1.Financing is key (The Hindu)

2.China’s shift to city-led growth (Live Mint)

3.The disaster next door (The Hindu)

1.A forest policy on today’s terms  (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: it throws light on the issue of need to review the forest policy to protect our natural environment. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • India is the biggest democracy in the world having seventh largest geographical area of 328.7 million hectares and second largest population with variety of climate, soil and ecological associations. It is one of 12 mega diversity countries in the world having vast variety of flora and fauna, commanding 7% of World’s biodiversity and supports 16 major forest types.
  • Indian forests are under severe pressure for meeting the demand for fuel, fodder, grazing, timber and non-wood forest products from ever growing human population livestock and industrial needs. The growing demand supply gap especially in meeting people’s basic needs in rural area & non-involvement of stake holders in protection and management of forests, are the main reasons for forest degradation.

The National Forest Policy

  • In 1988 the National Forest Policy was adopted, which covers all the sustainable management approaches subsequently provided in the 1992 Rio “Forest Principles”.

The main objectives are-

  • Maintenance of Environmental stability and restoration of ecological balance, soil and water conservation.
  • Conservation of natural heritage and genetic resources.
  • Increasing substantially forest/tree cover (33% of land mass and 66% in hills)
  • Increasing productivity of forest to sustainably meet first local and then national needs
  • Creating massive people’s movement to increase and protect forest and tree cover.
  • Deriving economic benefit must be subordinated to these principal aims.
  • This initiated a process of reform at policy & operational levels of forest management. In collaboration with local stake holders.
  • The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change as well as all State Forest Departments are guided by the National Forest Policy, 1988. The aim of the policy aim has been obscured by the unfortunate fact that there is no such thing as an ‘ecological balance’. 
  • The term originated as ‘the balance of nature’ in ancient Greece and was quoted off and on through the Middle Ages. However, with a better understanding of the functioning of natural systems, the concept was completely rejected by the beginning of the last century and does not find mention in textbooks of ecology. Similarly, the concept of ‘environmental stability’ is questionable because it is evident that natural processes are never stable or stagnant but are always in the process of change and succession.

No clear definition

  • Up to now there is no official definition for the term ‘forest’, in order to couch the laudable goals of the 1988 National Forest Policy, in valid terms, there is first need to define the term ‘forest’. A forest is a self-sown and self-regenerating community of plants that supports a community of creature’s dependent on those plants, and on each other, for food and shelter.
  • Though in India vast amounts of public money have been spent on ‘planting forests’, which is an oxymoron. Naturally there are no results to show for these ‘planted forests’, and Haryana has recently shown the way by practically stopping ‘forest plantation’ in favour of protecting and permitting existing vegetation to grow.

Defining the policy’s aim

  • After defining the forest, we can mention about the aim of forest policies which is for the maintenance of a healthy natural environment through preservation and, where necessary, restoration of the original natural ecosystems that have been adversely affected by over-exploitation of the forests and other natural resources of the country.
  • The second aim of the policy is to conserve the natural heritage of the country by preserving the remaining natural forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna, which represent the remarkable biological diversity and genetic resources of the country, which includes the grasslands, wetlands, and other ecosystems.
  • There is also need to protect the degraded lands, when land has been thoroughly degraded, the usual succession is grasses, shrubs, bushes and, finally, trees. By planting trees directly in such areas, we try to jump the gun, but the build-up of top soil and soil microorganisms that proceeds from a succession is missing, hence the large-scale failure of such plantations.
  • There is also need to check the soil erosion and denudation in the catchment areas of rivers, lakes, reservoirs in the interest of soil and water conservation, for mitigating floods and droughts and for the retardation of siltation of reservoirs.
  • The principal aim of Forest Policy must be to ensure a healthy natural environment and the maintenance and healthy functioning of life-support systems, including the water cycle and nutrient cycle, by protecting natural forest and other ecosystems native to the area.

Way ahead

  • There is clearly an urgent need to review the curriculum of the Indian Forest Service since it seems to rely on concepts that have been discarded more than a century ago.

Question– Forest policy lacks with many implementation challenges. How govt. should respond in this regard?

2.Search for quality (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of recent SEBI’s proposed rules to improve credit rating agencies. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Recently the SEBI has proposed 10 per cent cross-shareholding cap in credit rating agencies along with a slew of measures for tightening the financial and operational eligibility of their promoters. According to a consultation paper, the regulator has suggested greater disclosure requirements by credit rating agencies (CRAs) as well as by companies getting their services.
  • The new rules, if they come into force, may not have any substantial impact on the quality of credit rating in India.

Credit Rating Agencies

  • Credit ratings provide individual and institutional investors with information that assists them in determining whether issuers of debt obligations and fixed-income securities will be able to meet their obligations with respect to those securities.

Recent proposals

  • The market regulator has released a consultation paper seeking feedback on a new set of rules drafted to improve “market efficiency” and enhance “the governance, accountability and functioning of credit rating agencies”.
  • Among them are provisions to restrict cross-shareholding between rating agencies without regulatory approval to 10%, and increase the minimum net worth requirement for existing and new agencies from ₹5crore to ₹50crore.
  • Another mandates at least five years’ experience for promoters of rating agencies. SEBI has proposed disclosure norms to improve investor awareness about the operations of rating agencies. The spin-off of non-core operations of rating agencies will allow SEBI to focus on regulating just their credit rating operations. SEBI has spelt out its rationale for proposing each of the rules.
  • The SEBI has the concern that apart from improving the information available to investors, seems to be to prevent rating agencies from resorting to collusion in reaching decisions. This effort is in line with SEBI’s crackdown on the agencies after the default in 2015 of a highly-rated debt.
  • The present business model of rating agencies is seen to allow considerable room for issuers of securities to shop for a favourable rating or avoid negative ratings by severing their ties with these agencies. Prudential regulation is thus justified to tackle the problem.
  • SEBI’s proposed move to impose further quality requirements on rating agencies is unlikely to change things for the better, or raise further barriers.

Way ahead

  • There is need to make the policy easier for new players to enter the credit rating space and compete against incumbents. This will go a long way towards making credit rating agencies actually serve creditors rather than borrowers.

Question– What are credit rating agencies? What are their role in economic stabilisation?

3.The disaster next door (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Rohingyas and their plight. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Recently, almost 300,000 Rohingya have crossed over to Bangladesh from the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar, putting Bangladesh under immense strain and compelling the refugees to find shelter in squalid, unsanitary camps scattered along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

The plight of Rohingyas

  • The The flight of the Rohingya has quickened in the past two weeks, but Rohingya refugees have been trying to find a home outside their native Rakhine for years now, braving human traffickers and fraught conditions on rickety, overcrowded boats.
  • The Rohingya have also sought refuge in India where they have been shunned, denied basic public services and deemed by authorities as ‘the undesirables’.
  • While the government has called them to be illegal immigrants and trespassers, the fact is that India, throughout its history, has been generously accommodative towards refugees in the neighbourhood fleeing persecution, which includes Parsis, Tibetans, Afghans, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Bangladeshis during the war of liberation in 1971.

The missing spirit

  • India has prided itself in its tradition of Atithi Devo Bhava(the guest is equivalent to god). The stance on the Rohingya issue by Prime Minister during his recent visit to Myanmar, has been disappointing and is contradictory to the values of hospitality and inclusiveness that India stands for.
  • South Asia, particularly Bangladesh, which has been most affected by the crisis, was hopeful that Mr. Modi would express concern about the humanitarian crisis with Myanmar’s State Councillor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • Instead, he was seen empathising with Myanmar, and the joint statement at the end of the visit said: “India stands with Myanmar over the issue of violence in the Rakhine state which has led to loss of innocent lives.”
  • In doing so, he overlooked the atrocious crimes committed in the neighbourhood and almost turned a blind eye to both the untold sufferings caused to the refugees fleeing persecution and the resulting difficulties that a resource-constrained country such as Bangladesh has been put to a country which Indian politicians and officials frequently refer to as a role model of friendship in India’s neighbourhood.

The problem with the Bangladesh

  • International relief agencies in Bangladesh such as the office of the UNHCR and the World Food Programme are struggling to attend to the large number of refugees arriving each dayon foot or by boat.
  • Bangladesh, itself one of the world’s most densely populated nations and has hosted more than 600,000 Rohingya compared to 40,000 by India. Initially, hesitant to open borders along the Naf river, Bangladesh has now started allowing in refugees.
  • Through the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dhaka has proposed that Myanmar secure areas in Rakhine under international relief agency supervision, but there has been no response so far from Myanmar. Bangladesh has plans of making another 607 hectares of land available near the Myanmar border for camps to accommodate refugees.

India’s move to disassociate with Rohingyas

  • India’s move to dissociate itself from the Bali Declarationadopted at the World Parliamentary Forum on Sustainable Development puts into question its respect for human rights and the treatment of minorities.
  • It weakens India’s moral authority to speak for minorities in other parts of its neighbourhood. Interestingly Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka joined the declaration. Since 2009, Bangladesh has emerged as one of India’s most trusted neighbours, with Dhaka addressing almost all of New Delhi’s security concerns.
  • This includes cracking down on cross-border terrorism and insurgency conducted against India from Bangladeshi soil. The India-Bangladesh border today is one of the safest for India, enabling massive redeployment of its vital border resources for other purposes.
  • Despite this, Bangladesh has neither received water from the Teesta or support in times of humanitarian crisis from its biggest neighbour.

Way ahead

  • While Myanmar is an important factor in India’s ocean diplomacy and a valuable stakeholder in its ‘Look East’ Policy, India’s nonchalant attitude towards the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya reflects inadequate moral leadership and an inability to rise to the occasion as expected from a regional power vying to enhance its influence in the neighbourhood.
  • One of the reasons why India, despite its enviable soft power and formidable hard power, fails to generate confidence in the region, including with friends such as Bangladesh, is its complex geopolitics based more on political opportunism and economic interests as opposed to principles and values, practised consistently. 

Question–  What should be the approach of India in handling the issue of Rohingya crisis ?