Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1.Towards a clean-up (The Hindu)

2.The toxic air (The Hindu)

3.GST and the remapping of India (The Indian Express)

1.Towards a clean-up (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of the Swachh Bharat and need of Clearer policies and investment to meet sanitation goals. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched on October 2, 2014 and with its subsidy-based mass toilet-building programme, it has put up millions of individual house latrines in rural areas, a government-commissioned survey estimates that the coverage now extends to 62.45% of households, up from 39% in 2014. It has given the many positive outcomes that sanitation produces.
  • However, the country’s sanitation programmes have failed to achieve the desired targets due to planning weaknesses, large-scale diversions, wastages and irregularities. The conceptual frame-work kept changing from supply driven to demand driven and finally to ‘saturation and convergence’ approach, yet the lessons learnt and experimentations through this long journey do not seem to have made much impact on the sanitation status in the country.

Assessment

  • The Swachh Bharat Mission makes it a major objective to completely eliminate open defecation in India. This is an enormous goal, and an admirable one, but the mission does not stop there. To succeed, it must, by its deadline in 2019, make rapid progress in fighting some of India’s most stubborn and appalling practices of hygiene and sanitation.
  • Besides ending open defecation, it has pledged to deliver door-to-door collection of all of the country’s garbage, the processing of all inorganic trash to generate energy, giant strides in the sanitary treatment of sewage, and a mass transformation in popular belief and behaviour.
  • The campaign also aims to completely end the barbarity of “manual scavenging.” This is a euphemism for the disposal of excrement by hand that, for centuries, has been the exclusive lot of people at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy.
  • The most important of positive change is to reduced stress for women, who suffer silently in its absence. There are well-known gains to public health as well. Success can be measured, however, only through a rigorous assessment of how the new facilities fare over time.
  • In the Centre’s assessment, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana have particularly failed to upgrade rural sanitation, while Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Gujarat have exceeded the goals.
  • Given the substantial funding available from the Centre, State governments cannot have a convincing reason for a poor record. The Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, which has introduced a new district-level ranking, should persuade the more backward States to bring about infrastructure improvements.
  • Upto now urban India has no comprehensive waste management plan, leave alone the less affluent rural areas. Nearly 60% of sewage generated in the cities currently goes untreated into rivers, waterways, lakes and the sea. The rules on segregation of waste remain on paper even in the bigger cities.
  • India’s crisis of sanitation has huge costs. The UN estimates that around 117,000 of the deaths of Indian children under the age of five in 2015 were caused by diarrhoea, the incidence of which correlates closely with the quality of sanitation in an area. This means that 10 percent of all deaths under the age of five in the country are due to the disease among the highest proportions of anywhere in the world. Diarrhoea and other diseases tied to poor sanitation can have debilitating long-term effects, such as malnutrition and stunting.

Way ahead

  • Achieving Mahatma Gandhi’s vision for a clean nation will take more than symbolism; it needs clear policies and investments in the right systems. Rural housing also needs stronger policy support, without which it cannot wipe out the deficit of about 60 million units that are needed to plan for universal toilet access.

Question– What type of systemic corrections are needed in order to make Swachh Bharat abhyaan a success story?

2.The toxic air (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of assessment of Niti Aayog’s draft National Energy Policy (NEP).(GS paper II)

Overview

  • Energy policies of India have over the years directly aimed to raise per capita energy (and electricity) consumption, even while the main focus of the country’s development agenda has been on eradication of poverty. India strives to achieve a double digit growth rate in its national income, making clean energy available to all of its citizens.
  • Recently the Niti Aayog has released the draft National Energy Policy (NEP), the document sets out national objectives and planning framework for the energy sector for the next 23 years (up to 2040). It comes at an opportune time when India is going through a critical energy transition period. Its main thrust is to let market-based mechanisms guide growth in various energy sources with minimal government intervention.
  • A nation’s energy policy can have a huge bearing on society and health. It is thus important to ensure that policies directed at energy security are compatible with public health goals.

Assessment of the draft policy

  • According to the policy, there are four key objectives of our energy policy: Access at affordable prices, improved security and Independence, Greater Sustainability and Economic Growth.
  • The NEP builds on the achievements of the earlier omnibus energy policy – the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP), and sets the new agenda consistent with the redefined role of emerging developments in the energy world. By envisioning the share of variable renewable energy (RE) in the electricity generation mix to increase from 5% in FY17 to 24-29% by 2040, the policy sets an optimistic tone for RE growth.
  • The policy envisions RE capacity (excluding large hydro) to grow from 58 GW at present to 597 GW by 2040 (solar 367 GW, wind 187 G- W) and RE share of total power output to increase from 5% at present to 24-29% by 2040. While the policy sets an optimistic vision for RE, it does not provide any specific measure to support this growth.
  • There are two glaring deficiencies in the policy document. One, it fails to examine past problems and proposes new solutions. For example, it argues correctly that poor financial health of DISCOMs is caused due to tariff subsidies and high T&D losses but the proposed solution is entailing separation of content and carriage has been mooted for many years without any success.
  • Secondly it vaguely suggests setting up of renewable energy management centres and roll out of smart grids across India but the most promising new technologies electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage have not received the required attention. While the government is considering setting an ambitious target of 100% EVs by 2030, the draft policy’s only suggestion for EVs is to implement time-of-day tariffs.

Public health and growth

  • The draft policy ignores the public health, especially in the context of the energy mix envisaged under the NITI Ambition Scenario. The Ambition Scenario is a tool to arrive at a range of possible energy futures for the energy sector till 2040. The range presents the scenarios which India may follow if it were to follow a business-as-usual path versus if it were to transition to an ambitious pathway which is cleaner and more sustainable.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that air pollution is the number one environmental health risk. In 2012, about three million premature deaths were attributable to ambient air pollution. The cumulative toll in terms of illness and impairment is likely to be greater.
  • According to environmental health researchers, children represent the subgroup of the population most affected by air pollution and will be the primary beneficiaries of policies to reduce fossil fuel emissions. Moreover, research has also established links between public health and a nation’s economic growth.
  • The estimated cost of ambient air pollution in terms of the value of lives lost and ill health in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, India and China is more than $3.5 trillion annually.
  • Similarly, a joint study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that the aggregate cost of premature deaths due to air pollution was more than $5 trillion worldwide in 2013 alone. In East and South Asia, welfare losses related to air pollution were the equivalent of about 7.5% of GDP.
  • In keeping with WHO’s Health in All Policies (HiAP) framework, the Health and Family Welfare Ministry (MHFW) established a steering committee with the aim to garner multi-sectoral commitment to address the issue of air pollution in India. Furthermore, the National Health Policy of 2017 views reducing air pollution as vital to India’s health trajectory. However, the National Energy Policy neither reflects nor supports the commitment outlined by the MHFW.
  • There is no method under the current policy regime, as proposed by the NITI Aayog, to evaluate the health impacts of coal’s contribution to mercury and fine particulate pollution, or the risk of radiation with envisaged increase in nuclear power, or the occupational exposures to silica and cadmium during photovoltaic panel manufacturing.

Way ahead

  • The National Energy Policy have to strive to minimise the unavoidable health impacts of energy production, and their associated health costs, especially given the policy’s stated objectives of sustainability and economic growth.
  • The policy should include a health impact assessment framework to weigh the health hazards and health costs associated with the entire life cycle of existing and future energy projects and technologies.
  • The WHO’s initial findings from an expert consultation on Health Indicators of Sustainable Energy provide a good outline to kick-start a similar exercise in India. The core indicators address issues related to health equity where health impact assessments become an integral part of energy policy design and implementation. It  can help monitor the progress of a nation’s energy policy.

Question– Examine the implication of Niti Aayog’s draft National Energy policy on the pollution levels in India?

3.GST and the remapping of India (The Indian Express) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue how GST will alter the economic map of the country.(GS paper III)

Overview

  • India’s tax system was complex and multi-layered, there were cross-border compliance, compounding of taxes on domestically produced goods and services, in addition to several central and state taxes, exacerbate the complexity of the system. This is why the government has realized the need for an efficient, transparent, and simple method of indirect taxation in the form of the GST bill.
  • With the implementation from July this year, the GST Council has already met and deliberated upon important aspects with respect to GST implementation in India. In fact, progress has been made in leaps and bounds in moving towards implementation of the new tax regime. Much of the current discussion about GST has focused on the tax structure and the complexities surrounding the implementation of the new system.
  • However GST, by changing all aspects of business, from the location of production and investments to logistical and supply-chain optimisation, could fundamentally alter the economic geography of India.

The GST Constitution Amendment

  • Abundant headway has been made in the recent past towards implementation of an integrated Goods & Services Tax (GST) in India.  With the passage of the GST Constitution Amendment Bill by the Indian Parliament in August 2016, and consequent ratified by more than 50 percent of the state governments within a span of a few weeks.
  • The GST will comprise of three main taxes: CGST (Central), SGST (State), and IGST (Inter-State). The GST subsumes all other indirect taxes, including central excise, service tax, countervailing duty, special additional duty, octroi, CST (Central Sales Tax), and VAT (Value added Tax).
  • Consequently, the GST facilitates the creation of a single tax reporting structure. The setting up of an all-encompassing tax will finally push India one step closer to becoming a unified market. States were vastly differing in taxation compliance, making intra-state and inter-state trade cumbersome. The introduction of the GST will reduce the economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes.
  • Shortly after its enactment, the GST Council was set-up, a key decision making body, which is responsible for overseeing and administering GST. The GST Council comprises representation from both the central and state governments, and is expected to take important decisions like determining the GST rate as well as the various bands which are applied.

Changed scenario

  • Prior to GST, the internal movement of goods was subject to a number of barriers. There were taxes on the inter-state movement of goods and cross-state differences in VAT structures and there were cumbersome inspections, especially at state borders.  A recent World Bank-funded study, undertaken by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, used GPS-time-stamped data of freight trucks to suggest that roughly 20 per cent of the transit time is spent at the border on verification of documents.
  • Now the GST will eliminate taxes on inter-state movement and harmonise the VAT structure across states (except for exempted goods). Border inspections should be significantly reduced although, since inspections of cargo (to ensure GST compliance) and vehicles (for licences and compliance with technical standards, for instance) are still permitted, there remains a concern that harassment by inspectors and corruption may persist. According to the estimates, GST is expected to result in a significant increase in internal trade by as much as 30 to 40 per cent.
  • Apart from the increased internal trade, other economic factors also significantly alter the economic map of the country. The work of economist Paul Krugman has shown that when the costs of producing a good are lowered with scale in production, there is an incentive to geographically concentrate such production. If additionally, there are large transport costs, production benefits by locating itself near the largest market to minimise transportation costs.
  • A reduction in transport barriers, as is the case with GST, can change the location of production within a country quite dramatically, away from the largest market to low production-cost locations, thus diluting the home-market effect.
  • With the removal of barriers within India, another related outcome is the geographic centralisation of production and warehousing. This could mean that economic activity will increase in centrally located states such as Madhya Pradesh. Yet another possibility is the agglomeration of economic activity in the more productive states. Thus, with GST, the economic map of India will evolve possibly in quite complex ways.
  • With the changing economic corridors, the demand for new investment in transport and logistics infrastructure will increase. The McKinsey study, Building India: Transforming the Nation’s Logistics Infrastructure, estimated that logistical inefficiency in India amounts to around 4 per cent of the GDP, this could well increase as the GST intensifies logistical needs Infrastructure is often identified as a “binding constraint” to growth.

Way ahead

  • GST could improve the ease of doing business in India. Putting an end to a multilayered tax system, dismantling border check posts, the GST regime seeks to break the barriers that currently exist between states and make movement of goods between different states easier. However India’s economic destiny will crucially rely on its ability to anticipate, support and leverage its evolving economic geography.

Question– What are the potential benefits that can be enjoyed by the central states after the implementation of GST?