all in the family

What explains Modi's last-minute snub to RSS wing at Indian Science Congress?

The prime minister left the venue without conferring an award to Vijnana Bharati that had been confirmed by the Department of Science and Technology.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday took a last minute U-turn while inaugurating the Indian Science Congress at Mysuru. He left the venue without conferring an award on Vijnana Bharati, an important wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The unusually important decision of Modi – whether caused by wanting to stay away from a fresh controversy or the intensification of his cold war with the RSS – infuriated the Vijnana Bharati, commonly known as VIBHA, so much that it immediately went public with its resentment.

A press statement issued by the body's secretary general A Jayakumar soon after the inaugural session of the 103rd Indian Science Congress said:

“The last minute denial of award to VIBHA in Indian Science Congress 2016 (ISC) by PM in the inaugural function, for its unique achievement of becoming the first organisation to receive Guinness Book of World Records [sic] in the field of science from India, has been a rude shock to the leaders of the organisation and scientific fraternity as a whole.”

A world record

On December 7, 2015, Vijnana Bharati organised a science class of 2,000 school students in the lawns of Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. The move was aimed at creating a new world record for the highest number of students conducting an experiment simultaneously. Two cabinet ministers – Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani – were also present at the occasion. Later, a video recording of the science class was sent to the Guinness Book of World Records. Ireland held the previous record with 1339 students conducting an experiment simultaneously in Belfast in February 2015.

Jayakumar, an RSS pracharak, told Scroll.in that the award to Vijnana Bharati for making the world record had been ratified and confirmed by the Department of Science and Technology and other relevant committees. “We were asked to be present at the inaugural session of the Indian Science Congress where Modi would honour us for our achievement,” he said, adding: “We had decided that Prof Gurish Kumar, who had coordinated the Delhi event, would receive the award on behalf of VIBHA. I also accompanied him to the inaugural function.”

Vijnana Bharati, which is aimed at promoting Swadeshi sciences, is considered an elite wing of the RSS. Its significance in the Sangh’s scheme of things could be understood by the fact that two of the senior most office-bearers of the RSS – general secretary (Sarkaryavah) Bhaiyyaji Joshi and joint general secretary (Sah Sarkaryavah) Suresh Soni – are directly or indirectly involved in its activities. While Soni is incharge of Vijnana Bharati, Joshi takes special interest in its functioning.

According to a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, Modi did not want to get embroiled in a controversy by honouring something which is hardly recognised as an achievement outside the RSS. “About a year back, just before the previous Indian Science Congress, he had courted a controversy by wondering how a plastic surgeon could have been involved in planting an elephant’s head on Lord Ganesha,” he pointed out.

Strain in the relationship

Officials in the RSS, however, viewed Modi’s decision not to honour Vijnana Bharati at the Indian Science Congress as yet another indication of the strain in the prime minister's relationship with his party's patron body. Since the Assembly elections in Bihar, there has been persistent talk of tension between the prime minister and the RSS intensifying.

Such are said to be the differences that neither Modi nor RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat is likely to attend the BJP-RSS coordination committee meeting slated to be held after January 14 this year. Many of the contentious issues related to the Modi government are likely to come up for discussion in the meeting.

Jayakumar, on his part, refrained from directly blaming Modi for the embarrassment caused to Vijnana Bharat. He, instead, blamed the Prime Minister’s Office for the faux pas. “I find serious fault with PMO in the denial of the award to a Guinness Book of World Record holder from India. This matter again highlights the urgent need to constitute a Scientific Advisory Committee to the prime minister, which is pending even 18 months after the new government coming into force,” the press statement, signed by him, said.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.