The News Editorial Analysis 12th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 12th November 2021

Border standoff: MEA, CDS Rawat differ on China’s ‘illegal’ LAC construction

In its recent report, the US Department of Defence said China built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between its Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh.

The News Editorial Analysis 12th November 2021

At a time when India and China are locked in a tense border stand-off, the Ministry of External Affairs and the country’s senior most uniformed officer on Thursday made contradictory statements on Chinese construction activity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The foreign office said it has neither accepted such illegal occupation of its territory nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims. Later, speaking at a media conclave, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said a Pentagon report on Chinese construction in Indian territory and building of a new village is not true.

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India has taken note of the US Department of Defense’s report and always conveyed its strong protest to such activities through diplomatic means. The US report said China built a large 100-home civilian village inside the disputed territory between Tibet Autonomous Region and Arunachal Pradesh.

Bagchi added that the “government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Bagchi said India too stepped up infrastructure development including the construction of roads and bridges in areas along the border with China.

Bagchi said reports had also appeared in the media earlier this year on this issue.

“As we had stated then, China has undertaken construction activities in the past several years along the border areas including in the areas that it has illegally occupied over the decades,” he said.

“India has neither accepted such illegal occupation of our territory nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims,” Bagchi said.

The spokesperson said India has always conveyed its strong protest to such activities through diplomatic means and will continue to do so in the future.

“Further, as conveyed earlier the government has also stepped up border infrastructure including the construction of roads, bridges etc, which has provided much-needed connectivity to the local population along the border,” he said.

Bagchi said the government remained committed to the objective of creating infrastructure along the border areas for the improvement of the livelihood of its citizens including in Arunachal Pradesh.

“The government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all the necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

In its recent report, the US Department of Defence said China built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between its Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Sources in the security establishment on Tuesday said the village along the disputed border in the upper Subansiri district is in an area that was occupied by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after overrunning an Assam Rifles post in 1959.

Following the eastern Ladakh standoff last year, India has bolstered its overall military preparedness along the LAC in the Arunachal Pradesh sector as well.

Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Manoj Pande said last month that China has increased the intensity of its military exercises and deployment of troops in its depth areas opposite the LAC in the Arunachal Pradesh sector.

He said that India has correspondingly readied contingency plans to deal with any eventualities.

Lt Gen Pande had said new villages have come up on the Chinese side of the border in certain areas and India has taken note of it in its operational strategy.

However, General Rawat had a different take.

“Chinese are building villages, possibly for billeting and locating their civilians or for the military in the future all along the LAC, particularly after the recent face-offs. But this present controversy that has erupted that Chinese have come across into our territory and built a new village is not true,” he said.

“It is just that their old infrastructure is being redeveloped along the LAC on their side. I would not call it muscle flexing. We are noticing permanent structures on the Chinese side, so if we have to be permanently there, so be it,” the CDS said.

Gen Rawat affirmed that India is well prepared for any misadventure, and are stocked up for a long winter.
Assuring the nation, he said, “Should the Chinese carry out a Galwan again, they will get the same response. Troops from both sides are closer… but there is nothing to be worried about right now.”

He also asserted that China has not transgressed the Indian “perception” of the LAC.

Rawat, at ‘Times Now Summit 2021’, said, “as far as we are concerned, no such village development has taken place on our side of the LAC.

” “The present controversy – that has erupted – that the Chinese have come across into our territory and built a new village is not true,” he said.

“But what I wish to come out with is that Chinese are building villages possibly for billeting and locating their civilians or for their military in the future all along the LAC, particularly after the recent face-offs that we have had,” the CDS added.

Rawat also said both the Indian and Chinese forces have posts on their respective side of the LAC.

“Wherever the Chinese have now developed their posts, we have seen some old dilapidated huts that existed in that area,” he said.

So, some of those huts have been broken and newer infrastructure was being built up and modern huts are coming up, he added.

“Yes, maybe a couple of them, the villages, have increased in size. What I would probably feel is that these are to billet the Chinese soldiers and subsequently, they may also be planning to facilitate the arrival of their families once in a while. Our civilians going there, our families visiting forward areas, so they are watching all this,” he explained.

Noting that Chinese soldiers are isolated, Rawat said, “he (Chinese soldier) is living thousands of miles away from the mainland. And he sees our people that they are in a much happier state. They get to go home much faster.”

The Indian soldiers do get leave to go home from the positions on LAC at least twice a year if not thrice, he said, adding that the Chinese soldiers do not have this luxury.

“They are building this infrastructure, this kind of so-called villages, which are well within their side of the LAC. They have not transgressed anywhere on our perception of the LAC,” he said.

He said there are different perceptions of the LAC but the Indian armed forces know where the LAC lies because they have been told that this is your alignment of the LAC and this is the territory you are expected to defend.

“Chinese have a perception and in some areas, we know about it, and in some areas, we don’t know about it. Because they have never really explained where the LAC lies according to their perception,” he noted.

When asked if he thinks such village development is muscle-flexing on their part, he replied: “Certainly not, I won’t call it muscle-flexing. With the development of these villages, they are trying to make sure that they reach out to their border areas, and it is something we should also be doing.”

India was also concerned about its border area development and the government has released funds for BADP (Border Area Development Programme) projects, he mentioned.

“In fact, we are encouraging people to go there and stay back in those villages because a large number of villages along the LAC are being vacated. Why are they being vacated? Because people find job opportunities, education, health infrastructure, more in the inner areas,” he explained.

Last month, India and China failed to make any headway in resolving the 18-month standoff in the remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh during the 13th round of military talks between the two countries.

Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive sector of eastern Ladakh.

Healthcare likely to be focus area of Budget 2022

This is in line with what Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had hinted at in her recent media interviews.

The centre will continue spending on the healthcare sector in the upcoming budget, as India is yet to fully vaccinate its population and Covid-19 is far from over with new variants being reported across the world.

“The actual process of budget making has not yet started. Currently, the review of revised estimate is under the process. However, two sectors will continue to remain in focus — healthcare and Infrastructure. The allocation on the sector will be higher than what it was last year,” a senior official told TNIE.

This is in line with what Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had hinted at in her recent media interviews.

Government had allocated more than Rs 64,000 crore to the ministry of health and family welfare and Rs 35,000 crore in the budget for vaccination and improving overall healthcare infrastructure. 

However, this was not sufficient. In fact, health ministry’s budget has increased only by Rs 7000 crore from Budget Estimates of 2020-21 and declined by 9.8% from Revised Estimates of 2020-21.

The allocation on healthcare research was also slashed by almost half, compared to the revised estimate.

Allocation for Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) has been decreased by 7% over the revised estimates of 2020-21 at Rs 7,000 crore. 

With the second wave, which badly hit the nation as people were struggling to get oxygen and hospital beds, the focus was shifted back to the healthcare infrastructure.

The official said that there is more pressure even from the states to increase allocation for the healthcare sector so that more beds can be added.

Also, as vaccination drive will continue in the next fiscal year, the centre will have to enhance its budget allocation for the Covid-19 vaccine.

The current spending of India remains 1.6% of GDP, which is much low compared to other major economies.

The Economic Survey 2020-21 observes the overall out-of-pocket expenses in India on healthcare are 60% of the total expense on public health.

The climate in our brain must change

Hate is capital. It can be mined endlessly from the nether regions of online behemoths. Climate catastrophe? What’s that? We are too united in our ways of being hateful to bother about the real world

It is a dystopian world out there in any case. The tiny Kiribati island-state in the central Pacific, with most of its population of 1,19,000 living on coral atolls, are leading a frenetic campaign on social media—Facebook, YouTube, the works—to avert the Final Tide. They are, quite literally, hanging on to the last sliver of their land before it disappears. For them, climate change is not some abstract theory, or some distant debate filled with ifs and buts. It is an undeniable reality of their lives, they face it every day, it is what they talk about and struggle against every day.

Nearer home, we keep seeing endless cycles of flooding in cities (Chennai, again, being the latest), wildfires and, yes, drought, without ever bothering to read patterns into them. Juxtapose them against parallel events. Lake Tuz, Turkey’s second largest lake, has entirely dried up this year. What has been cited as the reason? Climate change, aggravated by faulty agricultural practices. Declining rainfall, climatologist Christos Zerefos says, is turning Crete and the Aegean Islands in Greece into deserts. A woman struggling to breathe in the aftermath of the raging wildfires in Kootenays, in Canada’s British Columbia province, was diagnosed as a “climate change patient”—probably the first one. And surely not the last.

In this backdrop, if there was any hope of the Glasgow summit going beyond promising another set of future deadlines for zero emissions, it was broken. One of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China, was absent. It’s too busy dreaming up war games for world dominance. Saving Planet Earth perchance sounds like a rather boring assignment for the Bossman of Beijing, so he just sent in his speech. To be sure, he has cleaned up the air around most of China’s important cities, much better than Delhi. So what if there are a few holes in the atmosphere and a bit of dangerous colonial-style exploitation in and around the melting North Pole? Not enough to drive a convergence of purpose that can pull us out of the way of a calamity that’s advancing upon us.

The islanders of Kiribati who think the stray surfer-cum-YouTuber will bring deliverance for them from the rest of the world, become part of the embankments they are desperately putting up … well, they are wrong. Please-put-off-your-air-conditioners, please-say-no-to-coal, please-save-us … those cries don’t reach too many people. In a world where suicidal games of dominance and fast bucks drive the agenda, appeals to good sense simply don’t work. Hate does! Online campaigns against climate change naysayers, against the still-criminally-violating developed world, can yield results and a following in billions only if they generate anger and hate. Nothing else works—not ‘likes’, nor those soft emojis, only the angry ones. (Yes, emojis are our new world language.) Articulated anger offers itself as the only way for the meta-narrative to be turned on its head—at least, that’s the illusory comfort it holds out. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg can make their billions and maybe a few island nations can still be saved from sinking.

Hate is capital. It can be mined endlessly from the nether regions of those online behemoths. Can people play the bully and not get bullied by those living off them? AI systems won’t detect, or detect only about 49.4% of the violent hate, misinformation and bullying that goes around. Hate is also its own form of climate change. Thank heavens India achieved Independence much before Zuckerberg’s progenitors were born! Gandhi would have sunk just like those Pacific islands. No Frances Haugen, no whistleblower would have sufficed. Godse and friends would have had far more followers back then! FB would have spent, just as it does now, only a minuscule proportion of its billions on hate detection machinery, enforcement reports, community standards and compliance, despite the huge numbers India would have supplied to it. Gandhi’s satyagraha may have been conducted on a wholly different plane, against colonisers of the mind. In both the centuries, the last one and this, the colonisers have one tactic in common: divide and rule.

And what-ifs aside, what exactly is India doing now besides endless crisis management, battling natural and human-induced disasters in one state and then the next? It’s playing footsie with the climate agenda, making the right noises, and playing footsie with Zuckerberg’s company too, getting loud on hate. Much before the whistleblowers got wind of the fact that FB internal research papers found hate sells better and more, we in India had it all figured out. Want to be a social media influencer? Or merely want a gig economy job as a troll army foot soldier? Just dip your quill into that bottle of poison ink and let it flow into the ether. In this dystopia, that’s investment.

Want evidence? Just wait for the next round of election campaigning to heat up in the plains of Uttar Pradesh or Punjab, in the hills of Uttarakhand or the coasts of Goa. Hate will be on full, unadulterated display. What about climate change? What’s that? Mamata Banerjee may again descend on Goa, trying to transplant her ‘grassroots politics’ onto a new meadow. The Yogi-Akhilesh-Priyanka show will rattle on through, past and beyond Lakhimpur Kheri. And whoever-is-the-latest-CM in the hill state will try to save himself from political landslides under him. Punjab, of course, is Punjab—an ousted Captain, a former batsman, and one who was called a 90-day wonder, besides other teams. Climate catastrophe? Let’s repeat that question: what’s that? We are too united in our ways of being hateful to bother about the real world.

UAPA: Supreme Court agrees to fix date to hear plea to quash FIRs by Tripura police

Several persons sought the quashing of the FIRs registered against them for social media posts alleging communal violence in Tripura.

The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to fix a date and hear a petition filed by several persons to quash the FIRs registered against them under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for social media posts alleging communal violence in Tripura.

Tripura Police have booked 102 social media users, including journalists and activists, under the UAPA and accused them of criminal conspiracy and forgery. The police have sent notices to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to freeze their accounts and sought information on them.

The State police had registered a case under UAPA against Supreme Court lawyers who were part of a fact-finding team which released a report on the alleged instances of communal violence in Tripura.

“These lawyers were part of the fact-finding team which investigated these incidents in Tripura. Social media users who posted messages like ‘Tripura is burning’ have also been charged under UAPA,” advocate Prashant Bhushan addressed a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana during the mentioning of the case for urgent hearing.

Chief Justice Ramana suggested the petitioners could approach the High Court first.

Mr. Bhushan replied that the petition had also challenged the constitutionality of certain provisions in the UAPA.

“For example, the term ‘unlawful activity’ has been given a very, very wide definition,” Mr. Bhushan replied.

The senior lawyer said the persons charged under UAPA were “eminently in danger of arrest”, and urged the Supreme Court to hear the case soon.

“Yes, I will give a date [for the hearing],” Chief Justice Ramana responded.

The Editors Guild of India had recently condemned the Tripura Police’s invocation of the draconian UAPA in the case.

Back from Canada gallery, 18th Century Annapurna idol to be returned to Kashi

In one of the episodes of Mann Ki Baat last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the ancient Annapurna idol, stolen from India about a century ago, was being brought back.

An ancient idol of Goddess Annapurna, brought back to India after over a century from Canada, would begin an over 800 km journey from Delhi on November 11 for its original location — the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where it is scheduled to be placed on November 15, said Minister for Tourism, Culture and DoNER G Kishan Reddy. The five-day ‘Shobha Yatra’ will see Uttar Pradesh ministers accompany the idol, which was received by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on October 5.

In Lucknow, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said in-charge ministers of each district on the idol’s route will accompany the yatra in that district. The ASI will ascertain security arrangements at the idol’s original location before handing it to temple trustees.

In one of the episodes of Mann Ki Baat last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the ancient Annapurna idol, stolen from India about a century ago, was being brought back.

“Every Indian would feel proud to know that an ancient idol of Maa Annapurna is being brought back from Canada to India. This idol was stolen from a temple of Varanasi [Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency] and smuggled out of the country around 100 years ago…” he said.

Annapurna is the goddess of food. The 18th-century idol, carved in the Benares style, was part of the collection at the MacKenzie Art Gallery at the University of Regina, Canada. “As a university, we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible,” said University of Regina’s Vice-Chancellor Thomas Chase.

In 2019, Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra, while researching for an exhibition, came across a Lord Vishnu idol which struck her as female; it was holding a bowl of rice. Looking into records, she found the sculpture was stolen from a temple in 1913.

Siddhartha V Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art at Peabody Essex Museum, US, confirmed it was of Annapurna who holds a bowl of kheer in one hand and a spoon in the other.

Mehra’s research showed that the idol’s owner, lawyer Norman MacKenzie, had seen the statue during an India trip in 1913 where someone stole it for him from a temple on the riverbank in Varanasi.

Mehra spoke to John Hampton, interim CEO at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, and requested that the statue be repatriated. The gallery agreed. After reading about the discovery of the stolen statue, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa and the Department of Canadian Heritage reached out and offered to assist with the repatriation. The idol was expected to land in Delhi in December 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed its return.

PM Modi to attend grand tribal day event in Bhopal on November 15

The Union cabinet had decided to declare November 15 as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas to mark the birth anniversary of revered tribal icon and legendary freedom fighter from Jharkhand, Birsa Munda.

Preparations are in full swing for the Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas (Tribal Pride Day) programme at Bhopal’s Jamboree Maidan on November 15 that will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
Lakhs of tribals from across Madhya Pradesh and other states will be present at the sprawling venue that is being embellished with tribal art and pictures of tribal legends.

On Wednesday, the Union cabinet had decided to declare November 15 as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas to mark the birth anniversary of revered tribal icon and legendary freedom fighter from Jharkhand, Birsa Munda.

The cabinet had also decided that week-long programmes will be organised nationally from November 15 to commemorate the contributions of Birsa and other tribal leaders in India’s freedom struggle.

CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “The decision will not only be ideal tribute to the tribal icons of our country’s freedom struggle, but also be a milestone for the empowerment of the scheduled tribes.”

Scheduled tribes comprise over 22 per cent of MP’s population.

The Chouhan government has been engaged in tribal welfare since the CM opened the doors of his official residence in 2007 for hosting the Adivasi Chaupal.

China, US unveil surprise climate pact at COP26 summit

The declaration said both countries “recognise the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis”, especially during the “critical decade of the 2020s”.

China and the United States on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, vowed to work together to accelerate climate action this decade, separately announcing a surprise pact on global warming, which is already causing disasters across the world.

The joint declaration came as the crunch COP26 summit in Glasgow entered its pivotal final days, with negotiators wrestling over ways to limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels.

“This document contains strong statements about the alarming science, the emissions gap, and the urgent need to accelerate action to close that gap,” US special envoy John Kerry told reporters.

“It commits to a series of important actions now this decade when it is needed.”

The plan is light on concrete targets but heavy on political symbolism at a conference that began with the US and China — the world’s two biggest emitters — seemingly at loggerheads. 

Last week, US President Joe Biden criticised the decision of President Xi Jinping not to attend the Glasgow summit, accusing China of walking away.

Beijing hit back, but relations appear to have thawed ahead of bilateral talks next week, with Kerry and China’s longtime climate envoy Xie Zhenhua each saying they would rise above their differences to work together on climate.

“Both sides recognise that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris Agreement goals so we will jointly strengthen climate action,” Xie said.

Chinese President Xi on Thursday stressed the need for cooperation between the two superpowers, who together account for nearly 40 per cent of all carbon emissions. 

“All of us can embark on a path of green, low-carbon sustainable development,” he told a virtual business conference on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“Together, we can usher in a future of green development.” 

– ‘Seriousness and urgency’ –
A document outlining the agreement includes a focus on lowering methane emissions, which Kerry described as the “single fastest and most effective way to limit warming”.

It also says the two sides will meet regularly to “address the climate crisis”.

The document stresses the need to boost efforts to fight climate change in the short term — scientists have warned that slashing emissions before 2030 is crucial for halting catastrophic warming.

The declaration said both countries “recognise the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis”, especially during the “critical decade of the 2020s”.

The US has said it plans to be carbon neutral by 2050, while China announced it has set a net-zero target for 2060.  

The 2015 Paris climate accord commits nations to work towards limiting global temperature rises to between 1.5C and 2C.

The United Nations said that all countries’ carbon-cutting plans combined would still see Earth warm 2.7C by 2100. 

UN chief Antonio Guterres welcomed the US-China pact.  

“Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction,” he said on Twitter. 

– ‘No excuse’ –
Negotiators are in Glasgow to work out how to keep the Paris Agreement degree limits in play as countries across the globe are battered by ever-fiercer floods, droughts and storms made worse by rising seas.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that countries have “no excuse” for failure.

Wednesday saw the release of draft decisions, which were the first real indication of where nations are 10 days into deeply technical discussions. 

The text, which is sure to change during ministerial debates, called for nations to “revisit and strengthen” their decarbonisation plans by next year, instead of 2025 as previously agreed.

The Paris accord contains a “ratchet” mechanism requiring countries to update emissions plans every five years.

But several large emitters missed the 2020 deadline for submitting new plans, known as nationally determined contributions. Others handed in plans that were no more ambitious — or even less so — than their initial plans.

Vulnerable nations say that the next deadline, in 2025, is too distant to deliver essential short-term emissions cuts.

In what observers called a “significant first mention” of the drivers of global warming, the draft summit called on countries to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.

Last week, more than 100 countries — but not China — signed a pledge to slash methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.

“The US-China declaration shows that the two countries can cooperate to address the climate crisis,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and, as France’s top climate negotiator at the time, a main architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“Now they must cooperate on ensuring an ambitious outcome to COP26,” she added. “That means putting us on track to 1.5 degrees and delivering the vital support needed to those most vulnerable.”

Scientists appeal for immediate climate action at COP26

More than 200 scientists told the COP26 summit Thursday to take immediate action to halt global warming, warning in an open letter that some climate change impacts were “irreversible” for generations.

The central task of the Glasgow meeting is to implement the Paris Agreement, with its goal of limiting temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

But as negotiations enter their final days, commitments made so far could still lead to “catastrophic” warming of as much as 2.7C by 2100, according to the UN.

“We, climate scientists, stress that immediate, strong, rapid, sustained and large-scale actions are necessary,” to keep warming within the Paris target, said the letter, signed by researchers across the world.

In August, a bombshell “code red” report from the world’s top climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that Earth’s average temperature will hit the 1.5C threshold around 2030, a decade earlier than projected only three years ago.

To keep from overshooting that temperature target the IPCC says emissions must fall 45 percent this decade.

Thursday’s open letter, signed by some of the IPCC’s report authors, calls on delegates in Glasgow to “fully acknowledge” the scientific evidence they have compiled of the severe threats posed by climate change.

“COP26 is a historic moment for the fate of climate, societies and ecosystems, because human activities have already warmed the planet by around 1.1C and future greenhouse gas emissions will determine future additional warming,” the letters said.

The heating atmosphere is already magnifying weather extremes, subjecting communities across the world to more intense fire and drought, displacement and severe economic hardship.

And emissions are still rising.

A major recent assessment showed global CO2 emissions are set to rebound in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels.

“Cumulative greenhouse gas emissions to date already commit our planet to key changes of the climate system affecting human society and marine and terrestrial ecosystems, some of which are irreversible for generations to come,” said the letter.

India seeks $1 tn in ‘climate finance’ to meet its targets

NDCs are subject to availability of this fund, says negotiator

India has demanded a trillion dollars over the next decade from developed countries to adapt to, and mitigate, the challenges arising from global warming, and has kept this as a condition for delivering on climate commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a senior official who is part of ongoing climate agreement negotiations in Glasgow told The Hindu.

India’s five-fold plan (see box) aims at reducing the carbon intensity of its economy and eventually achieving net zero by 2070.

Net zero is when a country’s carbon emissions are offset by taking out equivalent carbon from the atmosphere, so that emissions in balance are zero. However, achieving net zero by a specific date means specifying a year, also called a peaking year, following which emissions will begin to fall.

“Our NDCs (Nationally Determined Contribution) are conditional, that is, subjected to the availability of this amount [$1 trillion] in climate finance. NDCs can be submitted with conditions. The decision on when to submit revised NDCs has not yet been taken,” Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change, told The Hindu. He is among India’s key negotiators and is currently in Glasgow.

NDCs are voluntary targets that countries set for themselves, which describe the quantum and kind of emission cuts they will undertake over a fixed period to contribute to preventing runaway global warming.

India’s last NDC was submitted following the 2015 Paris deal. Before COP26 began on November 1, nations were expected to provide updated NDCs. India, however, did not furnish one. He added that developing countries, as a group, had demanded $1 trillion annually. Mr. Gupta did not, however, clarify the members of this group, or if India had formally communicated these demands, or if they had emerged as part of the negotiations.

CPC resolution cements Xi’s key position

China’s Communist Party on Thursday adopted only the third “historical resolution” in its 100-year history, concluding a four-day plenum by enshrining President Xi Jinping’s place among the party’s tallest leaders and boosting his status ahead of a congress next year that will mark the start of his third term.

A communique adopted after the annual meeting of the Central Committee, called a plenum, said the party had adopted a “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century”, which devoted considerable space to praising Mr. Xi’s leadership.

Governor initiates pilot study on malnutrition among tribal’s

Study launched in association with ICMR-NIN, ESIC, IRCS

Governor Dr. Tamilisai Soundararajan had initiated a pilot study in Adilabad, Bhadradri-Kothagudem, and Nagarkurnool districts on malnutrition issues and other vulnerabilities among people belonging to the Primitive Tribal Groups.

The pilot study was launched in association with Central institutes like the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), ESIC Medical College, Indian Red Cross Society, Telangana branch, and other universities, in the identified districts.

A need-based nutritional and livelihood improvement project will be implemented soon through a multi-pronged approach through this initiative, she said on Thursday.

The Governor made a presentation of the project on tribal development and healthcare at the 51st conference of Governors and Lt. Governors, chaired by President Ram Nath Kovind, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. She was one among the six Governors chosen to make a presentation at the meeting, also attended by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

She highlighted the different initiatives taken by Raj Bhavan, Telangana, and Raj Nivas in Puducherry, where she is holding the charge as the Lt. Governor, to reach out to people during the COVID-19 pandemic times. The initiative to dispel vaccine hesitancy in general and tribal women in particular was also mentioned during the presentation.

‘Pay ₹5 lakh each to those electrocuted’

Consumer panel acts tough against TSNPCL

A district consumer commission directed the Telangana State North Power Distribution Company Limited (TSNPCL) to pay ₹ 5 lakh ex-gratia each to two persons who died after being electrocuted.

The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at Adilabad was dealing with a clutch of consumer cases filed by Laxmi Mutyala, Kinnaka Bujang Rao and Kinnaka Sombai, Gurundla Madunakka and Gurundla Pochanna, kin of those died due of electrocution.

The complaint filed by Kinnaka Bujang Rao and Kinnaka Sombai was dismissed.

The complainants stated that the victims Mutyala Guruvaiah and Gurundla Vijay Kumar were electrocuted from snapping of live power cables.

While Laxmi Mutyala, a resident of Ellaram village, stated that her husband Mutyala Guruvaiah, a 47-year-old coolie, was fishing at Patha Yellaram village canal, a live electric wire snapped and fell on him, resulting in death due to electrocution. The other complainants Gurundla Madunakka and Gurundla Pochanna said that their son Gurundla Vijay Kumar was working in an agricultural field when he accidentally came in contact with a power cable and died of electrocution. The complainants stated that TSNPDCL’s negligence led to the death of breadwinners of respective families. This also caused hardship and mental trauma to the families.

For their part, the TSNPDCL in the case of Mr Guruvaiah’s death, said that the victim had extended electricity supply illegally from overhead lines. They said that the a non-insulated wire was inserted in the river, and he died of electrocution after slipping into the water.

In connection with Mr Vijay Kumar’s death, the TSNPDCL said that no electric cable had snapped. On the contrary, all cables were intact.

“The said wire was laid by the deceased himself for providing solar fencing through batteries and solar panels to his agricultural field to kill animals entering his fields. Neither the wire belongs to the department of the opposite parties and nor the supply was given in to the said wire by the department .. on the other hand, the deceased himself setup solar fencing to his field,” the contented.

While dealing with case on Mr Guruvaiah’s death, the commission stated that maintaining power lines is TSNPDCL’s duty so as to prevent injuries or fatalities. It also stated that Mr Guruvaiah’s kin had sent a legal notice which was ignored, which shows negligence on their part.

The commission ordered ₹5 lakh as compensation in each case and ordered costs of ₹2,000.

Atul Karwal appointed NDRF chief

As SVP NPA director, he made many key changes in the academy

Senior IPS officer and director of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, Atul Karwal, has been appointed Director-General of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

The appointment committee of the Cabinet has approved the proposal of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the appointment of Mr. Karwal, a 1988 batch IPS officer of Gujarat cadre.

The post of DG, NDRF, has been temporarily upgraded on a personal basis for a period of two years from the date of joining the post or till further orders, whichever is earlier.

However, the government did not issue orders so far in respect of appointing a new director for the SVP NPA. In all likelihood, Mr. Karwal would continue to act as director till a new incumbent is posted. “The appointment of the new director will be known latest by Monday,” a source in the academy said. Considered to be the “blue-eyed boy” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Karwal took charge as the 32nd director of the country’s premier police school in December 2019, and since then he had made several important changes in the academy, with major focus on physical training of the probationary IPS officers.

The country’s first bureaucrat to scale Mount Everest in 2008, Mr. Karwal was earlier posted as the assistant director (outdoor training) of NPA from 1999 to 2002. Prior to this, he served as the Additional Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). His wife Anita Karwal is Secretary of the Department of School Education and Literacy, and prior to this, she was the chairperson of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The couple has two daughters — Janvi and Tanvi.

A fitness, sports and adventure sports enthusiast, the officer holds a first degree in black belt in Wing-Tsun Kung Fu and is trained in martial arts from Donald Melville. A passionate sky and scuba diver, Mr. Karwal also completed several full and half marathons, including Half Ironman held in Goa. Last year during an interaction, Mr. Modi said he was also “trained” by the academy director Karwal earlier in his political career.

Millet snack firm raises ₹55 crore

Millet snacks maker Troo Good has raised ₹55 crore ($7.4 million) from private equity fund OAKS Asset Management, in a Series A round funding, which it intends to deploy for foray into new markets across the country. Focused on AP and Telangana markets and having three factories in the Telugu States, the Hyderabad-headquartered firm is planning to set up 5 more factories in the coming months. The company will be setting up factories at Nellore, Visakhapatnam and one in Telangana. “We will be entering Chhattisgarh market in December this year and set up a factory there in the next six months. There are also plans to foray into Haryana market,” CEO and founder Raju Bhupati said, announcing the fund raise.

Landslips hit Kottayam, Pathanamthitta

There was heavy rain in the eastern high ranges

The eastern high ranges of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta, which came under a spell of extreme showers on Wednesday midnight, were hit by a series of landslips early on Thursday.

According to officials, back-to-back mudslides were reported inside the forests at Kanamala and Mookkenpetty in Erumely in Kottayam district, and Kodamala and Kokkathodu at Konni in Pathanamthitta.

Residential areas in the downstream of these locations witnessed a heavy gush of water and mud, which entered several houses and commercial establishments. Crops on several acres were reported to have been destroyed. Vehicles, including autorickshaws and two-wheelers, were washed away or got stuck in the mud.

No causalities were reported though an old woman, a native of Kanamala, had a narrow escape after being caught in the influx of mud. As many as 34 people from nine families have been shifted to a relief camp at Kanamala.

The heavy rain caused traffic disruptions in different locations, including Kanamala, Edakadathi, Eruthuvapuzha, Attachakkal, and along the Konni-Achencoil route.

In Pathanamthitta, at least four houses at Kokkathodu were destroyed.

The back-to-back mudslides caused a sharp rise in the water level of the Achencoil and Kallar rivers, which inundated several houses.

The lowdown on India’s Glasgow announcement

The newly unveiled commitments at COP26 deserve examination as they came amidst very contradictory official signals

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise declaration on November 2, 2021 at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, of striking enhancements in India’s emissions reduction targets did not, for several reasons, get the rave reviews the Government may have expected. Except for a few specialists, international commentators expressed disappointment that India was promising net zero emissions only by 2070 instead of 2050. In India, several analysts praised the new targets as indicating a new climate-oriented development policy.


Persisting trend

The Government’s raised ambition represents a welcome continuity of the cross-partisan consensus prevailing since the 2015 Paris Agreement. The new policy paradigm, initiated at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, had departed from the earlier long-held stance that India, as a developing country, was not obliged to cut emissions, and asserted that although India was not a part of the problem, it was now willing and able to contribute to reduction efforts in global emissions. India’s pledge at Glasgow, not yet formally submitted as an updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) as required, adheres to the Paris Agreement decision to increase emission cuts to tackle the rapidly escalating climate crisis.

India’s newly unveiled commitments deserve close examination, since they came amidst sharply contradictory signals from the Government over several months. Many interactions took place with high-ranking emissaries visiting India and at the G20 meeting before COP26, with India giving no indication of revising its current NDC. Right up to the Prime Minister’s speech, senior Indian officials were loudly proclaiming the unacceptability of net-zero and the unlikelihood of higher targets by India. People in India are familiar with the penchant for dramatic announcements by this Government, but the value of such secrecy in the climate negotiations is questionable. India insufficiently communicated the significance of its enhanced commitments, especially in contrast to the weak pledges of developed countries, and little effort was made to leverage India’s updated pledge to extract deeper emission cuts from them.

At the time of writing, India has further muddied the waters and taken some sheen off its Glasgow announcement, with senior officials stating that the new pledges are contingent upon substantial financial assistance from developed countries, with figures such as $1 trillion being mentioned in press interviews. Ramifications of such post-facto conditions would unfold gradually, and further speculation here is pointless.


The substance

India’s new targets, details perhaps varying in an updated NDC, comprise five elements: reducing Emissions Intensity (EI), or emissions per unit of GDP, by 45% in 2030 relative to 2005 levels; cutting absolute emissions by one billion tonnes, presumably from projected business-as-usual (BAU) 2030 levels; 500 GW (1 Giga watt = 1,000 Megawatts) of non-fossil fuel installed power generation capacity by 2030; 50% electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030; and net-zero emissions by 2070.

India’s existing NDC and subsequent submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) confirm a steady decline in EI of over 2% p.a. from 2005 onwards. Both the 33%-35% decline promised at Paris, and the updated 45% reduction by 2030, are quite achievable and par for an emerging economy.

Emissions reduction by one billion tonnes by 2030, the first time India has put an absolute number to this, can be read in different ways. India’s current annual emissions are around 2.8 billion tonnes and projected to reach about 4.5 billion tonnes in 2030 on a BAU basis, so the pledged reduction would be a substantial 20%, comparing favourably with several developed country targets. However, the Prime Minister’s speech in Glasgow mentioned the Railways’ net-zero 2030 target cutting 60 million tonnes annually, and LED bulbs cutting another 40 million tonnes a year, yielding one billion tonnes over 10 years from just these two measures, making the pledged reduction seem easy, which it probably is not.

On installed power generation capacity, India’s extant NDC had incorporated the Government’s declared goal of 175 GW from renewable energy (RE) sources by 2022, even though the NDC stretched to 2030, raising an anomaly. Even so, India has reached only around 101 GW of solar and wind due to numerous constraints. If one adds large hydro and nuclear, both now considered renewable, current RE installed capacity is about 150 GW or just under 40% of total, almost achieving the NDC target for 2030 showing under-projection. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in its 2020 Report on Energy Mix for 2029-30 has projected around 525 GW or 64.3% non-fossil fuel installed capacity including 280 GW Solar and 140 GW wind. Only 267 GW is projected to come from coal and lignite, compared to 203 GW in 2019, so almost all of India’s future growth of capacity is to come from RE. Without actually saying so, India at Glasgow therefore seems to have pledged virtually no additional coal-based power! Even accounting for some confusion about whether the Prime Minister meant installed capacity or electricity produced, India’s Glasgow pledge of 50% electricity from RE by 2030 is just a tad more than the CEA projection of 44.7%. These commitments may prove difficult as currently witnessed, combined with the need for storage and grid stability.

Address the deep inequities

The Glasgow pledges come from a few sectors mostly related to electricity generation. However, a truly transformational low-carbon future must embrace many more aspects, as indeed emphasised at Glasgow by the Prime Minister as “Lifestyle for Environment (LIFE)”. It is also time that India, hitherto vociferous about equity between nations, now seriously addresses the deep inequity in access to energy and other essentials within India. Climate change is multi-dimensional, not confined to mitigation alone and, as all studies tell us, should be tackled cross-sectorally.

Accelerated deployment of electric or fuel-cell vehicles must go alongside a rapid reduction in personal vehicle use and a major push for mass transportation. Carbon lock-ins and energy use need to be minimised through mandatory “green” construction codes for the huge housing and other buildings stock, highways and infrastructure yet to be built. A leap in employment-intensive recycling of waste goods and materials, including in solid and liquid waste management linked to methane recovery, would deliver substantial co-benefits across sectors.


Where New Delhi slipped

Two big disappointments with India’s stance at Glasgow deserve mention. First, India refused to join over 110 countries in a declaration to end deforestation by 2030. India’s pledges also do not mention the NDC target for forests and tree cover, in which India is known to be slipping, with deleterious impacts on both the environment and livelihoods of tribals and other forest dwellers. Read together, these may confirm the worst fears of many regarding efforts to dilute environmental regulations in favour of corporate interests. Second, India also did not join the Global Methane Pledge by over 100 nations to reduce emissions of the short-lived but potent greenhouse gas by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels, when methane is among the fastest growing emissions in India.

On the other hand, Glasgow saw India launch another international climate initiative called Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS), aimed at providing technical, knowledge and financial assistance to small island nations with the help of developed countries. One wishes such an initiative was undertaken in India too, where coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and urban flooding due to extreme rainfall exacerbated by haphazard urbanisation are acquiring threatening dimensions.

It would be ideal too if the on-going updating of the NDC was done through a cross-partisan multi-stakeholder consultative process that would make it truly “nationally determined” and implemented.

  1. Raghunandan is with the Delhi Science Forum, a constituent of the All India Peoples Science Network

A tax burden that attacks the federal rights of States

The Centre’s levy of fuel surcharges is way beyond basic taxes and an abject misuse of provisions of the Constitution

The Narendra Modi Government reduced excise duty on petrol and diesel on the eve of Deepavali. While the reduction for petrol was ₹5, duty on diesel came down by ₹10. The Finance Ministry ‘dedicated’ the reduction to farmers for keeping “the economic growth momentum going even during the [COVID-19] lockdown phase” and said the reduction “will come as a boost to the farmers during the upcoming Rabi season”. Not only this, soon after announcing the decision, Bharatiya Janata Party workers in Opposition-ruled States held protests demanding that these Governments decrease Value Added Tax on petrol and diesel.

What else can be more hypocritical than this? The Centre has been levying around ₹31 and ₹33 as additional cess on petrol and diesel, respectively, till the beginning of November. We, the Left parties, had stridently voiced our concern when the Centre began this practice of imposing special additional excise and cess on petrol and diesel. I remember moving a statutory motion in the Rajya Sabha during the winter session of 2014 against the overall increase in the excise duty by the then Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley. The Centre then amended the rules to increase the taxes on petrol and diesel.

The Constitution does permit the Centre to levy cess and surcharges beyond the basic taxes and duties in extraordinary situations. But making it manifold higher than the basic taxes is nothing but a misuse of such provisions of the Constitution. These additional taxes do not go to a divisible pool and such a high burden of taxes is an attack on the people and the federal rights of States.

Surcharge is defined as a small amount of tax levied over and above the existing tax. How can it be seven or eight times higher than the basic tax? What is the justification for this? Now the basic excise duty is ₹1.40 and the rest of the tax is made up of special additional excise duty and cess which would not go to divisible pool and to the States. Article 271 says: “Notwithstanding anything in articles 269 and 270, Parliament may at any time increase any of the duties or taxes referred to in those articles except the goods and services tax under 246A by a surcharge for purposes of the Union and the whole proceeds of any such surcharge shall form part of the Consolidated Fund of India.” This is a saving clause, which is being misused by the Centre to curtail the rights of all States.

Revenue data

To make this point clear, let us look at the following estimates. The Union government has collected around ₹3.72-lakh crore in 2020-21 as revenue from petroleum products as per the data published by the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC). Of this, only around ₹18,000 crore is collected as Basic Excise Duty. Around ₹2.3-lakh crore is collected as cess and the rest ₹1.2-lakh crore is collected as special additional excise duty. Here, three important points emerge to be noted: 1. The basic tax component of the entire ₹3.72-lakh crore is merely ₹18,000 crore, which is as low as 4.8% of the total revenue from petroleum products; The divisible pool is only 41% of this ₹18,000 crore; Most importantly, cess and additional excise duty on petroleum products constitute around 95% of the total revenue from petroleum, which are not to be shared with the States at all. This is a classic example of undermining federalism prevailing in the country. This has to be subjected to intense discussions including dimensions of constitutional provisions under which the aforementioned duties and cess have been imposed.

After the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST), States have the right to decide the taxes on just three goods — petrol, diesel and liquor. By unilaterally taking away the bulk of the tax revenues on petrol and diesel, the Centre has done injustice to the States. This is obtuse use of fiscal federalism. All States must oppose this in a united manner.


Relevant questions

The Centre has made lakhs of crores of rupees from these additional taxes and cess. The Centre might have amassed lakhs of crores of rupees from these taxes even amid a pandemic. But where has this money gone? Who has received the benefits of this money? Answering these questions will unravel the real crisis of States and the Centre.

The country is going through an unprecedented crisis. The novel coronavirus pandemic has worsened it. States have to earmark funds to assist the people. In a State such as Kerala, we have done our best to protect the people by providing a food kit, monthly financial assistance to Below Poverty Line families who lost their bread-winners due to COVID-19 and other necessary arrangements.

Relevance of RNR

The promise was that the revenue neutral rate (RNR) will be implemented, which means States would get revenues similar to what they were getting before the implementation of GST. The average taxes on goods was 16% during the initial GST period. The average rate of taxes in goods at present is 11.3%. But has any consumer benefited from it? Instead, inflation has also been rising. All essential items are more expensive than the pre-GST price. Neither Governments nor the people have benefited from this.

On an average, the country collects ₹1-lakh crore a month as GST — ₹12-lakh crore in a year; ₹6-lakh crore each for the States and the Centre. Had RNR been maintained, the total amount would have been ₹18-lakh crore at the rate of 16%. States would have received at least ₹3-lakh crore additionally. Kerala would have got ₹12,000 crore as SGST and at least ₹2,500 crore as the State’s share from the divisible pool. So when the Centre lost ₹1,80,000 crore just because RNR was not maintained, Kerala lost ₹14,500 crore from its revenues annually. This has to be corrected. Democratically decided taxes are essential for any State or the country to survive. The promise at the time of implementing the GST was to maintain RNR. But the facts are different. A detailed analysis must be done on why States are losing revenue. GST has to be streamlined to ensure RNR, but without hurting the common people.

After fleecing the States, the Centre has now proposed the National Monetisation Pipeline which will impact even the sovereignty of the Republic of India. To meet even daily expenses such as the salary of employees, the Centre is resorting to massive sale of the wealth of the country. The real reason for such a crisis is the neoliberal policies followed by governments at the Centre since 1991. As a result, even profitable Navratna companies, national highways and railway stations are up for sale.

Entities that gain

And who are the beneficiaries of all these steps? A handful of corporate houses. The Centre, which has calculated ₹6-lakh crore as the value of the public wealth that will be monetised, waved off corporate loans worth ₹8.75-lakh crore. Now, a bad bank will take care of the non-performing assets created by these corporate houses at the cost of public money deposited primarily in public sector banks. On the one hand, public wealth is being handed over on a platter to corporate houses while on the other hand the debt of these houses is being taken care of by the Centre using people’s money. Strange, indeed. About ₹1-lakh crore worth of corporate taxes were also foregone in the last financial year. The sops given to corporate houses resulted in huge revenue losses for the Centre, and in turn for the States from a divisible pool. To compensate for this, the Centre is exploiting people during a pandemic by levying taxes on petrol and diesel to the maximum possible extent. Revenues which would have helped the people during a pandemic are flowing towards a group of corporate companies. This has to stop. Collective action by all Opposition parties is needed against these policies at this time.

Undefined role

India must be clear on how it wants to shape Afghanistan’s destiny under the Taliban

By holding the Third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan, chaired by NSA Ajit Doval this week, New Delhi has sent out three strong messages: one, that it wishes to remain an important and engaged player in the future of Afghanistan; second, that with the exit of U.S.-NATO troops, the ideal solution to the situation is through consensus in Afghanistan’s extended neighbourhood including Russia; and third, that the Afghan humanitarian crisis should be the region’s immediate priority and political differences can be set aside to help. It is the last message that spurred New Delhi to invite the NSAs from China and Pakistan, despite the LAC standoff and deep differences with the Imran Khan government over Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. By declining the invitation, Beijing and Islamabad have made it clear that they do not intend to assist India in its Afghan engagement, further demonstrated by the Khan government’s churlishness in refusing India road access to send wheat and medicines to Kabul. To that end, the Delhi Declaration issued by the eight participating nations, including Iran and Russia, is a milestone in keeping India inside the discussion on Afghanistan. The declaration goes farther than the previous such regional discussion of SCO countries in Dushanbe in September, in its strong language on terrorism, terror financing and radicalisation. It also expands on the need for an inclusive government in Kabul that will replace the Interim Taliban regime, and promotes a national reconciliation process.

While the consensus over the Delhi Declaration is a creditable feat, it does not paper over all the differences between India and the other countries over their far stronger engagement with Kabul. For instance, Turkmenistan sent a Ministerial delegation to discuss connectivity with the Taliban, while Uzbekistan accorded the visiting Taliban Deputy PM full protocol and discussed trade, transit and the construction of a railway line. Russia and Iran still maintain their embassies in Kabul, and a “Troika-plus” U.S.-China-Russia-Pakistan engagement is taking place with the Taliban Foreign Minister, in Islamabad this week. With the “normalisation” of ties with the Taliban regime growing, New Delhi must now consider how far it wishes to go in its engagement with Afghanistan. On the one hand, India has publicly held talks with Taliban officials twice and expressed solidarity with Afghans, but on the other has refused practically all visa seekers, made no monetary contribution to the humanitarian crisis there, and has made no bid to continue with plans for trade and connectivity with Afghanistan. India’s desire to lead the discussion on Afghanistan’s destiny, as demonstrated by the NSA dialogue, is a worthy goal for a regional leader, but can only be fulfilled once the Government defines more clearly what it wants its Afghan role to be, despite all its differences with the regime now in power.

Season of floods

Tamil Nadu’s cities need long-term solutions to avoid the monsoon woes

The ongoing spell of heavy rain in Chennai has again exposed the vulnerability of the city, a coastal metropolis with a flat terrain, to floods, and raised more questions than answers about the Government’s preparedness to deal with the northeast monsoon. The first spell of heavy rain of 21 cm, mostly in the early hours of Sunday (November 7), caught everyone by surprise. Despite storm water drains and waterways running to about 700 km being cleared in the last four months, no tangible improvement was seen in the problem of inundation. The nightmare of the 2015 December floods haunted Chennai in the backdrop of the authorities monitoring the release of surplus water from the reservoirs on the outskirts. Even as the city was struggling to get back to normality, there was a depression in the Bay of Bengal, which crossed the coast near Chennai on Thursday. This time, the city did not experience very heavy rainfall but several suburbs such as Tambaram and Red Hills recorded over 22 cm of rain. In the last four days, other parts of the State too were at the receiving end of the monsoon. Nagapattinam, one of the backward areas of the Cauvery delta, was battered after 31 cm fell in a day.

The crux of the problem is the issue of drainage, be it in Chennai or in Nagapattinam. In a large urban setting such as Chennai, shrinking open space, the gap between the coverage of the drains and that of sewer lines, ageing drains and sewer networks in core areas of the city, and encroachments or obstructions hampering the free flow of water are responsible for the mess. The city is blessed with a few rivers such as the Cooum and the Adyar, apart from a number of canals including the Buckingham Canal. All these waterbodies, if properly maintained, can be very effective flood carriers, sparing several residential localities from inundation. The State Government, which is executing a couple of integrated storm water drain projects, should look for durable solutions to the city’s long-standing woes and executing them in a short span of time. The Government has been swift in providing relief and its seriousness in the matter can be seen from the fact that Chief Minister M.K. Stalin visited flood-hit areas continuously since Sunday for a first-hand account of the problems. Often in the past, the determination shown in finding a long-term solution to waterlogging waned during the non-monsoon periods. Mr. Stalin, who was Chennai Mayor and Local Administration Minister earlier, is well-placed now to put his experience to use and pull the city out of the quagmire. The people too should be responsible enough in ensuring that the waterbodies and drains are not turned into dumps.

Is the economy still reeling from demonetization?

The ill-prepared move left India with all the damages and very few of the benefits

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that from midnight, ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes would no longer be considered legal tender in India. The government’s stated aim was to curb corruption and the pervasion of black money in the economy, as well as the proliferation of fake currency which was also being used in terror funding. Pronab Sen discusses with Vikas Dhoot the after-effects of the demonetisation gamble and whether the intended outcomes have been achieved. Edited excerpts:

What has been the assessment of the extent of black money in the Indian economy?

PS: Black money and the black economy are not the same. Black money is transitory and there’s not a whole lot of it. The black economy, particularly black assets, is large. Various studies to quantify it have yielded a wide range of estimates (20%-60% of GDP). Black money, or cash which has not been shown, is a very small component of this larger black economy because nobody who has made black income hangs on to that cash for long. They invest it in some asset. So, most of the black economy is in the form of assets. And when you look at any asset, there is always some person or entity holding it. Whether that name is benami or not is impossible for a researcher to find out and the statistical system to capture.

What was your first reaction when you heard the decision to scrap what constituted about 86% of the currency in circulation at the time?

PS: Horror. The reason is that every economy in the world depends on transactions. I produce something, I sell it to you, and the transaction creates value. In a country where cash is the most common means of transaction, this was horrifying because what it said was that until we bring that cash back into circulation, transactions are going to be severely hit. This is bad news to begin with and becomes worse when you think about who was transacting in cash. Large corporates have a very small proportion of their transactions in cash. It is the unorganised sector and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) sector which have a large proportion. It was clear that these sectors would be the ones severely hit. And these sectors included 90%-93% of our population then. So, we were talking about a very broad-brush damage to the Indian economy.

Despite several rule changes, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) eventually found most of the cash returned to the system. Could implementation have been better?

PS: If I was shocked by the move, the RBI was even more horrified, because it would be its job to contain the damage. And from what I gather, the RBI didn’t have a clue that this was about to happen. It was not prepared. The net result was that the remonetisation process to replace the cash took almost a year when it should have been over within a month.

The cash in circulation is now higher than it was five years ago. Have we come a full circle, at least in terms of being a less-cash economy?

PS: Let us thank God for that. Because if it had not happened, our economy would be in deep trouble. There is a sequence in which the various targets were announced and the less-cash economy was the last in that sequence. It was an afterthought and has not happened. We now have about ₹28.5 trillion in cash floating around, compared to about ₹18 trillion at that time. Non-cash transactions have gone up but the real question is whether that was an organic process or was accelerated by demonetisation.

The ₹2,000 note is no longer being printed…

PS: Other than the sheer physical inconvenience of carrying a stack of notes, nothing inherently demands cash to be in high denomination notes. I have no problems with high-value notes being phased out, provided there is a sufficient supply of low denomination notes to substitute them. The problem is that we again have a situation where the ₹2,000 and ₹500 notes are dominant and the low-value notes continue to be about 15% of the total cash. If you are bent on making it more difficult for people doing high value transactions with cash, moving to lower denomination currency makes a lot of sense. The non-printing of ₹2,000 notes is a good idea but the real question is whether these should be replaced by more ₹500 notes or whether we should re-invent the ₹1,000 notes.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced about nine months after the note ban. Has this sequencing, aimed at increasing formalisation and the tax to GDP ratio, worked?

PS: I am glad you asked this because it’s not a question of whether the GST should have come but of the sequencing. Had the GST come six months before demonetisation, things would have been a lot better. Because GST encouraged, not forced, formalisation. So, the effect of demonetisation would have been less draconian if that had happened. The fact that GST came later added to a problem that demonetisation had already caused — parts of the economy dependent on cash transactions were already in the doldrums. The GST brought the rest of the MSME sector, which is less-cash dependent, into trouble as well.

A State Bank of India (SBI) research report says the informal sector shrank to 15%-20% of formal GDP in 2020-21, from 52% in 2017-18.

PS: The informal sector is of critical importance as it generates livelihoods for the vast majority. Now, if there has been a shift in the segments of the economy that used to be dominated by the informal sector to the formal sector, the question is, who is going to provide employment? For people who are not part of the formal sector, the future looks very bleak. And this effect will persist for a while, because the question that then arises is whether or not the informal sector will be able to bounce back and make inroads into the market share that the formal sector has already captured — not because the formal sector is any more efficient or anything, but because policy decisions changed the goalposts in its favour.

So, this is a phenomenon of the big getting bigger with each subsequent shock? Where does that leave India’s inherent strength of a huge captive market with opportunities at the bottom of the pyramid, if incomes don’t grow there?

PS: Yes, each of the shocks has had that effect. At the end of the day, the vast majority of the huge Indian market is at the bottom of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid is very thin. Unless incomes at the bottom of the pyramid rise consistently, the market will stagnate. We saw this happen post-demonetisation. The corporates will make a killing in the initial stages but then the lack of growth of demand starts biting.

When the pandemic hit, we were already seeing several quarters of dipping growth. Now, we are again seeing corporates getting more dominant…

PS: Yes. The pandemic effect is an add-on to what was there before it. The informal sector had clearly not recovered and the pandemic added to that problem. So, if you think of the chain of causation in the post-demonetisation pre-pandemic period, the negative effect on the informal sector was the lack of cash in order to carry out transactions in business. Post-pandemic, the cause was different — the lockdown led to all businesses, formal and informal, being shut. Now, since the informal sector doesn’t have a lot of reserves to be able to last out two months of lockdown, a lot of businesses closed down. The formal sector, particularly the large players who build up reserves or contingencies, not only survived but thrived after the lockdown was lifted. So, the sharp bounce-back that we are seeing in the economy is entirely driven by corporates. The informal sector has had three sequential shocks and is in dire straits, which is what the SBI report is suggesting.

So, who gained from the demonetisation, GST and COVID-19 shocks?

PS: Unquestionably, Corporate India, which has grabbed market share which it wouldn’t even have dreamed of before demonetisation happened. And now it has to pay lower taxes.

But there’s a limit to investment opportunities, if demand doesn’t pick up to create a virtuous cycle.

PS: This is the problem. I think we have got stuck in a low-level equilibrium trap. The informal sector will find it very difficult to bounce back. So, the dynamism of the Indian economy, which is the bottom of the pyramid moving from poverty-stricken to merely poor and then to lower middle class — that has stopped.

What about demonetisation’s other goals like curbing terror financing and counterfeit notes?

PS: An RBI study suggested that the total fake currency was ₹3,500 crore, which was borne out later. That is a laughable amount. On terror financing, it is about whether terrorists hang on to the cash paid to them. I suspect not. The fact that almost the entire amount of currency that was demonetised came back is an attestation of that. If terrorists had currency they couldn’t transact with, they managed to exchange it.

On the hope that people depositing cash and being forced to disclose incomes will invite income tax action, we didn’t see any big numbers.

PS: I don’t know where to put the blame for that. Is it that the Income Tax department simply didn’t take the opportunity? As far as I am aware, banks were meticulously keeping records on this, but then somebody would have to aggregate those records, identify the people, and then proceed. If anything, that would have been the one big thing, but it shows up nowhere in the income tax data.

Is there any evidence that corruption has gone down?

PS: There’s a lot of anecdotal information that petty corruption has not gone down, but has, in fact, gone up. Because the associated risks have risen and the risk-adjusted return to the bribe-taker has gone down, so they have raised their price. The real question is large-scale corruption but is that transacted through cash? Probably not. Those are probably done through transfers abroad. Moreover, now we have cryptocurrencies through which a huge amount of corruption can take place and we won’t even know about it.

What are the lessons we learn from such policy shocks?

PS: When you take a measure of this magnitude, somebody should be doing the homework on which agencies have a critical role to play in making it a success. In this case, there were at least two — the RBI and the Income Tax department. Neither of them was geared up to take advantage of the situation. So, we got all the damages and very few of the benefits.

A row over education

In launching the ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’, the DMK government has attracted criticism from its allies

Education policies have often been mired in controversies in Tamil Nadu. The attempted Hindi imposition in 1937 and the 1960s, the Modified Scheme of Elementary Education in 1953 and the three-language formula mooted in the 2020 National Education Policy (NEP) generated intense political heat. The Dravidian parties were at the forefront of these agitations. The DMK and AIADMK have carefully handled education policies and devised a social justice model that has paid quantifiable dividends.

Various concerns

Against this backdrop, when the DMK government recently launched the ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’ (ITK), a scheme to take education to the doorsteps of schoolchildren, it came as a surprise that its parent outfit, the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK); its ally, the Communist Party of India (CPI); and left-leaning activists opposed it. The stated objective of the six-month project with a budgetary allocation of ₹200 crore is to bridge the learning gap of students of Classes 1 to 8 who have not attended physical classes since March 2020 due to the pandemic. It involves enrolling 18- to 60-year-old volunteers or “ambassadors”, as Chief Minister M.K. Stalin put it. These volunteers will teach an estimated 34.05 lakh children in 93,000 neighbourhoods for 60 to 90 minutes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The opposition to the ITK, though not intense, is the first that the DMK government has faced from its allies. The primary objection is that the ITK could turn out to be a ‘soft launch’ of the BJP-led Union government’s NEP, which provides for engagement with children through volunteers. The DK and CPI were apprehensive that Sangh Parivar members would enrol themselves as volunteers and further their “sectarian” agenda. A day before the ITK’s roll-out in 12 districts, DK leader K. Veeramani dubbed the scheme a “sweet coated poisonous (RSS) ball” and called upon the government to reconsider its decision.

Mr. Stalin and School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi have sought to counter such apprehensions by insisting that they remain opposed to the NEP. Launching the scheme, Mr. Stalin said the ITK was the foundation for a renaissance in education and is in the spirit of Dravidianism. He equated it with the flagship noon-meal scheme. Accepting the argument that under the NEP, volunteers “could even interfere in the management of schools”, Mr. Poyyamozhi said no such scope would be provided in the ITK. Mr. Veeramani’s “apprehensions will help us be doubly careful, and we will pay attention to the selection of volunteers,” he told The Hindu.

The DK and CPI have since softened their views. However, opposition from activists continues. State Platform for Common School System-Tamil Nadu general secretary P.B. Prince Gajendra Babu fears that parents may stop sending girls to school if education is offered at their doorstep. Stating that the scheme is not a substitute for regular schooling, Mr. Poyyamozhi responded that there is awareness on the importance of educating girl children, and volunteers will play a pivotal role in encouraging parents to send them to school.

Mr. Babu also said that it should be the responsibility of teachers, and not volunteers, to help students acquire reading and writing skills. Besides, the scheme could plant the idea that non-formal education is better and convenient. While Mr. Stalin has said the “ambassadors” will be a bridge between schools and society, the ITK handbook seeks to give them a larger role of teaching literacy and numeracy. The ITK will be extended to the whole of Tamil Nadu from November 14. Only a holistic review at the end of the six-month period will help assess its impact.

No fresh virus variants of concern in India: INSACOG

Bulk of cases in India are Delta variant: weekly bulletin

Despite an uptick in new cases this week, the India SARS- CoV-2 Genome Consortium (INSACOG) has said there are no new virus variants of concern on the horizon in India.

The bulk of cases in India were the Delta variant and its related sub-variants, mirroring what was happening in the rest of the world, the INSACOG said in its weekly bulletin on Thursday.

“Delta (B.1.617.2 and AY.x) continues to be the main VOC in India. No new VOI (Variants of Interest) or VOC (Variants of Concern) are noted and other VOC and VOI other than Delta are now negligible in sequencing data from India,” the bulletin noted. AY.x refers to a family of sublineages that can range from 1-25. They have a common set of core mutations but large variation in others.

According to the latest update from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Delta has outcompeted other variants in most countries and there was now “declining prevalence” of other variants among SARS-CoV-2 sequences submitted to publicly available datasets or reported to WHO, the bulletin added.

As of Thursday, the INSACOG has analysed 92,800 genome sequence samples of those who have tested positive for the virus to determine what variants they harbour.

In October, following a spike in cases in Europe and the United Kingdom, Public Health England stated that AY4.2, a Delta variant sublineage, was responsible for a “slowly increasing” proportion of cases in the U.K. It is also present in multiple other countries and is seen in travellers to the U.K. from a large number of countries. The INSACOG, however, said the presence of the lineage was “very infrequent” in India.

Nepal Army to set up its own defence university

The Nepali Army is on course to establish its own national defence university, said Nepal Army chief General Prabhu Ram Sharma on Thursday.

Gen. Sharma, who has been given the honorary rank of General of the Indian Army, unveiled his portrait on the “Wall of Honour”, and was presented with a Scroll of Honour on Thursday at the National Defence College (NDC) in New Delhi, a Defence Ministry statement said.

“Prominent alumni of the NDC, who have risen to the highest ranks in their respective countries, are honoured with the special recognition,” it stated.

Earlier, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar inaugurated the NDC alumni web portal and released the inaugural issue of the NDC alumni newsletter at the institution.

Xi warns against Cold War in Asia-Pacific

‘The region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era’

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on Thursday against letting tensions in the Asia-Pacific region cause a relapse into a Cold War mentality.

His remarks on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum came weeks after the U.S., Britain and Australia announced a new security alliance in the region which would see Australia build nuclear submarines. China has harshly criticised the deal.

And in a separate illustration of strains within APEC, one Southeast Asian delegate said the group had so far failed to reach agreement on a U.S. bid to host the 2023 summit due to unmet demands from Russia.

Online meeting

Mr. Xi spoke in a pre-recorded video to a CEO Summit at APEC, which is being hosted by New Zealand in a virtual format. Mr. Xi is scheduled to participate in an online meeting with other Pacific Rim leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday.

In his speech, Mr. Xi said attempts to draw boundaries in the region along ideological or geopolitical lines would fail. His reference to the Cold War echoes Beijing’s oft-stated position that the U.S. should abandon that way of thinking in dealing with China.

“The Asia-Pacific region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era,” Mr. Xi said.

He added the region should make sure to keep supply lines functioning and to continue liberalising trade and investment. “China will remain firm in advancing reform and opening up so as to add impetus to economic development.” The most pressing task in the region is to make an all-out effort to fight the pandemic and to emerge from its shadow as soon as possible, he said. Meanwhile, the Southeast Asian delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to publicly discuss the issue, said Russia had refused to support the U.S. bid unless some of its diplomats were removed from a U.S. blacklist or allowed to enter the U.S. to participate in the APEC meetings.

Russia’s demands

The delegate said the U.S. is unlikely to agree to Russia’s demands because issues involving America’s security are considered “non-negotiable”. The delegate added that China had stayed silent on the U.S. offer.

If the 21 APEC leaders fail to reach a consensus on the U.S. bid by Friday, the delegate said, a paragraph in a draft of the summit communique welcoming the U.S. offer would have to be deleted.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said earlier this week that APEC was founded on consensus and that there was not yet a confirmed host for 2023.

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney also spoke at the CEO summit, saying she believed that liberal democracies could improve global human rights by pressuring autocratic nations. She said businesses also needed to play a role.

“If you can’t battle evil, you can at least try to tackle apathy,” Ms. Clooney said.

In all, APEC members account for nearly 3 billion people and about 60% of the world’s GDP. But deep tensions run through the unlikely group of 21 nations and territories that include the U.S., China, Taiwan, Russia, and Australia.

Many of the countries in Asia endeavour to balance Chinese and U.S. influences on the economic and geopolitical fronts.

China claims vast parts of the South China Sea and other areas and has moved to establish a military presence, building islands in some disputed areas as it asserts its historic claims.

China, U.S. to increase climate cooperation

The two countries pledge to work together to accelerate the emissions reductions

Associated Press Glasgow

The world’s top carbon polluters, China and the United States, agreed on Wednesday to increase their cooperation and speed up action to rein in climate-damaging emissions, signalling a mutual effort on global warming at a time of tension over their other disputes.

In back-to-back news conferences at UN climate talks in Glasgow, Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and U.S. counterpart John Kerry said the two countries would work together to accelerate the emissions reductions required to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

“It’s beneficial not only to our two countries but the world as a whole that two major powers in the world, China and the U.S., shoulder special international responsibilities and obligations,” Mr. Xie told reporters. “We need to think big and be responsible.”

“The steps we’re taking … can answer questions people have about the pace at which China is going, and help China and us to be able to accelerate our efforts,” Mr. Kerry said.

China also agreed for the first time to crack down on methane leaks, following the lead of the Biden administration’s efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas. Beijing and Washington agreed to share technology to reduce emissions. Governments agreed in Paris to jointly cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, with a more stringent target of trying to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius preferred.

Both sides recognise that there is a gap between efforts taken globally to reduce climate pollution and the goals of the Paris deal, Mr. Xie said. “So we will jointly strengthen climate action and cooperation with respect to our respective national situations,” he said.

The News Editorial Analysis 11th November 2021

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