1. Saving the vultures of Tamil Nadu
Which regions of the State have vulture populations? What are the reasons for the decline in vulture numbers? Are they man-made or natural? What steps do experts recommend in order to save the four species found in the State? What are the measures being taken by the State government?
On October 19, the Tamil Nadu government formed a committee to set up an institutional framework for the effective conservation of vultures. Tamil Nadu boasts the largest population of vultures south of the Vindhiya Mountain Range.
Vulture numbers are decreasing over the last few years, with experts attributing the cause to lesser availability of prey as well as erratic weather. Experts also agree that the use of some Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs to treat cattle has led to the crash in vulture populations across India.
The State government has banned the use of diclofenac to treat cattle, while there are strict restrictions for the sale of other NSAIDs in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts.
The story so far:
On October 19, the Tamil Nadu government formed a committee to set up an institutional framework for the effective conservation of vultures. The State is home to four species of vultures — the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), long-billed vultures (Gyps indicus), the Asian king-vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).
Which areas in Tamil Nadu have vulture populations?
While there have been reported sightings of vultures in other districts including Dharmapuri; essentially the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts are believed to form one of the largest contiguous expanses where vultures are spotted. Home to the nesting sites of three of the four species of vultures seen in the State, the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, parts of the Nilgiris forest division and the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve are crucial strongholds for the vultures in southern India. Occasional migrants such as the Himalayan griffon vulture and the Cinerous vulture are also spotted each year. Tamil Nadu boasts the largest population of vultures south of the Vindhiya Mountain Range.
In the Nilgiris, researchers and forest department officials estimate that there are between 100 and 120 white-rumped vultures, 10 and 15 long-billed vultures and less than 10 Asian king vultures. Though Egyptian vultures are spotted in the Sigur plateau, encompassing the Nilgiris and Erode districts, they are not believed to use the landscape to breed, while researchers still remain unsuccessful in tracing the breeding sites of the critically endangered Asian king-vulture.
Are vulture numbers decreasing?
While the population of the vultures in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts has remained largely stable, experts state that the numbers are still extremely low, and that even a single poisoning event could lead to several of the species going locally extinct, especially the long-billed and Asian king vulture. Over the last few years, breeding seasons have also seen fewer hatchings than is the norm, with experts attributing the cause to lesser availability of prey as well as erratic weather.
Experts also agree that the use of some Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) to treat cattle, such as diclofenac, nimesulide, ketoprofen among others, has led to the crash in vulture populations across India.
What role do vultures play in the local ecosystem?
As scavengers, vultures help prevent the spread of many diseases and can remove toxins from entering the environment by consuming carcasses of dead cattle/wildlife before they decompose. Unfortunately, their tolerance for harmful substances does not extend to man-made drugs.
What are the challenges which impact vultures in the State?
There are multiple. For one, temple tourism in the Sigur plateau is centred primarily around vulture habitats, such as Siriyur, Anaikatty and Bokkapuram. Over the last few years, there have been recorded instances of vultures abandoning nesting sites located too close to temples inside these reserves, with activists calling for strict controls on the amount of people allowed to attend these festivals.
Another threat is the spread of invasive weeds such as the Lantana camara in vulture-landscapes, which hinder the birds from scavenging as their large wing-spans require plenty of open area to safely land and to take to the skies in case of any major threats. Finally, due to the illegal tapping of water along the streams running through these areas, possible climate change, and forest fires, the Terminalia arjuna trees, that many vultures use as nesting sites are disappearing. Only through a multipronged approach of increasing the amount of food available to the birds and managing invasive species can vulture numbers start rebounding, say experts.
What are the steps taken to protect vultures in the State?
The State government has banned the use of diclofenac, a drug, to treat cattle, while there are strict restrictions for the sale of other NSAIDs in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts. Additionally, as the vultures in the Sigur plateau utilise landscapes in neighboring Karnataka and Kerala, experts have called for a synchronous vulture census to accurately identify vulture populations and nesting sites.
2. How is the energy crisis in Europe shaping up?
Why is the Netherlands government caught in a dilemma with regard to the shuttering of a large gas field in the region of Groningen, which has been plagued by earthquakes? Why should all this concern India?
The region of Groningen in the Netherlands has a gas field that began operations in 1963. During the 1980s, the area saw numerous earthquakes — minor enough to avoid large damage but big enough for local buildings to develop cracks.
However due to recent geopolitical tensions, the Dutch government wants to keep options open. A Bloomberg report earlier this month that the field still had potential for about 450 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to be extracted.
Global production is estimated to decline from 4,109 bcm in calendar 2021 to 4,089 bcm in 2022. The government will have to continue to bear the higher subsidy burden on fertilizer — in the manufacture of which natural gas is used — as well as for the LPG sector.
K. Bharat Kumar
The story so far:
As winter approaches, Europe faces an energy problem. The numerous leaks — apparently caused by explosions — to the Nord Stream 1, which is an energy pipeline connecting Russia to Germany, has driven supplies to a halt. Amid anxieties about building up energy reserves, the gas field in Groningen in the Netherlands has once again come under the spotlight.
Why is this gas field relevant?
The region of Groningen in the Netherlands has a gas field that began operations in 1963. During the 1980s, the area saw numerous earthquakes — minor enough to avoid large damage but big enough for local buildings to develop cracks. Following these quakes, the Dutch government had earlier said that it would shutter the field in response to local protests. The closure date was also advanced to 2022 from 2030.
However, due to recent geopolitical tensions, the Dutch government wants to keep options open. In a statement, the Dutch government had in June said that “the Cabinet would like to be in a position to close down the Groningen gas field in 2023, as this is the only way to restore safety in Groningen and to reassure residents in the long run. However, the uncertain geopolitical developments have prompted the mining minister to refrain from permanently closing down any wells this year.” A Bloomberg report earlier this month said that if allowed, the additional supply from the field could go up to a level that would make up for what Germany imported last year from Russia. It said that the field still had potential for about 450 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to be extracted.
Can oil or gas exploration cause earthquakes?
The Hindu spoke to professors specialising in both geophysics and geology at IIT-ISM (Indian School of Mines). Prof. Rajeev Upadhyay, Prof. Saurabh Datta Gupta, and Prof. Mohit Agarwal agree that man-made or induced earthquakes can be pretty damaging.
Examples of human activity that could lead to ‘induced seismicity’ are damming of rivers to create reservoirs, oil or gas extraction, and mining. Fluid extraction from hydrocarbon reservoirs (rocks that hold hydrocarbons which are oil and gas) causes an increase in net effective stresses, which, when supported by the geomechanics of the rock, may lead to development of new faults and fractures. In the case of Groningen, the ground subsiding has been caused by extraction alone over several years. Such extraction causes rocks to contract — as the pores get to hold less and less hydrocarbons over time.
Should India be concerned about gas in the Netherlands?
India’s domestic gas price is determined from the average of four global indices viz U.S.’s Henry Hub, the U.K.’s National Balancing point, Canada’s Alberta and Russian gas. Compared with pre-pandemic times, the average domestic price of gas has more than doubled from $5.08/MMBTU to $11.62 and CARE Edge Director of Ratings, Sudhir Kumar, estimates that this is bound to rise again when the six-monthly reset takes place for April-September 2023. India consumed about 63.9 bcm in FY22, about 3.1 bcm more than in the previous year. Imports alone accounted for close to 50% of consumption, at about 30 bcm. Global production is estimated to decline from 4,109 bcm in calendar 2021 to 4,089 bcm in 2022. The situation would become challenging for the government unless the formula for determining domestic gas price is reviewed, he says. Till then, the government has to bear the higher subsidy burden on fertilizer — in the manufacture of which natural gas is used — as well as for the LPG sector.
3. Pandemic and a free press: how the largest democracy reported on COVID
India must return to its democratic values to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak effectively. Indian leaders therefore need to express confidence in democratic principles and trust in the country’s citizens. That starts with a commitment to a free press.
Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a 28-year-old Kashmiri photojournalist, was stopped at the Delhi airport from boarding her flight despite having a valid ticket and U.S. visa. She was on her way to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India for Reuters. In this article dated September 17, 2020, Joel Simon explains how COVID reporting in India became an endless saga of violence, harassment and censorship.
India is justly proud of its position as the world’s largest democracy. It is less proud of the fact that it has become a hotbed for the spread of COVID-19 , with an estimated 90,000 daily infections, and over 5 million cases overall, second only to the United States. Can India find a way to combat the virus while preserving the democratic values that define the nation?
At the heart of any democracy is an informed citizenry that is empowered to make decisions and hold its government accountable. That is why there is nothing more essential to a democracy than a free press. It is not merely the means through which citizens gather information. It is the vehicle through which ideas are debated, policies are formulated, and conflicts are resolved. Yet, India’s press freedom record has seen a decline in recent years.
Violent attacks against journalists, including murder, are surprisingly common in India and rarely punished. A 2016 report entitled ‘Dangerous Pursuits’ by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the organisation I lead, found that journalists who report on government corruption are routinely murdered with impunity. Legal prosecution is also rife, particularly against journalists reporting on the conflict in Kashmir. Aasif Sultan, a journalist with the monthly Kashmir Narrator , was arrested on August 31, 2018 in reprisal for his reporting. He has since spent more than two years in jail.
‘Only official versions’
These negative trends have only intensified since the COVID-19 outbreak, with journalists across the country facing attacks, harassment, and arrests. The Narendra Modi government of course famously asked the Supreme Court to impose a nationwide censorship on the publication of information that the government deemed “false or inaccurate.” The Supreme Court denied that request, but it did direct the media to refer to the “official version” of events when covering the pandemic — an ambiguous edict which has not been enforced.
The government, and the Indian society as a whole, have a legitimate concern about the ways in which the spread of false or misleading information can undermine public health and efforts to fight the pandemic. And the damage to the Indian economy caused by the disease itself and the precipitous national lockdown in March has inflicted tremendous pain on families across the nation.
The Modi government needs to deploy the full arsenal of tools available in a democracy to confront the challenge. This means presenting a clear and credible plan to the people for tackling COVID-19, and using persuasion, arguments, evidence and reason to rally their support. It means unleashing the innovation and entrepreneurship of the Indian business community that has fuelled the country’s rapid growth. It means encouraging debate and competition of ideas that drive political solutions. And it means combating misinformation through aggressive public information campaigns, not raw censorship.
The democratic world is rooting for India’s success. While Chinese censorship helped fuel the original outbreak in Wuhan by suppressing information about the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Chinese government has used its propaganda networks to cover up its initial failures and shape global perceptions. China has made the case that its system of authoritarian power was essential for controlling the pandemic. It contrasts the giant pool parties in Wuhan, where life has largely returned to normal, with the chaotic response in democratic countries like the United States, Brazil, and India.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese government’s narrative has resonated with authoritarian governments around the world that have used a public health emergency to restrict civil liberties and increase State surveillance and control. Even in democracies, citizens are beginning to wonder if liberty and freedom must be sacrificed to fight the disease. The U.S., grappling with its own shortcomings and political dysfunction, has not effectively made the case that democracy is an asset and not a liability in fighting a public health emergency.
India has long been a leader and an example in the democratic world, but its response to the pandemic has weakened its position. In order to restore its lustre, India’s leaders need to express confidence in democratic principles and trust in the country’s citizens. That starts with a commitment to a free press.
4. Forest Conservation Rules infringe upon land rights of tribespeople: NCST chief
It is the duty of the commission to “caution the government” when its policies have the potential to affect the well-being and rights of tribal people, Harsh Chouhan, Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), told The Hindu on Thursday.
He said this was why the NCST had recommended to the Union Environment and Forest Ministry to put the new Forest Conservation Rules, 2022, on hold.
“We wrote to the government about the rules, which essentially eliminate the requirement of consent of local tribespeople and forest dwellers for diversion of forest land for other purposes,” Mr. Chouhan said. He said this would amount to infringing upon the land rights of tribespeople under the Forest Rights Act.
The rules were issued by the Environment Ministry in June this year under the Forest Conservation Act and both Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav and Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda have repeatedly defended the rules.
But soon after the rules were issued, the NCST formed a six-member working group that included members of the commission and experts to look into whether the rules issued in June violated any provisions in the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and if they infringed upon the rights of tribal people, according to officials.
Based on the conclusion of this working group and repeated dialogue with villagers in forest areas and other stakeholders, the commission decided to recommend that the new rules be put on hold, Mr. Chouhan said.
The NCST chief then wrote to the Environment Ministry on September 2, pointing out that the Ministry should, for now, focus on implementing the rules framed in 2017 and put on hold the new rules issued this year.
It also dismissed the Tribal Affairs Ministry’s and Environment Ministry’s defence that provisions of the FRA are implemented parallelly and that the rules will not affect or dilute land rights of tribes people.
Forest Rights Act
- FRA enacted in 2006 recognises the rights of forest-dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other sociocultural needs.
- It recognizes and vest the forest rights and occupation in Forest land in Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who have been residing in such forests for generations.
- It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST and OTFD.
- The Gram Sabha is the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of Individual Forest Rights (IFR) or Community Forest Rights (CFR) or both that may be given to FDST and OTFD.
Rights Under the Forest Rights Act:
- Title rights:
- It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
- Ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands will be granted.
- Use rights:
- The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas etc.
- Relief and development rights:
- To rehabilitate in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
- Forest management rights:
- It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
- Constitutional Provision Expansion:
- It expands the mandate of the Fifth and the Sixth Schedules of the Constitution that protect the claims of indigenous communities over tracts of land or forests they inhabit.
- Security Concerns:
- The alienation of tribes was one of the factors behind the Naxal Movement, which affected states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand.
- Forest Governance:
- It has the potential to democratise forest governance by recognising community forest resource rights.
- It will ensure that people get to manage their forest on their own, which will regulate exploitation of forest resources by officials, improve forest governance and better management of tribal rights.
- Administrative Apathy:
- As tribals are not a big vote bank in most states, governments find it convenient to subvert FRA or not bother about it at all in favour of monetary gains.
- The forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an instrument to regularise encroachment instead of a welfare measure for tribals.
- Corporates fear they may lose the cheap access to valuable natural resources.
- Dilution of Act:
- Certain sections of environmentalists raise the concern that FRA bends more in the favour of individual rights, giving lesser scope for community rights.
- Institutional Roadblock:
- Rough maps of community and individual claims are prepared by Gram Sabha which at times often lack technical knowhow and suffers from educational incapacity.
- Misuse of FRA:
- The FRA has been misused and communities have rushed to file claims. Politicians across party lines have interpreted FRA as a land distribution exercise and have fixed targets for districts.
5. ‘Low exports share lends opportunities, not gloom’
India must tap the shift to ‘one-plus’ strategy in global supply chains, says Commerce Secretary Barthwal; official urges industry to not get ‘overly pessimistic’ over grim outlook for world trade
There is no need for industry to get too pessimistic about forecasts of slowing global trade, as India’s share of world exports is still fairly low and there are opportunities to grab amid a shift to a ‘one-plus’ strategy in global supply chains, Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal said on Thursday.
“Many people would be looking at the global headwinds and may be feeling disappointed about those predictions being made… But I think one thing we should understand about India is we hardly represent 2% in the total global exports, so there is a huge opportunity,” he said, adding that countries of similar size have a share of 10% to 15% in world exports.
‘Aim to double exports’
“So we can easily aim for doubling our exports, we can easily aim for increasing our exports to 10% over a period of time. And therefore, these opportunities exist even if somebody says that world trade scenario is looking bleak, we should not get overly pessimistic about the trade scenario,” Mr. Barthwal said at a national exports summit hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
As the world looks for resilient supply chains post-pandemic, countries as well as businesses are looking at a ‘one-plus’ strategy to reduce dependence on any single supplier nation and are keen to engage with India, he stressed.
6. Editorial-1: This Hindi – and Hindi alone – counsel is flawed
The 11th volume of the Report of the Official Language Committee submitted to the President of India on September 9, 2022, did not seem to evoke much interest in the media. Except the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, no other political leader reacted to the recommendations made.
A special status
The main recommendations, as reported in a section of the print media, are that Hindi should replace English as the language of examinations for recruitment to the government; Hindi should be the only medium of instruction in Kendriya Vidyalayas, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and central universities; it should be constitutionally binding on State governments to propagate Hindi, etc. The official language committee is a statutory committee constituted under Section 4 in the Official Language Act, 1963. Its duty is to review the progress made in the use of Hindi for the official purposes of the Union and submit a report to the President. The Act makes it obligatory for the President to issue directions “in accordance with the whole or any part of the report” (Section 4(4)). It can thus be seen that the committee’s recommendations are required to be acted upon.
It is the special status of this committee’s recommendations which is crucial to the understanding of the official language policy in India. The recommendations have a mandatory character as is clear from the words “in accordance with” (Section 4(4)).
Article 343 of the Constitution declares that Hindi in Devanagari script shall be the official language of the Union. It is common knowledge that the Constituent Assembly had witnessed a heated debate on the question of official language. The chapter on ‘Official language’ in the Constitution took final shape as a result of compromises made by the protagonists of diverse opinions. Finally, Hindi was declared the official language of the Union and it was also provided that the English language will continue for 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution. It was further provided that, if needed, Parliament may provide by law that English will continue even after the period of 15 years. Accordingly, Parliament enacted the official languages Act in 1963, providing for the continuance of English indefinitely as official language along with Hindi for the official purposes of the Union and for transaction of business in Parliament.
The reported recommendations of the official language committee pose a problem for the President in as much as the committee says that Hindi should totally replace English as medium of instruction in central universities, IIMs, IITs, etc. The remit of the committee is to review the progress made in the use of Hindi for the official purposes of the Union and report to the President there on. Obviously the committee is not mandated to recommend the medium of instruction in universities and professional institutions. Further, since Parliament has declared by law that English shall continue along with Hindi, a statutory committee constituted under that very Act has no mandate to recommend the discontinuation of English.
Fallout in non-Hindi States
India has seen great emotional upsurge, violent protests and immolations etc. in the country’s southern parts in the 1960s as a result of an attempt by the then Union government to exclude English and replace it with Hindi. So, Parliament had to provide for the continuance of English also to assuage troubled feelings in the southern region. The provision allowing English to be used indefinitely helped douse the flames. It does not require any great research to understand that the language issue has the potential to emotionally divide people. It is not a question of the willingness or the unwillingness of people of a region to learn Hindi. The issues are more complex. An example. Once Hindi replaces English, the language used in the examination for recruitment to the all India services will be Hindi alone.
Therefore, candidates from the non-Hindi States, the south in particular, will face a great disadvantage when compared to those whose mother tongue is Hindi. The result would be a gradual elimination of candidates from the non-Hindi region from the all India services. The Constitution makers anticipated this problem, which is why the Constitution provides in Article 344(3) that the commission on official language shall have “due regard to the just claims and interests of persons belonging to the non-Hindi speaking areas in regard to public services”.
India has two major groups of languages — the Indo-European language group and the Dravidian language group. Hindi belongs to the former and Tamil ( more ancient than Sanskrit) belongs to the latter. All the prominent languages in the Dravidian group, i.e., Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada, have rich literature. However, it was English which brought the northern and southern regions together. In the Constituent Assembly, Maulana Azad had said: “we have got to admit that so far as language is concerned North and South are two different parts. The union of North and South has been made possible only through the medium of English. If today we give up English then this linguistic relationship will cease to exist”.
The idea of one official language for the Union is a product of the freedom struggle which promoted Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu. Later, when the Constitution was framed, the idea of Hindustani was given up and Hindi in the Devanagari script was adopted as the sole official language. In a country where there are two major language groups, the idea of one official language may not go far in fostering the unity of the people. It may, in the long run, give rise to serious imbalances in regional representation in the all India services as well as the personnel structure of the Union government.
A changing world requires English use
Further, since the southern States cannot decide who will rule from Delhi and influence the decision making of the Union, it is all the more necessary to address the concerns of the people of this region on account of language. Hindi is a simple and elegant language which has been given its rightful place as the official language of the Union. While doing so the Constitution makers took care to see to it that English continues to be used as an official language along with Hindi. They left it to Parliament to decide the future of English which decided, through a legislative measure, to continue with English indefinitely. The mood of the Constituent Assembly was in large measure influenced by the freedom struggle, the nationalistic fervour it generated and, above all, Gandhiji’s strong advocacy of a national language for the country. That mood slowly changed over the years as India began interacting with the world. So, by the 1960s, the political class realised that English was crucial in acquiring knowledge in science and technology as well as in other fields of human activity. Therefore, Parliament decided to continue with English.
The overwhelming public opinion in the south is that English should continue as one of the official languages. Today, the Union has Hindi and English as two official languages — as in Canada which has English and French as its official languages. In these circumstances, the policymakers should seriously think of making the provision constitutionally that Hindi and English should be the official languages of the Union. We love Hindi and all other Indian languages. Therefore, all efforts should be made to ensure their natural development so as to be able to meet the requirements of modern science and technology. At the same time we need English to better understand science and the world around us and beyond.
7. Editorial-2: Addressing north India’s burning issue sustainably
The monsoon has receded, and North India is bracing for a smoggy winter. And with that the feverish focus on crop stubble burning has returned to India’s public discourse. Like each year, discussions have begun on how bad this year’s stubble burning season will likely be and what potential ad hoc techno-fixes could solve the issue — in the short term.
A problem that is historic
We will soon read in-depth analyses of satellite image-derived counts of the number of fires observed on each day, and source apportionment studies that determine the exact contribution of stubble burning to poor air quality. The purportedly apathetic farmer who cares little about the well-being of Delhi’s urban citizenry will be held to a high standard of environmental stewardship, and the inevitable political mudslinging will follow soon. However, this heated public discourse adopts an unhelpful adversarial frame to a complex challenge. The problem is a historic one that cannot be fixed with short-term, unsustainable solutions.
The root cause of stubble burning can be traced back to the 1960s-70s, when to meet the urgent challenge of feeding its rapidly growing population, India introduced several measures as part of its Green Revolution. The Green Revolution transformed the way agriculture was practised, especially in Punjab and Haryana. The economics of high-yielding varieties of paddy and wheat, supported by a guaranteed buyer (the government) and minimum support prices led to a crop duopoly oriented solely around increasing caloric intakes, supplanting the earlier diversity of crops grown in the region.
Further policy moves in subsequent decades, which included the introduction of subsidies for electricity and fertilizers, and ease of access for credit in agriculture only served to cement this duopoly. But this transition to a two-crop agricultural praxis, while filling godowns and feeding mouths, has been depleting the water table, increasing pesticide and fertilizer use exponentially. It has also led to the consolidation of small farms into larger landholdings.
In an attempt to address the growing water crisis, the Punjab and Haryana governments introduced laws around water conservation, encouraging farmers to look to the monsoon rather than groundwater to irrigate their crops. The shortened harvesting season that arose resulting from a not clearly thought-out policy move brought about the need for farmers to rapidly clear their fields between the kharif and rabi crops; the quickest of these ways was to burn off the remaining stubble post-harvest.
The repercussion of stubble burning is felt all through the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) airshed, where what is burned in Punjab and Haryana has an impact on air quality all the way down to Bihar and West Bengal. With studies showing a large contribution of stubble burning emissions on winter air quality in the National Capital Region, the demand for governments to act on this seemingly avoidable practice translated initially into a criminalisation of the act.
No significant improvement
More recently, however, with concerted focus on the subject, a series of short-term ex-situ and in-situ solutions have been rolled out by the Union and State governments. In-situ solutions include happy seeders and bio-decomposers, while the ex-situ solutions include collecting and using stubble as fuel in boilers, to produce ethanol, or to simply burn away alongside coal in thermal power plants. Economic incentives to reduce burning have also been tested with limited success. With crores invested in these solutions over the last five years, we have yet to see any significant improvement in the situation.
Meaningful steps that are needed
Driven largely by short-term thinking, these techno-fixes or alternative uses work at the margins, without addressing the root cause. As pointed out in a recent article, the entire value-chain of agriculture in the region needs to change if air quality, water, nutrition, and climate goals are to be addressed. In practical terms, this means substantially reducing the amount of paddy being grown in the region and replacing it with other crops that are equally high-yielding, in-demand, and agro-ecologically suitable such as cotton, maize, pulses and oil seeds. It will also require building trust with farmers to ensure they are seen as partners (rather than perpetrators) and providing them the financial support necessary.
At a policy level, it also requires recognising that agriculture, nutrition, water, the environment, and the economy are all deeply intertwined in the era of the Anthropocene. One cannot be addressed in a silo without having second and third order effects on the other. Therefore, taking the long view on this would also mean establishing a mechanism for intersectoral policymaking that aligns our goals for sectoral policy within the broad frame of sustainable development we wish to follow.
A transition at this scale has not been witnessed since the Green Revolution, but it is what is required if we are to address stubble burning in the long run. Fostering the conditions necessary for such a transition is complex. Whether our institutions have the right mix of political will and professional skill to do so remains to be seen.
8. Editorial-3: Checks, no balance
India must look at all its options with China to ensure listing of terrorists
China’s decision to block two proposals by India and the United States to list Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commanders on the United Nations Security Council’s 1267 terror list is part of a well-worn pattern now. Since June, New Delhi and Washington have made five such proposals, with China placing a hold on each. This includes Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar’s brother Rauf Asghar and LeT leaders Abdur Rahman Makki (Hafiz Saeed’s brother-in-law), 26/11 handler Sajid Mir and the latest listing requests for Talha Saeed (Hafiz Saeed’s son) and Shahid Mehmood, who is charged with recruitment and collection of funds for the terror group. Each of these men has been listed as designated terrorists in India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act terror list as well as on the Federal Bureau of Investigation or U.S. Treasury lists. Each of them has a record of charges over the past two decades of involvement in the attacks by the LeT and JeM, organisations that are banned by the UN, and responsible for targeted strikes in India — from the IC-814 hijack, Parliament attack and Mumbai 26/11, to Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama. Even so, China’s response to the requests has been consistently recalcitrant, placing hold upon hold on the proposals made, regardless of the figure it cuts in the global counter-terrorism space, using what New Delhi has forcefully criticised as a “political bias” towards Pakistan to stymie the process.
Given the situation, India has three clear choices: the Government can abandon the effort until China can be persuaded to change its stance, or it can continue to bring terror listing proposals to the UN knowing they will be blocked by China, but showing that China is indeed misusing its power as a permanent member of the Security Council. Neither route will, however, ensure India’s goal of listing the remaining leadership of the terror groups. A third option is to open a diplomatic channel with China that focuses on the issue of global cooperation on terrorism, separate from other fractious bilateral issues, and to induce Beijing to reconsider its untenable position. While the last option seems the most difficult, if not impossible, it must be remembered that China was persuaded to “grey list” Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) from 2012-2015, and from 2018 to the present, and remove its hold and allow the terror listing of Masood Azhar at the UNSC in 2019, after blocking such attempts since 2009. As Pakistan moves off the FATF grey list — as it is expected to on Friday — it is time for India to consider all its options with China to ensure justice for all the victims of the cross-border terrorism that has exacted a deep and lasting toll on the country.
9. Editorial-4: Should Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians be given SC status?
Recently, the Union government formed a three-member Commission of Inquiry headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, to examine whether Scheduled Caste (SC) status can be accorded to Dalits who have over the years converted to religions other than Sikhism and Buddhism. In a conversation moderated by Abhinay Lakshman, Sukhadeo Thorat and Subhajit Naskar discuss the question. Edited excerpts:
Professor Thorat, what is the argument for the inclusion of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in the SC category?
Sukhadeo Thorat: The reservation policy is different from the policies we have for the poor. Some groups are discriminated against based on their race, colour, gender, ethnicity, caste, or religion and are therefore denied equal opportunities. So, special policies are developed for them to protect them against discrimination.
Although the Hindu SCs are accorded reservation, in 1956 Dalits who had converted to Sikhism were given reservation, and in 1990 Dalits who had converted to Buddhism were also given reservation. So, it is not only the Hindu ‘untouchables’, but also the ‘untouchable’ converts to Sikhism and Buddhism who are provided protection against discrimination. But Sikhism and Buddhism are considered a part of Hinduism in the Constitution for specific purposes.
There is a demand that Dalits who converted to Christianity and Islam should also be given reservation. I think all groups which are discriminated on the basis of their identity should be provided protection by law against such discrimination. Dalit Christians have been asking for reservation for almost 20 years now. The churches in India set up a committee, studied the discrimination these people face, and found that they live in a separate locality in the village and face discrimination in churches and in accessing Christian educational institutions and getting employment in these institutions. Limited evidence has been provided for Dalit Muslims too.
Professor Naskar, what is the argument for denying them SC status?
Subhajit Naskar: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said untouchability is holding back Hindu Dalits and so they need protection. Now, Islam and Christianity are very different from Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. They are Abrahamic traditions and have water-tight religious segments. Nowhere does the Quran or the Bible mention untouchability or a caste hierarchy unlike texts in Hinduism, which mention the Varna system. The Constitution provides for reservation on the basis of the experiences of those within the Hindu framework. Now, you could ask, what about Dalit Buddhists and Dalit Sikhs? The tenets of Buddhism are different from Abrahamic tenets. Once we start interpreting religions through government-appointed commissions, it will lead to a communal discussion. And as regards the backwardness of Dalit Christians and Muslims, there is already reservation in the State OBC (Other Backward Classes) and Central OBC lists. In fact, from 27% reservation for OBCs, why do they want to shift to 15% SC reservation? But having said this, I will say there must be separate religious minority reservation where Dalit Christians and Muslims can be accommodated.
But what about growing literature that defines caste not as a feature of any single religion but as that of civilisations across the Indian subcontinent?
SN: You could argue that caste-based hierarchies entered other religions. But when it comes to constitutional allotment of SC reservation, that argument cannot be a basis. These are religious minorities who converted to these religions in the hope of getting into an egalitarian emancipatory framework and did not. Within the Muslim or Christian communities, the discrimination is not what we can call untouchability; these are ethnic differences and segregations. P. Sanal Mohan, in Modernity of Slavery, talks about struggles against caste inequality in colonial Kerala and their tryst with Christianity. The experiences the converts had within Christianity were different from the experiences of the Dalits within the Hindu or the Buddhist fold.
Professor Thorat, considering that besides caste discrimination, converts might also face other forms of discrimination because of internal hierarchies within the new religion, what kinds of discrimination should the Justice K.G. Balakrishnan Commission consider while making recommendations?
ST: Let me first clarify the point raised by my colleague. I think there is no theological difference between Buddhism and Sikhism, on the one hand, and Christianity and Islam, on the other, to the extent that all the four religions believe in equality. Yes, the ‘untouchables’ who converted to Buddhism and the ‘untouchables’ who converted to Sikhism have faced caste discrimination and have therefore been given reservation. So, it was accepted that although both the religions believe in equality, the ‘untouchables’ faced discrimination even after conversion. There was evidence that both ‘high caste’ and ‘low caste’ people converted to Buddhism and Sikhism and the ‘high caste’ converts continued to practise discrimination. If that is the case with Buddhism and Sikhism, there is no reason to say this does not happen in Christianity and Islam. If there is discrimination, segregation, some sort of untouchability, these people need protection against discrimination. If the Constitution guarantees equality before law, equal opportunity, principle of non-discrimination, and if discrimination continues after conversion, it is an obligation in the context of the Constitution to provide protection in whichever form you want to provide — reservation and law.
Now, if the Supreme Court has asked the government to set up a committee, the committee’s objective should be to find out whether ‘untouchables’ who converted to Christianity and Islam face caste discrimination. If there is no evidence, there is no case for reservation. But if they face discrimination from high caste Muslims and Christians, you have to provide them protection. So, I would suggest that this Commission undertake a study and see the forms of discrimination faced by converted ‘untouchables’ to Islam and Christianity. And then see whether they face discrimination in the land market, labour market, education, etc. and this affects their poverty, income, employment. Then there will be a proper database for the government to take a call or not for integration.
Professor Thorat, you spoke of the discrimination faced by converts within their new religious framework. But what about the discrimination that such converts continue to face from Hindus who are aware of their caste identity? Should the Commission also consider this?
ST: You’re right. In Tamil Nadu, ‘untouchables’ who converted to Christianity live in segregated localities along with those of ‘untouchable’ Hindus. So, they face discrimination not only from caste Christians, but also from caste Hindus. We have less information about converts to Islam because that is old conversion. But the ‘untouchable’ converts also face caste discrimination by ‘high caste’ converts to Islam and high status Muslims, such as Khans. So, they face double discrimination, of caste and religion, within Islam.
Professor Naskar, what aspects should the Commission consider when looking at the possible impact of inclusion on existing SC communities?
SN: Probably one needs the Supreme Court or the government to have a bigger Commission which can deliberate upon whether these two religions have a framework of hierarchy, which is along the line of caste or caste-based hierarchies. Additionally, the ‘Dalitness’ of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians needs to be socio-anthropoligically proved because SCs are not a religious category, but historically depressed classes are being added to the SC list. If nothing of that sort exists in these two religions, then it gives birth to a different kind of question, of whether then there can be a demand within this reservation framework.
A large part of the debate has focused on whether Dalit Christians and Muslims should be included under the SC category. But a large part of the demand is also inclusion in the SC list so they can be protected under the SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
ST: Whether they will require legal protection or they will be included in the Prevention of Atrocities Act will depend on the nature of discrimination that the Commission should determine. I am in favour of separate laws against discrimination and separate reservation, and not a part of the SC only.
SN: In the wake of atrocities on Muslims and Christians they should be protected under a minority protection law along the lines of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.