Daily Current Affairs 21.02.2023 (Centre may notify emissions trading scheme by June, Only Parliament can amend the law to provide a uniform marriage age, says top court, The sense of urgency to fix the GST regime’s flaws seems to have ebbed, Authorities must not ignore what happens in homes run by NGOs ,Slow progress to creating a safe workplace for women, More animals, less forest cover)

Daily Current Affairs 21.02.2023 (Centre may notify emissions trading scheme by June, Only Parliament can amend the law to provide a uniform marriage age, says top court, The sense of urgency to fix the GST regime’s flaws seems to have ebbed, Authorities must not ignore what happens in homes run by NGOs ,Slow progress to creating a safe workplace for women, More animals, less forest cover)


1. Centre may notify emissions trading scheme by June

For a cleaner future: Generation of solar thermal power is among the activities that will be eligible for trading carbon credits. 

Sectors will be given energy efficiency targets and companies that exceed these targets will get ‘credits’ or certificates that they can bank or sell to firms that failed to meet the goals

After the passing of the Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill last December, the Centre is now in the final stages of notifying an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that will require polluting industries to achieve certain standards of energy efficiency and permit them to ‘trade’ these improvements.

The notification specifying which sectors will be covered and the targets they will be set will be announced latest by June, two officials, affiliated to the Power and Environment Ministries, separately confirmed to The Hindu on condition of anonymity.

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), a Power Ministry body, would be the nodal coordinator of the scheme. Sectors (for example, aluminium, cement, fertilizer) would be given energy efficiency targets and the companies that were able to exceed these targets would get ‘credits’ or certificates that they could bank or sell to companies that failed to meet the targets. Emissions trading schemes, as they are called, are deployed in the European Union and Korea.

Since 2015, the BEE has been running the ‘Perform, Achieve, Trade’ scheme under which 1,078 industries spanning 13 sectors have been getting energy security certificates if they exceeded certain targets.

While similar in principle, the credits generated under the forthcoming mechanism will force companies to invest substantially more in deploying alternative, cleaner sources of energy to meet efficiency norms, as they will likely have to meet a higher bar for emission reductions.

Policy difference

One official said that one significant difference in the Indian emissions trading scheme from the ones in Europe or other countries is that companies will not be required to cut carbon emissions in absolute terms. “The EU is required to cut emissions under the provisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. India doesn’t have an obligation. However, we have committed to reducing the emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) of our GDP by 45% (of 2005 levels) by 2030. So it’s possible for companies (under the Indian emissions trading scheme) when they increase production to emit more carbon and still be more efficient,” the official said.

India has committed to installing facilities to generate nearly 500 GW of electricity from non-fossil sources by 2030 and this will cost at least ₹2.4 trillion according to an estimate from the Central Electricity Authority. “India should have its own emissions trading scheme structure and while we can certainly learn from models in the West, we should ensure that what we do accommodates for our specific needs,” Sanjeev Sanyal, Member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, said at a discussion on Monday on carbon markets.

2. Only Parliament can amend the law to provide a uniform marriage age, says top court

Noting that there are some matters which should be left to the “ultimate wisdom of the Parliament”, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a petition seeking to enhance the minimum age of marriage of women from 18 to 21, on a par with that of men.

“We should not perceive that we are the exclusive custodians of the Constitution. The Parliament is equally the custodian of the Constitution. Parliament can amend the law to provide uniform marriage age. However desirable it is, the power to do so lies with the Parliament. There are some things which only the Parliament can amend and legislate… We cannot enact the law here,” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud told petitioner-advocate Ashwini Upadhyay.

Mr. Upadhyay had asked the court to strike down 18 as the minimum age of marriage in statutory laws governing Christians, Parsis and Hindus and in the Special Marriage Act and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

But the court reasoned that if it struck down 18, then it could not follow it up by legislating or amending the laws to make 21 the minimum age of marriage.

“But 18 years is arbitrary,” Mr. Upadhyay said.

“So, then we strike it down. But can we legislate after that? That is for the Parliament to do,” Chief Justice Chandrachud, heading a three-judge Bench, responded.

Mr. Upadhyay pointed out that Sharia law allowed age of puberty as the age of marriage, and hence there should be a uniform age of marriage across faiths.

“The petitioner seeks a legislative amendment to increase the minimum age of marriage to 21 years… It is trite law that this court in its exercise of Article 32 (writ jurisdiction) of the Constitution cannot issue a mandamus to the Parliament to legislate nor can it legislate in a matter entrusted to the Parliament or the State Legislatures to exercise power,” the court said in the order.

Petitioner had asked the court to enhance the minimum age of marriage from 18 to 21 for women too

3. Editorial-1: Reform reluctance

The sense of urgency to fix the GST regime’s flaws seems to have ebbed

Meeting in person after nearly eight months, the GST Council last Saturday reached a broad consensus on establishing GST Appellate Tribunals to resolve disputes under the tax regime launched in July 2017. After some fine print changes in consultations with States, the Finance Ministry hopes to include the legislative backing for the tribunals in the Finance Bill likely to be passed next month. This raises hopes of quicker disposal of GST disagreements that are adding to courts’ caseloads, but the reason for delaying this vital cog of the ‘One Nation, One Tax’ promise is difficult to fathom. A few rate changes that could make, among other things, pencil sharpeners a tad cheaper, and lower penal charges for delayed filings by smaller taxpayers also got the Council’s nod. The implications of some other moves, like a new system for evasion-prone sectors such as gutkha, will depend on the minutiae in their notifications. A much-deferred review of the GST on online gaming and casinos remains stuck. The stated reason for not taking it up this time was that the chief of the ministerial group entrusted with the issue had Assembly poll work. With nine Assembly elections scheduled this year, that does not augur well for the Council’s ability to resolve prickly issues faster this year.

Of greater concern is the stalling of the rationalisation of the complex GST rate structure with multiple slabs, and critical inputs left out. A Group of Ministers (GoM) was tasked, in late 2021, to propose a fix for anomalies in GST levies such as inverted duty structures, and propose revised rates with fewer slabs. The Council was informed that GST was still not delivering enough revenues — with the aggregate tax rate close to 12% rather than the 15.5% revenue-neutral rate envisaged originally, “knowingly or unknowingly” due to rate cuts on some items between 2017 and 2021. While some anomalies flagged by the GoM were fixed last June, the Centre had signalled the rates’ rejig would be deferred as inflation had surged and any revision would mean higher taxes for some items. The report on rate reforms is still awaited, inflation remains a headache and the onset of an electoral season culminating with the Lok Sabha election in 2024, means the same dithering logic holds true. Tighter compliance and higher prices have also bolstered average GST revenues, perhaps diluting the urgency to fix the unwieldy tax tangle. But for taxpayers, who continue to pay 28% GST on as essential an item as cement — whether it is used to build a roof over one’s head or construct an expressway — a truly good and simple tax system will now likely have to wait till at least 2025.

4. Editorial-2: House of horrors

Authorities must not ignore what happens in homes run by NGOs

It is inconceivable that flagrant violations of law and human rights happen in plain sight, and when intervention finally happens, it is already too late for some. The case in point is the Anbu Jothi Ashram case in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district where — entirely by accident — the lid was blown off dark secrets and happenings inside the home. The issue came to light when police followed the thread of man missing complaints. Then one sordid fact after the other came to light, including sexual and physical abuse, bizarre scare tactics and even trafficking. The unlicensed home — the name translates to ‘flame of love’ — was providing shelter to persons on the fringes of society, physically and socially in need of support. It had been accommodating destitute women, abandoned senior citizens, beggars, alcohol addicts and persons with mental retardation or illness. Residents who were rescued later told tales of how they were held down with a mixture of fear, terror, and perversion; the owners also used monkeys to terrorise them. The home had been running for years until police first entered its premises last week to arrest four employees for running the centre without a valid permit. A total of 142 residents were rescued and relocated. Subsequently, as women residents of the home made sexual assault and torture charges against the owner Jubin Baby and his wife Maria, police arrested the couple. Another unit run by them near Puducherry was closed down and over 20 residents rescued. Following up, the National Commission for Women recorded testimonies of the rescued women, and the investigation has been handed over to the CB-CID.

The Anbu Jothi Ashram case should never have happened, given the safety mechanisms provided by the law, and rules crafted and enforced by the State. All care homes should be registered and periodic assessments carried out to allow them to continue to operate. How did this institution slip through the cracks? Laws in the social sector that serve persons in disadvantageous circumstances, must leave no loophole, no cracks that can be exploited. This case certainly speaks to chronic neglect in the sector, despite periodic exhortations and even raids on care homes to check their credentials. Exploitation in the social sector is particularly intolerable; it is tantamount to allowing the fence to eat the crop. Monitoring and supervision in the sector need to be fool-proof and corruption-free. Not only should authorities document every last flagrant violation at the ashram but also make an example of it — to serve as a crushing deterrent to any one who might toy with the idea of abusing those who seek sanctuary.

5. Editorial-3: Slow progress to creating a safe workplace for women

Unless society works incessantly to change the prevalent socio-cultural and economic structures, it could well be status quo.

The recent case of allegations of sexual harassment that some of India’s sportswomen (wrestling) are said to have faced have shocked us. Those affected had to sit in protest in the capital to make themselves heard. This shows that any internal complaints committee (if there is one) does not function. Or, the wrestlers were not aware about it. The Vishaka guidelines on reporting harassment are meant to be followed by government and private institutions equally. In view of the sensitivity of the issue, the Union Sports Minister constituted an ‘oversight committee’ headed by a lady Olympic medal holder to investigate the charges levelled against the president of the Wrestling Federation of India.

Earlier, in February 2021, a leading woman journalist celebrated her victory — not because the accused person who has harassed her sexually was convicted, but because she was acquitted of accusations of defamation that have been levelled against her by the accused. The ‘truth’ of victimisation prevailed and it was held that a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against abuse. She had raised her voice against her employer and a powerful politician. Though a specific offence relating to ‘sexual harassment’ (under Section 354-A) was inserted in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2013, the allegations largely fell under Section 509 (i.e., to insult the modesty of a woman) of the IPC. The victim chose not to report the matter to the police, and there was no internal mechanism in place for the redress of complaints of sexual harassment as the Vishaka guidelines were framed by the Supreme Court of India in 1997. But this did not give the employer any liberty to violate the fundamental rights of a woman at the workplace.

Structural violence, data on workforce

Violence, in the form of sexual harassment at the workplace, is both direct and structural. While an enabling environment for reporting direct violence has shown a gradual improvement, indirect violence remains poorly addressed because it is embedded deep in our social and economic structures. It is more visible in the employment imbalance prevalent between men and women, in the organised and unorganised sectors. With more men at the workplace, they feel entitled and empowered to take undue advantage of the historical fact that the society is still patriarchal and women are not only in a minority but also occupy a few of the higher positions.

The numbers matter when it comes to power emanating from the majority. One musters courage to voice one’s grievance when there are sufficient numbers in support of the affected person. Also, much would depend on the tooth-to-tail ratio of any organisation. When the number of women in leadership positions are not enough to generate confidence in subordinates, women in lower positions feel reluctant to air their grievances.

The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) annual report available for 2020-21 shows that though the participation of women in the total labour force grew, i.e., Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) has gradually increased from 17.5% in 2017-18 to 25.1% in 2020-21, and the Worker Population Ratio (WPR) from 16.5% in 2017-18 to 24.2% in 2020-21, it is still much less when compared to men. The LFPR and WPR data published in the latest Quarterly Bulletin (April-June 2022) are not encouraging either. While LFPR is defined as the percentage of persons in the labour force among the persons in population (i.e., both employed and unemployed or seeking employment), WPR is the percentage of persons employed among the persons in population.

Start early, and at home

The absence of an enabling and safe working environment is one of the factors for the poor participation of women in the labour force. It is generally believed that most women do not complain of sexual harassment and the current redress mechanism is either non-existent or ineffective. They are more vulnerable to exploitation by their employer as they can be easily threatened with their job continuity for indecent favours.

Unless the mindset of treating men and women as equals is developed at an early stage of character formation during childhood, the stereotyped power relation between the two would be difficult to change later.

It would not be out of context to mention here a theory of criminology known as ‘nature versus nurture’. It says that both genetics and the environment affect an individual’s development. While genes may decide certain features of one’s personality at birth, it is social conditioning and the environment of the family and early schooling which matter the most during the growth of children. Unless both parents respect each other and treat their girl and boy child on a par in all respects, they grow up learning this inequality as a normal phenomenon, which may even lead to the development of criminal tendencies in men. Therefore, the beginning has to be made at home.

Fixing goals

Similarly, providing a safe work environment is the responsibility of the employer. The employer needs to ensure that the working environment is safe and women friendly. However, it has been observed that whenever allegations of sexual harassment are levelled against superior authorities, instead of getting the complaint inquired into expeditiously under the law, i.e., the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), Act, 2013, the accused either resorts to multiple attempts at litigation to stall the due process or attempts to bring disrepute to the victim on flimsy grounds. The situation becomes more complex when the accused himself is at the helm of affairs, as in the examples given above.

Therefore, it is essential to fix goals to improve the workplace environment for women. The short-term goals may include providing the requisite women-friendly infrastructure, the constitution of internal complaint committees, and the spreading of awareness about the law and procedure of grievance redress.

Medium-term goals may include the increase of female participation in the labour force, improvement of tooth-to-tail ratio, and providing incentives to prevent drop-outs such as paid maternity leave. However, in the long-run, it is essential to address the deep-rooted structural and cultural violence which puts women in a disadvantageous position. Unless society as a whole works incessantly to bring about the required changes in the existing socio-cultural and economic structures to eliminate indirect violence, root and branch, the status quo may not change.

6. Opinion-1: More animals, less forest cover

The government’s conservation policies are at odds with its development plans

In recent years, Karnataka has been grappling with an increase in man-animal conflicts, which have brought wildlife and forest conservation issues to the fore and led to questions about the State’s response to them. Earlier this month, a 70-year-old man belonging to the Jenu Kuruba community and his 12-year-old grandson were killed in separate tiger attacks on the boundary of the Nagarahole National Park near Kutta in Kodagu district.

According to the Forest Department, during 2020-21, there were 24,740 cases related to crop damage by wild animals; 3,019 cases of cattle kill; and 36 human deaths in the State. The compensation paid in all the cases put together was ₹21.64 crore. In 2021-22, cases of crop damage caused by wild animals increased to 31,225; the number of cattle kill went up to 4,052; and 40 human deaths were reported. The compensation paid exceeded ₹27.4 crore. In the current year, over ₹20 crore has already been paid by way of compensation. And once the pending applications are processed, this figure is expected to cross ₹40 crore.

The cost of the conflict, both in terms of deaths and crop damage, is being borne by the people living on the forest fringes and in villages. This means there could be less local support for wildlife conservation. To address this, the authorities have thought of mitigatory plans to reduce conflicts. These include fencing villages abutting forest boundaries with discarded rail fences, and relocating elephants and tigers from conflict zones.

Following the spike in human-leopard conflicts in south Karnataka, where four human deaths took place over a span of a few months in T. Narasipura taluk of Mysuru district, the Forest Department is now toying with the idea of creating two or three separate enclosures or rescue centres. Each of these will have the capacity to house 250 leopards that have been tranquillised and captured in conflict zones. Nearly 130 leopards have been captured from conflict zones in Karnataka between April 2022 and January this year alone; this figure is only expected to go up.

Studies by conservation biologist Sanjay Gubbi and his team peg the leopard population in the State at around 2,500. They point out that more than 50% of the human-leopard conflict takes place in five districts — Ramanagara, Tumakuru, Mandya, Mysuru and Hassan.

Though mitigatory initiatives are imperative, some believe that they only address the symptoms and not the cause. This is because the increase in conflicts and the rise in human deaths is perceived to be a direct fallout of the government’s conservation measures on the one hand and development policies on the other, which are at odds with each other. As a consequence, the environment gets short shrift.

When the wildlife population was increasing due to protection measures, the area under forest cover should have been expanded by creating buffer zones. Such areas could have acted as sinks to absorb the rise in animal population and provided connectivity for animal migration. But the converse happened in Karnataka. Forests have either shrunk or been disturbed with the government clearing infrastructure projects by diverting forest land for non-forestry purposes.

Between 2020-21 and 2021-22, when human-animal conflict reached a new high, more than 450 hectares of forest land were diverted for as many as 39 projects including mining, road construction, irrigation, windmills and railway lines. The total land area under forest cover in 2012-13 was 43,356.47 sq km, or 22.61% of the State’s land area. This has declined to 4,0591.97 sq km, or 21.16% of the land area, in 2021-22.

Conservationists argue that procuring plantations and land abutting forest areas can augment and strengthen the buffer zone and help reduce conflicts. But instead of securing forests, the existing forest land is being diverted for other reasons. The government has also opposed the Union Environment Ministry’s notification on Ecologically Sensitive Areas in the Western Ghats that could help protect green cover. Last year, it denotified 6.5 lakh ha of deemed forest. If policies such as these, which are detrimental to the environment, are not reversed, the impact of mitigation measures to reduce conflicts will be neutralised and human-animal conflicts will only escalate in the days ahead.

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