Naseem Bagh, the impressive campus of the University of Kashmir hosted the 2-day Y20 event in which climate change was the focus amid downpours and unprecedented security arrangements, Raashid Andrabi reports
Amid foolproof security arrangements, a Y20 event was hosted by the University of Kashmir for two days. After a hiatus of 37 long years, the G20’s Youth Summit became the first global gathering to grace Kashmir after the historic, though ill-fated international cricket match between India and Australia played in September 1986.
The Y20 consultation was held in the run-up to the main G20 event that Srinagar will be hosting between May 22 and May 24.
The University of Kashmir, one of the fascinating academic campuses in the region was the main venue and the varsity was literally fortified to ensure an incident-free event. Officials said around 245 enthusiastic participants from around the world gathered for the consultation. These included 17 young delegates from 10 nations, including Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States, Brazil, and Nigeria. Some delegates representing the respective countries were already studying in India. Daria Kholkalcheva, a Russian delegate is pursuing Computer Science at Delhi University. Wiliams, who represented the US, also is an environmental science scholar at Delhi University.
The host segment included 108 students from the University of Kashmir, 34 students from schools around Jammu and Kashmir, 57 students from colleges around Srinagar, 11 students from colleges and universities of Jammu, 33 DoYA delegates, 25 Y20 secretariat delegates and 25 student activists participated in the event.
The two-day event was keenly felt by the city, with traffic jams and heightened security. In a mix of downpours and developmental activities at key city locations, the tensions of the global event were felt by almost everybody. Srinagar city is busy offering finishing touches to certain developmental projects so that the entire road from Srinagar airport to the Boulevard and the Lal Chowk look dazzling when the actual meeting takes place. In fact, the Y20 event conclusion coincided with the formal inauguration of the Polo View High Street, a marketplace that will now be the first pedestrian street and shopping centre, by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha.
Theme and Discussions
Given the fact that Kashmir has emerged as the crucible of climate change, the young delegates from the member nations were supposed to deliberate upon the issue. In the last few years, Kashmir has started witnessing the changes that are essentially the impact of climate change. These included low discharge in revivers, early melting of glaciers, involuntary crop changes, shifts in weather patterns and receding of snowlines.
Flagging Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s commitment to make India a zero Carbon emission country by 2070, LG Manoj Sinha highlighted the happenings on the ground towards greening Kashmir further. “In the last financial year only, we have planted more than 15 million trees across Jammu and Kashmir,” Sinha told the gathering in his inaugural address. “In the last few years, our forest cover has reached 55 per cent.”
Themed around, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction: Making Sustainability a Way of Life, the Y20 Consultation held four-panel discussions on the second day.
Global experts gathered for the first plenary session to discuss the critical issue of climate change’s impact on both biodiversity and human well-being. Led by Professor Shakil A Romshoo, the Vice Chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), the session’s panel of experts provided unique insights into the matter.
Dr Robert Pal, from Montana Technological University, USA, highlighted the devastating effects of climate change on biodiversity and stressed the importance of ecological restoration strategies based on multiple species. Dr Ruchhit RD, from the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, spoke about the increasing incidence of extreme rainfall events seen in the Indian Monsoon, urging farmers to adapt their sowing season accordingly. Dr Wazida Rahman, from the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law in Punjab, proposed the concept of environmental justice, similar to the climate justice advocated by India during recent multilateral negotiations.
Dr Remya, from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kerala, drew attention to the issue of glacier melting in the Himalayas, which has resulted in a drastic decline in agricultural production in hilly and downstream plain areas.
The second day of the conference brought together some of the most influential minds in academia and entrepreneurship, all under one roof. The second plenary session, moderated by Professor M Sultan Bhat from the University of Kashmir, delved into the critical topic of Disaster Risk Reduction for Safe Tomorrow. The panellists included experts like India-origin Australian Dr Akhilesh Surjan from Charles Darwin University in Australia, Dr Ajanta Goswami from the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee, and Dr Ashim Sattar from the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru.
The third plenary session on Green Energy- Innovations and Opportunities moderated by NIT Srinagar’s highly respected Prof Seemin Rubab shed light on the issue. The 18-minute session that concluded in 24 minutes saw panellists Dr Siddhartha Khare (IIT Roorkee), Prasiddhi Singh, a social entrepreneur and environmental activist, and Vikas Pandey, an entrepreneur with expertise in clean energy making their suggestion in addition to the brief interventions by Akhilesh Surjan and Sharmistha Banerjee. The discussion revolved around the challenges and opportunities in green energy and was thought-provoking and enlightening.
The fourth and final plenary session on Water Resources: Challenges and Prospects, moderated by Dr G. Balachander from Krishi Bounty Biotech, was interesting. It saw experts Dr Julia Osterman from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), Dr Vamsi Krishna Vema from NIT Warangal (Telangana), and Dr Sunil Gurrapu from the National Institute of Hydrology (Roorkee, Uttarakhand), sharing their insights. Dr Shruti Singh from Sharda University (UP) and Khalid Jehangir, a BJP leader who is also the Chairman of ICPS, Srinagar, also offered their perspectives.
After the sessions, the host University organised a heritage tour to the Mughal Garden Nishat and Pari Mahal, followed by a group dinner, providing attendees with an opportunity to get immersed in the local culture and witness the historic sites of Srinagar. They had already witnessed part of the culture at the inauguration when the traditional bands played the routine flute and the drums and the folk singers remained busy in singing the popular numbers.
Regardless of the high-pitch discussions on the crucial issues, what dominated the audience scene was hunger. A Kashmir University student spoke about her disappointing experience in attending the event. She claimed that the majority of attendees were present at the event since 8 am but were not provided with lunch or any other refreshments during the long day. She also alleged that the organizers did not allow any opportunity for interaction between the students and the panellists.
“It was a frustrating experience,” she said. “We were not given any chance to interact with the panellists. The event seemed to be designed solely for the benefit of the organisers and the panellists, with no consideration given to the students who were attending.”
Students also expressed surprise at the choice of panellists, particularly a side role actress from Bollywood films. “It was shocking to see a Bollywood actress as one of the panellists. What expertise does she have to contribute to a serious discussion? It felt like a publicity stunt,” the student observed.
The Day 2
On the second day of the event, the Y20 Consultation was a vibrant gathering at the University of Kashmir’s Convocation Complex. Prof Manzoor A Shah, in his welcome address, laid out the broad objectives of the Y20 Consultation. Pankaj Kumar followed with a brief overview of Y20, setting the tone for the consultation.
Akash Jha, Secretary of Y20 India, emphasised the importance of hearing the youth’s voice in global decisions as it impacts the youth stakeholders the most. India’s Presidency is not confined to the elite class, but it is a people’s Presidency where Y20 is a leading partner, he claimed.
Prof Nilofer Khan, VC University of Kashmir said they chose the theme of climate change for Y20 Consultation because the youth have more at stake in the fight against the climate crisis.
This was the third event related to the Y20 happenings in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Two events had already taken place in Ladakh and Jammu University. However, these are run up to the main event which is the G20 meeting by the members of the Working Group on Tourism.
The reaction to the events has been mixed. While some top politicians dubbed the events as tamasha, a section of administration and the stakeholders in the hospitality sector believe the event will lead to the undoing of advisories issued by various G20 member states advising its citizens against visiting Kashmir. Will it happen or not, it is too early to say.
Right now the entire focus of the administration is on ensuring an incident-free event for which the entire security grid is on tenterhooks. Marcos, the naval commandos and NSG will be out in addition to other members of the security grid to prevent any kind of tension. Every inch of the space that is somehow linked to the key event is being scanned and is under tight guard. Apart from Union Home Secretary who visited Kashmir for a security review, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha recently presided over an elaborate security review meeting.