News & Events
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1.Un-normalise poll violence in Bengal
What Bengal thinks tomorrow, will be revealed on May 2. But what Bengal is thinking of as it proceeds to the poll gates starting March 27 is what India, in the avuncular form of the Election Commission (EC), is thinking about, with justifiable concern, today. For those who smell a central government plot in the EC’s eight-phase, 33-day-long election schedule, they should wake up and smell the cha and recognise the fact that the state has been witnessing ‘political’ violence, leading up to many deaths, with grinding regularity in the run-up to polls for many years. EC deploying over 900 companies of central forces to ensure that elections take place without violence and threats is not just okay but also welcome.
Then there is the perennial question of fairness. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has accused EC of bias, stating that the record-length poll duration has been made at the behest of BJP, which is relying heavily on its central leadership and leaders from other states campaigning in Bengal. The timing of the home ministry’s report to EC this week detailing incidents of political violence during the 2018 panchayat and 2019 Lok Sabha polls hasn’t helped. But with campaigning getting raucous (which party’s slogans are ‘smarter’ and which leader’s portraits need to be covered currently top-of-mind) and earlier levels of reported violence at bay, the ‘boots near booths’ strategy seems to be working.
The Bengal elections are essentially about which of the two brands will win: Didi’s TMC or Modi’s BJP. The collateral damage that goes by the name of ‘campaign’ must be ‘un-normalised’. No matter who claims their right to bring development and law and order to a hyperactive, ironically underperforming, state on May 2.
2. Recycling along with vehicle scrappage
With over a quarter of a billion registered vehicles nationally, it is time India had a modern vehicle scrapping industry. The vehicle scrappage policy intention previewed in the Union budget speech is sensible indeed. It can well boost fuel efficiency, reduce the oil import bill and stem environmental pollution too. But, in tandem, we do need to put in place proactive policy for organised scrapping of steel, and incentivise regular vehicular maintenance to enforce pollution norms rather than go by vehicular age stipulation to have them off the roads.
A sound vehicle scrapping policy can certainly shore up demand across sectors, gainfully rev up fuel efficiency, plus have fiscal benefits in the form of reduced oil imports, and also purposefully tackle environmental externalities going forward. But the way ahead, surely, is to establish a modern organised steel scrapping segment. A recent steel ministry report did point out that while we have a large steel scrap sector with volumes over 25 million tonnes per annum, it is wholly unorganised and does not even have industry status. It clearly implies inefficient misallocation of resources when we can recycle 100% of steel and boost resource use efficiency. The way forward is to provide incentives, or, at least, remove tax discrimination. We need to incentivise investments in modern depollution zero-discharge systems. Besides, a mandatory 15- or 20-year vehicular operational life norm may be thoroughly suboptimal pan-India.
Yes, in our dense urban centres, we do need to mandate regular vehicular pollution checks, but in our vast hinterlands, actual vehicle maintenance and use matter more than mere vehicle vintage when it comes to tailpipe emissions. Better engine maintenance and better quality fuel would reduce emissions. So would better roads and traffic management. We do, of course, need to adopt Bharat Stage 6 fuel standards and even go beyond, but do so at reasonable costs and timelines and not rush the pace so as to forgo the benefit of the capital sunk into vehicles.
3.Tight Kerala race: Persisting LDF-UDF duopoly, slow BJP progress
A touch of novelty has come to mark the hotly contested Kerala assembly elections with Metroman E Sreedharan lending his heft to BJP amid Congress-led UDF making a determined effort to oust CPM-led LDF. 88-year-old Sreedharan’s achievements, like Delhi Metro and Konkan Railway, swaddle him in the mould of a technocrat par excellence. But even his party seems undecided how best to utilise him, evident from the confusion over naming him CM candidate. Nevertheless, BJP trusts Sreedharan to woo the middle class despite his age. Meanwhile, a BJP candidate has notched up prized Orthodox Church support for helping spare an ancient church from demolition during highway construction.
Such incremental breakthroughs by BJP will unnerve both LDF and UDF, given typically slim margins by which many candidates sneak through in Kerala elections. Possessing a credible 15% voteshare, BJP’s best hopes of breaching Kerala rest on wooing either the Muslim or Christian minority communities or largescale desertions from Congress/CPM. But both CPM and Congress are clinging to their support bases. And, unlike other states, Congress netas don’t see a future in switching to BJP despite diminishing national returns.
A comfortable civic body poll victory had put LDF ahead. But the gains have dissipated. Charges of nepotism in recruitment for government jobs have put youth awaiting their turn in PSC rank lists on the warpath. Given Kerala’s high unemployment rate among youth – highest nationally in 2019-20 according to Periodic Labour Force Survey – the blowback will be felt. Unlike earlier elections, Congress has kept factionalism under check. Rahul Gandhi is doing his bit, a deep sea fishing expedition endearing him to the sizeable fishing community. While it is do or die for CPM and Congress, BJP will count its gains for the long haul.
4. Dollypartoning the vaccine: If you’re old enough, be smart enough to get it
There are songs that are big and then there is Jolene. It’s full of heartbreak and lifeforce. Dolly Parton’s lyrics and vocals are “beyond compare”. The song just hasn’t aged since being released way back in 1973. Next gen artists keep covering it fresh. So Parton’s message went far and wide when she took her Moderna jab this week and belted out her anthemic Jolene anew: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate.”
The words may seem dry if you have yet to hook up with Jolene. But once you do, its swingy wistfulness, now with a pandemic vibe, will be sure to grab the guts. Of course Parton being Parton, her southern irreverence doesn’t stray far from her sublimest moments. No surprise then that she followed up the above line with, “Because once you’re dead then that’s a bit too late.” Few others would be able to carry off that bite with a melody and a laugh. Anyway, she would hardly be making light of Covid-19 after seeding a critical million dollars in the early stages of the Moderna trials.
Like India, the US has seen dangerous levels of vaccine hesitancy. Celebrities can learn from Parton how to make a difference. And everyone else take note how she went to take her shot in a vaccine-ready outfit, smart cutouts even eliminating the need to roll up her sleeve. Really, the men don’t need to be showing off their pecs or banyans.
5. Shaping India’s urban future
The Centre, on Thursday, released the rankings of the Ease of Living Index (EoLI) 2020 for cities with a population of more than a million and those with less than a million people. Of the 111 cities that participated in the exercise, Bengaluru emerged as the top performer, followed by Navi Mumbai (6), Greater Mumbai (10) and Delhi (13) among the bigger cities, while Shimla led among the smaller cities. Like EoLI , the government also released the Municipal Performance Index (MPI) 2020 for municipalities with a million+ population and those with less than a million people. Indore topped the first category while the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) led the second. EoLI is an assessment tool that evaluates the quality of life and the impact of initiatives for development and provides an understanding of cities based on the quality of life, economic-ability and sustainability and resilience. Notably, the measures of the index align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
It is important to measure the performance of cities for three reasons. One, Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees every citizen a certain standard of life that ensures dignity and personal growth. Second, economic growth is intricately linked with urbanisation, but, in India, this has not kept pace with the rate of economic growth. Third, the rise in urban population (40% of India’s total population is expected to live in urban areas by 2030) has vastly outpaced the capacity of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). The 2020 EoLI clearly shows that the development of cities has been uneven. The better performers are mostly in the southern part of the country, which has a legacy of industrialisation and finance. They also indicate that the concept of liveability is yet to be integrated with urban planning strategies. Among municipalities, NDMC and Indore have been consistent performers in other government surveys.