At the latest count by the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), at the beginning of April, 32 countries had declared, in some documented form (https://bit.ly/3ungBAu), their proposed intention to achieve carbon neutral status by mid-century or thereabouts. Of these, only eight have any firm status, the rest being in the form of proposed legislation or mentions in policy documents. Since some months ago, the UN Secretary General has taken the lead in sparking off an international chorus, led by global civil society organisations based in the developed countries and encouraged by their governments, that is urging all countries, especially India, to make explicit declarations.
The impetus for such declarations arises from Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement (https://bit.ly/3wzicF4) that states that “In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
The temperature goal referred to is the much better known declaration of intent of the Paris Agreement, of limiting temperature rise to well below 2°C and further pursuing efforts to restrict it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
It is evident that the balance of emissions and removal of greenhouse gases is not sought on a country-wise basis but for the world as a whole. Though both developed country governments and civil society outfits commonly state this as an individual commitment by all countries, the text of the Paris Agreement clearly indicates, based on considerations of equity and differentiation, that this is a global goal.
However, there are two, related and more critical, issues that are often ignored. The first is the compatibility of the intent of Article 4.1 and Article 2. Is the achievement of carbon neutrality compatible with achieving the 1.5°C or 2°C. goal? And whether the mid-century carbon neutrality goals of developed countries are compatible with Article 2.2 that declares that the Paris Agreement “will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances”.
Current pledges fall short
The hard scientific reality is that such a three-way compatibility between temperature goals, carbon neutrality, and equity is not only not guaranteed, but cannot be achieved for the 1.5°C temperature goal at all. And even for the 2°C goal, the current pledges are highly inadequate. This harsh conclusion follows from straightforward scientific considerations, based on the global carbon budget, which indicates the limits on global cumulative emissions, from the pre-industrial era to the time when net emissions cease, that correspond to definite levels of global temperature rise.
According to the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° warming (https://bit.ly/39Sag8p), what remains of this global carbon budget from 2018 onwards, for a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to less than 1.5°C, is 480 Giga-tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq). At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years. To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039. While this is quite clearly infeasible, other pathways that either frontload or backload the period of most rapid decline have even greater barriers to realisation.
For a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to below 2°C, the budget is considerably more generous, amounting to about 1,400 GtCO2eq, that provides considerably greater room for manoeuvre.
Emissions in the West
But the hollowness of nation-level carbon neutrality declarations by developed countries is brought out more starkly when we consider the details, as in the case of the United States and the European Union. Emissions in the U.S. (not considering land use and land use change and forest related emissions) (LULUCF), peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017, with a maximum annual reduction of 6.3% in 2009, at the height of a recession. Even if it did reach net-zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, which is unprecedented, its cumulative emissions between 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total remaining carbon budget for the whole world — so high, that unless others reduced emissions at even faster rates, the world would most certainly cross 1.5°C warming.
Indeed, if the U.S. has to stay within its fair share of the remaining carbon budget, it would have to reach net zero emissions (with linear reduction) by 2025. It would still owe a carbon debt of 470 GtCO2 to the rest of the world for having used more than its fair share of carbon space in the past. At a very moderate carbon price of $30 per tonne of CO2, this translates to a carbon debt of over $14 trillion, that the U.S. owes the world.
Similarly, the European Union, to keep to its fair share of the remaining carbon budget would have to reach net zero by 2033, with a constant annual reduction in emissions. Individual countries will have different dates for a fair net zero — Germany’s is 2030. If the EU reaches net zero only by 2050 it would consume at least 71 GtCO2, well above its fair share. Either way, the EU owes the world a carbon debt of about $9.3 trillion (at the same price of $ 30/tCO2) for past emissions.
Regrettably, a section of the climate policy modelling literature has promoted the illusion that this three-way compatibility is feasible through speculative “negative emissions”, ostensibly through dramatic expansion of carbon capture, primarily by the biosphere. They have also been promoting the other illusion that not resorting to any serious emissions increase at all is the means to guarantee the successful development of the Third World.
India has no carbon debt
India clearly should not join this game of carbon neutrality declarations, for a number of reasons. For one, India has to stay focused on development — both as its immediate need as well as its aspirational goal. While sustainability is desirable, the question of how low India’s future low-carbon development can be is highly uncertain. India’s current low carbon footprint is a consequence of the utter poverty and deprivation of a majority of its population, and not by virtue of sustainability.
Second, India does not owe a carbon debt to the world. India’s emissions (non-LULUCF) are no more than 3.5% of global cumulative emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since till 2018. Nor are India’s current annual emissions such as to seriously dent the emissions gap between what the world needs and the current level of mitigation effort, even as India’s mitigation efforts are quite compatible with a 2°C target. Any self-sacrificial declaration of carbon neutrality today in the current international scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people.
Much of the argument for India declaring a target year for net-zero derives unfortunately from some form of climate hubris, accompanied by the hype that India risks being “left out” of some imagined global convergence in the climate arena. One variant of the hubris sees India taking the lead in some global ecological alternative driven by frugality, minimal consumption and little technological advance. Another imagines that India will somehow, in very short order, emerge as a global leader of green manufacturing and industry. While the latter is belied by the character of India’s overall growth trajectory, the former is clearly socio-politically infeasible and morally unacceptable.
India’s twin burden of low-carbon development and adaptation to climate impacts, is onerous and no doubt requires serious, concerted action.
India’s approach to eventual net-zero emissions is contingent on deep first world emissions reductions and an adequate and unambiguous global carbon budget. Meanwhile, India must reject any attempt to restrict its options and be led into a low-development trap, based on pseudo-scientific narratives.
T. Jayaraman is with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai. Tejal Kanitkar is with the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru
Justice delayed is justice denied. Access to justice for the poor is a constitutional mandate to ensure fair treatment under our legal system. Hence, Lok Adalats (literally, ‘People’s Court’) were established to make justice accessible and affordable to all. It was a forum to address the problems of crowded case dockets outside the formal adjudicatory system.
The first National Lok Adalat (NLA) of 2021 will be held on April 10. As of now, Lok Adalats have been functioning for 38 years, but have they performed efficiently? Do they empower the poor or coerce them to accept unjust compromises? Do they trade justice off for high settlement numbers and speed, ignoring the old dictum that justice hurried is justice buried? Have we tailored a dual system of justice dispensation, where the formal legal system, i.e., the court, is meant only for the rich and powerful, as was recently stated by former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi? These questions are worth consideration.
Lok Adalats had existed even before the concept received statutory recognition. In 1949, Harivallabh Parikh, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised them in Rangpur, Gujarat. The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to ensure “equal justice and free legal aid”. To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by Parliament and it came into force in 1995 “to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society” and to “organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity”.
A dispute resolution avenue
As an alternative dispute resolution tool, Lok Adalats are regularly organised to help parties reach a compromise. Motor-accident claims, disputes related to public-utility services, cases related to dishonour of cheques, and land, labour and matrimonial disputes (except divorce) are usually taken up by Lok Adalats.
The State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) have been organising Lok Adalats on a daily, fortnightly and monthly basis. Data from the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) show that Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of 52,46,415 cases. Similarly, National Lok Adalats (NLAs) organised under the aegis of NALSA settle a huge number of cases across the country in a single day. For instance, NLAs conducted on February 8, 2020, disposed of 11,99,575 cases. From 2016 to 2020, NLAs have disposed of a total of 2,93,19,675 cases.
The Indian judicial system is often lambasted, perhaps justifiably, for its endemic delays and excessive backlogs. As per the National Judicial Data Grid, 16.9% of all cases in district and taluka courts are three to five years old; for High Courts, 20.4% of all cases are five to 10 years old, and over 17% are 10-20 years old. Furthermore, over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court, over 57 lakh cases before various HCs, and over 3 crore cases are pending before various district and subordinate courts. Justice V.V.S. Rao, former judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, calculated a few years ago that it will take around 320 years to clear the existing backlog of cases.
As a result, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party-driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement. When compared to litigation, and even other dispute resolution devices, such as arbitration and mediation, Lok Adalats offer parties speed of settlement, as cases are disposed of in a single day; procedural flexibility, as there is no strict application of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; economic affordability, as there are no court fees for placing matters before the Lok Adalat; finality of awards, as no further appeal is allowed. This prevents delays in settlement of disputes. More importantly, the award issued by a Lok Adalat, after the filing of a joint compromise petition, has the status of a civil court decree.
As per data from NALSA, subject matter-specific NLAs were organised in 2015 and 2016 on a monthly basis. Therefore, each NLA dealt with a specific type of dispute on a single day, each month. However, from 2017, this practice was discontinued. Thereafter, each NLA has been handling all types of cases on a single day. This was done to reduce the costs of organising the NLAs, and more importantly, to allow parties more negotiation time. But this, in turn, led to a significant drop in the number of cases settled. In 2015 and 2016, ten NLAs were held each year that disposed of 1,83,09,401 and 1,04,98,453 cases respectively. In 2017 and 2018, the number of NLAs dropped to five, with 54,05,867 and 58,79,691 cases settled respectively. In 2019, four NLAs were organised, and they disposed of 52,93,273 cases.
In 2015, the average number of cases settled per NLA was 18,30,940, which came down to 10,81,174 in 2017, but rose to 11,75,939 in 2018, and 13,23,319 cases in 2019. This throws up questions about the efficiency of NLAs. The data show that the average number of cases disposed of per NLA since 2017 has gone up even when the number of NLAs organised each year has reduced. This proves that on average, the system is certainly efficient.
To overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-Lok Adalats were organised at both national and State level. However, the first national e-Lok Adalat was conducted both physically and virtually using videoconferencing tools, and it disposed of 10,42,816 cases. But this was less than the average of settled cases in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This suggests that the performance of the NeLA was less efficient than physical National Lok Adalats organised in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who chairs the SC’s e-Committee, recently published the draft of phase three of the e-Courts project. Once implemented, it may prove to be a game-changer in improving the efficiency of the adjudicatory process.
However, besides efficiency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and offline should focus on the quality of justice delivered. The Supreme Court, inState of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function. As compromise is its central idea, there is a concern, and perhaps a valid one, that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice. In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against entities with deep pockets, such as insurance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others. In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them. In most cases, such litigants have to accept discounted future values of their claims instead of their just entitlements, or small compensations, just to bring a long-pending legal process to an end. Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes under a romanticised view of marriage. Even a disaster like the Bhopal gas tragedy was coercively settled for a paltry sum, with real justice still eluding thousands of victims.
A just outcome of a legal process is far more important than expeditious disposal. With Justice N.V. Ramana’s elevation as the new Chief Justice of India, it is hoped that he would take some concrete and innovative steps in improving the quality of justice rendered by National Lok Adalats.
Faizan Mustafa is Vice-Chancellor and Utkarsh Leo is Assistant Professor at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad
Given the phenomenal expansion in feminist jurisprudence over the last decade, particularly on the issue of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, it now appears quite plain that the central government’s amendment to the abortion laws not only retains the traditional notion that the state must intervene and decide for women as to when and in what circumstances abortions may be carried out, but even the pathetic measures set out in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 are too little and have come too late.
After much stonewalling
This government seems to be incompetent in understanding a woman’s right over her own body. The government’s conduct is particularly appalling since it comes after over a decade of procrastination and obstruction where indigent women in difficult circumstances tried to have abortions done and were stonewalled by government officials and prosecutors. The passing of this Act marks a new phase of the struggle to assert the absolute right of a woman over her body.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) may have been considered progressive at that time considering that provisions in the Indian Penal Code regarding termination of pregnancy were enacted over a century ago in keeping with the British law on the subject. Abortions were made a crime and the woman concerned and her doctor would invariably land up in jail. Section 3 (https://bit.ly/3dFBgZH) put an outer limit of 20 weeks on the length of the pregnancy and required two doctors to certify that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health or that there was a substantial risk that the child born would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
Explanation 1 dealt with rape cases where it was to be presumed that the anguish caused would constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the woman. Explanation 2 laid down that any pregnancy occurring as a result of failure of contraception would likewise be presumed to constitute a grave injury. Account needed to be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment. Section 5 created an exception to the 20 week limit whenever such an abortion was immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
The 1971 Act was based on “The Report of the Shantilal H. Shah Committee to Study the Question of Legislation of Abortion” 1967, which set out the limitations of technology which made it hazardous for women to have abortions done after the 20th week. This limitation disappeared with the phenomenal improvement in technology and processes rendering it possible to carry out abortions safely right up to full term. Thus the excuse of “safety of the woman” was no longer tenable to be used for restricting women’s rights.
The central government has been criminally negligent in allowing the law to stand as it has for five decades. It has pushed women seeking abortions underground where terminations are carried out in unhygienic and dangerous places, and in horrific situations. Even today about 800,000 illegal and unsafe abortions are performed every year in India, many of them resulting in morbidities and death. The government has not cared. Political parties of all hues had one thing in common; women dying do not matter.
The decision of the Bombay High Court inNikita Mehta vs State of Maharashtra, saying that it was not open for the courts to double guess the statutory restrictions, sparked the debate around the right to abortion in India. From 2008 onwards, over 300 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Given the gruesome context from which these petitions sprung the Supreme Court generally responded well by ignoring the statutory provisions as it was patent that not allowing abortions to take place would have caused grave injustice to the woman. The Court then routinely allowed abortions way past the 20 week limit. InMurugan Nayakkar vs Union of India & Ors, the abortion was permitted at 31 weeks, very close to full term.
TheMedical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021fails miserably on the main count while introducing few collateral progressive measures. First, the Act fails to recognise the absolute right of a woman over her body in taking decisions regarding abortions and reproductive health. It still reserves to the state the right to dictate to the woman that she cannot have an abortion at will. Second, even though the limit has been pushed back from 20 to 24 weeks, this comes with the same state conditionalities as before. Third, 24 weeks is not rational given today’s technology where abortions can be done safely up to full term.
Medical boards are obstacles
By far the biggest failure of the government lies in enacting section 3(2B) which requires the pregnant woman to approach a medical board in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities and where she has crossed the 24 week limit. These boards impose insurmountable obstacles to the woman seeking late abortions. First, what used to be an exchange between the pregnant woman and her gynaecologist who would take a decision as to safety, has now been replaced by a board of a minimum of three doctors. This is totally unnecessary and breaches privacy.
Second, and this is indicative of complete non-application of mind, the Act provides in section 3(2C) for a single board for a State. Given the millions of abortions taking place in India past the deadline, it is impossible for one board to handle all cases. Third, assuming multiple boards will be established, the records show that no State has the finances or the human resources to maintain the operation and functioning of these boards. Fourth, the right to seek termination is restricted to “such category of women as may be prescribed by rules”. One wonders what categories of women would be permitted termination of pregnancies!
The main objection remains; that boards are totally unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and pregnant women, like they used to do, should be left alone to consult their gynaecologist in late term pregnancies and carry out their abortion under the certificate of their own gynaecologist that the abortion can be performed safely. This is the trend worldwide and in the courts. The Indian government needs to wake up and educate itself on women’s emancipation worldwide.
Colin Gonsalves is the Founder of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), a leading public interest law group, and has written and edited articles and books on human rights law issues. Sneha Mukherjee is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India and is also Director of the Women’s Rights Initiative at Human Rights Law Network
The passing away of G.V. Ramakrishna (GVR), the first Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in its statutory avatar, is not an occasion to mourn, but to celebrate a life of public service that was exemplary in its sweep and its incisiveness. It is also a good occasion to reflect on regulatory philosophy and temperament.
At the outset, it is necessary to look at the objective of regulation. In an unregulated space, physical, intellectual or financial muscle often enables stronger elements to claim a disproportionately large territory of activity and influence. The level playing field that regulators are tasked to maintain is the best enabler that an ordinary person has.
It is important for regulatory organisations to understand ground-level realities, and to respect the view that they are, at best, important supporting actors in the theatre of wealth creation and distribution. Provisions that exist in law and regulations must be enforced in an appropriate manner and at an appropriate time to send out signals to the rest of the regulated universe that transgressions will not be tolerated.
At this juncture, it is useful to reflect on GVR’s approach. In its early days, SEBI did not have the powers that are now vested in it. At the same time, GVR had to get the broking universe to behave in a manner that did not disrupt markets but discouraged rogue elements. It is widely believed that he persuaded brokers to believe that SEBI had powers that it actually did not have, and the fear that he would be exercising these (non-existent) powers kept them largely within the confines of good conduct and behaviour. It follows that good intentions can be enforced, even when legislative backing does not exist.
Fast forward to the period between 2005 and 2007 — SEBI, though fully conscious that it did not have express powers of disgorgement, ordered the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains on the principle that a regulator should not countenance the existence of unjust enrichment. Similarly, in the absence of any specific provision in law, the regulator introduced the ‘consent’ scheme, based on the ‘settlement’ scheme in the United States, to clear the pipeline of relatively minor and often technical violations, so that the manpower and expertise available within the organisation could focus on systemically important large cases. Underlying this approach was the firm belief that between what is prescribed and what is proscribed, there is a wide space within which well-intentioned persons can intervene.
Fear and respect
Persons in regulatory organisations are often in the position of judges, having to decide on matters on the basis of evidence produced before them. In this exercise, natural justice as manifested in theaudi alteram partem(hear the other side) principle is a non-negotiable requirement. SEBI, over the years, has passed orders suspending persons from participating in the market with immediate effect. The penalty kicks in before a person who has been found guilty has had an opportunity to appeal against the impugned order. One such case, which came to the notice of the then Chairman, was the order passed by SEBI in the IPO scam matter of 2003-05. That order, running into more than 100 pages, was shown to the Chairman before it was put up on the website. Two material corrections were made after reading only the last (operative) part of the order. In one correction, the direction to “change the management of the depository” was reworded as “revamp the management”. The second, and more important change, was to build into the order an immediate post-decisional hearing by giving the affected party the opportunity to appeal within 15 days of the order. This led to a few review applications, and SEBI itself overturning the order, in regard to those cases, in a matter of a few days, thus avoiding severe punishment such as suspension from the market to persons who were not in default.
It is normal for a regulator at the commencement of their term to seek to evoke fear in the community, so that it is clear whose writ runs in the market. Over time, the attempts to balance conflicts in public interest and find appropriate solutions should move the response from fear to respect. When persons heading regulatory organisations leave, the affection that they carry with them is the proverbial icing on the cake.
When looking for persons to head senior positions in regulatory organisations, the essential attributes should be impartiality, objectivity, autonomy (as distinct from independence), and the ability to operate without fear or favour. G.V. Ramakrishna must have walked out of SEBI decades ago knowing that the icing on the cake would not melt for several years.
The author is Chairperson, Excellence Enablers, and former Chairman, SEBI
No less than 13 members of the transgender community have been selected recently as constables under the Chhattisgarh police. This is truly historic and thrilling for a community that had no legal recognition till the Supreme Court inNALSA vs. Union of India (2014)ruled that transgender persons have the right to decide their self-identified gender.
The binary notion of gender, which denied equal protection of law to transgenders, was rejected and the required relief was provided by the top court. The transgenders, now in khaki, will be the first responders in handling law and order situations and others’ grievances.
Though each of the selected persons has their own painful stories of abuse, discrimination and abandonment, their induction into the police force is a vital message to people that they are as physically and mentally competent as others. This is more significant in the backdrop of the fact that there was no reservation for the transgender community as a separate category. This may, hence, help in changing the perception of people who think of them as a fearful entity with a stigma of identity, disability, criminality, or untouchability. Earlier, a few transgenders were inducted into the Tamil Nadu police too.
The journey of transgender people has indeed been a long struggle. However, soon after the 2014 Supreme Court judgment, the Chhattisgarh government constituted the Third Gender Welfare Board to take up various welfare measures in favour of trans people. Instructions were issued to all departments to include ‘third gender’ as an option (along with male and female) in official documents that require mentioning the gender or sex of a person.
District-level committees were constituted to identify members of the transgender community so that welfare schemes could be implemented for their benefit. Sensitisation workshops were organised at State and district levels by the police department and police officers were apprised about the Central law and the Supreme Court’s ruling on transgenders. Training capsules were prepared for police training institutes with the help of transgender members of the Welfare Board.
Further, after the announcement of vacancies, the police not only permitted the use of their sports ground for practice, but also helped them in preparing for the written examination. However, ultimately, it was the hard work of the transgender people themselves which ensured their success and marked their presence in the department.
The recently enacted Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which paved the way for issuing a certificate of transgender identity, is in spirit with international conventions, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, and the Yogyakarta Principles, 2006. The Act recognises that transgender persons have a legal right to self-perceived gender identity in accordance with the principle of the “Psychological Test” instead of the “Biological Test”. According to law, transgender persons cannot be discriminated against in any matter relating to employment by any establishment.
In another recent judgment, the Kerala High Court allowed a petition moved by a transwoman seeking admission into the National Cadet Corps based on her self-claimed gender identity. The court held that the provisions of the NCC Act cannot preclude the operation of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. Thus, this new protective Central legislation has given a new lease of life to the whole community.
The selected trans recruits are excited to start their new innings of life with novel challenges, but a lot more needs to be done to bring about changes in the perception of people towards this marginalised community. The law must be implemented in letter and spirit to fulfil its objective. At the same time, society needs to erase its biases and accept transgender people as equal human beings with humility.
The author is a senior IPS officer in Chhattisgarh
Easter has not brought good tidings to India. The number of daily new cases has risen by over a 100,000 — twice in three days. Delhi and Maharashtra have imposed night curfews, an idea, that is so shorn of evidence as being a deterrent to transmission that it only signifies panic. There is unalloyed acknowledgment at the Centre that India is in the midst of deep crisis and the blame has been squarely laid on the people who are not following ‘COVID-appropriate behaviour’. In January, India rushed through two vaccines and sought to give the impression that it was the vaccine manufacturing hub of the world and could provide for its own vast population as well as for the world outside. However, with the national second wave that began in March and growing public clamour for making the vaccine available to all adult Indians, the government is singing a different tune: that vaccines were not to be given by want but to be dispensed by need. Those who are most vulnerable to the disease: health-care workers, frontline workers, the elderly and those with comorbidities surely have the first right to protect themselves against the disease. The Serum Institute of India, unlike India’s public sector vaccine companies that have largely shut down, is a private contractor for whom India is just another buyer. It can manufacture no more than 65 million doses a month and there is only a vague assurance that “most” of it would be for Indians. Covaxin constitutes less than 10% of India’s vaccine portfolio and in March the Centre had ordered only 20 million doses more. Both firms have demanded that the government provide additional funds to expand manufacturing to enable more vaccines to Indians and the SII has also demanded a higher per vaccine price to guarantee prioritised supply.
India has hit a record of administering 4 million doses a day — a significant number by global standards — and were this to increase given the widening public anxiety over the second wave, there is a need to replenish stocks every 10 days. Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have been complaining of vaccine shortages though the Centre is adamant that there isn’t one. While it is true that most countries have prioritised their health-care workers, they have also moved to rapidly expand access without barriers within. Several states in the United States, and Israel have unfettered access and the U.K. too has said it will prioritise its own needs before exporting. Therefore, the government must realistically clarify on its supply line and endeavour to accelerate universal vaccine access.
Armed with a renewed mandate to contain inflation within a 2 percentage point range of the target 4%, and mindful of the pandemic’s latest wave, the RBI’s monetary policy committee has opted to reaffirm its growth-supportive “accommodative stance” and keep interest rates unchanged. The MPC, which met for the first time in the new financial year, also maintained its projection for GDP expansion in the current fiscal at 10.5%, notwithstanding the risks to the forecast from the current upsurge in novel coronavirus cases and associated localised lockdowns. Explaining the rationale for its policy stance of being prepared to stay accommodative for ‘as long as necessary’ to ensure that economic growth becomes ‘durable’, the committee was unambiguous that its actions were born of the need to stay supportive at a time when there was a real threat that “the renewed jump in COVID-19 infections... could dampen the demand for contact-intensive services, restrain growth impulses and prolong the return to normalcy”. That consumer confidence has dipped, as the MPC noted, is a clear sign that uncertainty clouds the outlook for growth. Add to this the fact that IHS Markit’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey for March revealed that business sentiment had slid to a seven-month low, even as the research firm’s subsequent India Services PMI report showed both manufacturers and services companies continued to shed jobs for a thirteenth month. With jobs and incomes remaining under stress for millions, and uncertainty over the efficacy and safety of the vaccines persisting even as authorities seek to ramp up the immunisation drive, it is hard to foresee consumption demand rebounding to pre-COVID levels any time soon.
The MPC’s central remit on inflation also remains a concern. Core inflation, the panel observed, had hardened across the board and increased by 50 basis points to touch 6% in February. The RBI is cognisant of the fact that there are both upside and downside pressures that may impact the trajectory of retail inflation. Governor Shaktikanta Das has flagged the critical significance that this year’s monsoon rains will have on food prices, which have been a recent source of upward pressure on price stability. And both Mr. Das and the broader committee have stressed the vital need for the Centre and States to initiate some coordinated action to ease the tax burden on petroleum products, given the ripple ‘second-round’ effects that the high costs of transport fuels have on overall inflation. High international commodity prices and logistics costs are also threatening to push up input costs across the manufacturing and services sectors, posing a real challenge to policymakers, given that it is far harder to influence these variables. With the RBI’s own March survey on inflation expectations showing that urban households expect prices to accelerate over a one-year horizon, monetary authorities can ill afford to drop their guard on price stability. For, at stake is their hard-earned credibility.
[New Delhi, April 7] India to-day rejected China’s charge of “interference” in Pakistan’s internal affairs and “connivance at provocation” against the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. A New China News Agency broadcast heard in Tokyo to-day said the Chinese Embassy in India filed a strong protest with the Indian Government yesterday on the Indian action. The Chinese note said, “while flagrantly interfering in the internal affairs of Pakistan, the Indian Government has gone so far as to connive at the wilful trouble-making by Indians in front of the Chinese Embassy.” Peking’s official stand against India on the turmoil in East Pakistan followed an appeal by the Soviet President, Mr. Nikolai Podgorny, on Saturday night to the Pakistan President Gen. Yahya Khan, urging him to “stop bloodshed and the repression of the populace of East Pakistan”.
The Chinese note dated April 6 said in the afternoon of March 29, several hundred Indians frantically shouted slogans against Chinese leaders in front of the Chinese Embassy and posted a ‘protest’ on the Embassy gate and plate “slandering China as aiding Pakistan Government in its war on the freedom-loving people of East Bengal”.