Flipkart

Modi puts his foot on the tail of the Dragon; and hopes the nation is with him

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India is decoupling itself from China, and not just from Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

India has banned 59 Chinese Apps used by tens of millions of its citizens and I would be surprised if the Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t warn us of its fallout in his afternoon broadcast to the nation on Tuesday.

China would retaliate by pulling out its investments and factories and looking to cripple our telecom and pharmaceutical industry due to our over-reliance on its equipment and ingredients. Their smartphones have 72% of our market. Half of our electronic imports and two-thirds of our drugs depend on China. Why, even our bulletproof vests are made with material from China.

The investment and jobs we were looking in infrastructure (Tsingshan, steel) and automobiles (SAIC), not to speak of the names which are household such as Big Basket, Byju’s, Flipkart, MakeMyTrip, PayTm, Swiggy, Zomato etc could all take a massive hit. It could grow into a trade war and we the citizens of this country would have rising costs, lost jobs and hardships coming our way.

How do you think our cash-strapped telecom companies could cope? Or how diminishing incomes would react to rising costs? And not just demand, would the supply side be able to stay on its feet if walls go up?

Yet India must decouple itself from China. A nation which depends on enemy for its food, goods and materials don’t last.  Germany lost to Britain because of the latter’s blockade in World War I. Ancient Athens fell to Sparta who won’t allow supply of grains through the Black Sea. Why, Australia today is tabulating the cost of a diplomatic spat with China on its crop exports.

The free-trade advocates might whisper into your ears that its’ protectionism, that we are going to pre-liberalization era of 1991 but don’t pay heed. Instead ask: What kind of open trade China is if its subsidizing land, material and tax-cuts for its manufacturers, brutalizing its labour, just to make sure your manufacturing remains buried forever? It’s nothing but a return to colonial era when we exported raw material and imported finished products.

Time is ripe for India to actively intervene in markets. Put spine in India’s manufacturers. Write-off investments in machinery if required. Revamp land, labour and tax structures. Incentivize them to the extent they reinvest profits in men and material. We could then hope for our future generations to look after their parents. Our disabled soldiers to return to the care of their able sons and daughters

If nothing, listen to what Chinese said a few years ago in their economic White Paper of the 21st century:

“Manufacturing is the main pillar…the foundation of the country. Since the beginning of industrial civilization in the middle of the 18th century, it has been proven repeatedly by the rise and fall of world powers that without strong manufacturing, there is no national prosperity.”

India already has the assurance of US State Department which announced last year that Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and of course India would take care of its supply chains in a rewired world. The critical industries outlined are pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, semi-conductors, automotive, aerospace, textile and chemicals among others.

Many countries are already opting for China Plus One manufacturing strategy. Taiwan is now actively promoting “non-Red supply chain”; Japan has put $220 billion on the line for its companies to shift production back home from China. South Korea is doing likewise with easy regulations, financial aid and tax incentives to those who could “return” home. Italy has announced an emergency decree which empowers it to veto foreign investment in electricity, water, health, media, aerospace, banks, insurance, robotics etc.

Prime Minister Modi seems to have opted for the brave course of short-time pain to long-term suicide. He has put his political career on line. He had no business to walk down this road which could put India in some serious woes.  It might make us a little poorer, our goods more expensive but it would secure our borders, our future.  China’s cheap exports are a gift which we would pay with ocean of tears in future. Let’s do our bit for our motherland.

 

Plastic, plastic, plastic: Stop this madness

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

If this is not on a war-footing what else is. Come October 2 and the Centre could announce a ban on a slew of Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items for us folks. All 4000-odd urban local bodies must segregate recyclable and non-recyclable plastic waste;  5 lakh sarpanchs (village heads) and swachhagrahis (cleanliness volunteers) would receive a personal exhortation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and Himalayan region and other eco-fragile zones would be made plastic-free. There is a mile of other initiatives which could be read here.

This is a giant leap in the fight against plastic. We all look smart in being lucid against plastic over a coffee with friends. But we do little. We ignore that plastic is not biodegradable (that is, it wouldn’t decompose into a natural substance like soil) and its’ devastating lives on land or water. From the straws we use to the cups of Starbucks Coffee; from the water-bottles to the cutlery we use at airports; from our grocery bags to the chips packet we pick up from gas stations, every bit of plastic is indestructible. Dormant or burnt in landfills, plastic keeps releasing toxic chemicals which find its way into our food and water supply. It contaminates the air we breathe. It is linked to cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, respiratory and endocrine problems and many, many more. It eats into the soil nutrients and impairs its vitality. Plastic is the Frankenstein of our own making.

A lot of plastic we litter blows into nature’s wilderness. Wild animals and birds can’t ingest them and starve to death since their intestines fall blocked. A prized Cape buffalo in Delhi zoo has become one such victim. Last year, it was an elephant. Half of all camels that die on the Arabian Peninsula each year are its prey. One of Japan’s famous Nara Park deer was found to have a 4.3kg of plastic in its stomach. Eight African elephants died in Zimbabwe in 2016: the list is endless.

Over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million sea birds die by plastic every year. One recent study has found plastic inside every single whale, dolphin and seal examined. By 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Aquatic mammals mistake plastic for food and either ingest them or become entangled by plastic. As it blocks their digestion system, they eventually die a slow and painful death. The ecology of the ocean is shattered. Death of one species is an existential issue for others.

The thing is, we all can be hands-on to this problem. It doesn’t take much either; just a little mindfulness. You could have a zero waste kit which has a reusable or paper straw; a collapsible coffee cup; reusable cutlery, disposable cup, bamboo toothbrush, eco-friendly wraps, cloth bags etc. It’s the best way to make a statement outdoors; makes you look progressive too. There are multiple choices for such a kit. We are living in a finite world and its’ infinite exploitation simply is unsustainable.

So be in sync with your government which is walking the talk. Already, in the headquarters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Capital, water bottles have been banned following Modi’s public exhortation on Independence Day last month. Where once was stack of cartons of water bottles and garbage containers which overflowed with used ones, there is now jugs and paper glasses to meet the needs.

This new course correction would surely hurt the food and beverages-producing giants. But profit can’t ride over the existential crisis. Amazon and Walmart are already pulling up socks. Amazon has announced it would remove non-recyclable plastic from its deliveries in India by June 2020. It won’t have the air-pillows and bubble wraps it used to protect products. Now it would be padding made out of paper. Walmart-owned Flipkart, India’s biggest e-commerce company, has set a deadline of March 2021 for itself. This would be a moment of reckoning for multinational giants who lineup our fridges with soft-drinks and water bottles. India abounds in restaurant chains, just running over the names of a few would give you an idea of how mammoth the scale is. The argument that SUP helps us fight food waste, keeping food and water fresher for long duration, cuts out contamination and is cost-effective simply won’t cut ice.

This is a fight in which we all are together. For our own survival.