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Sources : The Hindu, Indian Express
Next door Nepal: Blaming it on India
The state-sponsored celebrations to welcome the constitution were cut short and anti-India rhetoric and protests have now become routine.
Huge queues in front of gas stations, phenomenal price rise and looming scarcity close to the Hindu festival of Dashain as well as an Eid celebrated by Muslims with much less than the usual pomp and splendour — these are the realities Nepal has been facing since the promulgation of the constitution on September 20.The big political parties allege that it’s an undeclared blockade by India, after Kathmandu refused to entertain theconcerns New Delhi voiced, especially about enhanced autonomy and a larger parliamentary role for Madhes, Nepal’s plains.The state-sponsored celebrations to welcome the constitution were cut short and anti-India rhetoric and protests have now become routine.“Countries may be smaller or bigger in size, but sovereignty means the same thing for every country,” said K.P. Oli, in response to India’s cold response that it had taken “note” of a constitution having been promulgated. Madhesi leaders have now specified their demand that at least 83 of 165 seats, in the first-past-the-post category, in the House of Representatives should be from Madhes. They justify it on grounds that Madhes has 51 per cent of the total population. But this also means leaving less than 50 per cent seats for the rest. No serious debate ever took place in the Constituent Assembly to generate better understanding on crucial matters.The much trumpeted “consensus”, since 2006, only meant power-sharing among the eight parties that came together under the India-mediated 12-point agreement to form, basically, an anti-monarchy front. They consciously stonewalled any dissent, calling it regressive. Due process in political reform and constitution-writing were ignored. But the rapid fragmentation of that front has produced two groups fighting each other in favour of and against the constitution.India now stands accused of micro-managing Nepal’s affairs by the powerful group that has controlled the government and parliament. For the first time since 2006, Nepal’s major actors have overruled India’s suggestion — to take the Madhesis on board — before promulgating the constitution. “It’s not India. We have caused the blockade to press our demands,” said Upendra Yadav, leader of the four-party Madhes front, clearly exaggerating their strength. Maoist chief Prachanda claimed, “India and Madhesi groups have joined hands against the constitution, an outcome of our sovereign exercise.”Prachanda’s anti-India stance has become more strident, especially since Baburam Bhattarai — Prachanda’s deputy for nearly three decades, who’s also considered “trusted by India” since 2006 — quit the Maoist party and declared his support for the Madhesi cause. Prachanda may claim a pyrrhic victory for now, as India has become the majority’s target as a “hegemonic force”. Indian public opinion, too, seems divided as leftist activists and a section of the bureaucracy, who together played a role in bringing the Maoists and other parties together, are supporting Nepal’s big parties.Indian PM Narendra Modi also remains a suspect for being a “manipulator” trying to torpedo the three goals set by the Manmohan Singh regime, under heavy pressure from the CPM and what’s called the “JNU lobby” in Nepal.But in reality, the crisis Nepal’s new constitution faces is largely caused by the compromise Nepali leaders made with due process — the short cut to secularism and republicanism, without any debate or inv-olvement of the people.Now that the constitution has been promulgated and parliament summoned, it’s mandatory to elect a new prime minister within two weeks (by October 15), followed by a speaker and a new president. All of this must happen by October-end. Failure to do these will lead to a breakdown of the constitution from the top.Next, the tricky question that must be answered is the one raised by the Madhesis and ownership of the statute has to be enlarged. This will have a bearing, also, on Nepal-India relations, wherein cordiality is crucial for Nepal’s stability.
Digital India needs to go local
Digital infrastructure may not be of much help in addressing governance and development concerns unless it is integrated into the wider structural and institutional reformsDigital India is the flavour of the season, and not without any reason.Digital technologies have permeated into more and more aspects of our private and public life spaces. A lot of us increasingly depend on them to order groceries, book a taxi ride or train and flight tickets, file tax returns and apply for a passport. The entire basket of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), which include laptops, tablets, smartphones, broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity, are seen to represent a new wave of general purpose technologies, similar to what electricity was in the early 20th century and steam engines were in the early 19th century. On the other hand, India, home to the second largest population in the world and witness to relatively higher economic growth rates in the past few years, is seen as an important market, still untapped in terms of usage of digital technologies. All this leads up to the, not so unsurprising, optimism and euphoria that engulfs our current set of policy makers and large global corporates that sell and, often control, important components of these digital technologies.
The India story of the past couple of decades, however, is seen to have its own set of blemishes. There are many within the country, and outside, who are growing increasingly impatient with the reality that we are not anywhere close to global benchmarks when it comes to the state of our basic physical infrastructure — roads, water and electricity and also those related to sanitation, public health and primary education.The frustration manifests more amongst those who see themselves connected, or having a potential to connect, to important global networks and supply chains, such as, for software and financial services and commodity trading, and for whom the aforesaid blemishes negatively affect their bargaining power vis-à-vis other constituents of these networks.There is another set of people who could be equally concerned with the state of basic infrastructure but they may look at the solution more from its utility in addressing the inequities, some of them historical, in access to and distribution of resources. This set may not be as impatient given that the change they look forward to is also with respect to deep-seated exploitative relations and institutions in our society.The former group of people would see Government of India’s flagship Digital India programme as an opportunity to include digital infrastructure in the same category of public goods as roads and electricity and, hence, push for laying more broadband cables, creating more Wi-Fi hot-spots and freeing up more spectrum for commercial data exchange. The assumptions that are carried here are somewhat similar to trickle-down economics: that availability of a digital infrastructure — in the present instant, smartphones and data connectivity, and also unique digital identity — with every citizen of the country will lead an ‘invisible hand’ to direct its use for addressing the governance and development challenges we face as a nation.Framers of development policies worldwide, and in India, have realized that an explicit recognition of the pathways through which the poor and marginalized contribute and benefit in the economic growth process is important. The entire human development discourse derives from such an understanding. More recently, it has also played a key role in informing the newly formulated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during the SDG summit in New York on September 25, 2015. The event was attended by over 150 heads of states, including the Indian Prime Minister, though the relevance of it was overshadowed by his visits to corporate headquarters in California.While one cannot deny the importance of digital infrastructure, such as the ones mentioned above, in the present age, it is equally important to understand that they may not be of much help in addressing governance and development concerns unless they are integrated into a wide reforms agenda, which could often involve not-so-popular, structural and institutional change. One such could be the long-called-for, real and effective devolution of functions, finances and functionaries to local government bodies, which has, in most instances, continued as a mere lip-service even after Constitutional Amendments of the early 1990s.
The Indian experience of using ICTs in governance for the past 15 years is not something that we can be proud of — amongst 193 countries, India ranks 118 on the e-Government Development Index as per the United Nations e-Government Survey 2014. Many studies have been conducted by researchers from reputed academic institutes in India and across the world on the problems that plague Indian experiments in using ICTs for governance and development, and they point to the need of bringing a greater understanding of local contextual realities into project designs.Amidst the ongoing endorsements by global corporate heads of the Digital India programme, we should not forget that unless use of digital technologies is appealing and makes sense to an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) in a village health sub-centre, an anganwadi worker, a teacher in a government primary school, a village accountant in the revenue department, an agriculture assistant, a fair-price shop owner and a food inspector and similar such frontline service providers, who are the face of the state for many of our fellow citizens, the promise of leveraging digital technologies for achieving sustainable development may continue to elude us. I hope the torchbearers of the Digital India programme will also attach equal importance to this latter constituency as they march forward in their journey of integrating digital technologies in Indian life spaces. Studies on the problems plaguing Indian experiments in using ICTs for governance and development point to the need for a greater understanding of local realities in project designs.
Efforts on to make tea industry climate-smart
At a time when climate-change is impacting tea-cultivation in a major way, efforts are on to make tea estates climate-smart so that the industry develops resilience to uncertain and negative climate change impact.A project has been launched by the Tea Research Association along with Southampton University on climate — smartening tea plantation landscapes, which would run for two years. It is funded by the U.K.-India Research Initiative.The project is investigating the impact of climate change on tea production and livelihoods in North-East India, revolving around climate variability, land-management practices and climate-smart agriculture practicesIt may be mentioned here that tea is a rain-fed perennial crop, which provides the main ingredient for one of the world’s most important beverages. It supports livelihoods across the humid regions of south and south-east Asia and east Africa. The physiology of tea plants is closely linked to external environmental and climatic factors (elevation, precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, temperature and fertility, light duration and intensity, humidity, shelter, shade and CO2 concentration) and any adversity in these conditions can significantly impact yield, revenue and livelihood security. Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.Climate-risk is high in Assam, ranging from annual flooding of the Brahmaputra river due to intense monsoon rains and soil water-logging, to winter precipitation deficits with seasonal droughts. Regional trends indicate annual mean minimum temperatures have increased and annual mean precipitation has decreased, particularly in Assam. Such impacts will have a significant effect on tea crop productivity and directly affect the livelihoods of dependent communities as Assam contributes 50 per cent of India’s 1,200- odd million kg.The effects, which were noticed over the last few years, seem to have become pronounced over the last three years or so leading an industry honcho to say: “it is no longer climate change...it is climate chaos”. ITA officials said that the weather was hardly following any pattern.Crop-loss has become almost the norm across the world’s tea growing regions. India too has suffered. What worries the industry most is that although it has so far not experienced any major crop loss, tea quality is suffering and pest-attacks are increasing. Due to climate change, there has been crop loss during seasons when some of the best teas are harvested (spring and early monsoon).However, broad-scale climate-landscape modelling predicts that tea yields in north-east India are expected to decline by up to 40 per cent by 2050. As yield is directly associated with revenue, changing climate is also likely to impact economic structures of those reliant on tea, particularly the smallholders given their increased vulnerability to changes in the system.Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.