Current Public Administration Magazine (SEPTEMBER 2022)

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

1.Accountability & Responsibility

  • Power imbalance: The governance shift in the power sector needs centre-state cooperation

A paradigm shift is being proposed by the central government in power sector governance. The scheme under consideration is the market-based economic dispatch (MBED). As is usually the case, when it comes to any drastic change in the power sector, there is a clash between the Centre and the states. This is exactly what is happening now.

Under the present regime, each distribution company (discom) is bound by the power purchase agreements (PPAs) that it holds. It can schedule power only from its own PPAs, starting from the cheapest PPA and then moving up; it cannot schedule power from the PPA of some other discom. For example, let us consider the case of two discoms, A and B. Let’s say both have PPAs totalling 1,000 MW each. Discom A has three PPAs of 500 MW, 300 MW and 200 MW with a cost of Rs 3.00/unit, Rs 3.25/unit and Rs 3.50/unit, respectively. Discom B also has three PPAs of similar capacity but costing Rs 3.25/unit, Rs 3.50/unit and Rs 3.75/unit, respectively. If on a certain day, due to rains, discom A wants only 800 MW of power (as against its kitty of 1000 MW), it will forgo the most expensive PPA of Rs 3.50/unit. If this share of 200 MW is transferred to discom B, it stands to gain since it can then avoid drawing power from its most expensive PPA which costs Rs 3.75/unit, thus saving Rs 0.25/unit. This is the basic logic of MBED. Instead of all discoms operating in silos, restricting themselves to their own PPAs only, the entire demand of the country will be met by pooling together all the PPAs and there will be a centralised dispatch (as against decentralised dispatch) starting from the cheapest PPA.

The centralised dispatch will be done with the assistance of electricity exchanges. Each discom and each generator will place a bid in the day-ahead market of the electricity exchanges, which will indicate how much power is being demanded/supplied at what price. These bids will enable the load dispatcher to construct a pan India demand and supply curve, the intersection of which will determine the market clearing price (MCP). All generators whose variable cost of generation is below the MCP will be asked to dispatch and all of them will receive the same MCP irrespective of what they had bid. Generators whose variable cost is higher than the MCP will sit idle.

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2. Indian Government and Politics

  • In a patriarchal society, the question remains: Does wearing hijab indicate free will?

Women seem to be perpetually caught between liberation and oppression, mired in vulnerabilities yet demonstrably resilient. Whatever our individual location in the fight against patriarchy, women’s lives and bodies are often marked as repositories of tradition and are used to serve roles that are both symbolic — representing nations, communities, and families — and functional, that is transmitting these cultural and religious mores to future generations. Women’s behaviour and appearance are regulated to serve ends that aren’t necessarily in their interest or that of society. It is, therefore, little wonder that women often find themselves in ambiguous relationships with these cultural roles — at times even playing defenders of cultural values, we had very little say in instituting.

As images from Iran pour in, we saw a free-spirited young woman dancing on the street as an act of defiance, chopping her hair and burning her hijab — a tool of oppression in her cultural milieu. These acts mark her liberation not only from the veil but help her stake a claim on society. In another part of the world, young girls are fighting to wear the hijab — to them, this soft, diaphanous piece of fabric is a tool of expression and identity. Both these resistances highlight the question of choice. There are several amongst us, feminists and allies, who draw on the notion of choice, and a woman’s right to it to extend support to both causes.

But in a world whose structures and systems — social, political or religious — are steeped in patriarchy, we have to concede that often the ambit of choices is narrow. Both lived experience and academic research demonstrate that women internalise these structures that bind us to our own oppression. Would it then be far-fetched to claim that we have inherited several tenets of patriarchy in everyday life under the garb of choice? Is the choice that we believe is ours, really ours?

In his seminal essay, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, philosopher Isaiah Berlin talks of two types of freedom. “Negative Liberty”, which revolves around the existence of a private sphere where an individual can do as s/he pleases. This realm is free from external interference of any kind — individuals, communities or the state. The second he called, “Positive Liberty”, which means taking control of one’s life and realising its fundamental purposes. For liberty to mean self-actualisation of the highest order, conditions need to be made available to individuals to pursue their highest good. The state has to step in to create such a state of affairs. Its intervention is required for free will to flourish meaningfully — even though liberals might baulk at that possibility.

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3. Social Administration

  • Supreme Court judgment on MTP Act: A promise of inclusion and the long road ahead

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the overturning of the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling by the US Supreme Court earlier this year was a major setback for movements campaigning for the right to access legal and safe abortions across the world. At the time, many in India lauded the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act for its legalisation of abortion in India, and with the 2021 amendment, its extension of abortion rights to unmarried women. This celebration has been renewed with fervour, following the Supreme Court judgment on September 29, which recognises marital rape as rape within the ambit of existing abortion laws. In May 2022, the Delhi High Court delivered a disappointing split verdict on marital rape. In this context, the recent SC judgment seems to be a refreshing change in legal discourse, and a much-needed step in the right direction.

However, queer rights activists and development sector practitioners working on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of queer and trans (including transmen, transmasculine persons, non-binary persons, and others) persons, have routinely pointed out the limitation of progressive laws and judgments that only speak to the rights of “women”. Within the Indian context, abortion access is granted exclusively to cisgender women, excluding trans people, who already face exceptional hurdles in accessing sexual and reproductive health-related services.

But why is it important to expand the scope of abortion rights to trans persons? Is abortion a queer rights issue?

As part of my work on queer rights and sexual and reproductive rights at The YP Foundation, I have been in conversations with many transmen, transmasculine and non-binary persons, who have consensual sexual relationships with cisgender men, and are concerned about the possibility of unintended and unwanted pregnancies. Moreover, many trans persons from smaller cities, towns, and villages report being forcibly married off by their families without their consent– more often than not as a tool to “cure” them of their trans-ness. In these relationships, trans people experience intense intimate-partner violence, including marital rape, as a form of corrective rape. As a non-binary, transmasculine person myself, the threat of sexual violence and assault as a form of queerphobic and transphobic violence, which has the potential of resulting in unwanted pregnancy, constantly looms large on my consciousness, even as I do not identify with the category of woman.

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4. Current Topics

  • In Cong’s decline, lessons for other family firms pretending to be political parties

The Congress Party has been a courtiers’ club so long that the revolt of a single courtier became a major political event last week. From high political circles to Delhi’s once powerful drawing rooms to the under-furbished Lutyens bungalows that the BJP’s big leaders now occupy, one word was whispered last week with awe: Gehlot. How did he find the courage? This uncharismatic man with the bad hairdo, known only for his devotion to the Dynasty, how could he defy Sonia Gandhi? How could he betray the Dynasty that helped him rise from being a lowly magician’s son to becoming Chief Minister of Rajasthan three times?

Other questions followed when it became known that Sonia Gandhi was livid and had summoned a meeting of ‘loyalists’ and family retainers in her very private residence. A battalion of TV reporters stood outside 10 Janpath till late in the evening to record the arrival of Kamal Nath, whose loyalty to the family goes back to Sanjay times. He smiled enigmatically as he always does. To the questions flung at him he gave, as always, no answers. So, the questions remain. Are we seeing the start of a courtiers’ rebellion? Could this be the beginning of the end of the Dynasty’s unchallenged control over our oldest political party? Has the march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir by the Dynasty’s heir now become a meaningless exercise?

As someone who has lurked on the outer edge of the inner circles of the court for decades, memories returned as I mulled over these questions. Memories of a time when the sons of big businessmen fought to take little Priyanka to the Diwali Mela. Memories of society ladies sending their spies out to find out where Indira Gandhi’s grandchildren were going on picnics so they could (by coincidence) send their own progeny to the same spot. Memories of society ladies finding ways to appear (by coincidence) at the art exhibitions and concerts that Sonia was going to. Memories of that caboodle of Rajiv’s dreary Doon School pals. And, when Sonia Gandhi became de facto prime minister, memories of rules being bent to install MrsVadra in a Lutyens bungalow and ensure that MrVadra’s name was on a VVIP list of people who did not need metal-detecting at airports.

These things happened in those long-ago glory days when the Gandhi name was enough for courtiers to not just get tickets at election time but for them to be able to win. But courtiers are, as everyone knows, an untrustworthy species of sycophants and when bad times come, they flee. When Rahul Gandhi’s belligerent campaign to prove that Narendra Modi was not just incompetent but corrupt failed to defeat him in the 2019 general election, courtiers began to agonize over their options. I would run into them, here and there, and they would admit sotto voce that Rahul had no ‘leadership qualities’ and that they were seriously worried about losing their own constituencies. So, it surprised me not at all when they began to leave the Congress Party with the dodgy excuse that Modi was the only political leader who was doing ‘something for the country.’

Then elections began to be lost so badly under the leadership of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi that in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly the Congress Party now has only two seats. This happened after Priyanka campaigned long and hard to impress upon the women of our most populous state that she would stand up for their rights. This humiliating defeat came despite Yogi Adityanath’s shameless refusal to admit that he handled the pandemic with criminal incompetence. The bodies that floated in the Ganga were not of COVID victims, he said. Asked about the shallow graves on the river’s banks he said confidently that some Hindu communities had traditionally chosen burial over cremation. Reporters who took pictures of dead bodies piled high in crematoriums he labelled ‘anti-national.’

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5. Indian Administration

  • Swachh Bharat 2.0: Moving forward together

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, much can be said about the progress the country has made in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) concerning sanitation.

The concept of sanitation in the Indian context has been around since the Indus Valley civilisation. However, till 2014, sanitation coverage in India was as low as 39 per cent. Around 55 crore people in rural areas were without a toilet facility before 2014 and this severely affected the health and dignity of our people, especially women and children. The greatest and perhaps most significant impact of poor sanitation is on health. Exposure to contaminated drinking water and food with pathogen-laden human waste is a major cause of diarrhoea and can cause cholera, trachoma, intestinal worms, etc, leading to the “stunting” of huge swathes of our children. Poor hygiene and waste management practices also impact the environment with untreated sewage flowing directly into water bodies and affecting coastal and marine ecosystems, contaminating soil and air, and exposing millions to disease.

Finally, poor sanitary practices impact the economy adversely. A study by the World Bank states that the absence of toilets and conventional sanitation costs India 6.4 per cent of its GDP in 2006. The economic impact of poor sanitation for India is at least $38.5 billion every year under health, education, access time and tourism.

The launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) by the Prime Minister on October 2, 2014, had a unique goal — to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to make the country Open Defecation Free (ODF). By offering financial incentives for building household toilets, as well as community toilets for slums and migrant populations, the government gave a huge fillip to the toilet infrastructure. To bring changes to the age-old idea that toilets in the home were unclean, the government ran several programmes with the participation of the private sector and NGOs to educate the population on the benefits of ODF in what is acclaimed as one of the largest behaviour change programmes in the world. From 2014 to 2020, more than 10 crore toilets were constructed. The country declared itself ODF on October 2, 2019.

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