Categories
International Relations

China’s growing interest in South Asia and Implications for India

China’s interest in South Asia has increased considerably. Its fresh bid for full membership to SAARC reflects South Asia’s growing importance for Beijing’s foreign policy agenda. This makes the topic of China-South Asia-India really important.

This article will give you a comprehensive analysis about China’s ventures into South Asia , the reasons behind them and how India is affected by it.

[su_heading size=”28″ margin=”0″]Why China is wading into South Asia in a big way? [/su_heading]

♦ The forces of globalization have resulted in trade between countries across the globe. China’s growing presence in South Asia is part and parcel of its global reach of economic activities. South Asian countries offer plenty of opportunities. Free cross-border movement of goods, services and the abundance of labour translate into adequate economic gains. Analysts have pointed out, that, distinctive regional challenges also posit China due to the presence and growth of India as a major geopolitical power. To balance these, China has been maneuvering its soft diplomacy skills encompassing economic, military, cultural , diplomatic aspects. 

♦  One of China’s major concerns in the region is the Indian Ocean, owing to the sea routes which are the world’s busiest trading sea route today and China imports around 80 percent of its energy needs from there.

♦  The political turmoils in South Asia offers a plethora of opportunities for external forces to garner a foothold in the region. The smaller countries in the region like Sri Lanka, Nepal could not have asked for a more benevolent partner  like China who helps in their reconstruction activities and adequately rewards them for the strategic advantages they offer without raising issues such as human rights or democracy.

♦  China faces challenges from the South Asian region, including concerns about instability in Pakistan and extremism. But South Asia also provides economic opportunity and strategic benefits, especially as China seeks a greater role in the Indian Ocean. Thus, China has been developing economic and political links with SAARC member states.

♦  Despite India’s displeasure, a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine  is docked at the Colombo port. It is connotative of China trying to establish its military presence in South Asia. Conventionally, China is not considered a south Asian state. The SAARC membership will give China a South Asian identity, with which it can play a more authoritative insider role in the region.

♦  Beijing has tried to use the initiatives of Maritime Silk Road, One belt One Road  to establish a more integrated relationship with its neighbours by building transportation facilities. China needs a multilateral mechanism like SAARC to accelerate efforts to construct the One Belt One Road in South Asia. The recently launched Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) along with SAARC is considered to be an ideal platform for China to garner support.

♦  China’s motivation to reach out to SAARC comes from its concerns about India’s eastward policy. Modi government has renamed the “Look East” policy as “Act East”, in an attempt to build a deeper engagement with East Asia and Southeast Asia. India and Vietnam are cooperating in oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The sheer willingness of India to play an active role in the South China Sea, where China has overlapping territorial claims with several countries has spooked them.  The India-US joint statement, issued during Modi’s state visit to Washington, was categorical about the situation in South china sea. China has been wary of India-Japan increasing strategic relationship. China had raised eyebrows when India invited Japan along with USA to participate in the annual Exercise Malabar in the Western Pacific. Considering these, it is believed that China has sought to develop a South Asia policy as a counteraction to put pressure on New Delhi and counter India’s eastward expansion.

♦   China has been seeking full membership of SAARC arguing that it has a common border with five SAARC member countries.

[su_heading size=”28″ margin=”0″]China’s growing interest- How has China wielded soft power with South Asian countries so far?[/su_heading]

China’s engagement with the subcontinent has rapidly grown. I have listed in brief, how China has been using soft diplomacy to engage SAARC nations across borders.

Pakistan

  • This alliance is significant geo-politically. The strong military ties primarily aim to counter Indian and American influence. Pakistan’s military depends heavily on Chinese weapons. The supply of conventional weapons systems, nuclear weapons technology and missiles to Pakistan is considered to be China’s policy of “strategic containment” of India.
  • China is the largest investor in Pakistan’s Gwadar Deep Sea Port, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. It is viewed warily by both India and USA as a possible launchpad for the Chinese Navy, giving them the ability to launch submarines and warships in the Indian Ocean.

  • China has been helping Pakistan to develop infrastructure through the building of power plants, roads and communication lines.
  • Pak-China Economic Corridor is under construction. It will connect Pakistan with China and the Central Asian countries with highway connecting Kashgar to Khunjrab and Gwadar.

Afghanistan

  • China has increased its economics aid and investment in Afghanistan, specially the development Aynak Copper mines. China is also keen on major investments in the war-torn country’s rich minerals and oil sectors. Remember, India is developing Hajigak iron ore mines.
  • With the U.S. and NATO largely withdrawing, the new administration in Kabul is looking for new partners to fill the vacuum. China also wants a peaceful Afghanistan because their cooperation is  being motivated by Beijing’s interests in maintaining stability in Xinjiang. China and Afghanistan have agreed to step up crackdown on the training camps of Uighur militants active in China’s restive Xinjiang province.
  • Xinjiang, which had long benefited from trans-Karakoram links with Pakistan, is now exploring similar connectivity with Afghanistan. As China develops the historic city of Kashgar in Xinjiang as a regional hub, the idea of a Pamir Group bringing Xinjiang, Afghanistan and Pakistan together into a regional forum is gaining ground.

Sri Lanka

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping paid state visit to Sri Lanka recently.
  • Chinese infrastructure projects are intended to help Sri Lanka become a regional trading hub. China has built an oil refinery, International Airport and International Container Port in Hambantota. It has also built a huge container terminal in Colombo and is developing the Colombo Port City Project.
  • China has provided Sri Lanka with several weapons systems. Sri Lanka has hosted Chinese submarines and warships.
  • China has also invested greatly in Special Economic zones of Sri Lanka. China has also been emphasising on a Southern Maritime Silk Route across the Indian Ocean.

Nepal

  • Nepal is assuming a new geo-strategic eminence as buffer zone between India and China, particularly for the defence build up in Tibetan plateau.
  • Nepal has the most accessible entry point to Tibet and it has the second largest Tibetan refugee community in the world. China has traditionally alleged that international forces are operating against China through Tibetans based in Nepal.
  • China has invested in mega projects of power, transport like Arniko Highway in Kodari, which is a border crossing from Nepal into Tibet.
  • Nepal has been wooed by China for infrastructural development and a major role in the development of Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. China is assisting in the construction of a railway line linking its border with Lhasa and thereafter joining China’s national railway network. It is touted that the path is being cleared by China to have the capabilities to transport troops speedily via Nepal.

 Bangladesh

  • The Yunnan province of China seeks greater economic engagement with Bangladesh for access to the Bay of Bengal. Both Beijing and Dhaka have been negotiating a number of mega infrastructure projects.
  • China also is on developing a deep sea port at Chittagong. Strategically more important will be the deep-sea port at Sonadia which will also come up with Chinese investment. Also, China plans construction of a dual gauge railway line from Chittagong to Cox Bazar where from the proposed deep sea port at Sonadia will not be far away. It will provide China with an excellent base to monitor and control situations in the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.
  •  Designed to link China and India with Bangladesh and Myanmar, the BCIM project will take the form of an economic corridor that will run from Kunming to Kolkata and then extend all the way to and through Mandalay in Myanmar, and Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh. In terms of geographical proximity and symbolic significance, Kunming serves the most convenient regional platform for China to strengthen and deepen its economic ties with South Asia.

Bhutan

  • China and Bhutan do not have formal diplomatic relations.
  • They have a long standing boundary dispute. Recently, China warmed up to the idea of reaching to an amicable solution to their boundary problems.
  • Bhutan and China share 470 kilometres of border, which is also close to India’s ‘chicken’s neck’ — the narrow Siliguri corridor which links the northeast. Any settlement of the Bhutan-China border dispute would be significant for India as Chumbi Valley, a vital tri-junction between Bhutan, India and China is just about 500 km from Siliguri corridor.

 

Maldives

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping paid state visit to  Maldives recently.
  • In Male, Xi spoke of a southern maritime Silk Road to increase trade across the Indian Ocean. Maldives has been courted with huge assistance for infrastructure development.
  • Maldives has been used by major powers in the past. The geo-strategic location of Maldives had drawn the attention of maritime powers during the colonial era well as the Cold War period. China is trying to make inroads into the Maldives to fulfill its strategic objectives.

As we all know, China has been seeking a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean through a “string of pearls”, or a network of ports. Study the map carefully to know the locations.

 

[su_heading size=”28″ margin=”0″]What are the implications for India?[/su_heading]

When India looks eastwards to Burma it sees China’s strong presence, when it gazes south towards Sri Lanka it sees a growing relationship that has led to China building ports and to the west it is all too aware of China close ties with Pakistan. Indeed, China has been increasing its interaction with countries across the region.

China as a potential full member of SAARC , will it have repercussions on India? The growing presence of China in South Asia has irked India, for sure. Why? The probable reasons for all this could be:

♦ China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with a string of pearls that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potentially rise to an economic and security threat.

 ♦ Presently, India is encircled by hostile nations that are friendly with China. India cites strategic and security concerns including China being Pakistan’s all weather friend and its policy of encircling India. We do not have a past with China to be proud of. Also, growing ties with Nepal increase India’s security concerns on its eastern borders.

♦ If China enters the SAARC grouping, its dominance in the region would be shaken, and also that smaller countries in the grouping will find a countervailing force in China.  India wants SAARC to remain a South Asian grouping and by expanding it to include countries outside the region, SAARC may lose its original mandate and character. Though it is opined that India should back Beijing’s membership in the SAARC since China has supported India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Other SAARC nations want China to be included as a member.

♦ China’s entry into this region will not only affect its regional politics but will also have geopolitical implications. India was eyed as the bulwark to stop China expanding into South and South East Asia by the West. Remember India is the pivot to Asia.

♦  India is losing out on potential investment due to Chinese presence. For example, Sri Lanka had first offered the building of Hambantota port to India. India rejected it.

Some analysts argue otherwise. They insist India could benefit with China being a SAARC member. Let us see how.

♦  China is already engaging with South Asian countries bilaterally in a way that excludes India. If China is a SAARC member, India  too could benefit from that engagement. India and its companies, after all, can potentially benefit from Chinese investment in South Asia, especially if it improves connectivity, livelihoods and, ideally, stability.

♦ The significance of the geo-political reality is that major South Asian rivers originate in the high Tibetan plateau. Perhaps the most important of them is the Yarlung Zangbo river. Such being the reality, there is ample room for cooperation between China and South Asia in water resources.

♦  A shortage of oil and gas resources in the SAARC region makes it highly dependent on imports. China could join SAARC nations in building joint pipelines and integrated power grids, which could also be connected to the grids in Chinese provinces bordering SAARC.

♦  If we consider Myanmar and Bangladesh, the insurgency problem in the North East States of India cannot be controlled effectively without their help . India should engage more with her neighbours bilaterally to overcome these issues.

Conclusion

India cannot ignore these challenges. Balancing Chinese power across the Indian Ocean will require close interaction with littoral states and powers like the US and Japan. Any response in our immediate neighbourhood will require a judicious use of carrot and stick.

Being the dominant power in South Asia, India should probably manage China’s presence with a mindset of open regionalism. Despite blocking China’s full entry to SAARC, Delhi should consider over the possibilities of making China’s activities in South Asia complementary to India’s own neighbourhood policy. If in future India reconsiders her stance, it is imminently possible for India and China to coexist constructively in the region through SAARC by advancing mutual benefits and at the same time ensuring development in the countries of SAARC. This would require political will not just from India, but from other SAARC nations as well.

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Categories
Geography & Environment

All that you need to know about GREEN DIESEL

Over the past few years you must have heard about green airliners which used a mixture of jet fuel and bio diesel.  Recently, Boeing powered its test flight using a mixture of jet fuel and green diesel.

Firstly, remember that bio diesel and green diesel are two different things. You might be confused what exactly green diesel is, and how it is different from bio diesel. Let me sort it out one by one.

Green diesel- what is it?

Green Diesel is an environmentally friendly fuel made from renewable natural sources. Green diesel is derived from oil and fat-based feed stocks. The feed-stocks of primary interest in obtaining green diesel are vegetable oils such as soybean, palm, jatropha, or rapeseed oils. Other products such as animal fats and greases can are also used as a feed- stock.

How is it different from bio diesel?

∗ Green diesel or  renewable diesel or second generation diesel are chemically not esters and thus distinct from bio diesel.

∗ Bio diesel is produced by a chemical process called transesterification. The feedstock is chemically altered.  Bio diesel requires that engines be modified so that it does not damage components. You need not delve further for GS.

Green diesel is produced through a refining process like hydrogenation, rather than through a chemical reaction like transesterification. Green diesel is chemically identical to petro diesel. Green diesel will run in any component without modification.

∗ Too much chemistry? To put it simply, green diesel is is not processed in the same fashion as bio diesel, and it has a different chemical makeup.

What are the advantages of green diesel?

∗ It is better than standard diesel because it reduces particulate emissions as well as odour.

∗ GHG emissions from green diesel are lower than standard diesel and  bio diesel.

∗ Green diesel can be produced at a lower operating cost than bio diesel using the same feed-stock.

∗ Its applicability as aviation fuel has been proved. Green diesel offers a tremendous opportunity to make sustainable aviation bio-fuel more available and more affordable for the passengers.The blended aviation fuel should produce 50 percent less carbon dioxide than straight petroleum jet fuel.It can also be used in today’s pumps , automobiles engines without changes, which will save significant expense as demand for renewable grows. Usage of green diesel can help in avoiding the substantial costs associated with building out additional infrastructure, which conventional bio diesel requires – a bottleneck that has stymied conventional bio-fuels’ penetration into the global fuels supply chain.

∗ With production capacity of 800 million gallons (3 billion litres) in the US, Europe and Asia, green diesel could rapidly supply as much as 1 percent of global jet fuel demand.

# Random fact , only gyaan, not for exam– Do not confuse this green diesel with the “green diesel of Ireland”. In Ireland, dyed green diesel is sold at a lower tax rate for agriculture purposes. Using the dye allows custom officers to determine if a person is using the cheaper diesel in higher taxed applications such as commercial haulage or cars.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Science & technology

Thirty Meter Telescope , India’s contribution and significance

India became a full partner in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. The project is the first implementation from the list of select outcomes from Modi’s US visit namely partnership in mega science projects.

Amongst existing and planned extremely large telescopes, the TMT will have by far the highest altitude, and will be the second-largest telescope after the E-ELT. The TMT is the only such telescope with government-level support from United States, China, Japan Canada and India.

Do you know which is the largest operational ground based telescope? It is the Gran Telescopio Canaris (GTC) , Spain.

[su_highlight background=”#e9fa12″] What is the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) ?[/su_highlight]

The TMT is a near- infrared telescope. It has a  primary mirror with an effective diameter of 30 meters. You should know the wavelength in the spectrum. Look at the image.

wavelength

You need to have a basic idea of the technology behind TMT. Read further to understand.

The primary mirror of the telescope will have an effective diameter of thirty mirrors and will be built out of hexagonal 492 segments, each of which will be 1.44 meters across. You must be wondering why a single 30 m diameter is not being created? The reason being, it will be too heavy and eventually sag under gravity. In fact, this is going to be the trickiest part. All these segments together have to behave like a giant monolithic mirror. This task is going to be handled by Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore.

The images  thus produced by the telescope will be very sharp, removing the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere by an advanced system known as adaptive optics. New term right? Adaptive optics refers to systems designed to sense atmospheric turbulence in real time, make the appropriate corrections to the beam and enable true image on the ground limited only by optical diffraction. In simple words, this capability will enable the TMT resolve objects much better, that is it will eliminate the blurring effect  caused due to the atmosphere.

The TMT will be the first telescope to incorporate these sophisticated features as integral parts. The TMT will have more than 10 times the light collection area of the current largest optical telescopes, and diffraction limited spatial resolution three times better than currently available.

Compared to the highly successful Hubble Space Telescope, the TMT will have 144 times the collecting area and ten times better spatial resolution at near-infrared wavelengths. An observing platform around the telescope will have a number of large instruments for obtaining astronomical data.

[su_highlight background=”#e9fa12″]Where is it located?[/su_highlight]

The TMT will be located on Mauna Kea, an extinct volcano on the Big Island in Hawaii. The TMT observatory will be at an altitude of about 4000 meters above sea level on a site which already hosts a number of large optical telescopes including the two Keck telescopes. Natives have been protesting against construction here as they consider it as a sacred site and environmentally fragile.

This site has been chosen after careful study as ideally suited for
astronomical observations at optical and near-infrared wavelengths due to its excellent observing conditions.

Have you pondered why these telescopes are on mountain tops?This is so because water vapor in the atmosphere absorbs much of the infrared radiation from space , so the infrared observatories on Earth have to be located on high, dry mountains such as Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

[su_highlight background=”#e9fa12″]Why is it being made?[/su_highlight]

It will enable astronomers to study the Universe with exceptional detail, right up to the first formation of stars and galaxies.

It will also give finer details of not-so-far-away objects such as undiscovered planets and other objects in the Solar System and planets around other stars.

[su_highlight background=”#e9fa12″]Which all countries are a part of it?[/su_highlight]

The telescope will be built and operated by a consortium of institutions from the USA, Japan, China, India and Canada.

[su_highlight background=”#e9fa12″]What is India’s contribution to it?[/su_highlight]

India will contribute about 10 percent of the cost of building the telescope and observatory, amounting to about Rs. 1300 Crore over the construction period 2014-23. The total cost of the telescope is expected to be about US $ 1.4 Billion. The Indian participation will be funded by the Government the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The DST will be the coordinating department for the project.

The Indian effort is led by three institutes, namely the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) in Bengaluru, the Inter-University centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune and Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) in Nainital. The India-TMT Coordination Centre will be located at IIA.

About 30 percent of the Indian contribution will be in cash, while 70 percent of the contribution will be in kind, to be spent on vital components of the telescope to be built in India in partnership with various industries.

These will include setting up of a facility to polish about 100 mirror segments. India will gain the technology to manufacture fine aspherical mirror segments from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). This technology will form the basis of the next generation of spy satellites.

Sophisticated components, like actuators which move the segments so that all the 492 segments act as a single monolithic mirror, edge sensors which sense relative displacement of segments due to gravity and temperature while tracking objects in the sky and segment support assembly for the active optics which helps in maintaining accurately the shape of the primary mirror will be manufactured by General Optics (Asia) in Puducherry, Avasarala Technologies and Godrej in Bengaluru respectively.

India will also contribute significantly to the complex software necessary for the operation of the telescope, including the telescope control systems and various components of the observatory software.

[su_highlight background=”#e9fa12″]Significance of India’s contribution?[/su_highlight]

With this contribution in kind, India will acquire the capability to build other such large, sophisticated telescopes on its own and will be able to be the major contributor to international projects in the future. This partnership will also enhance India’s technological capabilities in all the high-technology areas involved.

Being a full time member, India has secured time for its scientists at the observatory, which is expected to become operational by 2020.
This will translate into 25 to 30 observing nights on the telescope for Indian scientists per year.

The TMT project will expand the role of Indian science community in international technology development and fundamental research.

Have a look at this short video  to know The thirty meter telescope and what it means for science more.

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Categories
Polity & Governance

Compulsory voting – all that you need to know

In India, all 18+ have a legal right to cast their vote and elect their leader. All of us do not vote. Some do not believe in the merits of voting, some are too lazy to go to the polling booth. Voting is democracy. It is a responsibility as much it is a right. This is a medium of expression and serves as an agent of change. But, if democracy confers on every adult citizen the right to vote, the right not to vote is also fundamental.

There is a possibility of this voluntary act becoming a legal obligation in future, inviting penalties if the voter abstains. How did this happen and what are the ramifications ? Read further to find out..

[su_note note_color=”#fee9ea” text_color=”#04199c”]Compulsory voting can be defined as the legal obligation to attend the polls at the election time and perform whatever duties are required there of electors. Voters are legally bound to vote in elections. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he may be subject to punitive measures such as fines.[/su_note]

How did the issue crop up?

The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009 received the Governor’s assent. The Act introduces an ‘obligation to vote’ at the municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat levels in the state of Gujarat.

The previous Governor Smt. Kamla Beniwal had withheld her assent to the bill. Why did she do so? What were the reasons that she put forth?

1. The Governor had stated that compulsory voting violated:
a. Article 21 of the Constitution and
b. Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression that also includes the right not to vote.

2. She had also pointed out that the bill was silent on the  government’s duty to create an enabling environment for the voter to cast his vote which included updating electoral rolls, distributing voter ID cards on time, ensuring easy access to polling booths.                                                             

Present Governor OP Kohli gave his assent to the bill. The act has the following provisions :
1. It shall be duty of a qualified voter to cast his vote at elections to municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat . This includes the right to exercise the NOTA option.
2. The Act empowers an election officer to serve a voter notice on the grounds that he appears to have failed to vote at the election. The voter is then required to provide sufficient reasons within a period of one month, failing which he is declared as a defaulter voter by an order.The defaulter voter has the option of challenging this order before a designated appellate officer, whose decision will be final.
3. The Act carves out exemptions for certain individuals from voting if he is rendered physically incapable due to illness etc. It also has provision of 50% reservation for women in the institutions of local self-governance.

 

Right to vote in India

The constitution has adopted the system of universal adult suffrage to secure political justice. In India, the right to vote is provided by the Constitution and the RPA, 1951, subject to certain disqualifications.

  • Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18 .
  • Section 62 of the RPA, 1951 states that every person who is in the electoral roll of that constituency will be entitled to vote.

This is a non discriminatory, voluntary system of voting.

Was compulsory voting considered before?

In 1951, during the discussion on the People’s Representation Bill in Parliament, the idea of including compulsory voting was mooted by a member. However, it was rejected by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on account of practical difficulties.

Dinesh Goswami Committee (1990) briefly examined the issue of compulsory voting as a remedy for low voter turn outs and the idea was rejected on the grounds of practical difficulties in its implementation.

A Private Member Bill related to Compulsory Voting was introduced in 2009 which besides making voting mandatory, also cast certain duties upon the state to ensure convenient voting. It was then argued that if compulsory voting was introduced, Parliament would reflect, more accurately, the will of the electorate. However, active participation in a democratic set up should be voluntary, and not coerced.

Compulsory voting in other countries

1. 11 countries around the world make it mandatory for citizens to vote.
   a. Australia mandates compulsory voting at the national level. The penalty for violation includes an explanation for not voting and a fine. 
   b. Several countries in South America including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia also have a provision for compulsory voting. If one does not vote, the access to state benefit and social security is restricted.

2. Certain other countries like Netherlands and Austria repealed such legal requirements after they had been in force for decades.

3. Other democracies like the UK, USA, Germany, Italy and France have a system of voluntary voting. Usually, they have a high voter turnout.

Merits of Compulsory Voting

A high turnout is important for a proper democratic mandate and the functioning of democracy. It confers a higher degree of political legitimacy. People will have a more proactive role in electing their representative. In the last Lok Sabha election, some critics of Modi said he had only 31 percent of the vote, and hence his mandate is not real.

♦ Compulsory voting prevents the deprivation of the right to vote of the socially disadvantaged. Some vulnerable groups like tribals, women in orthodoxical environments could be intimidated into not voting. With compulsory voting, the state would be held responsible for allowing this to happen.

♦ In Australia, to ensure everybody votes, postal ballots, mobile polling booths are used to cater to immobilized citizens. If NRIs can e-vote in future, why not panchayat voters? Ask yourself, if the EC were to bring an EVM machine to your door, would you still not vote?

♦ An increased participation in voting strengthens representative democracy. If a law forces all to participate, it paves way for a healthy democracy. After all, the way we have learnt not to drink and drive, and hopefully we will learn not to pee in public, effective enforcement of compulsory voting can too yield results.

Subhash Kashyap felt there was no constitutional hurdle to compulsory voting and it should be enacted at all levels to ensure larger participation and strengthen democracy.

Jean Dreze felt that compulsion went against democracy but added that responsible citizenship is a necessary condition for democracy and responsible citizens should vote.

Demerits of Compulsory Voting

♦ Voting is a civic right not a civic duty. Compulsory voting may be in violation of the fundamental rights of liberty and expression that are guaranteed to citizens in a democratic state. Every individual should be able to choose whether or not he or she wants to vote. Compelling a citizen to vote is an infringement of their fundamental rights. 

♦ The constitutional right to vote may be interpreted to include the right to not vote. In the NOTA judgement Supreme Court had said that the right not to vote is a part of right to express. Democracy is essentially about choice. In a democracy if people are forced to do something then it goes against the basic tenets of democracy.

♦ There is a risk that people may vote at random simply to fulfill legal requirements. Also, citizens may vote with a complete absence of knowledge of any of the candidates.

♦ Some practical problems in the path of Compulsory Voting- How will EC  track voters who still don’t vote and how will it assess their reasons for not voting. If the excuses of a million people have to be examined for their validity, it might lead to corruption, and plenty of bureaucratic work (babu-giri). What kind of penalties will be imposed for not voting?

♦ Critics argue that voter education program has increased the voting percentage tremendously and that needs to be pursued instead of making it compulsory.

Election commissioner H.S. Brahma argued that compulsory voting is not practicable in a country as large as India. He questioned “Will you put eight crore voters in jail or impose fines on them? Do we have jails to accommodate eight crore voters?”

Former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi too has opposed compulsory voting and said – Compulsion and democracy do not go together.The decision to vote or not to vote is an individual’s decision in exercise of his fundamental right of freedom of expression.

Conclusion

Is this an idea whose time has come, or not? Universal suffrage is today considered a sine qua non of democratic rule. But what about universal participation? If we will not exercise our right to vote then how we will come to know who is the better or efficient political leader.On the other hand if people are forced to vote, it is not democratic to force people. In addition to all the foregoing, voting should be compulsory or not, depends upon the development of a country; how much the people are educated, or how much aware they are regarding their right to vote and the value of a vote.

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Categories
Economy Programs & Policies

All that you need to know about KISAN VIKAS PATRA

Finance Minister resurrected the Kisan Vikas Patra to boost small savings and increase savings rate. You need to know about the scheme well. Goes without saying, it is very important for Pre, Mains and Interview.

What is KISAN VIKAS PATRA?

Kisan Vikas Patra (KVP) is a savings certificate or a savings instrument.

It is a fixed interest, long term instrument for investment. KVPs are issued by Government of India, Department of Post. Since they are backed by the Government of India, KVPs are a virtually risk free avenue for investment. They can be bought from authorized post offices.

Widely popular in the 1990s, KVP is a small saving scheme just like the National Savings Certificate (NSC) or the Public Provident Fund (PPF).

Why was it discontinued?

This instrument was discontinued in 2011 due to fears of money laundering as it was a bearer instrument. This was as per the recommendation of Shyamla Gopinath committee on small savings.

You might be wondering what is a bearer instrument. A bearer instrument is a type of fixed-income security where the security is issued in physical form to the purchaser and is payable on demand.

Why has it been re-launched?

Savings rate in country has declined from a record high of 36.8 per cent to below 30 per cent. It is necessary to encourage people to save more. Or else, how to we get the cash for infrastructure growth? Paise ped pe nahi ugte.

♦ Lakhs of investors have fallen victim to fraudulent schemes, like the Saradha scam. Small saving scheme is safe. It will also wean away household savings from investments in gold.

♦ Most savers have difficulty in understanding financial instruments. 

♦ The collections under the scheme would also help the government mobilise funds for financing developmental plans and welfare schemes.

♦ Interest rates in the bond markets are going down. It is anticipated that this will translate into lower returns even for small saving products next fiscal, making KVP an attractive option then. How optimistic MoFin folks are. दूर की कौड़ी…

Who are eligible for it?

♦ Any citizen of India can invest in Kisan Vikas Patra in his name, or on behalf of a minor. A trust is also eligible to invest in KVP. Two adults can jointly buy KVP. Business entities such as a company or institutions, NRIs or HUF (Hindu Undivided Family) are not eligible to invest in KVP. You need not be a farmer to have a KVP. Sense a potential MCQ in this?

 

What are the features of Kisan Vikas Patra 2.0?

♦ The scheme is offered by Indian post office. Yes, they still function. The certificate will be issued by Post office called as “Kisan Vikas Patra” after basic KYC ( know your customer ) documentation.

♦ Investment can be made in denomination of Rs. 1000, 5000, 10,000 and 50,000.There is no upper ceiling on investment.

♦  KVP comes with a maturity of 100 months.

♦  The certificates can be issued in single or joint names and can be transferred from one person to any other person.

♦  KVPs can be transferred from one post office to another anywhere in India .

♦  One can avail loans on KVPs from the banks and in other case where security is required to be deposited. Initially, the Kisan Vikas Patra certificates will be sold through post offices, but later on they will be made available to the through designated branches of nationalised banks.

♦  Investor can en-cash his certificates after the lock-in period of 2 years and 6 months.

♦  No PAN number is required for investment in Kisan Vikas Patra upto a specified amount.

What are the advantages?

♦ KVPs will help stimulate savings in un-banked rural areas especially. Hence, financial inclusion.

♦  The revenue mobilized by this scheme can be used in welfare schemes. Also the increased investment can be utilized for infrastructure growth. Ergo, setting the country on a high growth path.

♦ It would help poor gullible investors to channelise their savings towards trusted government schemes instead of some ponzi schemes.

♦ The bond certificates can also be kept as collateral for loans. They can also be sold to a third person. Unlike fixed deposits and mutual funds, which cannot be easily transferred, the ownership of KVPs can be changed by a simple endorsement.

♦ They offer higher liquidity to investors as they can redeem the investment after a minimum lock-in period.

What are the disadvantages?

♦ The KVP’s 30-month lock-in period is likely to be the biggest block for an investor. This is because many middle and lower middle-class families may not be able to keep the money locked in due to unforeseen expenses or events.

♦ One major draw of the KVP is that there is no ceiling on investment as there are bank deposits, which also do not have any investment limits, are offering better rates than the KVPs.

♦  KVP is not tax-free. There are no tax benefits since interest accrued on Kisan Vikas Patra is taxable.

♦ Though the facility to sell a KVP to a third person injects more liquidity, there is a fear that financially illiterate investors might lose out if they miscalculate the accrued interest and sell the bonds at a discount.

♦ The proof of identity and address is all that is required to invest in the KVP. KYC is not that rigid. Since you can use cash to invest in the certificates, it can lead to laundering of black money.

Sarkari channels generally carry the best fodder for UPSC. Watch this discussion on DD NEWS to gain some more insight on KVP. 

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rruJ3dTxGow” width=”340″ height=”300″]

 

 

 

 

Categories
Economy Science & technology

Net Metering and its advantages

All those appearing for Mains:  You can mention about this concept and its advantages if a question figures on Renewable Energy, how to make it cost effective etc. 

Let me explain the simple concept behind net metering. DO CHECK out the images for better clarity. Read on..

You have a solar panel on your roof. Suppose, you spent a sufficient time of your week seeing Humpty Sharma, Interstellar,outings etc. Extra energy has been generated at your place which you have not used. If you could send this extra power to the grid, and in return use it when you may so desire, it’s called net metering.

[su_slider source=”media: 636,634,635″ link=”lightbox” width=”300″ responsive=”no” title=”no” speed=”400″]

So, technically ,  Net metering enables customers to use their own generation from on-site renewable energy systems to offset their consumption over a billing period by allowing their electric meters to turn backwards when they generate electricity in excess of their demand, enabling customers to receive retail prices for the excess electricity they generate. Without net metering, a second meter is usually installed to measure the electricity that flows back to the provider, with the provider purchasing the power at a rate much lower than the retail rate.

Advantages

• Low cost,easily administered method of encouraging customer investment in renewable energy technologies.
• It increases the value of electricity produced by renewable generation and allows customers to “bank” their energy and use it at  when necessary, this giving customers more flexibility.
• Net metering is a necessary policy to boost the growth of renewable energy.
• Giving customers control over their electricity bills – Net metering allows utility customers to generate their own electricity cleanly and efficiently. During the day, most solar customers produce more electricity than they consume; net metering allows them to export that power to the grid and reduce their future electric bills.
• Net metering provides substantial economic benefits in terms of jobs, income and investment in the renewable energy sector.
• Protecting the Electric Grid – By encouraging generation near the point of consumption, net metering also reduces the strain on distribution systems and prevents losses in long-distance electricity
transmission and distribution.

net-meter1

 

Categories
Economy Geography & Environment Science & technology

Understanding Carbon Budget

Why is this concept important for us? No brownie points for guessing that. Hindu carried an article on it, in case you missed it. UNEP report is based on it. IPCC report last year for the first time assessed carbon budget. Now that I’ve convinced you of the topic’s importance, I’ll explain it you in a jiffy.

Can we pump in green house gases recklessly and not expect temperatures to soar? NOT on THIS planet.

How much rise can we endure?

The most widely accepted threshold is a rise of 2 degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial times. There is a limit to which we can emit, and keep the level below 2 degrees. This amount is called the carbon budget.

carbon_budget_graphic_535_535

To put it correctly, carbon budget can be defined as a tolerable quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted in totality over a specified time. The budget needs to be in line with what is scientifically required to keep global warming and thus climate change “tolerable”. Carbon budget should not be confused with the use of targets, thresholds or caps to set emissions reduction goals.

It’s possible to calculate a budget like this because carbon dioxide, which is the biggest contributor to global warming, has a predictable relationship with temperature. The warming we get is almost directly proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere.

UNEP report says, we are in a mess. Second half of the century, we need negative carbon emissions. Use technologies like carbon capture, geo engineering. Sounds good. But primarily, cut down on those emissions.

budget_0

How do we divide the carbon budget between countries, FAIRLY?

We have a carbon budget for the whole planet because there is one shared atmosphere. If we relax on the emissions coming from one country, another country needs to reduce its emissions to compensate. The remaining carbon budget is a scarce resource, that needs to be divided fairly between countries.

Issues that come into the debate about how to do this
include:

  •  responsibility for historical emissions
  •  state of economic development and the right to be able to
    develop to a certain level
  • size of population and per capita emissions
  •  financial, technological and other capacity to reduce emissions.
  • disparity between developed and developing nations as the latter do not want to compensate for historical emissions and want to emit to continue their economic development.

These issues are the subject of political negotiations between countries.

What is the possible solution then?

The carbon budget is a scarce resource to be divided up between countries, giving each country its own carbon budget which it must not exceed. The country could then give economic sectors each a share of the national carbon budget.

We must transform our economy from one of high emissions intensity, to one that is largely decoupled from carbon. Use renewable sources of power, energy efficient devices, reduce emissions through – efficiency, substitution , sequestration.  We can prioritise services, welfare and macro-economic outcomes alongside emissions objectives and short-term cost minimisation. Mitigation efforts can be aligned with socio-economic strategy.

 

 

 

Categories
Polity & Governance Programs & Policies

All that you need to know about Mental Health Care – issues and possible solutions; Mental Healthcare Bill 2013 ; Mental Health Policy

For the first time, India has a Mental Health Policy. This makes the topic of mental healthcare extremely important.

Nothing stops the examiner from asking questions related to mental healthcare system in India. You need to understand the issue and its multiple facets completely to tackle any question. The question can be as direct as listing the provisions of the bill, and it can be an indirect one like Gender and mental health.

I have done a comprehensive analysis of the issue for you. Read further to find out.

First the basics.

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”]What is Mental Health?[/su_highlight]

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”]What is mental illness and how is it caused?[/su_highlight]

A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people.

Factors which can cause it are:

  • long-term and acute stress
  • biological factors such as genetics, chemistry and hormones
  • use of alcohol, drugs and other substances
  • cognitive patterns such as constant negative thoughts and low self esteem
  • social factors such as isolation, financial problems, family breakdown or violence

Now that you have understood the basics, you should know how our government is tackling it.

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”]What is the status of mental healthcare in India currently?[/su_highlight]

  • According to 12th five year plan, the total budget for the National Mental Health Program is almost 5.4 billion rupees .
  • Government spends 0.06% of its health budget on mental health, according to the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Atlas of 2011.
  • Mental Health Act, 1987 – not a holistic law.
  • National Mental Health Programme – <Redundant schemes>

Like every other sector, this too is a highly neglected one.

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”]What are the major shortcomings in the mental health sector of India?[/su_highlight]

  • Mental disorders remain concealed in social suffering, discrimination and humiliation, human rights violations.The reasons for these attitudes are complex and varied, and are deeply embedded within local cultures. Not much has been studied about psychiatry in India that is based upon local problems including ethnic conflicts, poverty, dowry deaths, farmer suicides, etc.
  • Very few trained psychiatrists in India and insufficient infrastructure:  There is paucity of doctors and hospitals. Most government hospitals have relegated their worst wards with the fewest beds to mental illnesses. There is an acute shortage of mental health professionals – only 3,500 psychiatrists, according to WHO.
  • No insurance for mentally ill: This happens to be one of the sad truths — insurance companies do not provide medical insurance to people who are admitted in hospitals with mental illnesses. Shocked?
  • Costly treatment: Consultancy and drugs both are prohibitively high.
  • No rehabilitation facilities: The rehabilitation period is important, that is the period between recovery and reintegration. Unfortunately, it is abysmal in India.
  • Insensitive outlook of people: People use words like asylum carelessly. It is perceived to be so negative when you say you need help, that, people are ashamed to admit it. Faith healers are also an obstacle. Yes, the Rampal kinds.
  • Suicide is treated as criminal act; not enough helplines: It has not been realized, that a person who tries to commit suicide needs psychiatric counselling. He should not be viewed as a criminal.
  • Mentally ill people are discriminated in jobs: They are not received well in the job market, which further adds on to their anxiety and frustration.

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”]How can the Mental health sector of India be improved?[/su_highlight]

  • Address the accessibility issue – Policy interventions are needed to increase the level of access to appropriate mental healthcare services. Additional financial resources need to be allocated. Within the health budget it is imperative that allocation to mental health be increased, taking into account the burden of mental health problems.
  • Integrating mental health with primary care: Services provided through primary care have higher acceptability. There are fewer stigmas associated with seeking help from primary healthcare services because these services provide both physical and mental healthcare. Community-based primary care services are also less likely to result in human rights violations for persons with mental disorders. For integration to succeed it is important that the number of primary care staff has to be increased and imparted training and skills.
  • Availability of psychotropic drugs at the primary level: Psychotropic drugs provide an essential first line of treatment for mental disorders as they can reduce symptoms, shorten the course of mental disorders and prevent relapses. Psychotropic drugs should be included in the essential drugs lists so as to improve their availability at the primary care level.
  •  Inter-sectorial collaboration: This includes collaboration within the health sector and outside the health sector i.e. the private sector, civil society. For example, there are many general practitioners in the private sector who can provide community-based care, with adequate training and supervision. Masum, an NGO working with rural women in Maharashtra integrates mental health issues in all its programs.
  •  Community participation and awareness: It can help in development of services that address people’s needs. Community participation also has the added advantage of handling the stigma and discrimination associated with mental disorders.
  • Increasing public awareness: The media can play a role in highlighting information about mental illness and the availability of effective and safe treatments.

It is important that we develop mental health policies, programmes and legislation to increase access to mental healthcare and promote respect for the human rights of persons with mental disorders.

This brings us to the next segment of the article. Mental Health Care Bill,2013 has not been passed and a new Mental Health Policy has been unveiled.

 

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”] Mental Health Care Bill, 2013[/su_highlight]

The Mental Health Care Bill, introduced in parliament in August 2013, is pending in Rajya Sabha. Once passed, it will replace Mental health Act,1987. Let me list some of the important provisions of the bill.

  •  Acts of suicide will not be criminalized. All those who attempt suicide will be considered as mentally ill until proven otherwise. People who attempt suicide will be exempted from the present provisions of Section 309 of Indian Penal Code.
  • Various rights of the mentally ill people,like right to privacy and right to dignity are ensured.
  •  The bill prohibits inhuman practices such as electro convulsive therapy without anesthesia, chaining and tonsuring of heads as well as sterilisation as a treatment for illness.
  •  The bill seeks to establish a mental health system integrated into various levels of general healthcare.
  •  The bill provides for Advance Directive to be furnished in writing by the person that states how he wants to be treated for the illness.
  • Mental Board at both central and state levels need to register every mental health establishment.

You should be able to analyse the highlights of the bill. Its positives and negatives. So, what is our takeaway from the bill ?

Decriminalises attempted suicides: Finally, it has been recognised that people who commit suicides are not criminals but those in need of treatment. The bill makes it clear that act of suicide as well as mental health of a person who commits suicide, are inseparably linked and so these two should be seen in unison. Such people’s rights will be protected during delivery of mental healthcare services. This is for the first time a right based approach for mental health is considered. Finally we get rid of the archaic law.

The ability to choose treatment options: People can write a statement explaining how they want to be treated in case they suffer from a mental illness.

Medical insurance to cover mental health treatment: The is path-breaking and will also provide legal protection for those who suffer from mental illnesses and are at the mercy of care-givers.

Ensure equality and dignity for the mentally ill: The essence of the bill is to safeguard the right to access to mental healthcare facilities, the right community living, right to protection from cruelty, inhuman treatment and right to equality and non-discrimination. The bill looks to ensure that mental healthcare facilities are available to all.

Ban on archaic and barbaric treatment methods is also a very progressive step.

However, there is no mention about the huge resource-mobilisation that is required . Without penal provisions that would force authorities to act, functionaries are unlikely to extend various promised services to concerned beneficiaries.

Tired? This is the last segment. And, the latest, (not-so)burning Current Affairs topic.

 

[su_highlight background=”#12facf”]Mental Health Policy[/su_highlight]

First Mental Health Policy was launched. The policy objectives are in consonance with the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Bill.

Some of the major objectives of the policy are :

  • To provide universal access to mental healthcare.
  • Reduce prevalence and impact of risk factors associated with mental illness.
  • Protect the rights of the people affected.
  • Enhance skilled manpower in mental healthcare sector.
  • Increase financial allocation for mental health promotion and care.

The policy is backed up by Mental Health Action Plan 365 which spells out the specific roles to be carried out by government, private sector, civil society.

Is the policy only lofty words or substantial? 

The policy is progressive and sensitive to the social impact of mental illness, like stigma and poverty. The emphasis of the new policy is on the rights of the mentally ill, including the suggestion that attempted suicide should be decriminalized . Though, implementation will be tough and depends largely on the passage of the mental health bill that is pending in parliament.

Listen to this brilliant discussion on All India Radio on the bill.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swRL6br2630″ width=”340″ height=”300″]

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Categories
Geography & Environment Programs & Policies

What you need to know about Subramanian Committee Recommendations on Environmental Laws Amendments

So the Forest Survey of India says that about 90% of the country’s forest area can be opened up for “development”. It says about 11% of our forests should be strict no-go zone!

To implement its development agenda, the new government wants to speed up clearances – environmental in particular. This looks difficult with current arrangement. So the government wants to now tweak Environment , Wildlife and Forest Laws to make room to development projects.

For that, the government needs to amend old laws that hinder this “growth” process. They set up a committee to look into 6 laws and how they could be amended to bring them “in tandem with the developmental imperatives and environment protection.”, and euphemism for how to ensure the environment Ministry doesn’t hinder industrial growth.

Which acts did the committee review? 6 of them.

  1.             Environment Protection Act, 1986
  2.            Forest Conservation Act, 1980
  3.           Wildlife Protection)Act, 1972
  4.           The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  5.           The Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act,   1981
  6.           Indian Forest Act , 1927 – was not included in the original scheme. Added later on.

You are not supposed to know the names of all committee members.  But this particular committee headed by TSR Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary did not have any environmentalist.

I’ll summarize the recommendations of the committee briefly.

♣ New umbrella law – Environment Loss Management Act (ELMA)
  •  Under ELMA, Set up National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)  at central and State Environment Management Authority (SEMA) at state level. It will do the following:
    •  evaluate project clearance using technology and expertise, in a time bound manner, provide single window clearance.
    • appraise and monitor projects.
    •  take powers of existing pollution control boards.
    • Subsume air and water pollution acts into Environment Protection Act and monitor conditions imposed on industrial units.
♣ Principle of “utmost good faith”
  • In simple words, the principle is similar to what President Reagan said “I will trust you, but I will verify you”
  • It is basically self-certification system by project developers. They should disclose all the information about the project – technology, environmental impact etc. This information will be assessed.
♣ Revision of compensatory afforestation policy – companies to pay more
  • You should be aware of what compensatory afforestation is. When forest land is diverted for non -forest purposes, the developer must provide money for compensatory afforestation i.e planting of trees on another piece of land. He must also pay compensation for the loss of environmental services provided by the forest land due to the diversion.
  • As per the committee, area for compensatory afforestation in the revenue land should be doubled from the current one hectare for each hectare of forestland diverted to non-forest use for development projects. The compensatory afforestation in degraded forest land should be increased to three times the forestland diverted to non-forest use from the current rate of two times the diverted land. The committee also recommended increasing the net present value (NPV) of the forest paid by the project developers for diversion of forests to five times of what it is today.
♣ Fast-track procedures for power, mining , linear projects and projects of national importance and amendment to Forest Rights Act to dilute consent of gram sabha
  • an amendment to  provide a clear exception for all linear projects – roads, pipelines and power lines, etc.
♣ Reduced power of National Green Tribunal
  • Administrative tribunal to review clearances on appeal.
  • District-level courts to decide on infringement of environmental  laws.
♣ Reduced No go areas
  • Earlier it included wildlife corridors, lands with high biodiversity value and lands that acted as catchment of rivers.
  • The plan is to now reduce it to the existing protected wildlife areas and forest patches with more than 70 per cent  canopy cover. Forests with 70% canopy cover, classified by the Forest Survey of India as very dense forests, account for nearly 12%.
  •  The implication of this proposal is that miners will be left with more area due to a shrunk no go area.
♣ Definition of forests to be re -formulated
  • Present definition of forests is based on a SC order. Where the laws should be applied is possible only when there is a clear definition of forests.
♣ New institutional Arrangements
  •  New All India Service – Indian Environment service to bring qualified and skilled human resource in the environment sector. This should make you happy. Perhaps, more seats.
  • Environment Reconstruction Fund
  • National Environment Research Institute.
 ♣ Larger and more projects to be appraised at the state level

 

After this heavy dosage of recommendations, if you want to gain more insight on the the committee’s view, watch this video.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLVd3GSc0KI”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Institutions & Organisations

What is the Arctic Council and why it matters to India – Read this to find out

Pranab Mukherjee recently visited Norway and Finland. The visit was believed to be an assertion of India’s willingness to have a strong presence in  Arctic Council.

It is a known fact that melting of Arctic Ice is offering both challenges and opportunities for the international community.

Opportunities are in the form of oil and gas deposits, shorter shipping routes. Challenges arise from the adversarial impacts of melting ice, competing territorial claims. Several non-littoral states are seeking to engage themselves in this evolving politico economic strategic dynamics of arctic region. 20130518_IRM962

History of Arctic Council

  • The council was formed in 1991 when the eight Arctic countries signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy.
  • Formally established in 1996 by The Ottawa Declaration, Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction between the Arctic States.
  • Members include eight countries – Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Russia, United States, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden.
  • In addition to the member states, observer status is granted to non-arctic states. India, China were given observer status in 2013- Kiruna Declaration.
  • Originally, the council’s main focus was to address environmental issues and the concerns of the indigenous people in the region. Global warming, shorter sea route, hydrocarbons prospects have added on to the stakes in the region.The approach adopted by the Arctic Council is to regulate the shipping lanes, hydrocarbons prospecting and the exploitation of marine resource.
  • Council members meet biannually. Chairmanship rotates every two years. Currently, Canada holds the chair.

Arctic and India?

  • India signed the Svalbard Treaty when it was under British rule in 1920.
  • India has shown keen interest in the evolving climate change induced developments in the region. She established a scientific research station Himadri at Ny Alesund .
  • By virtue of the Svalbard Treaty, India is a ‘stakeholder’ in the region. It is prudent for New Delhi to forge relationships with the Arctic Council members and Nordic countries , formulate an ‘Arctic Strategy’, undertake resource assessment, exploitation studies and scientific research on climate change.

Arctic Council and India?

  • It is in recognition of contribution to Arctic Studies that India was granted observer status to the Arctic Council.
  • By accepting observer status, India has recognized the territorial jurisdiction and sovereign rights of the Arctic littoral states and hence their pre-eminent and even pre-emptive role over the Arctic zone. Acceptance of UNCLOS as the governing instrument for the Arctic also implies that the extension of jurisdiction over the continental shelf, maritime passage and the resources of the ocean space i.e. the global commons will lie with the littoral states.

How does India gain from this association?

  • Climate change in Arctic causes significant changes in snow conditions, atmospheric and oceanic circulations, with cascading effects on ecosystems in the Arctic and around the world. India must engage with the Arctic Council states on climate change issues. India can use the research for understanding the melting of glaciers in Himalayas and whether the Indian monsoons are affected by it.
  • Although India is located in a very different geography, it faces challenges to preserve biodiversity, contain maritime pollution, and preserve fish stocks. India can share expertise in this regard and also learn sustainable development measures.
  • As the Arctic Sea opens up, new opportunities for shipping and energy will arise. With rising geopolitical importance of the region, India would benefit from involving in governance issues and tap the energy potential of the region.

What should India strive to do?

  • By taking a firm political stand on Lomonosov Ridge issue, and favoring Russia, she can access the deposits of that region and the North Sea route.
  • India being a firm believer of equity must try for a global commons approach, and the region being treated in the same manner as Antarctica.
  • India and other developing states can put Arctic on the agenda of the ongoing multilateral negotiations on Climate Change under UNFCCC, ensuring that the activities undertaken there do not harm the climate and people.
  • The opportunities that the nations seek to exploit and profit from are the very activities which will exacerbate the climate change impact of a warming Arctic. What could be done to restrain this potential ecological catastrophe of global dimensions? Possibly, UN can set up its own Arctic body with strict norms and effective compliance mechanism. India could certainly push for such a global regime without violating its role of Observer at the Arctic Council.