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Last Updated : May 10, 2020 12:03 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

COVID-19 | India can turn this crisis into an environmental and economic opportunity

The coronavirus pandemic is a reminder to all, especially India, that all forms of life is necessary and must be protected for our survival


Three weeks after being locked into homes there is now the beginning of a realisation that our future as a species demands a drastic rethink of our present style of destructive and exploitative living — a living which thrives on ‘development’ .

The Vice-President has elaborated on this, quoting from the Rig Veda to underline the inescapable link between the happiness of mankind and all other lives on earth — animals, plants, and rivers. Other religions, like Buddhism, also base themselves on the ‘oneness’ of all things.

On another level, scientists, such as, late Barry Commoner have been warning since 1971 that ‘everything is connected to everything else’. In 2006, biologists found a dramatic ‘bootprint’ of changes in the ecosystem, indicating nature in trouble, and inevitably, humankind. However, governments ignored it all, to deliver greater cities, more technology, fast cars and faster trains. In the process, waste piled up, the air was poisoned, and the water foamed.


India did the same, but with less excuse. This country has an age-old tradition of respecting environment, which is seen in the worship of a whole legion of birds and animals.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Apart from the temples to Ganesh and Hanuman, are lesser known traditions of respecting life around us. The Sarus Crane, for instance, is seen as a symbol of loyalty and love. The crow is viewed as a departed soul in much of South India, ensuring that it is fed regularly. The peacock is forever known as the ‘vahana’ of Indra, while the Brahminy kite is that of Vishnu.

Trees and plants are also knit into religion. The kalpavriksh thrives in paintings as the ‘tree of life’, while the mahua is intrinsic to weddings of certain tribes. There is the humble banana tree that is equated to a guru’s presence, and the lore that surrounds the sacred fig (peepal) that leads it to becoming the central ‘deity’ in a temple. Plants, such as the holy basil (tulsi) retains its status as sacred, as does the neem. All of this is wisdom that is handed down through centuries.

Over the years the rituals remained, but the lesson that these species were intrinsic to our own lives was lost. With rapid and unplanned urban growth these rituals have descended into the macabre. For instance, the belief that seeing an owl is lucky during the time of Dussehra has led to animal traffickers bundling helpless owls into a sack, so that believers can pay good money to take a peek. After all, where can the average Mumbaikar or Delhite hope to see an owl?

In the same way, the peacock has been hunted down for its feathers for that fan in the prayer room. The peepul trees of road side ‘temples’ have long gone, reduced to a stump as the entirely illegal structure expands.

Then there is further descent into ‘traditional’ medicine, particularly for aphrodisiacs. The white owl meat is prized for this, while snakes are fair game to a variety of cultures. The donkey and the leopard have been hunted down for similar ends. The Chinese do it on a large scale, but we’re not far behind.

A culture that once entirely understood that all other life on earth was necessary to keep our own species going, has been lost entirely in the cities where more than 30 percent of the population lives. Mumbai’s population has increased six times since 1950 while Delhi’s has increased by 26 times. This concentration has naturally led to India being tagged as having the top-most polluted cities in the world.

Unsurprisingly, new research suggests that people already exposed to long periods of polluted air are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Other diseases lie around the corner. There were more than 600,000 dengue cases which killed more than a 1,000 people in the last four years. Right now, the health ministry struggling with an outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) with 28 dead, and 83,000 cases in the last three years. Overcrowded and dirty cities are sitting ducks for viruses and vector-borne diseases alike.

Leaders such as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that a crisis was an opportunity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, was well aware of this in terms of the rebuilding the state after a devastating earthquake in 2001. Infrastructure has been a key pathway for spurring development in recent times, with some 40 Asian countries, including China, building new cities from the ground up.

In 2017, the Modi-led central government announced plans to double housing and commercial space, including the ‘Smart Cities’ programme. However that plan was structured for a pre-COVID19 world. Given that the government is urgently looking for any way to rev up growth and employment, there is the possibility to channel an estimated $70 trillion in private funds looking for a place to invest, into a new infrastructure project.

That would mean either a re-jig of the existing projects such as the ‘smart cities’ projects or the building of small self-contained cities linked to villages in a hub and spoke model. The model, however, needs a learning of the lessons of the pandemic, which includes law and order, health, zero emissions, new energy sources and, most of all, which knits in the environment into its overall design for a near perfect balance.

There’s been enough talk of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which means the earth is indeed family — now implement it. Show the world how it’s done. Our own lives quite literally depend on it.

Tara Kartha is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.
First Published on Apr 17, 2020 01:12 pm