Aadhaar Platform to be Given Legal Backing – Much Needed Legislation

Shobhit Mathur

“We will undertake significant reforms such as the enactment of a law to ensure that all government benefits are conferred upon persons who deserve it, by giving a statutory backing to the Aadhaar platform. Public money should reach the poor and the deserving without any leakage.” – Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Union Budget 2016-17 speech

The Aadhaar project was aimed at authenticating beneficiaries and directly transferring benefits and services to them. Currently over 98 crore Aadhaar numbers have been generated. The government has been able to directly transfer benefits to 16.5 crore beneficiaries through it. The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) in LPG has been particularly successful and the Government aims to expand it to other schemes. The Government expects to save Rs 15,000 crore in leakages in cooking gas subsidies each year. If the Government could save 40% of what it spends on food grain subsidy by reducing leakages, it will save about Rs 50,000 crore annually.

No wonder the Government is keen to expand the Aadhaar platform by introducing a bill for targeted delivery of financial and other subsidies, benefits and services using the Aadhaar framework in the current session of Parliament. Mr Jaitley in his budget speech announced that DBT of fertilizer subsidy will be piloted in a few districts. At present manufacturers sell subsidized urea to farmers and claim the subsidy from the Government. India gives a large subsidy on fertilizers, about Rs 72,000 crore annually. DBT of fertilizer subsidy to farmers will plug the diversion of urea to non-agriculture uses and neighboring countries.

However the Aadhaar project lacks legal backing and the Supreme Court has limited its use to cash transfers, PDS and MNREGS. Legal backing to Aadhaar can help it overcome legal challenges and permit Aadhaar to be linked to many more Government schemes. The Supreme Court has asked a constitutional bench to look into whether the Aadhaar platform violates the citizen’s right to privacy as it collects and shares biometric data of citizens.  A legal backing to Aadhaar is just a statutory step; it does not amend the constitution which is perhaps needed to permit schemes like Aadhaar. So, if the constitutional bench decides that the Aadhaar platform violates the right to privacy, the legal backing will not hold.

Clearly the Government has decided to invest further in the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile) trinity. Reducing leakages and better targeting of beneficiaries will provide more fiscal space to government.  Additionally delivering within-government transfers (e.g. MNREGS) via JAM will reduce idle funds, lower corruption and improve ease of doing business with the Government. The last-mile delivery challenges (getting money in the hands of the beneficiaries in rural areas) and opposition from civil society groups (which petition against the Aadhaar platform) will be the most difficult to overcome.

 

Shobhit is the executive director at VIF.

Greenhouses Gases and Vegetarianism

The world is struggling to protect the environment and achieve sustainability. Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are real concerns. Population growth has exploded from around one billion people two centuries ago to seven billion now, of which more than 10 percent do not have enough to eat. Under these conditions, it is imperative to re-examine the environmental impact of human diet.

In preparation for the Paris climate conference in December, India has recently put forward its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to limit its carbon emissions and mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Nowhere in India’s INDC is there any discussion of the environmental impact of human diet, meat in general and beef in particular.

Evidence suggests that meat is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that the production and consumption of meat are responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to 13 percent from all transportation. A non-vegetarian diet can release anywhere between two to ten times more carbon dioxide equivalents than a vegetarian diet, depending on the type of meat. Beef production releases methane, which is 23 times more harmful than CO2. One pound of dry beans produces 0.4 kilograms of CO2 equivalents against 1.6 produced by chicken and 7 by beef. Greenhouse gases cause global warming and meat produces greenhouse gases.

The study by the FAO also concludes that livestock agriculture is the ‘single largest anthropogenic user of land.’ Livestock takes up 70 per cent of all agricultural land, making it a key factor responsible for deforestation and degradation. A non-vegetarian diet not only leads to more degradation but also requires more land for its production. A Netherlands-based study published in 2002 noted that an ‘affluent’ diet requires three times as much land as a vegetarian diet. With the world population growing and people suffering from hunger, it is remarkable to consume a diet which needs more land and even degrades it.

The American state of California is suffering from acute water shortage. The Pacific Institute, a US-based research center, reports that meat and dairy products consume nearly half of California’s water. India too is a water-stressed country. Falling water tables pose a food security risk for the nation, and agriculture is a key sector for water consumption. The FAO also observes that livestock is the largest source of water pollution. Livestock maintenance pollutes freshwater sources, degrades coral reefs in coastal seas and harms human health. Therefore, just like land use and degradation, meat consumes more water while also polluting more of it. Land and water resources are used to produce grains which are in turn used to raise livestock. This has significant consequences for land, water and energy available to the world.

To understand how diet measures up against other efforts towards sustainability, consider solar energy. Typically, solar energy saves one kilogram of carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour of energy. An average Indian consumes 700 kWh per year. Shifting to solar energy saves that many kilograms of CO2 equivalents. Shifting to a non-meat diet can save up to 1 ton of carbon emissions per person per year, more than that achieved through solar energy. And the cost? Zero. The world can take a big step towards sustainability, and this is a step that comes at no cost. In fact, it saves money while saving the planet.

Roughly 40 percent of Indians are vegetarian, making India home to more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. This saves enormous amounts of greenhouse gases when compared to other nations. When the parties meet to negotiate climate change, India must highlight its vegetarian behaviour. India’s INDCs should be based not only on what the government is planning to do. It should also come from what Indian people have been doing for years. Five hundred million Indians have mitigated and will keep mitigating global climate change, simply by not eating meat. India should support sustainability efforts for research, development and entrepreneurship so that humans can gradually shift to a green and healthy diet.

The referred study by the FAO gives all possible solutions to save resources and reduce emissions but does not advocate a change in dietary habits. The UN and the international community need to recognize meat reduction as an actionable goal in order to achieve sustainability. In a scenario where eating beef has become criminal for some and fashionable for others, we need to forge a middle path. This path should neither be criminal nor fashionable, but rather responsible. There is no conservative or progressive way to save the environment. There’s only the way that works.

Armin Rosencranz, advisor to Vision India Foundation, and Sahil Aggarwal, program director.

The article was originally published in The Statesman.

An Invisible Factor: Building a Model Village

Aditya Deshmukh

One of the CWC officers asked, “What are the places we have to visit?” The answer given by volunteer from Hiware Bazar stunned me for a minute. “You can’t see the unity of our village in any of the buildings. We have transformed these barren lands through mere unity. If you want to see any lifeless structures, please visit the tourist places.”

It was typical gaming scenario when I entered the model village. Trees on side of roads, a well-built primary healthcare center, a veterinary clinic, primary as well as secondary school and concrete roads connecting all these was memorizing me the scenario of PC games in which you have to build a town. Cherry upon this sweet cake was the Gram-Sansad building. It was truly full-filing the purpose of increasing the public participation in the democracy, by attractive infrastructure and facilities satisfying the needs of common villager.

hiware-bazaar-panchayat

An eye-catching building of Gram Panchayat

What made Hiware Bazar a model village can also make any village, town or nation a model for all. It’s independent of Geo-political or social boundaries. Someone might argue that money or schemes would bring in the so called ‘development’. Of course, it will be an important factor but money or schemes would not completely assure development. Otherwise, all corporate honchos or political leaders who can arrange money and schemes respectively would have developed their villages into model villages. Unfortunately we have only a few of them.

In discussions with representatives from other villages, a volunteer said, “We both have same schemes. We also get same funding as you, but the approach towards it is different. When you get single rupee from government, you think how much subsidy or how much of it will we get. On the other hand, we start with what problems do we have and how the value of a single rupee can be maximized to solve these problems for whole village. We spend every single penny only after rigorous discussion in Gram Sansad. This increases the effective value of that one rupee.” Point to be noted here is the planning procedure. Problem based expenditure has helped this village in improving the overall life standards.

According to the volunteer, “if we approach development as enforced through different schemes on someone, people will feel alienated. It will be difficult to gain confidence of the villagers and every decision will be seen under suspicion. Contrary to it, we approach development as a tool to solve problems of villagers.”

Another interesting fact that shows unity is that this village has not experienced the Gram-panchayat elections for last 25 years! According to the volunteer, “we don’t say that we are happy because we don’t have elections nor you are unhappy because you have elections. We just manage to keep away the side-effect of elections by doing this. At the same time, we try to maximize our voting for other elections without involving our Sarpanch or any of the post holders in campaigning. Gram-Sabha appeals for the vote and not for the vote to specific candidate. Sarpanch is decided by discussion and so are other Panchayat members. This gives confidence to Panchayat for decision making.”

Finally, I experienced the sequential effects of improvement in water supply. It has started a chain of development. The village has effectively trapped flowing water through small hills, which used to get wasted earlier. Soil as well as water has been conserved due to large number of trenches across the slopes. To realize the effect, we went to 150-200 feet above normal village level and got water in first stroke of hand-pump. This work was done through public participation, another indicator of unity. The man behind this change – the ex-Sarpanch – said, “We could not have managed to do this without the support from people. So, we have to keep public informed about Panchayat’s expenditure and keep them involved in development programs.”

A solar pump plus hand-pump at a prominence inside village boundary

A solar pump plus hand-pump at a prominence inside village boundary

Finally, I concluded my visit with a satisfied heart and full enthusiasm to create another model village.

 

Aditya Deshmukh is a student at BITS Pilani and a campus ambassador for Vision India Foundation. Soon, he will join a Member of Parliament to build a model village in Madhya Pradesh.

lack-of-innovation

Budget Shows Government Lacks Experience in Higher Education and R&D

Dr Anand Bulusu

I think India is not yet ready with innovating technological industry. Hence we don’t have much interest from industries for sponsored research and planned R&D manpower development. Industries mostly import equipment and are satisfied working in that mode. MNCs (especially in Microelectronics) do a lot of R&D, sponsor a lot of PhDs. However, they do it mostly in their home countries since they have familiarity and primary interest there. What is the solution? We must develop tech entrepreneurs in a big way in this country at several levels. It should be small entrepreneurs as well as big corporations (for example, motivate companies such as Tata/Wipro/Reliance to form a big Microelectronics coalition). There should be some tax sops and some special zones or tech parks near IITs/IISc planned to let this happen. Another area is CSR: CSR funds should be made open for sponsored research. At least a part of CSR should be allowed in sponsored research.

The other side is IITs: Funds for old IITs has been cut by 20% and the government is asking IITs to pay enhanced PhD scholarship (the extra cost) through “internal” funds. I think the government should realize that only recently a more than 50% increase in student strength has taken place in old IITs due to government interference in IITs. This is leading to both resource and faculty crunch in a very bad way. The government may not like to give funds without strings. Fine! However, they should give ample money (no cuts in funds!) to IITs with a target. Funds could be revised based on the targets achieved by each IIT in the coming 5 years. However, cutting funds suddenly is not a wise move and shows that the government lacks experience in higher education and R&D domain. The targets could be: How many PhDs do you produce? How many of your MTech and BTech students join PhD program? How many instances of technology transfer to industry would take place in the coming 5 years? How many instances of good socio-technical contribution would be seen in the next 5 years? How many tech start-ups start from your institute in the coming 5 years? etc.

On an average, an IIT faculty spends a much longer time in teaching and evaluation (especially evaluation) compared to faculty members in any premier institute all over the world. He just doesn’t have the kind of time required to do original research; whatever good research happens in IITs is despite and in spite the circumstances and is due to a high individual commitment. Handling such a large number of students just doesn’t allow good research. Good US universities handle many more students. However, they have a good Teaching Assistant (TA) system. Each faculty member is assisted by a team of highly trained TAs. Evaluation is mostly handled by TAs in these US universities. Something must be done to attract young PhDs from US in a big way to IITs. Each IIT should get a Performance Related Incentive (PRI) component in salaries, evaluated separately for each institute based on the 5 year targets achieved by it. In the 7th pay commission, instead of increasing salary, the government should think of increasing it in the form of PRI evaluated separately for each institute.

Dr Bulusu is an associate professor at IIT Roorkee and a member of the advisory board of VIF.

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