A new beginning with Nepal
A fresh deadline
A register by the people
A new beginning with Nepal
Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of India and Nepal ties.
(GS paper II)
- It is a long-standing tradition that Nepali Prime Ministers make Delhi the first foreign port of call after taking over. Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli maintained the tradition during his state visit to India last week. The visit has further strengthened friendly relations between both the countries. As it has increased confidence between India and Nepal and bilateral relations will move forward in a new direction on the basis of equality, mutual respect and interest and enhance cooperation.
- From all accounts, the visit went well but it will take pragmatism and patient nurturing on both sides to restore the trust and confidence.
Nepal’s political transition
- Nepal’s political transition began nearly three decades ago when it adopted a new constitution in 1990 which ushered in multiparty democracy. However, stability eluded Nepal with a spreading Maoist insurgency.
- In the process, the gains of democracy were eroded. After a decade-long insurgency followed by reconciliation, an interim constitution was introduced and the ground prepared for yet another exercise in constitution drafting. This seven-year exercise finally produced a new constitution in 2015.
- Nepal abolished its 250-year-old monarchy and emerged as a federal republic. During these decades, political instability prevailed with 25 Prime Ministers in 27 years! Last year, 2017, was a year of elections in Nepal. Local body elections were held after a gap of 20 years. This was followed by the elections under the new constitution for the national parliament (the House of Representatives and the National Assembly) and the seven Provincial Assemblies which concluded earlier this year.
- Finally, on February 15, Mr. Oli began his second tenure as Prime Minister. Unlike the first tenure, which began on the sour note of the Madhesi agitation against the new constitution, this time he has come to power with convincing election victories.
- From India, there has been a growing realisation that time had come to make a new beginning with Nepal. Prime Minister’s visit in August 2014 had marked a new high in relations, but Mr. Oli’s nine-month tenure in 2015-16 was marked by acrimonious exchanges.
- India’s openly stated reservations on the new constitution in support of the Madhesi cause and the economic disruptions caused by the undeclared blockade had fuelled anti-Indianism which Mr. Oli cleverly exploited by donning the mantle of nationalism and making significant electoral gains.
- Difficult issues, including a review of the contentious 1950 Treaty, recruitment of Nepali nationals in the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army, resolving the fallout of the 2016 demonetisation exercise which has left the Nepal Rastra Bank holding a stock of Indian currency, long-pending hydel projects like Pancheshwar, resumption of the SAARC summit process which remains stalled since 2016 after Jaish-e-Mohammed militants attacked the Army base in Uri, and the need for an inclusive political process, do not find any mention.
- There is a realisation in Delhi that cultural and historical ties between the people in both countries are important but just as for India, globalisation offers new openings to Nepal too. China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative offers Nepal an option that may end up carrying unacceptable baggage but at least appears attractive at first.
- For decades, India has been Nepal’s most significant development partner. Yet the pace of project implementation has been slow, leading to significant time and cost over-runs. To be fair, both India and Nepal share the responsibility for this and political instability in Nepal hardly helped.
- The idea of four Integrated Check Posts, (ICP) on the India-Nepal border to facilitate movement of goods, vehicles and people was mooted 15 years ago and an MOU signed in 2005. While preparation of surveys and project reports moved slowly on the Indian side, acquisition of land by the Nepali authorities got held up leading to delayed construction. As a result, only the Raxaul-Birgunj ICP has been completed and was inaugurated last week. During this time, the cost of the project went up fourfold.
- There is a need of effective delivery on the pending projects, the remaining ICPs, the five railway connections, postal road network in the Terai and the petroleum pipeline so that connectivity is enhanced and the idea of ‘inclusive development and prosperity’ assumes reality.
Question –Pragmatism has finally taken root in Delhi and Kathmandu, now the effective delivery on the pending projects needed.
A fresh deadline
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Supreme Court notice to centre on Cauvery water disputes.
(GS paper II)
- The Supreme Court rapped the Centre for not framing a water-sharing scheme for the Cauvery and ordered it to prove its “bona fides” by submitting a draft scheme by May 3. The three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra expressed its disappointment over the Centre’s lack of resolve to play its part in ending the water conflict between neighbours, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
- A February 16 judgment of the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to frame the scheme by March 29. Yet, on the eve of the deadline, the Centre moved the court seeking another three months to finish the task. This would have taken it well past the Karnataka Assembly election scheduled on May 12.
- The court admonished the government for failing to frame a scheme within the six-week time limit given earlier. For the Centre, it was embarrassing to be asked to demonstrate its bona fides by submitting a draft scheme for the court’s consideration by May 3. The court’s frustration was evident, as the Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India was surprised and disappointed that the Centre had not put a scheme in place or sought an early clarification.
- It is obvious that a decree on the sharing of water requires a mechanism to give effect to it. It is an evasion of responsibility on the Centre’s part to set off a round of litigation just to determine the nature of such a mechanism. It clearly fears that framing a scheme may adversely affect its prospects in Karnataka, which goes to the polls next month.
- It is a matter of satisfaction that the apex court has indicated that it will pass a binding order soon. The Centre should redeem itself by complying with the latest order. Meanwhile, the ambiguity over whether ‘scheme’ refers to or differs from the ‘Cauvery Management Board’ envisaged in the Cauvery Tribunal’s order has caused great disquiet in Tamil Nadu.
- This raises the question whether the court should have allowed an element of ambiguity in its judgment by referring to a ‘scheme’, while not expressly modifying the portion of the Tribunal’s order that talks of a ‘Cauvery Management Board’ and a ‘Cauvery Water Regulation Committee’.
- However, targeting IPL is irrational. IPL matches have nothing to do with the Cauvery dispute; more importantly, they have nothing to with either the Centre or the State.
- Choosing a soft target may bring high visibility, but it makes no sense to mix a serious inter-State dispute with sport and entertainment certainly not in a disruptive and violent manner.
Question – Explain the ongoing Cauvery water dispute, how interstate disputes are detrimental for democracy.
A register by the people
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of assessment of the draft National Forest Policy.
(GS paper III)
- According to the India State of Forest Report 2017, India recorded a marginal increase in forest cover, at the same time the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released a draft National Forest Policy, 2018, which calls for increasing forest cover, involving communities in forest management, and creating plantations for industrial use.
- But before formulating such a policy, a question that needs to be asked is, how much forest cover does India actually have?
Assessment of the report
- The State of Forest Report says that forest cover had increased in India by 0.21% in 2017 from 2015, and that some areas had become ‘Very Dense Forest’ in this period. At the same time, the Ministry itself admits that between 2014 and 2017, India lost, or legally diverted, 36,575 hectares of forest area towards 1,419 development projects. So, two things are clear that even if forest cover is being increased, it is also simultaneously being lost, and new forest may also be subsequently lost.
- At the same time claim of new forests being created is questionable. In several consecutive forest reports, an absence of ground truths has meant that areas that look green, such as tea estates and commercial plantations have been counted as forests.
- Environmentalists stress that it is difficult to believe that India’s forest cover has become denser in the last two years simply because this process takes much longer. The point is that there is a need to create mechanisms to calculate our actual forest cover and natural wealth, and this should form the basis for a forest policy. For this, we need a more rigorous integration of the forest policy with other existing environmental legislation and policy. This, in turn, will help decentralise information on forests.
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, calls for setting up a Biodiversity Management Committee in each local body. The Committee will prepare People’s Biodiversity Registers (PRBs), with tribals as members or people living in natural areas not classified legally as forest. The Registers entail a complete documentation of biodiversity in the area -plants, food sources, wildlife, medicinal sources, etc. They are meant to enable the creation of local biodiversity funds for conservation, and aid in decision-making.
- For instance, several Endemic Birds Areas, like in the Western Ghats, are those where tribals like the Todas live. These communities have specific ways of interacting with the environment and have helped conserve it in a sustainable way. Outside protected forest areas which are under immediate threat; PBRs will help identify forests that require conservation.
- Forests are managed by forest departments, and their estimation and range is calculated by government agencies. While the draft Forest Policy talks about increasing forests, including for commercial purposes, through public-private partnerships, it does not create a mechanism for including those who live around forests.
- The various threats to Forests due to encroachments, illegal tree felling, forests fires, invasive weeds, grazing, etc. will be addressed within the framework of the approved Working Plan/Management Plan and also by ensuring community participation in forest management.
- A golden chance of setting up a system of efficient natural area monitoring will be lost if PBRs and Biodiversity Management Committees are not integrated into the heart of the draft Forest Policy. The policy should take forward an existing legislation to achieve that elusive blend of tradition and modernity and also create digitised maps with truths from the ground.
- A move towards decentralisation of forest wealth, wealth which is beyond commerce and embraces cultural values and oft-forgotten knowledge will provide transparency as well as an actual and felt recognition of our heritage.
Question – The draft National Forest Policy identifies threats to forests, but does not provide systems for public involvement. Analyse.