1. As Delhi gasps, Kejriwal says stubble burning major cause
It is the responsibility of Punjab’s AAP government, will find solution by next November, says Delhi Chief Minister; Punjab Agriculture Department claims bio-decomposer is not cost-effective
For the second straight day, the air quality in the National Capital Region remained in the worst or “severe” category of the air quality index as thick haze blanketed the city.
With pollutants from the burning of paddy stubble in Punjab said to be a significant contributing factor, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, at a joint press conference with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann on Friday, admitted that this was “the responsibility of the AAP government in Punjab”, but that six months (since the party came to power) was too short a time to fix the problem.
“A bumper crop has meant more paddy stubble, and we promise to find a solution by next November,” he said.
In the last week, the worsening air quality index prompted the Union and the State governments of Delhi and Punjab to trade accusations of not doing enough to address stubble burning, particularly on the use of the bio-decomposer, a microbial liquid spray, that has been experimented on for at least two years in the Delhi NCR region.
The bio-decomposer when sprayed onto paddy stubble breaks it down in a way that can be easily absorbed into the soil whereby farmers then have no need to burn the stubble.
The product was expected to be applied on five lakh acres of farmland in Haryana, or about 15% of the acreage under paddy. This year, instances of stubble burning have reduced to 2,440 from 3,666 last year in the State.
In Punjab, however, limited bio-decomposer had been applied with Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav claiming that the State had “officially” declined to use the spray saying it was ineffective. This year, there have been 26,583 instances of burning in Punjab compared to the 23,610 in the corresponding period last year. This, however, is nearly 54% of such instances recorded in 2020. Of the 75 lakh acres of paddy in Punjab, the State had committed to use the spray only in five lakh acres. An official in Punjab said that the spray had been applied in about “90%” of this area but there was pessimism about its success.
Rain marred collection
Experts said that persistent rain in October shortened the time available for farmers to collect the residue. Moreover, unlike in previous years where farmers would pay to clear their crop of stubble or burn them, several were now expecting agents to pay them upfront for collecting it. “Farmers now want some money for it and using a decomposer to turn the straw into mulch is obviously less lucrative than selling it,” Ravinder Khaiwal, Professor of Environment Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh, said.
Meanwhile, the contribution of pollutants from stubble burning to Delhi’s noxious air increased to about 30% on Friday, a steady increase from 12% on November 1. According to the analysis by National Clean Air Programme tracker, average PM 2.5 levels in October this year were higher as compared to 2021 in capital cities of Delhi, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Patna.
It is a common practice followed by farmers to prepare fields for sowing of wheat in November as there is little time left between the harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat.
Impact: Stubble burning results in emission of harmful gases such carbon diaoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide along with particulate matter.
Why farmers opt for stubble burning?
- They do not have alternatives for utilising them effectively.
- The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
- With less income due to crop damage, farmers are likely to be inclined to light up their fields to cut costs and not spend on scientific ways of stubble management.
Advantages of stubble burning:
- It quickly clears the field and is the cheapest alternative.
- Kills weeds, including those resistant to herbicide.
- Kills slugs and other pests.
- Can reduce nitrogen tie-up.
Effects of Stubble Burning:
- Pollution: Open stubble burning emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. They may eventually cause smog.
- Soil Fertility: Burning husk on ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.
- Heat Penetration: Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.
Alternative solutions that can avoid Stubble Burning:
- Promote paddy straw-based power plants. It will also create employment opportunities.
- Incorporation of crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.
- Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.
- New opportunities for industrial use such as extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.
What needs to be done- Supreme Court’s observations?
- Incentives could be provided to those who are not burning the stubble and disincentives for those who continue the practice.
- The existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted as to enable the States concerned to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue.
An innovative experiment has been undertaken by the Chhattisgarh government by setting up gauthans.
- A gauthan is a dedicated five-acre plot, held in common by each village, where all the unused stubble is collected through parali daan (people’s donations) and is converted into organic fertiliser by mixing with cow dung and few natural enzymes.
- The scheme also generates employment among rural youth.
- The government supports the transportation of parali from the farm to the nearest gauthan.
- The state has successfully developed 2,000 gauthans.
2. Editorial-1: In Pakistan, a state of war with much drama ahead
After the failed assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday while he was on his haqeeqi azadi (genuine freedom) long march, things have just become far more complicated on the political horizon in Pakistan. From the operation theatre where he has been undergoing treatment, Mr. Khan has demanded the immediate removal of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and a senior serving Major General from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While some of his key lieutenants have threatened revenge over the failed attempt, Mr. Khan has suggested that if these three people were not removed, all hell would break loose. The events of Thursday and the tenor from Mr. Imran Khan and his party were already foretold in the events which took place a week before.
Following the no-confidence vote against Mr. Khan’s government in April this year, resulting in its dismissal, in what has been a tumultuous six months even by Pakistani standards (with allegations, intrigue and alleged conspiracies galore), there was one event last week that outdid everything else that has happened since.
A press meet to note
In what has been labelled as ‘historic’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘the rarest of rare occasions’, and a ‘nuclear option’, for the first time ever, Pakistan’s military’s Director General (DG), ISI, and the Director General, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) held a live joint press conference to respond to and clarify many of the allegations that Mr. Khan had made about the military, and without directly naming him, against the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa. In the press conference, the DG, ISI, who according to media reports was the ‘first spymaster to address a live news conference’, said (without naming Mr. Khan) ‘you meet army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at night and then call him a traitor in the day’. The DG, ISI also revealed that days before the no-confidence motion against Mr. Khan’s government was passed. Mr. Khan had, in March, offered an ‘unlimited extension in tenure’ to Gen. Bajwa in return for ensuring that the vote did not take place. The DG, ISI added that he was present when this offer was made: ‘If you thought he was a traitor, why would you do that?’ he asked, in an obvious reference to Mr. Khan. By every measure, this press conference with the military’s ‘big guns’ (as the media called them), was historical, unprecedented, and revealed much about the state of Pakistan’s political economy, perhaps as never before.
The Pakistan military’s close relationship with Mr. Khan goes back at least four years when the general elections were held in 2018 and he became the Prime Minister. At that time there were media reports that the election results were managed by the military and its agencies to ensure that Mr. Khan’s party had a winning hand. Allegations were made prior to the elections that pre-election rigging had taken place, where a number of potential candidates had received phone calls from unlisted numbers insisting that they switch party loyalties and support Mr. Khan’s party. Such calls did not go unanswered and loyalties shifted overnight, resulting in Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf getting the largest number of votes and seats to form a coalition government in August 2018. In a stinging and bold editorial after the DG, ISI’s press conference, Pakistan’s newspaper of record, Dawn, wrote: “It is stunning how spectacularly the PTI and the military have fallen out. There is now little question that the military establishment, especially the ISI, played a key role in bringing the PTI to power.”
Throughout the nearly four year period Mr. Khan was Prime Minister, all other parties in the opposition called him a ‘selected’ Prime Minister. While the combined Opposition worked through parliamentary and constitutional means to oust the government, as Prime Minister, Mr. Khan had the full support of the military establishment; he repeatedly gloated over this fact, saying that for the first time in Pakistan’s parliamentary history, the government and the military were ‘on the same page’. When they were on the same page, Gen. Bajwa was able to get an extension of tenure by all parties through Parliament, which includes those in Opposition; the resolution in Parliament was passed in record time, with a few, mostly from the religious parties, voting against it.
While Mr. Khan’s government was a failure when it came to running the country, it remained on whatever page the military wanted it to be on. In November 2021, things began to change; some decisions regarding the appointment of key individuals in the army, including the future of Gen. Bajwa, the incumbent COAS, came up before Mr. Khan. Differences emerged and from November 2021, the combined Opposition became emboldened; probably assured of support from key institutions, it launched a successful no-confidence vote against the Khan government and ousted him from office, a move which may have now backfired.
Finding a new voice
Since then, Mr. Khan has become the new hero of Pakistan — by far the most popular politician. Having led rallies in scores of cities, his party has been able to win seats in the largest province of the Punjab and has formed the government there. In recent by-polls, Mr. Khan himself won six of the eight National Assembly seats. Ironically, having been brought to power by the military, he is now, and single-handedly, the anti-establishment champion of Pakistan’s political set-up. He has found a new voice and a new life while out of power and has taken his politics to the people insisting that elections be held immediately, in the hope that were they to happen, he would ride this popular wave. However, the present government has not agreed to holding early elections, with those who determine things having become ‘neutral’.
As the DG, ISI’s press conference was such an extraordinary event, there has been much speculation as to why there were the ‘big guns’. In a news report in English, and, importantly, in Urdu, Pakistan’s biggest media house, the Jang Group of Newspapers, has asked ‘highly placed military sources’ why a press conference at this level was necessary. The reply, quoted in English and Urdu papers, was: ‘a state of war is an environment that threatens the survival of the state. When the state is in a state of war, the people and the army tackle it together. Be it a soldier or the most senior officer, everyone enters the field.’ Mr. Khan and the military in Pakistan have entered a ‘state of war’.
As we know, in war there can be complete annihilation, bloodshed, negotiations, peace and also surrender. What has happened to Imran Khan is simply a continuation of a process which unfolded some weeks ago, with much more drama and histrionics ahead.
3. Editorial-2: The real issue at COP27 is energy equity
In a starkly unequal world, what does the urgency of climate action imply? This has been a central question in the climate change negotiations since the Rio Earth Summit (1992) and will also be at the root of contestations at the upcoming 27th Conference of Parties (COP27, beginning November 6, in Egypt) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
In the run-up to COP26, last year in Glasgow, several developed countries had declared their intention to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. These declarations did not square with the requirements of “keeping 1.5 deg. C alive”. Four-fifths of the global carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5°C (with 50% probability) has already been exhausted. Developed countries are responsible for more than half of these historical CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, there was much celebration of these targets. There was also high drama at COP26, with moral grandstanding by many developed country negotiators who invoked the future of their children, because India and other countries understandably balked at the singling out of any one fossil fuel for immediate action.
It is important to recall some of these shenanigans at COP26, as in the last year, it has become clear that developed countries may be unlikely to meet even the inadequate targets they have set, keeping to the trend of the last three decades. The rhetoric of COP26 appears unconscionably hypocritical if we consider the reality of global energy inequalities.
Global energy inequality
Global energy poverty is concentrated in the developing countries. In 2021, 733 million people had no access to electricity and almost 2.6 billion people lacked access to clean fuels and technologies. The average per capita energy use of the richest 20 countries is 85 times higher than that of the 20 poorest countries.
Addressing this stark energy poverty in developing countries is important because there is a strong correlation between energy supply and human development. The average annual per capita electricity consumption of sub-Saharan Africa is 487 kilowatt-hours (kWh), alongside an infant mortality rate of 73 per 1,000 live births; maternal mortality ratio of 534 per 1,00,000 live births, and per capita GDP of $1,645. On the other hand, the OECD group of countries have a per capita electricity consumption of 7,750 kWh, corresponding to an infant mortality rate of seven, maternal mortality ratio of 18, and per capita GDP of $42,098.
The reality of global inequality was acutely evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are facing severe agricultural and industrial slowdowns in the post-pandemic period. The lack of reliable energy infrastructure has compounded the difficulties and has multi-dimensional impacts across developmental indicators.
In 2022, these inequalities have been aggravated by soaring energy and food prices. Several countries face a severe rise in the cost of living and nearly 70 million additional people are estimated to fall below the poverty line of $3.20 per person per day. Poor and vulnerable communities in the energy-importing countries of the global South suffer the most. Almost 90 million people in Asia and Africa, who gained access to electricity recently, cannot afford to pay their energy bills. In this background, COP27 affords a critical moment to acknowledge and address the concerns surrounding energy access and security in developing countries. Unfortunately, these long-standing problems of the global South have been ignored by developed country governments, academia, and civil society. At a time when the language of energy poverty and security is re-entering the northern vocabulary, it is time to call out the hypocrisy of the advice on fossil fuel use given by the north to some of the world’s poorest regions since the Paris Agreement was signed.
Hypocrisy of the global North
In the United States, 81% of primary energy is from fossil fuels. In Europe, fossil fuels constitute 76% of the energy consumption (coal, oil, and natural gas contribute 11%, 31%, and 34% respectively). Thirty years after acknowledging the problem of anthropogenic global warming and committing in the UNFCCC, to take the lead in climate change mitigation, the level of decarbonisation in the global North has been minuscule. In July 2022, the European Union (EU) voted to classify the use of natural gas for some uses as “green and sustainable”. Natural gas was responsible for 7.5 billion tonnes of CO2 (i.e., 23% of the total CO2 by the major fossil fuels), in 2020. Additionally, in 2022, even coal consumption in the U.S. and the EU is estimated to increase by 3% and 7%, respectively.
These same developed countries argue that green energy constitutes a great business opportunity for developing countries as it has become cheaper. They have used this dubious argument to dismiss differentiation between developed and developing countries and are lobbying for banning the financing of any fossil fuel projects in some of the poorest countries.
Bridging the energy deficits in the global South using renewable energy alone is a much bigger challenge compared to what developed countries will face this winter. Spokespersons for urgent climate action across the world must acknowledge this stark reality that the global South has to deal with, whether in times of war or peace.
A base camp for equitable priorities
At COP27, the global South must put the question of its energy poverty and the severe global inequalities in energy access squarely at the centre of all discussions. We need to achieve zero hunger, zero malnutrition, zero poverty, and universal well-being even as we collectively contribute to ensuring effective climate action. As the strapline for COP27 (“Together for Implementation”) suggests, we must work together to ensure that these developmental goals are not side-lined, as they were at COP26, in the pursuit of hollow declarations of net-zero targets three decades into the future. A developing country leadership at COP27 can ensure effective discussions, based on equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, on the relative responsibilities and sharing of mitigation and adaptation burdens while coping with loss and damage.
4. Editorial-3: Remote voting
Shorter term overseas migrants should be able to avail the postal ballot system
India has the largest diaspora population, with nearly 1.35 crore non-resident Indians spread across the globe. Many of them leave the country for short-term work and could miss out on exercising some of their rights such as registering their vote in India’s Assembly or parliamentary elections. Currently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) allows enrolled overseas citizens to vote in person at the polling station in the constituency where the person is registered as an overseas elector. The necessity to vote in person and the costs have, for overseas citizens, acted as a disincentive for their wanting to exercise their mandate. This was evident in the numbers of such voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha election — 25,606 among the minuscule 99,844 registered electors who voted. In 2014, a committee constituted by the ECI to probe methods to enable overseas voters’ mandates concluded that proxy voting was the most viable, though some political parties objected to the idea. A Bill was passed in the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) to enable this but lapsed. In 2020, the ECI approached the Government to permit NRIs to vote via postal ballots, similar to the system already used by service voters, i.e., the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS), which allows registering their mandate on a downloaded ETPB and sending it to the returning officer of the constituency.
On the face of it, allowing postal ballot use should be a good move for NRIs, even if this does increase the burden on embassy or consular officials. This is also a more trustworthy way of registering mandates rather than appointing proxies — which is currently allowed for service personnel who are a limited number in each constituency unlike NRIs who could constitute a more substantial chunk among the electorate in some States. In the 2014 discussion organised by the ECI, some parties raised the question whether NRIs will get a benefit denied to internal migrant workers, but the higher costs of travel back to India, as opposed to travelling within, is a valid reason for allowing NRIs the partially electronic postal balloting facility. Several democratic countries allow for this option to their overseas citizens, but again, none has to deal with anything near the scale India has. The more important question to be tackled while extending the facility of voting to overseas Indians is whether longer term migrants should also be allowed to register their mandate as the idea behind limiting voters to specific constituencies on account of their residency will become infructuous. Therefore, if the postal ballot system is indeed instituted, rules must be clearly framed for voters’ eligibility on the basis of their time spent away from the country.