Newspaper notes for UPSC 12-07-18

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Govt. leaves decision on Section 377 to the court

  • The government chose not to take sides on the question of the legality of Section 377 IPC, a provision which criminalises homosexuality, leaving the decision entirely to the Supreme Court.
  • The government’s decision to not contest writ petitions against Section 377 however came with a rider that the court should specify that the freedom to choose a partner does not extend to perversions like
  • CJI said the court was not confining its ambit merely to LGBTQ or sexual orientation. It is examining the aspect of two consenting adults who should not be liable for criminal action for their relationship.

Fall of Sec. 377 will embolden LGBTQ people: CJI

  • Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra indicated that collapse of the citadel of Section 377 IPC will open the gates for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community to come to court to overcome discrimination and claim their individual rights.
  • A declaration from the court will remove the ancillary disqualifications for people joining services, contesting elections. It will no longer be seen as moral turpitude.
  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said any law criminalising a community for their sexuality was an example of “social disdain.”
  • The court was reacting to arguments made on the branding and ostracisation suffered by the transgender community from both law and society. Laws like the Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Eunuchs Act still criminalised transgender persons.Section 36A of the Karnataka Police Act of 1963, which was amended only in 2016, saw transgender persons as a criminal class.
  • These Acts were identical to the notorious Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, which branded a number of marginalised population groups like transgenders as “innately criminal”. The Criminal Tribes Act was repealed in 1949 but Section 377 continues to survive in the statute book.

Background: Here’s what you need to know about Section 377 of IPC:

  • Section 377 of the IPC states: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal inter­course against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1[imprisonment for life], or with impris­onment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.” This archaic British law dates back to 1861 and criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature and the ambit of this law extends to any sexual union involving penile insertion.
  • In 2009, in a landmark judgment, the Delhi High Court described Section 377 as a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Following this, religious groups moved the Supreme Court for a direction against the verdict.
  • The Supreme Court in 2013 overruled the Delhi High Court’s order and reinforced criminalisation of homosexuality stating that Parliament’s job was to scrap laws. This judgment by the apex court was highly criticised by the LGBTQ community in India and was seen as a setback for human rights.
  • In January 2018, the Supreme Court said a larger group of judges would re-consider the previous judgment and examine Section 377’s constitutional validity.

Adultery must remain a punishable offence

  • A petition filed by Joseph Shine seeks to drop Section 497 as a criminal offence from the statute book. The petitioner has said Section 497 IPC was unconstitutional as it discriminated against men and violated Article 14, 15 and 21. “When the sexual intercourse takes place with the consent of both the parties, there is no good reason for excluding one party from the liability,”.
  • In an 11-page affidavit which will be taken up before a Constitution Bench, the Centre said the provision punishing adultery — Section 497 of IPC — “supports, safeguards and protects the institution of marriage” considering the “unique structure and culture of Indian society.” The government agreed to the thought that “stability of a marriage is not an ideal to be scorned” and striking down Section 497 would destroy the fabric of society itself.
  • The Constitution Bench is scheduled to decide on whether the pre-Independence provision of adultery in the IPC treats a married woman as her husband’s “subordinate” and violates the constitutional concepts of gender equality and sensitivity.
  • The Constitution Bench to be headed by Chief Justice Misra is likely to consider whether Section 497 treats the man as the adulterer and the married woman as a victim.
  • The larger Bench may also examine why the offence of adultery ceases the moment it is established that the husband connived with or consented to the adulterous act. So, is a married woman the “property” of her husband or a passive object without a mind of her own?.

Background:

  • Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code states that “whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery”. The offence of adultery entails punishment of up to five years or with fine or with both. However, in such cases, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.
  • However, it must be mentioned that only sexual intercourse with a married woman would amount to adultery. Sexual relations with a widow, sex worker or an unmarried woman does not attract this section. This has been confirmed by the Delhi High Court in the case of Brij Lal Bishnoi v/s State (1996).
  • Suggested reading:  Gender-based laws: a double-edged sword.

Centre upholds Net neutrality proposals

  • The government has approved the principle of net neutrality. This means that telecom and Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, platform, or application. They cannot engage in practices such as blocking, slowing down or granting preferential speeds to any content.
  • This principle, would apply to any discriminatory treatment based on the sender or receiver, the network protocols, or the user equipment, but not to specialised services or other exclusions. It had also said that these would not apply to “reasonable traffic management practices” by the service provider.
  • To implement Net neutrality, the regulator had recommended that the terms of licence agreements that govern the provision of Internet services in India be amended “to incorporate the principles of non-discriminatory treatment of content along with the appropriate exclusions and exceptions.”
  • The regulator has recommended establishing a multi-stakeholder not-for-profit body for the monitoring and enforcement of the principles.
  • The Telecom Commission also gave its approval to the new digital communications policy 2018 (new telecom policy), which will now be sent for Cabinet approval.
  • The Telecom Commission (TC) — which is the highest decision-making body in the Department of Telecom, on Wednesday approved the recommendation made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the subject eight months ago.
  • However,  certain emerging and critical services will be kept out of the purview of these norms. A separate committee has been set up under the Department of Telecom (DoT) to examine what these critical services will be. These may include autonomous vehicles, digital healthcare services or disaster management.

SC decries pathetic state of Taj

  • The Supreme Court  condemned the apathy shown by authorities to the cause of protecting the iconic Taj Mahal, saying the preservation of the monument may be a “hopeless cause.”
  • The Green Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta was miffed to find out that the authority in charge of the Taj Trapezium Zone was still entertaining applications from industrialists to expand their factories into the protected zone despite a long-standing moratorium from the Supreme Court.
  • In May, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said unwashed socks worn by visitors and rampant algae seem to turn the Taj Mahal from its natural white to yellow, brown and green.

What is Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ)

  • Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) is a defined area of 10,400 sq km around the Taj Mahal to protect the monument from pollution. The Supreme Court of India delivered a ruling on December 30, 1996 regarding industries covered under the TTZ, in response to a PIL seeking to protect the Taj Mahal from environmental pollution.
  • It banned the use of coal/ coke in industries located in the TTZ with a mandate for switching over from coal/ coke to natural gas, and relocating them outside the TTZ or shutting down.
  • The TTZ comprises over 40 protected monuments including three World Heritage Sites the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. TTZ is so named since it is located around the Taj Mahal and is shaped like a trapezoid.
  • Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1631.

Aadhaar must for health mission cover

  • The government has mandated the use of Aadhaar card for administering its massive Ayushman Bharat, or National Health Mission, that assures a Rs. 5 lakh health cover to 10 crore families.
  • While possessing an Aadhaar card isn’t mandatory to avail services, a proof of enrolment, or request for enrolment, is mandatory.

Volkswagen’s affidavit sought on emission

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed Volkswagen to file an affidavit on the status of proceedings against the company in other countries pertaining to the usage of “cheat devices” in vehicles to manipulate emission levels.
  • A Bench,  directed the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises to file a response to the report submitted by the company on the recall of vehicles in the country.
  • The company had in 2015 recalled over three lakh vehicles in India following tests conducted by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) that found emission levels to be higher than permissible levels.

Promotion quota case for 7-judge Bench?

  • The Supreme Court  indicated that a seven-judge Bench may be constituted to examine whether a 2006 judgment by a five-judge Bench of the court interrupted the grant of quota in promotions.
  • The oral observation was in reaction to submissions made by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal that lakhs of promotions across government departments have been put on hold because of the Nagaraj judgment of 2006.
  • The Bench refused to pass interim directions contrary to the Nagaraj judgment. As of now, the freeze in reservation for promotions would continue.
  • The five-judge Bench in the Nagaraj case had held that the creamy layer concept should be excluded from reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government jobs. It had directed the upper limit of quota at 50%.
  • The Bench had also held that the State would have to justify in each case the compelling reasons – namely backwardness and inadequacy of representation — for providing reservation “keeping in mind the overall efficiency of State administration.”

Internet benefiting rural China

  • Internet is playing a big role in rural transformation with over 55 million students in rural schools getting access to live streaming classes.
  • According to the China Internet Report 2018 ,  local governments in China spend 8% of their annual budgets on digitisation of education.
  • Nearly 78 million rural users read news from three primary news apps at least once a month and 50% of China’s poor villages will be equipped with e-commerce capabilities by 2020.
  • China’s Internet penetration is just over 50%, much lower than the 89% penetration in the U.S., but the country’s sheer size and scale of Internet use has meant that there are three times the number of smartphone users and 11 times the number of mobile payment gateway users in China than in the U.S. With a user base of roughly 210 million, China is discovering the value of internet in the development of e-commerce, education and media in the rural expanses.

Iran softens stand

  • A day after threatening to cut special privileges for India, Iran toned down its rhetoric and said that it “understands” the challenges Delhi is facing on the energy front.
  • An official statement from the Embassy of Iran conveyed that Tehran has always welcomed Indian initiatives in the port of Chabahar and urged Delhi to fast-track investments in the connectivity project.
  • India is a sovereign nation and taking into account many criteria including its friendly relations with supplier countries, market factors, geopolitical and geo-economical considerations and potentials and reliability of the oil suppliers, chooses its energy partners,” the statement said.
  • The statement attempted to portray cordial bilateral relations.

Climate change threatens Nilgiri tahr

  • These endangered wild mountain goats  found only in high altitudes in India’s Western Ghatscould be losing their footing with increasing climate change. Even under moderate scenarios of future climate change, tahrs could lose approximately 60% of their habitats from the 2030s on.
  • Scientists tried to predict how climate change can affect tahr habitat in the Ghats by mapping tahr distribution (using existing information and field surveys) and then using climatic factors of these locations to see where tahrs would be able to survive, given current and future climate change scenarios.
  • There are only around 2,500 tahrs left in the wild and their population — “small and isolated, making them vulnerable to local extinction” — shows a “decreasing” trend, as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Editorials and Opinions :

High on rhetoric

  • Punjab Chief Minister launched his much-anticipated war on drugs  on July 4 by ordering mandatory drug tests for all government employees, including the police.
  • While this is welcome,  it is a very small and insubstantial measure towards curbing the pervasive drug menace.
  • The conduct of annual drug tests on some 3.25 lakh employees is a piece of tokenism. More steps are needed; less missteps, too ( like the decision of the Punjab Cabinet to recommend the death penalty to drug-peddlers).
  • Capital punishment is abhorrent. Given that there is evidence that suggests it is also no guarantee of deterring crime, this is more of an empty signal.
  • What is required is a comprehensive war on drugs fought on several fronts, including interventions in the community to spread awareness and foster a culture against the use of drugs.
  • The challenges faced by the State are huge. Estimates vary but by some accounts as many as two-thirds of all households in Punjab have a drug addict in their midst.
  • Punjab’s prisons are overcrowded with drug-users and peddlers, and its streets and farms witness the easy availability of narcotics and opiates.
  • The sheer extent of the problem suggests it is more than just a few profiteers that have been responsible for causing this menace or helping to sustain it. Something of this scale required a wide network, a well-oiled and smoothly run machinery that has the secret support and collaboration of at least a few of those who work in government.
  • Given the geography, the drugs, whether it is opium or heroin, make an easy and assisted entrance into Punjab from the Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan), and synthetic drugs are thought to come in via Himachal Pradesh. That means those guarding Punjab’s 553-km border with Pakistan must take serious steps to plug the inflow.
  • Security-planners in New Delhi have to make sure that the border is properly barred to the flow of narcotic substances. This is a national problem as a substantial portion of the drugs that land in Punjab make their way to the rest of the country. Given the links between drugs and terror, this poses a national security threat.
  • The political class has a critical role to play in winning the war on drugs.They need to put the State and the nation above self-serving political ends and agree that this battle must be fought in concrete ways, going beyond photo-ops and sound-bites.

Traffickers, peddlers, mules or users?

  • At a Cabinet meeting on July 2, the Punjab government recommended to the Union government the death penalty for first time offenders convicted for drug trafficking and smuggling. But the assumption that harsher measures can help deal with the State’s drug problem is flawed.
  • Deterrence by harsh punishments has consistently failed, especially in the context of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act).
  • The law on drugs is covered by the NDPS Act. The Act’s primary objective is to deter drug trafficking.
  • It uses every trick in the book to achieve this: strict liability offences, mandatory minimum sentences, even the death penalty for certain repeat offences, to name a few.
  • The system has responded to the law by maintaining a high rate of conviction and imprisonment. In 2015, 41.7% of all prisoners in Punjab were in jail for various offences related to this law. The conviction rate recorded for NDPS cases in Patiala for the same year was 90.7%. The comparative conviction rate under the Indian Penal Code was 30.7%. But Punjab continues to be plagued by drug-related deaths.
  • The death penalty was introduced in the Act in 1989, to deter narco-terrorism. The legislators even at that time believed that the only way to tackle the growing drug menace was to incorporate the harshest possible punishments in the law.
  • An executive notification passed by the Department of Revenue in 2009 led to a major change in how commercial quantities under the Act were determined, creating a situation where many offences involving commercial quantity were, in fact, not trafficking offences at all. This notification assigns punishment based on the weight of the whole drug and not just pure content. As a result, sentencing in pharmaceutical drug cases changed drastically across Punjab.  Thus, given how the law in interpreted, it is hard to say whether the people imprisoned are traffickers, peddlers, mules or users.
  • The law also seeks deterrence through strict liability provisions. Under the law, proving possession alone is sufficient, the prosecution does not have to prove intent to lead to conviction. Since intent is harder to prove than a criminal act alone, strict liability ensures higher convictions.The Cabinet’s proposal to make the law even harsher is an attempt to play to the gallery. It may alleviate people’s concerns for the time being, but it will not yield the results the state as well as its people so desperately seek.
  • To begin with, to ensure that traffickers are caught instead of users, the law must make intent an ingredient of offences under the NDPS Act. The burden of proof should be on the prosecution to prove that the accused possessed the drug for a particular purpose. Possession alone should not be sufficient to constitute an offence under the Act.
  • The Act is also blatantly unforgiving of anyone found in possession of any drug. Section 27 of the Act makes consuming any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance a criminal offence. Criminalising addiction stigmatises it, which automatically inhibits addicts from coming forward for treatment.

Way forward:

  • The state should consider decriminalising addiction and developing an effective treatment strategy by consulting experts, partner agencies and users, and allocating adequate resources. The Punjab government must assess its infrastructural needs and ensure that they are met.
  • VA: The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, commonly referred to as the NDPS Act, is an Act of the Parliament of India that prohibits a person to produce/manufacture/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store, and/or consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.

A clean cooking strategy

  • Energy use, a key indicator of living standards across the world, is also instrumental in raising it. The choice of cooking fuel in households (especially rural) has a huge impact on living conditions especially for women and children.
  • On an average in India, household spending on cooking fuel accounts for around 5-6% of its total expenditure.
  • Factors such as socio-economic (availability and easy access, also determined by household income and price of fuel, education and awareness), culture or lifestyle, and, to a large extent, government policies also influence cooking fuel choice.
  • Affordable, reliable and clean energy for cooking is essential not only for reducing health and environmental impacts but also helping women to do more productive work and developing the rural economy.
  • Among the various fuel options available (firewood, pellet, biogas, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas or LPG, piped natural gas or PNG) biogas accounts for the lowest effective greenhouse gas emission; PNG and then LPG are next. Prelims
  • An assessment of annual life cycle emissions of various fuels ,cost of various fuels (non-taxed and not subsidised), annual life cycle emission per household (kg/CO2 equivalent) and extent of in-house air pollution for various cooking fuels suggests that biogas and PNG are the best cooking energy options.
  • Cooking fuels emit substantial amounts of toxic pollutants (respirable particles, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, benzene, formaldehyde and polyaromatic compounds) which contribute to indoor air pollution. In households with limited ventilation — common in rural household and semi-urban areas — these pollutants could lead to severe health problems.
  • National level programmes to ensure that most switch to clean cooking fuels have been initiated since the 1980s, the National Project on Biogas Development (NPBD) being an example. But the programme has been hampered by mala fide practices, poor construction material, a lack of maintenance, misrepresentation of achievements and a lack of accountability and follow-up services.
  • Once again, in order to ensure access to clean energy —a key focus area for poverty alleviation —the government launched a flagship programme, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana in May 2016. with a cumulative target of providing LPG connections to more than eight crore families.
  • preference for LPG: However, since conventionally, governments have been subsidising LPG and as such a consumption-based subsidy is not available for biogas and PNG, it has led to a preference for LPG over other cleaner, safer, more cost effective and locally available options (biogas in rural areas). Further, LPG import along with large subsidies are a drain on government resources which hamper the focus on other social development programmes.
  • To promote biogas in rural and semi-urban areas, adopting the service-based enterprise model with suitable resource availability offers a sustainable approach.Such models can also generation employment significantly at the grass-root level an important additional benefit of running a biogas programme. However, there is a need to provide financial support and facilitate capacity building in order to promote enterprise-based models for community-level plants.
  • PNG needs to be promoted in urban areas beginning with the densely populated Tier-I and Tier-II/III cities, making LPG just one of the options to choose from rather than it having an edge over others.
  • To further enable a consumer to freely make cooking fuel choices, consumption-based subsidies need to be replaced with a functional subsidy that is provided on the basis of household income levels and local variables.
  • As India takes a long-term view on sustainability and energy security, it is important to create an environment where its citizens are aware of the options and make their energy choices based on the nature of the fuel and not because of socio-economic constraints.

The problems with the HECI draft Bill

  • The draft Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill, 2018 (HECI), aims to replace a historical statutory body, the UGC; push for more government control; and stifle critical thinking on campuses.
  • The UGC, it is argued, is preoccupied with disbursing funds and is unable to concentrate on mentoring higher education institutes, focus on research, and implement other quality measures required in the education sector. So, the HECI will focus solely on academic matters while grants will be issued by the Ministry.
  • The argument is perplexing as what is expected of the higher education system as envisaged by Mr. Javadekar can very well be done by the UGC. To do so, the UGC needs to be restructured in a manner that will ensure that its autonomy is strengthened without any scope for patronage politics and political interference.
  • However, no such restructuring has been attempted, taking into account the UGC’s founding goals, achievements, shortcomings and the reasons for such shortcomings.

Six concerns

  • One, Mr. Javadekar tweeted that the transformation of the regulatory set-up is based on the principles of minimum government and maximum governance, separation of grant functions, the end of inspection raj,and focus on academic quality. This is clearly a case of doublespeak. The nature of the structure of the commission and its advisory council shows that they are bound to have more “government” in decision-making processes rather than academics.
  • Two, sweeping powers render the HECI more authoritative than the collective strength of campus authorities. The powers and functions of the HECI trivialise the concept of autonomy.Also, under the new terms of engagement, universities will have to take the concurrence of the HECI before offering a course. This restricts the freedom of a university’s Board of Studies.
  • Three, with its mandate of improving academic standards with a specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, and training of teachers, the HECI is likely to overregulate and micromanage universities.
  • Four, the proposal to empower the Centre to remove the HECI’s chairperson and vice-chairperson for reasons including “moral turpitude” will again curtail the regulator’s autonomy.
  • Five, instead of allowing institutions to evolve over time based on their specific needs, focussing on homogeneous, one-size-fits-all administrative models will go against the ethos of academic freedom, diversity, and knowledge production, and will help attempts to corporatise the education sector.
  • Six, the move to replace the UGC with the HECI points to the Centre’s aim to restrict the role of the States in matters relating to education.

The bigger concern for India is that despite being a country with a huge young population,

  • One, Higher education remains a privilege; many do not yet have access to it, mainly because it is not affordable. Also, those who do have access attend universities to further their life chances; aiming to get their university in the world’s top 500 list is not their priority.
  • Two, education is a continuum from lower to higher. The quality of higher education is determined by the quality of lower education, which is extremely poor, and that should be our focus.
  • Three, despite the Modi government’s slogan, ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’, the fact is that the number of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Muslims who have access to even basic education, let alone higher education, remains abysmal.

Access to Education

  • The Prime Minister should concentrate his energies on improving this dismal scenario rather than lamenting about India not figuring in the world’s top universities list.
  • Even the poorest child in India should have access to the best education that will benefit and improve his or her future.
  • Education must serve as ladder for those in the lower rungs of society. In India there is no such ladder, and many children continue to lead a poor quality life with no access to education.

Staying vigilant on Nipah

  • A swift and unexpected outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala has finally ended, with the government declaring Kozhikode and Malappuram Nipah-free on July 1.
  • Also, last week, the National Institute of Virology found the Nipah virus in Kozhikode’s fruit bats, suggesting that the virus had travelled to humans from bats.
  • But the outbreak ought to put healthcare surveillance officials across India on guard. It confirms that the virus could be circulating in regions of India without our knowledge.
  • Will such outbreaks happen again? Even though West Bengal and Kerala are the only States that have seen Nipah outbreaks, the virus and antibodies have been detected in bats in Assam and Haryana too.
  • The transmission of a virus to humans, or zoonotic spillover, is a rare event for Nipah. The virus was found in countries which never saw an outbreak, such as Thailand, and the only known outbreaks so far have been in Malaysia, Bangladesh and India. A number of factors must come together for spillover to occur. First, the bats must carry a lot of the virus (whereas the viral load is frequently low in these mammals). Second, bats must come in close contact with humans. This is happening more frequently with deforestation and urbanisation.
  • Why the global interest in a local outbreak? Nipah virus can potentially trigger global pandemics. At present, the virus transmits inefficiently, through respiratory droplets, to people within a metre of sick patients. If the microbe mutates to become airborne, or evolves to transmit via patients who are asymptomatic, it will be hard to control. Sadly, every outbreak gives the virus the chance to mutate. With a fatality rate of over 80%, the virus could become a big killer.

Mercenary conservation

  • Karnataka recently drafted Private Conservancy Rules in a bid to increase forest area through private land. Under the rules, anyone who has a minimum of 100 acres of land bordering a national park can convert it to a “Wildlife Private Conservancy”. Of this land, 5% can be used to construct buildings for ecotourism; the rest has to be kept for flora and fauna.
  • Though policies are different in India and South Africa, there has been much talk about how we are going down the Africa way with this new approach. In South Africa, agricultural land can be converted into wildlife reserves. The government specifies how much land is required for each animal, purchases are then made, and wildlife is introduced.
  • Some game reserves allow hunting, which is legal. Hunting rights for specific animals are auctioned regularly. The highest bidder may gun down the animal and carry its head as a “trophy”. Each species has a minimum bid with the Big Five — namely, the cape buffalo, rhino, elephant, leopard and lion — being the most expensive. The locals wholeheartedly support hunting as it brings in foreign exchange and thus motivates the management to run the game reserve better, in turn leading to more hunting bids.
  • Though these wildlife spaces are massive, they are private and hence fenced. This constantly challenges and changes the natural behaviour of wildlife. Some reserves have two sections: one with lions and one without. However, predators ensure survival of the fittest, and as a corollary, their absence leads to overgrazing and excess population. There is also a territorial issue: in enclosed spaces, an alpha cannot be established easily as the non-alphas are unable to find new ground. This leads to more infighting and behavioural disturbances.

Maternity benefits or jobs

  • Will the government’s efforts to extend paid maternity leave in the formal sector benefit women, or cause a backlash from employers, further undermining Indian women’s job prospects? Is a trade-off inevitable or is there another path? And what about informal sector workers?
  • The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 increases women’s leave entitlements from 12 to 26 weeks. Of these, up to eight weeks can be taken pre-delivery. Enterprises with 50 or more employees must also provide crèches and allow the mother four crèche visits, daily. Women with two or more children get reduced entitlements. The costs of these benefits are to be borne solely by employers.
  • A recent report by TeamLease, based on interviews with 300 employers across 10 sectors, found a negative or mixed response from all but the IT and e-commerce companies. In net terms, the Report projects some 11 to 18 lakh job losses for women in 2018-19 alone for the 10 sectors studied, and up to 1.2 crore job losses across all sectors.
  • In the UK, when the law firm, Slater & Gordon, surveyed 500 managers in 2013, one-third admitted they would prefer to hire a young man rather than a young woman due to the high costs of maternity leave, and 40 per cent were wary of hiring women of childbearing age.
  • A study of 22 OECD countries found that although generous parental leave makes it easier for women to combine work and family care, it can lead employers to discriminate against women in jobs that lead to higher-level positions and require fulltime career commitments.
  • In India, where barely 6.5 per cent of women are in the formal sector, it will be disastrous if extended maternity leave further deters employers from hiring women. We need more jobs precisely in this sector, as more young educated women join the workforce. Already, we have falling female labour participation, especially due to inadequate jobs for women. Can we afford a further decline? What is the way out?

Comprehensive and gender-balanced measures

  • First, childcare should not be treated solely as women’s responsibility. Some 55 per cent countries recognise the father’s role and give parental leave or paternity leave in varying degrees.
  • A second issue is cost. Companies are less likely to discriminate against women if the government pitches in. The 2018 ILO report on Care Work and Care Jobs emphasises the need for government support up to at least two-thirds of the costs of maternity benefits, under ILO Convention 183.

Informal sector:

  • However, much of this relates largely to the formal sector. What about the 93.5 per cent Indian women workers in the informal sector?
  • The 2017 Act does not apply to them, nor is it clear how it can realistically cover women working on family farms, doing home-based work, the urban self-employed, or casual workers on contract.Even existing minimal benefits, such as Rs 6,000 over six months for all pregnant women under the National Food Security Act 2013, are not fully implemented.
  • Third, even in the formal sector, the child will need care after six months of maternity leave. The one measure that would benefit women across all sectors, formal and informal, is providing good crèches and childcare centres.In Japan, the government’s expansion of high quality childcare centres has significantly increased women’s work participation. In India, at the very least, childcare centres should be the joint responsibility of government and private employers.
  • Fourth, flexible work time for both sexes can additionally help with work-life balance. Notably, in the TeamLease Report, large companies in IT and e-commerce were the main ones supporting extended maternity leave

Way Forward:

  • The issue of maternity benefits thus needs a comprehensive approach and not just a one-sided Act. To ensure that extended maternity leave does not backfire on women’s jobs, we need equivalent paternity leave, government sharing of costs with employers, high quality crèches and childcare centres, and serious efforts, including media campaigns, to change social norms favouring childcare by fathers.
  • “Children are public goods”, as one feminist economist put it. It is surely a joint social responsibility (and not just the mother’s) to ensure that children do not turn out to be public bads!

Spiritual dimension of ‘Act East’ policy

  • India’s eastern neighbourhood unfortunately received relatively little bilateral diplomatic attention in the years immediately following Independence.
  • With New Delhi choosing to adopt a path of “self-reliance” and “import substitution”, the prospects of playing any meaningful role in foreign investments and trade, were sharply limited. There was a relatively limited Indian contribution, in security and economic development, across its eastern shores.
  • Things changed significantly in the 1990s after the end of the ‘Cold War’. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao set India on a path of renewing ancient trade and economic links with countries across its eastern shores, with a new “Look East” policy.
  • He realised that our eastern neighbourhood, extending beyond Malacca to Vietnam, Japan, China and South Korea, was becoming the economically fastest growing region globally.
  • Increasing integration Over the last three decades, our economy has been increasingly integrated with economies across our entire eastern neighbourhood, including the 10 members of ASEAN, apart from South Korea and Japan. Trade and investment ties and regional connectivity are expanding. Three partners in South Asia — Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh — are an integral part of this process, through the
  • These developments are only natural, as trade with India’s eastern neighbours from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand to Srivijaya (Indonesia) and beyond, had flourished for centuries, before colonial rule.
  • But, these ties can and should be made enduring, by reinforcing trade and investment, with a spiritual dimension, arising from the huge influence in our eastern neighbourhood, of the teachings and message of Lord Gautama Buddha.
  • The message of Lord Buddha spread beyond India’s borders, particularly eastwards, through Sri Lanka to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
  • The abiding impact of the message of Lord Buddha is evident from the fact that the estimated population of Buddhists worldwide in 2010 was around 480 million.
  • India has never seriously considered how to leverage the abiding spiritual ties it has with the people of neighbouring Buddhist countries. India ignored how imaginatively building tourist facilities in areas of Buddhist pilgrimage would benefit it, boosting tourism revenues, by facilitating the quest of Buddhists worldwide for salvation, in the Land of the Buddha. It also appeared to ignore the fact that such tourism would enable it to develop abiding relationships, across its eastern shores.
  • Tourists from Buddhist countries often find visiting India a difficult, if not unpleasant, experience.Given the wide range of tourists who could visit the pilgrimage centres, all major destinations for potential Buddhist tourism should have a wide variety of hotels/hospitals available.
  • Given the immense long term diplomatic and economic benefits of building up viable Buddhist tourism circuits in India, it’s necessary to integrate our domestic efforts with a diplomatic drive to seek the participation, involvement and investment of Buddhist countries in a cooperative effort for building integrated Buddhist circuits for domestic and foreign tourism in India. Most notably, the involvement of China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN and South Asian neighbours — Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal — is imperative.
  • Moreover, Buddhist countries should be welcomed to make their architectural and aesthetic contributions, including exhibitions, for displaying their own cultural and spiritual heritage, in Buddhist tourism destinations in India.
  • The Department of Tourism has imaginatively drawn up three distinct tourism circuits (“Dharma Yatra” or the “Sacred Circuit”) for visits to Buddhist pilgrimage places. With around 500 million Buddhists living beyond our borders, primarily to our east, it is imperative that, as the focal point of Buddhist heritage and spirituality, our “Act East” interactions with our eastern neighbours, are imaginative and sensitive.

Improving city finances is a must for India’s future

  • Indore is the third city to raise money through municipal bonds in recent months. Its issue was preceded by similar offerings from Pune and Hyderabad.
  • Indian cities do not have the financial muscle to build the infrastructure needed for them to sustain as engines of job creation. A committee headed by Isher Judge Ahluwalia had estimated in 2011 that Indian cities would have to invest a cumulative ₹40 trillion at constant prices over the next two decades, at the end of which around 600 million Indians could be urban.
  • Meanwhile, city revenue is less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). The share of their own revenue in annual budgets has been slipping consistently, making cities dependent on the whims of state and national governments for their infrastructure financing.
  • Municipal bonds are one obvious solution. However, they are not a magic wand. There are three cautionary points that are worth pondering over.
  • First, any bond eventually has to be repaid through cash flows. Should focus on core task of strengthening their own revenue base.
  • Second, there have to be credible commitments to investors that the money raised will not be diverted for other uses, as was done by several state governments in the 1990s.
  • Third, many of the (admittedly inefficient) levies such as octroi that cities depended on for money have been removed in the new goods and services tax (GST) system. The third level of government more generally, get a direct share of GST collections rather than routing these through state governments.
  • India may need policies to reduce the risk in municipal bonds till the market matures. Credit rating is already done, but there may be need for an agency to do market making, credit enhancement and underwriting.
  • Such institutional innovations will be needed in a country like India where cities are not financially strong. A strong municipal bond market should be seen as a part of a larger policy mix to improve the state of cities.
  • All this should be seen against the larger challenge of empowering city governments, with financial power complementing political power. Cities need directly elected mayors who have political incentives to use money wisely.
  • Cities are not only engines of economic growth but also offer an escape from social oppression. The future of India is profoundly linked to the future of its cities. That future will continue to be compromised as long as cities have neither the financial nor political ability to chart their own course. Municipal bonds are just one part of the broader task.

Optional reading:

Energy Hogs: Can World’s Huge Data Centers Be Made More Efficient?

  • The gigantic data centers that power the internet consume vast amounts of electricity and emit as much CO2 as the airline industry. To change that, data companies need to turn to clean energy sources and dramatically improve energy efficiency.
  • Data centers are the factories of the digital age. These mostly windowless, featureless boxes are scattered across the globe – from Las Vegas to Bangalore, and Des Moines to Reykjavik. They run the planet’s digital services. Their construction alone costs around $20 billion a year worldwide. The biggest, covering a million square feet or more, consume as much power as a city of a million people.
  • And with global data traffic more than doubling every four years, they are growing fast.
  • Yet if there is a data center near you, the chances are you don’t know about it. And you still have no way of knowing which center delivers your Netflix download, nor whether it runs on renewable energy using processors cooled by Arctic air, or runs on coal power and sits in desert heat, cooled by gigantically inefficient banks of refrigerators.
  • We are often told that the world’s economy is dematerializing – that physical analog stuff is being replaced by digital data, and that this data has minimal ecological footprint. But not so fast. If the global IT industry were a country, only China and the United States would contribute more to climate change, according to a Greenpeace report investigating “the race to build a green internet,” published last year.
  • Storing, moving, processing, and analyzing data all require energy. Lots of it. The processors in the biggest data centers hum with as much energy as can be delivered by a large power station, 1,000 megawatts or more. And it can take as much energy again to keep the servers and surrounding buildings from overheating.
  • Google estimates that a typical searchusing its services requires as much energy as illuminating a 60-watt light bulb for 17 seconds and typically is responsible for emitting 0.2 grams of CO2. Which doesn’t sound a lot until you begin to think about how many searches you might make in a year.
  • Streaming video through the internet is what really racks up the data count. IT company Cisco, which tracks these things, reckons video will make up 82 percent of internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016. Around a third of internet traffic in North America is already dedicated to streaming Netflix services alone.
  • Two things matter if we are to tame these runaway beasts: One is making them use renewable or other low-carbon energy sources; the other is ramping up their energy efficiency.
  • More and more IT companies are boasting of their commitment to achieving 100 percent reliance on renewable energy. To fulfil such pledges, some of the biggest are building their own energy campuses
  • More often, the data titans sign contracts to receive dedicated supply from existing wind and solar farms. In the U.S., those can still be hard to come by. The availability of renewable energy is one reason Google and Microsoft have recently built hubs in Finland, and Facebook in Denmark and Sweden. Google last year also signed a deal to buy all the energy from the Netherlands’ largest solar energy park, to power one of its four European data centers.
  • Of the mainstream data crunchers for consumers, Greenpeace singled out Netflix for criticism. It does not have its own data centers. Instead, it uses contractors such as Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud-computing company, which Greenpeace charged with being “almost completely non-transparent about the energy footprint of its massive operations.
  • Amazon Web Services contested this. A spokesperson told Yale Environment 360 that the company had a “long-term commitment to 100 percent renewable energy” and had launched a series of wind and solar farm projects now able to deliver around 40 percent of its energy.
  • Some industry insiders detect an element of smoke and mirrors in the green claims of the internet giants. “When most data center companies talk about renewable energy, they are referring to renewable energy certificates.
  • Using data compiled by Swedish state-owned energy giant Vattenfall, he claims that in Norway, where most of the energy comes from hydroelectricity, generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity emits only 3 grams of CO2. By comparison, in France it is 100 grams, in California 300 grams, in Virginia almost 600 grams, in New Mexico more than 800 grams.
  • Meanwhile, there is growing concern about the carbon footprint of centers being built for Asian internet giants such as Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba in China; Naver in South Korea; and Tulip Telecom in India.
  • These corporations have been tight-lipped about their energy performance, claims Greenpeace. But with most of the region’s energy coming from coal-fired power stations, their carbon footprint cannot be anything but large.
  • the world’s largest center is currently the Range International Information Hub, a cloud-data store at Langfang near the megacity of Tianjin in northeast China, where it takes more than 1,000 grams of CO2 for every kilowatt-hour.
  • Almost as important as switching data centers to low-carbon energy sources is improving their energy efficiency. Much of this comes down to the energy needed to keep the processors cool. Insanely, most of the world’s largest centers are in hot or temperate climates, where vast amounts of energy are used to keep them from overheating. Of the world’s 10 largest, two are in the desert heat of Nevada, and others are in Georgia, Virginia, and Bangalore.
  • Most would dramatically reduce their energy requirements if they relocated to a cool climate like Scandinavia or Iceland.

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