Selected Articles from Various News Paper: Civil Services Mentor Magazine - March 2016

Selected Articles from Various Newspapers & Journals

A climate more congenial to India

Is the Paris Agreement on climate change a good or bad deal for India?

Efforts at international cooperation imply that countries must concede something with the intent of obtaining some greater gain. The premise of the climate agreement is that by agreeing to some checks on national greenhouse gas emissions, and hence energy use patterns, each country benefits from decreased collective exposure to harmful global climate change. Most Indian analyses of the Paris Agreement have focussed on the concession — what did India give up? But since India is a country at great risk from climate impacts, a balanced reckoning requires a close look at both sides of the ledger, the loss and the gain.

On the loss side, India’s long-standing objective in climate talks is to avoid undue limits on energy options. This is important, as India will require a great deal more energy in the coming decades: for commercial cooking fuels, access to electricity, and power for industries and commerce to provide livelihoods. Although huge, these needs are also uncertain; much depends on how India grows, and on how technology changes. This uncertainty also makes negotiation difficult, as it is hard to know how much to bargain away without causing harm.

The bedrock of India’s approach to ensuring we do not give away our energy future is the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities” embedded in the underlying Framework Convention on Climate Change. Without this safeguard, all countries would have been placed on the same footing. India, despite contributing little to the problem and having limited capacity to address it, would have been placed under undue pressure to prematurely limit emissions. Developed countries have long argued for a dilution of this principle, saying that the world has changed since 1990 when the Convention was negotiated —particularly referring to the rise of China — and that static lists of developed and developing countries fail to capture this dynamic global context.

This deadlock was broken at Paris by acknowledging that the world has indeed changed, yet not so much that these categories are no longer relevant; developed and developing country categories are retained but made more fluid. Moreover, the Agreement usefully specifies what the principle means in practice for key climate policy areas such as mitigation, adaptation, finance, and transparency provisions. In this respect, India demonstrated some nimbleness at Paris, by shifting from arguing for blanket invocation of the principle to seeking its specific application in key areas.

For example, in the core mitigation area, the Agreement states that developed countries should take the lead with economy-wide emission reduction targets, while developing countries should aspire to do so over time, recognising that they will need to grow their emissions. This allows some countries to cross categories when it deems fit, as China has done by pledging a “peaking year” for its emissions, while allowing other, like India, to persist with an emissions intensity pledge, which allows emissions to rise. Significantly, it maintains a distinction between developed and developing countries in the provision of climate finance, using the same model of creating a somewhat porous boundary. This distinction retains a key idea for India — expectations of mitigation actions by developing countries are related to expectations of support from developed countries. Together, retention of categories of countries and their operationalisation in key provisions ensure India’s losses at Paris are limited. An important caveat is that what was a relatively impervious boundary has been made permeable, increasing the risk that India will be pressured to ‘voluntarily’ cross that boundary sooner rather than later.

On this aspect, one dissonant note in the negotiations was a successful last-minute effort by a coalition of countries to introduce the idea of attempting to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C instead of 2°C. While highly desirable in principle, this increase in ‘ambition’ was not backed by an increase in action, particularly from the developed countries, increasing the risk that India will be asked to prematurely step up to fill the gap.
What, then, are the gains for India? Will India gain, and how much, from the Paris Agreement in terms of avoided climate harms? One common line of argument is that the Paris Agreement is relatively toothless, does not bind countries (including India) to actual emission limits, has no mechanisms to enforce actions, and therefore will have little impact. If so, India would have little to gain.

But this description entirely misses the point. It rests on a presumption that international agreements drive domestic actions in countries, even against the run of domestic politics. The Paris Agreement is built on a different logic: the motive power for change in energy systems will come from domestic politics in country after country, but the international process can amplify and provide leverage for domestic actors. By this logic, the key elements of the Paris Agreement are the national pledges made before Paris, and the mechanism to encourage those pledges to be ratcheted up over time. This mechanism includes: a mandatory five-yearly update of all pledges; a technical review process of both climate actions and financial contributions that is meant to ensure countries take their updates seriously; transparency provisions; and a global ‘stocktake’ on the aggregate effect of these actions. The idea is that the Paris Agreement will set in place mandatory procedures, which then stimulate an iterative process in country after country, ideally stimulating ever greater shifts to low-carbon trajectories.

But will this work? The answer rests, as it probably should, in national political processes in all countries, including India, rather than in the international arena. For India, the imperative now is twofold. First, we should make sure the ratchet mechanism sustains pressure on developed countries to ramp up their efforts. This will require and upgrading our ability to analyse other country contributions and actively shaping the fine print of implementing language for the Paris Agreement in the coming years.

Second, and perhaps more important, we have to build a robust and ongoing national process to examine our energy and climate future, to replace India’s current ad hoc, disconnected, process of energy planning and policy. This requires a more cogent system of energy information gathering and analysis. It also requires exploring actions that bring synergies across development and climate outcomes (such as energy efficiency and public transport) and those that come with direct costs to the economy. We also need answers to longer-term questions salient to future pledges, such as: how much additional coal energy do we anticipate needing; and, to what extent can we urbanise while limiting high carbon lock-in?

Panchayats must not be elitist

Eyebrows will be raised when one finds that the post of Governor has the least qualifications prescribed under the Constitution. To become a Governor, one must have completed 35 years of age. An added disqualification for the post of the President of India is he should not be of unsound mind and an insolvent. All constitutional posts except those pertaining to the higher judiciary do not have any educational qualification to hold the post.
However, the Supreme Court in the Rajbala vs. State of Haryana case (Dec. 2015) upheld the validity of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act requiring that a matriculate alone can hold the post of Panchayat president or ward member. Section 175 of the Act provides for a number of disqualifications from contesting a Panchayat election. A person will be disentitled to contest the election if he faces a criminal case for which 10-year imprisonment is prescribed and a charge has been framed. If he has to pay arrears to a co-operative society or has not cleared electricity bills, then also he will be disqualified. If a person does not have a functional toilet, he will be barred from contesting the election. These amendments made by the BharatiyaJanata Party government in Haryana take us back to the days of district boards of the thirties when the landed gentry alone were eligible to hold posts in local bodies.

The Supreme Court adopted a strange logic while upholding these disqualifications. It held that the “proclaimed object of such classification is to ensure that those who seek election to panchayats have some basic education which enables them to more effectively discharge various duties which befall the elected representatives of the panchayats. The object sought to be achieved cannot be said to be irrational or illegal or unconnected with the scheme and purpose of the Act or provisions of Part IX of the Constitution”.It did not matter to the Court that out of 96 lakh eligible voters, 42 lakh will be disqualified from contesting the elections. In case of Scheduled Castes, 68 per cent women and 41 per cent men will be disqualified from contesting.

The Court upheld the law by saying: “If it is constitutionally permissible to debar certain classes of people from seeking to occupy the constitutional offices, numerical dimension of such classes, in our opinion, should make no difference for determining whether prescription of such disqualification is constitutionally permissible unless the prescription is of such nature as would frustrate the constitutional scheme by resulting in a situation where holding of elections to these various bodies becomes completely impossible.”

It is obligatory to be a graduate to elect a certain proportion of members of the Legislative Council, but it is immaterial if the person elected is a graduate. The Supreme Court ruled in the S. Narayanaswami vs. G. Panneerselvam case in 1972: “The concept of such representation does not carry with it, as a necessary consequence, the further notion that the representative must also possess the very qualifications of those he represents… it would be for the members of such a constituency themselves to decide whether a person who stands for election from their constituency possesses the right type of knowledge, experience, and wisdom which satisfy certain standards. It may well be that the Constitution makers, acting upon such a presumption, had intentionally left the educational qualifications of a candidate for election from the graduates constituency unspecified.”

Strange is the logic of disqualifying persons in arrears to electricity boards and cooperative societies. Non-payment of electricity charges will result in disconnection of supply and there may be disputes regarding service deficiency. How is such a condition to be made a disqualification?

Similarly, when people do not have their own shelter, insisting upon a functional toilet is a clear case of excluding the poor from the management of Panchayats. It is a duty of the Municipalities under Article 243W to provide for public conveniences. In the case of Panchayats, no reference is made to public conveniences and Article 243G only provides for panchayats to take care of health and sanitation. Crores of public and private funding have gone into providing for toilets in rural areas after taking note of lack of such facilities. Even today rural houses are given planning permits even when they have no provision for toilets in the plans.

A decade ago, a Haryana law making the two-child norm a requisite qualification for standing in elections was upheld by the Supreme Court ( Javed vs. Haryana, 2003 ). The BJP-ruled States are experimenting with the Panchayat laws to make them elitist political institutions. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court should uphold these provisions and make Panchayats non-representative bodies.The fundamental flaw is due to courts holding the right to get elected as a statutory right and not a constitutional empowerment.

Splendid decade, but miles to go

There is now no doubt that the last 10 years were a time of extraordinary human development in India. When the World Bank decided to raise its global poverty line from $1.25 a day (in Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP, terms) to $1.90 in October and update the data for countries, it showed among other things that India had witnessed the fastest-ever decrease in the percentage of its population below the poverty line between 2009 and 2011. The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report released this week re-establishes this point. India’s Gross National Income more than doubled over the last 15 years, from $2,522 (PPP) to $5,497 between 2000 and 2014, putting it into middle income status. This economic growth translated into better human development outcomes as well; India’s Human Development Index value went from 0.462 to 0.609 between 2000 and 2014, a far higher increase than in the previous 15-year period. This was driven by improved economic growth and increase in life expectancy as a result of improved health care, and less so from improvements in educational outcomes, which have been harder to achieve, especially for women. Similarly striking is the story that emerges from India Health Report: Nutrition 2015 released by the Public Health Foundation of India last week. Child undernutrition, which had been declining slowly when data were last available in 2006, has begun to fall at historically high rates; between 2006 and 2014, stunting rates for children under five declined from 48 per cent to 39 per cent, translating into 14 million fewer stunted children, and declines in wasting translated into seven million fewer wasted children. These are extraordinary achievements.

Click Here to Read Full Article

Click Here to Join Online Coaching for IAS (Pre.) Exam

<< Go Back To Magazine Articles Main Page