Why International Yoga Day is no cause for celebration in India


International yoga, renewable energy

Why International Yoga Day is no cause for celebration in India

The debate around International Yoga Day is not about health benefits. It is about the media spectacle in the name of health when spending on health is being reduBy Jyotsna Singh

Published: Monday 30 November -0001

The debate around International Yoga Day is not about health benefits. It is about the media spectacle in the name of health when spending on health is being reduced. Promoting yoga gurus rather than health is the other area of concern

Photo courtesy: PIB

Yoga is recognised the world over as a desirable option for maintaining good health. Its therapeutic effects are well-known and well-accepted. However, the International Yoga Day, to be celebrated on June 21, is about a lot of things but health.

It was on September 27, 2014, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed observing an international day for yoga in the United Nations General Assembly. On December 11, 2014, the UN proclaimed June 21 as International Yoga Day. Authorities said they chose the date because it is the longest day and is considered important in many parts of the world.

The truth is there are two solstices or days with the longest period of sunlight. That day for the northern hemisphere falls between June 20 and 22. Every fourth year in nearly a decade sees June 20 as summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. Years 2008 and 2012 saw summer solstices on June 20. Years 2016 and 2020 are next.

Summer solstice for the southern hemisphere fall on either December 21 or 22. Thus, we are left with a bundle of dates for solstices. Traditionally, the day has been observed across the world depending on the date of solstice expected in the given year and not necessarily on a fixed date according to the Roman calendar.

Then, why choose June 21?

At the UN assembly in December last year, 175 of 193 countries backed the resolution by India. But the government’s enthusiasm for yoga has been facing flak on the home front. It has come to be criticized as an event to promote the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s right-wing agenda.

It must be noted that June 21 is the death anniversary of Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, founder of Hindu right-wing organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Hedgewar died in 1940.

It is also known that Prime Minister Modi began his career with the RSS, the ideological parent of the ruling BJP, at the age of 19. Becoming a pracharak in 1972, Modi went on to be recognized for his organizing skills and earned his first political stint as general secretary of BJP in Gujarat in 1987. His rise as a politician thereafter is amply recognized.

Choice of metaphors

On June 17 this year, the Ministry of AYUSH released a book titled “Yoga and Islam”. The official press release explicitly stated, “The book clearly indicates that yoga has nothing to do with religion and is universally accepted.”

However, the imagery used by various government authorities suggests the contrary. The masthead of the Twitter handle of the Ministry of External Affairs, @IndianDiplomacy, on June 18 had three famous personalities—founder of yoga maharishi Patanjali, a proponent of yoga in the 20th century B K S Iyengar, and Swami Vivekananda. Even though their association with yoga and meditation is well-known, Indian authorities skipped highlighting luminaries from other religions, even religions that were born out of Hinduism.

“This government is known for creating confusion, especially between myth and history. It rides on promoting brahminical Hinduism. We have to see the celebration of Yoga Day in that context,” says Mohan Rao, faculty of social medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi.

Others have expressed concern over the media spectacle when the need of the hour is to spend and focus on health-related issues in the country. A petition started on June 18 by Ayesha Kidwai, faculty of linguistics in JNU, raised questions over making the celebration of International Yoga Day compulsory for government officials and schools.

“We (many of whom have long been indebted to yoga and pranayama for their therapeutic effects) are concerned by the central compulsion driving the directives issued by the present Government, namely about entering the Guinness Book of Records through a show of numerical strength. We are even more alarmed about the government order addressed to university teachers and staff and school students to perform yoga on June 21 in public, and construe this as a compulsion that amounts to misuse of state authority,” reads the first paragraph of the petition on change.org.

Taking a dig at the likes of Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the petition adds, “It is most unfortunate that a national government is mobilizing so much effort, resources and people for a one-time spectacle, without any long-term planning for or investment in the health and well-being of the people.” It alleges that the day has become an advertisement for the new breed of yoga gurus who have amassed wealth by selling yoga and meditation.

Even lesser-known yoga teachers have found space for their advertisements. Select Citywalk, a posh shopping mall in South Delhi, is organizing sessions of yoga with a guru called HH Yogiraj Dr. Om Prakash ji Maharaj on June 21.

The day seems to have come to the rescue of Ola cabs, a mobile app-based cab service entangled in legal issues over women’s safety. It is asking people to enter a lucky draw, the winner of which will be entitled to a free ride to a free yoga session.

“None of this is surprising. The government does not even care for basic democratic rights like holiday on Sundays. Last year, they observed governance day on December 25. Who does not know it is Christmas, an important festival for Christians? It was a Sunday too,” said Shabnam Hashmi, activist and social worker.




Africa’s drylands are getting more support. How to make the most of this

The UN recently launched the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide

By Anja Gassner, Philip Dobie, Robert Nasi
Published: Thursday 17 June 2021

Farmers working the land in the Western Sahara, Egypt. Photo: DeAgostini / Getty Images / The Conversation

The United Nations (UN) recently launched the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It is a response to evidence that our current abuse of nature has accelerated global warming and degraded natural resources to a degree that threatens the wellbeing of people.

The Decade will use overseas development aid to influence land-use policies that align with its 10 point strategy. This will be channeled through instruments such as the Global Environment Facility’s drylands programme and the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund.

These efforts will be particularly important to Africa’s drylands. Drylands are typically low rainfall areas where high temperatures and a lack of water constrains crop, animal, and forest production.

In Africa, drylands cover 60 percent of the continent. They are home to over 525 million people who depend on rainfed agriculture and livestock husbandry. The weather conditions, combined with the effects of human activity on the land, make drylands highly vulnerable to land degradation, known as desertification. This includes the loss of soil, soil fertility and vegetation.

Unpredictable climate and challenging socio-ecological conditions have shaped societies with astonishing and innovative coping capacities. For instance, dryland pastoralists produce more than half of Africa’s red meat and milk.

However, the climate crisis, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than anywhere else in the world, threatens the balance communities have created in this landscape. Conflicts over resources are on the rise and so is migration.

Investments in Africa’s drylands are needed to restore this balance and sustain productivity while catering to the next generation’s aspirations: Providing job opportunities and turning the local business into engines for development.

Neglected and underfunded

Drylands are an overlooked biome. This is rooted in the origins of the Rio conventions — three conventions created with the aim to promote a sustainable planet for future generations.

One of these conventions, the Convention to Combat Desertification, was adopted in 1994 to address the concerns of African leaders about poverty, drought, and food insecurity. But, unlike climate change and biodiversity, programs under this convention — which aimed to halt soil erosion and the loss of soil fertility — were not perceived to contribute to the global public good. This left the Convention to Combat Desertification chronically underfunded and drylands remained a lower environmental priority.

With international environmental funds not available, the first leader of the convention wanted to tap into development funding. They did this by painting a bleak picture of degraded lands, rapid population growth, and inadequate livelihood options. But, for years to come, this made private investors and development financiers shy away from investing in agricultural enterprises in Africa’s drylands.

Now, with the launch of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, much more funding will be channeled into drylands through projects on the ground.

Making an impact

To ensure that these investments make the most impact, there are a few lessons to bear in mind.

We recently attended the Global Landscapes Forum. This brought together experts, policymakers, businesses, investors and local communities. It involved 232 speakers, with 127 from Africa, and 50 percent of whom were women. They gave a clear message about how funds can lead to change.

Land degradation in drylands is a multi-faceted problem. Single sectoral approaches — like maximizing crop yields or banning fires — won’t work. The solution for sustainable African drylands is to ensure there are optimal vegetation, water, and soil resources under the constraints of climate change and inadequate human and financial resources.

All of these measures are important because restoration alone won’t work. More is needed to solve the underlying economic problems of population growth and insufficient income opportunities in the drylands. Opening up economic opportunities through land restoration will.

To achieve this, modern innovations and science need to work hand in hand with local practices and knowledge to produce the quality and quantity of products needed to build investment cases in restoration. One example of this is the Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises programme, which brings together scientists and local communities across sub-Saharan Africa. It links pastoralists and their milk and meat products to investors as well as markets.

Funding is needed in capacity building for land-use practices and business skills. In addition, there need to be investments in equipment and infrastructure as well as stronger local governance and institutions.

Approaches must give responsibility and rights to local communities, the owners, and custodians of the land. They must be equal partners in restoration efforts. Through years of implementing landscape restoration activities, it is clear that only programmes that co-design interventions with local communities — which assure equal benefits and access rights — lead to long-lasting change.

Women and young people, whose lives are disproportionately affected by degradation, must be at the fore.

In Kenya, for example, these areas are predominantly inhabited by patriarchal communities. Women are responsible for nurturing the children and, without productive lands for food and firewood, their lives are very challenging. Various progressive pieces of legislation were enacted in the recent past. However, women continue to be marginalized and discriminated against.

Women must be supported in leading inter-generational dialogues within their families and clans. The idea would be that these would foster a shift in social norms to ensure equitable access to land regardless of gender or age.

As for young people, the traditional way of life can no longer offer a prosperous future for them all and off farm opportunities are very limited.

There are encouraging stories of new generations of entrepreneurs in dryland areas that are turning community-based NGO activities into sustainable businesses. Sahel Consulting, for example, links private investors to women dairy producers in Nigeria. Enda Energie is an initiative that links women cooperatives to personal care and cosmetic markets where they sell fruits.

In addition, carbon credits can be a real incentive for investors in clean energy technologies, such as solar cooking or biogas. Governments must recognize the potential of drylands so these initiatives can flourish. This includes ensuring people have access to markets and finance so they can sustainably scale up.

Finally, external funding programs must support the de-risking of pastoralism and enhanced resilience to shocks. This can be done through, for instance, index-based financing and insurance.

Kimberly Merten, Cora van Osten, Adinda Hassan, and Sophie Callahan from the Global Landscape Forum contributed to this article.The Conversation

Anja Gassner, Global Landscapes Forum science advisor and Senior Scientist, World Agroforestry (ICRAF)Philip Dobie, Senior Fellow, World Agroforestry (ICRAF), and Robert Nasi, Director General , Centre for International Forestry Research

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Ronaldo for ‘agua’: Celebrities dissing junk food can go a long way

The Euro topscorer has opened new ground; can Indian celebs catch up?

By Sonal Dhingra
Published: Thursday 17 June 2021

Ronaldo holds a bottle of water after removing Coca Cola bottles at a press conference in the Euro Cup. Photo: @Prajwalkumar080 / TwitterPackaged beverages are indeed junk — empty calories that provide sugar without nutrition — and are today indicted for obesity across the globe. So are many other ultra-processed packaged foods such as chocolates, chips and savory snacks that are high in fat, sugar and / or salt.

These products are widely advertised — and such sponsorships are only one way of doing it. There is ample evidence that suggests advertisements greatly influence the purchase and consumption behavior of people, especially children who are highly impressionable. Research aside, there is one very good reason to believe advertising works — food companies spend billions doing it.

In India, the problem of junk food consumption has become more prevalent and pervasive due to its widespread availability and advertisement. In addition, packaged food labelling tends to be complex. Consumers do not understand the nutrient composition as provided on the packages to take an informed purchase decision. To top it all, celebrities such as sports icons and Bollywood actors are roped in to promote unhealthy foods and beverages to further allure consumers.

For more coverage by Down To Earth on junk food, click here

Promotions by celebrities make the product aspirational. When Ranbir Kapoor is seen consuming Coca Cola, or Alia Bhat promotes Parle Frooti, or Sara Ali Khan consumes Fanta while playing Holi, people who look up to these personalities would want to do the same because they want to imbibe their lifestyle and their choices.

The food companies rope in new celebrities every now and then as they grow more popular among people — Disha Patani and Kartik Aaryan promoting Cadbury chocolates, Rishabh Pant promoting Coca Cola are a few examples.

Namkeens or salty snacks are more popular among elderly people, so Bikaji namkeens are promoted by Amitabh Bachchan. Advertisements are made in a way that resonates well with people, keeping in view their age.

Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli promotes Too Yumm chips and his own energy drink called O’cean one8 — which has sugar levels as high as a soft drink. This is an issue of ethics — because these celebrities would not consume these products themselves.

On the other hand, lack of government action in the form of a regulatory framework is a major concern, particularly given children’s unprecedented exposure to and normalisation of advertising of unhealthy products.

Many countries such as the UK and Chile have laws that restrict junk advertisements among children. India does not have any law despite the orders of the Delhi High Court which had asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to finalise and issue guidelines on junk food, including celebrity endorsement.

Mindless junk food consumption has already resulted in much damage to our food environment and public health. Now, what we really need is clear regulations on junk food advertisements and celebrity endorsement of products that are harmful to health. Meanwhile, responsible promotion by celebrities is what we can hope for — celebrities should not promote foods and beverages that are unhealthy.


World Crocodile Day: How crocodilians square off against big cats

Here are some remarkable examples of crocodilian predation involving large wild cats based on published literature

By Raju Vyas
Published: Thursday 17 June 2021

A male tiger with a crocodile at Rajbaugh, Ranthambhore. Photo: Wikipedia

A male tiger with a crocodile at Rajbaugh, Ranthambhore. Photo: Wikipedia A male tiger with a crocodile at Rajbaugh, Ranthambhore. Photo: Wikipedia

Among Indian reptiles, the mugger or marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) is known to be one of the most intelligent and skilful predators in the freshwater ecosystem. This species preys upon a variety of animals, including small insects and large mammals; even the hatchlings feed on diverse prey species — such as insects, amphibians, fishes and crustaceans.

As they grow, the adults graduate to feed on larger vertebrates like fish, turtles, lizards, larger snakes (pythons), birds, monkeys, leopards and livestock. However, they are capable of attacking even larger mammals such as buffaloes, sambar and spotted deer and occasionally humans too.

It has been observed that the larger adults later shift their predatory habits completely towards larger prey species to fulfil their increased food requirements. There have been numerous incidences where one large adult mugger is involved in a conflict, either with another crocodile, or sometimes other larger prey, such as livestock, or even humans.

Big Cats and crocs

Here, I present some remarkable examples of mugger predation involving large wild cats based on published literature. A recently published note mentions how a mugger is an efficient predator as it can prey upon a large adult cat with skilful acumen.

On two different occasions, leopards lost their lives while tussling with large muggers in the Gir forest. Both, the leopard and mugger are expert apex predators governing their respective habitats and ecosystems. Leopards being prime predators in terrestrial forest habitats and crocodiles in freshwater ecosystems.

Previously, there have been cases where predators devoured young muggers or eggs, thus including hatchlings, juveniles and large adults too. However, large crocodiles predating big cats and vice versa are comparatively uncommon occurrences.

Jaguars are well-known for frequent predation on two Caiman species — Caiman crocodilus and Melanosuchus niger. Very few incidents have been published on this subject.

Literature surveys indicate an earlier record whereby a leopard was preyed upon by a saltwater crocodile or Crocodylus porosus in Sri Lanka. Another similar record from Madhya Pradesh, India mentions how a leopard was preyed upon by a mugger.

A famous female tiger named Machhli from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan is also popular for preying habits with muggers. Even though smaller wild cats are capable of skilfully hunting a baby crocodilian, it was only recently that with due evidence, a video was presented by Conner De Monte depicting a small wild bobcat that was hunting an alligator hatchling at Port Charlotte, Florida.

Sir J Emerson Tennant noted an interesting incidence in the book The Natural History of Ceylon (1861) about a leopard being preyed upon by a massive saltwater crocodile:

A curious incident occurred some years ago on the Maguruganga, a stream which flows through the Pasdnn Corle, to join the Bentolle (probable River Kalu Ganga or Kalu-Kukule) river. A man was fishing seated on the branch of a tree that overhangs the water; and to shelter himself from the drizzling rain, he covered his head and shoulders with a long folded into a shape common with natives. While in this attitude, a leopard sprung upon him from the jungle, but missing its aim, seized the bag and not the man, and falls into the river. Here a crocodile, which had been eyeing the angler in despair, seized the leopard as it fell and sunk with it to the bottom.

The above-mentioned crocodile species is most probably Crocodylus porosus. Another incident described by CR Pitman (1913) quotes:

While camping on the banks of the River Wainganga (a tributary of Godavari River), in the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh) some villagers, one day, on March 27, brought me a half-grown panther measuring about 5’-6” that they had picked up dead near the river and which from the nature of the wounds on it, undoubtedly had been killed by a crocodile C. palustris.

In the first week of September 2014, an interesting incidence was noted at Madhuvanti dam, Gir West, Junagadh. A group of four to five muggers were found feasting on a 7–8-year-old adult Asiatic Gir Lion.

The Madhuvanti dam is situated on the edge of Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat. It is a small sized human-made water body constructed for irrigation, located on the edge of a protected area. Therefore it serves as one of the best water sources for wildlife during any water crisis or periods of drought. It is home to about 56 large muggers, according to the latest count.

The question remains, as to how such a large predator was preyed upon by a few muggers. The local forest officer (Dy Conservator of Forest, West Gir Division) stated that the lion’s death was not directly caused by any feud between the muggers and the lion, but rather “this adult lion lost his life in a fierce battle with another lion, the previous night. Later, somehow the muggers might have managed to drag the dead lion in the water and were ultimately found devouring it”.

In Africa, the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is well-known for its leopard-hunting habits, with a good number of accounts supporting this tendency. Likewise, muggers and estuarine crocodiles can be considered evenly skilful when it comes to specific predation of wild cats.

The fact that crocodilians are the ultimate apex predators of freshwater ecosystems is well established. All crocodilians share intense aggressive traits and are proven to be opportunistic predators, devouring whatsoever comes across their way, in and around their habitats.

The likelihood of any mugger allowing a predator from another species to have an absolute dominance within its territory is nil. If at all there are power conflicts, they usually result in fatal feuds, with either the large wild cat or another crocodilian member suffering a loss of their lives.

This piece was first published in Zoo’s Print magazine on February 21, 2021. It has been republished here with due permission

Raju Vyas is a well-known herpetologist who has studied the crocodiles of the Vadodara region for two decades

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth


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COVID-19 did not deter renewable power-generating capacity addition in 2020: Report

India placed third among countries that added the most solar water heating capacity in 2020

By Sumedha Awasthy
Published: Thursday 17 June 2021

Despite multiple setbacks the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic brought in its wake, 2020 was a year of significant growth for the renewable energy sector. The world added 256 gigawatt of renewable power-generating capacities over the year.

India placed third among countries that added the most solar water heating capacity in 2020; China ranked first. India placed fourth in terms of addition of total renewable power capacity as of 2020.

With an impetus in technology upgradation of transmission power networks, countries are able to invest in variable renewable energy (VRE). As many as nine countries have expanded their demand for the same by 20 percent.

These were among the findings of Global Status Report, published by Ren21 Secretariat (an international policy network) in association with the global community of renewable energy actors from science, academia, non-profits, governments, and industry.

The crowd-sourced annual publication highlighted the key parameters of renewables such as policy landscape, market and industry trends, investment flows, energy systems integration and enabling technologies, energy efficiency, decarbonization and business potential.

While there is a considerable increase in the addition of renewable energy sources, the usage of fossil fuel has been on the rise too. The report stressed on the need to decarbonise heating / cooling and transportation sector.

The report found that even a slight increase in the renewable heating / cooling capacities in buildings as compared to the levels of 2009 would increase the sector’s challenge to adopt renewables in terms of a massive upfront cost, fossil fuel subsidies, lack of supportive framework, resource availability and technology solutions.

It is to be noted that only 10 countries had renewable heat supporting policies as of 2020. Currently, 30 per cent of global electricity demand is being produced by renewable sources. The report claimed the penetration of RE in power sector could be due to the introduction of a number of ambitious policies regulating the sector.

Another energy-intensive sector is transportation, a major contributor to global warming. Only eight countries have banned the internal combustion engine vehicles to pave the way for electric vehicles so far. Biofuel blending is one of the key initiatives adopted by countries to support renewable energy in the transportation sector.

India has also adopted the mandatory policy to blend biofuel below 10 per cent.

As of 2020, the world collectively installed solar power generating capacities to the tune of 760 GW, out of which 6.2 GW is being generated via concentrating solar thermal power stations.

Asia accounted for 60 percent of global solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity additions for the eighth consecutive year. There is a positive inclination towards thermal energy storage and concentrating solar power generating stations which are generally of large capacity usually adopt thermal energy storage. At present, 21 GW of thermal energy storage is functional globally.

With the falling price of solar PV systems and ease of availability of technology solutions, ease of access to clean energy has been on the rise. Off-grid systems due to solar PV account for 50 percent of the total mini-grids by technology.

In a growing number of regions — including parts of China, the European Union (EU), India, and the United States — it has already become cheaper to build new wind or solar PV plants than to operate existing coal-fired power plants.

The geothermal power sector is growing too; the US and Indonesia are the most active geothermal markets. EVs accounted for 4.6 percent of total car sales in 2020; a million electric cars were sold in China alone.

Despite all impediments, there has been a detachment between global economic growth and carbon emissions. As many as 60 countries in 2021 adopted monitoring and verification policies with respect to carbon emissions compared to 10 countries in 2010.

As a result, energy-intensive sectors are adopting energy-efficient measures to lower carbon footprints. The future of the renewable sector looks promising as more countries set net-zero goals that can lead to market transformation and lower the price of renewable technology even further.

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4 thoughts on “Why International Yoga Day is no cause for celebration in India

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