1. 20 red pandas to make a home in the forests
In first rewilding programme of these animals, Darjeeling zoo to release them in Singalila National Park
The Singalila National Park, the highest protected area in West Bengal, will soon get new denizens. A zoo in the picturesque Darjeeling Hills has started an ambitious programme to augment the wild red panda population.
In the first rewilding programme of red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) in India, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park will release 20 of these furry endangered mammals in about five years to the forests.
The number of red pandas has been declining in the wild, even in the Singalila and Neora Valley National Parks, the two protected areas where the mammal is found in the wild in West Bengal. Recent studies estimate that there are 38 of them in Singalila and 32 in Neora.
Basavaraj Holeyachi, Director of the zoological park who is at the centre of the Red Panda Augment- ation Programme, says conservation breeding of red pandas is only one part of the programme. Selection of animals to be released in the wild, breaking their food association with humans and tagging the animals released in the wild are crucial factors in rewilding of the red panda population, he adds.
The Padmaja Naidu park, at a height of about 2,000 metres above the sea level, is one of the high-altitude zoos in the country and has been quite successful in captive breeding of the furry mammals.
With the birth of a couple of cubs a few weeks ago, the number of red pandas at the Darjeeling zoo has increased to 27. Dr. Holeyachi told The Hindu it was the coordination zoo for conservation breeding of red pandas in the country with decades of experience. He said most other high-altitude zoos were participatory zoos that have animals given by it.
In 2021, two pairs of red pandas were released in the Singalila park. While two died, signals were received from two animals who managed to survive in the wild. The zoo director said this year, three females are likely to be released in October in Singalila. Dr. Holeyachi said the whole process of selection and identification of animals to be released in the wild is time-consuming and meticulous.
Categorised as an endangered species as per IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, red pandas are shy, solitary and arboreal animals and considered an indicator species for ecological change.
- When we conserve and protect the whole ecosystem, its biodiversity at all levels is protected. E.g. we save the entire forest to save the tiger. This approach is called in in-situ (on site) conservation.
- However, when there are situations where an animal or plant is endangered or threatened and needs urgent measures to save it from extinction, ex-situ (off-site) conservation is the desirable approach.
Benefits of Biodiversity conservation
- Conservation of biological diversity leads to conservation of essential ecological diversity to preserve the continuity of food chains.
- The genetic diversity of plants and animals is preserved.
- It ensures the sustainable utilisation of life support systems on earth.
- It provides a vast knowledge of potential use to the community.
- A reservoir of wild animals and plants is preserved, thus enabling them to be introduced, if need be, in the surrounding areas.
- Biodiversity conservation assures sustainable utilization of potential resources.
In situ conservation
- In-situ conservation is the on-site conservation of genetic resources in natural populations of plant or animal species.
- In India, ecologically unique and biodiversity-rich regions are legally protected as biosphere reserves, national parks, sanctuaries, reserved forests, protected forests and nature reserves.
- India now has 18 biosphere reserves, 104 national parks and 500 wildlife sanctuaries.
- Plantation, cultivation, grazing, felling trees, hunting and poaching are prohibited in biosphere reserves, national parks and sanctuaries.
Protected Area Network in India
- National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), chaired by the Prime Minister of India provides for policy framework for wildlife conservation in the country.
- The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) was adopted in 2002, emphasizing the people’s participation and their support for wildlife conservation.
Reserved & Protected Forests
- As of present, reserved forests and protected forests differ in one important way:
- Rights to all activities like hunting, grazing, etc. in reserved forests are banned unless specific orders are issued otherwise.
- In protected areas, rights to activities like hunting and grazing are sometimes given to communities living on the fringes of the forest, who sustain their livelihood from forest resources or products.
- The first reserve forest in India was Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
- Typically, reserved forests are often upgraded to the status of wildlife sanctuaries, which in turn may be upgraded to the status of national parks, with each category receiving a higher degree of protection and government funding.
In terms of protection, National Parks > Wildlife Sanctuary > Reserved forests > Protected forests
Wildlife Sanctuaries or wildlife refuges
- Wildlife Sanctuaries or wildlife refuges are home to various endangered species.
- They are safe from hunting, predation or competition.
- They are safeguarded from extinction in their natural habitat.
- Certain rights of people living inside the Sanctuary could be permitted.
- Grazing, firewood collection by tribals is allowed but strictly regulated.
- Settlements not allowed (few exceptions: tribal settlements do exist constant; efforts are made to relocate them).
- A Sanctuary can be promoted to a National Park.
- There are more than 500 wildlife sanctuaries in India.
- National parks are areas reserved for wildlife where they can freely use the habitats and natural resources.
- The difference between a Sanctuary and a National Park mainly lies in the vesting of rights of people living inside.
- Unlike a Sanctuary, where certain rights can be allowed, in a National Park, no rights are allowed.
- No grazing of any livestock shall also be permitted inside a National Park while in a Sanctuary, the Chief Wildlife Warden may regulate, control or prohibit it.
- The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002–2016) of MoEFCC stipulated that state governments should declare land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as eco-fragile zones or ESZs under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986.
- The purpose of the ESZ was to provide more protection to the parks by acting as a shock absorber or transition zone.
- Eco-Sensitive Zones would minimise forest depletion and man-animal conflict.
- The protected areas are based on the core and buffer model of management.
- The core area has the legal status of being a national park.
- The buffer area, however, does not have legal status of being a national park and could be a reserved forest, wildlife sanctuary or tiger reserve.
- Large areas of protected land for conservation of wildlife, plant and animal resources and traditional life of the tribals living in the area.
- May have one or more national parks or wildlife sanctuaries in it.
- Comprises a strictly protected ecosystem for conserving ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
- In core or natural zone human activity is not allowed.
- Used for scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
- Ecologically sustainable human settlements and economic activities (tourism) are permitted.
- With the cooperation of reserve management and local people, several human activities like settlements, cropping, recreation, and forestry are carried out without disturbing the environment.
Biosphere Reserves in India
- There are 18 biosphere reserves in India:
- Cold Desert, Himachal Pradesh
- Nanda Devi, Uttrakhand
- Khangchendzonga, Sikkim
- Dehang-Debang, Arunachal Pradesh
- Manas, Assam
- Dibru-Saikhowa, Assam
- Nokrek, Meghalaya
- Panna, Madhya Pradesh
- Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh
- Achanakmar-Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh
- Kachchh, Gujarat (Largest Area)
- Similipal, Odisha
- Sundarban, West Bengal
- Seshachalam, Andhra Pradesh
- Agasthyamala, Karnataka-Tamil Nadu-Kerala
- Nilgiri, Tamil Nadu-Kerala (First to be Included)
- Gulf of Mannar, Tamil Nadu
- Great Nicobar, Andaman & Nicobar Island
- Same as sanctuaries. But they are monitored by NTCA under Project Tiger.
- The various tiger reserves were created in the country based on ‘core-buffer’ strategy.
- The core areas are freed of all human activities.
- It has the legal status of a national park or wildlife sanctuary.
- Collection of minor forest produce, grazing, and other human disturbances are not allowed.
- Twin objectives:
- providing habitat supplement to spill overpopulation of wild animals from core area.
- provide site-specific co-developmental inputs to surrounding villages for relieving their impact on core area.
- Collection of minor forest produce and grazing by tribals is allowed on a sustainable basis.
- The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 recognises the rights of some forest dwelling communities in forest areas.
- Conservation Reserves can be declared by the State Governments in any area owned by the Government, particularly the areas adjacent to National Parks and Sanctuaries and those areas which link one Protected Area with another.
- Such a declaration should be made after having consultations with the local communities.
- The rights of people living inside a Conservation Reserve are not affected.
- Community Reserves can be declared by the State Government in any private or community land, not comprised within a National Park, Sanctuary or a Conservation Reserve, where an individual or a community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat.
- As in the case of a Conservation Reserve, the rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.
- India has a history of religious/cultural traditions that emphasised the protection of nature.
- In many cultures, tracts of forest were set aside, and all the trees and wildlife within were venerated and given total protection.
- Such sacred groves are found in Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan, Western Ghat regions of Karnataka and Maharashtra and the Sarguja, Chanda and Bastar areas of Madhya Pradesh.
- In Meghalaya, the sacred groves are the last refuges for a large number of rare and threatened plants.
Ex Situ Conservation
- In this approach, threatened animals and plants are taken out from their natural habitat and placed in special setting where they can be protected and given special care.
- Zoological parks, botanical gardens, wildlife safari parks and seed banks serve this purpose.
- There are many animals that have become extinct in the wild but continue to be maintained in zoological parks.
- In recent years ex-situ conservation has advanced beyond keeping threatened species.
- Now gametes of threatened species can be preserved in viable and fertile condition for long periods using cryopreservation techniques.
- Eggs can be fertilized in vitro, and plants can be propagated using tissue culture methods.
- Seeds of different genetic strains of commercially important plants can be kept for long periods in seed banks.
- The national gene bank at National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), Delhi is primarily responsible for conservation of unique accessions on long-term basis, as base collections for posterity, predominantly in the form of seeds.
- Botanical garden refers to the scientifically planned collection of living trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers and other plants from various parts of the globe.
Purpose of botanical gardens
- To study the taxonomy as well as growth of plants.
- To study the introduction and acclimatization process of exotic plants.
- It augments conserving rare and threatened species.
- Zoo is an establishment, whether stationary or mobile, where captive animals are kept for exhibition to the public and includes a circus and rescue centres but does not include an establishment of a licensed dealer in captive animals.
- The initial purpose of zoos was entertainment, over the decades, zoos have got transformed into centres for wildlife conservation and environmental education.
- Apart from saving individual animals, zoos have a role to play in species conservation too (through captive breeding).
- Zoos provide an opportunity to open up a whole new world, and this could be used in sensitizing visitors regarding the value and need for conservation of wildlife.
Historic Citizen Movements to Conserve Biodiversity
- It is a social-ecological movement that practiced the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and nonviolent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from falling.
- The modern Chipko movement started in the early 1970s in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, with growing awareness towards rapid deforestation.
- The landmark event in this struggle took place on March 26, 1974, when a group of peasant women in Reni village, Hemwalghati, in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, India, acted to prevent the cutting of trees and reclaim their traditional forest rights that were threatened by the contractor system of the state Forest Department.
- Their actions inspired hundreds of such actions at the grassroots level throughout the region.
- By the 1980s the movement had spread throughout India and led to formulation of people-sensitive forest policies, which put a stop to the open felling of trees in regions as far reaching as Vindhyas and the Western Ghats.
- The first recorded event of Chipko however, took place in village Khejarli, Jodhpur district, in 1730 AD, when 363 Bishnois, led by Amrita Devi sacrificed their lives while protecting green Khejri trees, considered sacred by the community, by hugging them.
- Appiko movement was a revolutionary movement based on environmental conservation in India.
- The Chipko movement in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas inspired the villagers of the district of Karnataka province in southern India to launch a similar movement to save their forests.
- In September 1983, men, women and children of Salkani ‘hugged the trees’ in Kalase forest. (The local term for ‘hugging’ in Kannada is appiko.)
- Appiko movement gave birth to a new awareness all over southern India.
2. Artificial diet, feeding device for mosquitoes
ICMR bid to patent two new products
The ICMR-Vector Control Research Centre (VCRC), Puducherry, has filed patent applications for two of its unique products — an artificial diet and a feeding device for mosquitoes reared in laboratory — with the Indian Patent Office recently.
The team has also planned to approach to patent it at the global level.
“Both the products have been awarded a unique number which will protect the Intellectual Property (IP) of both,” Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Director of VCRC said.
The two products allow efficient and cost-effective mass-rearing of mosquitoes in laboratory as it is important to keep these mosquitoes healthy to investigate basic facets of their biology and to study vector-borne disease and measures to control it.
Speaking about the products, Dr. Nisha Mathew, one of the inventors who formulated 18 different diets, said: “Mosquito females require animal or human blood diet to produce eggs. For this, blood has to be obtained from blood banks or live animals. Regular supply of blood from blood banks is not easy. Considering these challenges and huge potential demand, we have zeroed in on four artificial diets for feeding.”
She further explains, “These four diets prepared for female mosquitoes are like a baby formula food and have all the essential nutrients, which are present in the blood. These diets would attract hungry female mosquitoes to accept the meal, taste like blood, produce healthy and viable eggs which should hatch like normal eggs, form healthy offspring useful for laboratory research and mass production whenever necessary.”
Dr. Kumar said that the foods needed to be kept at a certain temperature. “It was very difficult to maintain the feed temperature to the optimum level of 37 degrees Celsius, which is human body temperature, by usual water circulation or by using the melted wax,” he said.
Dr. Mathew said, “Hence a device with controlled temperature was invented.”
The director said, “These products are a success story of an artificial mosquito diet and feeder that is commercially viable and has great potential in rearing mosquitoes for research purposes. It is also capable of mass production of mosquitoes for their control based on sterile insect technology, population replacement, or population reduction study and Wolbachia endosymbiont bacteria-based control operations.”
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)
Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period.
These are defined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides for the right to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from authorship of scientific, literary, or artistic productions.
The importance of intellectual property was first recognized in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886). Both treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; symbols, names, and images used in commerce.
IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright, and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.
Types of Intellectual Property Rights:
Copyright is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. Works covered by copyright range from books, music, paintings, sculpture, and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. Generally speaking, a patent provides the patent owner with the right to decide how – or whether – the invention can be used by others. In exchange for this right, the patent owner makes technical information about the invention publicly available in the published patent document.
The following cannot be patented:
- Frivolous Invention: Invention that harms public order/Morality/ health of animals, plants & humans
- Methods of agriculture or horticulture
- Traditional Knowledge
- Computer Program
- Inventions related to Atomic Energy
- Plants & Animals
- Mere discovery of the scientific principle
A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises. Trademarks date back to ancient times when artisans used to put their signature or “mark” on their products.
An industrial design constitutes the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. A design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines, or color. Industrial property can usefully be divided into two main areas:
One area can be characterized as the protection of distinctive signs, in particular trademarks (which distinguish the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings) and geographical indications (which identify a good as originating in a place where a given characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin).
- The protection of such distinctive signs aims to stimulate and ensure fair competition and to protect consumers, by enabling them to make informed choices between various goods and services. The protection may last indefinitely, provided they sign in question continues to be distinctive
Other types of industrial property are protected primarily to stimulate innovation, design, and the creation of technology. In this category fall invention (protected by patents), industrial designs, and trade secrets.
- The social purpose is to protect the results of investment in the development of new technology, thus giving the incentive and means to finance research and development activities.
- A functioning intellectual property regime should also facilitate the transfer of technology in the form of foreign direct investment, joint ventures, and licensing.
- The protection is usually given for a finite term (typically 20 years in the case of patents).
Geographical indications and appellations of origin are signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, a reputation, or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication includes the name of the place of origin of the goods.
Trade secrets are IP rights on confidential information which may be sold or licensed. The unauthorized acquisition, use, or disclosure of such secret information in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices by others is regarded as an unfair practice and a violation of the trade secret protection.
World Intellectual Property day
On April 26 every year we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day to promote discussion of the role of IP in encouraging innovation and creativity.
This year, World Intellectual Property Day 2022’s theme focuses on IP and Youth innovating for a Better Future. It explores how these innovative, energetic, and creative minds are driving positive change.
India and Intellectual Property Rights
Acts Dealing with Intellectual Property Rights in India:
- The Copyright Act, 1957
- The Patents Act, 1970
- The Trade Marks Act, 1999
- The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999
India adopted the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy as a vision document to guide the future development of IPRs in the country.
- The Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) under the Ministry of Commerce has been appointed as the nodal department to coordinate, guide, and oversee the implementation and future development of IPRs in India.
- The ‘Cell for IPR Promotion & Management (CIPAM)’, set up under DIPP, is to be the single point of reference for the implementation of the objectives of the National IPR Policy.
The campaign ‘KAPILA’, which stands for Kalam Program for Intellectual Property Literacy and Awareness campaign, was launched on 15th October 2020. The day was launched in honor of the 89th birth anniversary of former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
India is a member of the World trade organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Agreement.
India is also a member of the following important WIPO-administered International Treaties and Conventions relating to IPRs.
- Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for Patent Procedure
- Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property
- Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization
- Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
- Patent Cooperation Treaty
- Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks- Madrid Protocol
- Washington Treaty on Intellectual Property in respect of Integrated Circuits
- Nairobi Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol
- Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms
- Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities.
Drawbacks of the Indian IPR system
Evergreening of Patents:
- Section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act 1970 (as amended in 2005)does not allow patents to be granted to inventions involving new forms of a known substance unless it differs significantly in properties about efficacy.
- This means that the Indian Patent Act does not allow the evergreening of patents. The pharma companies have been facing problems due to this.
- Compulsory licensing is problematic for foreign investors who bring technology as they are concerned about the misuse of CL to replicate their products. It has been impacting India-EU FTA negotiations.
- It is the grant of permission by the government to entities to use, manufacture, import, or sell a patented invention without the patent owner’s consent. Patents Act in India deals with CL.
- It is permitted under the WTO’s TRIPS (IPR) Agreement provided conditions such as ‘national emergencies, other circumstances of extreme urgency and anti-competitive practices’ are fulfilled.
- Foreign investors complain that the Indian law does not contain the unfair commercial use of test data submitted to the government during the application for market approval.
- A data exclusivity law is being demanded from the Indian side.
Advantages And Disadvantages of Intellectual Property Rights
Advantages of IPR
- Safeguards creators rights
- Promotes innovation and creativity
- Facilitates ease of doing business
- Enhances economic value
- Expands the export regime
Disadvantages of IPR
- Expensive for first IPR filing for nay process of the product.
- Pirating has still not stopped after IPR protection.
- Quality is compromised with the aging of IPR.
- IPR was considered a hindrance during the COVID-19 vaccine distribution system initially as IPR restrictions made low and middle-income countries unable to manufacture vaccines domestically.
3. Study finds three asymptomatic monkeypox cases
The monkeypox viral loads were similar immaterial of whether people showed symptoms or not
Monkeypox is transmitted by close contact with people who have symptomatic infection, and all those infected are assumed to show symptoms. But a recent study has found that people can be infected with monkeypox without showing any of the typical or atypical symptoms. The preprint has been posted in medrXiv server, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.
The study found three men tested positive for monkeypox but have no symptoms whatsoever. “All three men denied having had any symptoms in the weeks before and after the sample was taken. None of them reported exposure to a diagnosed monkeypox case, nor did any of their contacts develop clinical monkeypox,” the preprint notes.
Similar to smallpox, everyone who is infected with monkeypox is expected to develop symptoms, and the virus is considered to spread through close contact with people who show symptoms. Since every individual infected with monkeypox is assumed to develop symptoms, and since close contact is most often needed for the virus to spread, it is considered that staying away from infected people and maintaining simple hygienic measures can halt the spread of monkeypox virus, as observed in several outbreaks in endemic regions.
But asymptomatic transmission can change and challenge the efforts to contain the monkeypox outbreak, which till July 4 has been reported in 6,027 people across 59 countries, including those in endemic countries in Africa.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the “extent to which asymptomatic infection may occur is unknown”.
The researchers retrospectively screened 224 clinical samples collected for sexually transmitted infection (gonorrhea or chlamydia) throughout the month of May 2022 with a monkeypox-specific PCR. And they found evidence of asymptomatic monkeypox virus infection in three individuals. They tested anorectal and/or oropharyngeal samples collected from 224 people at the HIV/STI clinic of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.
All the three men who tested positive for monkeypox were informed about their diagnosis and recalled to the clinic for additional case investigation and contact tracing. Follow-up samples were collected from all three men when they were recalled to the clinic. The repeat samples collected 21-27 days later were all negative.
At the time they were recalled to the clinic, none of them showed signs or symptoms of monkeypox and all denied having noticed any symptoms during the two months prior or three weeks after initial sampling, the authors write. All three men had condomless sexual intercourse with at least one male partner within a few days to one month before the sampling.
The authors note that one of the three men who tested positive for monkeypox and was asymptomatic predated the first detected symptomatic case in Belgium by several days. There was no epidemiological link to any other monkeypox case, nor did he report international travel or participation in mass gatherings.
“This may indicate that monkeypox virus circulated among asymptomatic individuals in Belgium before the outbreak was detected,” they write.
The researchers also note that the cycle threshold (Ct) values in anorectal samples taken from the asymptomatic men were “similar or lower than those in samples taken from typical monkeypox skin lesions”. Based on the lower Ct values of anorectal samples, the researchers note that the “anorectal mucosa of asymptomatic cases may be as infectious as skin lesions of symptomatic cases”.
Similar viral loads
The anorectal cycle threshold values of symptomatic cases were in the same range as those who did not show symptoms. This, according to the authors, suggests similar viral loads immaterial of whether they showed symptoms or not. “This would support the hypothesis that monkeypox virus can be transmitted via anal sex, even in the absence of symptoms,” they write.
They also add, “It is possible that in the current outbreak in non-endemic settings, asymptomatic carriership plays a more substantial role in virus transmission… In the current outbreak, the skin eruption often remains localised at the site of inoculation, and the mode of transmission seems to be sexual. In this case, asymptomatic carriership, especially with high viral loads in the anal mucosa, could, therefore, be a significant driver of transmission.”
Unnoticed skin lesions
While they state that transmission of the virus in the absence of noticeable symptoms might explain why self-isolation at symptom onset has been insufficient to halt the epidemic thus far, they caution that the three men may not have been completely free of symptoms at first presentation when samples were collected. This is because no clinical examination was conducted then and no symptoms were reported then due to recall bias or because the small skin lesions went unnoticed.
But more studies are needed to confirm or refute the findings of these researchers. Meanwhile, more efforts should be directed at identifying asymptomatic cases through increased contact tracing, and screening high risk populations, they say.
4. A multilateral platform in a polarised world
Faced with challenges from the post-pandemic economic slump to Russia’s aggression, the grouping, unlike in the past, finds itself in a difficult situation amid growing disunity
In the late 1990s, as the existing geo-economic multilateral order was found ineffective in dealing with the Mexican, Asian and Russian financial crises, countries moved towards forming G-20
A group of developed and emerging economies, including OECD and BRICS, were chosen as a “perfect mix” of the old world and new to create the new grouping
During the 2007 financial crisis, G-20 members took concerted actions, including boosting spending and lowering trade barriers, to revive economies
In a world where multilateralism appears to be gasping for breath, the G-20 Foreign Minister’s meeting in Bali dealt a few more blows. “We cannot deny that it has become more difficult for the world to sit together,” said Retno Marsudi, Indonesian Foreign Minister who hosted the meeting this week, even as G-7 countries skipped a welcome reception and concert to protest the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Mr. Lavrov walked out of one meeting over comments made by Western countries about the war in Ukraine, and another, just before the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, a special invitee to the session on food security, began to speak.
It seems the road between the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, expected to be followed by an equally acrimonious G-20 Finance Ministers’ meeting on July 15-16, which will finalise the agenda, can only lead to an even more contentious G-20 summit four months later, on November 15-16, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to address the gathering as a special invitee. The U.S. has already demanded Mr. Putin be disinvited, or U.S. and European countries would boycott his address. Sensing the difficulties, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who attended the G-7 summit in Germany as a special invitee, also travelled to Kyiv and Moscow last month, and met with both leaders in the hope of keeping the G-20 together, as it faces what is probably its greatest organisational challenge in 23 years of its existence. India, which will assume the Presidency of the G-20 in December, will have to bear the burden of ensuring the G-20’s continued existence in a globally polarised world through 2023.
In many ways, (minus the Russia-Ukraine war), the present moment reflects many of the crises that led to the creation of the G-20 in the first place in 1999. At the time, the geo-economic multilateral order was dominated by the G-8 countries (now the G-7, after the ouster of Russia), and it was clear that they were ineffective in dealing with the Mexican, Asian and Russian Financial Crises of 1997-98.
The larger global economic grouping at the time, the 38-member OECD that was created out of the post-World War reconstruction effort, was equally unworkable, and weighted towards the U.S. and Europe. This led to the first G-20 meeting, of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, to look at the world through a more “Global South” perspective.
Two men in particular, Canadian Finance Minister (and later PM) Paul Martin, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers were credited with the push for this larger grouping, which they said would move beyond the “denizens of Davos” to people who work in “Detroit and Düsseldorf”, referring to manufacturing hubs of the time. Along with economists from the OECD, which remains the G-20’s strategic adviser, they chose from a basket of emerging economies (all BRICS countries are in G-20) to create the G-20 as a “perfect mix” of the old world and new, of the first world and the developing world; of the traditional, ageing global elites, and the more populous, bustling and growing economies.
The final list read: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States, along with the European Union. Spain is a permanent invitee, as are several international agencies like the UN, the IMF, ASEAN, the African Union, etc. Some have joked that only 19 countries are actually G-20 members (as the EU is not a country), proving that “finance ministers can’t count”, but a little-known fact, disclosed by Mr. Martin years later, was that Nigeria was meant to be the “20th” member, and was dropped at the last minute due to political troubles. Today, G-20 members account for 60% of the global population, 75% of global trade and more than 80% of world GDP.
The G-20 has no fixed headquarters, and the secretariat moves by rotation between the countries hosting or assuming Presidency of the grouping each year. The members are divided into five groups (India is in Group 2, along with Russia, South Africa and Turkey). The G-20 agenda that still depends heavily on the guidance of Finance Ministers and central Governors is finalised by a unique system of ‘Sherpas’, who are special envoys of G-20 leaders. Another feature of the G-20 is ‘Troika’ meetings, comprising the countries presiding over the G-20 in the past year, present year, and next year. At present, the Troika is made up of Italy, Indonesia and India.
The G-20’s next big leap came during the global financial crisis in 2007. It was clearly a time for leadership to step in, and the first G-20 summit was held in 2008 in Washington DC, hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush. Experts saw the G-20 agreements in 2008 and 2009, where the grouping agreed to revive economies with a spending boost worth $4 trillion, lowering trade barriers and implementing economic and governance reforms, as proof that the new grouping could actually work, and even save the global financial system through concerted action.
That enthusiasm didn’t last, and the next decade brought with it new challenges, as China’s strategic rise, NATO’s expansion and Russia’s territorial aggression in Georgia and Crimea changed global priorities. Today, the world continues to struggle with sharpening geopolitical rivalries, and a possible dilution of the dollar-based system post-Ukraine sanctions, even as it deals with the new realities of post-COVID economics. Globalisation is no longer a cool word, and multilateral organisations have a credibility crisis as countries around the world pick being ‘G-zero’ (a term coined by political commentator Ian Bremmer to denote ‘Every Nation for Itself’) over the G-7, G-20, BRICS, P-5 (UNSC Permanent Members) and others.
For India, the G-20’s challenges come with the prestige of hosting the Summit next November, when global leaders will descend on New Delhi, and meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi just months before national elections in 2024. In the past few weeks, India has been more vocal about working with Indonesia to build a consensus for the Bali agenda, and has also begun the process of setting up G-20 structures here. Former NITI Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant has been appointed the PM’s G-20 Sherpa, and former Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla will be the G-20 Coordinator. The government plans to hold 100 preparatory meetings in different parts of the country, which led to a controversy over whether the G-20 summit or Ministerial level meetings would be held in Jammu Kashmir.
Amid protests from Pakistan and China, the MEA has clarified that no decisions have been made yet. The G-20 venue is likely to be at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, where the construction of roads, conference halls, hotels and landscaping is under way. The bigger challenges, however, will remain for India to assist Indonesia in protecting the idea of the G-20, and keeping it from fragmentation in the face of geopolitical fissures, where leaders are loath to hear each other speak, or even sit in the same room together.