UIDAI runs into flak

as a followup to last week’s story about india’s spectacularly uncoordinated lurch towards cash transfers, my colleague vikas (dhoot) and i wrote this story about why nandan nilekani’s much-feted uidai is running into fresh opposition.  opposition, interestingly, coming from an unexpected quarter — other government departments.

the complete story, here.

india’s inchoate journey towards cash transfers

and, at long last, a good combative story.

A World Bank study released earlier this year enumerated the rot in Indian welfare programmes. About 91% of subsidised grain meant for the poor in Bihar never reached them. Only 32-51 % of the pensions for the elderly, destitute, widows and the disabled reached them.

These are holes that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee sought to plug in Budget 2011, when he announced that, in the coming years, all welfare benefits would be deposited into the bank accounts of beneficiaries, starting from June 2012.

Seven months on, India’s journey towards cash transfers is looking muddled. Too many players. Too many approaches. There is confusion and conflict at each of the four steps to cash transfers: identification, opening bank accounts, payments and transactions.

here is — drumroll — my story on this country’s move towards cash transfers. do take a look. and let me know what you think.

this planet bleeds biodiversity

This year, I have read a few books about species going extinct. Sam Turvey’s Witness to Extinction about the collapse of the Yangtze River Dolphin. Anne LaBastille’s Mama Poc about the end of the Guatamalan Giant Grebe. And George Schaller’s The Last Panda. An angry look at chinese and global efforts to save the Giant Panda. All of that coalesced into this little opinion piece.

Have you heard of the Yangtze River Dolphin? For the longest time, it used to be found along 1,700 kilometres of the middle and lower reaches of the mighty Chinese river. The Baiji, as it is known, was white finned, a little over two metres long, had poor eyesight and relied mainly on sonar for navigation. A few decades ago, as populations along the river grew, as shipping traffic rose, as more and more dams fragmenting the Baiji’s habitat came up, as fishing by increasingly impoverished Chinese intensified, Baiji numbers began to crash.

In late 2006, after an expedition failed to spot any Baiji in the river, it was declared “functionally extinct”. It was the first aquatic mammal to go extinct since the Japanese Sea Lion and the Caribbean Monk Seal in the 1950s. And it was the first Cetacean (whale) species in recorded human history to go extinct.

And, then, I argue that current modes of conservation are not working. And that perhaps what the earth needs is a independent watchdog for biodiversity, on the lines of Amnesty, that names and shames errant governments.

How does one fix this? And fast? In The Last Panda, his angry denunciation of Giant Panda conservation efforts by WWF and China, Schaller ends by wondering if we need a body that fights for biodiversity the way Amnesty fights for human rights. It’s an intriguing thought. An independent body that lobbies for biodiversity, and names and shames countries callous towards their biota, could (even partly) ensure that the interests of these species are factored in by policy makers.

This really is something that mankind needs to sort out fast. All species have as much of a claim to the planet as humans do. What is underway right now is nothing short of a genocide. With humans pushing other species off the planet.