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1.Meetings of Parliament (Indian Express)

2.Asian inequality (Live Mint)

3.How Delhi’s air pollution also provides an opportunity (Live Mint)

1.Asian inequality (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the solutions to remove the inequalities in India. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • From China to India, Asian countries’ rapid economic expansion has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in recent decades. Yet the income distribution has lately worsened, with inequality now potentially even more severe in Asia than in the developed economies of the West.

Rising inequality

  • From 1990-2012, the net Gini coefficient a common measure of (post-tax and post-transfer) income inequality increased dramatically in China, from 0.37 to 0.51 (zero signifies perfect equality and one represents perfect inequality). It rose in India as well, from 0.43 to 0.48.
  • Even the four “Asian Tigers” Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan which had previously grown “with equity”, have lately faced rising inequality. In South Korea, for example, the share of income held by the top 10% rose from 29% in 1995 to 45% in 2013.

Reasons for such inequality

  • This trend is being driven largely by the same forces that have fuelled Asia’s economic growth in recent decades: unbridled globalization and technological progress. Increasingly open borders have made it easier for businesses to find the cheapest locations for their operations. In particular, China’s entry into global markets has put downward pressure on the wages of low-skill production workers elsewhere.
  • Meanwhile, new technologies raise demand for skilled workers, while reducing demand for their less-skilled counterparts a trend that fuels the expansion of the wage gap between skilled and unskilled. Capital owners also reap major benefits from technological progress.
  • In short, as the Nobel laureate Angus Deaton has acknowledged, by creating new opportunities for a certain group of millions of people, while subjecting an enormous number of people to wage stagnation, unemployment, and economic precarity, globalization and technological innovation have helped to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.
  • Exacerbating this trend, income inequality often goes hand in hand with inequality of opportunity. With limited educational and economic prospects, talented youth from disadvantaged backgrounds end up running in place. As inequality becomes increasingly entrenched, it can erode the consensus in favour of pro-growth economic policies, undermine social cohesion, and spur political instability.

How to stop such a trend?

  • To avoid such a future, Asian countries need to change the rules of the game, providing opportunities for youth, whatever their background, to ascend the income ladder. Market mechanisms are not enough to achieve this. Governments must take action, complementing their pro-growth policies with policies aimed at ensuring that the gains are shared much more equally and sustainably.
  • To be sure, some Asian governments have been attempting to tackle inequality with progressive redistribution policies. For example, South Korea’s government recently announced that it will raise the minimum wage next year by 16.4%, to 7,530 won ($6.70) per hour, and up to 55% above its current level by 2020. It will also raise tax rates for the highest income earners and companies.
  • But, while such measures have strong public support, they could end up hurting the economy, by reducing business investment, for example, and impeding job creation. In fact, the first rule of thumb in combating today’s inequality should be that simplistic egalitarian policies are not a permanent solution and may, in fact, have adverse long-term consequences.
  • Consider the Venezuelan government’s decision, in the late 1990s, to implement populist redistributive policies, without addressing the economy’s overreliance on the oil industry and lack of competitiveness. That choice has pushed the country to the edge of bankruptcy, while fueling large-scale social unrest and political turmoil. Venezuela’s national catastrophe should serve as a warning to everyone.
  • The best way to enhance both equity and growth is effective development of human capital, which not only supports higher incomes today, but also ensures intergenerational mobility tomorrow. This requires enhanced social safety nets and redistributive tax-and-transfer programmes, as well as access to quality education for all. The good news is that many East Asian economies are already investing more in public education, in order to expand opportunities for all population groups. But more must be done.
  • Asia needs to improve further the quality of its higher education as well, reforming curricula to ensure that young people are getting the knowledge and skills they need to prepare them for the labour market. Meanwhile, the labour market should be made more efficient and flexible, so that it can match people with the right jobs and reward them adequately. As technology continues to transform the economy, life-long education and training is needed to enable workers to keep up.

Way ahead

  • Furthermore, governments should create an environment that fosters small innovative startups. And, of course, they should sustain pro-growth policies that boost overall job creation and reduce unemployment, while rejecting barriers to trade or innovation.
  • In today’s charged political environment, there is a growing temptation to reject globalization and embrace populist redistribution policies that could end up doing far more harm than good. Asia’s leaders must do better if they are to realize the true promise of “growth with equity”.

Question– What should be the govt.’s methodology to reduce the rising economic inequality along with ensuring sustainable growth?

 

2.Meetings of Parliament (Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the sessions of Parliament and its related intricacies. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The dates for each session are announced at least 15 days in advance, so Members have time to submit their questions and give notice for Parliamentary interventions.
  • The opposition has accused the government of delaying the Winter Session “without justification”, and asked the President to stop this “unhealthy precedent”. What does the Constitution say about calling Parliament sessions? Is there a fixed date by when it must be done? Have there been delays in the past?

Current controversy regarding meeting of parliament

  • By convention, Parliament meets for three sessions in a year. The longest, the Budget Session, is held towards the beginning of the year, a three-week Monsoon Session follows from July to August, and then there is the Winter Session, also three weeks long, in November-December.
  • The dates for each session are announced at least 15 days in advance, so Members have time to submit their questions and give notice for Parliamentary interventions. It was reported recently that this year’s Winter Session is likely to be held from December 15 to January 5, 2018 much later than usual. Union Minister has said the government would ensure a regular Winter Session but would not like it to clash with the December 9-18 Gujarat Assembly elections. The opposition has, on the other hand, alleged that the government is avoiding Parliament.

Must Parliament always meet at specified times?

  • In 1955, Lok Sabha recommended a calendar of sittings for each session, the cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to the recommendation, but it was not implemented. The Constitution does not specify when or for how many days Parliament should meet. Article 85 only requires that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions of Parliament.
  • This year, the monsoon session ended on August 11, 2017. So, the next session can be convened at any time until February 2018.
  • Article 85 says the President can summon a session of Parliament “at such time and place as he thinks fit”. Thus, a session can be called on the recommendation of the government, which decides its date and duration.

Evolution of Article 85

  • The Government of India Act, 1935, contained a provision relating to the summoning of the legislature in India. It specified that the central legislature had to be summoned to meet at least once a year, and that not more than 12 months could elapse between two sessions. During the Constituent Assembly debates in 1949, Dr B R Ambedkar stated that the idea behind this provision was to summon the legislature only to collect revenue, and that the once-a-year meeting was designed to avoid scrutiny of the government by the legislature. The Drafting Committee of our Constitution improved upon this provision to craft Article 85.
  • In 1955, Lok Sabha recommended a calendar of sittings for each session, Nehru’s cabinet agreed to the recommendation, but it was not implemented. The Constitution does not specify when or for how many days Parliament should meet.

Have governments since then adhered to Article 85?

  • There has never been a gap of more than six months between two sessions of Parliament. However, over the years, all governments have worked around the dates of sessions to accommodate political and legislative exigencies. For example, in 2016, the Budget Session was broken up into two separate sessions to enable the issuance of the ‘Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Ordinance 2016’.
  • In 2013, when the UPA was in power, the Winter Session was cut short by two days due to continued disruptions on the issue of statehood for Telangana. In 2011, political parties agreed to cut short the Budget Session so they could campaign for Vidhan Sabha elections in five states.
  • In 2008, the two-day Monsoon Session (in which a no-confidence motion was moved against the UPA-I government over the India-US nuclear deal) was extended until December to prevent the moving of another no-confidence motion.

Is there a requirement for a minimum number of sitting days in a year?

  • There is no minimum number of days that Parliament is required to meet in a year in fact, the number of days that Parliament meets has reduced over the years. During the first two decades of Parliament, Lok Sabha met for an average of a little more than 120 days a year. This has come down to approximately 70 days in the last decade. This year, Parliament has met for 48 days.
  • One institutional reason given for this is the reduction in the workload of Parliament by its Standing Committees, which, since the 1990s, have anchored debates outside the House. However, several Committees have recommended that Parliament should meet for at least 120 days in a year.

How do other countries manage holding sessions of their Parliaments?

  • In countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, Parliaments are in session throughout the year.
  • At the beginning of the year, a calendar of sitting days is formalised and legislative and other businesses are programmed in. On average, the sitting days of these legislatures range between 100 days (as with the US Congress) to 150 (with the British Parliament) days in a year. 

How does it help to have Parliament in session throughout the year?

  • There are three main advantages. One, it enables detailed planning of legislative and policy work all year round. Second, it negates the need for enacting Ordinances (like the Ordinance that was enacted to amend the Bankruptcy Law on Thursday). Third, it enables accountability of government functioning by Parliament throughout the year.

Question– What are the problems associated with moving forward with BS standards in India? What steps can be taken in its regard?

3.How Delhi’s air pollution also provides an opportunity (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on how success in tackling Delhi’s air pollution could provide a template for making other cities liveable an essential requirement for attracting investment and generating quality jobs. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Air pollution in Delhi has dominated the headlines over the past few weeks and rightly so. The problem is especially urgent because Delhi is not the only polluted city in the country. Eleven of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India.
  • Given the massive expansion we expect in the urban population over the next 20 years, and the need to attract investment to create quality jobs, we need to make our cities liveable and attractive to tourists. Success in Delhi could provide a much needed template for the other cities.

Awareness of the problem

  • Recognizing the problem is the first step towards corrective action and there is progress in this area. A few years ago, an American journalist stationed in Delhi wrote a farewell piece saying that he was leaving Delhi because the air pollution monitors in the US embassy showed that staying in the Capital would put his children’s health at risk.
  • There was an outburst of nationalistic outrage that the embassy was probably exaggerating the problem. Since then, a number of government monitoring stations have been established in Delhi and they confirm that the problem is indeed serious.
  • The figure above reports the level of air pollution by PM 2.5 particles at the Siri Fort station in New Delhi for the 12 months from mid-November 2016 to mid-November 2017. The sharp spikes when readings go off the chart are frightening and attract headlines but the real problem is not these emergency situations. It is that the average for the year, at 142, is far too high.
  • It is more than three times the national standard of 40, and 14 times the stricter WHO (World Health Organization) standard of 10. If the monsoon months are excluded, most of the readings are consistently in the unhealthy range.
  • Medical experts in India have warned that children exposed to this level of pollution will develop asthmatic problems much earlier than normal. Pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution are more likely to deliver low birth weight babies, with all the permanent health problems that it causes. Senior citizens are also at risk.
  • Many activists have been working hard at raising consciousness and even pushing the judiciary to act. But judicial pushing can only go so far. It is useful in cases where prohibition of activities is all that is needed. It cannot devise a carefully crafted strategy operating on many fronts. This is for the government to do and then implement.

Controlling the pollution

  • Until a few years ago, Beijing was more polluted than Delhi. There were many stories in the international press about the very high levels of pollution in the run up to the prestigious 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
  • The Chinese government took firm action to control local industrial pollution, reduce the use of coal in power plants, and also restrain the sale of cars in Beijing. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa) satellite data show a 17% decline in the concentration of fine particulate matter over China between 2010 and 2015. The same data show an increase of 13% over India in the same period. Pollution in China is still bad, but it is seen to be slowly coming under control whereas it is rising in India.

Action plan to fight the problem

  • If we want to bring pollution down from the average of 142 to the national standard of 40, we need to (a) reduce pollution by as much as 72% and (b) ensure that it stays at that level notwithstanding growth of population and economic activity.
  • This will require action on a massive scale by many central ministries and Delhi state government bodies acting on different areas.
  • The Environmental (Prevention and Control of) Pollution Authority (EPCA), established by the Supreme Court, has prepared a comprehensive multi-dimensional action plan for control of pollution in Delhi. It includes proposals for shifting to cleaner vehicles and fuels, restraining the growth in cars and expanding public transport as an alternative, stopping pollution from coal-based power plants, controlling pollution from industry, putting a stop to burning garbage, preventing pollution from construction activities and controlling burning of crop residues in neighbouring states.
  • Some of the actions have to be taken by the central government and others by the Delhi state government and local bodies. Actions that have to be taken by the central government are also spread across different ministries.
  • Road dust contributes about 38% of the pollution. This component is particularly difficult to control since it reflects both poor road conditions with unpaved footpaths, and the use of traditional technology hand-held brooms for sweeping the streets. Such sweeping can shift litter to one side, to be collected separately. It does little to control road dust.
  • It only throws it up in clouds and shifts it to the side, from where it is disturbed again by traffic through the day. Vacuum cleaning devices attached to mechanical sweepers will help, but that would require massive investment in equipment, which may be beyond the funding budget of the municipality. Similarly, proposals for sprinkling water over all the roads in the city would run into water-availability constraints.
  • Vehicle emissions account for 20% of the pollution and this component is likely to increase as the number of cars multiplies. There is much that could be done in this area. The decision to advance BS VI fuel to 2018 for Delhi, and 2020 for the whole country, is a welcome move. It needs to be accompanied by action to ensure that new cars are all equipped with engines designed for BS VI fuel. The two together will reduce particulate pollution by 70% to 80%.
  • However, since the large stock of older cars will remain for many years, and the total number of cars is also expected to expand, the total pollution load from automobiles may not come down sufficiently over the near future. There is no alternative to actively discouraging car ownership and plan a massive shift to public transport in the capital.
  • Discouraging car ownership calls for many tough decisions. We need to increase the taxation of cars by introducing an annual or biannual licence fee, as we have for buses. We also need to introduce higher parking charges in the areas of the city that are congested and the charges should be high enough to discourage car usage.
  • We need to eliminate the current favourable tax treatment of diesel compared with petrol to discourage the trend to use diesel vehicles, especially SUVs. The WHO has classified diesel as a No.1 carcinogenic, along with tobacco. Diesel need not be banned since its use in sparsely populated areas will not create excessive pollution, but it should definitely be discouraged in urban locations. A higher licence fee could be prescribed for diesel vehicles.
  • In the longer run, electrification of cars and scooters will solve the problem, but even if all cars sold from 2030 onwards are electric, it will be a long time before a substantial portion of the stock of cars becomes electric. To accelerate adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) we should announce that all taxis and three wheelers must compulsorily be made electric in Delhi, as soon as such vehicles become available.
  • Discouragement of cars needs to be accompanied by a parallel effort to expand bus and Metro services. This is widely supported, but it runs into financial constraints. The EPCA has recommended the creation of an urban transport fund to upgrade public transport. All receipts from parking charges, and also the licence fee on cars and buses should be paid into this fund. Those who support public transport often baulk at measures to raise funds to finance it.
  • The Central government could offer to provide matching funds equal to what is raised by the cities. We should definitely consider ending the use of coal in power plants located close to Delhi. There are gas-based power plants which are under-utilized partly because the utility prefers to buy lower priced coal-based electricity, and partly because gas is not available. Gas could be imported, but this will make gas-based power even more expensive.
  • A regulatory intervention forcing coal-based plants to shut down, ensuring adequate supply of gas, and most importantly, allowing the price of electricity to rise, is needed. Higher energy prices will be resented but they are essential if we want to shift to more energy- efficient outcomes. The present cess on coal needs to be increased steadily over time.
  • Tough action is also needed to control of industrial pollution. Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment has been conducting a one-woman battle to ban the import of Pet coke, an exceptionally dirty fuel which is banned in the US, but which is freely imported by us (from the US) and used by many smaller industries.
  • The use of Pet coke is banned in Delhi, and we can monitor domestic refineries to ensure that they don’t sell the Pet coke they produce in Delhi. However, if large quantities are allowed to be imported, the ban on its use can only be enforced in Delhi by policing the consumers, which is near impossible. An outright ban on the import of this dirty fuel is a low-hanging fruit.
  • Burning mixed municipal waste in Delhi is highly polluting. We need to shift within the next three years to an effective system of separating municipal waste into biodegradable waste which can be converted into compost and energy, recyclable waste including plastic which can be recycled, inert waste which can be converted into refuse-derived fuel for power generation, and residual non-combustible waste which has to go to scientific landfills. This is a challenge for the Delhi government which it should take on.

Way ahead

  • Since many ministries are involved, the ministry of environment should be tasked with (a) identifying the actions planned by different ministries, (b) estimating the effect of these actions on the trajectory of pollution, (c) determining whether the resulting trajectory is acceptable as a national commitment towards reaching the national target, and if not pushing for stronger action, and finally (d) monitoring progress on an agreed trajectory to see if pollution is indeed being reduced as projected. If progress is unsatisfactory, then the ministries have to go back to the drawing board.
  • Something along these lines would put us on a credible path to reducing pollution over time. It will take time, but at least we will know when we can start breathing easy. Anyone who doubts whether the costs are worth it should consider that researchers have concluded that if Delhi’s air pollution could be lowered to the national standard, it would increase the life expectancy of Delhi’s citizens by six years.

Question– Pollution problem is needed to tackle at urgent basis. What should be the government’s approach in this regard?