The Supreme Court of India recently imposed a ban on the use of petcoke and furnace oil in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana which are situated in the National Capital Region (NCR). The ban comes in the wake of several public interest petitions filed before the Supreme Court as well as the National Green Tribunal regarding the alarming rise in air pollution in Delhi and the associated health and environmental hazards.
The Court severely rebuked the Government for its lackadaisical attitude towards addressing the issue despite prior directions being issued by an expert panel appointed by the Court which demanded a prohibition on petcoke and other excessively polluting fossil fuels. Although, petcoke and furnace oil were officially banned in Delhi in 1996, their rampant use in neighboring states by the cement factories, dyeing units, brick kilns and other industries has turned Delhi into India’s air pollution capital.
What exactly is petcoke?
Petcoke is an exceptionally polluting form of carbon which is banned in several countries due to its severe toxicity. It is categorized as a “bottom of the barrel” fuel as it is essentially residual waste material which is obtained after refining coal to extract lighter fuels like petrol. Petcoke is abundantly used in India in several manufacturing industries such as cement, steel and textile and it is generated in vast quantities by refineries as it is significantly cheaper that coal, has high calorific value and is easier to transport and store.
Impact on health
While vehicular fuels like petrol and diesel contain 50 parts per million (PPM) of sulphur oxide, furnace oil contains 23,000 PPM and petcoke contains a whopping 74,000 PPM of sulphur content which is released into the atmosphere as emissions. Apart from sulphur, petcoke also releases a cocktail of other toxic chemicals such as nitrous oxide, mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, hydrogen chloride and greenhouse gases (GHG) which contribute to global warming. It is also important to note that petcoke is much more potent than coal and causes greater harm to the environment and health.
According to a 2015 report published by The Lancet Commission, 8 residents of Delhi die each day as a result of air pollution. Delhi has been ranked as India’s most polluted city and is also among the world’s most critically polluted cities.
As per the report, India has topped the list of pollution related deaths in 2015 with a staggering 2.5 million deaths due to pollution. The report also revealed that only a handful of cities in India comply with the air quality standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board and identified that the primary cause behind increasing air pollution as fossil fuels.
In Delhi alone, 2.2 million children suffer from irreversible lung damage caused due to air pollution. Further, air pollution has contributed to a host of diseases including autism, epilepsy, headaches and cancer.
Petcoke has a deleterious effect on the respiratory system and particulate matter can get embedded in lung tissues, causing serious long term health hazards.
India’s carbon tax model and its impact on industry
The reason for the petcoke menace in the recent years can be directly attributed to the Central Government’s inherently flawed carbon tax policy. Carbon tax was introduced in India in 2010 and has since its inception been fraught with complications due to its improper structuring and pervasive maladministration. Among the many intrinsic loopholes in the carbon tax policy is its questionable coverage. Unlike many other jurisdictions such as Australia, the scope of India’s carbon tax is myopically restricted to coal, thereby excluding other forms of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitting fuels like petcoke and furnace oil; many of which have a deeper impact on the environment and health than coal.
Given that the main objective of carbon tax is to mitigate negative externalities of fossil fuels on the environment, and act as a pigouvian tax, logic dictates that it should be applicable on all sources of carbon emissions. A broad based coverage is a necessary component of any progressive carbon tax policy as evidenced from international experience. Yet, the Indian Government has chosen to maintain a narrow coverage, thereby diluting the purpose and efficacy of carbon tax and encouraging polluters to shift from the dirty coal to even dirtier petcoke.
The industry was quick to exploit this obvious loophole and shift from coal to other forms of carbon which were free from the tax bracket. Although petcoke is much more harmful than coal both from an environmental and health perspective, there is no tax or cess levied on the use or production of petcoke.
In order to circumvent the current carbon cess of Rs 400 per metric tonne on coal, cement and steel manufacturers have been heavily relying on petcoke, thereby increasing carbon emissions and air pollution. While India witnessed a decrease in coal imports by 20 million tonnes last year, petcoke imports doubled exceeding 10 million tonnes. In recent years, petcoke is also being used in captive power generation plants in India. Big polluters like Reliance and Essar have capitalized on this demand and made huge profits after the imposition of carbon tax.
India’ carbon tax policy has always been weak and riddled with inefficiencies; however, post GST it has become positively redundant. Earlier, proceeds from the carbon cess used to be accumulated in an earmarked non-lapsable fund known as the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). The NCEF was supposed to be used for funding clean energy projects and encourage industries to shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. Yet, over the years the fund has been treated more like a general corpus for the Government to dip into for ad hoc projects. In fact, out of the 57 billion USD accumulated in the NCEF, only a miniscule fraction has actually been deployed towards the original intended purpose. However, the coup de grâce to the NCEF and carbon tax was the introduction of GST under which all the proceeds are now being funneled to compensate states for loss arising out of the introduction of the GST regime.
Currently, China and India are the leading consumers and importers of petcoke in order to catalyze rapid industrialization and economic growth. However, since 2014, China has steadily been decreasing its dependence on petcoke by shifting to cleaner alternatives. India on the other hand, continues to increase its consumption of petcoke and other non-carbon fossil fuels.
The need to translate words into action
In recent years, the government has experimented with several measures to curb the levels of air pollution and carbon emissions by levying carbon tax, cutting down traffic and most recently banning the sale and use of fireworks in Delhi. However, these measures have been met with lukewarm response due to poorly structured policies and lack of implementation.
The Supreme Court’s ban in a few select states is not going to solve the real problem. Petcoke, furnace oil and other non-carbon fossil fuel based alternatives to coal are used across India to avoid the carbon tax. In the ongoing COP 23 in Bonn this November, India will undoubtedly reiterate its ambitious plans to mitigate climate change by cutting down on carbon emissions and making efforts to switch to clean energy. Over the years, this very same rhetoric has been repeated ad nauseum.
It is high time that talk was translated into action. The need of the hour is to design a long-term sustainable fossil fuel policy which incorporates international best practices and does not allow polluters any flexibility to switch from one fossil fuel to another. Specifically, the carbon tax policy needs to be revamped entirely to reflect India’s ambitious international commitments towards mitigating climate change.
Post-UNGA: Kashmir is somewhere between abyss and fear
Hailed as a hero for calling out New Delhi’s draconian measures in occupied Kashmir, Imran Khan warned the world of a “bloodbath” once India lifts its lockdown of Jammu and Kashmir. He persuaded global leaders to denounce the brutalities and human rights violations unleashed on Kashmiris ever since the disruption of the decades old status quo, which had been granted by the symbolic autonomy of Articles 370 and 35(A) within the Indian constitution. The constitutional coup d état ensures the alienation of Kashmiris in IOK beyond the point of redemption with massive spillover effects across the LOC. Pakistan is home to 4,045,366 self-governed and independent Kashmiris as per the 2017 census, who are desired of more than a political and diplomatic support for their brothers in IOK. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars on the Kashmir issue.
Focusing on the brazen denial of core human values, Imran Khan prognosticated a more radicalized world as the scourge of radicalism finds more fodder in a discriminated society. If climate change is ignored, the clichés of religious affiliation continues and the inherent right of self-determination remains disregarded, violent reaction is inevitable. He said, “we all know that marginalisation leads to radicalization”… “No one did research that before 9-11, the majority of suicide bombers in the world were Tamil Tigers. They were Hindus”, but Hindus rightly escaped the blame since belief and religion has nothing to do with desperation.
Imran Khan talked more like Gandhi than the nation of Gandhi itself. He reminded the world of the reincarnation of the progrom and racial ridden medieval periods when religion and state were inseparable .It has reshaped and now resides more in inter-state relations while negatively stirring regional cooperation and globalization. Already enwrapped in a world of deprivation, the fifth largest population of South Asia is fearfully seen at the brink of a nuclear war with there being very few options left for a seven times smaller nuclear state of Pakistan, which has been already driven to the wall. The speech was well received and touched a chord with many Kashmiris reeling under the unprecedented communications blackout and travel restrictions in place since August 5.
“It felt like there is someone to watch our back. It felt that someone is talking for us, that we are not alone”, was the feeling commonly displayed. Hundreds of affected Kashmiri stakeholders came out of their homes, shouting slogans in support of Imran Khan and calling for the independence of Kashmir despite the movement restrictions and deployment of additional force by India in Srinagar.A fresh charge sheet has also been filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India against the chief of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, (JKLF) Yasin Malik, and other leaders including Asiya Andrabi, and Masarat Alam on October 4, 2019.
Conjuring up his dystopian vision, Prime Minister Modi made no mention of the disputed region of Kashmir in his read-out speech at the UN along the lines of diplomatically bureaucratic explanation. He only ticked the fanciful boxes of development, progress, and world peace, annihilation of terrorism and protection of environment. This speech however, was soon followed by a threat from his own government’s defence minister calling for the liberation of Pakistani Administered Kashmir as the next step in India’s quest for regional dominance.
Moreover, Imran Khan has also expressed his fears in his erstwhile meetings with Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Trump has offered mediation, but only if both Pakistan and India agree. A senior US diplomat for South Asia called for a lowering of rhetoric between India and Pakistan, while saying that Washington hoped to see rapid action by India to lift restrictions it has imposed in Kashmir and the release of detainees there. Similarly, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, in his address to the General Assembly on 27 September stated that,;”The Kashmir issue, a dispute left from the past, should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”
Nonetheless, an arrogant denial by India to the support of Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir by Turkey and Malaysia is more of an inept understanding of diplomacy and international commitment. India needs to step out of the skeptical comprehension of the role of the UN that was pronounced by Ms. Vidisha Maitra India’s Permanent Mission to the UN. The sway of diplomatic terms espoused with preconceived historical interpretations could be misguiding for political leaders. Modi needs to keep his ears close to the ground to save his political future. It is an extensional battle for Kashmiris. No concertina wire can blur the contradiction in his approach to the issue, “when they are in India they say it is an internal issue and when they are on the international forums, they consider it a bilateral issue,” said one of the residents of Srinagar. Confusion exacerbates the fear, which consequently becomes a forerunner to terrorism. Same goes for the US whose mediator’s role gets paradoxical by Trump’s close alliance with Modi in his perusal of Asia-Pacific policy. Though, Imran Khan is perpetually using his political and diplomatic influence proactively, to mobilize both the international community and his own people, the anti-India feeling, the pro-militancy sensitivity and the general sense of despair — is stronger than before in Kashmir.
Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse
The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.
During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.
However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.
Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.
As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.
Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.
The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.
1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet
Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.
The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.
Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.
The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.
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