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Analysis

Draft Energy Policy: Several unanswered questions

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The 2017 National Energy Policy (NEP), drafted by the NITI Aayog, takes the baton forward from the 2006 Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) in setting the trajectory of growth for the energy sector.

The value proposition of the NEP is to present a broad framework for the overall energy sector, taking into account the multiple technology and fuel options.

However, the NEP draft comes at a time when the energy sector is seeking clarity. In the face of claims of surplus power, even as rampant energy poverty continues to plague the country, the sector needs clear signals of the future pathways.

This need has become particularly pronounced with the rapid decline in renewable energy tariffs, and an associated and projected scaling up of grid-connected clean energy.

Highlighting the difference between the IEP and NEP, Piyush Goyal, Minister of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and Mines, lauded the NEP for taking the sharp decline of crude oil prices, change in solar energy technology, heightened concern of climate change issues, and the government’s rural electrification agenda into account.

However, apart from this, there is a stark difference in the broad approaches adopted by the erstwhile Planning Commission in framing the IEP and the NITI Aayog in framing the NEP. The IEP laid out a roadmap and provided a basket of specific measures to meet specific objectives.

For instance, the section in the IEP on the advancement of renewable energy recommended the conversion of the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) into a national refinancing institution on the lines of NABARD, specifically to advance clean energy.

The NEP, however, contains a list of general courses of action for the government — identified objectives that could be considered for implementation.

Going by the broad strokes of the NEP, credit is due to the NITI Aayog for recommending some revolutionary reforms, such as the opening up of the entire power sector value chain to private investment in order to create an efficient electricity market.

However, it fails to provide an adequate framework for a number of issues that have arisen and intensified over the course of India’s ongoing energy transition, which is still in its nascent stage.

On the renewable energy front, the NEP disappoints by failing to address the rampant uncertainties, specifically on issues around renewable purchase obligations (RPO) and renewable energy certificates (REC). The only half-hearted consolation on offer is targeted at the distribution companies (Discoms) which have been assured of government support for implementation of RPO and REC obligations.

The RPO system has perhaps already served its purpose in nudging states with renewable energy potential to incorporate clean energy into their energy mix. As renewable power becomes more commercially viable, states could be left to decide how, when and what source of power to integrate into their system, as no clear measures are being adopted to provide the much-needed enforcement of the obligations.

Policy uncertainty is further highlighted in the NEP’s focus on utilising coal powered thermal plants for securing the base load requirement to meet rising energy demand. The NEP’s reliance on thermal power fuels scepticism about India’s commitment to clean energy, and could distort investor confidence in the renewables sector.

From both an air quality and a climate leadership perspective, it would not be ideal for India to stress on expanding its thermal power capacity to 441 GW in 2040 from 125 GW in 2012, as proposed in the NEP, without having adequate technology in place for improving the efficiency and reducing the emissions from these plants.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had come down hard on coal-fired thermal power producers in 2015, setting a December 2017 deadline for meeting revised norms on emissions. However, with developers being reluctant to absorb the high cost for retrofitting their projects to meet the new standards (around Rs 1 crore or $1.56 million per megawatt), the government is likely to push the deadline for compliance to December 2019.

The NEP makes broad recommendations on how India should work towards developing and acquiring technology needed for the energy sector. However, it does not recommend consistent and strong policy and budgetary support for technology development.

The NEP prescribes grid-based supply to all households to be India’s primary endeavour, with renewable energy implemented to address the access issue only in cases where grid power is unavailable. The NITI Aayog in this instance has used the term renewable energy interchangeably with decentralised renewable energy. A rationale for this position has not been indicated, even as the government continues to promote decentralised electrification programmes.

Rather than promoting a particular means of electrification, the NEP could encourage context-specific electrification approaches, by considering economic viability, consumer demand and aspiration, affordability, as well as reliable provision of electricity.

As India’s importance and role in the global energy markets continues to grow, it needs to be strategic in its energy planning.

(In arrangement with indiaclimatedialogue.net. Views expressed are those of the website. Feedback at [email protected])

Analysis

RSS chief sets BJP’s electoral agenda

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RSS volunteers

There was never any doubt about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) anti-minority electoral gambits but the agenda has now been unambigiously and forcefully articulated by the party’s friend, philosopher and guide, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Delivering the organisation’s customary message on the occasion of Dussehra/Vijay Dashami, its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has left no stone unturned about what the Narendra Modi government should immediately do — which is to start building the Ram temple in Ayodhya even by enacting an ordinance.

By pointedly ignoring the fact that the issue is currently before the Supreme Court, the RSS chief has taken the party and the Hindutva brotherhood to the days of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s when the saffron storm-troopers used to say that the courts can have no say in a matter of faith.

Apart from a reiteration of this aggressive “religious” stance, Bhagwat’s directive to the BJP to get down to business and not dilly-dally any longer on building the temple has scrapped Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision in 1996 to put in cold storage the three “core” issues of the Sangh parivar — building the temple, doing away with Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and introducing a uniform civil code

That the negation of Vajpayee’s wishes has been done in the year of his death is not without significance. It remains to be seen whether the RSS will give any “advice” to the government on the two other issues — Article 370 and the uniform civil code.

But why the sudden hurry about constructing the temple? There may be two reasons. One is that it is the last throw of the dice by the party and the parivar in an election season to consolidate its vote bank of communal-minded Hindus at a time when the less than favourable economic scene may make sections of the liberal Hindus, who voted for the BJP in 2014, drift away.

The other is the realisation in the saffron brotherhood that it is now or never where the temple is concerned since the BJP is unlikely to get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by it may get it, but it will not be easy for the BJP to persuade some of its allies such as the Janata Dal (United) — which has opposed the BJP’s favourite triple talaq ordinance — and the Akali Dal to endorse a construction programme which cannot but alienate the minorities.

Notwithstanding BJP president Amit Shah’s conviction that the party will reign for half a century, there may be an awareness in the organisation that the 2014 outcome was the result of several unforeseen events — the Congress’s sudden and somewhat inexplicable collapse and Modi’s emergence (against the wishes of several in his party) as some kind of a messiah. From this standpoint, 2019 will not be the same as 2014.

Ever since the party and the parivar sensed that the mantras of neither “achhe din” (good days) nor “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) is evoking a favourable response, the focus of the saffron propaganda has been on Hindu-Muslim polarisation.

Whether it is extending the scope of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from Assam to other states or the removal of long-established Muslim names in Uttar Pradesh like Mughalsarai and Allahabad, the BJP’s aim has been to send the message that Muslims will be under pressure to prove the genuiness of their citizenship and that India’s multi-cultural past will be erased as Hindu rashtra takes root.

Along with the direct and indirect offensive against Muslims, the parivar is also intent on confirming its Hindu credentials by opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on the grounds it violates centuries-old beliefs.

The Sabarimala episode enables the RSS and the BJP to try and kill two birds with one stone. One is to project themselves as the standard-bearers of Hinduism, and the other is to flaunt a defiance of the Supreme Court.

The court has aroused the saffron lobby’s ire ever since it delivered a series of “progressive” judgments (of which Sabarimala is one) such as the one upholding the rights of privacy, which the government argued was an elitist concept, and the other was to decriminalise homosexuality in a case from which the government recused itself evidently because while the legalisation went against the BJP’s crusty orthodoxy, the party could not afford to be seen as living in Victorian times.

Sabarimala has given an opportunity to the RSS and the BJP to defy the apex court and suggest that it is not right all the time. The defiance may have also been motivated by the #MeToo movement which has claimed the scalp of a Union minister and persuaded another minister to say that those who support the movement are “perverted”.

Among the others who also answer to the description of being perverted are the so-called “Urban Naxalites”, a new form of abuse coined by the RSS and the BJP for the Left-Liberals who have always been called anti-nationals. Not surprisingly, another of the RSS chief’s advice to the government was to keep the “Urban Naxalites” under surveillance.

It will be interesting to know what those “secularists” who interacted with the RSS recently like former President Pranab Mukherjee and the business tycoon, Ratan Tata, think of the pitch for the temple and the castigation of “Urban Naxalites”.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Analysis

Climate change will worsen disparities, may increase support for Naxals: Report

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Bengaluru, Oct 16 : As the effects of climate change on livelihoods become more pronounced, especially for people involved in agriculture and fishing in South and South-East Asia, support for rebel groups and the Naxalite movement is likely to shoot up, according to a new report.

There is evidence that climate change will worsen socio-economic and political disparity in the region as those in power will get to decide who gets the limited resources and how much, the report, co-authored by researchers Pernilla Nordqvist and Florian Krampe while working for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), has said.

“The climate-conflict linkage primarily plays out in contexts that are already vulnerable to climate change and violence, and where income is highly dependent on agriculture and fishing,” Nordqvist told IndiaSpend in an email.

Human activities have already caused warming of 1 degree Celsius as compared to pre-industrial times, according to the latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By 2030, or latest by mid-century, global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Close to 2.5 billion people live in South and South-East Asia, where poverty rates have been declining substantially, thanks to years of strong economic growth in countries such as India. However, the region is also prone to the fallouts of climate change, with glaciers in the Himalayas melting and several island-countries facing rising sea levels. Floods, cyclones, heat waves and droughts are now a frequent occurrence and are expected to intensify in the coming years.

“The region is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and also has a recent history of political violence,” Krampe told IndiaSpend.

Nordqvist and Krame examined 2,000 peer-reviewed studies on the relationship between climate change and conflict and narrowed down on 21 of the most authoritative works for their report, which was published in September 2018.

Their findings from India show that rebel groups and government forces both find recruitment easier when drought is around the corner.

The IPCC report also adds that climate-related risks to livelihoods, food security, health, water supply and human security are projected to increase as the planet warms by 1.5 degrees. With a 2-degree rise, the risks will intensify.

In some areas affected by the Naxalite conflict, the worsening of livelihood conditions has been related to the increased intensity of ongoing civil conflicts. During a drought, or a potential drought, there is an increased risk that rebels and government actors recruit or cooperate with civilians in exchange for livelihood and provision of food.

Naxalites could use climate-related events to gain power in an ongoing conflict, and rebel groups more generally could increase their use of violence against civilians to ensure their groups’ food security, according to the report.

“They violently remove local farmers from their land to ensure enough cropland and agricultural supplies for their own use. The risk of violence seems especially high in rural areas, where government control is scarce and the local population is dependent on the support or protection of rebels or other armed actors,” Nordqvist said.

As climate change pushes up migration, it introduces the possibility of riots in urban areas over resources, the report said. Highlighting the case of riots in Tripura in northeastern India, it said the effects will be most felt in areas where there are already low levels of socio-political stability.

“Many of the climate change problems are trans-national. The Brahmaputra, for example, flows through three countries and is seeing frequent flooding. There is no question that countries will need to cooperate and tensions like the ones between countries India and Pakistan will make this difficult,” Krampe said.

There is some research on the relationship between climate change and conflict in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the report said, adding that there is little understanding of how climate change could be driving conflict in places such as Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Elsewhere in South-East Asia, in some coastal areas of Indonesia the reduced income opportunities from fishing have been linked to a rise in piracy-related activities.

But the impact does not end there.

In Pakistan, for instance, the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) was able to increase its stronghold in Sindh province after the group participated in relief activities following extreme floods.

The IPCC report also warns that those living along coasts and populations dependent on agriculture will be the worst hit by climate change, which will push up poverty rates in coastal areas and in developing countries.

However, “Not everyone affected by climate change will join a rebel group but this also relates to the failure of the governments to respond to disasters,” Krampe said.

At the same time, not all areas will see conflict in the face of climate change. Some might even see a greater cooperation in the aftermath of a natural disaster. These regional dynamics are evolving, however, and their contours will only become clearer with time.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Disha Shetty is a Columbia Journalism School-IndiaSpend reporting fellow. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at [email protected])

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Analysis

An Indian-founded organisation rehabilitates Syrian refugees in Germany

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Syrian refugees

As Europe continues to grapple with the problem of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, an organisation founded by an Indian is helping a small town in Germany in rehabilitating these people.

R Ventures Foundation, registered in Amsterdam, is helping the university town of Heidelberg in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg in rehabilitating the Syrian refugees by setting up an incubator to impart skills so that these people can become entrepreneurs and job creators.

Founded in 2017 by Shantanu Prakash, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate and a member of the Global Futures Council on Migration at the World Economic Forum (WEF), the organisation is focused on the intersection of refugees and entrepreneurship with the belief that refugees and displaced persons can help catalyse a new era of job creation and integration.

So what kind of skills are being imparted to these refugees?

“Currently, we are looking at more of the hi-tech area, innovation technology area, but it also depends on who it applies to,” Prakash, who was on a visit here, told IANS in an interview.

“Our idea is to really look at people who have a desire to become entrepreneurs, who are educated,” he said.

He said that a lot of these people are already well-educated, but being refugees, they have to start from zero.

In this connection, he drew a parallel with the situation during the 1947 Partition when many people migrating from newly-created Pakistan to India were highly educated but had to restart their life from scratch.

“Now, it would be a pity if a highly qualified engineer has to take up a job of a janitor or something,” Prakash said.

“So, the idea is that we provide them a supportive environment. We give them the skills, how to create a business in a different country.”

Pointing out that that there is the issue of cultural sensitivity and the rules of business being different, Prakash said R Ventures Foundation helps the refugees to create a business pitch.

“We have got a full curriculum for it, what to teach step by step, teaching them a whole variety of skills, how to build up a business,” he stated.

“Our idea is that the graduates of this programme will set up businesses in Heidelberg or elsewhere.”

Prakash said that once these entrepreneurs become successful, people will write about them and then Germans and people of the rest of the world will know that the refugees are adding value to the society.

So how did the whole idea of imparting skills while rehabilitating refugees come about?”

“There was no compelling reason for us,” Prakash said on a philosophical note. “Maybe it was a calling. Maybe it was something that we were meant to do.”

Prakash said that through his involvement with the WEF, he got to understand the contentious issues regarding refugees.

“When I got deeper into it, I got more fascinated about it,” he explained. “And I thought that people are referring to this as a crisis rather than opportunity.”

Though a lot of foundations are working for refugees, Prakash said that what is different about R Ventures is that it is trying to address the issue from a different angle.

“Our dimension is: Can some of them become job creators? For us, that is good enough,” he stated

So, how did a small German town and this organisation founded by an Indian come together?

Heidelberg City Manager Nicole Huber said that the idea took shape when she came in touch with R Ventures co-founder Archish Mittal sometime in 2017.

She said that the state government of Baden-Württemberg has made Heidelberg the registration hub for refugees in the whole of south Germany. There are around 1,000 Syrian refugees in the town with a population of a little over 160,000 while many have left for different places within Germany.

So, have there been law and order problems in Germany with the influx of such a huge number of refugees?

“We don’t see any more crime… than with an average German population,” Huber said.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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