It’s mid-December, and still, irrespective of discussions, debates and suggestions, the overall air quality index (AQI) of Delhi, as recorded by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), remains ‘poor’.
It has been established that NCR’s pollution woes are not merely due to bursting of Diwali crackers, but also stubble burning in neighbouring states, biomass burning, rising vehicular emissions, and industrial pollution, power plants and restaurants being major offenders. Accumulated dust, ‘trapped’ when there are no winds, from large-scale construction work is another major pollutant.
GoI introduced the Graded Response Action Plan to combat this menace in October. Under this, air pollution levels are monitored closely by CPCB, and any spike is countered with a temporary ban on construction work, diesel generators and waste-burning, alongside ‘odd-even’ car rationing, mechanised watering of roads, and closure of brick kilns and stone crushers.
This has somewhat improved the situation, but we need to maintain the momentum in this battle.
Till not long ago, Beijing was grappling with a similar problem. Its successful strategy is worth emulating, especially given the similarities with NCR in terms of population pressure, industrial activity, etc. The Chinese implemented a systematic policy suite focusing on:
Reduced use of coal and increased investments in renewable energy.
Reduced infield burning, and wise crop residue management through alternative uses.
Quotas to limit new vehicles and retiring old polluting vehicles, while strengthening the mass rapid transport system.
A greening drive in the form of setting up urban forests and parks.
A potential congestion cess, and buildings having internal green belts to purify air.
While India has embarked on the journey to address similar problems plaguing the NCR, this must be backed by a strict enforcement regime. It implies regular inspections and prompt penalties for any breaches. An in tegrated plan with proper policy coordination between Delhi and its neighbouring states is also critical. Such a plan must set predefined targets for curbing pollution from various sources, in a time-bound manner.
Alternate end-use market for crop residues should also be looked at.
Earlier last month, furniture and home appliance MNC Ikea announced that it is planning to get Indian farmers to sell it the straw left after harvest, instead of burning it, for the company’s cardboard and particle board requirements. Stubble could also make entrepreneurial sense for the incentivised farmer if used for converting biomass to energy.
Industry also needs to get into the act. In October, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) set up a ‘Task Force for Making NCR Less Polluted’.
It has already launched pilot programmes across Punjab that can be scaled up. Corporate members have adopted villages, and are training farmers to use subsidised modern technology to better manage crop residue. Other programmes to be implemented include adopting best available technological interventions to mitigate pollution from construction work and industrial units, switch to clean-fuel technologies like multi-fuel injection kits for diesel generator sets, and exploring enhanced usage of recycled products in construction and infrastructure projects.
Air pollution is a crisis that must be seen as such. And to mitigate it, we must work together for the long haul.
Today, the country is staring at a very real possibility of 50% of automated teller machines (ATMs), numbering more than one lakh, shutting down by March 2019. Naturally, the big question is: can the disaster be averted? Here are a few solutions that may defuse the crisis.
Rural poor: The biggest stakeholder for the automated teller machine (ATM) industry in terms of numbers is the rural poor. Many members of the Confederation of ATM Industry (CATMi) now state that rural ATMs are financially unviable because of the abysmally low revenues. And, yet, these ATMs represent the lifeline for the rural masses, especially in the aftermath of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), where wages are paid directly into people’s bank accounts every month.
GoI should provide financial subsidies to rural ATMs so that low revenues and financial losses can be offset. Subsidies are a good measure to ensure that ATM deployers continue to produce service and even selectively set up new ATMs in under-penetrated rural India. This will meet the objectives of making cash available in the primarily cash-based rural economy and bring about overall financial inclusion.
Deadline implementation: Another possible solution is if the regulators defer the deadline of implementation for ATM hardware and software upgrades, recent cash management mandates and the cassette swap method of loading cash by at least 9-12 months.
Considering that the latest guidelines were only announced in August 2018, and a very limited six-month window was set for their execution, a deferment by a few more months would actually enable ATM serviceproviders explore suitable solutions with other stakeholders. GoI should constitute a task force with representatives of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), banks, cash in-transit companies and ATM service-providers.
The task force should conduct a joint dialogue on understanding the costs of implementation of these compliance mandates, debate the cost structure, revise the interchange rate — the fee paid by an issuing bank to an acquiring bank for accepting card-based transactions — and finalise the payout mechanism on compliance. This four-way dialogue should result in reaching a middle ground that will benefit all concerned, including end-customers.
As of date, the interchange rate stands at .`15 per cash transaction in ATMs. CATMi has been petitioning RBI and banks to increase it for the last three years. Nothing, unfortunately, has changed. If this rate alone is increased to .`18, which was the pre-2012 rate, some of the costs and losses borne by the ATM industry will be offset.
The ATM deployers serve customers of banks that use these ATMs. Hence, it is only fair that if there is an increase in the cost of running ATMs, part of the cost is recovered from the issuing bank (whose customers use these ATMs) in the form of an increased interchange. Interchange is an interbank fee created to share the costs of providing ATM infrastructure to customers. An increase in interchange doesn’t mean an increase in cost to the end-customer.
If a revised and uniform interchange fee is a problem — especially as urban consumers have access to more ATMs or other methods of digital payments — a differential structure for interchange rate in urban, semi-urban and rural areas can be explored to incentivise the deployment of ATMs in semi-urban and rural areas, which have seen increased RuPay card issuance from the PMJDY. And, in case hiking the interchange rate is also a problem, banks are welcome to simply reimburse the losses incurred by ATM deployers till date on running existing ATMs.
Increasing transaction fee: GoI could consider making cash expensive for the general public by increasing the fee on monthly ATM transactions beyond the first five free withdrawals. Currently, the cardholder is charged a fee of .`20 per transaction from the sixth transaction onwards. This could be increased to .`25 per transaction. This will increase the fee for only a very small category of consumers, as five free monthly ATM transactions is sufficiently high for most consumers’ monthly expenses.
This will have the following dual effects: the issuing bank will provide improved digital payment solutions to customers, and a fraction of cardholders — who actually transact more than five times on ATMs — will begin to transact either at higher per-transaction value or through digital channels. The banks can use this increased levy to compensate the increased costs of compliance.
The ATM industry in India has reached a tipping point. Unless loss-making ATM deployers are adequately compensated, there is likely to be large-scale ATM closure.
Even as all eyes will be on the assembly election results, the final full-fledged session of the 16th Lok Sabha commences today. The winter session — scheduled till January 8 — will see 20 sittings. It has been a mixed year in Parliament. While the post-recess budget session was entirely washed out, the government’s willingness to confront a no-confidence vote paved the way for a productive monsoon session in which a lot of legislative business got done.
Given that the Parliament will be meeting right after a set of assembly elections, and four months before the general elections, it is inevitable that intensely competitive politics will play out. A range of issues is bound to surface. The Opposition will target the government on its handling of institutional relationships, including the divide within the Central Bureau of Investigation and tensions with the Reserve Bank of India. It will bring up the Rafale allegations and also, on the back of the massive farmers’ march in New Delhi, put forth demands for loan waivers and hike in Minimum Support Prices. This is all the prerogative of the Opposition. What is crucial, however, is that these issues are raised, debates happen, and civility is maintained. Obstruction and an impasse leading to the constant adjournments must not be the way forward in this session. For its part, the government is under increasing pressure from its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as well as its core support base to move ahead with a legislation on the Ram temple. This is a hugely sensitive issue with deep implications for both the secular fabric of the country and inter-communal relations. The government must be advised caution.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel has resigned citing personal reasons, although the real reason for his exit is no secret. There were initially reports that deputy governor Viral Acharya had also resigned, but RBI has denied this. The resignation comes four days ahead of a key RBI board meeting during which the government and the central bank were expected to discuss their differences. A meeting on November 19 discussed those issues too and seemed to end on a conciliatory note, although this newspaper pointed out that the issues were far from resolved. They clearly weren’t.
The main differences concerned the quantum of surplus RBI needs to hold (it does far in excess of other central banks); its timeline and benchmark for banks to meet new capitalisation norms; credit to non-banking finance companies; and a framework for corrective action that placed lending curbs on half the state-owned banks in the country. The immediate impact of the resignation will be some churn in the money and stock markets that were already nervous on Monday in anticipation of state election results on December 11 (which are expected to be unfavourable to the BJP). Coming close on the heels of the turmoil at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the latest developments at RBI are certain to reinforce perceptions that the National Democratic Alliance government has made a hash of managing key independent and autonomous institutions. In the case of CBI, while there may have been legitimate reasons for the divestment of the powers of the investigative agency’s chief and his deputy, the government chose not to act till matters reached a head and then, did so in a way that appeared to violate a law on the term of the CBI chief. Not surprisingly, the matter is before the Supreme Court.
In the case of RBI, the issue is more complex: the central bank may have been too rigid in some of its positions and some of its officials may have been intemperate in their public comments, but the central bank’s motives were wholly above board (and there are many who believe that it was doing the right thing by the economy and the Indian banking system). The government could have surely handled this better. The Modi government can and should do better in managing its relationships with institutions such as RBI, if only to prevent the sense that there is a larger unravelling underway.
Electoral setback has sparked a debate within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its wider ecosystem of supporters. They take heart in the close contest in Madhya Pradesh, the credible performance in Rajasthan, and while surprised at the Chhattisgarh outcome, attribute it to local factors. Many within the party fold also believe that the 2019 election will be fought on a different template. At the same time, a process of introspection has already begun. Close defeats are still defeats. And for a party leadership obsessed with winning, this has come as a major setback, just months before the national elections.
The internal debate is broadly on the following lines. On the one hand are supporters and loyalists who argue that the BJP lost because it focused on development and welfare schemes, but ignored the ideological agenda of Hindutva. They critique the Modi government for not delivering on the Ram temple issue and believe that only an ordinance or an effort at legislation on the issue will showcase the government’s commitment. This will consolidate Hindus, make 2019 an emotive election, and drown class based and caste based considerations. On the other hand are those who believe the outcome actually reflects the limits of the Hindutva approach. To suggest that the BJP regime has not been committed enough to its ideological worldview is not true. From the obsession with cow protection, which has had dangerous consequences, to aggressive display of majoritarian political symbols, to the marginalisation of minorities in various spheres, the hardline has actually managed to push its script. Both Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath’s speeches reflect this. But while this keeps the base happy, it does not influence the floating, swing vote. Those voters are concerned with immediate livelihood issues. The BJP’s losses in urban centres indicates disillusionment of the middle class, young and trading communities. Its losses in rural areas shows the anger of farmers. Its setback in the tribal belts shows that marginalised communities, who were getting attracted to the BJP, are moving away.
The lesson, therefore, to draw from the results is the need for the BJP to go back to the economic drawing board. The problem, however, is timing. The government cannot address the structural issues of farm incomes and jobs in four months. So it will be tempted to turn to hardline Hindutva. That would be a mistake and reduce it to its core vote. The additional 10-12 percentage points the BJP has gained in 2014, compared to 2009, will be at risk. Narendra Modi has a creative and extraordinarily sharp political mind. He needs a new narrative, a new story, and implement whatever corrections are feasible on the economy. He must avoid the short cuts of identity and divisive politics.
None of the Above (NOTA) is a button (option) in electronic voting machines, designed to allow the voter to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in a voting system
Yet again, a handicapped law had been given to the voters of this country, as NOTA can not make or mar a candidate or an election. Even if the number of NOTA votes is the majority, that will not result in re-election or the constituency remaining vacant. At present, the law does not allow NOTA to supersede the votes cast in favour of candidates.
NOTA was initially passed as a law to ensure re-elections in case of 40% votes on it. The candidature of candidates was canceled and re-election was proposed for that seat. Alas! It didn’t happen…
We need to understand the value of each and every VOTE that we cast at the time of elections because that is what defines 5 valuable future years of the nation! Someone who can actually understand the need of the nation and more importantly, its people!!!
My view- as of now, It is useless to use NOTA as an option because it is only an opinion, and not decisive!
And again hope, that the coming government gets the same corrected in the favour of its Citizens!
An election manifesto is a published document of the contesting political parties that precisely define their aims and policies for the coming tenure of the Government.
While this is the time for the biggest play in the democracy, the elections, the best policy of the political parties to cry foul about the other party…. No one talks of their past performance in terms of their own commitment, their own election manifesto.
What we see and believe is that we are electing the rulers who run the show at their own will, and we don’t even ask them any question about their declared vision for the State or the country! We talk of illiteracy, but I’m shocked to see even the so-called ‘intellects’ only talking of religion, past, crisis, and the present hot topics…
It’s high time that the election manifesto of the parties should become the hot topics of discussion all over the media houses and even the general household; as they are the people who are worse affected by the outcome! The debate should be conclusive of the past and present declarations and the rating of the performance should be done on that basis…
Otherwise, the stories of rags-to-riches are the most common for the people in politics!!!
Management theories say that any culture is imbibed from the top level, and if those sitting at the top of the tree are non- committal; I am really afraid of the future of that NATION as a whole!
Lets make our leaders remember their commitments when they come to ask for the most precious thing we possess- OUR VOTE!!!