1. Significant progress in SDGs on clean energy, health: NITI index
Goalposts changed on inequality, with omission of key economic indicators
India saw significant improvement in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to clean energy, urban development and health in 2020, according to the NITI Aayog’s 2020 SDG Index. However, there has been a major decline in the areas of industry, innovation and infrastructure as well as decent work and economic growth.
Although the index shows improvement on the inequality SDGs, the NITI Aayog has omitted key economic indicators used to measure inequality in income and expenditure last year and given greater weightage to social indicators instead.
Kerala retained its position at the top of the rankings in the third edition of the index, with a score of 75, followed by Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, both scoring 72. At the other end of the scale, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam were the worst performing States. However, all the States showed some improvement from last year’s scores, with Mizoram and Haryana seeing the biggest gains.
Developed by a global consultative process on holistic development, the 17 SDGs have a 2030 deadline.
The NITI Aayog launched its index in 2018 to monitor the country’s progress on the goals through data-driven assessment and to foster a competitive spirit among the States and Union Territories in achieving them.
In March, an assessment by the UN of the impact of COVID-19 on the SDGs said the region India is part of may see rising inequality due to the pandemic.
The NITI Aayog Index shows some improvement in the SDG on inequality, but a look at the indicators used to assess this goal shows that the think tank has changed the goalposts.
Thrust on social equality
In 2019, the indicators for inequality included the growth rates for household expenditure per capita among the bottom 40% of rural and urban populations, as well as the Gini coefficient — a measure of the distribution of income — in rural and urban India. The 2018 indicators included the Palma ratio, another metric for income inequality.
Such economic measures have been omitted from the indicators used for this SDG in the 2020 edition of the Index. Instead, it gives greater weightage to social equality indicators, such as the percentage of women and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe representatives in State Legislatures and the panchayati raj institutions and the levels of crime against the SC/ST communities. The only economic indicator this year is the percentage of population in the lowest two wealth quintiles.
The SDGs that do deal directly with wages and industrial growth better reflect the fact that India’s economy has taken a beating over the last year.
The country’s score on the SDG related to industry and infrastructure dropped 10 points to 55, while the scores on decent work dropped three points to 61. The Clean Water and Sanitation SDG also saw a five-point drop, despite flagship government schemes in this sector.
In a more welcome development, the SDGs on eradication of poverty and hunger both saw significant improvement.
Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals agenda was accepted by all members of the United Nations in 2012 at the Rio De Janeiro Council Meet with an aim to promote a healthy and developed future of the planet and its people. It was in 2015 when the Sustainable Development Goals were implemented after a successful fifteen-year plan of development called the Millennium Development Goals.
What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?
The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of seventeen pointer targets that all the countries which are members of the UN agreed to work upon for the better future of the country.
The documentary screened at the Rio+20 conference – “Future We Want” presented the idea of a post-2015 development agenda. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an intergovernmental agreement formulated to act as post-2015 Development agenda, its predecessor being Millennium Development Goals.
It is a group of 17 goals with 169 targets and 304 indicators, as proposed by the United Nation General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Post negotiations, agenda titled “Transforming Our World: the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development” was adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit. SDGs is the outcome of the Rio+20 conference (2012) held in Rio De Janerio and is a non-binding document.
The 17 goals under the Sustainable Development Goals are as mentioned below:
- End poverty in all its forms everywhere
- End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
- Ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all stages
- Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
- Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
- Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
- Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- Built resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
- Reduce inequalities within and among countries
- Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- Ensure sustainable consumption and production pattern
- Take urgent actions to combat climate change and its impact
- Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
- Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managed forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
- Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
- Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development
Sustainable Development Goals in India
India’s record in implementing Sustainable Development Goals
- Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) is being implemented to provide jobs to unskilled labourers and improve their living standards.
- National Food Security Act is being enforced to provide subsidized food grains.
- The government of India aims to make India open defecation free under its flagship programme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
- Renewable energy generation targets have been set at 175 GW by 2022 to exploit solar energy, wind energy and other such renewable sources of energy efficiency and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels. (Read about International Solar Alliance in the linked article.)
- Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) schemes have been launched for improving the infrastructure aspects.
- India has expressed its intent to combat climate change by ratifying the Paris Agreement.
Millennium Development Goals
The United Nations in September 2000 made all its members follow a Millennium Development goal that had a series of eight time-bound targets that were supposed to be attained within a time period of fifteen years. The eight targets under the Millennium Development Goal are as mentioned below:
- To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- to achieve universal primary education
- to promote gender equality and empower women
- To reduce child mortality
- To improve maternal health
- To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- To ensure environmental sustainability
- To develop a global partnership for development
In 2015, a final report was handed over to the UN, stating the positive impact of the Millennium Development goal based on the eight factors and also on the maternal mortality rate. Once the 15-year target of MDG was attained, the responsibility for the development based on the 17 targets based Sustainable Development Goal.
2. ‘Journalists need protection against sedition charges’
SC quashes case against Vinod Dua
The Supreme Court on Thursday quashed a sedition case registered against senior journalist and Padma Shri awardee Vinod Dua for his critical remarks against the Prime Minister and the Union government in a YouTube telecast, underscoring its 59-year-old verdict that “strong words” of disapproval about the ruling regime did not amount to sedition.
A Bench, led by Justice U.U. Lalit, upheld the right of every journalist to criticise, even brutally, the measures of the government with a view to improving or altering them through legal means. The free speech of a journalist should be protected from charges of sedition.
The time is long past when the mere criticism of governments was sufficient to constitute sedition. The right to utter honest and reasonable criticism is a source of strength to a community rather than a weakness, the judgment said.
It upheld the spirit and intent of the 1962 Kedar Nath Singh verdict, which said, “Commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of government, or its agencies, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means, that is to say, without exciting those feelings of enmity and disloyalty which imply excitement to public disorder or the use of violence is not sedition”.
Justice Lalit declared, “Every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment.”
The 1962 judgment said Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (sedition) was intended only to punish subversion of a lawfully established government through violent means.
The court acknowledged the submission made by Mr. Dua, who is currently recovering from COVID-19, that “there is a recent trend against the media where State governments who do not find a particular telecast to be in sync with their political ideologies register FIRs against persons of the media primarily to harass them and to intimidate them so that they succumb to the line of the State or else face the music at the hands of the police”.
However, the court rejected Mr. Dua’s plea that FIRs should not be registered against journalists of 10 years’ experience unless cleared by a committee constituted by the State government concerned. Mr. Dua had said the committee should comprise the Chief Justice of the High Court or a judge designated by him, the Leader of the Opposition and the Home Minister of the State.
The court said such a committee was outside the present statutory framework. By granting the prayer, it would be encroaching into the legislature’s domain.
The complaint against Mr. Dua was filed by a BJP leader. The senior journalist was accused of spreading fake news. Besides sedition, the other charges include causing public nuisance, printing of defamatory matter and making statements conducive to public mischief.
- Historical Background of Sedition Law:
- Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy.
- The law was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, but was inexplicably omitted when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860.
- Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence.
- It was one of the many draconian laws enacted to stifle any voices of dissent at that time.
- Sedition Law Today: Sedition is a crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
- Section 124A IPC:
- It defines sedition as an offence committed when “any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”.
- Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence under this section.
- Punishment for the Offence of Sedition:
- Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which fine may be added.
- A person charged under this law is barred from a government job.
- They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in the court at all times as and when required.
- Section 124A IPC:
- Major Supreme Court Decisions on Sedition Law:
- The SC highlighted debates over sedition in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhiand Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras.
- In these cases, the court held that a law which restricted speech on the ground that it would disturb public order was unconstitutional.
- It also held that disturbing the public order will mean nothing less than endangering the foundations of the State or threatening its overthrow.
- Thus, these decisions prompted the First Constitution Amendment, where Article 19 (2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”.
- In 1962, the SC decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar.
- It upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”.
- It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.
- In 1995, the SC, in Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.
- The SC highlighted debates over sedition in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhiand Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras.
- Arguments in Support of Section 124A:
- Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
- It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.
- If contempt of court invites penal action, contempt of government should also attract punishment.
- Many districts in different states face a maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution.
- Against this backdrop, the abolition of Section 124A would be ill-advised merely because it has been wrongly invoked in some highly publicized cases.
- Arguments against Section 124A:
- Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
- Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition.
- Right to question, criticize and change rulers is very fundamental to the idea of democracy.
- The British, who introduced sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished the law in their country. There is no reason why India should not abolish this section.
- The terms used under Section 124A like ‘disaffection’ are vague and subject to different interpretations to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.
- IPC and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2019 have provisions that penalize “disrupting the public order” or “overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means”. These are sufficient for protecting national integrity. There is no need for Section 124A.
- The sedition law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent. A wide and concentrated executive discretion is inbuilt into it which permits the blatant abuse.
- In 1979, India ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which sets forth internationally recognized standards for the protection of freedom of expression. However, misuse of sedition and arbitrary slapping of charges are inconsistent with India’s international commitments.
3. Govt. advised the split in MGNREGA wage benefit
‘It is to assess Budget benefits for SC/STs’
The decision to split the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) wage payments by caste categories was done on the advice of the Union Finance Ministry in order to assess and highlight the benefits flowing from budgetary outlay towards Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), Rural Development Secretary N.N. Sinha told The Hindu on Thursday.
He said this should not cause any delay in wage payments or any changes for beneficiaries if processes were put in place correctly, and added that there was no plan to focus MGNREGA only on districts with high SC and ST populations.
On Wednesday, The Hindu had reported on a March 2 advisory of the Rural Development Ministry, which directed States to divide wage payments into separate categories for SCs, STs and others from this financial year. Workers’ advocates feared this move would cause unnecessary delays and complications in the payment system, and worried that it could lead to a reduction in scheme funding.
“The rationale was very simple. It is not as if the payments made to SC and ST are not reported on the NREGA website, but overall, in terms of the budgetary outlay, people don’t have that intricate information about how much benefit is flowing from the Budget to the SC and ST [communities],” said Mr. Sinha.
“When people take an assessment merely on the Budget head under which the programme is budgeted, then they miss out this intricate nuance. So, the Finance Ministry advised that we should make Budget provisions under SC and ST components as well,” he said, adding that the measure was to a large extent aimed at highlighting what the Centre was doing for the SC and ST communities.
The Secretary said there was no need to worry about the changes.
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)
The scheme was introduced as a social measure that guarantees “the right to work”. The key tenet of this social measure and labour law is that the local government will have to legally provide at least 100 days of wage employment in rural India to enhance their quality of life.
- Generation of paid rural employment of not less than 100 days for each worker who volunteers for unskilled labour.
- Proactively ensuring social inclusion by strengthening livelihood base of rural poor.
- Creation of durable assets in rural areas such as wells, ponds, roads and canals.
- Reduce urban migration from rural areas.
- Create rural infrastructure by using untapped rural labour.
The following are the eligibility criteria for receiving the benefits under MGNREGA scheme:
- Must be Citizen of India to seek NREGA benefits.
- Job seeker has completed 18 years of age at the time of application.
- The applicant must be part of a local household (i.e. application must be made with local Gram Panchayat).
- Applicant must volunteer for unskilled labour.
Key facts related to the scheme:
- The Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Govt of India is monitoring the entire implementation of this scheme in association with state governments.
- Individual beneficiary oriented works can be taken up on the cards of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, small or marginal farmers or beneficiaries of land reforms or beneficiaries under the Indira Awaas Yojana of the Government of India.
- Within 15 days of submitting the application or from the day work is demanded, wage employment will be provided to the applicant.
- Right to get unemployment allowance in case employment is not provided within fifteen days of submitting the application or from the date when work is sought.
- Social Audit of MGNREGA works is mandatory, which lends to accountability and transparency.
- The Gram Sabha is the principal forum for wage seekers to raise their voices and make demands.
- It is the Gram Sabha and the Gram Panchayat which approves the shelf of works under MGNREGA and fix their priority.
Role of Gram Sabha:
- It determines the order of priority of works in the meetings of the Gram Sabha keeping in view potential of the local area, its needs, local resources.
- Monitor the execution of works within the GP.
Roles of Gram Panchayat:
- Receiving applications for registration
- Verifying registration applications
- Registering households
- Issuing Job Cards (JCs)
- Receiving applications for work
- Issuing dated receipts for these applications for work
- Allotting work within fifteen days of submitting the application or from the date when work is sought in the case of an advance application.
- Identification and planning of works, developing shelf of projects including determination of the order of their priority.
Responsibilities of State Government in MGNREGA:
- Frame Rules on matters pertaining to State responsibilities under Section 32 of the Act ii) Develop and notify the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for the State.
- Set up the State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC).
- Set up a State level MGNREGA implementation agency/ mission with adequate number of high calibre professionals.
- Set up a State level MGNREGA social audit agency/directorate with adequate number of people with knowledge on MGNREGA processes and demonstrated commitment to social audit.
- Establish and operate a State Employment Guarantee Fund (SEGF)
4. WhatsApp is indulging in anti-user practices: govt.
‘Obtaining trick consent from users for updated privacy norm’
‘Give a direction’
“The current notifications as being pushed by the Respondent No. 2 [WhatsApp] on its users whether existing or new is against the very grain of prima facie opinion of the Competition Commission of India’s [CCI] order of March 24, 2021,” the Ministry said.
5. Strong policies on black carbon can sharply cut glacier melt: World Bank study
Regional collaboration is one way to address the question, suggests report
Black carbon (BC) deposits produced by human activity which accelerate the pace of glacier and snow melt in the Himalayan region can be sharply reduced through new, currently feasible policies by an additional 50% from current levels, a study by World Bank (WB) specialists has said.
The research covers the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush (HKHK) mountain ranges, where, the report says, glaciers are melting faster than the global average ice mass. The rate of retreat of HKHK glaciers is estimated to be 0.3 metres per year in the west to 1.0 metre per year in the east. BC adds to the impact of climate change.
Full implementation of current policies to mitigate BC can achieve a 23% reduction but enacting new policies and incorporating them through regional cooperation among countries can achieve enhanced benefits, the WB said in the report titled “Glaciers of the Himalayas, Climate Change, Black Carbon and Regional Resilience” released on Thursday.
“BC is a short-lived pollutant that is the second-largest contributor to warming the planet behind carbon dioxide (CO2). Unlike other greenhouse gas emissions, BC is quickly washed out and can be eliminated from the atmosphere if emissions stop,” the publication says. Unlike historical carbon emissions, it is also a localised source with greater local impact.
Some of the ongoing policy measures to cut BC emissions are enhancing fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, phasing out diesel vehicles and promoting electric vehicles, accelerating the use of liquefied petroleum gas for cooking and through clean cookstove programmes, as well as upgrading brick kiln technologies, says the publication, edited by Muthukumara Mani, lead economist, South Asia Region, World Bank. However, with all existing measures, water from glacier melt is still projected to increase in absolute volume by 2040, with impacts on downstream activities and communities.
At a virtual panel discussion on the release of the report, Hartwig Schafer, vice-president, South Asia Region, World Bank Group, said regional integration and collaboration was one way to address the question of melting glaciers. Glacier melt produces flash floods, landslips, soil erosion, and glacial lake outburst floods.
Deposits of BC act in two ways hastening the pace of glacier melt: by decreasing surface reflectance of sunlight and by raising air temperature, the researchers point out.
“Specifically, in the Himalayas, reducing black carbon emissions from cookstoves, diesel engines, and open burning would have the greatest impact and could significantly reduce radiative forcing and help to maintain a greater portion of Himalayan glacier systems. More detailed modelling at a higher spatial resolution is needed to expand on the work already completed,” says the study, calling upon regional governments to review policies on water management, with an emphasis on basin-based regulation and use of price signals for efficiency, careful planning and use of hydropower to reflect changes in water flows and availability, and increasing the efficiency of brick kilns through proven technologies. There must also be greater knowledge sharing in the region.
The WB publication says “Industry [primarily brick kilns] and residential burning of solid fuel together account for 45–66% of regional anthropogenic [man-made] BC deposition, followed by on-road diesel fuels (7–18%) and open burning (less than 3% in all seasons)” in the region.
- Black carbon is a kind of an aerosol. An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in the air.
- Among aerosols (such as brown carbon, sulphates), Black Carbon (BC) has been recognized as the second most important anthropogenic agent for climate change and the primary marker to understand the adverse effects caused by air pollution.
- It gets emitted from gas and diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, and other sources that burn fossil fuel. It comprises a significant portion of particulate matter or PM, which is an air pollutant.
6. Editorial-1: Digital tax tussles
The world cannot afford a tariff war to protect digital sector, which has low-tax operations
The United States announced and then immediately suspended a whopping 25% tariff rate on over $2 billion of imports from six countries including India, signalling Washington’s intent to act punitively on its long-held grouse with these nations for their digital services taxes primarily impacting Silicon Valley tech giants. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai said that the tariff proposed on goods from Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. was approved following a “Section 301” investigation that found these digital taxes to be discriminatory. With the threat of tariffs hanging over these six economies when most of them are limping through a feeble post-COVID-19 recovery, the USTR appeared to project a softening of the blow by adding that the tariffs would be suspended pending ongoing tax negotiations to “provide time for those negotiations to continue to make progress while maintaining the option of imposing tariffs under Section 301 if warranted in the future”. The backstory is that the investigation was initiated by the Trump administration in June 2020, and the deadline for approving tariff action based on the investigation would have lapsed this week. The latest policy action comes a few months after the Biden administration similarly approved, then suspended, tariffs on France retaliating for its tax impacting firms such as Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.
One thing is clear: if the Biden administration did not subscribe to the notion that taxes on digital services by the titans of Silicon Valley, a significant portion of whose revenues are generated on foreign soil, were discriminatory, it could have distanced itself from the Trump-era investigation into this allegation without any serious political fallout. The fact that Mr. Biden has chosen to use the stick of tariffs to force the pace of negotiations on digital services tax with seven nations suggests that the current White House subscribes strongly to the idea of expanding the global playing field for American tech firms to dominate without fear of being slapped with tax liabilities. In the case of India, that was a mere 2% digital service tax on trade and services by non-resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of over ₹2 crore. Even more, Washington appears to be unafraid to throw serious political heft behind this venture even to the point of risking another tariff war outbreak, compounding the tensions generated by tax skirmishes between the Trump White House and Beijing on this count. The cost for India could be potentially high, as $118 million worth of its exports will fall under this proposed tariff, and a range of sectors could be impacted. At this point in the fragile, post-COVID-19 recovery, the world can hardly afford another tariff war, and that too one waged to protect a sector that has enjoyed low-tax or tax-free operations across the world for decades.