusive government and who bat for gender equality will perhaps be on the cards. Russia is already concerned with the growing threat of the spread of radicalism in Afghanistan, which would have negative spillover effects on the Central Asian Republics and thence to Russia’s Muslim population. Towards this end, a joint exercise of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) called Rubezh-2021 was held in Kyrgyzstan in early September in which military personnel from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan took part. The exercise focused on the preparation and conduct of hostilities to destroy illegal armed groups that invade CSTO member state’s territory. Iran too is deeply concerned with the sectarian killings that have taken place through a spate of suicide attacks on Shia Mosques.[ix] India could coordinate its efforts in such a scenario with Russia, Iran and the CAR’s.

India could also support a UN mandated intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But as this would be a peace keeping force and not a force for peace enforcement, its utility would be negligible. In any case, the Taliban will not accept outside forces on its land, making this option a virtual non-starter.

A more pragmatic and doable approach for India would be to support efforts at providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Prime Minister Modi spoke of this in the G-20 meeting,[x] calling for assistance based on UN Resolution 2593[xi] of the 15-member Security Council, which demanded that Afghan territory not be used to threaten or attack any country, reiterated the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan and for providing unhindered access for the United Nations and its agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Here, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) would have a central role in providing assistance and would give India a much needed say in assisting Afghanistan’s return to stability.

On the negative side, with the current dominant role being played by Pakistan in Afghanistan, Indian efforts to restore stability will be hindered by Pakistan. Would USA, Russia, China and Iran be able to dissuade Pakistan from playing a spoiler, would have to be seen, but should that happen, it could make a significant impact on restoring stability in Afghanistan. 

Author Brief Bio: Maj Gen Harkirat Singh is an Alumnus of Sherwood College, Nainital, National Defence Academy and National Defence College, New Delhi. A veteran of Indias strategic forces operations within the country and abroad, he has been a resource person for geo-strategy at national universities.


[i] A feature of the contemporary world geopolitical map, the “shatterbelt”, was especially prominent during the cold war. Shatterbelts are regions torn by internal conflicts whose fragmentation is increased by the intervention of external major powers in contention over the region. They are global destabilisers. Also see “Geopolitics of the World System”, Saul Bernard Cohen, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, Oxford, UK, 2003, p 5-42, pp 436.

[ii]  Anand Gopal and Alex Strick van Linschoten, “Ideology in the Afghan Taliban”, Afghanistan Analysts Network, June 2017. Details at . Viewed on 02 Aug 2020




[vi]   “Taliban Praises India for Resisting US Pressure on Afghanistan”, Press Trust of India, The Hindu, New Delhi, 17 June 2012.  Also see

[vii]   “Kashmir is India’s Internal Matter, says Taliban; Denies Plan to Target Delhi”, Shishir Gupta , Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 19 May 2020. Also see






China’s Quest for World Dominance & Its Impact on India and the Region

It has now been over ten weeks since Kabul has fallen. This has been a tumultuous time for not just Afghanistan, but for the entire region. The takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban, which took the Biden administration by surprise due to the sheer pace of its execution, has set into motion a major geo political alignment. Afghanistan, often considered to be the graveyard of empires, may now become the epicentre of the power play between America and China. The present turmoil in Afghanistan, exacerbated by America’s messy withdrawal, presents a perfect opportunity for China to exploit the fault lines in the region and challenge the present world order.

The intense rivalry between the top two economies in the world, which first started with the trade war in 2018, has since intensified. The outbreak of coronavirus marked an inflection point in China’s relations with America and the world. It was during the pandemic that the full import of China’s wolf warrior diplomacy and its economic and foreign policy became apparent. After long speeches at Davos singing praises for multilateralism and assurances that China will not seek hegemony, the world had been taken in by Xi Jinping’s carefully crafted image of an economic super power that would not risk its trade ties for geo-political ambitions. This façade fell in 2020. For Beijing, its economic might was a means to an end. This included changing the present political world order and establishing its own system and values.

The desire to redraw world maps, which has not been restricted to just the Indo-Pacific, has led China to pursue an alternative global order, with its money power as its fulcrum. Thus, Xi Jinping forged partnerships with like-minded countries like Iran and Pakistan that share China’s deep dislike and distrust for the existing world order. These partnerships served two key objectives: to subvert the present system and undercut China’s principal rivals, which were America, India and Japan. Despite its smaller economic stature, India’s potential to be a balancing force against China in Asia, due to its demographics and rising economy, became a Chinese concern. To limit its ability to become a counter to it, China flanked New Delhi and redoubled its partnership with Pakistan. China also undercut America in its geo-strategic orbits by forming deep partnerships with countries like Iran and Russia; even as it enhanced the scope of its economic partnership with Israel.

For years, it was believed that China’s singular focus towards achieving the numero uno position in Asia would be via the maritime route, given its obsession with Taiwan and a growing desire to undo colonial subjugation under Japan, or its ‘century of humiliation’. It was assumed that China’s expansive maritime strategy, partly explaining the furious pace of ship-building since early 2010, was a precursor to sea-based hegemonic tendencies. To this effect, China built the artificial islands in the South China Sea, almost presenting a fait accompli to the United States. However, Beijing’s ambitions have not been limited to maritime expansion, but also extend to seeking expansion on land. To this effect, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been actively working since 2016 to offset power equations, stretching from Pakistan till West Asia. In fact, much before Taliban’s Kabul takeover, the superpower-in-a-hurry had started laying the ground for its ambition to change status quo in the entire region. It was a message to both America and India to jettison their efforts to contain China’s expansive military strategy in Asia, which firmed up post the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in 2017.

Under Jinping, Beijing has been eyeing a central role in global power equations. To this effect, China has boosted its presence in a region historically considered to be America’s bastion, West Asia. Of the four Indo-Pacific democracies that formed the Quad, it was Washington and New Delhi that have been at the centre of China’s aggressive strategy for West Asia. As the final arbitrator in a region filled with inherent complexities and contradictions, America has traditionally played a pivotal role in deciding power equations. For India, the West Asian region is vital to secure its energy needs, which are heavily dependent on imports. China’s strategy to create a nexus of countries in the Middle East has rested on its ambition to challenge American power and create uncertainty for India’s oil needs. In the last one decade, China has made significant investments in the Middle East. On one end, it cultivated wide-ranging business interests with American allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel and on the other end, it redoubled efforts to deepen strategic ties with Iran.

Beijing’s Middle East roadmap had two primary facets – enhancing the scope of its partnership with Tehran and green signalling large BRI projects in Israel and Saudi Arabia, which form the backbone of the US security network in the region. This highlighted China’s hunger to target the Middle East as the next arena for its power struggle with America and the liberal world. Like Asia, where Beijing built deeper ties with Pakistan to make use of its strategic location, in the Middle East too, China used a similar template. In this region also, Beijing needed a network of allies to topple the existing world order. The end objective was creation of an alternative power axis from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iran. In its Middle East gambit, both Russia and Turkey played an important role. In fact, Moscow was vital for Beijing to spread its influence since it hoped to piggy-ride the former’s historical connections and deep inroads across the region. So after challenging the status quo in Asia, the Middle East is now the next frontier where Beijing wants to establish itself as the new-age hegemon.

On one end was the USA-led first world order where Japan, India, France, the UK and other US allies played a key role. At the other end was a China-centric world order, sealed by the meeting of minds between two authoritarian leaders to exploit the existing fault lines in geo-politics, geo-economics and geo-technology. While the American-led system was geared towards preserving the status quo, China, along with Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, are all aligned to change the same.

The present flux in Afghanistan has further cemented China’s formation by creating a long corridor of nations that are averse to the US-dominated world order. Afghanistan, which has witnessed a shadow boxing match between two super powers in the past, is all set to witness another such geo-political contest. For almost a decade now, Beijing’s economic strength, military might and global clout have been geared for a larger objective. In fact, China’s primary goal has been to upend the world order as we knew it, one where liberal democracies with market-driven economies strive to uphold global rules. For Beijing, which became Asia’s largest economy in 2010 and the world’s second largest military spender in 2011, its economic muscle has always been a means to a larger end, which has been to create a Sino-centric world order.

A Sino-centric world order was envisaged as one where China’s primary challengers would be subverted and their prospects blunted. In Asia, this strategy resulted in Beijing firming up its partnership with Islamabad, New Delhi’s hostile neighbour to the West. China has always viewed India’s growing role in the continent’s geo-economics and geo-politics as a threat. The possibility of the latter emerging as a strategic pivot in the Indo-Pacific region and a counter-balancing force to Beijing’s aggression has spooked Communist leaders. To stymie the myriad possibilities a stronger India presented to the world in undercutting Beijing’s clout in the region, China has been pursuing an aggressive policy along its land borders. While it is now an indisputable fact that the economic trajectories of the two countries became starkly different since the early 2000s, India’s potential and ability to counter Chinese hegemony in Asia has become a growing concern for the latter. This led Beijing to solidify its economic and security cooperation with Islamabad, India’s arch rival. Of course, it helped that India was the common adversary for both China and Pakistan.

Through Islamabad, Beijing created a new geo-strategic equation, one that hurt not just India’s but also America’s security interests. To pursue its strategy to create a parallel network of allies, China made Pakistan one of the foundational pillars of its flagship investment program, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Islamabad’s failed governance systems further enabled China to use its territory and resources towards its core objective. As it tied Islamabad closely to its mega BRI project by pumping in vast amounts of money in risky projects, Beijing ensured greater alignment on strategic and security issues, one of which was to contain India. As part of this policy, the BRI passed through the territory of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) that is India’s sovereign territory. The BRI’s infrastructure projects allowed China access to vast resources in the mineral-rich but restive regions of Gilgit-Baltistan in PoK and Balochistan. In fact, while launching the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the BRI in 2015, China was brazenly contemptuous of India’s concerns. The CPEC, thus, marked an important inflection point in India’s bilateral ties with China since it undermined the former’s role in its geo-strategic orbit.

Xi Jinping’s flagship global investment drive focused on Pakistan to serve China’s economic interests and strategic ambitions. In the last two years alone, China has invested US $65 billion in Pakistan, effectively providing an economic lifeline to its defunct economy. This ensured Islamabad has continued to remain afloat, and therefore, relevant to China’s larger strategic calculations to contain India. The corridor, which is a network of highway and power projects, is worth over US $80 billion after fresh contracts worth US $11 billion were signed in 2020.[1] Out of this, Beijing’s actual investment in Pakistan was nearly US $50 billion.[2]

For Pakistan, Chinese funds were a boon since it was faced with a collapsing economy and widespread political uncertainty. Over time, as it continued to green light more projects and piled up more loans, Islamabad entered the infamous club of eight most vulnerable countries due to its very high level of indebtedness. On the other hand, for Beijing, Islamabad’s growing indebtedness was an added advantage; it translated into higher economic and political leverage over the almost-failed state. Beijing’s modus operandi was clear – exploit Pakistan’s weak economy and strategic location to circumvent India and access vital infrastructure. So, China’s reasons for pouring billions of dollars into Pakistan went beyond just economic interests. It was to flank Asia’s third largest economy. And while it used Pakistan’s locational advantage and mineral wealth, in exchange China provided complete diplomatic immunity to its acts of terror.

For China, Pakistan serves three core interests, all of which have only been reinforced since America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan that has altered the geo political dynamics. For one, Pakistani deep state has tried to ensure India remains pre-occupied with a simmering Line of Control (LoC). China’s covert and overt support to Pakistan has signalled to New Delhi about the tactical disadvantages it faces as a result of the security partnership between its two hostile neighbours. Pakistan now offers tremendous utility in stretching Indian defence capabilities by forcing it to prepare for a ‘two-front’ war scenario. As ties with China deteriorate and with Pakistan continue to remain almost-hostile, India now needs to prepare for the possibility of greater collusion between its two neighbours. This means additional strain on New Delhi’s resources. Even if the possibility of a full-blown attack remains minimal, both Islamabad and its big daddy Beijing will continue to focus on low-key attacks, which are meant to be constant irritants. The present security climate is seeing some of those possibilities coming to light, with Pakistan starting another round of killings in Kashmir and China increasing its build up around the entire Himalayan range. Post Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s deep state will exploit its terror links further, in a bid to create more instability. This will present the Indian security establishment with continued challenges to address terrorism-related threats, both in the border union territory of Jammu and Kashmir as well as across India.

Secondly, Pakistan is also vital for China’s plans and ambitions for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China started developing the Gwadar port in June 2016 to gain access to the northern part of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf for its military and economic ambitions. Through Gwadar, China aimed to secure access for its oil imports, which presently go through the narrow Straits of Malacca and are susceptible to disruptions. The Gwadar port, located in the troubled region of Balochistan and just 120 kilometres from the Iranian border, made China a stakeholder in a maritime region which was traditionally considered to be New Delhi’s bastion. As Beijing has been working to blunt India’s strategic advantage in this vast maritime domain, it has hoped Gwadar would serve as an ideal launch pad to gain control over maritime waters spanning Central Asia and East Africa all the way till the Straits of Malacca and beyond. The port has enhanced China’s ability to dictate rules in the larger Indo-Pacific region. Together with Djibouti in Africa, Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka; China has sought to develop a string of strategically located ports for maritime dominance. To counter Gwadar, India was developing the Chabahar Port in Iran’s east, which was meant to side-step Pakistan. The project, which allowed India to take the land route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is now unlikely to take off after Taliban formed the government.

Thirdly, Pakistan provided the perfect platform and opportunity for Beijing to engage with Afghanistan – a region where China has for long envisaged an enhanced role for itself, in tandem with its growing appetite for global dominance. While India has made several efforts to reach out to Kabul, including through a generous aid program to rebuild the war-torn country, it has always been disadvantaged by Pakistan’s access, geographical proximity and close ties with the Taliban. Since Islamabad has been integral to talks, negotiations and transition of power in Afghanistan, it has frustrated Indian efforts to create a counter-balance. After Taliban’s takeover, Indian predicament have become more pronounced, even as it has further bolstered Chinese ability to engage with Afghanistan.

By exploiting the present lawlessness in Afghanistan and Taliban’s deep linkages with Pakistan, China will seek to derive maximum economic, strategic and security benefits. Increased participation by Chinese companies to rebuild Afghanistan through the flagship BRI program will translate into direct transportation links and an economic corridor between China and Afghanistan. This, by default, will undercut both Indian interests and American influence. Besides strategic interests, Afghanistan is valuable since it is home to unexplored natural resources that China covets. Access to this mineral wealth will help China to secure its long-term growth prospects.

America may have left Afghanistan, but China hopes it will fill the leadership vacuum and use it to build its alternate formation of nations. US President Joe Biden wants to prioritise the Indo-Pacific region, but there is a good chance that this is exactly what Xi Jinping also wants the US to do. It is not an either/or choice for America, and the world. Instead, China’s influence needs to be responded, both on land and on sea; both in West Asia and in the Indo-Pacific.

China’s quest to dominate the world has deep security and geo-political ramifications for India. China’s rising influence must be contained, not just in the South China Sea, but also in the Indian Ocean Region, which is New Delhi’s bastion. For India, the post pandemic altered geo-political climate has been a wake-up call for the ramifications of ceding too much space in its own backyard. Far from building on its historic relations, New Delhi has witnessed several of its neighbours been charmed by Beijing’s cheque book. China has succeeded in limiting India’s influence in countries that have deep socio-cultural ties with it. New Delhi must reclaim its place in the region, both with its neighbours on land and with the IOR littorals.

The Asia Pacific is now termed as the Indo-Pacific due to the widespread recognition of the role India must play in it. But to actualise this and regain its dominance, New Delhi needs a multi-pronged strategy. India must step up the process of rebuilding its partnerships with the littorals and enhancing engagements with its island neighbours. New Delhi has deep historical and cultural ties with the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka; and has for long been their natural ally. This equity must be harnessed and traditional social links with these countries must be strengthened. After years of relentless efforts by Beijing to buy influence in the IOR, New Delhi will now have to adopt bold diplomacy to reclaim lost ground. A starting point can be the lessons from Beijing-backed ‘India Out’ campaign run by opposition parties.[3] The campaign maligned India and succeeded due to India’s inability to counter such narratives early on. It deepened New Delhi’s trust deficit with Male. To gain more clout in Male’s politics, India must leverage its historical ties and engage more. Deeper defence and security ties could begin by training Maldivian defence personnel. Male’s distrust of Chinese funds after rising indebtedness can be India’s gateway to reconnect.

New Delhi’s biggest differentiator to China’s BRI-led diplomacy should be the willingness to engage with smaller countries as equal partners. India can position itself as a more ‘humane’ partner by providing solutions and aid/grant to all the island nations to address their biggest concern of ecological and environmental damage. India’s outreach coincides with the realisation by these small island nations about their geo-strategic importance, maritime value and enhanced role in the power play between India and China. To maximise their gains, the IOR littorals will even play India and China against each other as they jostle for more influence.

While China will entice them with more funds, India must step up its communication strategy to highlight the pitfalls of accepting them. New Delhi should offer attractive grants and assistance, which will be in stark contrast to China’s high interest loans. Till it becomes a US $5-6 trillion economy, New Delhi lacks the economic heft to match Beijing’s large loan book. To overcome this handicap, India must partner with Japan and the USA to provide more assistance to the IOR littorals. Tokyo has been the biggest provider of long-term infra loans in Asia, dwarfing the BRI. New Delhi must identify common areas to work with Japan in increasing development assistance to countries in IOR. India’s response to China’s debt trap model should be to create sustainable and economically viable infrastructure that boosts the local economy of recipient nations. New Delhi must communicate this message strongly to Mauritius, Seychelles, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Comoros and Madagascar.

India’s decisive pivot for the IOR revolves around its roadmap for the strategically located Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands. The northern-most point of the Andaman Islands is just 40 kilometres from Myanmar and the southern-most point of the Nicobar Islands is just 160 kilometres from Indonesia. India’s projection of power into the Western Pacific could begin from the A&N Islands which houses its first joint military command. Due to their geo-strategic location, the A&N Islands provide India an opportunity to become a key stakeholder in the IOR and SCS. At present, the A&N Islands are only geared towards reconnaissance; to boost capabilities and exploit the islands’ full potential, engagement and collaboration with other navies must be enhanced. This would be an important message for Beijing which has incorrectly assumed India to be a passive participant in the region.

So far, New Delhi had been reluctant to forge strategic partnerships with other large navies, lest it be construed as a display of intent to escalate maritime tension. But in the wake of Beijing’s regular military exercises with its partners, New Delhi’s military and foreign policy must change. Regular military drills with Pakistan, trilateral exercises with Iran and Russia in the Persian Gulf[4] and elaborate military gaming exercises with South Africa and Russia off Cape Town[5], all point towards the future direction of China’s strategy. It is to continue its efforts to encircle India. China had set its sights on the IOR in 2013, and India needs to now respond proactively. In fact, India should have started preparations for such an eventuality after December 2019 when a Chinese research vessel entered its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Research vessels are primarily used in secret military data collection and collect information that impacts the movement and efficacy of submarines.

The A&N Islands’ strategic location allows India to utilise these as an advance post to alert about any enemy vessel and must be utilised better. Despite the A&N Islands’ proximity to the Straits of Malacca, New Delhi has held back from upgrading its presence due to fears that the move would be construed as blocking a crucial choke point. But it is precisely because of their strategic location that the A&N Islands can act as a stabilising factor against China’s maritime aggression. India can deepen its presence and capabilities in the A&N Islands by collaborating with France and the USA. France, which has the second largest EEZ in the world, operates a large facility in the IOR on the French Reunion Island. Indo-French military and security ties have been upgraded under PM Modi’s tenure and New Delhi must build on this by creating advanced capabilities in the A&N.

In any military strategy, not knowing the adversary’s larger ambition or game plan is the biggest surprise factor. In China’ case, though, there are no surprises; its over reach and ambition is clear. What remains unclear is the roadmap to address it.

Author Brief Bio: Gaurie Dwivedi is a Senior Journalist covering economy, policy and politics. She is also Visiting Fellow at USI.


[1] Muhammad Akbar Notezai, ‘CPEC 2.0: Full Speed Ahead’, 2020, https://

[2] American Enterprise Institute, China Global Investment Tracker, https://

[3] N Sathiya Moorthy, ORF, July 2021,

[4] N Bozorgmehr, H.Foy, Financial Times, December 2019,

[5] Ankit Panda, The Diplomat, Nov 2019,


Political and Economic Challenges Faced by Nepal and Its Impact on Indo-Nepal Relations

Nepal is a Hindu majority state with religious, cultural, economic, matrimonial and linguistic relations with India. Thousands of Nepalese have married in India and vice versa which gives the bilateral ties a unique feature. Thousands of Nepalese are enrolled in the Indian Army and form part of the Gurkha Regiment. In addition, India and Nepal share an open border that is not only exceptional but has also facilitated Nepalese and Indian to live and work in each other’s countries. There is no other place in the Indian sub-continent that two sovereign nations enjoy an open border where visas and passports are not necessary. A whole generation of older Nepalese studied and struggled for the independence of India side by side with Indian freedom fighters. These leaders include former Prime Ministers Matrika Prasad Koirala, BP Koirala, Man Mohan Adhikari and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. But all these unique features are now under stress.

With the flow of time, new generation of Nepalese opt for US, Australia and Europe for their higher studies, not necessarily Indian universities. The open border has been misused by notorious elements including terrorists and both India and Nepalese governments have realised the importance of regulating this border in order to stop organised crime, smuggling, human trafficking, arms trafficking and the growth of terrorism. The political change in Nepal in 2008 ended the Hindu monarchy and brought in secularism. This was done without a referendum. The elections to two Constituent Assemblies saw a period of great instability. Nepal has had 20 Prime Ministers in 20 years and 6 Constitutions in 5 decades. In all these major political changes, India has had a major role as a facilitator. However, the change of 2008 has introduced unprecedented challenges for Nepal as well as for India because of complexity of the polity and influence of extra-regional actors into what was previously an exclusive Indian domain. This paper shall discuss the historic dimension of Indo-Nepal relations in the religious and cultural spheres and discuss some of these challenges.

Post 1950 Nepal:

After India got independence, the Nepalese youth were also incited to end the 104 years of Rana oligarchy that had kept Nepal under the British security umbrella. King Tribhuvan took asylum in India as the anti-Rana movement became big inside Nepal. It was during the last days of the Rana regime that the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed between the two countries. This Treaty remains a bone of contention even till today. The Rana regime collapsed soon afterwards.

The Treaty has some unique features such as Nepalese citizens enjoying same rights as Indian citizens in India, including the right to hold jobs and buy property. However, the Left parties have continuously used this Treaty as an example of Indian hegemony in Nepal. Thus, we can see the period of 1950-1960 as a phase when Nepal saw the light of democracy but was unable to consolidate it. A rift erupted between Matrika Prasad Koirala and his half-brother BP Koirala. PM Nehru’s Nepal policy was also full of dubiousness. On the one hand, he supported democratic forces but on the other he was furious with the first democratically elected Prime Minister (BP Koirala) in 1960 for having established diplomatic relations with Israel and Pakistan. The royal takeover of 1960 took place when the Indian Army Chief was on an official visit to Nepal. While all senior leaders of the Nepali Congress and other parties were arrested, Queen Elizabeth visited Nepal in 1961, giving full political recognition to the royal takeover.  King Mahendra introduced a political system known as the party less Panchayat system, very much like the Indian Panchayati Raj. It survived for 30 years.

During this period, we can easily see that India’s Nepal policy was more low key and reluctant to take any major or hasty decision as its focus was diverted to managing other internal and external crisis. A secure Northern belt provided by the royal regime safeguarded India’s UP and Bihar states with external military action. The Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962 also enabled King Mahendra to expand his foreign policy ambitions to make Nepal more visible to the outside world. Nepal became active in UN, NAM and also in expanding its ties with the US and Europe. Nepal was elected twice to the UN Security Council (1968 and 1988). A number of high-level visits from India to Nepal are also testimony to the fact that relations was satisfactory. Only in 1988, the then Rajiv Gandhi government took some stringent measures that led to the deterioration of bilateral relations. Nepalese term this period as ‘Indian blockade’ when petroleum supplies and daily essentials were stopped. As a result of this, a whole new generation of Nepalese became anti-Indian.

The period 1990-2001 can be termed as a phase of political turbulence but with the constitutional monarchy as a bulwark of stability under popular King Birendra, Indo-Nepal ties did not suffer. Political parties raked up the issue of Kalapani border encroachment and Tanakpur power projects. King Birendra was the guest of honour at the Republic Day function in 1999. However, the political situation was again deteriorating with the onset of the Maoist insurgency in 1996. Initially, only the rural hinterlands were under the influence of the Maoist rebels but by 2004, the urban centres were also increasingly targeted. Due to the unfortunate cause of events of the royal massacre of 2001, stability in Nepal was again threatened. King Gyanendra took over direct power in 2005. India, this time again under the UPA government, brokered the 12-point understanding between the Maoists who had Interpol arrest notice and the political parties in 2005. This led the way to the people’s movement in April 2006.

But democracy in Nepal is still being consolidated. There seems to be a total lack of respect for each other’s vision, ideals and perceptions among the political parties. The main objective of democracy is to establish a strong link between the general people and society. It demonstrates that Nepalese democratic evolution has taken baby steps and has even fallen backwards if one is to see the recent events of weakening of main organs of the state viz. judiciary, legislature and the executive.

Mal-governance, nepotism, corruption and incompetence of Nepalese political party leaders gave many opportunities to the monarch and foreigners to intervene in the political system of Nepal. The Maoist insurgency was one of the most disturbing, unfortunate events in which 18 thousand innocents lost their lives and the nation is still suffering as it lags from economic and political recovery. The deadly earthquake of 2015 gave another blow to the ravaged economy of Nepal. Reconstruction of schools, colleges, private houses, UNESCO heritage sites is still going on at snails pace. India was the first responder to the earthquake. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called by phone to the then PM Sushil Koirala who was on a foreign visit to inform about the earthquake in Nepal. The Constitution enacted soon afterwards, while sit was a progressive document in many respects, failed to be inclusive as the Madhesi grievances remained. The Constitution has envisioned a federal structure for the country. A new experiment for Nepal, it is hoped that the federal states will be able to address the challenges of their particular states in a better way than during a centralised polity run from Kathmandu. It ought to be remembered that 51 percent of Nepalese live in the Terai.

The economic growth has obviously been affected, and the growth rate lingers between 3-4% whereas the target is around 7.5%. Nepal still has agrarian economy which employs the majority of the workforce of the country. But the massive unemployment in the country has forced able, young Nepalese to go to the Gulf, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and other countries for employment. Although remittance that they send contributes about 28 percent of the total GDP, there is fear that even this source of foreign currency may plunge with the COVID-19 closures.

Post 2015 Nepal: A New Hope

Mr. K.P Oli and Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist) came together to form a United Communist Party, and the merger secured a near two-third majority in parliament. But a rift soon erupted between these two chairmen of the ruling party. The new dispensation also established party-to-party ties with the Chinese Communist Party. Prime Minister Oli had sufficient time and resources to resurrect the economy and give new hope to the people of Nepal suffering from years of despair and hopelessness. However, he raked up the nationalist sentiment by changing the political map of Nepal that was endorsed by a two-third majority of the Nepalese parliament. This was the time when Sino-Indian border clash was taking place at Galwan valley. Oli also said that Lord Ram was born in Nepal and gave a public jibe at the Indian national motto by saying ‘Simha Mewa Jayate’. Ultimately, after two failed attempts to dissolve the House, he was replaced by Sher Bahadur Deuba who became Prime Minister for the 5th time.

People wanted to embrace a New Nepal in 2015, but the greed for power has brought the country to its knees. All the parties have deviated from the main purpose of a stable political system of nation-building. The leaders seemed to have forgotten that the main aim of their struggle for democracy was to create an environment where all citizens, overcoming differences of caste and creed, get equal opportunity and where all developmental needs are addressed. Instead, post-2008, they have politicised all vital organs of the state including the judiciary. According to the author Kamal Dev Bhattarai, “the country has been riding a wave of political chaos since Maoist rebels launched their war in 1996 – two decades of instability.”[1]

In fact, the power struggle has toppled every single government since 1990. This has also scared away foreign investors, who are unsure of making investments amidst the political uncertainties. The industrialists have lost trust in the government due to the erratic changes not only among ministers but also officials. Political instability gives a negative impact on society increasing frustration among the people, which affects the nation as a whole. Political instability is a breeding ground for the unemployed youth to engage in political violence and armed conflicts. Inequality, inflation and the slow pace of GDP growth all are contributing factors to the instability. According to Deependra Chaulagain, ‘the infighting between the political parties has helped neither the ruling party nor the opposition’[2]. Due to lack of governance, education, health services and the overall economy is suffering. Nepal is even hit harder by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With the relaxation of prohibitory orders, the economic activities are gradually picking up among the income-generating sectors, but the government is still struggling to generate resources to fund the rehabilitation of COVID -19 affected sectors, especially the SMEs.

Because of lock-down in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of poor Nepalese migrant labour working in Indian cities returned home in 2020. This caused a massive spread of the pandemic inside Nepal. But with the unemployment in the country and lack of health services including lack of oxygen, they started returning back to India soon afterwards taking advantage of the open border facility. This shows the dependency of the Nepalese economy on India. It also exposed the massive unemployment prevalent in rural Nepal, especially in the far-western region.

Labor migration itself has also put Nepal in the high-risk category of HIV-aids transmission, not to mention other societal costs. The country is suffering from skilled manpower as all are setting out for work outside. Nepal has been unfortunate to face the ill effects of climate change and natural disasters too. Due to global warming, the Himalayas are at huge risk because fast-melting glaciers in the high mountains pose a huge threat to life and property.  Author Sarah Karnot’s ‘disfunctionalism’ concept of the state has been recognised as the primary reason for the persistence of poverty and political instability.[3] Nepal has managed to make progress in some areas, but achievements have not been even. Marginalised communities such as the Madhesis and Dalits need to be brought in the mainstream. There have been some positive strides but this is not enough. Economy has to be resurrected, tourism has to be given priority but for all this, political stability is a must.

Nepal: A Yam between Two Boulders:

Nearly three centuries ago, King Prithvi Narayan Shah had envisioned Nepal as a ‘yam between two boulders’. Nepal should have been able to benefit from being a low-income to prosperous country in between two Asian giants. Though Nepal is rich in natural resources, especially hydro-power, it fails to generate, utilise and exploit this power for sale to other countries in the immediate neighbourhood. This leads to over-dependence on foreign aid. Only recently, Indian help to build transmission lines has created synergy among the two countries and Nepal has been exporting power during the lean season. Nepal’s notorious ‘load shedding’ has also eased due to power import from India. India has been a big contributor in terms of humanitarian assistance during difficult times, like the devastating 2015 earthquake, as mentioned earlier. Modi government was also steadfast in supplying the COVISHIELD vaccines for Nepal in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra also handed over medical supplies worth Rs. 18 crores in June 2021.[4] This aid comprised ventilators, ambulances, PPEs and other equipment. India is one of the major investors in Nepal which helps in generating employment and opportunity for Nepalese people. Nepal’s major trade is conducted through the Kolkata port. India has helped provide assistance to build hospitals and educational institutions which help in exchanging students for achieving a degree.

India under PM Modi has given priority to facilitate improved connectivity and has allocated resources for building border roads and railways that will reduce poverty in Nepal. India is Nepal’s largest trade partner and provides essential transit. As Nepal is a landlocked country, it is very difficult for it to be self-sufficient, and not rely on its powerful neighbour. The two countries have undertaken various connectivity projects to enhance people-to-people linkages and achieve economic progress but the bordering states of UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttarakhand also need to be in the same page in terms of giving extra attention to the development of the border regions. In some areas, the Nepalese side is more developed than the Indian side. India is also trying to look out for various ways to develop the inland waterways within its framework of trade and transit to provide access to the sea for Nepal.

Of late, China has also given top priority to Nepal and this is quite visible after the success of the Maoist movement in 2008. Two communist parties have set-up party-to-party ties as their mutual ideology of Marxism and Maoism gives a common kinship. Flurry of high-level visits, awarding of major contracts and tenders such as the Bhairahawa International Airport and Pokhara International Airport to Chinese companies show that Sino-Nepal relations is getting a strong economic tinge. Second largest cluster of tourists to Nepal are Chinese and there is much anticipation inside Nepal of the early completion of the Golmud-Lhasa-Shigatse-Keyrung railway that will connect Nepal to China via the railways. Although Chinese economic footprint is growing all around South Asia, what makes Sino-Nepal relations in the modern era truly exceptional is the dominance of communist parties in Nepali polity. These communist parties were originally having fraternal ties with Indian communist parties. Although Nepal would like to reap benefits from the economic progress of both its neighbours and would want to distance itself from the bilateral problems between India and China, its manoeuvrability is limited in this regard. At times, Indian commentators fail to understand this phenomenon and criticise Nepal as playing the ‘China card’. Nepal’s relations with both India and China need to be seen in their own merit, the latter having become very active in terms of trade, investment, tourism and providing scholarships to students in the recent years. Instead of nitpicking on China’s economic forays inside Nepal, India has to sharpen its own traditional leverages which it has overlooked post 2006.


The political evolution of Nepal since the 50s, the dependence of the economy on Indian economy and the new factors adversely affecting the relationship has been highlighted above. Nepal and India share a unique, deep-rooted relationship of cooperation and close people-to-people cultural ties, but India needs to comprehensively review its Nepal policy from time to time. We not only share an open border for the free, unrestricted movement of our nationals but also have a very close bond through marriages popularly known as roti-beti ka Rishta. We share very similar ties in terms of the common religion – Hinduism and Buddhism. However, official India needs to revisit our common heritage and encourage religious and cultural bonds such as the Ram-Sita Vivah Mahotsav in Janakpur. The Sanatan culture, Sanskrit and revered temples such as the Char Dhams (Four Dhams) in India, Lord Pashupatinath and Muktinath in Nepal, yoga, Kumbh Mela, Shiva Ratri, etc. are embodiments of our common heritage. The ‘Bol Bam’ pilgrims are increasing year by year from India to Nepal. Stressing on physical connectivity is not enough. No other country can replace India inside Nepal if the common religious, cultural and linguistic aspects are stressed and given priority.

Author Brief Bio: Raksha Pandey is a Ph.D. Research Scholar in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.


[1] Bhattarai, K.D. (2016). Nepal’s unending political instability. The Diplomat

[2] Chaulagain, D. (2021). Political instability could affect recovery of the economy hit by the pandemic. The Kathmandu Post

[3] Karnot, S. (2006). South Asian Journal of South Asian studies

[4] See India Hands Over Medical Equipment Worth Over Rs 18 Crore to Nepal (


Neighbourhood Policy of Modi Government: Challenges and Opportunities

India has shared close civilisational bonds with its neighbours over the last several centuries. For several extended periods of time in Indias history, the vast swathe of land from Afghanistan in the West to Myanmar in the East was a part of Indian territory. The intimate ties of culture, history, language, attire, cuisine, traditions and faiths have however not been sufficient to ensure friendly and peaceful relations between India and its neighbours. On the contrary, many of these factors have been used at times by Indias neighbours to emphasise their uniqueness and individual identities as being separate from India.

The challenges that confronted Prime Minister Modi when he first took charge of the reins of the Government on 26th May, 2014 were formidable and daunting. It was presumed by political analysts and commentators that since PM Modis exposure to the realm of diplomacy and foreign affairs was limited, management of Indias foreign relations would be the weakest suite in his governance. However, he surprised his staunchest critics and began strongly by inviting Heads of State/Government of all SAARC countries and the Prime Minister of Mauritius to his swearing-in ceremony. All the invited leaders responded promptly and positively to the Invitation, except for Pakistan whose Prime Minister took a little longer to confirm. The presence of all SAARC leaders at this ceremonial event and at the bilateral deliberations between PM Modi and the visiting dignitaries on 27th May, 2014, launched the current government’s “Neighbourhood First” policy to an inspiring start. 

It needs to be recognised that most countries in the world have difficult, if not outright adversarial relations with their neighbours. This is particularly true of large countries and has been visible in the context of relations between USA-Canada, USA-Mexico, France-Germany, Germany-Italy, France-UK, Brazil-Argentina and several more. Kautilya had propounded in his Mandala Theory of Inter-State relations around 300 BCE: “A States neighbour is its natural enemy, and its neighbours neighbour is its friend”. Although exceptions to this postulate exist, its basic thrust continues to be relevant and valid in several cases even today. 

In the SAARC, India accounts for around 80% of the total land area, GDP, wealth, trade, FDI, industrial and agricultural production etc of this configuration. India hence occupies a pre-eminent and dominant position in this structure. India is the only country that shares borders with all other SAARC member countries, either land or maritime, and none of the other countries shares a border with any other member except between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Since Indias independence, there has been a huge trust deficit between India and its neighbours who consider that India flaunts a “Big Brother” attitude towards its smaller neighbours. There is also a pervasive impression that barring Pakistan, India does not devote enough time and attention to solving problems or strengthening relations with other neighbours. Even projects beneficial to smaller countries are looked upon with suspicion and scepticism, as if India has a hidden agenda favouring itself while promoting those initiatives.

To promote confidence and trust, PM Modi announced immediately after assuming charge that relations with neighbours would be given primacy in formulation and implementation of his Governments foreign policy. He followed up this pronouncement by selecting Bhutan for his first visit. This decision was taken to further cement and consolidate this special relationship,” particularly in the wake of a concerted push by China to establish diplomatic ties with Bhutan and settle its borders to the detriment of Indias interests. India is Bhutans strongest partner, with cooperation ranging from construction of infrastructure, power plants, roads and cement plants to education and health. Addressing the Bhutanese Parliament on June 16, 2014, PM Modi said: “The stronger India will be, the better it is for Bhutan and other SAARC nations. A strong and stable India is needed so that we can help our neighbours’’. 

Indias relations with Bhutan have continued to expand over the last seven years since the advent of the first Modi government. Indias staunch support for Bhutans territorial integrity was emphatically demonstrated during the Doklam crisis in 2017, which witnessed a 73-day eyeball-to-eyeball showdown between the Indian and Chinese forces on Bhutanese territory. This sent out a strong message, not only to Bhutan but to all countries in the neighbourhood and beyond, that India will stand steadfast in protecting its own strategic interests and those of its neighbours in the face of unprovoked hostility from China.

Bhutan became the first country to receive a gratis consignment of 1.5 lakh doses of Made in India’ COVID-19 vaccines on 20th January, within days after India launched its own vaccination drive on 16th January, 2021. Following the delivery, Bhutan’s PM, Dr Lotay Tshering said that it is a gift from a ‘trusted friend’ who has been with Bhutan all through the decades and in this pandemic too. He stated that “we applaud the gesture that signifies the compassion and generosity of the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, and the people of India for the wellbeing of the humanity.” During the coronavirus outbreak, India handed over ten consignments of medical supplies, portable X-Ray machine, essential medicines and medical equipment to Bhutan. Prior to the vaccine delivery, India also organised a training programme for immunisation managers, cold chain officers, communication officers and data managers from Bhutan, both at national and provincial levels.

In his pronouncements on his visits, PM Modi has sought to make Indias neighbours active partners and stakeholders in its development and prosperity, encouraging them to take full advantage of Indias successes. This was the theme of his next visit in the Region to Nepal in August, 2014, which turned out to be the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to this vital country after a long gap of 17 years. This sought to remove the impression of being neglected and taken for granted that had long been held by the people and leadership of this country. During his visit, PM Modi announced that India would like to work towards making Nepal a developed country by harnessing its resources to produce hydro-electric power and also purchasing it from Nepal at market prices to meet the growing energy demand in India.

Soon after the visit, the Indian Government responded with exemplary swiftness to provide relief and medical care to the victims of the horrendous 7.9 Richter intensity earthquake that struck Nepal on 25th April, 2015 causing countless deaths and huge destruction. The beneficial impact of this commendable government action however got diluted somewhat due to the intrusive and insensitive reporting on this tragedy by some Indian TV channels.

PM Modis first visit to Nepal was preceded by the visit of EAM Sushma Swaraj for the meeting of the Joint Economic Commission which was convened after a gap of 23 years. PM Modi made a second visit to Kathmandu in November 2014 to participate in the SAARC Summit. Significant forward movement in bilateral ties was visible as long pending agreements on power generation and trading were signed between private companies of the two countries. 

Relations with Nepal hit a road block in 2015 when months-long demonstrations and protests were launched by the Madhesi community of Nepal against the newly adopted Constitution as their demands for greater representation were ignored. This forced a blockade of vehicular movement from India into Nepal delivering a shock to the Nepalese economy which the KP Sharma Oli government projected as a wilful act of hostility by India. Subsequently, other issues were created by the Oli government, new maps drawn up in May 2020 and the Nepalese Constitution amended to show the Indian territories of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani as belonging to Nepal. This move by PM Oli was seen as an attempt to resort to hyper-nationalism as Oli was facing pressure from within his own party to resign because of his incompetence in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, economic decline, corruption etc.

India tried to stabilise bilateral ties by deputing Foreign Secretary, the Army Chief and other senior officials of the government to undertake bilateral visits to Nepal. The manoeuvres by Oli yielded only temporary advantage to him. He was forced by the Nepalese Supreme Court to resign in July 2021 and hand over power to Sher Bahadur Deuba. Deubas first visit to Delhi in August 2021 after assuming power has sought to stabilise and provide a fillip to bilateral ties. In keeping with its Neighbourhood First Policy, India supplied 1 million doses of the Covishield vaccine gratis to Nepal on 21st January, 2021. Further supplies were stopped temporarily on account of the second wave in India but are to be resumed shortly as Indias production has grown significantly.

PM Modi has sought to improve relations with Pakistan also. He demonstrated this not only through words but more importantly through action by inviting Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to his first swearing-in ceremony. Relations with Pakistan thus got off to a positive and encouraging start at the beginning of PM Modis first tenure. This however did not stop him from calling off the Foreign Secretary level talks in August 2014 as the Pakistan High Commissioner went ahead with his meeting with the Kashmiri separatists in spite of having been advised by the Indian Foreign Office to desist from doing so. Addressing the General Assembly Session of the United Nations in New York on 27th Sept, 2014, PM Modi said: “India desires a peaceful and stable environment for its development. That is why my Government has placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with her neighbours. This includes Pakistan. I am prepared to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan in a peaceful atmosphere without the shadow of terrorism to promote our friendship and cooperation.”

Indias initiatives to improve relations with Pakistan did not meet with a positive response. Pakistan resorted to increased firing and shelling from across Indias borders and continued to mastermind and support terrorist attacks on Indian territory. The Indian Government decided that all attacks will be responded to with even greater force so that Pakistan is made to feel the pain and is punished for its actions. India has also decided that notwithstanding Pakistans obstructionist approach to promoting social, economic, commercial and cultural cooperation amongst SAARC countries, India will continue to take new initiatives for enhancing regional and sub-regional cooperation, either with or without the presence of and engagement of Pakistan. In this context, India started placing greater emphasis on cooperation in the sub-regional groups comprising of Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) whose members include Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. 

PM Modi sought to normalise relations with Pakistan by agreeing on a bilateral dialogue on terrorism in their informal meeting in Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia, on the sidelines of the BRICS/SCO Summit in July 2015. The then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif could however not deliver on this commitment. PM Modi again reached out to Sharif at the Paris Climate Meet in November 2015, and also paid an unscheduled, brief visit to Sharifs private home at Raiwind, near Lahore, to attend Sharifs grand-daughters wedding, on his way back from Kabul on 25th December, 2015.  These initiatives to normalise relations by PM Modi were met by terror attacks in Pathankot on 1stJanuary, 2016 and in Uri in September 2016. This proved to be the breaking point as far as PM Modis engagement policy with Pakistan is concerned. He declared that talks and terror will not go together and broke off all dialogue with Pakistan. A surgical strike was launched on 28th September, 2016 which inflicted severe damage to Pakistans terrorist infrastructure. The Pulwama terrorist action in February 2019 leading to the death of 44 CRPF personnel resulted in the Balakot air strike, deep within Pakistan and caused heavy damage to the terror base located there.

These two attacks well inside Pakistan also busted the bogey of nuclear blackmail threats that Pakistan establishment has been constantly making against India. A ceasefire has been in place since February 2021 but recent developments in Afghanistan with the Taliban assuming power on 15thAugust, 2021 have made the LOC and India-Pakistan border and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir more vulnerable to terrorist actions from across the border. The recent spate of killings and attacks on small-time businessmen and entrepreneurs in Kashmir from different parts of the country has created considerable anxiety in the minds of the people and administration of the Union Territory. There is growing demand by the people of the country that Pakistans perfidies should not go unpunished. The country could see some precipitate and decisive action against Pakistan in the coming weeks.

It needs to be recognised that in Pakistan, its policies relating to relations with India, USA and Afghanistan, and nuclear issues fall within the purview of the Pakistan Army and related agencies, and are outside the mandate of the civilian government. The Pakistan army is unlikely to agree to any measures to improve relations with India as it will directly impact the funding and financial resources it receives, subsequently lessening its standing and influence in the domestic power matrix. India will hence have to continue to live with the periodic shelling and incursions from across the border. It will also need to be ready to give a befitting response to these treacherous actions master-minded from across the border as it did in the case of Uri and Pulwama attacks.

PM Modis “Samudra Yatra” which inter alia took him to Sri Lanka in March, 2015, as the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM after a gap of 28 years, was a resounding success. He was able to reach out to all segments of local society and communities and emphasise Indias interest in the integrity, sovereignty, stability, security and prosperity of Sri Lanka. He became the first Indian prime minister to visit Jaffna, a city in the northern province that is still struggling to recover from decades of war between Tamil rebels and the central government. PM Modi made a strong appeal for empowerment of Sri Lankas Tamil minority. The change of Government in Colombo after elections in January 2015, and separate visits by Sri Lankan President and Foreign Minister, which were their first visits outside the country after assuming charge, set the stage for a productive bilateral visit by PM Modi. Discussions on some contentious issues like freedom of fishermen to fish in the Palk Straits, resettlement of the displaced Tamil refugees, up-gradation of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) were taken up.

PM Modis visits to Sri Lanka in 2015, 2017 and 2019 imparted a fresh impetus to the bilateral engagement. Election of Gotobaya Rajapaksa as President of the country in November 2019 was seen by India both as a challenge and an opportunity. PM Modi decided to focus on it as an opportunity and dispatched External Affairs Minster S. Jaishankar to reach Colombo a day after the swearing in ceremony of President Rajapaksa. He was the first foreign leader to visit Sri Lanka after the Presidential election. He conveyed PM Modi’s message of a partnership for peace, progress, prosperity and security. PM Modis message went on to assert that he had confidence that India-Sri Lanka relations would reach greater heights under Rajapaksa’s leadership. The last two years of the Rajapaksa Presidency have witnessed bilateral ties grow significantly. Sri Lankan President, PM, Foreign Minister and other senior officials made India the first port of their call after the elections.

President Rajapaksa has assured India that Sri Lanka will not allow its territory to be used for any activity that could pose a threat to India’s security. Recent visits by Indian Foreign Secretary and Indian Army Chief have further cemented ties and expanded understanding between the two countries. Inauguration of the Kushinagar International airport by PM Modi on 20th October, 2021 at which a plane-load of Sri Lankan monks and devotees were the first to land, has sent out a strong message of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

The then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited India from 27 to 29 April, 2015. It was a useful visit providing an opportunity to leaders of the two countries to have a comprehensive and face-to-face dialogue on the future trajectory of our partnership. There was considerable concern in some circles in India that Ghanis closeness to Pakistan and China would be at Indias expense. Ghani chose to visit India after having undertaken visits to Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, USA, UK and Iran. This was an indication of his priorities as far as Afghanistans foreign policy was concerned. PM Modi utilised the opportunity of Ghanis visit to underline and re-emphasise Indias strategic interest in ensuring a stable, secure, democratic, secular and prosperous Afghanistan. India has invested heavily to the tune of US$ 3 billion in the economic, social and physical infrastructure as well as in development of human resources in Afghanistan. India enjoys centuries old cultural and civilisational links with the Afghan people.

During the past seven years, India and Afghanistan have significantly expanded their cooperation in many sectors of development cooperation. India is engaged in executing more than 500 high impact community development projects in all the 34 provinces of the country. India was able to complete the Salma Dam/Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam, which had been pending for many years as well as the parliament building. Both of these were dedicated to the people of Afghanistan and handed over by Prime Minister Modi during his visits in June, 2016 and December, 2015 respectively.

The recent takeover by the Taliban in Kabul has introduced great uncertainty and anxiety in India and several other countries in the region and beyond. The Taliban had been in contact with a number of governments in the neighbourhood through their political office in Doha. Taliban delegations also travelled to Russia, Iran, China and other countries to send out the message that it was a different entity from the one that had ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, that they were moderate, would be inclusive in their governance, would respect the rights of minorities and women, and would not follow the obscurantist policies of the 1990s. They have however not abided by their commitments. The caretaker government announced by the Taliban in early September 2021 is not inclusive, does not have any women and comprises of individuals who are proscribed by the UN and several countries and have bounties on their heads. There is worry around the world but particularly amongst Afghanistans neighbours, including India, that Afghan territory could be used as a staging ground for launching terror attacks against other countries. It is being speculated that increased violence and killings in the Kashmir Valley in recent weeks are a result of the Taliban victory in Kabul.

India has been speaking at all the international fora to apply pressure on the Taliban to safeguard the human rights of minorities and women, allow girls to go to school and not allow the Afghan territory to be used for terrorist actions. In parallel, India has also started a dialogue with the Taliban to make them aware of our interests and concerns and ensure that they are safeguarded. We have also conveyed our readiness to provide food, medicines and other emergency items to avert the human catastrophe building up in Afghanistan. Simultaneously India is in active contact with all the regional and global interlocutors like Russia, Iran, Central Asian countries, Qatar, Europe, USA and others to ensure that a common international policy is followed on the issue of dealing with the Taliban. India is also in touch with Iran, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to promote connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia through Iran and the Chabahar port.

Indias relations with Bangladesh today are the friendliest and most fruitful than they have been at any time since 1975 when the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu was assassinated. The upswing in relations started when Sheikh Hasina assumed the mantle of the Head of Government in 2009 and won two terms subsequently. Bangladesh has helped and supported India to deal with insurgency that was earlier being promoted from Bangladesh territory. Bangladesh has apprehended and handed over Indian militants and extremists and closed all sources of funding, training and shipment of arms. India has generously supported Bangladeshs developmental efforts by extending financial aid for economic and infrastructure development and growth. Bilateral ties saw a significant spurt in trust and confidence between the two sides when the Indian Parliament unanimously passed the Land Boundary Agreement which had been pending ratification since the Indira-Mujib Pact was signed in 1974. PM Modi has continued the active and intense interaction with the Sheikh Hasina Government to mutual benefit and advantage. EAM Sushma Swaraj chose Dhaka to be her first destination after the Government was sworn in in 2014. This is a measure of the importance that the Modi Government attaches to its relations with Bangladesh. The first visit by Bangladesh President to India in December 2014 since the visit of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1974 was also testimony to the determination of PM Modi early in his tenure to further strengthen bilateral ties with this important neighbour. 

Relations between India and Maldives were tense and under stress ever since former President Mohammed Nasheed was removed from Office in 2012 and the contract of GMR to construct the Male Airport was terminated mid way. It was subsequently awarded to a Chinese Company. Maldives was be in a state of flux when PM Modi first assumed power. It was a matter of worry for India that not only was the Maldives under President Abdulla Yameen tilting perilously towards China by joining its Belt and Road Project but was also precipitously moving away from India. Tense bilateral relations however did not come in the way of India despatching large emergency supplies of drinking water to Maldives under Operation Neer in Dec, 2014 when the need arose on account of a huge fire in the Male Water and Sewerage Plant.

Matters took a turn for the better when Yameen lost in the election in 2018 and Ibrahim Solih emerged as the winner. PM Modi was the only foreign leader to be invited to the swearing in ceremony of President Solih in November 2018. The last two years have seen a sharp course-correction in the policies of the Maldives government. Relations between India and Maldives have strengthened and expanded. The strongest demonstration of this is the unstinted support extended by India to Abdulla Shahid, the foreign minister of Maldives for his election as President of the 76thSession of the UN General Assembly. Shahid won handsomely against a candidate propped up late in the race by China. Maldives has confirmed that it is committed to an “India First” policy.

India has supplied vaccines gratis to all its neighbours, except Pakistan from where there was no request for supply of the vaccines. These have been warmly welcomed by these countries and have significantly strengthened ties with these countries. For a few months, India was not able to export vaccines because of the devastating impact of the second wave. But it has re-started the exports to the neighbouring countries. This news has been received with great relief and satisfaction by all countries, particularly in Indias neighbourhood.

India launched the South Asian Satellite in 2017 to promote education, human resource development, entertainment, meteorological studies, telecommunications etc. in the neighbouring countries. Initiatives like this as well as enhanced development of human resources and skills inter alia through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme have gone a long way in promoting economic development and growth amongst Indias neighbours and invigorating relations with India.

Prime Minister Modi has used his clear-headed approach to reach out to countries in India’s neighbourhood, South East Asia and India’s strategic partners around the world to carve out stronger relations for promotion of its national interests and safeguarding its concerns. He has also used his communication skills most effectively to connect with India’s major partners and interlocutors all over the world, particularly in the neighbourhood. PM Modi has been bold, creative, resolute and steadfast in seeking better relations with the neighbours. It is a measure of the success of Indias “Neighbourhood First” policy that its relations with most countries of the neighbourhood are significantly better than they were when PM Modi took over the reins of power in 2014.

 Author Brief Bio: Shri Ashok Sajjanhar has worked for the Indian Foreign Service for over three decades. He was the ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia, and has worked in diplomatic positions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok. He is currently the president of Institute of Global Studies in New Delhi.


An Interview with Shri Ranil Wickremesinghe, Former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Nitin Gokhale

Sri Lanka’s geographical position in the Indo Pacific is crucially located between two well established logistics hubs—Dubai and Singapore. What role can Sri Lanka play to bring in more trade and greater exchange of flow of goods in the region? Besides these two main hubs, do you foresee Sri Lanka to be a good logistics hub?

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Singapore is a good logistic hub, lying between the Indian Ocean and between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Dubai’s location on the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula on the coast of the Persian Gulf, makes it an ideal major global transport hub for passengers and cargo. Sri Lanka has always been one of the trading centres of the Indian Ocean, even in earlier times when there was a highly developed trading system. Today, the Indian Ocean is the least integrated trading region in the world. So facilitating integration of trade in the region is one of the challenges for Sri Lanka. We also need to work on the proposition of being the gateway to India and onto the Bay of Bengal. The Bay of Bengal is developing rapidly and has become a region of great interest. We therefore, need to coordinate our shipping policies with that of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

We also have to see how we can go forward with some form of economic cooperation and trade integration. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is aimed at strengthening regional cooperation but has not so far been able to bring about trade integration. This is an issue which we have to look into, especially as there are two big ongoing projects on the side of the Western Indian Ocean. One of these is the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. The other is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, that is linking Central Asia to the Xinjiang province of China and also to the heart of Russia and onto Turkey.

There is also a lot of potential in East Africa. By 2050, the population in the region between Bangladesh and East Africa, will be equal to that of India, which will make this region bigger than the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) grouping. It is important that we start looking outside our national framework towards a cooperative set up. It would be appropriate to discuss a timeframe, which could perhaps be ten years, for trade integration to take place in specific sectors. We can move slower than the RCEP but nevertheless some move has to take place. Here, India can take the lead to be the engine of growth. This big region can then interact with RCEP and perhaps later, move on to interacting with the European Union (EU).

Nitin Gokhale

That is a good suggestion, but would require very good relations between India and Sri Lanka.Where do you see the relationship between India and Sri Lanka currently and what should be done to improve it?

Ranil Wickremesinghe

We have had ups and downs in our relationship. We had challenges when the LTTE came in, we have them now and we had them in 2014. But we also had very good relationships from about mid-1990s till about 2005—and we worked a lot of these out in 2015. The first issue—and let us be frank about it—was the Belt and Road Initiative of China. We had to accept the fact that we had two different views, but nevertheless, that does not preclude us from working together, because we had one issue on which we both agree—that Sri Lanka should not be a threat to India and India should not be a threat to Sri Lanka. Now, if we accept that, then we can resolve our differences on trade, economy, culture and on any other issue.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Sri Lanka and India need greater integration in trade. For that, we need to integrate our ports. We could link the Colombo and Trincomalee ports with the Indian system and we were working towards that end. We worked on Colombo harbour on the East terminal, on getting the oil tanks and aiming at the Bay of Bengal, which means that there were so many projects that we had jointly put together, and also with Japan, as India came in with Japan. We need to continue working towards that end.

I had always asked India to give us a terminal in return, which would have been very good at some stage as we had two LNG plants and the floating terminal. We also had the oil tanks issue which we should conclude quickly. From our side, we can explain the issue to the trade unions and see that their concerns are taken into account. Similarly, we were looking at development of the Mattala airport and the third section of the central expressway. At that time, the USA came in with a proposal from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and one part of it was to study the road from Kurunegala to Trincomalee, to look at the possibilities of having industrial estates.  Sri Lanka rejected that package which was worth over US $2 billion, which perhaps could have been beneficial for us. Such like issues need to be resolved in our quest towards further integration. India and Sri Lanka already have a Free Trade Agreement, the ISFTA, which was signed in December 1998. As a step forward, we can now look into the possibility of the five southern states of India, working together with Sri Lanka as one economic grouping.

We must remember that Indo-Sri Lanka relations are not merely dependent on government-to-government relations. It is a heritage relationship as we have a common origin, with strong bonds in Buddhism, Pali and Sanskrit. We have similar Rahu Kalaya (inauspicious timings). While the sacred Buddha shrine is in Bodh Gaya in India, we have the southernmost sacred Hindu Shrine in Koneswaram in Trincomalee. We listen to the melodious voice of Lata Mangeshwar and you listen to the Sri Lankan singer, Yohani. These are cultural bonds which unite us and we should further strengthen them.

Nitin Gokhale

While civilisational and cultural ties do bind us together, another factor that is binding India and Sri Lanka as also Maldives together, are the common maritime security mechanisms. What is your view about SAARC and BIMSTEC, the latter in reality being SAARC minus Pakistan? Do you think SAARC and BIMSTEC are good platforms to improve relations in the region?

Ranil Wickremesinghe

We need the trilateral agreement, and we also need SAARC and BIMSTEC. SAARC is the only organisation for South Asian. If we create a vacuum, then someone else will come and fill it. Both India and Pakistan were the founder members of SAARC, so, regardless of the difficulties in the relationship, we have to go along with the organisation. The problem in SAARC, as I foresee it, is with Afghanistan. If you are going to persecute people of other religions, or of different Muslim sects, and if people do not have freedom and are going to be shot on the streets, that is going to create a problem for us. With respect to Pakistan, while it does have a problem with some other countries, nevertheless, we should start moving at the official level and the ministerial level in an attempt to resolve all issues. BIMSTEC gives us a reach to the Bay of Bengal and maybe, at some later stage, to some maritime issues in the region. So, it is essential that we get this. At the moment, we have only the Trilateral Security Arrangement.

Nitin Gokhale

The elephant in the room is China. The shadow of China is very long and very thick in the region. How does Sri Lanka balance this and how does India make sure that China does not overwhelm its relations with its neighbours, especially Sri Lanka?

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Sri Lanka has had long ties with China, just as India has had, which go back to the times that Buddhism spread from India to China and Sri Lanka. We have also had trading relations with China since earlier times. Post-independence, it was Prime Minister Nehru himself who pushed forward the cause of China. Sri Lanka had a trade pact with China in 1952, when the latter agreed to export rice to Sri Lanka in exchange for rubber. Since then, our relationship has grown and we have become close to each other. That is one thing we both have to acknowledge. But we have not allowed the Chinese relationship in any way to impact on the Indian relationship. We have to accept the fact that we may have different views, but we also know that India has a specific role to play in the Indian Ocean. India is the largest country – politically, economically, militarily and population wise. We have accepted Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). Hence, if China comes in and they want to have an economic corridor, we can handle that without coming into any conflict with India. We have the Belt and Road Initiative on one side, with multiple economic projects. On the other hand, if we can have sub regional cooperation with the five Indian coastal states as well, that too should be all right. Our relations with India are not just country to country relations, but relations with people who have the same origins.

Nitin Gokhale Moving away from Indian Ocean and the bilateral relations, how do you see Sri Lanka responding to the increasing American footprints in the Indo-Pacific, the recent AUKUS agreement, and the traction QUAD has now got?

Ranil Wickremesinghe

In the beginning of the last century, America extended their manifest destiny out into the Pacific, with Hawaii and Philippines. Then, after World War II, USA consolidated firstly by bringing Hawaii and Alaska as two States in the American Union and secondly, through the San Francisco system, brought Japan in. Later, with the Nixon visit to Beijing, the ice between the two countries was broken. We have to remember that China’s economy was built up by America.

The Asia-Pacific construct gave way to the Indo-Pacific, in the context of the US-China rivalry, with the US reframing the arrangement by pushing it into the Indian Ocean. But when we look at the QUAD, we are still wondering what exactly it stands for. The idea originated from the then Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s speech at the Indian Parliament and received traction later with the speech of Indian Prime Minister Modi at Shangri La. Subsequently, President Trump gave his vision of the Indo-Pacific and now we see a reframing of the same. So there has to be some agreement on what exactly the QUAD is to be.

If you take the last QUAD summit meeting in Washington, it talks about an inclusive Indian Ocean, which is basically what the Japanese and the Indians have been pushing for. AUKUS is a military alliance and as a military, they talk of working with the partners. We are not enthused with any military alliance in Indian Ocean, so there is very lukewarm response in Asia for AUKUS. I am pressing hard for the freedom of navigation and undersea cables in the Indian Ocean. That will take 50 percent of the problem out, but I think AUKUS is going to be a problem. And I don’t know how India is going to manage it.

Nitin Gokhale: I think that’s where the convergence between India and Sri Lanka will come in. Thank You.

Brief Bios:

*Shri Ranil Wickremesinghe is the Former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

*Shri Nitin Gokhale is the Founder of and Strat News Global


Bangladesh @ 50: An Epic Saga of an Indomitable Nation

Policies are ethereal. No matter what the published doctrine or strategy might be, it is quite difficult to pinpoint a specific anchorage for a policy over a period of time – at a certain point in time. What we do get, however, is a general sense of being and a spatial sense of direction as to where we might be heading as a country, or as an institution or even for that matter, a society or an individual. Foreign Policy is almost at the heart of the art of statecraft. Its evolution is highly non-linear and – if we look back in history – it moves back and forth in time like a short-stepped tango danseuse. Foreign Policy, clearly written or shaded in grey, deals both with the vernacular and with the elite and everything that falls in between. As a researcher, the earliest foreign policy books known to me is the “Manusmrity” – or the Code of Manu from the Indian sub-continent stipulated to have been rooted in the timeframes of 12th to 10th century BCE. If you would look at the treatise, particularly at Chapter VII, on Raj Dharma, you will get an even older version of Kautilya’s Arthashastra. The chapter contains what ought to be a nation or a king’s policy ought to be, with regard to countries (or kingdoms) other than their own. A near parallel grew from what is China today in the form of Sun Tzu and his ‘Art of War’ in the 5th century BCE. These were like general principles which a sovereign ruler, in this case a king, would apply to the affairs of the state and to the conduct of relations with other sovereigns – which today – is variously termed as foreign policy. Let me proceed into the subject matter of this article with this spirit in its foundation.

Bangladesh @ 50

As I write this article, Bangladesh is celebrating its Golden Jubilee of Freedom and the Birth Centenary of its Father of the Nation, the Architect of its State, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Most auspiciously, we are also celebrating the anniversary of fifty-years of bilateral ties with our most trusted friend and our closest neighbour, India.

The story of Bangladesh is a saga of an epic proportion. The country had literally started with scorched earth. With three million dead and two hundred thousand raped (Jahan, 2013; Sharlach, 2000; Debnath, 2017), Bangladesh started with nothing but an indomitable resolve to survive the harsh winters of December 1971. Fifty years have passed since then and what some pundits once referred to as a ‘basket case with no hope of survival’ (Jahan, 1973) evolved into a “development miracle” (Barai, 2020) and a “land of opportunity” under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (Khondker, 2017; Wajed, S, 2020), the able daughter of the assassinated Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Thanks to, first, strong agricultural sector production – both extension and distribution and marketing; second, the rapid expansion of RMG-led production and export; and third, impressive remittance that pulled the economy even when the global economy was facing recessions and meltdown, the growth engine of Bangladesh keeps roaring ahead. It is not only these three direct impetus, but also a cocktail of robust and manifest structural reforms – expanding and reconfiguring public sector investments into the formation of infrastructure assets; a freer and more transparent flow of remittances from a thriving expatriate community; diversification of exports – to higher-value brands and integration of essentially middleware design and software components, which have contributed to Bangladesh’s journey towards becoming a journey of a determined and charismatic leadership (Moni & Joy, 2020). The Economy of the country has been growing at a sustained rate of more than 6% per annum for the last four decades and had it not been stifled by the sudden onslaught of the COVID19 paradox, it would have been lifted to an 8% paradigm starting 2020. Even after nearly two years of COVID19-induced constrictions, Bangladesh’s economy grew an astonishing 5.2% in 2021 and our growth projections are close to 7% again in the year coming up ahead.

Bangladesh is often tagged, and consequently, anointed as a model of development by the international financial institutions including the World Bank and IMF – despite their erstwhile reservations and skepticism about the very survival and growth of the country (Sawada, Mahmud and Kitano, 2018). The astute foreign policy dimension of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina not only complements but also acts as a primary vortex for international connectivity, fiscal stability and economic growth both for the country and for the region. As a secular,  sovereign and independent nation-state Bangladesh is formulating its foreign policy goals and objectives to advance its national interest based on the core dictum of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, ‘Friendship to All, Malice towards None’ (Rahman, 1998).

Bangladesh has been slowly but steadily walking through various stages of its survival and growth as a Westphalian country in the geospatial, geo-strategic and geo-economic milieu of South Asia – bordering on the Indian Ocean and sitting on the tip of a thin land bridge to Southeast Asia and the theatre of the East. When we speak of the Foreign Policy imperatives for Bangladesh emanating from its economic realities, we must remember that Bangladesh had started with all the ingredients of a nation-state – except that its productive capabilities, assets, and revenues were either uncollateralized or impossibly immutable either to free-flowing cash or to high-powered foreign currency denominators. Securing and nurturing interest in the country came at a high personal cost and with a high degree of personal sacrifices. Indeed, the nation-building initiative of the country revolved around a mostly idealistic notion centred on Bangla as a language and Bengali as a dominant mode of cultural expressions – which survived not only two hundred years of British and Pakistani occupation but also nearly 21 years of successive autocratic regimes after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and defied many attempts on its intended national and institutional architecture.

Therefore, in retrospect, the foreign policy of Bangladesh evolved sparingly around our core constitutional principles – nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism – radiating from the spirit of the glorious war of liberation in 1971. Though Bangladesh had a few collaborators to the Pakistani regime installed as Ministers and even once as a Prime Minister by the Military autocracy (Mookherjee, 2015), it has somehow never forgotten that the constitution of Bangladesh dictates the state to formulate its foreign relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlement of international disputes, and respect for international law – keeping the centrality of the united nations as an arbiter of the international order (The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 2020). The famous dictum of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, “friendship to all, and malice towards none”- remains the bedrock of the foreign policy manual – in spite of and despite the many allurements and threats from both within and from outside the borders of the country. As a nation-state, Bangladesh is committed to making friendship with all countries of the world to fulfil its destiny and to build a prosperous future not only for its people but also for the common good of the citizens of the world. The core spirit of our Liberation War guides us in raising our voice to support the oppressed peoples throughout the world – and not only for the disenfranchised Rohingyas from the North of Rakhine of the Union of Myanmar – 1.1 million of whom we have sheltered for the last four years purely on humanitarian grounds.

A core element of any nation state is the economic wealth and capability of its administrative architecture marked by the prosperity of its citizenry. We in Bangladesh consider prosperity not as financial or economic in nature. Rather, economic prosperity is only a mere sub-set of the archetypes of human, societal and ecological well-being that define our existence as conscious and conscientious beings capable to produce and pursue grand visions. Prosperity, to us, is inclusive. Prosperity to us is the ability of the state system to enable the individual to live with a measure of pride and dignity and deploy his or her productive capacity to the fullest possible extent.  Access to nutrition, health, shelter, education, and an otherwise decent living is all part of the prosperity that we understand. This was and still remains the founding principle of Bangladesh and the guiding doctrine of the Government.

Therefore, our foreign policy priorities emanate from a very basic wish list of the Government for the welfare of its people. Our priorities arise from a deep-rooted wish for synchronising our efforts with our neighbours and partners in the geosphere that we share. True to the election manifesto of 2008, Bangladesh has already reached the financial strength of a stable lower middle-income country. We aspire to become a developed country by 2041 and we are working on the Delta Plan for 2100. Lest we forget, we have rooted out the evil of transboundary terror utilising Bangladesh soil at great peril to both the state and to the life of its charismatic leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh as a country was conceived from the highest ideals imaginable by humans. Ideas of freedom, democracy, equality, justice and inclusivity. Amongst these, the idea of democracy was the driving force. Be it the Language Movement of 1952, or the 6-point Movement of 1966, or for that matter, even the initial struggles of the post-1970 elections till March, Bangladesh was roused by the Greatest Bengali of all times, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for the cause of democracy. The question of a human identity, free from the oppressive clutches of autocracy and autocratic dispensations, propelled the Bengali psyche to ultimately aspire for a land of their own so that they may live with pride and dignity.

Ever since its creation through the partition of India in 1947, the country named Pakistan was a geographical and cultural absurdity. Although the GDP of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) exceeded that of its West counterpart during the formative stages, the discriminating economic policies and direct transfer of resources by the central government eventually turned the East into a colony of the West (Papanek, 1967; Khan, 1970). Referring to these stark disparities, Awami League proposed the famous six-point program of regional autonomy and emerged as the last resort of hope for the Bengali people, and indeed, a beacon of hope for all nationalities suppressed by Islamabad regime. Awami League won the absolute majority in the 1970 general election—the first of its kind in the history of Pakistan—in spite of the elections being held under the military dictatorship. When the authoritarian government of Pakistan denied upholding the democratic will of the people, the Bengali people under the astute leadership of the Father of the Nation become uncompromising and determined to free the country. The Pakistan military’s staunch refusal to hand over power to a Bengali-led civilian government led to the genocide which started on 25 March 1971 under ‘Operation Searchlight’ and ultimately the events led to a nine-month-long war of independence.

Geopolitical Context of Bangladesh Foreign Policy

Bangladesh is located at the cusp of the vast Indian landscape and in particular of Bengal and the so-called seven sisters, i.e., the Northeastern Region, coasting on the frontiers of the Bay of Bengal funnel and touching the northwest tip of the troubled Myanmar territories (Yasmin, 2016). Its geo-spatial triangulations make it strategically important for invariably all major powers of the world. India’s propensity to reconnect the economic corridors through Bangladesh has helped Bangladesh craft its foreign policy in a propitious manner, where both countries stand to gain significantly from a mutually convenient policy direction towards each other (Mantoo, 2013). A major part of this grand initiative revolves around the rivers which formed the lifelines of the greater Indian civilisation and the transfusion of products and ideas across its many ethnicities and languages. The great opening at the south, the Bay of Bengal, is also not just another sea. It is a living and breathing ecosystem of life forms; economic priorities; commercial and diplomatic effort; individual, business, and corporate interests; evolutionary tendencies of societies, nations, countries, especially those with a Westminster style democracy and those with a more regimented set of governance structures—and how each tries to influence and entice the other; and above all, of Mother Nature, with all her furies and fiery beauties and a rising sea-level (Iyer, 2017) and rapidly worsening conditions in global warming (Elahi & Khan, 2015).

In other words, harmony, and lack thereof, amongst often conflicting priorities of economy, ecology, and security deeply influence the thought spheres which underwrite the Foreign Policy paradigms of both the country and the region. The lenses, layers, and spheres through which the Bay of Bengal could be seen are also many and multifarious. Bangladesh’s foreign relations vis-a-vis other countries take account of these natural geopolitical endowments. Coupled with Bangladesh’s own initiatives for regional stability and connectivity, such as the SAARC, BIMSTEC, and BBIN processes, where the Bay of Bengal holds a very prominent position, currently, Bangladesh also hosts two intersecting strategic constructs crossing their pathways across the cone of the Bay of Bengal and the landmass that is Bangladesh, i.e., the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI).

Bangladesh is richly endowed with many layers of political economy and geo-demographic variables making it an extremely complex, dynamic and fluid cauldron of ideas, acts, movements and visualisations. Many sets of ideas are simultaneously playing out their lives on the population of the country. As such it is a magnificent milieu of levels and layers, fields and players, so far as statecraft is concerned.

At the time of the birth of Bangladesh, not only the subcontinent but also the entire world was deeply divided by the Cold War. Realising this stark reality, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman manoeuvred his foreign policy to forge a bipartisan position in matters related to international politics, and create an amicable relationship with each party and even those who wished to stay away. Therefore, just after his return to the country in January 1972, when his favourite liberation forces (Mukti Bahini) were in a state of turmoil as a result of the after-shock of a guerrilla war, requested India to withdraw its troops immediately from Bangladesh, unlike any other newly born state anywhere in the world, ever. And India, as a true friend and partner, respecting the sovereignty of the new born country, took the timely measure to withdraw its troops. Indian withdrawal of troops also assisted Bangabandhu to get recognition of many countries, 126 very quickly.

Bangabandhu’s best bait was to appeal to reason and utilise the technologies of power to assert the legitimate aspirations of a sovereign and independent Bangladesh. Bangabandhu realised the nature of the evolution of power in the international domain and the sharp brakes which various coteries within the vestibules of the global power corridors exerted by means of control over the natural resources of the planet (Karim, 2020). Additionally, Bangabandhu understood the importance that Bangladesh ought to place on its rightful entry into the UN system and also into the Islamic Ummah.

As of 2021, Bangladesh is fast graduating into an economically solid and densely calibrated middle-income economy. As of 2021, our aim is to become a fully developed country by 2041. The Government of Bangladesh under the astute statesmanship of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is working relentlessly for realising the Visions 2021, 2041 and 2100 in order to translate the dream of the Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of a happy and prosperous “Sonar Bangla” into a reality. The Foreign Office is also playing a key role in fulfilling these dreams of the Government. Stabilising the economy and poverty alleviation remains our foremost priority. We intend to complement this objective with a greater depth in external trading and FDI – coupled with a greater inflow of foreign remittance. During next few years, we expect to increase (a) foreign investment and diversified investment portfolio, (b) expansion & diversification of our export basket, (c) providing quality service to our diaspora and also involving them in our nation building efforts (d) transfer of critical technologies, and (e) gainful employment of our professionals and workers abroad.

Bangladesh and its Immediate Region

Since independence, Bangladesh has been maintaining a delicate balance in its regional engagements amidst the destabilising power politics affecting the South, Central, and Southeast Asian regions. Rather than going to confrontations with the neighbouring countries, it has rather chosen to resolve the issues of disputes through dialogues, and international arbitration mechanisms.

For Bangladesh, South Asia remains at the core of its foreign policy priorities. The historic Land Boundary Agreement with India in 2015 has untangled the complex territorial rights set down since as early as in 1713. The four thousand plus kilometres of land border between Bangladesh and India are now possible zones of prosperity instead of conflict (Bhattacharya, 2017).  Delimitation of the maritime boundary with both India and Myanmar—a historic dispute over the resource-rich Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh was able to persuade both countries to the international system and hold everyone including itself to the rigours of international standards. Our maritime delimitation is a rare example of engaging both the multilateral and the bilateral systems to solve regional disputes (Ghani, 2020). Despite the constant provocations of Myanmar regarding the Rohingya issue, Bangladesh has always been committed to engaging international mechanisms for their safe, democratic and sustainable repatriation, justice, and accountability of Rohingya people. Acclimatising the UN mechanism to support the persecuted citizens of Myanmar and bringing Myanmar to the UN court system without going to direct confrontations is a success story of Bangladesh’s regional foreign policy (Julhash, 2020). Bangabandhu methodically went in stages and in a step-by-step manner so that no loophole could jeopardise the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the newborn country. In spite of severe constraints and challenges, creating the seeds of a sovereign national identity – complete with the full spectrum of a Westphalian state system was a singularly important phenomenon that Bangabandhu gave birth to.

If we take a closer look at the way our diplomatic manoeuvres have been construed, knowingly, and possibly as equally, subconsciously, the immediate neighbourhood has remained a core focus of the country’s tactical formulations in the foreign policy domain. We constantly monitor the civilisational linkages across South Asia. The more recent bonds of trust, honour and shared sacrifices between Bangladesh and India remains the crux of this ideation. We have engaged the South Asian and East Asian neighbours beyond the call of regular diplomatic overtures and have gone beyond to engage structurally so that we become interconnected to the rest of Asia in an organic way and then catapult our productive endowments to a height achievable only by synergistic configurations and not alone.

Bangladesh’s Ties with India

South Asia is a unique place to be! Amongst other things, it is marked with a shared culture, concentric to the Indic civilisation; a widely varied topography; a strong lineage of family and religious bonds (and its flipside / consequent harmony and/or discord); cross-breeding societies, yet bound existence; a huge mélange of geographic and climatic conditions; invasions, assimilations and colonial past; the continuous interplay of strategic powers and power players; well-defined and strong administrative structures; growing economies and communities trapped in low-level equilibriums; and involvement and pre-eminence of security concerns (and consequently, security agencies).

In such a configuration, Bangladesh and India share an extraordinary relationship, so as to say. It’s more congenital than architectural.  Sketched, as post-Westphalian republics, out of a stretch of land and waters, which sheltered a multitude of nations, peoples and belief-systems for centuries across, Bangladesh and India are not exclusive neighbours. Rather, Bangladesh-India relations are multifaceted and deeply inter-entrenched in a shared history, geographical contiguity, cultural commonality, and economic complementarity. The psychological bonds, which stem from the association of the two countries during the ‘Glorious War of Liberation – 1971’ remain a dominant factor in how peoples of the two countries see each other. While many inside India would not know, Bangladesh has always been supremely aware of the pivotal role that the Government and people of India, and especially of the Indian Armed Forces and of the supreme sacrifices made by its members, played in our War of Liberation. The shared struggle of 1971 has set the benchmark for bilateral cooperation in maintaining peace and stability and upholding the superior human values in our neighbourhood landscape.  Needless to say, the War of Liberation has set in motion a dynamic détente that defines the entire range of Confidence Building Measures [or CBM] between the two countries.

It is often said and categorically noted that India and Bangladesh are bound by history and heritage but it is seldom understood which history and whose heritage the countries or republics – which in themselves are rather recent phenomena in the stage of world politics – share. Again, it may not be very wise to claim that we fully understand the extent, range and depth of the vision which define this relationship over the years to come (Mamun, 2015). The situation is further complicated when we are dealing with the flux-vortex of complex socio-economic parameters marked by ironies. Both countries have a relatively young population, i.e., passing through an era of demographic dividends; both countries have pervasive and hardcore poverty; both countries suffer from rising income inequalities; both countries have slow permeation of literacy and knowledge; and parts of both countries have seen aggressive religious fundamentalism. At the same time, both countries also have strong community driven traditions of employment and inclusive prosperity. And interestingly, people of both countries have, by and large, an ambitious mindset – when national ambitions are not solely mired by putting the next meal on the table rather the aspiration levels have risen up to landing an explorer vehicle on Mars.

The intense and dynamic interlinks between the two countries in terms of trade and commerce is complemented by the fact that at least three major sweet-water river systems of the world, complete with their tributaries and branches, alluvial deltas and marshes, a full-fledged sea with a sizeable and resource-rich continental shelf, are shared by the two countries. One cannot but write with heartfelt passion when one writes about anything, which even remotely relates to the relationship between the two countries. Amongst the menaces which festered the relationship between the two countries, Land Boundary Agreement was a strange case to deal with. Complications had originally started with the Radcliffe award when on the stroke of a certain midnight in 1947, a caricatured border was produced by an Englishman who had never even visited the areas that he was entrusted to divide. Further complication had arisen with the differentiated implementation of the 1974 Treaty signed by the founder of the Independent Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is hard to believe but remains nonetheless true, that of the 4,096 kilometres of border between Bangladesh and India, only 6.5 kilometres remained un-demarcated and it remained so in three separate pieces none of which is longer than 3 kilometres at a stretch and one involved nothing other than a river which has shifted course many years before! The question of exchange of enclaves (111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh with an area of 17,158.13 acres; 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in Indian territory with an area of 7,110.02 acres) and territories in adverse possession (there was 3,506.01 acres of Bangladesh territory under the adverse possession of India and 3,024.16 acres Indian territory under adverse possession of Bangladesh) also plagued the relationship between the two countries till now due only to procedural delays.

Even when technical committees headed by Envoys Plenipotentiary had signed and exchanged close to twelve hundred strip-maps, and the cabinets had approved in effect the Mujib-Indira Treaty of 1974, the issue remained pending for a lack of consensus at the Parliament. De facto issues constrained by de jure concerns. It is interesting to see how once a perfectly placid land could turn into a hotbed of division with the introduction of a foreign concept. The sub-human levels of existence that inhabitants of the enclaves and adversely possessed lands lived in was not only a problem, rather it was a shame for the two countries so long as they remained unresolved. Bangladesh had ratified this supremely important treaty in the early seventies. The ratification by the Indian Legislature effectively removed one of the last vestiges of a foreign Raj and its vicious measures to divide the Indian subcontinent. The nature of this peculiar beast – called Enclaves, Adversely Possessed Lands and Undemarcated Boundaries had literally been humanitarian and law-enforcement issues of epic proportion. The lack of a de jure agreement represented a serious impediment to the People-to-People connect of both the countries, and led to an Achilles’ Heel which undermined the security apparatus and processes of both Bangladesh and India. Although each successive Government in India worked hard to get the Constitutional Amendment Bill passed, it is Prime Minister Modi who could be credited the most for bringing all parties together into a breath-taking consensus.

An area that created headlines in each other’s countries for well over three decades was the concern for security and especially the rise of autonomous non-state and sub-state actors. In last twelve years since Awami League came to power in Bangladesh, considerable momentum has been whipped up in both countries to drive out sub-state actors infringing on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other. Most notable amongst these are Bangladesh Government’s steps to mobilise actions against the Northeast insurgents like ULFA et al. Actions taken in spite of the limited force capabilities of the law enforcement agencies of the country are symptomatic of the commitment of the government to bolster Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) taken on its part to dispel the confusion and aspersions for distrust in each other.

Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power twelve years ago, her Government has been trying to piece together a coordinated strategy to put the relationship between the two countries on the right track, and essentially, on an incrementally upward growth trajectory. Very much within the scope of this collaboration, be it at the bilateral or at the sub-regional or at the regional level, the intention was to make collective endeavours for ensuring ecologically sustainable economic progress for the region as a whole.

Bangladesh in South Asian Region: A Model for Symbiotic Existence

For countries to exist in peace with themselves, with their constituent peoples, and with their neighbours across borders, we must ensure for each:

  • First, equitable market access commensurate to the merit of comparative economic advantage (negating the infant industry argument) in the other;
  • Second, a rapid expansion of the environmentally sustainable regional export basket in both goods and services – contributing to the reconstruction of the ancient value-chains (essentially supplementing its gamut with free movement of cargo and seasonal workforces);
  • Third, quick transfer and assimilation of critical technologies;
  • Fourth, broader employment of both professionals and workers in regional economies based purely on the principle of ‘dead-weight burden’ reduction;
  • Fifth, commencement of regional power, energy and communication grids, and
  • Sixth, embedding the youth, the media, the civil society and the social media, in the discourses related to policy formulation.

The various factors enabling, calling for and dictating cooperation between the two countries are geographic proximity, common language, similar demographics and consumption pattern, common development needs and experience, and common inherited industrial infrastructure to name a few. In terms of economics, these are very high positive simulators in the Gravity Model, which would bring any two countries and their economies extremely close together – as if they were almost one yet each maintained its sovereign priorities (Mamun, 2015).

The geopolitical or rather geostrategic interests, that are a natural result of the location of Bangladesh and India in South Asia, cannot be undermined. If we trace our recorded history back to the 7th century, when Hiuen Tsang travelled through India, we would notice that the erstwhile Bengal and particularly East Bengal—which is now Bangladesh—had always been one of the most critical gateways to the vast economic and even political inner core of the Indian sub continent.  Sketchier glimpses from Mahabharata or for that matter Megasthenes’ Indica might only complement this fact from an even more ancient past.

At the level of pure physical and tactical security of the societies though, which inhabit today’s South Asia, it is quite obvious that both India and Bangladesh share a vision of a peaceful immediate neighbourhood, and that decision-makers on both sides understand the important role being jointly played by the two countries. National security, regime stability, and territorial integrity define the baseline understanding of both Bangladesh and Indian policy-makers. From a purely operational viewpoint, Bangladesh understands the depth and breadth of security that India’s friendly postures ensure and at the same time, India appreciates the value of the unprecedented security measures taken by the Government of Sheikh Hasina at a very high personal cost and commitment to free the Bangladesh landmass from anti-India elements. This has only added to the unmatched breakthroughs in the development of the Northeast and stability across the entire Eastern theatre. After all, insurgency and terrorism are common enemies to both countries. Bangladesh has allowed the transport of heavy equipment for power generation and other industrial usage in the Northeast ending decades of disconnect between the Indian mainland and the northeast. Work is now going on to facilitate greater connectivity between and across points in India and Bangladesh.

As the world’s attention zooms in on Asia and her Oceans, the two countries have successfully resolved the maritime boundary delimitation issue. It would be prudent to note that the Indian Ocean Rim region has three declared nuclear powers. Successful arbitration between India and Bangladesh for the resolution of the maritime boundary delimitation has become an issue for discussion, deliberation and introspection in far away countries.  We must find ways to harness the strength of the Blue Economy for the benefits of our two peoples.

Over the last couple of years, Bangladesh and India have put in place several ‘Capstone Documents’ and set in motion ‘Key Processes’ which will define the Government-to-Government relationship in the years to come. Starting with the visionary Joint Communiqué of 2010, the Framework Agreement of 2011, and the institution of the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) at the level of Foreign Ministers have ensured that our two countries embark on an irretrievably irrevocable process of shared and mutual prosperity and unparalleled confidence in each other. The Ministries of Home and Foreign Affairs now meet regularly. The Border Security Instruments are now in realtime sync with each other starting with the Directors-General down to Company Commanders. The District Commissioners at the bordering Districts now meet to resolve the issues, which create tensions and hindrances in our bilateral cooperation at the state level. All these measures attest to only one thing, that leadership at the helm believe in looking ahead, that they believe in looking beyond the rear-view mirror, that they believe in creating the charts and the maps ahead, and that they don’t want to go back in a time warp. Case in point – the Joint Statement of March, 2021. AI is now a core collaboration area.

With at least three nuclear powered neighbouring nations operating in the same geo-maritime spheres, it is needless to say that solving the equation to a win-win solution requires Bangladesh and India to work out close proximity anomalies.

It is said that visions grow out of facts of the past, appreciation of the present, and ideas for the future. We have vividly seen the past and are experiencing the present. Visionary thinkers from both sides are speaking of a couple of new areas to begin working on. These include, amongst others:

  • First, managing Peaceful and prosperous International Borders and Security,
  • Second, water Security and joint management of river basins.
  • Third, energy Security and cross-border generation and trade in power,
  • Fourth, connectivity and Integrated Multimodal Communication, with special emphasis on utilising inland waterways,
  • Fifth, sub-regional and regional development and utilisation of mega-architectures such as regional and continental highways, rail networks, sea ports and coastal shipping,
  • Sixth, investment, production, manufacturing and service sector complementarity,
  • Seventh, education and health sector development and elimination of diseases, malnutrition, illiteracy and ignorance,
  • Eighth, designing sustainable and forward-looking mechanisms in joint finance and marketing of both innovative and high-end value-added products and services, and
  • Ninth, development of leadership across South Asia to institute measurable social and economic changes.

Dialogues at both the Track 1, Track 2 and Track 1.5 are critical to the realisation of these formulations. The India-Bangladesh Friendship Dialogue (where the India Foundation is also a major partner) which took a vertical life since 2015 is a glaring example of the Track 1.5 innovation between the two countries.

Also, endorsements are coming at private levels at the helm to take the idea of reconnecting the ancient value-based chains and networks of production, trade, commerce and communication into its pristine natural configurations. Since days have changed and times have passed, a host of value-added services and production possibilities have been added to the paradigm of our interconnectedness. Telecommunications, power, energy, university and skill-building centres, hospitals and hospitality services have been added to the regional and sub-regional architecture of cooperation.

Bangladesh and the Indian Northeast are located at the “Fulcrum Advantage Point” of such a configuration to emerge. It is imperative that we do not only make the policies and rules for our two countries, but that we effectively implement all those to boost both South Asian trade and trade with the Southeast Asian nations.

Bangladesh-India: Way forward for our shared prosperity

In the interest of sustainable cooperation, it is important to take effective steps to resolve pending issues like sharing of common river waters and bringing down border killing to zero as such incidents vitiates public minds. The policymakers should also expedite signing of the treaty for sharing of the waters of the Teesta, the river  so vital for northern Bangladesh’s irrigation as it still remains a long-pending issue.

As India and Bangladesh are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, the two countries, bonded by nature, history and culture, should be bold enough to go for new areas of cooperation and connectivity, as it is the key apparatus to change the fate of the region. And that connectivity should not be in terms of land, road, and waterways alone, it must be of culture and  people-to-people connections as well.  The two countries’ political leaders must look beyond the borders, and forge a progressive partnership for a peaceful, prosperous, and progressive region.

As of now, benefits of trade and economic cooperation remain far below their potential. Trade between the two countries, a major part of which takes place through land ports, face formidable challenges. Cost of trading remains very high, mostly associated with lack of appropriate trade facilitation as well as logistical difficulties and the consequent high lead time that discourages traders. Indeed, some studies show that for some products, trade costs for Bangladesh are higher than those associated with trading with Europe and North America. In spite of the fact that India imports about US$ 450.0 billion worth of products annually from the global market, Bangladesh’s exports to India have tended to hover around only US$ 1.0 billion. Direct B-to-B connections between productive networks and value chains remain sketchy.

It is against this backdrop that the ongoing efforts and policy shifts are important from the perspective of triggering substantive changes in going forward. The recent efforts to deepen bilateral cooperation have been underpinned by initiatives in many areas including promoting trade in goods, services and energy; establishing multi-modal connectivity; infrastructure building; initiatives to stimulate cross-border investment; and cooperation in areas of technology and capacity-building in various sectors. A large number of projects are being implemented in Bangladesh at present, with many being financed by the three lines of credit (LOC) offered by India worth US$ 8 billion. Energy import from India; India’s involvement in building Bangladesh’s nuclear power plant; the grant provided for the Padma bridge; building special economic zones for Indian investors in Bangladesh; the signing of the coastal shipping agreement; allowing transit facilities to Nepal and Bhutan through India to use Bangladesh’s Mongla, Chattogram and Payra ports; the signing of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement and other initiatives could usher in a sea of change in the way that trade, business, and other areas of connectivity operate at the moment. Bangladesh perceives these to be opportunities that could be leveraged to transform its comparative advantages to competitive advantages, enabling it to address the challenges of development and the dual graduation. We want to connect our river, rails, roads, aviation and shipping networks to an optimised format with India so that people-to-people and business-to-business connectivities remain unhindered and can bring the best to the fore.

I would not dare dictate the natural evolution of the relationship between our two countries. But I believe that this is time we devise a grand dream which our two great peoples could share and partake. I expect from all of us to put together a vision document which would define the core economic focus as long as the interaction between the two countries are concerned, rights and responsibilities of both the social and the economic actors, which draw the social and the economic paradigms between the two countries. Through innovative initiatives, the friendship between the two nations could be learnt as lessons by the rest of the world, and to replicate the ideas regionally and sub-regionally, in different domains – economic, social, cultural, political and environmental and so on.

This requires imaginative ideas, courageous leaders and strong and learning institutions, capable of converting these visions into reality. What if we toyed with the idea of the “Great Trans-Asian Rail-Road-River Network” to connect to the Seas in the South? May be, such are the visions of connectivity and infrastructural development, landscaping and ultimately, “mindscaping” the entire region.

Indo-Bangladesh friendship initiatives should be viewed in the larger context of re-inventing the meaning of ‘development’, from a non-western, non-universal stand-point, of defining change and need with respect to our specific histories, experiences, economies and culture, and not as a by-product of western subordination, underdevelopment and colonialism.  If we can plan intelligently, the instances of India-Bangladesh friendship would be quoted as an exemplar of ‘bilateralism and beyond’, of how a sub-regional formation locks us to each other in an unbreakable embrace for our region to prosper and for our people to find both liberty and grandeur.

People of Indian subcontinent have gone through similar history and they were invaded by the Persians, the Huns, the Moguls, the Arabs and the British. They withstood the massacres of Nadir Shah or Chengis Khan, yet they maintained their dignity of life and respect towards all faiths, ethnicity, colour, and background. No wonder Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was overwhelmed with it and coined the word that Indian strength and beauty is in “Unity in Diversity.”

If we look towards next 50 years of South Asia, its strength should come from a tolerant society of multi-culturalism multi-ethnicity, multi-religions and multi-races.

In spite of efforts, millions of people in many parts of the world are being uprooted from their homes and traditional jobs due to violence, wars and terror. Many are becoming victims of ignorance and spread of venom of hatred. Forcibly displaced people of Myanmar known as Rohingya are such victims. Therefore, to establish a peaceful world across nations, it is time to inculcate a mindset of tolerance, a mindset of respect towards others irrespective of ethnicity, colour, race and religion. Bangladesh proposed such a resolution in the UN known as “Culture of Peace” and it was adopted with consensus. Let this South Asian leadership prove to the rest of the world that they truly can realise “Culture of Peace” in the subcontinent for a secure, peaceful and stable South Asia.

The ambitions for South Asia is as grand and as deep as human imagination can be. We do not need to be beholden to the prejudices and to the dogma which defined our colonial past. Rather, we ought to consider constructing a layered milieu of actors and processes which would serve the region in a more meaningful way than ever before. Across the boundaries of the nation state, we ought to consider rejuvenating the civilisational linkages which defined our characteristic traits as humans and as nations.

Ambitious as may be, over next 50 years, I would wish to have sustainable peace and stability in South Asia. Our youth must be freed from the confines of the prejudiced mind so that they can realise the visions of the enlightened soul. South Asia must show the world that it practices a ‘Culture of Peace’ and it is a region of tolerance and respect for others irrespective of ethnicity, colour, race and religion. True to the meaning of Dharma – the path of righteousness. Only by accepting the richness of our texture as a civilisation can we truly harness the potential of the individual. Ultimately, if the human individual is at peace and is in comfort for life and dignity then we have succeeded as nations and as states.

Author Brief Bio: Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen is the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh


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National Security and Individual Liberty: Determining Criminality for Members of Unlawful Organisation



Freedom of speech and expression is an essential facet of democracy. Freedom of association is, likewise, a form of freedom of expression, recognised by Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] and Article 22 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.[2]This right is also expressly recognised by the Indian Constitution read with appropriate constraints.[3]


Organisations/associations can however be either licit or illicit. There is no dispute as far as membership of a licit organisations is concerned. Even anti-governmental organisations which are non-violent in nature are inherently crucial for democracies. However, membership of an unlawful association is a matter of legal and political dispute. Terrorist organisations, by their very nature are “harder to deter” when compared with other organisations,[4] which consequently bespeaks the need for appropriate legislation to curb their spread. That was the reason why anti-terrorism legislations such as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 [hereinafter “TADA”],[5] the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 [hereinafter “POTA”],[6] or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 [hereinafter “UAPA”],[7] were introduced.


Membership in a terrorist group has been considered penal because violent acts are not the only tactic of terrorist organisations.[8] Many such organisations now have two wings. While one wing engages in illegal activities, the other participates in social and political activities to increase its reach and support base, thus blurring the line between lawful and unlawful purposes. This raises the question: Can members of banned organisations, who engage in social and political activities of banned organisations, be charged with a criminal offence?


Three Judgements


Three Supreme Court judgments delivered in 2011, ruled that mere passive membership of an organisation cannot be criminalised except in cases wherein the member intends to contribute to the organisation’s unlawful intent. These were:

  • State of Kerala Raneef [hereinafter “Raneef”][9]
  • Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam [hereinafter “Arup Bhuyan”][10]
  • Indra Das v. State of Assam [hereinafter “Indra Das”][11]

All three judgments were delivered by the division bench of Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra, JJ.


The Raneef Judgement. Dr. Raneef, head of the medical team of Popular Front of India, an organisation engaged in unlawful activities was prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 [hereinafter “IPC”]; the Explosive Substances Act, 1908; and UAPA. The bench examined the question “whether all members of an organisation can be automatically held to be guilty, once an organisation is declared unlawful,” and ruled that mere passive membership of a banned organisation cannot be criminalised. Markandey Katju, J., relied on the precedents of the Supreme Court of United States of America like Scales v. United States and Elfbrandt v. Russell. Unless the accused actively participates in the functioning of the organisation with the intention to further the illegal aims of organisation, making mere membership as punishable will amount to “guilt by association” which has no place in the USA as well as in India.


The Arup Bhuyan Judgement. Here, the accused was convicted under TADA which made membership of a banned organisation criminal.[12] The bench made a reference to the constitution bench judgment of Kedar Nath Singh[13] and held that “mere membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resorting to violence.”[14] The court also cited the decision of Clarence Brandenburg v. State of Ohio which held that “a group formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism” is not per se illegal. The court thus concluded that it will become unlawful only if it provokes to imminent lawless action.[15] The court also stated that the judicial pronouncements of the USA “apply to India too, as our fundamental rights are similar to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution”.


The Indra Das Judgement. In this case, Katju J. discussed the idea of active and passive membership in a very detailed manner. The substantial part of the judgment is as follows:

“In Arup Bhuyan case we have stated that mere membership of a banned organisation cannot incriminate a person unless he is proved to have resorted to acts of violence or incited people to imminent violence, or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to imminent violence. In the present case, even assuming that the appellant was a member of ULFA which is a banned organisation, there is no evidence to show that he did acts of the nature above mentioned. Thus, even if he was a member of ULFA it has not been proved that he was an active member and not merely passive member.”


Katju J. further took backing of many cases decided by the Supreme Court of USA in 1960s,[16]wherein it was observed that a seditious law ought to interfere only if there is an “imminent danger” to the country and held:

“Section 3(5) of TADA or Section 10 of the UAPA, 1967 which on their plain language make mere membership of a banned organisation criminal have to be read down and we have to depart from the literal rule of interpretation in such cases, otherwise these provisions will become unconstitutional as violative of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution…Hence, mere membership of a banned organisation will not make a person a criminal unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or creates public disorder by violence or incitement to violence.”


Issues Raised by the Three Judgements


All the three cases were decided by the same bench in the same year (2011) and their findings are also similar, with some variations. Though the cases concern the constitutionality of a central enactment, no notice was issued to the Union of India, which should have been made a necessary party, to enable the Court to take note of each aspect of the controversy while deciding validity of laws that directly impact national security and sovereignty. A review petition has been filed against the decision of the division bench in Arup Bhuyan case which is pending before a higher bench.


The power of judicial review must be exercised in an even more cautious manner when the court is developing a law and expanding a jurisprudence. In light of the above the following issues need serious investigation:

  1. Whether, by reading down the provision of a law enacted by parliament without even hearing the Union of India is violation of basic principle of “fair hearing”.
  2. Whether the distinction made by the division bench in active and passive membership of an unlawful organisation holds good in law.
  3. Whether the concept of free speech in USA is same as that in India. Did the division bench take note of various higher bench judgments regarding applicability of the precedents of the USA in India?
  4. While deciding all three cases, the Supreme Court relied on many U.S. Supreme Court decisions but did not discuss Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project[17] decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, which is on “material support to foreign terrorist organisation”. Whether this judgment is relevant in Indian context.
  5. Whether the judgments by division bench in three cases operate per incuriam.
  6. Why did the court not consider the drastic changes in security situation in the world and in India before relying on precedents from the 1960s?


Distinction between Active and Passive Membership: Is it in Conformity with Law


An unlawful assembly is defined in Section 141 of IPC as an assembly of five or more people with a common intent to disrupt peace, while Section 149 of IPC requires presence of a commonality of object coupled with physical presence at the site to be considered penal. This section states:“If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence.”


In addition, Section 34 of IPC provides for constructive liability in cases wherein the offenders have a common intention to act together. It is essential for the application of this provision that each and every member acts in harmony with each other and there is presence of an element of active participation from all. A collective reading of these provisions suggests that for holding multiple persons liable constructively, a sense of active involvement is needed, either in the form of active participation or in the form of physical presence. The strong opposition that jurists have raised against legislative innovations that allow criminal indictment or prohibit public employment of people found to have been members of organisations whose goals are considered subversive or to have associated with persons with such purposes, demonstrates the traditional importance that jurists have placed on the idea that guilt is personal.[18]


TADA, UAPA and POTA were however enacted to cover those situations which could not be tackled by the already existing set of provisions in the IPC. Parliament enacted these laws, precisely to deal with offences relating to terrorism and social disruptions, wherein the elements of active participation or physical indulgence would play no role in determination of culpability. These laws, thus, ought to be interpreted in a strict sense unless a manifestly absurd interpretation emanates out of it.


These laws were enacted as statutes of strict liability where absence of presence of mens rea would have little role to play. Thus, the imputation of requirement of active membership is a direct attempt to infuse the requirement of mens rea or knowledge on the part of the accused while being a member of the organisation and this consequence is in direct conflict with the above-stated purpose. For this, reliance can be assigned on judgment of the Apex court in State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George,[19] which stated…The nature of mens rea, that will be implied in a statute creating an offence depends upon the object of the Act and the provisions thereof.”


The crucial factor which acts as the dividing line between unlawful assemblies and proscribed organisations is that the latter requires formal constitution of an organisation with various stated and unstated objectives. The members complement each other through their acts and omissions to further the common objectives of the organisation. Such organisations become proscribed when their stated objectives exceed the permissible limits of law and it requires an express declaration by the appropriate authority to declare it as proscribed. In unlawful assembly, no complementary conduct is required, only commonality of object is enough. It is hence evident that the division bench judgment has embarked upon the application of purposive interpretation of the statute, thereby, exceeding the scope of interpretation attributed to a court of justice.


Free Speech: Misplaced Comparison between India and the US


The Court in all the three judgments has relied heavily on the cases related to free speech decided by the Supreme Court of USA. Katju J., has stated that the Fundamental Rights in Indian Constitution are same as Bill of Rights in USA. There are however, fundamental differences between the two, on at least three counts.


Firstly, free speech under First Amendment in USA has no reasonable restrictions by means of a law whereas in India, freedom of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions.[20] The term ‘reasonable restriction’ was introduced into the Constitution, to allow the courts to keep a check on any legislation providing for arbitrary restrictions. The interest of national security was one of the justifiable grounds considered for restricting free speech in the Constituent Assembly debates, but this point appears to have been erroneously overlooked by the division bench, which has given free speech preference over national security concerns.


Secondly, in India, these set of rights are available only to citizens unlike in the USA where, it is available to both citizens as well as non-citizens. Thirdly, in India, article 19 can be suspended during emergency unlike in USA where there is no such provision.[21]


While the principles of law as laid down by the Supreme Court of USA can be imported in India, it is unwise to import every doctrine as the circumstances and societal structure in the USA and India are different. In the Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra,[22] case [hereinafter “Babulal”], the Supreme Court stated:

It seems to us, however, that the American doctrine cannot be imported under our Constitution because the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution are not absolute rights but, as pointed out in State of Madras v. V.G. Row [1952 SCR 597] are subject to the restrictions placed in the subsequent clauses of Article 19. There is nothing in the American Constitution corresponding to clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 of our Constitution.”


The division bench comprising of Katju J., was bound by observations made in Babulal and other judgments delivered by larger benches which had similar observations.[23] It has thus erroneously overlooked all these considerations and precedents of Constitution Bench while relying on decisions of the Supreme Court of USA.


On the contrary, a judgement of the Supreme Court of the USA, which should have been considered is the “Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project” [hereinafter Holder], which is in conflict with the various judgments cited by the division bench to interpret the issues related to free speech in India. Here, on the issue whether the provisions of Material Support Law are in contravention of free speech guaranteed by First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA, the Court observed that material support meant to “promote peaceable, lawful conduct,” but not to further terrorism and that the government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order. As terrorist groups systematically conceal their activities behind charitable, social and political fronts, such contributions and support further their terrorism.[24]


In the present-day Indian context, there is a need to have stringent laws in place which can prove effective in curbing terrorist activities and ward off any impending dangers. The judgments delivered by the division bench in Arup Bhuyan, Raneef and Indira Das cases respectively have heavily relied on jurisprudence laid down by the US Supreme Court during the 1960s, wherein free speech was given precedence over other concerns. The Holder judgement delivered in 2010, however, evaluated according to the prevailing circumstances.


National security is of paramount importance and in case free speech acts as an aid to any terrorist activities – violent or non-violent, it is liable to be restricted. Terrorist organisations often peddle their agenda in the garb of social organisations and pose a threat to life and property. The law has to be such as is able to ward off any such threat and also penalise persons involved. For this, the law needs to adapt to the need of the hour.


Per Incuriam Judgements

The law of precedent, as followed in India, entails that the prior judgments passed by larger composition of the court ought to be accepted as settled law by subsequent courts unless expressly assailed by a larger bench on proper reference.[25] The issues of law involved in the three judgments have been subject matter of consideration before the court previously in the case of Kartar Singh v.State of Punjab.[26] While speaking on the constitutional validity of TADA, a five-judge constitution bench embarked upon the deduction of the object of this legislation and observed as follows:[27]


“…the meaningful purpose and object of the legislation, the gravity of terrorism unleashed by the terrorists and disruptionist endangering not only the sovereignty and integrity of the country but also the normal life of the citizens, and the reluctance of even the victims as well as the public in coming forward, at the risk of their life, to give evidence — hold that the impugned section cannot be said to be suffering from any vice of unconstitutionality. In fact, if the exigencies of certain situations warrant such a legislation then it is constitutionally permissible as ruled in a number of decisions of this Court, provided none of the fundamental rights under Chapter III of the Constitution is infringed.”(Emphasis supplied)


The above observation makes it clear that the act of bifurcation of membership and division of liability on the basis of active or passive membership renders the very object as negated. It is thus apparent that TADA covers two categories of persons: One, those persons involved in terrorist and disruptive activities and two, those persons associated with terrorist and disruptive activities. The former category squarely covers active members and the latter category covers passive members. A necessary corollary of this observation is that the statute aims to target both active and passive members.


After upholding the constitutional validity of TADA in Kartar Singh, the Supreme Court in PUCL v. Union of India,[28] [hereinafter “PUCL”] declared that the provisions of POTA are constitutionally valid. In the light of these clear observations, the interpretation adopted by the division bench that the purposive interpretation is required to save the membership provision from being declared unconstitutional is in utter contrast with the settled law pertaining to this question. Therefore, the authors are of the view that the judgments are per incuriam.




India, and indeed the world, is under serious challenge from terrorist organisations. With respect to counter terrorism legislation such as TADA and POTA, the Apex Court has often interpreted these enactments to achieve a balance between civil liberties of the accused, human rights of the victims and the compelling interest of the state.[29]


The three judgements delivered by the Supreme Court in 2011 have however placed individual liberty over the security concerns of the state. Here, the Supreme Court read down provisions of central enactments passed through the Parliament of India without giving a chance of hearing to the Union of India, even though the enactments in question were Central Acts. In the judgements delivered in all the three cases, equated the membership of a criminal organisation with that of a terrorist organisation. Such an interpretation defeats the very purpose for which laws such as TADA, UAPA and POTA were enacted. While drawing upon precedents from the USA, the Three Judgements took into account the judgements delivered in the US in 1960s, when no terrorism threat was faced by the US, but overlooked the US judgements of a later date, when terrorism was a threat and in which the judgements gave precedence to national security, as in cases from Schneck v. United States[30] to Holder.


While the decision of Arup Bhuyan is under review, it is in the interest of national security, that all members of a banned terrorist organisation, who engage in terror activities or who engage in social and political activities of banned organisations, must be charged with a criminal offence. The burden of proof must rest on those who have been so charged.


Author Brief Bios:


*Bhanu Partap Singh Sambyal is an LL.M. (Constitutional Law) from the Indian Law Institute, New Delhi.

*Vijay K. Tyagi is an Academic Tutor and TRIP Fellow at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat and an ex-LAMP Fellow at PRS Legislative Research.


The authors are thankful to Prof. (Dr.) Anurag Deep, Professor, Indian Law Institute, New Delhi for his inputs and guidance.




[1] G.A. Res. 217A (III) (Dec. 10, 1948).

[2] G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI) (Dec. 16, 1966).

[3] India Const. art. 19(1)(c) and art. 19(4)

[4] Liat Levanon, Criminal Prohibitions on Membership in Terrorist Organizations, 15(2) New York Criminal Law Review 233 (2012).

[5] Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, No. 28 of 1987, § 3(5) [hereinafter “TADA”].

[6] Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, No. 15 of 2002, § 3 [hereinafter POTA].

[7] Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, No. 37 of 1967, § 10; § 20; § 38 [hereinafter “UAPA”].

[8] Walter Laquer, Postmodern Terrorism: New Rules for an Old Game, Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct. 1996,

[9] State of Kerala v. Raneef, (2011) 1 SCC 784 (India) (Division Bench decision).

[10] Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam, (2011) 3 SCC 377 (India) (Division Bench decision) [hereinafter “Arup Bhuyan”].

[11] Indra Das v. State of Assam, (2011) 3 SCC 380 (India) (Division Bench decision).

[12] TADA, supra note 5, § 3(5) – Any person who is a member of a terrorists gang or a terrorist organization, which is involved in terrorist acts, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

[13] Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955 (Constitution Bench decision).

[14] Arup Bhuyan, supra note 10, ¶ 9.

[15] Arup Bhuyan, supra note 10, ¶ 9.

[16] Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 67 U.S. 1 (1961), Keyishan v. Board of Regents of the University the State of New York, 385 U.S. 589, 606 (1967), Abraham v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919).

[17] Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 561 U.S. 1 (2010) [hereinafter “Holder”].

[18] John Lord O’Brian, Loyalty Tests and Guilt by Association, 61 Harvard Law Review 592 (1948).

[19] State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George, AIR 1965 SC 722, ¶ 18 (India) (Full Bench decision).

[20] India Const. art. 19(1)(a) and art. 19(2)

[21] India Const. art. 352; art. 358.

[22] Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1961 SC 884 (India) (Constitutional Bench decision).

[23] S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, 1989 SCR (2) 204 (India) (Full Bench decision) [“… The decisions bearing on the First Amendment are, therefore, not useful to us except the broad principles and the purpose of the guarantee.”].

[24] Holder, supra note 17, at 25.

[25] India Const. art. 141 – Law declared by Supreme Court to be binding on all courts.

[26] Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, (1994) 3 SCC 569 (India) (Constitutional Bench decision) [hereinafter “Kartar Singh”].

[27] Id., ¶ 253.

[28] Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 580 (India) (Division Bench decision).

[29] Anurag Deep et al., Human Rights: Contemporary Issues, 394-412 (V.K. Ahuja ed. 2019).

[30] Schneck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).


Book Review: Supersonic: A Thriller That Rewrites History

On 6 August 1945, Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, the 30 year old commander of 509 Composite Group, US Army Air Force, flew a mission which was to bring World War II to a quick close and change the course of world history. Flying the B-29 Superfortress—an American four-engined propeller-driven heavy bomber, named Emola Gray by Tibbets after his mother, the mission was to release a 10,000 pound atomic bomb, dubbed “Little Boy,” over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb was dropped at 0815 local time, the blast killing about 100,000 people and injuring countless more. Japan surrendered nine days later, on 15 August, bringing World War II to an end. But a new era of atomic warfare had begun.


The US effort to build an atomic weapon had been designated as the Manhattan Project. The Soviet Union soon followed with its first atomic test on 29 August 1949, code-named RDS-1. Britain tested its first nuclear device in 1952, France in 1960 and China in 1964. The nuclear race had well and truly begun. But it was destined to be within these five powers, for none of them wanted nuclear technology to further proliferate. And thus began under the radar operations to prevent other countries from acquiring these technologies—and India was in the crosshairs of such attempts.


Towards the end of World War II, a brilliant Indian nuclear physicist, Homi Bhabha, conceived the idea of setting up a school of research in fundamental physics, with special reference to cosmic rays and nuclear physics. He hoped to set up such an institute in Bombay, with support from the Tata group through their trust funds. And thus began India’s journey in this very exotic branch of science. Unknown to him, there were forces at work which would go to any length to see that he did not succeed.


Along with India’s nuclear ambitions, was the quest to produce its own fighter jet aircraft. This became another bone of contention with the nuclear haves, who wanted to deny India not only the means to produce a nuclear weapon, but also the means to deliver such a weapon.


In this backdrop, Murali Murti has set the stage for his novel, “Supersonic – A Thriller that Rewrites History”. The plot is reminiscent of a genre of political thriller novels comparable to the work of authors such as Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy and Richard Condon, which keeps the reader glued to the book. Set as a novel, it makes the reader wonder where truth ends and fiction begins. Or is this simply truth telling, disguised as fiction?


It is a fact that people who were involved in India’s nuclear programme died under mysterious circumstances. Homi Bhabha, in an interview he gave to All India Radio in October 1965, stated that if given the green signal, India could make a nuclear bomb in 18 months. Three months later, Bhabha was dead, killed when the Air India Flight 101 he was travelling in—a Boeing 707 airplane named Kanchenjunga—crashed near Mont Blanc on 24 January 1966. A few days earlier, on the night of 11 January 1966, India’s Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent, after concluding a peace treaty with Pakistan, under Soviet auspices, post the 1965 India-Pakistan War. The cause of Shastri’s death remains a mystery till date. No autopsy was carried out of his body, even after it was brought back to India! Significantly, Shastri had given the green signal to manufacture the bomb. These deaths cannot be put aside as mere coincidence. Neither can the death of Vikram Sarabhai in December 1971. Sarabhai was the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission when death came to him in a quiet room in a Kovalam resort on 30 December 1971. His death too was not investigated. That India still tested its first nuclear device in Rajasthan’s Pokhran desert on 18 May 1974—an operation code named Smiling Buddha—is a testimony to the grit and determination of India’s scientific community and the support it received from every Prime Minister of India.


Along with hostile attempts to sabotage India’s nuclear programme, there were attempts to scuttle the building of India’s first fighter jet aircraft. The story of Kurt Tank who helped India make its first fighter jet, the HF 24 Marut, and the devious attempts to sabotage India’s nascent fighter jet programme cannot just be wished away. Could India have had a robust aerospace sector today, had things been done differently then? One wonders! The lessons are stark and clear. In the realms of upper end technology, other nations will be out to scuttle India’s programmes. The Nambi Narayanan case, though not part of this book, is just an example to show the extent that foreign agencies can go to, to scuttle cutting edge technology development in India. Nambi Narayanan was in charge of the cryogenics division at ISRO and he was falsely implicated on trumped up charges and imprisoned. That set back India’s quest for a cryogenic engine by a good two decades.


The world of shady defence deals, and the death and destruction it brings in its wake makes for spine-chilling reading in this book. That India has remained dependent on imports for meeting its defence requirements, despite huge investments made in its defence public sector, was not due to lack of talent within the country, but has much to do, as brought out in the book, with other factors. Much of the development effort for a vibrant defence industry was scuttled by officials who could be bribed for a pittance or lured through other means. This is a story of corrupt politicians and government officials, shady arms dealers, of spies and killers lurking in the shadows, a story which makes one sad to see how national interest can be compromised for a handful of silver. But it is also a story of hope, of rejuvenation, of women and men with unimpeachable integrity, of those occupying high office in the political realm, and also in government and in the private sector, who could not be bought and for whom the country came above all else. Many such people remain unacknowledged, primarily due to the nature of work that they were then doing and which many continue to do in the present times. It is a mix of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, all juxtaposed in a seamless web, to come to what most certainly is a fascinating twist in the tale, in the very last chapter.


The book has been set as a work of fiction, but the narrative is a blend of real life events intertwined with the lives of fictional characters. Some of the fictional characters too, have evidently been created from real life people, which makes the book that much more intriguing. What we eventually get is an insight into the high stakes games that are being played on the world stage, where access to and control of futuristic technologies is the prize. We see a blurring of lines between friends and foes in this world of shadows, where the rule of the game is domination and control, for which all means, fair and foul, may be used. India’s quest for futuristic technologies and its potential emergence as a major producer of advanced weapons system will hence be contested by friend and foe alike. Protecting our scientists is a challenge which we are being increasingly being exposed too, and this too must form part of the larger security discourse.

Conference on Geopolitics of Himalayan Region 2021

04-05 October 2021

Leh, Ladakh

The Himalayan region acts as a natural frontier for India.  Discourse on Himalayan region is incomplete without considering the larger construct formed by the Pamir Knot, Hindu Kush ranges in the West and Karakoram range in the East. Despite the political and geographical boundaries, this East-West ecosystem had the confluence of trade, commerce, and connectivity over the centuries. Factors like these add to the existing importance of Himalayas, however, the region extending from Afghanistan to Myanmar largely remains unexplored. The global flashpoints around geopolitical developments, terrorism, etc vis-à-vis the Himalayan region have to be understood differently, owing to its topographical, demographical, and historical uniqueness.

The First Conference on Geopolitics of the Himalayan Region was organized by India Foundation in collaboration with Jammu Kashmir Study Centre, conjoining with the birth centenary celebration of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche at Leh. The second edition of the conference has been organised by India Foundation in collaboration with Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council from 04-05 October 2021 at Leh. The conference is being inaugurated by H.E. Shri Radha Krishna Mathur, Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor, Union Territory of Ladakh on 04 October 2021. The valedictory session will be graced by the address of Shri Tashi Gyalson, Chairman, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh and Shri Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha on 05 October 2021.

Over the two days a delegation of twenty-three domain experts deliberated upon the geopolitical developments in the region that have a bearing on countries situated within the Himalayan region. The delegation comprised of Shri Ram Madhav, Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation; Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, Member, NDMA, Govt of India and Former General Officer Commanding 15 Corps (Srinagar), 21 Corps; Shri Shaurya Doval, Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation; Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Member, Board of Trustees, India Foundation; Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, Distinguished Fellow, CLAWS and VIF; Lt Gen Arun Sahni, Former General Officer Commanding in Chief, Indian Army and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation; Shri Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation; Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch, Director, India Foundation; Shri Gautam Mukhopadhyay, Former Ambassador; Shri P Stobdan, Former Ambassador; Ms Prabha Rao, Distinguished Fellow, India Foundation; Shri Nitin Gokhale, Founder: BharatShakti and StratNewsGlobal; Col S Dinny, Editor, Chanakya Forum; Dr Shantihe Mariet D’ Souza, Founding Professor, Kautilya School of Public Policy; Shri Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser Weekly; Shri Mahesh Ranjan Debata, Assistant Professor, Centre for Inner Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Shri Arhan Bagati,         Founder, Kyari; Shri Rohit Kumar, Research Fellow, India Foundation; Ms Soumya Chaturvedi, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation; Shri Siddharth Singh, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation; and Shri Aaditya Tiwari, Officer on Special Duty to the Chief Minister, Arunachal Pradesh.


Girmitiya Conference 2021

16-17 September, 2021 | Virtual

Event Report

The Girmitiya Conference 2021 was conducted virtually with the support of the Overseas Indian Affairs (OIA-II) Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, on 16-17 Sep. 2021. The conference’s overarching theme was ‘Changing identities, shifting trends, and roles’. Over the two days 38 speakers and over 70 participants debated and discussed the issues, contributions, successes and tribulations of girmitiyas across the world focusing on their history, identity formation, cultural preservation, and their evolving relationship with India. This was perhaps the first conference that brought together Indian descendants from 18 countries and provided a voice for them to express their views.


83 participants

Shri V Muraleedharan, MoS External Affairs, India

Shri Muraleedharan welcomed the audience to the Girmitiya Conference 2021. He briefly highlighted the history of indentureship, the hardship faced by the the girmitiyas and the successes of their descendants today. He commended their maintenance of ties with India, their affection towards Indian customs, traditions and language. He also mentioned that their efforts and contribution to society in their home countries has not gone unrecognised as many of these countries celebrate them through the declaration of a public holiday or day. He then highlighted how India engages with the diaspora through the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and many such other programmes. He concluded by wishing the conference success. The text to his speech is available here.

Hon Mrs Kalpana Devi Koonjoo-Shah, Minister for Gender Equality and Family Welfare, Mauritius

Hon Mrs Konjoo-Shah, a granddaughter of indentured labourers herself, said that the conference is important. She informed the gathering that her father was a Minister and a Member of Parliament, that she spoke in Bhojpuri at home, and that despite the success of her father she comes from humble belongings. She shared a brief history of indentureship to Mauritius and of sugar plantations, the right to go back to India being discouraged and the formation of Indian communities in her country. She explained that initially migrants had come from Pondicherry but in the later years they were brought from the Bhojpuri belt. The first migrants had entered Mauritius on 1 August 1834, and this wave would swell after the abolishment of slavery. She addressed themes like what makes you Mauritian? Who is a girmitiya? How did the term come to be? Finally, she explained the role that Indians have played in shaping Mauritius – either through the socialist model that Mauritius is based upon or through the many ways in celebrates Indian festivals. She said that as Mauritius is comprised on 60% Indians, their contribution and efforts do not go missed. She ended by her speech by reading out a moving poem by your forefathers written in Hindi about their time in Mauritius and their longing for their motherland, India.

Session 1: Making of the Girmit (Indentured) Diaspora

100 participants

Dr Bhugwan Singh, Head of Department of Surgery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

The first slaves to South Africa came from India, largely from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which Henry Pollack in his books goes to great detail in outlining. Dr Singh mentioned that Indians were isolated yet had to complete with the elite society. Despite all these hardships, Indians thrived. Indian merchants were treated as British Indians and enjoyed a better status than indentured Indians. He also quoted Chinua Achebe and said ‘lions need their own historians’, implying that Indians need to write their own history. Dr Singh in his presentation showed documents – a colonial number, a British India Passport (which the merchant class had access to, and thereby affording them great mobility and a head start) – the only documents to prove your identity and claim your Indian-ness. He then spoke about apartheid in Africa and claimed that Natal, where he lives, has faced much racism. He concluded by saying that the legacy of anti-Indian racism was legislated (disenfranchising Indians, restricting ownership of land and restricting migration to India) and that representations made to girmitiyas were rhetorical.

Junior Bacchus, Honorary Consul of India to St Vincent and the Grenadines

Following the abolishment of slavery, estate owners in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) needed to find cheap labour. The year was 1845 and the Portugese and Chinese were first brought to SVG. They could not survive the conditions and many were dying. After giving a brief history, Mr Bacchus threw light on the fact that landowners did not treat Indians well. Around 1862 there was racism in the island, which led to riots. Yet, Indians who came to did a lot of good – many set up businesses, became doctors and lawyers, and traded across the island. Slowly, the population of Indians grew to 7000. The first Indian to become a Member of Parliament was Morgan in 1951. He pointed out that many Indians are choosing to migrate from SVG to the US, and their population is dwindling. Yet those who remain continue to be successful business people. Indians prefer to be entrepreneurs rather than work for a boss. In 2006, Mr Bacchus formed the Indian Heritage Foundation to bring together the energies and aspirations of the Indian community. He worked to officially recognise the Indian community through Indians days that are celebrated today. He shared a message that the Prime Minister of SVG shared with the Indian Heritage Foundation and recognised the efforts and contributions of Indians, calling them a “magnificent part” of the society.


Dr Kumar Mahabir, Anthropologist, University of Guyana

Dr Mahabir focused his presentation on a unique and often unspoken aspect on indenture – that of military migrants during indentureship: from the battlefields of India to the cane-fields of Guyana. He deconstructed the myth that not all migrants who came to the West Indies were unskilled. He began by giving an overview of the Sepoy Revolt in India, which the British claimed was largely unsuccessful. This mutiny took place at the middle of the indenture period. Through his presentation he tries to understand if some of the ex-soldiers of the Revolt legitimately migrated or secretly escaped to the West Indies in order to flee persecution for mutiny? He tapped into the memories of some of the descendants of these soldiers, as well as looked at literature.

The Revolt was sparked by Mangal Pandey and Rani Lakshmi-Bai of Jhansi. Dr Mahabir showed the audience a clip from Mangal Pandey. He estimates that 20,000 sepoys migrated to the West Indies, and elaborated on how he arrived at the figure. There was in fact a mutiny on board the ship to Guyana, and documents show that 23 to 30 men on the ship “possessed evidence of military training” and that their identity was carefully concealed. It is interesting to note that most of them are from Awadh. On another ship there were records of sepoys as well, and a Guyana newspaper carried a headline – ‘The Sepoys Have Come’. Most of them had to hide so they changed their name and downgraded their cast so that they could run away to these islands. It is for these reasons that Guyana became a hotspot of indentureship and the headquarters of the police in the West Indies. He also provides evidence of women warriors in Guyana, and links it to repeating the attack of Rani Lakshmi-Bai of Jhansi against British armed forces in Uttar Pradesh in 1857.

Session 2: Keeping Indian Culture Alive

85 participants

Appasamy Murugaiyan, Research Officer, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France

Mr Murugaiyan spoke about indenture labourers in francophone countries and highlighted an important difference: in British colonies assimilation was never practiced while in Francophone countries assimilation was a general rule, either through language or through the conversion to Catholicism. The important take away here is that Indians lost their cultural identity in francophone countries. Importantly, 85% of descendants in francophone countries are of South Indian descendant – mainly Tamilian and Telugu. Mr Murugaiyan tries to understand how indentured labourers keep their language and culture alive despite the process of assimilation. Every diasporic community chooses identity markers and redefines them based on the emerging realities of its environment. Indian descendants face a challenge in that they have to pick between being Indian or identifying with a regional culture like Tamil, Telugu etc. Many descendants, Mr Murugaiyan claims, do not speak Tamil for example but still feel deeply for that culture. He took the audience through this research where he identifies 12 criteria of culture. In Malaysia and Singapore all 12 criteria are present and therefore have a direct relation to the preservation and transfer of culture where it can felt strongly. However, in Mauritius, Reunion, Martinique and Guadeloupe the number of visible criteria reduces and therefore the presence of Indian culture too is dwindling.

Deoroop Teemal, HSS Trinidad and Tobago

Mr Teemal focused his presentation on Trinidad and Tobago. He gave a few facts on the demographics of Trinidad and revealed that the Hindu population in Trinidad will face a decline if not actively preserved. He said Indian movies had a major impact on Indian culture. Some people among the community were attracted toward Creole culture, and a few others migrated or converted to other religions. By the 1950s Hindi was being taught in schools, and religious pujas were performed in Sanskrit. Bhojpuri and other local languages soon lost their relevance, despite some efforts in reviving them by locals. Indian cuisine remains the major aspect of Indian culture, such as paratha, curry, sabzi, kheer, laddoo and street food such as ‘doubles’. Doubles has perhaps become a national dish in Trinidad and Tobago! In terms of religion, he said temples and mosques are present across the island and Diwali has been declared a national holiday in the country. The Ram Leela tradition is very much alive and is performed in many villages in the islands. Other traditions have unfortunately died. Bollywood music has been very popular although it did to some extent kill local music, particularly Bhojpuri music. Since the declaration of the International Day of Yoga, there has been a revived interest in the practice of yoga and Ayurveda as well. The major challenge in keeping Indian culture alive is in maintaining cultural identity. The politics of the country has a major role to play particularly since the 1950s when ethnic politics has become popular. Since Trinidad’s independence, Indian culture was never a part of the national cultural scene, which favoured African cultural norms. This made saving and keeping Indian culture alive in the islands very difficult.  Since 2000-2015 there has been a slight shift in Trinidad to accept Indian culture more, although there is a lot more to be done to recognise Indian culture.

Padma Mythili Nanduri, Director NSKB Aneasthesiology Services Inc, Barbados

Ms Nanduri began her presentation by describing her own journey to Barbados and went on to give a brief historical background of the country. Barbados will become a Republic in November this year. She pointed out that unlike in many other islands, it was not necessary to bring indentured labourers from India. However, Barbados saw an influx of Guyanese and Trinidadians who came on their own will. There is a Hindu temple built in 1997 where all deities are kept to worship and were brought from Mumbai. Most Hindus do puja regularly and follow Hindu festivals like Holi, but are unable to preform all rituals on a larger scale due to restrictions placed in Barbados. On Sunday’s it is common for Indians to congregate at the mandir, follow strict Indian dress codes, perform puja, sing bhajans, learn tabla, and eat Indian food to keep their identity alive – this is despite many of them probably not even knowing where India is. The feeling of being Indian is that strong! She also elaborated that Indians do a lot of charity in Barbados. She said this is the same even with Indian Muslims in the country, who migrated from the Gujarat region.

Ashook Ramsaran, President Indian Diaspora Council Int’l, USA

Mr Ramsaran gave a brief background of the indenture system and showed pictures of the ships that brought Indians to the various islands, as well as the various documents they brought along with them. He mentioned second journeys to the UK, US, France, The Netherlands and other destinations. He mentioned that most descendants of indentured labourers were able to keep their culture intact, perhaps because of the distance and the longing to connect with India in any way possible – through masala, through respecting parents and elders, from celebrating festivals, and watching movies. He mentioned that Indian Embassies and the ICCR help in preserving the culture, particularly Hindi. Indians he believes learn to easily adapt and assimilate within societies helping them to achieve great success.

Session 3: Girmitiyas and India

75 participants

Dr Kirk Meighoo, Public Relations Officer, United National Congress, Trinidad and Tobago

Dr Meighoo spoke on ‘Girmitiyas and India: A Complex Relationship in Constant Flux”. He began by asking, are girmitiyas Indian? At what point do you lose your connection with the ancestral country? In his case, he has not, despite being the sixth generation Indian in Trinidad. There are small populations in countries like St Lucia and Belize where Indian culture is mostly lost. In Trinidad however, many Indians feel they are Indian despite others (post-1947 Indian migrants to Trinidad) making them feel like they are not. He says if we consider India as a collection of different cultural practices, then Trinidians Indians are very much a part of the Indic being. Trinidan Indians have built Indian villages in Trinidad, they don’t speak the language but have built authentic Indian villages. He said their consciousness has developed differently because the pre-partition culture is very much alive in girmitiya countries. His own perspective is that his roti and dal may not be the same but it is still authentically Indian.

What is girmitiyas relationship to India? He said most Indians are not aware that Indians live in Trinidad! And within the global context of slavery, indentureship is a minor part of history. He however, believes that this migration is central to world history. If the East India Company was the most powerful then this part of history must be important too. At independence however, there was an unfortunate move by Nehru. When asked about the situation of Indians abroad, Nehru declared that they have to decide whether they are Indian or nationals of those countries. Indians in Trinidad looked to protection from the Indian government, which was not reciprocated. This abandonment defined the relationship of girmitiyas and India. He pointed that Indian consciousness is somehow seen as racist and undermining and this prevents some Indian descendants from getting close to India. The same is not felt by Africans – they are free to feel as African as they wish to be.

He ended his presentation by comparing NRIs versus PIOs and feels that the Indian Government pays more attention to NRIs, despite PIOs being more connected to the Indic consciousness.

Ravi Dev, HSS Guyana

Mr Dev mentions that the past is not dead and this seen through features in Guyana. What is the called the coloniality of powers takes three forms – systems of hierarchy, systems of knowledge and conscious systems from which India and the ex-colonised world is still trying to extricate itself from. The most popular among these are race, where the white race is put on top. The feeling of Caucasian-ness needs to go if one wants an equal society. One must not forget that it was Indian capital that was used to build the colonies!

He said that interestingly girmitiyas disappeared from Indian national consciousness after the end of indentureship. Very few movies and academic papers in India work on the topic of girmitiyas. Indian politics also neglected girmitiyas and eventually, India became a mythical land and not a homeland. Girmitiya lands saw the second migration of Indians, reducing girmitiyas to minorities in the girmit countries.

He spoke about the rise of the BJP in India and the importance the government gave to Indian descendants. In particular, he acknowledged the role of late Sushma Swaraj ji in bringing girmitiyas to India and to experience the country. However, girmitiyas asked, ‘what is in it for us?’ He said it is time for India to define who is bharatiya or India. Maybe India should learn from the recently concluded African-CARICOM. Girmitiyas need to be granted a special relationship with India, rather than a second place platform, for all that the community does in maintaining ties with India and keeping its culture alive. Why did India (Bharat) not condemn the rigging of elections in Guyana? He said it disappointed the community by not doing so.

He ended his presentation by giving some recommendations: Bharat has to reciprocate what girmitiyas have done for India; there has to be a quid pro quo and Bharat needs to defend the needs and wants of girmitiyas; India today, does not have the respect of former African colonies because they ignored the security dilemma of local girmitiyas; NRI Indians do not socialise with girmitiya Indians and speak disparagingly of them – they view it as a village culture and ICCR should address this.

Vikash Ramdonee, Acting Rector, Royal College Curepipe, Mauritius

Mr Ramdonee began with his own family history of being a descendant of a girmitiya – he is the son of a farmer who was brought to Mauritius to convert soil to gold. The unique factor that distinguishes the Indian diaspora from the rest is that Indians are hard working. From the Mauritius perspective, India has protected the diaspora. However, it is time for the diaspora now to exert themselves globally. He asked: how can the diaspora help India? He suggests perhaps we should move away from this narrative and asks – how can the diaspora help each other? The diaspora has the responsibility to support other diaspora and should begin to focus on business, economy and development. It is perhaps time to stop romanticising India and look to the girmitiya community to build relationships.

Gabriel Pate, Retired Public Officer, Belize

Mr Pate is a third generation East Indian. His grandparents came to Belize in the last half of the 19th Century. Belize is the only English speaking in the region, and gained independence in 1981. Indians account for 3.5% of the population of Belize. Between 1851-1870 there was a large migration of East Indians to Jamaica. The story of the arrival and survival of East Indians however, is linked to the American Civil War. It was then that 100s of East Indians, called coolies, were brought to work in the cane fields and sugar mills of Southern Belize. India became a faint and distant memory to the East Indians. Indians lost their culture and took up English surnames like Williams, Pate, Jacobs. Most experts believe, from the remnants of the language that remains, early East Indians spoke Bhojpuri.

The East Indian contribution to the growth of Belize has not been acknowledged. Indians are only looked at as dark skinned people. The major problem facing East Indians in Belize today is intermarriage. Only about 5% of East Indians marry within their ethnic group, as about 50% of Indians are related to each other in Belize, given the small numbers. He predicts that in the next two generations, Indians (culture) will cease to exist in the country. Post-independent migrants from India to Belize, like the Sindhis, do not interact with East Indians.

East Indians pioneered the opening of Southern Belize in the 1960s, the military produced two former commanders of Indian descendants, many Indians are teachers in the primary and secondary schools, they are a major force in Methodist churches, they own bus companies, they account for 40% of mechanised rice production in Belize, and they have produced two government ministers over the past eight years. For a population of only 3.5%, Indian descendants have performed very well.

To maintain unity among the East Indians of Belize, Mr Pate established the East Indian Council. Through the Council he hopes to keep Indian culture alive. East Indians cannot loose their culture to another, cannot become a shadow to assimilation. He ended by quoting the Mexican Ambassador who visited Belize and said “you can take an Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of an India”. Finally, he shared a moving poem he wrote titled “Kaala Paani”.


Session 1: The Burden of History

61 participants

Dr Kamala Lakshmi Naiker, Senior Lecturer, University of Fiji

Dr Naiker began her presentation by giving a short history of the migration of Indians to Fiji with the first ship – Leonidas. Between 1879-1960, some 60,000 indentures arrived in Fiji. For indentured labourers, life as a girmit was hopeless and full of uncertainty. She says there are two common tools in writing history that Fijians have used – the use of language, and constructing narratives. They have used the language of the coloniser and not Hindi to communicate their struggles to the wider world. This is the first burden. Writers have been trying to make their narratives as real as possible. The history of indenture from the beginning was that of suffering. Over the years, the girmit has contributed to nation building in India. She ended her presentation by saying that there is no doubt that the burden of history is felt (both in Fiji as being outsiders, and in India as being rejects), but one must celebrate the successes of the Indian descendants as well. She was sad that the Indian diaspora was forgotten after independence.

Karen Dipnaraine-Saroop, Activist, USA   

Ms Dipnaraine-Saroop spoke on the ‘Resistance, Resilience and Perseverance: A Case Study of Trinidad and Tobago’. She noted that 85% of migrants to Trinidad from India were Hindus and relied on their own memories to preserve Indian culture. Indians were regarded as strange and unwelcome intruders by the western influenced African inhabitants. The governing administration did not pay attention to the education of Indian children because the government believed they would return to India. Eventually, they sent their children to missionary schools and could become a teacher only if they converted to Christianity. Interestingly, many did not want to convert to Christianity as they wanted to preserve their ancient faith. It was only in 1982 that Hindu schools were allowed.  She highlighted how politics, economic oppression, proselytization, and race tensions presented challenges to keeping Indian culture alive. During this time, a transformation was happening within the Hindu community, who began to celebrate Diwali on a large scale. These celebrations brought different Hindu sects under one umbrella and introduced the Indian community to other communities in Trinidad. Mr Dipnaraine-Saroop took the audience on a journey through Trinidad and described how politics, economic oppression and race tensions presented challenges to keeping Indian culture alive.

Dr Nalini Moodley-Diar, Executive Dean, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa

Dr Moodley-Diar focused her presentation on memory, identity and heritage through a visual or art history background. South Africa is a deeply divided society along the lines of race, language and gender, undermining any sense of tolerance and unity. As recently as August 2021 there were riots with chants “one Indian, one bullet”. She explored the works of Alka Dass, who uses stitching on doilies to thread together heritage and layers of memories. Patriarchy adds another layer of burden of history among Indian South Africans and their experiences in domesticity.  She also looks at the work of Sharlene Khan who explores the many women who committed suicide as the only way to get out of their problems, in her work ‘Drowning Durgas’. Her portrayal of Reshma Chhiba of women’s backs show the transformation of Indian women in South Africa and how they deal with their Indianness – from conservatism to modernism.

Session 2: Voices from the Indian Diaspora

70 participants

Anand Jayrajh, Attorney, South Africa

Mr Jayrajh mentioned that labour, slavery and indenture can be spoken of in the same breath and proceeded to give a brief history of indenture. Voices from the diaspora articulate both positives and negatives like discrimination, typecasting and racism. As the negatives have often been spoken about, Mr Jayrajh focused on the positives – the progress they have made, their hard work, dedication, and their will to succeed. In South Africa, the diaspora finds itself in a situation where they themselves have become a victim on their own successes. Emphasis on education, although important, is not the only common thread among Indian diaspora communities. He also highlighted the social cohesion programme of the South African government.

Ajay Chhabra, CEO Nukhut, UK

Mr Chhabra delivered a personal account of the work that his organisation, NutKhut does, as well as his journey of discovering Fiji through some objects he had collected from his grandparents. He traced his roots from Madhya Pradesh, and described his grandparents journey to Fiji from thumb print to stepping on Fijian soil. He spoke about his role as an actor and his quest for discovering his girmit identity and in preserving it. He also spoke about the work he does to highlight girmit experiences across the world.

Daljeet Maharaj, Secretary Fiji Hindu Society, Fiji

Mr Maharaj is a third generation descendant of an indentured labourer. He briefly described his family’s journey to Fiji from India. He visited India for the first time in 2017 under the the Know India Programme and discovered Indian descendants from other countries as well. He said girmitiyas are also known as jahajis in Fiji and were brought on 87 ships that transported 60,000 Indians including Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. Indians brought with them Hindi, Telugu and Tamil, built temples, mosques and gurudwaras. Due to differences in dialects it went on to become Fiji-Hindi. He spoke about the work that the Fiji Hindu Society does and shared photos of the festivals celebrated, the chanting of mantras, and the acceptance of Indian culture by natives. He highlighted the achievements of Indians in Fiji – from producing a President, to soccer players and leaders in the culture sphere. He ended his presentation by talking about the challenges that Indo-Fijians face – from coups and insecurity, living in the informal sector, to preserving culture and sanskars and the ability to afford a decent living.

Session 3: Making of the Girmit (Indentured) Diaspora

57 participants

Virendra Gupta, Former Ambassador

Shri Virendra Gupta began his presentation by mentioning that India’s relationship with diaspora and vice versa wasn’t the same as before, like it is at present. It has evolved over some time. He highlighted three distinct aspects of diaspora i.e. the diaspora in the Gulf, the diaspora in developed countries, and the third is the Girmitiya diaspora. The Girmitiya diaspora’s feeling of warmth and attachment to India is unmatched as compared to the other two groups. Despite living very far away the Girmityas have been the most emotionally attached to India. He spoke in length about the movement of the Girmitiyas and how they were dispatched. Such hardships created a sense of brotherhood and solidarity amongst the Girmitiyas. This helped in creating a sense of a new identity. A very strong factor that held them together was their religion. The Girmityas believed and referred strongly to Ramayana and Hanuman Chalisa. Though they held very strongly to the Hindu identity the caste distinction faded when they moved to a new region, and religion indeed became a strong glue to bind them. Lastly, he recommended the role of the Indian diaspora community especially the Girmit community should be highlighted more when one talks about India’s soft power.

Ruben Gowricharn, Professor, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr Gowricharn focused his talk on girmitiya peasants. He filled the gap in literature on the evolution of the diaspora, particularly the transformation of girmitiyas from labourers to business or other fields. What are the distinguishing characteristics of the diaspora? For one they all belong to India, they formed ethnic communities, took their strong sense of religion and identity with them. They formed nascent labour communities on plantations and generally mixed to high degrees except for North and South India division. Suriname was the only country that had only North Indians so the division between North and South Indians was not felt. Women were a minority in all societies but played an important role. In Suriname access to land was practically unlimited as the planters went bankrupt. Indians in Fiji on the other hand had no access to land. He also spoke about the impact of Indian cinemas on the diaspora community. His main argument is that multiple homelands were developed due to migration, mixing of people, English (or local language) education.

Manoranjan Mohanty, Associate Professor, University of the South Pacific, Fiji

Dr Mohanty focused his presentation on Indians in Fiji and pointed out that Indians who arrived in Fiji were very diverse. They came from across India and spoke many languages from Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Fiji was created as a casteless society and labourers gradually transformed from being bonded labourers to small farm holders. The diaspora was also diverse in terms on religion – Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had migrated to Fiji. Over time, within Fiji, newer diaspora groups emerged such as the Tamil diaspora who created a space of their own. Architecture in temples also resemble these newer diaspora groups. Dr Mohanty mentioned that languages like Malayalam and Kannada have been lost.

Session 4: Keeping Indian Culture Alive

56 participants

Satish Rai , Director Raivision Films, Australia

Dr Rai shared his experience of tracing his roots to India and was able to visit some of the places his four grandparents are from. He informed the audience that he made a film on girmitiyas in 2019. Mr Rai believes that we can have multiples homes and identities and need not be restricted to one. He considers his Janambhumi to be Fiji, his Karmabhumi as Australia, and Matrabhumi as India. He finds his connection to India very strong as his ancestors belong to the country, and contents most from the diaspora feel the same way. In Fiji, the parents played a very important role in passing on their culture to their children. This is especially true in preserving languages like Bhojpuri and Awadhi that ICCR does not help preserve to as much an extent as Hindi. He mentioned that these languages are losing their popularity to Hindi. He also spoke about the role that religion, folk songs, festivals, wedding rituals and cuisine have played in keeping Indian culture alive.

Selwa Nandan, Secretary of Fiji Girmit Council, Fiji

Mr Nandan focused his presentation on what the Fiji Girmit Multicultural Centre is doing to preserve Indian culture. They have built schools and temples for which they had to make tremendous sacrifices. For that, the present generation is forever indebted to them. He said it is this that ties the present generation to their ancestors and therefore India. The Centre provides training to students at a nominal cost in language and dance among other aspects of Indian culture. Despite the ICCR suspending the support to the centre, it is still continuing and is the largest cultural centre in Fiji. He then spoke about the challenges that the centre is facing (many which were compounded by Covid-19) and the main being external funding.

Sarita Boodhoo, Chairperson of Bhojpuri Speaking Union, Mauritius

Dr Boodhoo began her presentation by singing a song from India’s first generation migrants to Mauritius. Indians have taken with them their culture no matter where they went. The first 36 girmitiyas came to Mauritius from Chota Nagpur and this created a community in Mauritius. Today, every Hindu family in Mauritius has a Tulsi plant in front of their homes and celebrate their Indian-ness with a lot of pride. There are many institutes in Mauritius that have been set up to promote Indian research and culture. In Mauritius, 27 Bhojpuri channels exist, and the joint family system still exists although it is slowly being replaced by a single family unit. She mentioned that dal, saag, katchori, biryani and mithai are the staple food, and that Bihar’s dal puri has become a fast food in Mauritius. She also mentioned that in Mauritius the Girmitiya Arrival Day is celebrated as a national holiday, as is Holi and Diwali. Most Indian villages in Mauritius have mandirs, a neem tree under which stories of Ramayana are told. The names of the descendants themselves are a testament to the fact that Indian culture is alive. Villages and towns in Mauritius are named after Indian villages and cities. Finally, she mentioned that folk songs have been declared as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

Session 5: Girmitiyas and India

60 participants

Pt Bhuwan Dutt, Pandit, Fiji

Pt Dutt began his presentation by giving a history of India and gave a brief history of the arrival of Indians in Fiji. He asked how many Indians in Fiji returned to India, and how many times has India enquired about the wellbeing of Indians in Fiji. He said that women were not spared on their arrival in these new lands and that bulk of the revenue from the farms fuelled British development. How have these workers been compensated? Thousands of workers lost a permanent connection to India. It is the duty of Indians to look after Indians. He ended is presentation by quoting from the Rig Veda.

Pt Dhunsanker Maharaj, Pandit, South Africa

Pt Maharaj mentioned that talking about girmitiyas is both painful and uplifting at the same. Painful because of the history associated with indenture and the hardships that were endured. Uplifting, because of the courage, determination and resilience that the indentured showed. South Africa as a society has been through tremendous hardship be it racism, segregation or apartheid. Indians had to remind the black South African that Indians had built hundreds of schools and conducted many sewa projects in black townships. This reminded them that Indians are driven by race. Pt Maharaj views the conference as keeping the girmitiya consciousness alive. He said that if you visit South Africa you will notice that Indian culture is thriving. There has also been a longing to connect with India as they viewed it as their motherland and call it Bharat Mata. South African Indians visit India regularly either to visit ashrams, temples, for shopping etc. The problem South Africa faced was that they did not have local Indian schools but instead had to attend Western, Christian schools. Because they were not given the opportunity to learn their history or the opportunity to learn their language, they were robbed of their heritage. Unfortunately, South African schools taught Indians that the White Man was perfect and superior. Therefore, the problem of conversion is also alive. Why is this a problem? Because slowly Indian customs are lost – the emotional bond with India gets lost, social habits change, clothing styles change, food habits change. They are Indians only by looks and eventually abandon their Indian-ness.

Dr Pavitranand Ramhota, Former Officer-in-Charge of Rabindranath Tagore Institute, Mauritius

Dr Ramhota made an important point in that despite the hardships faced by the indentured in Mauritius, there were elements of joy that was the consequence of by being Indian. Marriage for instance, became a high point not just for the marrying couple but also for the community as marriage was accompanied by celebration, song and dance. During marriage, the pundit performs ceremonial functions for the couple but today they are being adapted to suit the changing societies. The best example is that marriage is nowadays solemnised on weekends to ensure that family and friends can participate. The haldi (turmeric) ceremony today is followed by song and dance. In India turmeric is first applied to the feet, however in Mauritius it is first applied to the forehand and feet last. In Mauritius, unlike in India, the birth of the girl child was always celebrated. Caste has come to represent popular discourses. In Mauritius caste is still adhered to in some respects – surnames have disappeared as the first name became the surname making it hard to trace the caste. Caste has not been academically debated or studied in Mauritius. There is fear in Mauritius that talking about caste is like opening a Pandora’s box. He concluded that Indo-Mauritius society has evolved differently from India.

Rajan Nazran, CEO Global India Series, UK

Mr Nazran runs the Global Indian Series to understand what identity means for Indians. The Series tries to understand what it means to be a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and has learnt that as a community we are often neglected despite all the work and contributions we have made. He briefly highlighted the work that the Global Indian Series has done in brining to the forefront the riots in South Africa against the Indian community in August 2021.

Session 6: Voices From the Indian Diaspora

54 participants

Dr Akshai Mansingh, Dean of Faculty of Sports, University of West Indies, Jamaica

Dr Mansingh’s presentation was visual and he was able to show the audience pictures from his own family’s archives and their journey to Jamaica. He showed the audience a photo of the Ramayana that was taken to Jamaica but was written in Urdu. Through these objects, Indian culture was kept alive. Indians in Jamaica have contributed to the national cuisine through curry, roti. In North Jamaica, Indian jewellery can be found and this was pedalled as a cottage industry from plantation to plantation. Indians engaged in rice cultivation and were active in cricket, perhaps even bringing it to Jamaica. The state denied religion and persecuted Indians by not allowing education and denying health. So much so that in Trinidad a temple had to be built on the sea to circumvent the ban on temples on land. For 400 years Trinidadian Indians were cut off from India – except for when the cricket team would visit West Indies. Interestingly the Indians in the West Indies would root for India and not West Indies! Many Indians who visited or studied in West Indies would belittle local Indians and look down upon them. Indians from India thought they were “cooler” than the local Indians. Today, Indian culture is seen during graduation ceremonies when graduates where sarees, there are no “one day Christians”, Indians are educated, “everybody a smaddy”, chutney music are common. Today the culture is so strong that when an airport opened in Trinidad it was opened with a Hanuman puja and not by the Trinity Cross. Trinidad has seven local Hindi radio stations that are played across the West Indies. Indian Arrival Day is also celebrated in Trinidad with the cultural exposé being completely Trinidadian. The important thing now is get children involved. Interestingly instead of eating on banana leaves, Indians eat on lotus leaves! He cautioned that India has a literate and a growing middle class, and the population is shunning their own language and are looking down at traditional values and culture, family units are becoming decentralised and Indians are no longer proud of their culture. India is a lesson for the West Indies: there needs to be a cultural (re)explanation and (re)education if we Indian culture is to be kept alive, as opposed to only retaining Indian names.

Vishnu Bisram, Political Scientist and Journalist, Guyana

Mr Bisram stated that voices from the Diaspora are about celebration, mourning, of tragedy and of the relationship with mother India or mother Guyana or mother Trinidad. Many from the diaspora are now twice removed from India having migrated to other countries within the Caribbean – to the US, UK and Europe. Most of the voices share a common complaint – the neglect from the Government of India. Hindi is under threat in Fiji and there is very little emphasis on reviving the language or even the culture in these countries. There is nothing to bring the diaspora together via the media or the Indian government– nothing (no platform) to discuss their needs, achievements and challenges. In India there is not much being done to support the girmit diaspora. Engaging with the diaspora is viewed as a burden as it does not bring in much revenue, and is therefore neglected altogether. He said few people care about persevering Indian culture, and India does not seem to be bothered either. There is a paucity of scholars in the diaspora on India. Girmit academics do not get funding for their research. Scholars who do exist focus on their community (like Suriname, Fiji, etc), but very few have travelled far and wide and researched on the girmit community as a whole. There is no journal that focuses on girmits, although Mr Bisram, Mr Ramasaran and Mr Rai (all of whom spoke at this conference) are working hard to launch a journal next month. He said the voices of girmits are voices of disappointment in India – they expect India to do a lot more than what is being done. He suggested there can be regional offices, there can be regional programmes and conferences, yearly meetings in Delhi, meetings in girmit towns rather than in capital cities where girmits do not reside. Perhaps there could even be a think tank that focuses on girmits in India.

Shadel Nyack Compton, Managing Director, Belmont Estate Group of Companies, Grenada

Ms Compton shared her experiences as an Indo-Grenadian. She began by sharing her story of being raised in a household with strong Indian values. Despite studying in the US, she chose to return to Grenada and take care of her farm, which was bought by her grandparents. Her estate celebrates Indian Arrival Day, hosted a museum that showcased India, and tries to replicate pickles from India. 2.2% of Grenada’s population is Indian, 13.3% of whom are of mixed descent. The St George’s University markets heavily to Indian students and lecturers so Grenada is seeing a new wave of Indian migrants. The first Indians arrived in 1857 – 85% remained in Grenada while others migrated to other countries, mostly to Trinidad. A de-cultural programme forced Indians to abandon their culture and religion. Grenada’s small size did not allow Indians to establish an authentic community like seen in Trinidad, Guyana etc. Post indenture, the Indian community really struggled to retain a strong cultural identity. However, they attained significant positions in agriculture, politics, business etc.

What Indian values do we see today despite the degeneration of its culture and heritage? Families still try to hold on to the values, and there are pockets of communities that still live in extended families. The culture of thrift and hard work is evident. Dishes like dal, roti, curry, bhajji are all common dishes in Grenadian cuisine. Many plants like moringa, mango, tamarind, turmeric were brought to Grenada. Music and dance are some influences that Indians tend to hold on to. The most popular influence however is probably cricket.

How does Grenada celebrate India? Indian Arrival Day has been officially recognised as a holiday since 2017; Indian Independence Day and Republic Day are celebrated with the raising of the tricoloured flag; Holi and Paghwa are celebrated; a bust of Mahatma Gandhi stands tall; and Grenada sends young people to the KIP to experience India.

She then spoke about the work that the Indo-Grenadian Heritage Foundation, which she established, does to ensure that Indian culture is represented on the national landscape. India on its part set up an IT Centre, helped in some infrastructure development projects, there is some bilateral trade between the two countries (although there is much more room for this). In 2019 PM Modi pledged that CARICOM will receive a billion dollars from India.

Session 7: The Burden of History

59 participants

Shamshu Deen, Researcher National Archives, Trinidad and Tobago

Mr Deen first defined the the ‘burden of history’ as “demands of all humankind a level of responsibility”, and then went on to quote Rudyard Kipling, who in the white man’s burden said one must care for the conquered. He threw light on documents, general registers, estate registers etc. This is how Indian names entered the mainstream Diaspora country’s documentation. These are the databases that family historians look into to trace roots and help relieve the burden of history. He then spoke about how the diaspora can be connected and said the best way is to find family in India. He showed the audience documents of two brothers – one who went to Fiji and the other to Trinidad. These two people were brothers and came from Faizabad district from India and belonged to the Brahmin caste. The burden of history is so strong that brothers was displaced and unless family historians trace their roots the connections remain lost forever. But problems in tracing roots exist – recruiters wrote wrong information, wrong addresses were given, and some stories of the motherland written by ancestors were falsified or romanticised and cannot be traced to an existing place. In short, he said family history is very important as it helps track migration, satisfies curiosity, provides databases used for other disciplines like economics.

Maurits Hassankhan, Senior Lecturer, Aton de Kom University, Suriname

Mr Hassankhan identifies three burdens of history – identity, position of Indians in their respective home countries (countries of destination like Suriname), and the relation that the diaspora has with India. First, is identity. He asks, are we Indian? Are we Hindustani? Are we Surinamese? Migration to Suriname was from North India, particularly UP and Bihar who spoke Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi etc. Very few were acquainted with Hindi. As people came from different areas, they developed a new language called Hindoostani towards the end of the 19th Century to communicate with each other. When indentured labourers finished their contract they organised themselves into communities and called themselves Hindoostanis, and objected to the usage of the term coolie. He mentioned that on signing the contract, the indentured labourer became a coolie for the European – the term was used for Indian coolies, Vietnamese coolies, Chinese coolies etc. At the end of indenture, they became agriculturalists and therefore objected to the usage of the term coolie.

Dr Baytoram Ramharack, Professor, Nassau Community College, Guyana

Dr Ramharack is a third generation Girmitiya from Guyana, whose grandfather originated from Allahabad and crossed the kala paani in 1930. The mentioned three things that he thinks are very crucial – having a girmitiya university, establishing a database, and the need for a commission of inquiry.

A girmitiya university is crucial to unburden the diaspora from their past. It will provide a place of learning. It will also give a chance for the girmitiyas to write their own history as opposed to the history written by the victor (as proposed by Winston Churchill). The second, is establishing a database like the Indenture Labour Route Project. Documents, archives and artefacts are in terrible condition today and need to be preserved. The third is a need to have a comprehensive commission on inquiry, not to extract monetary compensation from the colonials, but to document the history, something like is done with slavery.

He then narrated a story: Trinidad was born through the independence movement; the leading political party was trying to seek support from countries including from India and was led by Mr Vincent Mahabir. But, the conversation of who Mr Mahabir was never came up. When the government asked him if he is Indian, he replied saying that he is West Indian. In doing this, he misunderstood identity politics. Indians in Trinidad are sometimes confused about who they are.


63 participants

H.E. Mrs S. B. Hanoomanjee, High Commissioner of Mauritius to India

H.E Hanoomanjee thanked the organisers for the invitation to speak at the conference. She mentioned that the theme of the conference is very sensitive given that Mauritius is a land of migrants. Indians came as early as 1730 from Pondicherry and Chennai as settlers, but mass migration began only in 1834, following the abolition of slavery and the institutionalisation of indentured labour. This marked the sad journey of exile across the Indian Ocean. This time, most migration was from the Bhojpuri belt of India.  when they migrated from the Bhojpuri belt of India. The recruiters of that time under British rule played their role in gyring away innocent indentured labourers who were the Girmitiyas. At that time, it was also an opportunity for the Girmitiyas to escape dire conditions of death and farming in India. However, given the high levels of illiteracy, many were misled about where they were departing for and the wages they would receive. This separation is one of the saddest chapters in human history. When the Girmitiyas reached their destination they were brought to work in sugarcane fields shouldering the burden of the economy of the British colony. They bear the burden of separation from their families and the indentured system was not based on a principle of equality and justice. Despite all the hardships they had to face the girmitiyas did not lose hope rather they persevered through blood, sweat, and tears. They contributed to what is today a prosperous Mauritius. The only great things girmitiyas brought with them when they came to Mauritius were their culture, tradition, art, and religion. They brought with them the sacred books of Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita. She noted that even the new generations of the Indian diaspora are actively upholding these values through socio-cultural groups. Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Mauritius in 1901 sowed the seeds of independence in the hearts of the indentured labourers. The descendants of Indian migrants played a crucial role in the emancipation and were largely instrumental in driving the liberation movement for our independence in 1968. Descendants of girmitiyas have come a long way. In the process of nation-building, there was no singular factor more important than the human capital for a small country like Mauritius. Mauritius has nurtured a close affinity with India both at the social and political levels. The High Commissioner paid special tribute to Prime Minister Modi for the highest respect given to the Indian diaspora by granting the status of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) since January 2017. She also commended the Indian Government’s efforts in bringing people of Indian origin together by advocating the principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ – The World Is One Family – and work together in advancing shared values and promoting security, stability and prosperity. Mrs. Hanoomanjee concluded on a very positive note that the diaspora can act as vital agents for development as all the countries gradually move into the knowledge economy, the smart economy, or in the wave of the fourth industrial revolution.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary CPV&OIA MEA, India

Mr Bhattacharyya described India’s migratory journey as a “rich history of amazing accomplishments and many adversities”. After giving a brief historical background of indenture and of their condition upon arrival on new lands, Mr Bhattacharyya pointed out that Indian culture was not lost. In fact, despite being many oceans away, Girmitiyas were “strong adherents” of Indian culture, giving them a unique identity today. He mentioned that Girmitiyas have played a significant role in enhancing the stature of India abroad and that they are a part of India’s soft power. The steady presence of Indian diaspora has even given rise to Indo-Caribbean, Indo-Mauritius, Indo-African, Indo-Fijian, and Indo-Malaysian populations – many of whom constitute the largest ethnic groups in some countries. Mr Bhattacharyya highlighted the role that the diaspora has played in shaping their host countries as well as in India through philanthropy, knowledge transfers, investments in innovation and in assisting with development projects. He also commended the hard work and perseverance of the diaspora that helped them hold the highest State and Government positions in the Girmitiya countries, serve in pivotal roles, run successful businesses and other enterprises. Mr Bhattacharyya stated that the Indian government values its extended family, it pays special attention to their needs, recognises their unique status and desire for links with India for which the Government launched the portal, Rishta, which is aimed at the diaspora. Mr Bhattacharyya also highlighted the various schemes and projects that the Government has for the diaspora like the Know India Programme, the Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children, the Bharat Ko Janniye Quiz, and the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Mr Bhattacharyya concluded his address by saying that the Government works to advocate for the growth and benefit of the diaspora under the maxim of 4Cs – care, connect, celebrate and contribute. The entire speech may be read here.


Making of a New India

Atmanirbhar Bharat is a buzzword which has caught the imagination off not just the entrepreneurial class in India but perhaps of every segment of society. To that extent, the governments approach towards self reliance has made a distinct impact and has appealed to one and all, but it must galvanise all stakeholders on the ground—that is, the industry, the policy makers and the bureaucracy, all of whom need to work in unison. And most importantly, the Indian consumer, whose pride in “Make in India” needs to be rekindled and be channelled towards encouraging the industry—much like how Germany, followed by Japan and later Korea and China, did. What is required now is to create an environment of collaboration rather than confrontation, to convert the re-industrialisation of India to a concrete goal.

The Indian MSME (Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises) sector contributes to about 30 percent of the Indian economy and over 40 percent of the labour force. Numbering over 63 million enterprises, of which 99.5 percent fall in the micro and small category, it stands second in the world only to China.[1] This is thus an important sector requiring specific focus, especially in the manufacturing space, which by itself constitutes about a third of all enterprises. The Government recognises the need for the manufacturing industries to scale up and hence is creating incentives to bolster it. If we wish to achieve an USD 5 trillion economy in the next few years, the manufacturing sector will have to be upscaled, for which our policies should provide appropriate incentives.

Unfortunately, despite the fast pace of economic reforms that have taken place over the last six years, India is still saddled with a humungous quantity of restrictive laws which shackle economic growth. A whole host of regulatory mechanisms are akin to a millstone around the neck of the entrepreneur, which drags the industry down. Certain reforms, like the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), have come as a blessing, as in one stroke, the industry was freed from the yoke of the provision of laws such as excise, sales tax, octroi, Local Body Tax (LBT) etc., which were hindering every decision and transaction of business. But much more needs to be done, especially in terms of policy interventions. A study of the copper industry makes an interesting case for greater policy interventions to achieve the Atmanirbharta goals.

Case Study: Copper Industry

India has a copper demand of about 1 mtpa, of which 25% comes from scrap, mainly through the unorganised industry with weak/inadequate environmental and quality standards. Of the balance 0.75 mtpa demand, indigenous copper ore production serves about 5% of this requirement (owned by the PSU, Hindustan Copper) and the remainder has to be imported. Capacities available with both Hindalco and Vedanta are adequate to serve India’s entire demand for smelting & refining of copper. However, we need policy reforms to ensure India remains competitive in this field. This sadly is lacking.

India has FTAs with only a few countries from where the ore comes at 0% duty and the remainder comes from countries where duty levied is 2.5% (for copper, with a price of USD 8000-10,000/MT, the margin for a processor is only ~4% – rest is made by the mine/ore supplier). Roughly, India imports more than half of its ore in concentrate form at 0% duty and the balance by paying 2.5% duty

As India moves to e-vehicles, increased electrification, urbanisation and renewables, the demand for copper is expected to rise to 2 mtpa by 2030. Imports for additional copper ore will be from countries where we pay 2.5% duty, which means that about three quarters of India’s copper ore requirements will be sourced from countries where we need to pay duty. At the same time, India has FTAs with Japan, ASEAN and some other countries, and imports refined copper products from them at 0 % duty. Both Japan and ASEAN however, import copper ore mostly from FTA countries where duty is 0 %. In addition, almost 70% of India’s imports of refined copper, is now from FTA countries where duty is 0%.

This makes the Indian smelting and refining industry for copper uncompetitive with imported refined copper. As a result, Indian manufacturers using refined copper find it cheaper to import the product. This differential in pricing structures is a disincentives to the Indian corporate to invest upstream in smelting/refining capacity in India. To build these capabilities and attain self reliance upstream for this critical metal, Indian policy makers need to look ahead and make policies which incentivise the growth of indigenous capability. Without policy boosts, we will be unable to achieve the Prime Minister’s vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Case Study: Enabling Manufacturing- The Mittelstand Experience

The ‘Mittelstand commonly refers to small and medium-sized enterprises in German-speaking countries, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. These firms are usually defined as enterprises with annual revenues of up to 50 million Euro and a maximum of 500 employees. It would be instructive to see how they achieved world leadership in their expertise areas. Post-World War II, the political leadership, bureaucracy, academia, and entrepreneurs were united by a common purpose of gaining leadership in technology and manufacturing—and that created the miracle. Japan and China followed suit as did developing nations like Korea and Taiwan. Two points stand out in the growth stories of these countries; one, manufacturing was enabled, not shackled; and two, growth was fuelled by the rapid scaling of the small industries into medium ones.[2] In contrast, in India, there was an antipathy to the development of and creation of wealth. This had much to do with the mindsets of the ruling establishment, both at the political and administrative level, which viewed wealth creation as an undesirable element in society, and so imposed regulations that controlled the growth of the manufacturing sector. This thwarted the efforts of our entrepreneurs, whose energies were diverted towards fighting the system, rather than in creating productive value. The government departments were in opposition to, rather than in support of, the Indian entrepreneur, which kept India down for the first half century or so after independence. A socialist mindset glorified poverty and looked at wealth with disdain. The political and bureaucratic class prospered at the expense of the common Indian who remained steeped in poverty. Private enterprise and initiative were all but killed, but crony capitalism grew by leaps and bound.

Since 2014, there has been a concerted effort to change things around, but a lot remains to be done, especially in terms of sensitising the bureaucracy and changing mindsets from exercising control and thwarting growth, to becoming facilitators for the India growth story. India still has a long way to go in this regard.

The Advantage of Scaling

The Mittelstand experience showed the advantage of scaling. Today, the larger corporates in India provide employment to millions of people across the country. The Tata Group and L&T, employ between them, over one million people. Add to this the employment provided by Infosys, Mahindra and Mahindra, Reliance Industries, Wipro, HCL, the Aditya Birla group and a host of private banks, and we come to realise the tremendous contribution of the larger corporate houses to the India growth story.[3] Yet, we continue to rave and rant at these powerhouses of development, rather than seeking to create an environment where the number of large corporate houses can double in a decade. We need a mindset change where the private sector is respected, instead of the other way around. This is where the jobs come from. This is what will create wealth for India. Moreover, the MSME’s too must be encouraged to grow. Scale is a virtue which must be cultivated, not an evil which is to be exorcised. Today, many of the MSMEs which started about 20 years ago, operate more as one-man enterprises, and their business model is floundering.[4] Imagine, if just a million of these enterprises had been enabled and encouraged to upscale to 50-500 employees, based on the Mittelstand model! This would have put India on the world map as a leading industrialised nation, eliminated poverty and unemployment and also reduced many of the social problems that India faces today.


India’s future does not lie in socialist policies which makes beggars out of Indians. We need empowering policies which create wealth and jobs, and which enable each and every Indian to stand on her or his own feet and not depend on handouts for sustenance. That is the India which will be truly Atmanirbhar. And that India can be created through a National Consciousness, to work together for a common cause.

Author Brief Bio:

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation.



[2] Samir Kaji, The Future of the Indian MSME and the Manufacturing Sector, India Foundation Journal, Vol II, Issue No 2, March April 2021, available at

[3] Employment stats are available at

[4] Samir Kaji, Note 2.


Preparing a Digital and Future-Ready Workforce


The future of work is unfolding fast. With rapid automation, digitalisation, and re-skilling, organisations are facing an unforeseen workforce challenge. The shelf-life of most skills today has halved, and they are predicted to be rapidly changing in the years to come. The existing organisation structures are no longer optimised to support the changes brought in by the fast-changing skills eco-system. The demographic profile of talent has also been undergoing fundamental changes—with an increasing preference for flexibility and empowerment in their work.

To this heady mix, the complexities of the pandemic were added in 2020. Business continuity was severely challenged which has led to a broad-based stress on jobs and employment. New ways of working like remote and agile were proven to work successfully, leading to more widespread and rapid adoption, while many existing practices around talent attraction, management, and retention are being questioned. All of these changes have super-charged workforce management and engagement into one of the key C-suite priorities today.

The ‘right talent in the right place and at the right time’ was always one of the key mantras to business success. Now, the definition of each of these three parameters has been extended in ways organisations had never thought of before. People are thinking differently about work, and we need to ready ourselves to a ‘brave, new world’.

Future Workforces

The signs had been around for a while – the digital enhancements in different industries, an increasing skills gap in talent globally, rising market volatility, and unique employee demographics. The 2020 pandemic only pushed these triggers and accelerated the need for a future-ready workforce.

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Study 2020, “85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines” by 2025.1

A closer look at the nature of skills being replaced reveals that higher-order human attributes like emotional intelligence, influence, empathy, and creativity stand irreplaceable even in the jobs of the future. Furthermore, even the best technology can be harnessed only when the employee using it is skilled enough. The future workforce is turning digital, distributed, and diverse. It is rapidly embracing the changes needed and discarding the old to make room for the new.

Having entered this new normal, it is clear that skills are the new yardstick to measure organisational success against. Organisations can no longer prepare for the workforce of the future using methods of the past. To analyse this in detail, we delineate each aspect of the future workforce and identify its changing trajectory from a skill-based lens in terms of three integrated dimensions: ‘who’ forms the right talent, ‘where’ they work, and ‘why’ they contribute to organisational success.

  1. Who:

The right talent is fast becoming available in a variety of forms and shapes – full-time and part-time workers, permanent employees and consultants/freelancers, on-site and fully remote staff, white-collar or blue/ grey collar gig workers, and retirees and independent contractors. This entire ecosystem of new types of workers arising because of digital enablement together form ‘digital employees’. While many of them may possess higher-order digital skills than their non-digital counterparts, it is not just the technology that sets them apart. It is what they can do with that technology and how they can deploy their skills – digital and more – beyond the traditional realm of work.

The changing composition of the workforce also creates increased possibilities and meets critical business challenges at the same time. A recruiter now only needs to focus on whether the talent being interviewed has the right skills needed to deliver the project – irrespective of his/ her preferences in terms of work arrangements, location, or time-zone. In fact, while overall full-time hiring had slowed down in India and globally during 2020, jobs were lost and unemployment averaged at 10%2, the parallel digital employment and gig economy grew to absorb a large chunk of this workforce.

Flexing It, an India-based platform for white collar freelancers saw a 20+% growth in flexible talent positions posted in FY20-21 as compared to the previous financial year indicating an increasing demand for non-traditional work structures and a focus on skill.

  1. Where:

2020 was also the year of remote work, forcing several organisations to embrace extended work-from-home (WFH) overnight. However, it is now clear that a hybrid approach to ‘where’ employees would like to work is the future. Several leading organisations like Novartis, Slack, and Twitter have announced a permanent option for employees to work from home.3 Many others have opted for a hybrid model, and the latest arrangement to join this trend is ‘work-from-anywhere’ (WFA).

Made possible due to greater confidence in work-from-home productivity during the pandemic-induced lockdown, as well as increased digitalisation of organisations and processes around data security, WFA breaks all barriers when it comes to talent attraction and management. When hiring for in-demand or niche skills, a recruiter no longer needs to be restricted to the local talent market or the full-time talent pool. This trend helps take employability and high-quality jobs to talent outside the metros and into Tier 2/3 cities which was a challenge earlier.

  1. Why:

The future workforce has a third dimension that is fast changing – and this is the ‘why’. Professionals entering the workforce today are driven by different and unique motivations. Young professionals are thinking about their careers more sustainably. Enjoying time with family or pursuing their interests, seeking flexi-working options, and participating in meaningful projects are important for them. Millennials and Gen Z workers also embrace organisations that give back to society and follow ethical practices. They want to be able to trust their employer “to treat them fairly in terms of pay, development, and conditions and in return are expected to reflect the culture of the company in their approach and behaviour.”4 Likewise, they expect greater empowerment in their work. Virtual working during the pandemic has also encouraged managers to move away from micro-management to outcome-linked performance management. Once again, digital tools like collaboration software, project management platforms, and productivity tools support this welcome trend.

Digitalisation has enabled organisations to look at talent pools cutting across geographies, age, and other traditional barriers. The workforce strategy of the new normal is driven by the CEOs and the business, with a conscious understanding that the right skills can take their business to its goals and help navigate the volatility better. Many talent decisions are now driven from the top – be it diversity and inclusion agendas, employee assistance, and wellness programs, to people analytics. In the next section, we take a closer look at some of the key drivers that are shaping this emerging picture of future workforces.

Drivers of the Changing Workplace

Having seen the workforce of the future from the lens of the new normal and how it is changing, it is important to understand what drivers have influenced and accelerated these changes. We talk about a few of these below:

  1. Technology

In a PwC survey of 10,029 members of the general population based in China, Germany, India, the UK, and the US, a third of people worldwide expressed worry about losing their jobs to automation and AI.5 However, while Digitisation, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Robotics are indeed an immediate reality, we find that these technologies are creating newer jobs too. There is an urgent need to re-skill and constantly re-invent ourselves as well as our processes to ensure that more and more employees transition smoothly into sustainable job opportunities.

  1. COVID-19 Pandemic

The unprecedented conditions invoked due to the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated several work trends that were already in the pipeline. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Survey 2020, the top business response to COVID-19 was acceleration of the digitalisation of work processes.6 Acceleration of automation of work tasks and implementation of up-skilling/ re-skilling programmes were other key responses that have influenced the workforce of the future to be more agile.

  1. Democratisation of work

The gig economy was already a key workforce trend with a large part of the population opting for it. The unexpected job market outcomes of 2020 drove a significant number of skilled and semi-skilled workers into the open market, who began exploring the benefits of the gig economy. This was further provided impetus by two significant trends:

  • Firstly, we see a vastly increased acceptance by organisations to deconstruct roles into skills and hire talent in the form of an independent consultant or freelancer. This was particularly true for highly paid white-collar gig roles. A recent survey by Flexing It reveals a definite increase in the quality and quantity of roles available in the professional gig economy in India. In the next 5 years, 35%+ organisations expect to have a workforce comprising >15% flexible talent and 90% of the projects that freelancers worked on were of strategic priority.7
  • Secondly, the emergence and scaling-up of effective on-demand talent platforms, that have democratised access to skills and effectively bridged the gap between the employer and the talent. These technology-driven platforms have effectively galvanised demand across white-collar, grey-collar, and blue-collar sectors.

According to the global study by Payoneer, India saw a massive 46% increase in new freelancers between Q1 to Q2, 2020, while emerging as the second-fastest growing economy for freelancers (160% y-o-y revenue growth) last year.8 However, this positive trend comes with its share of watch outs and opportunities to strengthen the gig and digital eco-system. We will discuss these in the next section.

  1. Changing demographic of the workforce

As discussed in the previous section, the changing mindset of the newer workforce is a key changing force in shaping the new economy. The demographics, career preferences, and courage to make sustainable choices that are displayed by the Millennials and Gen Z workers means that organisations need to adapt themselves to suit the career aspirations of this new type of talent.9

These drivers have created a fertile ground for the workplace of the future to emerge from. However, the challenges that had prevented these changes from taking shape over so many years, are still prevalent, especially in an economy like India’s. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forum anticipates that given a very young working population, “the annual demand for new jobs in India is estimated at 12-15 million…with a shortage of between 4-7 million jobs each year.”10 While on the one hand companies finds it difficult to fill their vacancies with capable talent, on the other hand, multiple candidates are looking for suitable opportunities.

The skilling challenge is accentuated by a scarcity of effective technology and tools to bridge the gap between the job seeker, especially beyond the metros, and the job. Added to this the gender disparity of the job market. Women are paid 19% lower11 than their male counterparts for the same job, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse with the job losses higher amongst women professionals.

In South Asian economies like India, another roadblock that prevents the future-of-work changes from reaching the last mile is the lack of job formalisation. More than 80% of the South Asian workforce “is engaged directly in the informal economy and many more work as informal workers in the formal economy.”12 This prevents an equitable reach of any changes taking place in the order of work. Put together, we have a greater challenge at hand.

These and multiple other challenges have prevented the Indian economy from fully leveraging the new digital workforce. “In order to take full advantage of the employment potential of the digital economy, it is essential to improve and secure digital infrastructure to enable equal access to digital technologies and reduce the digital divide.”13

In the next section therefore, we look ahead at some of the actions we can take to overcome these challenges.

Enabling Change: How can India leverage the future workforce?

Jack Welch once famously quoted – “change before you have to”. The time is upon us when multiple drivers are pushing businesses from all directions to embrace change and adapt into a more agile, future-ready eco-system. However, to enable that this change is sustainable and effective, it needs to be looked at from a holistic perspective.

We analyse it from seven different lenses and what it implies for each of these stakeholders:


  1. Corporates
  • Large organisations today are in a strategic position from where they can drive the thinking around skills needed in the futureand the right mix of Traditional and Digital Employees to deliver these. We will still need human employees in a fully automated world – whether to use a technology or develop new ones. Organisations need to be able to map their digital strategy such that they are able to identify the skills needed in the future, constantly update this thinking, and ensure the workforce is getting the support needed to build these skills. These aspects are critical for an organisation alongside using the latest technology.
  • Another area where corporates can play a catalytic role is investing in technology that enables remote and digital workto take place seamlessly and democratically. Adopting technology and digitalisation for the sake of it, leads to short-term and unbalanced results. The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation and forced several organisations to adopt remote work technologies. However, the uneven reach of these reactive measures has impacted workplace productivity as well as inclusivity of different workforce categories. For example, a contract employee working on financial analysis would struggle to safely access confidential data while working from home if her/ his organisation previously relied on on-site data security measures alone. Proactively analysing which technological solution is critical and relevant to the business and industry is, therefore, a key imperative.
  • As we prepare for the future of workforce, the responsibilities of corporates extend beyond just their workplace and industry. They can contribute towards more effective up-skilling of talent entering the workforce. This can be achieved through structured partnerships with academia and skill development initiativesto ensure greater fitment of talent with future jobs and support increased employability in society as a whole. Currently, many corporates look at skill building from a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) lens. However, there is a significant business case for corporates in developing meaningful partnerships with higher education institutes. Niche and new-age skills like Big Data, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Quantum Computing, Meta Materials are still in nascent stages. By sharing practical know-how, supporting lab development, and partnering in curriculum design as well as faculty development, corporates that utilise these pioneering technologies can build student interest and capability in parallel and build a talent pipeline for themselves at the same time.
  1. Human Resources professionals and community

HR’s role is undergoing the biggest revolution in decades and the traits that will hold HR in good stead are bringing the outside in and a keen sense of business. The HR community can do this by developing new frames of thinking about core HR processes like Learning, Performance Management, Compensation – for new segments of the workforce. HR today needs to be open to new ways of working and managing a different type of talent – from full-time to part-time, from permanent to gig workers, and even expert advisors. Some of the key imperatives where HR can add immense value in years to come are:

  • How they access non-traditional talent in time to meet business demands?
  • How do they define fair pay for different workgroups?
  • How to ensure people practices meet a hygiene standard across all talent categories?
  • How is talent engaged and aligned to the larger organisational vision across boundaries of generation, age, and geographies?

Fortunately, digitalisation of HR processes has helped a great extent in making this new thinking a reality. Digital transformation is not about technology, it is about what people can do with that technology. For example, advanced HR management systems today can not only help HR and line managers plot what skills are available in the organisation but also identify which talent can be moved or quickly developed to occupy upcoming critical roles. Tools to fairly peg compensation of skills are now available for all segments of talent like full-time, contractual, and specialist advisors. Similarly, learning and development professionals believe that online learning portals have put self-development at the centre of employee engagement.

Considering that a “one size fits all” approach is no longer viable, HR also must learn to listen to people, their needs, and motivations in a more segmented manner. Defining a holistic Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that delivers an enriching experience to all segments of the workforce is the next important role for HR to play as we get future-ready. Every existing and potential employee should resonate with the EVP that HR creates. For example, some organisations have now adapted their Code of Conduct and employee policies to allow for employees to pick up part-time paid gigs in their free time, so that they can follow their passion like music or teaching. These forward-looking HR functions have identified the need for greater flexibility if they have to position themselves as employers of choice in this new world order.

Another role for HR professionals to play as we move rapidly into a new era of digital and distributed work is creating an inclusive culture that supports all groups of talent to perform, wherever they are. All people practices like hiring, learning, and development, performance management, succession planning, compensation, and talent management must accordingly adjust to enable a diverse workforce to operate in tandem with each other, together with achieving the larger vision of the organisation. As per research, diversity and inclusion brings greater innovation and superior business results. According to the 2020 McKinsey research, “Companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger.”14 Inclusion of these varied ideas means HR must build a safe environment for everyone to express their thoughts and bring their whole selves to work.

  1. Higher Education Institutes

Higher education institutes are the primary source of our intellectual capital. As the new normal hits, the students entering the workforce from our institutions, preparing them for the new ways of working becomes crucial. The half-life of skills is only 2 – 5.5 years15 and so by the time a student graduates and enters a workplace, some of the skills she/ he studied at university will become obsolete! The focus of these institutes therefore should be on enabling students to prepare for a different future of work & how they can navigate it. Thankfully, digitalisation has also democratised the learning and re-skilling landscape. Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platforms like Coursera, EdX, and others have enabled learners across the globe to access best-in-class education from the comfort of their homes and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional university degree.

At the same time, a meaningful partnership between higher education institutes and corporates will lead to a win-win understanding of which skills are required for the corporates and developing the talent from the institutes. Structuring programs for corporates on how their leaders and HR can better manage blended and hybrid workforces is also a critical input that academia can provide.

Workers of all categories across India are finding that jobs increasingly require new and adapting digital skills and competencies. However, skill development is still catching up, creating barriers to gainful employment. Higher education institutes can address these challenges by designing out-of-the-box solutions like innovative apprenticeship-based skilling models. These could include fully digital programs in conjunction with industry, which help define how this could scale and map the skills of the future, ensuring higher employability of youth.

  1. Workforce partners & staffing agencies

Some of the largest private sector employers in India are staffing agencies like Quess, Teamlease amongst others. These organisations provide talent on contract to their clients and have a critical role to play in solving for India’s employment challenge. Workforce management and staffing agencies need to go beyond traditional manpower solutions and think about how they offer longevity in careers and skill building for the professionals they staff. They can also explore synergies with flexible talent portals to offer more opportunities for the community. Innovations like these in the industry can help advance the future readiness of the larger talent ecosystem.

Additionally, workforce service providers can consider designing equitable yet unique solutions for specific groups of talent. This can help create an optimised workforce.

  1. Government and Policymakers

As the future of work evolves and businesses go through a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) environment, the world will not be simple for workers either who must constantly struggle with job mobility and re-skilling to ensure their relevance in the ever-changing talent market. In a society like India, less than half the active working population have the digital skills required today.16 Even fewer will have awareness of re-skilling parameters and platforms, let alone the ability to pay for it themselves. As a result, the continued state support to encourage skill development and mobility through allocation of funds and/or offering financial incentives to corporates investing in skilling their workforce for the future will be a huge impetus.

There is also a need for government bodies and policymakers to develop guidelines in consultation with industry around the employment of non-traditional workforce like baseline benefits (insurance, medical, retirals), overtime, minimum pay, leave working conditions, etc. Governments across the work are “responding to the dynamic changes in the nature of employment. An example of recent policy intervention is the Freelancer isn’t Free Act in the United States.”17 This enhances protections for freelance workers, including the right to receive a written contract, the right to be paid timely and in full, and the right to be free from retaliation. “Another example is the European Commission’s Late Payments Directive of 2011.”18 India has also taken positive steps in this direction, through the three draft labour codes intended to benefit platform-based gig workers19. When enforced, it will provide the right to the Central Government and State Governments to notify schemes for such workers related to life and disability cover, health and maternity, provident fund, employment injury benefit, housing etc. Such legislation can go a long way in providing the necessary support structures and an equitable work environment for them to perform optimally.

Policymakers can further structural support and incentives for WorkTech platforms and other workforce partners which enable the digital employment ecosystem. Such platforms are helping bridge the gap that has traditionally prevented transparency between organisations and gig and remote talent – whether white collar or blue/ grey collar. Policy measures aimed at incentivising such platforms will democratise access to the digital workforce to a variety of opportunities.

  1. WorkTech and Gig Platforms

The Gig and Digital Employment economy is a rapidly growing and yet relatively new career choice for professionals in India. One of the biggest priorities for WorkTech platforms is to invest in enabling trust in this new model of employment and enhancing adoption. Strengthening the process of verification of candidates, a clear delivery process, and transparent compensation structures can help boost the Digital Employment ecosystem.

As independent workers, gig talent depends on their own initiative to build their skills and keep abreast with technical advances in their domain. WorkTech platforms are strategically placed to create optimised up-skilling initiatives for the gig workforce. By investing in the skilling and financial health of their community members, WorkTech platforms can contribute to ensuring a sustainable career for them.

Finally, WorkTech platforms can also play a significant role in this new normal by creating targeted support models for women professionals to enable them to get back to work. “Female job loss rates due to COVID-19 are about 1.8 times higher than male job loss rates globally”20 The pressures of working from home and managing childcare or virtual schooling fall greater on women.

However, with the increased digitalisation of the workforce and acceptance of remote working, this inequality can be reversed if more women are absorbed into the gig and remote talent framework. WorkTech platforms have a significant role to play here by increasing the diversity of gig projects and creating a larger pool of women talent. Their role in democratising access to suitable projects will remove barriers faced by women today and can help increase India’s Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for women.

  1. Industry bodies

Associations and think tanks like CII, Assocham, and India Foundation have helped navigate the socio-economic thinking around key workforce trends over the years by asking the right questions to corporates, leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Their continued efforts in this direction can enable broader change by sharing best practices and toolkits with the extended corporate community. By generating high-quality research and thought leadership on the future of the workforce, they can create the necessary awareness and pave the way for discussion and subsequent changes.

Industry forums can also play a unique role by facilitating partnerships between members to deliver solutions for Digital and Gig Employees. For example, Insurance companies can support the new gig sector by custom designing solutions with the support of flexible talent platforms. Such cross-pollination in a start-up culture like India can open up opportunities for new intermediaries/ ancillary services like “private insurance cover, training services, licensing help, credit providers and business support.”21

Other critical areas where industry forums can make a difference is enabling suitable corporate-academia or corporate-government partnerships towards skill-building and policy definition. They can decisively lead the thinking on core enabling mechanisms in partnership with members as we steer through the pandemic to take proactive measures towards skilling, job creation, and digitalisation. These measures will require sustained public-private collaboration at scale, which can be led by industry bodies.  


Today we stand at a defining moment in history. Amidst an unprecedented pandemic and an array of opportunities in new digital skills, we have the opportunity to look at the future from a new lens – one of change and renewal. As we look ahead, there is hope yet a need for caution. Our choices and decisions today will impact an entire generation, their livelihoods, and outlook. Herein lies the possibility to make a difference to tomorrow.

Fortunately, we have the right tools and the right mindset as a country. The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has led us to this exciting era where we can leverage humans and machines alongside. We have the ability to up-skill and re-skill our people in the latest technology, manage the best people practices, partner meaningfully with each other and create a society that uplifts every worker and supports their constant renewal in this ever-changing economy. Looking in the right direction, we can lead the narrative on the digital-ready future workforce.

Authors Brief Bio: Ms. Chandrika Pasricha is the Founder and CEO of Flexing It, India’s largest Tech-driven platform enabling the Professional Gig Economy and Ms. Vidhi Kumar is a Senior Consultant in Human Resources Management.

References :

  5. Ibid
  6. Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum (
  8. Payoneer study on Freelancing in 2020: An Abundance of Opportunities (
  14. How Diversity & Inclusion Matter | McKinsey
  16. Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum

  2. Ibid
  4. (i) The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, (ii) The Code on Wages, 2019 (“Wage Code”), and (iii) The Social Security Code, 2020 (“SS Code”) (collectively referred to as (“Labour Codes”))
  5. 2025

Critical Technologies for a USD 5 Trillion Economy


From technology flows wealth. Technology can thus play a major role in accelerating the Indian economy, but would require focus on attaining leadership in various niche technological fields. India is currently laying emphasis on technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Additive Manufacturing, Drones, etc. This paper, however, looks at certain specific technologies on which India’s focus is either inadequate or absent. Emphasis needs to be laid on these areas too, else India will be left behind, once again, in the technological race.

India’s wealth, till about two centuries ago, was mostly acquired by selling technology driven products to the rest of the world such as cutting edge wootz steel (used for weapon making and making of the famous Damascus steel), high purity zinc, very large ships et al. It is also worth noting that 50% of entire Netherland’s textiles and 80% of its silk came from Bengal in the 17th century. Both textiles and silk are products of technology. India also had great capability in ship building, which literally was driving British shipwrights to starvation. To save its ship building industry, the British resorted to legislation to throttle and kill the Indian shipbuilding industry.

As per the archives of the British parliament, a petition of several ship-builders of Great Yarmouth was presented to the British parliament in February 5, 1813. The petition begged that letting India-built ships to compete with British ships “will render precarious the means of maintaining his Majesty’s navy, and especially of fitting out with dispatch, his Majesty’s fleets on pressing emergencies, and will thereby undermine that great bulwark of our independence and greatness as a nation.” Consequently, the first legislative act of 1813 prohibited ships below 350 tonnes from plying between the Indian colonies and the United Kingdom. That took away 40 per cent of Bengal and Surat built ships out of the lucrative India-England trade. The second Act in 1814 denied Indian-built ships to be registered as British, to trade with the United States and the European continent. This was the “atmanirbhar” steps taken by the British in the 19th century, to protect themselves from the onslaught of the superior Indian ships.

This one piece of technology, ship-building, clearly demonstrates the role of advanced technologies in the export basket of India, till about 18th century. It also underlines how technologically backward nations such as Britain, were able to claw into global technological leadership through a general policy of using a combination of regulations, standards and incentives to protect the domestic uncompetitive, technology-driven industries and to acquire technological competitive advantage. The above example amply demonstrates the role of government in ensuring that its domestic economy gains technological edge. Similar principles have been followed by all the advanced economies, including the USA, Japan, South Korea and China, among other nations of the world.

India has continuously missed “catching the bus” when it comes to industrial technologies. We either betted on too long-term a technology, or remained bystanders to new industrial technologies coming up, and then tried to play catch-up for the next few decades. Even when Indian industry was there at the right time, such as automobiles or television, we almost succeeded in throttling our domestic industry through poor policies, leading to near-death experiences. In other cases, such as the development of the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry and the associated battery industry, while the rest of the key economies globally unleashed a series of government policies towards the end of the first decade of this century, India simply watched. And now, we are playing catch-up in the EV industry, while being heavily dependent on economies such as China for key components and batteries.

What India needs is a dedicated institutionalised approach to acquiring technology. This paper focuses on a set of technologies that are economically critical for India, and on which more policy focus is required than what is being given currently. These technologies are in the cusp of disrupting existing industries and can potentially contribute to more than 5% of the USD 5 trillion economy that India wants to achieve in the near future.

Supersonic Transport Aircrafts

Supersonic passenger aircrafts are the next generation of passenger aircrafts, which will transform aviation. India can ill-afford to sit idle while others take the lead. Since the start of large-scale commercial aviation, the world has been pretty much stuck at commercial flights cruising at mach 0.8 speed. Crossing the sound barrier is a significant technological leap, given the myriad engineering challenges like managing turbulence, change in wing angles and the sonic boom. Due to the sonic boom impact on residential buildings and the nuisance value of the sound produced, the first successful commercial supersonic aircraft, the Concorde, was mandated to fly transatlantic, and was prohibited to have supersonic speeds while flying over land. Sadly, the Concordes were retired after flying for a little over 25 years. They were ultimately marred by a devastating accident, which contributed towards reduced profitability. The last flight took place in 2003, and the remaining Concordes were moth-balled and left at museums, as the operating costs exceeded the earnings.

However, there is a renewed interest now, globally, for supersonic flights, primarily due to time savings. Supersonic flight can cut down the travel time from say London to New York from 6.5 hours to a mere 3.5 hours. One could potentially, fly out in the morning from London to New York, finish work and come back to London before the day ends. Similarly, a Delhi-New York flight can be completed in 8 hours instead of the current 15.5 hours. And with further development of higher speed supersonic flights, these times can be further reduced. Such possibilities have led to a scramble for the development of the next generation of supersonic aircrafts, which are less noisy, more fuel efficient and faster than anything that we have seen earlier. These aircraft can redefine the airlines industry as we know it today.

Among the new crop of startups that have ventured into design, development and manufacturing of supersonic passenger aircrafts, is Boom Supersonic. They are building supersonic aircrafts where the sonic boom will not be noticeable, and their vision is to provide supersonic flights at USD 100 per seat, to anywhere in the world. It is an incredible vision. They are also the front-runners to being adopted by many airlines, including United Airlines, which plans to roll out supersonic routes using the USD 200 m Boom Overture Supersonic aircrafts, by as early as 2029.

Boom Supersonic is joined by startups that are focusing on smaller supersonic business jets, catering to the personal jets/ chartered jet market. Exosonic, again an American startup for supersonic transport aircraft, hopes to receive certification for its supersonic aircraft by 2029. Exosonic has also received a contract from the US Airforce to build the Air Force One for the President of the United States. Hermeus is another American startup which is building what is called a hypersonic aircraft, that can fly at five times the speed of sound. This is indeed the future. It will be having a range of 4,600 miles. It too has received funding from the US Air Force and it too is building an aircraft for Air Force One fleet.

The West Asian economies too, in a bid to diversify away from an oil-based economy, have jumped into the supersonic aircraft fray, with Mubadala, the Emirati sovereign investment fund, joining hands with Russia, to build a new supersonic transport aircraft from scratch. The Russians obviously come with a treasure trove of experience, having built the world’s first supersonic transport aircraft, the Tupulev Tu-144, that flew till 1999. More recently, they have been flying the supersonic Tupulev Tu-160. However, to be successful in the commercial market, the aircrafts need to make economic sense, and so Russia and Mubadala of UAE are going together for a brand new aircraft, built from scratch.

We also have Spike Aerospace, founded by Indian origin American, Vik Kachoria. It has an interesting design as it has no windows, and yet passengers can see everything outside, through a panoramic internal display that is connected to cameras outside. In fact, we also have Tech Mahindra contributing to this project by leveraging its prowess in engineering, optimisation and composites. Some others such as Aerian Supersonic, who have been working on smaller supersonic business jets, but had to suddenly shut shop as funding dried out. These are the vagaries of working on the cutting edge.

India, unfortunately, does not yet have a noticeable transport aircraft manufacturing industry, leave alone a supersonic transport aircraft. Being left behind in almost a trillion-dollar industry, will not do any good to India’s ambitions of becoming a USD 5 trillion economy and more in the near future. More importantly, India will be left out of a very critical technology that will also have strategic applications. Imagine having low sonic boom hypersonic bombers, which may be hard to detect on radars. India cannot afford to be a passive bystander to the fast-developing world of supersonic aviation. We need to act now to get on to this bus.

Artificial Meat and Artificial Agricultural Produce

Artificial meat refers to cultured meat, produced by in vitro cell cultures of animal cells. It is a form of cellular agriculture. It basically takes a single cell of an animal, and reproduces the same in the lab to make large chunks of uniform meat. Cultured meat and its technologies are critical for a world getting deeply impacted by climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations, in its latest report, highlights the devastating impact climate change will have on the world, which can only be halted if we cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. As livestock, raised for meat consumption, contributes to over 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the production of artificial meat will help in fighting the impact of climate change.

By December of 2020, we already had the first restaurant selling cultured meat. This was the “1880” restaurant in Singapore, where cultured meat manufactured by the US firm Eat Just was sold. The first hamburger patty grown directly from cells happened even earlier in 2013, when professor Mark Post at Maastricht University pioneered a proof-of-concept for cultured meat by creating the cultured meat hamburger patty. Since then, other cultured meat prototypes have gained media attention.

Cultured meat is still not a “stabilised” technology. Numerous challenges remain in growing artificial meat at a commercial scale, that completely looks and tastes like real meat and can be produced at a lower cost and with a lower environmental footprint compared to current livestock-based meat production. It also requires fetal bovine serum that involves killing of a pregnant cattle. Although such issues are also getting technologically resolved to produce meat where no animal has to be killed, there are other issues such as being able to grow fat and muscle cells together, just like in real meat. There are also regulatory and ethical challenges. However, cultured meat will have very significant impact on our lives and our food industry at this current juncture when we have extremely inefficient manner of livestock-based meat production that is responsible for significant deforestation and for greenhouse gas emissions. The current livestock-based meat production is both cruel and unsustainable. The world needs to move to slaughter-free meat, which will also help in preserving our environment. India too, can least afford to ignore this technology.

It is interesting to note that the technology used for manufacturing cultured meat can also be used to manufacture fruits and vegetables and cereals and pulses. All agricultural produces can be manufactured in the same manner, thus reducing pressure on land and reversing deforestation. This is critical from an environmental perspective. Also, we would not need to spend enormous amounts on supply-chain and trucking costs in transporting food from rural areas to urban areas as the food can be manufactured in urban factories, thus further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Such technology also has space applications. Astronauts would not need to carry large amounts of food to space, as they would be able to manufacture them in small petri dishes.

The implications of cultured meat are enormous. Many start-ups and government funded laboratories in US, Europe, Argentina, Australia and Israel are jumping into the fray, and one would not be surprised if China too, also has its own entities doing research and development in this area. However, India with over 16% of the global population, seems to be starkly missing in this race, again letting the bus pass by. We therefore need to look into not only cultured meat but also cultured agri produces.

Quantum Computing

India has already signalled its intent to develop capabilities in quantum computing—a field of computing which leverages the collective properties of quantum states to perform computation. This is based on a branch of physics called Quantum mechanics, where a particle can be in multiple states at the same time, and it explains the aspects of nature at small (atomic and subatomic) scales, for which classical mechanics is insufficient.

Quantum computing is a critical technology because Quantum computers are believed to be able to solve certain computational problems, many times faster than classical computers. Quantum computing is now expected to become mainstream in the next few years as the field shifts toward real-world use in pharmaceutical, data security and other applications.

In the Union Budget announced in February 2020, a sum of Rs 8,000 crore has been allocated for setting up a National Mission on Quantum Technologies & Applications (NM-QTA). It is one of the technologies that India can ill-afford to miss. Indian initiatives must quickly lead to achieving Quantum Supremacy. The term Quantum Supremacy does not describe hegemony but stands for the theoretical case where quantum computers are believed to be able to quickly solve certain problems that no classical computer can solve in any feasible amount of time.

As of now, quantum computing still has a long way to go and a number of technical challenges remain in building a large-scale quantum computer. Sourcing parts for quantum computers is also challenging. Many quantum computers, like the ones made by IBM and Google require Helium-3, which industrially can be made only through nuclear reactions. Also, the special superconducting cables are made only by a Japanese company, Coax Co, thus creating severe vendor dependency and perhaps vendor lock-in.

In October 2019, a Sycamore processor (a Google quantum processor) created in conjunction with Google AI Quantum was reported to have achieved quantum supremacy, with calculations more than 3,000,000 times as fast as those of Summit, an IBM supercomputer that is currently one of the fastest supercomputers in the world. By December 2020, even Chinese universities were reportedly having success in quantum computing. But that still does not imply that it will lead to a multi-billion dollar industry and lead to new jobs getting created, as in the case of supersonic transport aircraft and artificial meat. So why should India spend its scarce resources in quantum computing?

The answer lies in the extremely profound impact on the world that quantum computing will have in the manner we live and interact and do business and banking and communication. It would make all current banking encryption useless, the day it achieves demonstrable quantum supremacy. It would entail reworking of our cybersecurity systems and frameworks. It would have a deep impact on the cybersecurity of not just banks but of entire nations. Nations that do not possess quantum computing technology, will become extremely vulnerable. India cannot be caught in such a situation.

The economic upsides of quantum computing are also very significant. India already has small pockets of expertise, that are developing algorithms for quantum computing. And as India gets around to spend the Rs 8,000 crore of its budgeted money, it must have clear achievable goals so that the money is not frittered away without any outcomes. Also, to be clear, as I have written many times before, technology is not a patent created or bought, neither is it a set of techniques written down in a book. It is a team of humans who are actually working on the technology and improving on it on a daily basis. And hence, a significant amount from that Rs 8,000 crore needs to be spent to create the human resources that can absorb and develop quantum computing. That is why the Japanese have a yardstick of spending 10 dollars on technology assimilation for every dollar of technology procured. India too, needs to change its mechanisms for technology acquisition.

This brings us back to the issue of an institutional structure required for technology acquisition—an empowered body having a national perspective. Otherwise, our efforts will be splintered into multiple bodies and groups, which may even work at cross-purposes, to the detriment of the nation. Only then can we achieve supremacy in quantum computing and other technologies.


Robotics is an exploding market, with new players jumping in. India has a nucleus of a very successful robotics private sector, albeit still in early stages. We need to focus on growing this industry to be able to serve unique Indian requirements as well as for exports.

Today, robots are playing an increasingly critical role in lives of people, be it in

manufacturing, or in the services sector as receptionists, nurses, firefighters or as soldiers. Robotics has now reached a level where a combination of technologies will make the robotics industry explode in the near future. We have artificial intelligence combining with speech technologies, sensors and all-pervasive connectivity, leading to more powerful and more useful robots getting created. In the not-too-distant future, we will also have autonomous vehicle.

Robotics is thus another “big bus” that we are poised to miss, if we do not act now. While the country does have numerous startups and deep skills in robotics, it is not enough to be able to get any significant slice of the global robotics market. Moreover, India needs robots for its own unique usage, such as replacing dangerous manual scavenging with robots, or tackling terrorism. For that matter, even though India is a young nation with perhaps the largest population of people below 24, we are also home to one of the largest populations of the old, who would need support through robotics. Robotics can also play a key role in providing quality education and also in other fields such as healthcare, agriculture, mining etc.

Globally, the robotics market size, valued at USD103.95 billion in 2019, is projected to grow to USD 209 billion by 2025. This is a conservative estimate. With the maturing of the enabling technologies and greater adoption of robotics in emerging economies, the size of the robotics market is set to explode. In fact, in October 2017, Saudi Arabia even granted citizenship to a robot named Sophia, making it the first robot citizen of the world.

With new-age players like Tesla, GreyOrange (an Indian company) etc. entering the global robotics market to join the earlier entrants like ABB, Hitachi and Mitsubishi, the market will further democratise and expand. From an Indian policy perspective, robotics has figured in Indian Economic Survey 2017-18 as a priority area, but it has drawn limited attention in terms of policy or plan. In parallel, the developments in private sector and few research institutions in India has been laudable. In the paper, “Robotics in India”, published in the Journals of India, several impediments had been identified for development of robotics in India. These include lack of a robotics hardware ecosystem resulting in imports of most of the components for robotics. In addition, regulatory issues on dual-use certifications is leading to challenges in certifications. The high import duties (in some cases), and bottlenecks in customs as part of the permission driven environments, is also playing a deadening hand.

India also has many financial disincentives built in. Any company which imports robots into India, currently pays about 26.85% tax (7.5 basic customs duty plus 18% GST). This is a serious impediment to mass adoption of robots, which is compounded by limited availability of critical human resources. According to the FICCI-TSMG Advanced Manufacturing Survey 2016, lack of quality human resources with necessary skills and expertise to work with advanced manufacturing technologies, negatively impacts the ability to undertake cutting edge R&D in India. There is also a significant mindset shift required in order to grow the industry. In spite of the Government’s focus on robotics lately, the notion that robots will destroy jobs, severely hampers an enthusiastic adoption of the technology and the growth of the market. Fortunately, India has a strong IT base, that can provide the fuel to propel the robotics industry. India must therefore, leverage its advantages to be able to be a net exporter of robots in the near future and quickly harness policy and regulatory tools to achieve global leadership in robotics.

Central Bank Digital Currency

The movement towards Central Bank Digital Currency has potential to transform flow of money. However, myriad issues need to be solved before such an instrument can be brought in. There has been a raging debate on cryptocurrencies since the creation of the Bitcoin. A cryptocurrency is a secure digital store of value and hence is a possible alternative to currencies. However, there are multiple issues with cryptocurrencies that need to be resolved, before they can truly emerge as an alternative to currency.

The legal status of cryptocurrency, in most places, is that of a commodity. Just as one is free to buy or sell commodities like gold, silver, pulses, grains etc, one is free to buy and sell digital stores of value, that is cryptocurrencies, as long as it is not harmful. This is where some of the issues with cryptocurrency come up. They seem to have aspects that are harmful to the financial sector.

In a recent case, a Chinese national was caught money-laundering using the crypto exchange WazirX. He had bought cryptos (short for cryptocurrency) on the WazirX exchange and converted them into dollars on the Binance exchange, outside of India, which enabled him to siphon money out of India (WazirX and Binance shared the same digital store of value). These are the challenges of using cryptocurrency from a monetary management perspective. Any economic offender fugitive can simply convert money earned from illegal operations into a crypto, put it on a pen drive, and fly out with that money. Unfortunately, this is what makes cryptos popular. Essentially, there is anonymity attached to crypto, and hence its use is preferred for doing illegal transactions. Governments and law enforcement agencies are trying to plug these loopholes in the cryptos, and make them workable currencies.

The legal-comic part of the WazirX case is that the Directors cannot be charged for complicity in foreign exchange violation. The legal position is that cryptocurrencies are considered as a commodity and not as a currency in India. Hence, as no currencies are involved, no foreign exchange violation has taken place! This comic angle actually demonstrates that cryptos cannot be glibly treated as commodities either, as they are far more powerful. One can transport the equivalent of 10 tonnes of gold in a small 10 gram pen drive, by using crypto, and no customs in the world can catch it.

However, even if these issues of money-laundering and funding of terrorism are addressed, there is still the issue of central banks, such as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), losing an important monetary tool, wherein the Central Bank could “print money” and increase the money supply at times such as the current times where the government has funds pressures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A non-sovereign crypto, that is a crypto that is not under the control of any government, takes away the power to exercise these important monetary tools, as extra cryptos cannot be released. Those who support early adoption of cryptos, in fact see this as a positive feature, since it prevents an irresponsible central bank and an irresponsible government from printing excess money which would have an inflationary impact and would be tantamount to “stealing” money from people’s pockets. However, in certain circumstances, such as the current post-pandemic economic situation where demand has dimmed and the vulnerable sections of the society need cash in hand, it is important to print money and provide such support, so that the economy survives. A crypto prevents such a step from being taken, thereby threatening the entire economy.

Can we take the best of the cryptocurrency, mitigate its risks and create something more robust, wherein people can actually use the cryptocurrency and increase efficiency in the economy? This is where the concept of Central Bank Digital Currency or CBDC comes in. CBDC is a concept wherein the central bank issues a cryptocurrency that can possibly be pegged to a fiat currency, or managed in a different manner, but under the control and monitoring of the Central Bank, so that issues of KYC (Know Your Customer), AML (Anti Money Laundering), CFT (Combating Financing of Terrorism) and monetary policy issues could be addressed, especially for large value transactions. However, by taking away anonymity in CBDC, one also takes away some of the attractiveness of the crypto. But then it is anonymity that is the bane of crypto from a law enforcement perspective, that a CBDC will solve.

However, a CBDC by itself is not a panacea for crypto adoption. A CBDC still poses issues that need to be resolved. So, if India adopts a CBDC—let’s just call it ‘IndiaCoin’ for now—the first to get impacted would be the banks. Large transactions would no longer be needed to be routed through banks or the hordes of neo-banking startups. So, the banks would have to reinvent themselves to stay relevant, as a considerable part of their business will get hit. In fact, the US Federal Reserve Bank and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Digital Currency Initiative will soon be publishing the first stage of their work to determine whether a Fed virtual currency would work on a practical level. This would also be seen as a response to China’s CBDC as well as a response to the plethora of cryptocurrencies that are all over the place.

Replacing the multitude of cryptocurrencies with a single CBDC resembles the step the federal government of US took in the 19th century, when it stopped the circulation of various currencies issued by a plethora of banks in the US, and replaced them with a single currency, the US Dollar, issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

An ‘IndiaCoin’ CBDC would help in many national initiatives such as DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer), wherein support to the vulnerable can be transferred directly to them, without the need of a banking intermediary, thereby increasing the efficiency. Businesses and civic society can issue payments directly to each other, without the need to go through banks, and save enormous costs. But it also comes with the fear that during any crisis, people can quickly withdraw large amounts of money from banks, into a simple small pen drive, and that can lead to a run on the banks and thus lead to a banking crisis and failure of the financial systems. Also, it is not really clear if an ‘IndiaCoin’ would be cheaper than paper currency, since the cost of running the cryptos is supposed to be very high, depending on what algorithm is used.

However, many of these issues are solvable. And once solved, an ‘IndiaCoin’ would bring in tremendous benefits to the economy, with payments being pushed into the background as they would get linked to smart-contracts, smart vehicles, smart roads and so on, where automatic triggers would lead to flow of payments. It is a welcome move that Indian institutions and the government are discussing such a possibility, and are treading carefully forward rather than rushing in.

Accelerating Atmanirbhar

We need a policy to accelerate self-reliance in India, similar to what the British adopted in the 18th century, to protect its fledgling industries from competition. The policy should enable an environment whereby the required goods and services can be created from within the country, rather than getting them from other economies. However, it is neither to be confused with the erstwhile “License Raj” that hollowed out India, nor with the “Great Leap Forward” of China, that took its economy back by a whopping -25%. Atmanirbhar, therefore, can be looked at as a campaign to create robust world-class industries in India, that would make India competitive globally in a range of goods and services.

The campaign is based on the five pillars of economy, infrastructure, systems, demography and demand and is fuelled by packages that provide support to MSME’s, the poor including farmers, agriculture and new horizons of growth and finally, government reforms, to act as enablers.

What is holding back accelerated adoption of Atmanirbhar? Specifically, for the government market, we continue to see procurement frameworks skewed against local suppliers, despite the push by the Prime Minister’s Office. In almost every government department (Both Centre and the States), there are numerous cases where foreign suppliers are favoured over Indian suppliers. This bias is brought about by tweaking the procurement requirements/ tender documents by putting in criteria that is impossible for Indian players to meet such as the Indian player needs to be in business in the given industry for over 25 years. Or, the participating supplier must have provided the goods or services to at least two governments outside of India. Such pre-qualification criteria are abundant in government procurement documents and appear to favour foreign suppliers.

It is important to identify the steps needed to provide a level playing field to domestic players and to ensure that such superfluous criteria are not brought into government procurement. There are a lot of steps that can be taken through policy measures, once the problem is recognised. To begin with, there needs to be an appellate authority with requisite teeth, where tenders or procurement norms that are discriminatory to Indian players and which do not provide any apparent benefit to the government or the public, can be brought up for seeking redressal. This would make it easier for smaller players and startups to demand a level playing field through a set-out process. Such an appellate body can possibly be in the lines of the National Human Rights Commission, with adequate suo moto powers, to immediately rectify any violation of a level playing field for domestic players.

However, a Atmanirbhar Commission will not be sufficient to make India Atmanirbhar. More needs to be done and one can borrow from the policies adopted by the Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (DPP 2016), which progressively follows the DPP 2013. DPP 2016 was updated to a more progressive DPP 2020, in order to aggressively promote increasing indigenous manufacturing and reducing timelines for the procurement of defence equipment. It is important to reduce the timelines for procurement, not just from the government perspective, but also from the perspective of domestic players, who have limited ability to pursue government deals that have a long sales cycle, going into multiple years, if not a decade. The long procurement cycle itself is a big deterrent to domestic players, as they do not have alternate markets to depend on, and are extremely dependent on being successful in the Indian market, before being accepted in any other market.

The key features of DPP 2016 that needs to be adopted to accelerate the Atmanirbhar campaign, is the concept of Make II. The ‘Make’ procedure for indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment/ weapon systems, was simplified in 2016 and promulgated in DPP-2016. A new sub-category ‘Make-II (Industry Funded)’ was introduced under this procedure with primary focus upon development of equipment/system/platform or their upgrades or their subsystems/sub-assembly/assemblies/components with focus on import substitution. In this subcategory, no Government funding is envisaged for prototype development purposes but has assurance of orders on successful development and trials of the prototype. This is the key policy measure that needs to be adopted for government procurement of civilian goods and services. It reduces the risks of domestic players in developing cutting edge goods and services.

Under the defence Make II procedure, successful development would result in acquisition, from successful Development Agency/Agencies, through the ‘Buy Indian–IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured)’ category with a minimum of 40% domestic content, through open commercial bids. Cases where innovative solutions have been offered are to be accepted, even if there is only a single individual or firm involved. If we can have a similar program for civilian procurement, it would eliminate much of the “creative” procurement norms that infest government procurement, and tilts the process in favour of foreign suppliers.

At the end of the day, the other side of the coin of Atmanirbhar is access to domestic market. Domestic players cannot invest into products and services without access to domestic markets, especially the government market that makes up roughly 20% of all procurements in the economy. With handicaps such as higher cost of capital and infrastructure that throttles production and logistics, domestic players already have the pitch queered against them. Adopting Atmanirbhar policies that nudge the state governments to procure from domestic players and provide level playing fields to them, would surely accelerate the Atmanirbhar campaign. Such a policy must include an appellate authority for seeking redressal related to unfair procurement norms and a procurement policy that mimics the Make II policy of the DPP 2016.


New technologies are emerging on the horizon which will significantly disrupt existing industries. This provides a good opportunity for India to enter into these industries on the back of the new disrupting technologies to lay the foundation of India’s future economy. Will India continue to be a technology importer or will India be the leader of technology-based exports, as India was till the 18th century, will depend on whether we are able to take the appropriate steps now.

To gain dominance in the given technologies, India must have an institutional framework to doggedly pursue technology acquisition through all means possible. Such a framework is in addition to the Atmanirbhar campaign that India already has. Only then can India surge ahead in dominance of key technologies in a short period of time.

Author Brief Bio:

Dr Jaijit Bhattacharya is a noted expert in technology policies and technology-led societal transformation. A recipient of the prestigious APJ Abdul Kalam Award for innovation in Governance, he is currently President of Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research. He is also CEO of Zerone Microsystems Pvt Ltd, a deep-tech startup in the fintech sector.


  6. Jaijit Bhattacharya, Supersonic Flight: Can India Afford Not Catching The Next Bus?,
  7. United plans supersonic passenger flights by 2029 – BBC News,
  8. Supersonic and hypersonic commercial flights firmly in view,
  9. Here are the planes being built to bring back supersonic travel,
  10. Russia and UAE Will Join Forces to Create Supersonic Passenger Plane,
  11. Jaijit Bhattacharya, Can India Afford To Miss The Artificial Meat Bus?,
  12. Cultured meat – Wikipedia,
  13. Future fillet – The University of Chicago Magazine,
  14. Test tube meat on the menu?,
  15. Jason Matheny, Commentary In Vitro-Cultured Meat Production,
  16. Jaijit Bhattacharya, The Quantum Supremacy,
  17. “Robotics in India”, Journals of India,

Transformation Through Energy Storage, E-Mobility & Batteries

Homegrown Aluminium-based solutions are India’s best bet as we aim for manufacturing leadership in E-mobility and clean energy storage

Energy for the Future

The past decade has witnessed an increasingly powerful momentum in renewable energy. The rapid demand for energy for urbanisation and industrialisation in the developing world could have been hard on the environment, but relentless efforts to improve energy efficiency and the decisive shift to clean energy has mitigated some of that adverse impact. Technological advances in renewables and supportive policies from the government have also augured well for the environment.

This new era of energy will see a significant shift towards decentralised energy production and significant investment in energy management and storage. Technology shifts in battery storage, cell chemistry along with rapid advances in electric mobility have opened new vistas. Some of the energy storage available today are batteries (lead-acid, sodium sulphur, Ni-based, Li-based, Aluminium based, flow batteries etc.), fuel cells, capacitors/super capacitors, superconducting magnetic energy storage, flywheel storage, solar fuel, pumped hydroelectric storage, compressed air energy storage, thermal energy storage etc.

Every technology has its advantages and drawbacks and needs to be chosen with an eye on intended application, cost, and environmental impact.

The Indian context

India’s dependence on fossil fuels has made it the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases[1] and its cities regularly top the rankings for polluted air, putting its population at the risk of lung diseases and premature death.

India has pledged a 33-35% reduction in GDP emissions intensity from 2005 levels by committing to source 40% of its energy needs from clean energy by 2030[2]. For that to happen, a massive expansion in electric mobility and renewable energy is needed. It is also important to note that India imports oil to cover over 80 percent of its transport fuel and the country will be well served if transport fuel consumption is substantially reduced.

Against this backdrop, a shift to e-mobility is not just a necessity but also an opportunity for India to position itself as a global leader in exporting battery and e-mobility technologies and solutions.

E Mobility – Indian perspective

The Indian automobile industry is unique with two wheelers dominating the personal mobility segment.

  • Two-wheelers constitute nearly 80% of the total vehicles on road.
  • Three-wheelers (passenger and goods), including tempos ~ 5% of the total vehicles. This is expected to be the fastest growing segment.
  • Premium four wheelers (cars) are only ~ 2% of total sales.

Globally, most of the technology development has focused on the premium end of the market; this offers India a window of opportunity to create a policy environment to promote green technology solutions for the domestic market which can be leveraged globally.

Leadership in EVs

India should develop the ambition to establish technological and manufacturing leadership in the small EV segment like two wheelers, three wheelers and small cars. These smaller vehicles require a distinct set of technological and industrial capabilities, energy networks and business models and here, India can leverage domestic scale advantage to create solutions for the world.

To fuel this segment, the Indian government has envisioned the conversion of two and three wheelers into 100% electric ones by 2030[3]. However, in India, most players have based their solutions on assembling Lithium-ion batteries using imported cells from China, Korea and Japan, resulting in high-cost E-mobility solutions.

Existing policy frameworks – FAME

The government had introduced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME -2) scheme in 2015 to boost E mobility by 2020[4]. The outlay of Rs 10,000 Cr was to be used in offering incentives for the purchase of these electric buses, 2, 3 and 4 wheelers. Recently, the government extended the scheme to 2024, with a major thrust on 2 & 3 wheelers and E-buses. The outlay will now also support the creation of a battery-charging infrastructure across the country[5].

The scheme is gaining popularity because of the availability of better charging infrastructure and better vehicles from manufacturers. In fact, many start-ups and established players have announced large investments in this sector. Though EVs have picked up speed, the supply chain for batteries hasn’t been as responsive.

Local Battery Landscape

For mass adoption of EVs to become a reality, they must be able to rival internal combustion engines (ICEs) and be cost competitive. The main driver of incremental costs for EVs is the battery pack, which for a 500km range/60kWh capacity costs 2-3X the cost of ICE engine. If we consider the cost of electric motor and inverter, the gap is wider.

Large battery pack costs need to drop to about $100/kwh from current $150-$200/Kwh to turn things around. A key driver for battery cost decline (in $/kwh) is energy density improvement (in Wh/kg). This is powered by improvements in the chemistry and in the engineering of the cells.

Lithium-ion enjoys a head start, but not without challenges

Lithium-Ion batteries have had a head start over other types of batteries because of high-power density, long life, low self-discharge and low maintenance costs. However, these batteries also come with baggage: Cobalt, an integral element of most Lithium-Ion batteries is a difficult input owing to scarce availability, need for careful handling and cost. Plus, there are big environmental concerns around mining of these minerals including lithium and the toxicity of the compounds used in the battery’s electrodes. Moreover, L-ion technology is reaching its limit in terms of energy density (the amount of energy it can store by weight or volume). Last, the end-of-life management for lithium-ion batteries pose significant challenges as recycling is currently not commercially viable.

Smarter alternatives India must consider

Hence, sustainable alternatives for energy carriers need to be built with elements which are abundant and relatively inexpensive. A few options being considered are:

  • Hydrogen: Recognised as one of the most promising energy carriers, this can be produced by steam reforming of methane or natural gas, or electrolysis of water which is abundant. However, hydrogen also has issues especially for the transportation segment because of storage and safety concerns.
  • Aluminium: Aluminium-based energy generation technologies are being researched for more than 50 years now. Aluminium is looked upon as a promising candidate for large-scale integration in energy storage technology options globally, and unlike hydrogen, it is easy to transport and store. It has several key advantages which make it suitable as a prospective energy carrier such as:
    • Abundant availability
    • Recyclability – Aluminium is 100% recyclable thus reducing dependence on primary aluminium and most importantly
    • Electrochemical energy: Aluminium has high electrochemical equivalent value of 2.98 Ah/g (electrical output per unit mass) which is second highest after lithium (3.86 Ah/g) and higher than other active metals such as zinc (0.82 Ah/g) and magnesium (2.20 Ah/g). and
    • Stability, when aluminium is exposed to the atmosphere, it is immediately covered by an oxide film which protects metal from further corrosion, thus providing the safety of its storage and transportation. Also, under neutral-ambient conditions, there is negligible self-discharge of aluminium due to the presence of the oxide film.
    • Low environmental impact.

Focus on battery giga-factories must consider alternatives to Li-ion batteries

The Indian government has taken many steps to indigenise the entire value chain for E-Mobility. NITI Aayog has announced a target of 50 GWh and would support the establishment of three to ten giga-factories of 20 GWh to 5 GWh capacity each in the country. The manufacturers would be given a grace period of five years from notification of the scheme to ensure adequate localisation[6].

Many state governments have announced schemes to encourage E-Mobility, have offered matching subsidies and are willing to support strengthening of EV infrastructure. This has encouraged established players and start-ups to commit resources to develop world-class E- Mobility technologies and solutions. Many have announced plans to invest across the battery value chain.

Government agencies CECRI, CSIR, DRDO, ARCI and other R&D centres too have stepped into the fray to build indigenous supply chains. Most of their efforts today are focused on Lithium-ion battery and indigenisation of anode materials like graphite and copper foils or cathode materials like aluminium foils.  A few companies are working on the battery chemistry aspects to improve the battery properties. Battery management systems is another critical area, where Indian companies have made good progress, given the IT expertise of the country.

  • A major challenge for India in developing cells is the lack of critical raw material and import dependence on Lithium, Nickel, and Cobalt. Today, China controls most of these resources. What then, must India focus on?
  • Right Choice: Selecting the right battery chemistry is critical as batteries dictate the costs of electric vehicles. The strategy should be to use battery chemistry with optimised cost and performance at Indian temperatures. India should encourage local manufacturing of such battery cells.
  • Exploring new chemistries: India has been late in securing mines which produce these materials and now should focus on recycling of used batteries. It should aim to become the capital of ‘urban mining’. This is crucial given the expected size of the Indian market and the fact that many batteries will be used in 2 & 3 wheelers becoming a headache for the environment once the battery life expires.
  • Above all, India must focus on developing battery technologies using abundantly available local materials such as Aluminium, especially considering the focus on E- Mobility and renewables.

Aluminium based batteries the right choice for India

The above considerations make Aluminium-based batteries the best choice for India given that the country is among top 10 bauxite players globally with over 600 Mn tonnes in reserves. Indian companies can manufacture all the-aluminium constituents locally. Let us consider Aluminium air and ion batteries.

Al Air Batteries

The battery works by tapping electricity generated when aluminium plates react with oxygen in the air[7]. It has one of the highest energy densities for a battery. It is stable, does not pose fire hazard and is environment friendly. It also provides a much longer range, potentially over 1500 Km. While it cannot be charged these batteries can be recycled to produce aluminium in a close loop. To make this technology commercially viable, an infrastructure for swapping and collection must be incentivised by the government. In India, Israeli company Phinergy and IOCL have announced a JV to this effect, which holds plenty of promise.

Al Ion Batteries

A fast-emerging technology, Al ion batteries is built along the same lines of Li-ion batteries. An Australian company is talking about Al-ion batteries that can be charged 60X faster than lithium-ion batteries and provide much longer range. These are expected to be safer, greener and more durable as compared with Lithium-ion batteries.

From the Indian perspective, these advances are significant indicators how the philosophy of Atmanirbhar Bharat can be translated into action. Demand from electric transport and renewable energy storage means India could provide a market big enough for aluminium-air batteries to be established as an alternative to the Li-ion based technologies.

Use of Aluminium in EVs beyond Batteries

Aluminium foil is extensively used as a current collector (substrate) for cathode materials coating in Lithium-ion batteries. However, due to its unique properties, it is also used in cell tabs and containers. Many manufacturers extensively use battery boxes made from aluminium alloys, conforming to the lightweight design and strength of end-use applications. Many modern EVs use aluminium in rolled or extruded forms to design battery enclosures. The high-strength extrudable aluminium alloys provide excellent strength, rigidity and allow for complex designs to take shape.

There is also a direct relationship between vehicle curb weight and the energy requirement in Wh/Kg for electric vehicle driving range. Light-weighting is essential for E-mobility given the high cost of battery and issues surrounding range. Light weighting through aluminisation is an established criteria in the auto industry and its importance is only growing as we switch from ICEs to EVs.

The Way Forward

India should aggressively promote development and commercialisation of aluminium-based solutions for battery technologies and electric vehicles. In addition to already announced policies to promote indigenisation of battery and EV technology it will be prudent to work on policies that:

  1. Promote “Make in India” and localise manufacturing of the entire value system of EVs, including electronic component manufacturing and EV charging infrastructure.
  2. Incentives based on share of local value added and materials in total cost of manufacturing.
  3. Clear policy position on end-of-life EV and battery directives to ensure close loop recycling technology, like the ones based on aluminium, becomes commercially viable.
  4. Incentivise private sector to develop aluminium based battery solutions and recycling ecosystem through a collaborative innovation fund.
  5. Indigenous development of Al based batteries (Al Air/Al ion) with academia/government body (ISRO/DRDO) and with Aluminium industry participation.
  6. Funding and ecosystem development initiatives like – NITI Aayog supported and CSIR funded Project “ICeNGESS” (Innovation Centre for Next Generation Energy Storage Solutions) which at present only includes LiB can also be instituted or extended to include Al based batteries[8]. This will enable identifying and establishing a supply chain for Al based batteries.

Exciting times ahead

In the coming days, India can make rapid strides in energy storage and E-mobility; hence it is imperative to develop/redesign the current ecosystem to achieve these goals. India is ranked fourth globally in installed renewable power capacity, with solar and wind power leading the way[9]. It has set a goal to generate 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 – five times the current capacity[10]. This means that India would generate 60% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030[11].

With around 300 sunny days a year, India has the potential to lead the world in solar electricity, which will be less expensive than existing coal-fired power by 2030, even when paired with battery storage. In fact, in 2021 the growth rate is expected to be 47% YOY with an expected addition of 1875 MW.

This ambition would call for innovation, partnerships, and significant capital. The private sector has a major role to play in building collaborative partnerships to achieve sustainability goals and ensuring inclusive growth for all. The industry partners are willing to invest and will need support considering the large investment and long gestation periods. The government is taking active steps in the form of policy support, incentive schemes to promote the storage industry. Encouragement for research towards technology development of aluminium based batteries, academia – industry partnerships, creation of battery swapping infrastructure are some of the steps along with focused performance-based linked incentives will go a long way in achieving the desired goals and heralding the era of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Authors Brief Bio: Nilesh Koul is Senior President Marketing, Business Development & Strategic Initiatives, Hindalco and Sagar Dhamorikar is Joint President Innovation and Business Development, Hindalco



[2] India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – Towards Climate Justice

[3] India aims to become 100% e-vehicle nation by 2030,

[4] National Automotive Board (NAB),, FAME INDIA II Scheme: Ministry of Heavy Industries, (,

[5] FAME INDIA II Scheme: Ministry of Heavy Industries, Ministry of Heavy Industries,


[7] India Gives Aluminium Battery a Chance to Take on Lithium in Electric Vehicles

[8] PURE EV Partners With CSIR-CECRI To Indigenise Lithium-Ion Battery Tech For EVs,

[9] India’s renewable power capacity is the fourth largest in the world, Narendra Modi,

[10] India predicts 450GW of Renewable capacity by 2030,

[11] India can lead the world in solar-based growth



In the Maritime India Summit 2021 held in March 2021, the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, while inaugurating the event, spoke of India’s intent to emerge as a leading Blue Economy of the world and invited the world to be a part of India’s growth story[1]. Most significantly, the prime Minister asserted that India will shed the piecemeal approach adopted so far and will and focus holistically on the entire sector. Later, the Prime Minister released the ‘Maritime India Vision 2030,’ a 10 year roadmap for the development of the maritime sector and unveiled the plaque of ‘Sagar-Manthan: Mercantile Maritime Domain Awareness Centre (MM-DAC)’, an information sharing mechanism to enhance regional maritime security, improve SAR (Search and Rescue) capability and protect the maritime environment.

Earlier, in 2010, the previous government had promulgated a ‘Maritime Agenda 2010-2020,’ which was also a 10 year roadmap with clearly defined milestones.[2] At first glance itself, that agenda had seemed too ambitious but it was hoped that the government was serious about walking the talk. Many aspects of this agenda got absorbed into Sagarmala,[3] the port-led maritime infrastructure programme promulgated by the present government in 2015, which continues to be a work in progress with a 20 year timeline. Disappointingly however, at the end of 2020, India had fallen far short of the intended milestones across the entire maritime sector and had barely improved its global standing as a maritime power.

Indias Maritime Credentials

India has been blessed with a favourable maritime geography. Its peninsular geographic conformation notwithstanding, it is essentially a maritime nation with a 7,516 km long coastline with nine coastal states and four coastal Union Territories. More than 200 million Indians live in the country’s coastal districts with a large majority of them dependent on the sea for their sustenance and economic well-being. It has a 2 million sq. km plus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is rich in resources and a future source of sustenance. This expanse, however, remains largely unexplored. The 75,000 sq. km allocated to India in the Central Indian Ocean region for poly-metallic nodule exploration also remains untapped.[4]

India is also heavily dependent on the sea for its energy requirements. Over 85% of India’s crude oil and over 50% of gas is seaborne and most of its indigenous efforts are focussed on offshore exploration. Refined petroleum goods, which constitute the largest percentage of India’s exports, also transit over the sea. Hence, India’s energy security and the security of India’s energy are dependent on the sea. More than 90% of India’s trade by volume and over 75% by value travels over the sea and is serviced by a network of 13 major ports and over 200 non-major ports. The development of coastal shipping and inland waterways which was almost non-existent until a few years ago is continuing to progress but needs to gather more momentum.

The two strategically important island territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the east and the Lakshadweep group on the west besides being a security asset also offer tremendous potential for progressing India’s economic maritime initiatives including investment in marine tourism. However, the delicate and fragile ecological balance will need to be carefully maintained and regulated to reap long-term benefits.

With such impeccable maritime credentials and its dependence on the maritime domain, not only for its economic well-being, but also for its future development and national security, meeting the milestones outlined in the Maritime Vision 2030 document is an imperative that can no longer be put on the back burner.

The Maritime Development Challenge

India is presently languishing well below global standards in almost all parameters of maritime power. The Indian Navy may rank amongst the best in the world and is central to India’s maritime aspirations but it is only one of the many constituents that define maritime power.

India’s development story faces numerous socio-economic challenges. India’s manufacturing capability has been lagging in recent years and we are yet to become a global manufacturing hub in any significant sector. In the maritime sector, India’s share of global shipbuilding is less than 1% and is far short of the 5% target outlined in the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020. Despite the high volume of national trade passing through its ports, not even one Indian port figures in the world’s top 25 ports (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust – JNPT- off Mumbai is ranked 28th) or even in the first 10 in Asia. Its ship repair industry is uneconomical and lags far behind in global best practices with the result that even Indian flagged vessels prefer to dock in foreign ship repair yards.

In 2019, as per the statistics issued by the Shipping Ministry, India’s Merchant Fleet stood at 1,429 vessels with a total tonnage of 12.746 million tons. These impressive numbers however paint a misleading picture as only 9.7% of India’s foreign trade and 59% of its coastal trade is carried on Indian ships, which not only results in a massive outflow of foreign exchange (estimated at USD 50 Bn) but is also a strategic vulnerability the country can ill afford. Further, a majority of these ships are more than 20 years old and hence uneconomical to operate in the contemporary technology-intensive environment. Its fishing fleet is antiquated and is still dominated by traditional practices with little state support for improving its efficiency and catch. The country’s marine resources also remain largely untapped for want of adequate effort.

India aspires to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024, an increase of more than 40% over the current USD 3 trillion within the next three years.[5] This is indeed an ambitious goal and will require an extraordinary national effort at every level, both within the government and out of it. The country’s growth as an economic powerhouse is inextricably linked to its rise as a maritime power and therefore depends on its ability to harness its tremendous maritime potential with timely and efficient implementation of the ambitious targets laid down in the Maritime Vision 2030 and the Sagarmala programme. The SAGAR Doctrine (an acronym for Security And Growth for All in the Region) enunciated by the Prime Minister during his visit to Mauritius in June 2015 as an inclusive capacity building architecture with the countries in the Indian Ocean Region for the safety and security of the region’s maritime interests, also forms an important constituent as it highlights the close linkage between security and economic growth. This doctrine is aimed at achieving the latter while ensuring the former.

Meeting these lofty objectives will require intent, resources and most importantly, technology. While the intent has been spelt out in the documents and it is understood that a sum of about Rs 3 lakh crore (USD 41.44 Bn) has been set aside as a dedicated Maritime Development Fund to meet the targets of the Maritime Vision 2030, it is the effective and efficient utilisation of technology that will be the key to realising these goals.

This paper will attempt to provide an overview of how present and emerging technologies can be applied as effective force multipliers in achieving the milestones laid out in Maritime Vision 2030, which is now the official policy document for shaping India’s maritime future in this decade.

Maritime Vision 2030

The India Brand Equity Foundation[6] in its report titled ‘India’s Maritime Sector – Rising Above the Waves’ has identified 10 key themes in the Vision document. These include the development of best-in-class port infrastructure, enhancement of logistic efficiency through technology and innovation, strengthening the policy and institutional framework, enhancement of the global share in shipbuilding, ship repair and recycling, improvement in  the inland waterways infrastructure, promotion of marine tourism, to become a world leader in ensuring a safe and sustainable maritime sector and enhancement of India’s global standing in maritime cooperation, world class education, research  and training.

Underlining these themes are two fundamental requirements viz, infrastructure augmentation and technology infusion. The infrastructure augmentation highlighted in the document includes the following:

  • The setting up of three mega ports with a capacity of over 300 million tonnes of cargo, mainly in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha and developing a West Bengal cluster with a major investment of Rs 80,000 crore (USD 11.05 Bn).
  • A 3-fold increase in cargo transhipment within the country from the existing 25% to about 75% through development of transhipment hubs Kanyakumari and Campbell Bays and through Vizhinjam port.
  • Rationalising vessel-related charges to bring on par with global ports through Enterprise Business System (EBS) and a National Maritime Logistics Portal and expediting the entire process through digitisation and other innovative technology driven value additions.
  • Increasing the draught to 14-18 metres with at least three ports at over 18 metres to enable the berthing of larger vessels.
  • Introducing Green initiatives including enhancing renewable energy to over 60% from the present level of about 10%.
  • Promoting ‘waste to wealth’ through sustainable practices in ship recycling and and dredging.

Each of these activities is underscored by technology which will drive these initiatives. The world is now poised on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 which is ushering in an era of new technologies that is transforming the industrial landscape in unimaginable ways. The pace of change due to the exponential rise in computing power is breathtaking and is driving these technologies, termed ‘disruptive’ to highlight their ability to alter the status quo and shake industry out of its comfort zone of business as usual. These are also going to impact the maritime domain across all sectors towards increasing efficiencies, supporting the country’s Blue Economy and climate change initiatives and reducing the investment in human and resource capital. The maritime economy is going to be one of the main drivers of the global economy in the 21st century and efficient use of this technology in the maritime domain is going to benefit humanity in many ways.

The rapid advancement in global engineering technologies over the last half century found numerous applications in the maritime sector, which led to the modernisation of ports, improved efficiency in ship turnaround times, containerisation and enhanced port security. In the ship building sector too, this included automation, 3D modelling of ship design, modular construction, usage of composites and lighter materials, and enhanced efficiency in the manufacturing process in shipyards. Adoption of these technologies, while cost effective, were extremely capital intensive. India was unable to capitalise on this and Indian industry was unable to make the necessary investments in overhauling the existing infrastructure due to economic constraints, the high cost of capital, an unresponsive bureaucratic machinery and above all, the lack of a competitive environment.

For India, with its underlying strength in IT, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 presents an opportunity to leapfrog the technology curve by leveraging its IT skills towards developing the competitive edge. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the maritime sector where India stands on a transformational cusp of realising its ambitions as a maritime power of reckoning.

Port Infrastructure

Elevating India’s present ports to global best-in-class standards in the space of less than a decade is a challenging task. Not only does this involve modernising the existing ports but also optimising the limited resources towards building three new ports outlined in the Vision Document for enhancing the nation’s cargo capacity. Coastal shipping and inland waterways are also being developed as alternate means for the transportation of goods within the country and to serve as a feeder to the bigger ports. Hence, the non-major ports, some of which lack even rudimentary infrastructure will also have to be upgraded, both with a technologically efficient infrastructure and introduction of contemporary technologies.

A ‘Major Ports Authority Bill’ is under discussion in Parliament. This will supersede the existing Act that has been in force since 1963 which has become archaic in the technologically advanced and competitive working environment. This Bill has proposed greater functional autonomy in the running of ports, streamlining of the decision-making process and revising the existing institutional framework to align with the contemporary environment.

Indian ports need to focus their attention on streamlining their operations, reducing the turnaround time of ships, improving the security architecture and ensuring an increase in their throughput. The use of artificial intelligence to prioritise cargo movement, ensure cargo bay optimisation and the speedy movement of goods can affect savings in hundreds of crores of rupees, improve the cargo handling figures with more ships being able to berth, and streamline the flow of goods between ports and from ship to shore. India has identified transhipment as one of the priority areas in the Maritime Vision 2030.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to streamline and prioritise the transhipment of containers, thus reducing the turnaround time of ships and the congestion of ships waiting their turn. Automation of the loading process and cargo distribution with the use of AI can reduce the empty spaces, rearrange cargo when loading and unloading to ensure the equitable distribution of weight, hitherto done by lengthy calculations that always had scope for error, and thus also reducing risk for the vessel at sea

The use of Data Analytics, which offers a solution based on the ability to analyse vast quantity of data facilitated by the computing capacity and speed, can enhance efficiencies in port operations by analysing numerous parameters and offering solutions related to cargo movement, container data, weight distribution etc.


The global shipbuilding industry is extremely competitive and India has found itself on the back foot with less than 1% share of global shipbuilding. This is mainly attributable to archaic shipbuilding practices in antiquated shipyards and a non-competitive environment. Hence, Indian shipyards have been found sadly wanting in competing with the modern shipyards in China, Japan and South Korea where efficient practices backed by government support in the form of subsidies has helped them corner more than 95% of the global shipbuilding demand.[7] In the last decade, despite the stated aim of cornering 5% of the global shipbuilding market, the shipbuilding industry is yet to be provided an enabling environment. Bureaucratic apathy and lack of encouragement and incentives to compete globally, has in fact led to three large private shipyards shutting down due to financial insolvency.

Enhancement in the global share of shipbuilding has been reiterated in the Vision 2030 document but our inability to reach even 10% of the shipbuilding target laid out in the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020 should serve as a reminder of the challenge ahead, which mere policy pronouncements with ambitious figures will not achieve. Shipbuilding is a long lead-time activity and requires sustained and timely support.

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has provided an opportunity to revitalise the shipbuilding sector in the country. India‘s existing shipyards are in dire need of modernisation and should be provided the support to make the transformation into a modern automated facility with efficient practices backed by technology. The effective application of emerging technologies could change the complexion of India’s shipbuilding industry by the end of this decade. Technologies like 3D Printing are now being used worldwide to not only optimise shipbuilding costs and enhance efficiency but also in simplifying complexities in ship design and recreating components and parts thus shortening the supply chain leading to cost and time savings in new ship manufacture and repair.

The use of robotics has benefited from digitalisation. Shipyards are increasingly using robots in their production system to increase the speed and scale of production and optimise costly human resource. Robots are now performing tasks like pipe inspections and hull cleaning which ensures better and uniform quality of work to more exacting and specific standards. The use of Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) in shipbuilding to minimise physical wastage, validate and improve complex shipbuilding processes and streamlining the hull dynamics and stability calculations during the design process. The creation of a ‘digital twin using AR is also finding many applications in the shipbuilding eco-system.

The use of alternate fuels, the adoption of Fuel Optimisation Systems etc are being used by shipbuilders to offer cleaner and more efficient ships. The use of LNG as an alternative fuel to diesel reportedly reduces carbon emissions by up to 25%.

The shipbuilding industry is  focussing its attention on Smart Ships Solutions with cyber being used to enable data from sensors in various areas of the ship be monitored towards encouraging the use of more efficient practices on board. Smart ships are a reality and could usher in a paradigm shift in ship operations. Shipbuilding and merchant shipping are strategic assets. India must therefore create an eco-system, which encourages Indian shipyards to build modern, efficient and cost effective vessels for Indian shipping companies. This would be a win-win for the sector and would enable both to become globally competitive while simultaneously retaining the strategic advantage in the face of the inevitable maritime security challenges to our trade and sovereignty.


The shipping industry is adapting rapidly to modern technologies with a focus on autonomy,  the IoT and Data Analytics. These ‘smart’ ship technologies are transforming the existing paradigm with the entire maritime industry and eco-system moving in this direction. The use of autonomous systems combined with the automation on board will provide the human element a wider range of options and system generated optimal solutions. IoT and increasing use of the cloud is enabling greater flow of information from ashore and better decision making afloat. Various spaces on board can be accessed with the help of an app or with remote monitoring. In the event of an emergency, this access would enable timely corrective action to be initiated. Similarly, the control of hatch doors, bays, bulkhead systems and hydraulics can be done remotely.

Data Analytics is helping to access the enormous quantities of data towards enhancing efficiency and outputs while enabling savings and optimising time management, all of which are critical to the shipping industry. The digital analysis of oceanographic data and weather patterns, to increase both safety and economy in routing ships and minimising delays due to inclement weather or adverse ocean conditions through digital charts and electronic chart display systems, is now a standard feature on board ships.

The focus on autonomous systems is finding applications in the maritime domain. Autonomous merchant vessels are now in an active stage of development. Autonomous steering and navigation systems are being integrated with port traffic management schemes through AI and machine learning to facilitate smoother entry and exit of ships from congested ports and restricted waters. Smart ship technologies are being effectively applied for collision avoidance and safe navigation.

Similarly, Integrated Platform Management Systems and smart propulsion are enabling remote management and health monitoring of propulsion, machinery spaces and auxiliary systems on board thus reducing time lost due to equipment failure and safe and optimal exploitation of on-board machinery. Shipping is also set to gain from the increasing use of blockchain technology to enable better supply chain management with the ease of data transfer for tracking the movement of cargo.

A revolutionary technology that can indirectly impact global shipping is the idea of a Hyper-loop Transportation System. Conceptualised by Elon Musk for rapid transportation of people and light goods, the Prime Minister and the Maharashtra government have expressed keenness in setting up a hyper-loop system between Pune and Mumbai including the airport and the JNPT Port and have signed up with the Virgin Group to develop the project. It is believed that this proposed hyper-loop will reduce accidents, effect time and cost savings worth USD 55 billion over a period of 30 years and will help reduce greenhouse gas emission by approximately 86,000 tons/year. It will also build a more efficient supply chain.[8]

These innovative technologies are just the tip of the iceberg. Shipping is changing at an extraordinary pace with these technology solutions signalling a global renaissance in an industry that has been critical to the development of mankind.  India, with its ancient maritime heritage can and must keep pace with this transformation. Shipping is also an important source of employment. India’s global share of seafarers is about 12% at present. Reaching the intended level of 20% by 2030 will require great deal more to be done to improve the quality of training.  The use of modern technological tools like Big Data, IoT, VR/AR  etc can effectively ensure that the training of Indian seafarers is aligned with global standards and is able to ensure that our seafarers can compete with the best in an increasingly sophisticated technological environment on board ships.

Ship Repair and Ship Recycling

Amongst the other themes highlighted in the Maritime Vision, ship repair is closely linked to shipbuilding. Technology can provide cost effective solutions to make India a ship repair hub, which could begin with Indian ship owners making Indian yards their preferred choice. Similarly, India’s ship recycling industry, which at one time was very active, found itself at the wrong end of environmental concerns because of crude and archaic practices. In December 2019, India acceded to the IMO drafted Hong Kong Convention, which has laid down the global standards for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling[9]. India and Turkey are the only two among the five top ship-recycling nations in the world to accede to this Convention which should help India regain pole position without the accompanying environmental hazards.

Perhaps more than anything else in the maritime domain, technology will play a leading role in furthering the Blue Economy and sustainable development of the oceans. India has been at the forefront in promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a responsible regional power and many of its capacity building initiatives in the region are aimed at checking climate change and illegal exploitation of the oceans. India must use the benefits of modern technology to harness the power of the oceans for alternate sources of energy and livelihood. There is a plan to establish a regulatory framework aligned to both, our sovereign concerns as well as the international regulatory framework and the creation of a maritime authority to bring about the cohesion, synergy and efficiency in the approach to the maritime domain as highlighted by the Prime Minister earlier this year. This has been lacking so far because of the multitude of ministries, departments and organisations linked to the maritime domain with differing priorities of their own. Technology will be the most effective tool in ensuring the robustness of this maritime governance and regulatory architecture.

India has also taken the lead in developing partnerships with other countries, which have pioneered ‘green’ technologies. One such is Denmark with whom India is engaging in a number of areas related to the maritime domain including the setting up of a Maritime Knowledge Cluster.


The advent of modern technology will bring about major improvements in the maritime eco-system but the application of these transformative technologies will require both intent and effort, to ensure result-oriented progress in research, development and innovation across the spectrum of maritime activity within the country.  Successful adoption of these technologies will depend upon the policy framework, the regulatory structure, the concern for the environment and the streamlining of processes to drive down costs and improve efficiency. The Global Maritime Technology Trends 2030[10] has highlighted two scenarios which will shape the future of shipping; the first will originate from within the industry to use technology for commercial advantages and the second will be from other related sectors including design and safety.

Maritime power is an important constituent of a country’s comprehensive national power. As the world turns increasingly to the sea for its future sustenance and development, the importance of the maritime sector is set to grow. India, despite its impressive maritime credentials has been unable to leverage this effectively into becoming a leading global maritime power. As India seeks to become a USD 5 trillion economy and the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, has articulated his vision of India as a maritime power, it has to take a leadership role in the region. The backbone of the technology revolution is Information Technology, which India with its strength in IT, must leverage to drive India’s maritime economy at the desired pace to achieve the objectives laid down in the Maritime Vision 2030.

Author Brief Bio: Commodore Anil Jai Singh is the Vice President of the Indian Maritime Foundation. 


[1] dated 02 March 2021.

[2] Release dated 13 January 2011.


[4] PIB, Ministry of Earth Sciences GoI, 21 August 2017

[5] Economic Times dated 04 February 2020 “Govt sticks to USD 5 Trillion economy target”

[6] IBEF Report “India’s Maritime Sector, Rising Above the Waves”

[7] Review_2021_Shipbuilding.pdf dated 18 December 2020

[8] dated 27 December 2020.

[9] dated 28 November 2019

[10] Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 ©2015 Lloyds Register,Qinetiq and University of Southampton.


The Underwater Domain Awareness Framework: Infinite Possibilities in the New Global Era


The 21st century global order has witnessed a significant shift towards the maritime domain, geopolitically and geo-strategically. The Indo-Pacific strategic space has gained importance and increasing number of nations are beginning to maintain their strategic presence in the region. The strategic deployment of assets has political, economic and military connotations. The Indo-Pacific strategic construct and the corresponding formation of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), puts India in a significant position within the global power play. However, the “Indo” part of the Indo-Pacific must be understood in its entire strategic context. The Indian establishment on its part has shown strategic intent in line with the global expectations. The “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR) declaration by Prime Minister Modi, is the first major geopolitical declaration by India, to be diplomatically seen as the leader in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The Government of India, on its part, has further announced multiple mega projects like the “Sagarmala”, “Bharatmala”, “Inland Water Transport (IWT)” and many more to realise the SAGAR vision on ground. Maritime governance is a critical aspect that merits attention to manage the surge in maritime activities on all fronts. The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is a term that has the potential to enable enhanced governance, however the conventional MDA has remained security driven and failed to penetrate into the other stakeholders. The second major drawback of the MDA has been that it has remained on surface. Given the vast undersea resources along with disruptive means available today to access the underwater domain, this is a major limitation. A comprehensive safe, secure, sustainable growth model that can address all the challenges and opportunities is required.

The Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune has proposed a comprehensive Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework. This encourages pooling of resources and synergising of efforts across the stakeholders, namely maritime security, blue economy, marine environment & disaster management and science & technology. The UDA framework adequately addresses the policy, technology & innovation and human resource development requirements to be able to project India as a major maritime nation globally. India, with its geo-strategic location and vast maritime frontiers, cannot afford to remain a continental nation anymore. Massive acoustic capacity and capability building on multiple fronts is inescapable. In this paper, we present the infinite possibilities in the new global order. The Indo part of the Indo-Pacific and how India needs to gear-up in this new strategic context has been elaborated in depth. Young India is a massive resource. This could however become a huge challenge, if we as a community, fail to channelize their energy and aspirations in a constructive manner. “Maritime India with more Depth Underwater” is probably the way forward.


The Indo-Pacific strategic construct has increasingly found more and more resonance among the global powers. Initiated by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while delivering his address to the Indian Parliament in 2007, he referred to the “confluence” of the Indian and Pacific Oceans as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia” [1]. It got symbolically linked to the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue”, referred to as the QUAD, comprising of Australia, Japan, India and the US. The QUAD regained its relevance geopolitically during the pandemic with the growing assertion by China in global matters. The obvious belligerence from the Chinese, has probably brought the erstwhile dominant global powers to align themselves either way. The Germans and the French have also announced their participation in the Indo-Pacific strategic interaction [2].

The role of India in the Indo-Pacific strategic construct is significant in many ways. It brings India in the centre stage of global power play and India can no longer choose to remain a silent spectator. The Indo-Pacific is an outright maritime strategic construct and thus, India has to evolve itself as a major maritime power. The Indo-Pacific is defined as the tropical littoral waters of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as shown in figure-1 [3]. The term tropical littoral waters bring with it, multiple unique challenges and opportunities. The “Indo” part of the Indo-Pacific demands that India invests significantly in its maritime capacity and capability building to remain a major player in the IOR and beyond [4].

Fig. 1 The Indo-Pacific Region: tropical Littoral Waters [3]

The Government of India on its part has displayed significant strategic intent to alter the continental policy outlook, it has been criticised of, since Independence. The SAGAR vision announced by the Prime Minster has been regarded as the most significant strategic declaration with a regional outlook, far beyond its national boundaries. This vision, as stated by the Prime Minister, in his address to the Shangri La Dialogue at Singapore in 2018 has the following aspects behind the broad vision [5, 6]:

(a)     It acknowledges the security concerns that we face in the region due to the political instability and the socio-economic status of the IOR rim nations.

(b)     It recognises the tremendous economic potential that exists for the nations in the region to harness.

(c)      It emphasises the need for regional consolidation and bringing together nations in the region and prevent extra-regional powers from meddling in our internal matters.

(d)     It attempts to revive the rich maritime heritage we shared and rekindle the sense of pride in our rich culture and traditions.

The Government of India has matched up the big SAGAR declaration, with mega projects like the “Sagarmala”, “Bharatmala”, “Inland Water Transport (IWT)” and more, to prioritise the maritime capacity and capability building. Significant policy incentives have also been offered and additionally, multiple legislations have been brought-in, to demonstrate aggressive push by the government on multiple fronts [7, 8].

The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is a term used in the global parlance for effective maritime governance. MDA is rooted in the ability to effectively monitor what is going on, at any moment in the entire maritime space. The MDA, as defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or the environment [9, 10]. The MDA, globally, remained a security construct and continued to be driven by the maritime forces with far less transparency and minimal involvement of the other stakeholders. Even from a security construct, the underwater component of MDA that could be referred to as Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) has remained neglected and fragmented even on a global scale [11].

Challenges and Opportunities

There are political, economic and military connotations of the Indo-Pacific construct, given the geopolitical and geo-strategic realities of the times we are in. To achieve a comprehensive safe, secure and sustainable growth model, for good maritime governance, we need to be aware of these ground realities. The tropical littoral waters are blessed with abundant undersea resources, both living and non-living, available for exploitation. The economic abundance coupled with political instability and corresponding lack of maritime governance makes it a perfect mix for extra-regional powers to get involved and exploit the region for their narrow-vested interest. The global energy reserves in the Middle-East and the growing economies in South East Asia, with vast energy requirements, ensures a steady flow of shipping lines from west to east and back with the finished goods. Thus, the Indo-Pacific has become a critical sea route for the global powers to maintain their military presence to ensure their strategic autonomy [12, 13].

The political instability has given space to non-state actors, some of whom are being used both by the regional powers and extra-regional powers as regular instruments of diplomatic influence in the region. The non-state actors with an asymmetric and disruptive technological edge are a formidable force to deal with using conventional military means. Security, thus becomes a major cause of concern from a governance perspective. The extra-regional powers at times, also find it easy to use the security bogey to push their military hardware at high cost to these nations in the region. Many nations in the region with meagre economic resources and massive socio-economic burden, are the biggest spenders on military hardware. The socio-economic quagmire, coupled with political instability, makes it easy for the extra-regional powers to keep the polity within and the governments in the region fragmented, and allows them to exploit the situation to their benefit. The misplaced priorities politically, makes it difficult to evolve effective governance mechanisms and reverse the vicious cycle. Maritime terrorism, piracy, IUU (Illegal, Unreported & Unregulated) fishing, unsustainable maritime activities and more, are thus on the rise and threatening the sustainable development goals across multiple dimensions. Political instability and overall lack of synergy at all levels negatively impacts maritime governance. [14, 15].

The economic aspect further has multiple dimensions and dynamics. The abundant undersea resources coupled with lack of knowhow and effective governance mechanism is a deadly recipe for higher political interference by the extra-regional powers. Nations with vast coastlines are not the major players in shipping, shipbuilding and ship-repairs. They have occupied the lower end of the spectrum by offering to be ship-breaking yards. The undersea resources are not being exploited in a sustainable manner in the absence of a regulatory framework. The extra-regional powers are having a free run-in term of exploiting the undersea domain for resources and multiple other blue economic returns. Lack of big investments and minimal application of high-end science & technology tools has ensured unviable and unsustainable ways of undersea exploration and exploitation. The fragmented geopolitics does not allow the nations in the region to come together in any way to build mega initiatives. The demographic bulge in the region is not getting channelised into constructive nation building activities. This leads to youth getting vested into non-productive and at times even into anti-national activities. [16, 17]

The security bogey has become a major curse for the region. The spending on the security forces has become a significant drain into the national economy. The lack of indigenous Research & Development (R&D) in the tropical littoral waters with unique characteristics has meant over-dependence on the imported military hardware at very high cost and minimal effectiveness on ground. The brute force method of maintaining high numbers in terms of human resources and other assets among the security forces with minimal induction of the modern systems is no match to the disruptive and emerging technology means being deployed by the non-state actors. We have already had multiple incidents in the past where major attacks have been launched from the sea route and more recently the drone attack in an Air Force base is the manifestation of the larger asymmetry that exists and complete shift from the conventional rules of engagement. Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) is the order of the day and is only likely to get stealthier with higher element of surprise [4, 12].

The fragmented approach among the stakeholders and turf wars among the policy makers is a sure recipe for disaster. The consolidation on all fronts is a problem and thus, the capacity and capability building remain a low priority. In the absence of consolidation, we will always be short of resources for S&T (write full form of S&T) and local site-specific R&D. Every stakeholder is spending significant amount of resources and effort in building their own infrastructure and that is never enough to match up to the real requirements on the ground [18].

Underwater Domain Awareness Framework

The concept of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) in a more specific sense will translate to our eagerness to know what is happening in the undersea realm of our maritime areas. This keenness for undersea awareness from the security perspective means defending our Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), coastal waters and varied maritime assets against the proliferation of submarines and mine capabilities intended to limit the access to the seas and littoral waters. However, just the military requirement may not be the only motivation to generate undersea domain awareness. The earth’s undersea geophysical activities have a lot of relevance to the wellbeing of humankind and monitoring of such activities could provide vital clues to minimise the impact of devastating natural calamities. The commercial activities in the undersea realm need precise inputs on the availability of resources to be able to effectively and efficiently explore and exploit them for economic gains. The regulators on the other hand need to know the pattern of exploitation to manage a sustainable plan. With so much of activities, commercial and military, there is significant impact on the environment. Any conservation initiative needs to precisely estimate the habitat degradation and species vulnerability caused by these activities and assess the ecosystem status. The scientific and the research community needs to engage and continuously update our knowledge and access of the multiple aspects of the undersea domain. Fig. 2, presents a comprehensive perspective of the UDA framework. The underlying requirement for all the stakeholders is to know the developments in the undersea domain, make sense out of these developments and then respond effectively and efficiently to them before they take shape of an event.

Fig. 2 Comprehensive Perspective of Undersea Domain Awareness

The UDA framework on a comprehensive scale needs to be understood in its horizontal and vertical construct. The horizontal construct would be the resource availability in terms of technology, infrastructure, capability and capacity specific to the stakeholders or otherwise. The stakeholders represented by the four faces of the cube will have their specific requirements, however the core will remain the acoustic capacity and capability. The vertical construct is the hierarchy of establishing a comprehensive UDA. The first level or the ground level would be the sensing of the undersea domain for threats, resources and activities. The second level would be making sense of the data generated to plan security strategies, conservation plans and resource utilisa