National Green Tribunal has prohibited the sale and use of firecrackers during Deepavali in the National Capital Region of Delhi and in urban centres that recorded poor or worse air quality in November last year.
The directions provide some concessions to cities and towns that have moderate or better air quality, by allowing “green crackers” and specified hours for bursting.
The NGT took note that Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Chandigarh, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Calcutta High Court had already responded to deteriorating environmental conditions by banning firecrackers this year.
Only damage control is possible now, including steps to address the concerns of the fireworks industry.
National Clean Air Programme, which seeks to reduce particulate matter pollution by 20% to 30% by 2024.
By the government’s own admission, there were 148 days of poor to severe air quality during 2019 in the NCR, down from 206 days the previous year.
Many other cities have a similar profile, but get less attention.
Tamil Nadu, where 90% of firecrackers are produced, has legitimate concerns on the fate of the industry this year, which, producers claim, represents about ₹2,300 crore worth of output.
A transparent compensation scheme for workers, and suitable relief for producers may be necessary, although the longer-term solution might lie in broad basing economic activity in the Sivakasi region, reducing reliance on firecrackers.
Under Biden, unfurling India’s foreign policy concerns
Mr. Trump’s only real achievements in foreign policy were the agreements on establishment of diplomatic relations that he negotiated between Israel and a couple of the Gulf States.
The Saudis too will miss him, perhaps not as much as Mr. Netanyahu; they had in Mr. Trump someone who hated Iran as much as, perhaps even more than the rulers of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis and Mr. Netanyahu cannot be sure what policy President-elect Joe Biden will adopt on the questions of West Asia peace plans and the nuclear deal with Iran.
For us in India, there are two foreign policy issues which are of great concern and interest — China and Iran in that order.
Quad dynamics and China
In the Trump years, India got into a pretty close embrace with the U.S.
It signed all the ‘foundational’ agreements with America and bought billions of dollars worth of military hardware from them.
How far QUAD can be successful in containing the Dragon remains to be seen.
The Quad will have to be institutionalised and expanded by adding additional members such as Taiwan and South Korea.
There is nothing wrong per se in asking for support to protect our territorial integrity although it is evident that all these initiatives such as the QUAD are maritime agreements and do not have much bearing on our dispute with China, which is continental in nature.
If there is a major skirmish or worse in the South China Sea, the other members of the Quad will expect us to join them in fighting China, in an area far removed from our shores.
We do not want China to be permanently hostile to us; it will absorb huge resources, human and material.
Public opinion which has been worked up against China may make it difficult to do so immediately but the government is efficient in managing and moulding public opinion.
We should hope that he will not maintain the harsh unilateral sanctions that Mr. Trump imposed on Iran.
We may be able to buy Iranian oil, and sell our pharma and other goods to that country.
The government may also feel less constrained in investing openly in oil and other infra projects in Iran, including the rail project in which Indian Railways Construction Ltd has been interested.
The cost of clearing the air
In February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a ₹4,400 crore package for 2020-21 to tackle air pollution in 102 of India’s most polluted cities.
The funds would be used to reduce particulate matter by 20%-30% from 2017 levels by 2024 under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
Though it isn’t clear yet what the budgetary outlays for subsequent years are likely to be.
Though it was the largest-ever yearly allocation by a government to specifically tackle air pollution, the fine print revealed that only half the money was finally allotted to 15 States (and 42 cities in them) in November.
The rest will be given in January based on how cities achieve certain ‘performance parameters’ that are still being worked out by the Centre.
It is unclear if this amount is adequate to handle the task of improving air quality. For one, the scale of the problem is unknown.
An analysis by research agencies Carbon Copy and Respirer Living Sciences recently found that only 59 out of 122 cities had PM 2.5 data available.
Historically, cites have used manual machines to measure specified pollutants and their use has been inadequate.
Only three States, for instance, had all their installed monitors providing readings from 2016 to 2018.
Money alone doesn’t work.
In the case of the National Capital Region, at least ₹600 crore was spent by the Ministry of Agriculture over two years to provide subsidised equipment to farmers in Punjab and Haryana and dissuade them from burning paddy straw.
Yet this year, there have been more farm fires than in the previous year and their contribution to Delhi's winter air woes remain unchanged.
A clear day continues to remain largely at the mercy of favourable meteorology.
While funds are critical, proper enforcement, adequate staff and stemming the sources of pollution on the ground are vital to the NCAP meeting its target.
Lessons from Vietnam and Bangladesh
Vietnam and Bangladesh are on a roll.
While Bangladesh has become the second largest apparel exporter after China, Vietnam’s exports have grown by about 240% in the past eight years.
An open trade policy, a less inexpensive workforce, and generous incentives to foreign firms contributed to Vietnam’s success.
Vietnam pursues an open trade policy mainly through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) which ensure that its important trading partners like the U.S., the EU, China, Japan, South Korea and India do not charge import duties on products made in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s domestic market is open to the partners’ products. For example, 99% of EU products will soon enter Vietnam duty-free.
Vietnam has agreed to change its domestic laws to make the country attractive to investors. Foreign firms can compete for local businesses.
For example, EU firms can open shops, enter the retail trade, and bid for both government and private sector tenders.
They can take part in electricity, real estate, hospital, defence, and railways projects.
This model may not be good for India as it offers no protection to farmers or local producers from imports.
Last year, Vietnam received investments exceeding $16 billion.
As a result, Vietnam’s exports rose from $83.5 billion in 2010 to $279 billion in 2019.
In Bangladesh, large export of apparels to the EU and the U.S. make the most of the country’s export story.
The EU allows the import of apparel and other products from least developed countries (LDCs) like Bangladesh duty-free.
Bangladesh is working smartly to diversify its export basket.
India, as a good neighbour, accepts all Bangladesh products duty-free (except alcohol and tobacco).
The key learning from Bangladesh is the need to support large firms for a quick turnover.
Large firms are better positioned to invest in brand building, meeting quality requirements, and marketing.
Small firms begin as suppliers to large firms and eventually grow.
Vietnam has changed domestic rules to meet the needs of investors.
Yet, most of Vietnam’s exports happen in five sectors.
In contrast, India’s exports are more diversified.
To further promote manufacturing and investment, India could set up sectoral industrial zones with pre-approved factory spaces.
A firm should walk in to start operations in a few weeks. There should be no need to search for land or obtain many approvals.
Should a country promote trade at the expense of other sectors?
To understand this, let’s look at the export to GDP ratio (EGR).
Vietnam’s EGR is 107%.
Such high dependence on exports brings dollars but also makes a country vulnerable to global economic uncertainty.
The EGR of large economies/exporting countries is a much smaller number.
The U.S.’s EGR is 11.7%, Japan’s is 18.5%, India’s is 18.7%. Even for China, with all its trade problems, the EGR is 18.4%.
Most such countries, including India, follow an open trade policy, sign balanced FTAs, restrict unfair imports, and have a healthy mix of domestic champions and MNCs.
While export remains a priority, it is not pursued at the expense of other sectors of the economy.
The focus is on organic economic growth through innovation and competitiveness.
With reforms promoting innovation and lowering the cost of doing business, India is poised to attract the best investments and integrate further with the global economy.
The war within
When Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopia’s Prime Minister in April 2018, hopes were high that the former Army intelligence officer would bring a new dawn to the country known for its ethnic fault-lines.
Early on, he reached out to the political opposition, lifted curbs on the media and made peace with Eritrea — moves that won him the Peace Nobel in 2019.
But things fell apart rather quickly.
Last week, Mr. Abiy declared war on the country’s Tigray region, which is ruled by the powerful Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in response to its attack on a federal military base in Tigray.
After Mr. Abiy came to power, he purged the TPLF from senior government positions.
His push to concentrate more power in the hands of the government alienated the TPLF further.
The Tigrayans, who make up roughly 6% of Ethiopia’s 110 million people, have traditionally enjoyed outsized influence in the government whereas the Oromos, the largest ethnic group, have complained of marginalisation.
Now, with his decision to bomb Tigray, Mr. Abiy has declared war on his people at a time when ethnic tensions are running high.
COVID-19 vaccine could be 90% effective, claims Pfizer
Trump plans rallies to protest election
NGT links cracker sales to air quality
Finance panel submits report with separate section on States’ finances
Consultations held on reopening of T.N. schools
New Parliament building will be bigger in size and have more amenities
US President Donald Trump sacks Defence Secretary Mark Esper
Next round of talks likely this week
India, China Corps Commanders discuss broad proposals for disengagement
HC refuses interim bail to Arnab.
India, Maldives sign four MoUs to boost ties
New Delhi will support Maldives Foreign Minister's candidature for UNGA president
Suu Kyi’s party claims victory
Counting of votes begins for assembly elections in Bihar
PM Modi to address virtual SCO summit chaired by Russian President today