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Government Actions this week

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The curious case of coal cess

Agree on numbers, but I conclude the opposite.
This article calls for a reduction in taxes on coal which the author says accounts for 80% of the price of coal.  Rationalization would help obtain better returns on a low-cost energy alternative says the investment professional.  Very informative piece and well argued. I would, however, add three points.  1. Coal has massive negative externalities. 2. Some cess/tax should go into reducing these externalities such as greater investment in emission reduction and 3. Higher taxes and cess would correct externality problem by making other options such as renewable energy and Natural Gas more attractive.



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Despite Swachh Bharat, per person disease burden still high in India

The Government Report finds poor water and sanitation causes many deaths.
I would not have included this news item if this had not been a government report.  The facts are well known, but when a government report points it out, it becomes easier for concerned people within the government to act.  The problem of water and sanitation starts from low fund allocation, goes through organizational failure at the local government level in both rural and urban India, and ends at the doorstep of poor habits and practices.  While it is easiest to advocate better practices, it would have a negligible impact, for the poor practices emerged out of poor access.  At some point, India will need to empower its local bodies and spend much more on water and sanitation.



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Centre is rushing clean fuel to Delhi but is not so eager about cleaner

What is more important–fuel or machine?
The government has brought forward the introduction of clean petrol and diesel (at 10 ppm) by two years.  And that will be a massive change in emissions of particulate matter – the new fuels having 80% less sulphur.  But it is not pushing the manufacturers hard enough, says this article.  Frankly, I would neither – change-over of production processes take a long time.  Moreover, where there is R&D involved – BS VI engines in low-cost two-wheelers is not a globally mature technology, it will be a tight schedule.  I would give the government some leeway here.



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Ken, Betwa river linking will hurt fishing economy in the region

Interlinking of rivers and fishing.
Interlinking of rivers is a controversial issue,but the potential economic benefits are quite high.Though there is no doubt that marine life will be impacted in ways that we are as yet unaware of, and perhaps cannot even predict, the project is unlikely to be stopped.The notion when in doubt, don’t however does not apply to the government.Or perhaps it is never in doubt, and the politicians also seem to be going with it.Ken-Betwa rivers it seems will eventually get interlinked and we have no clue of the environmental and perhaps even economic outcome.



Initiatives


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India needs a federal green agency

Federal Green Agency for India?
This article says that an agency such as the US’s Environmental Protection Agency is required for India. Is it a promising idea?  As I type this with eyes watering and a chest reacting to unseen particles, I am tempted to say yes.  But will not.  Such empowered agencies reduce the power of the executive and even democracy in deciding the fate of a country.
Despite all the inaction and even negative actions, India’s long-term environmental interests can best be served under democratic leadership.  Typically, such agencies are staffed by bureaucrats and ‘experts’ who are neither elected nor answerable to a large enough group of people.  Therefore, our lobbies have their work cut out to convince the politically sensitive executive to take environmentally beneficial actions.  A strong enough institutional framework exists already, we simply need to get it working.



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Gulf dust storm had a bigger role than stubble burning

Gulf storm major cause of Delhi Pollution Says flawed study.
There are many plausible explanations for any event, and this is a good one.  A non-political storm in Gulf countries threw up fine particles of dust and dirt.  The jet stream carried that to India. Since there is a deep affinity between India and muck, the muck decided to settle down in our capital city.  And we are blaming the poor Punjab farmer for rightfully burning his field.
I could have believed this explanation, some of which may be true, but Delhi-ites have smelt that smoke over many days.  Perhaps it was from burning oilfields in Iraq, or someone smoking in the opium fields of Afghanistan?



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How fishermen in India are tackling declining fish stocks

A lovely story on how traditional community discipline can be better than modern law.
What do you do when the law allows practices that traditions do not favour.  Across India, tradition is giving way to ‘modernity’, the term ‘modern’ is automatically associated with better.  Just as greater productivity is associated with ‘progress’. That neither is necessarily true is well brought out in this story.  What I also liked about it was how the modernizers gave in to the punishment handed out by the traditionalists.



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BS-VI emission norms for vehicles: So near and yet so far

How not to do a story.
This is a story which many may have read.  It is full of plausibly correct historical facts but put together with no investigations on the latest.  It questions the efficacy of recent policy change.  Take one instance, yes, it could be difficult to introduce BSVI fuel in Delhi within 4 months, and it would be interesting to know how the government-owned oil companies do it – buy from private oil companies like Reliance or Essar, import, or simply hasten the installation of de-sulpherization plants.
I include this story here as an example of what a story should not be like.  Unfortunately, I find few mainstream media houses putting in an effort to bring out the latest on what is clearly a major environmental reform, instead, all I am finding is, judgments based on historical factoids.


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