Head Line: Greens in the red: Why Aravallis matter to National Capital Region
1) Mains Paper I: changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
- Mains Paper III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
- It was in 1900 that the then Government of Punjab enacted the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), aimed at “conservation of sub-soil water” and “prevention of erosion” by giving the state power to “regulate, restrict or prohibit” certain activities, including “clearing or breaking up” of land.
- As a result, for the last 118 years, the Act provided notified tracts of land in the Aravallis protection against real estate construction, urbanisation and mining.
- A century-old Act is perhaps the only thing keeping the Aravallis safe from rampant construction.
- With the Haryana government moving to amend it, and the Supreme Court stepping in.
Amendments by Haryana Government:
- On February 27, the Haryana government passed an amendment Bill which environmentalists have since termed a “repeal” of the 1900 Act.
- The Bill proposed several changes to the Act, including exclusion of land that falls under “final development plans” or any other “town improvement plans or schemes” from its ambit, leaving thousands of acres of the Aravallis vulnerable.
- Days later the apex Court came down heavily on the Haryana government for the move, calling it “sheer contempt”, and restraining the state from implementing it.
- In multiple orders over several years, the Supreme Court has reiterated the PLPA’s powers, recognising land notified under the Act as a “forest”.
- The amendment excludes “certain lands” from the ambit of PLPA, including land included in the “final development plans, town improvement plans or schemes, any public infrastructure”.
- It gives state government the power to “amend or rescind” any notification or orders made under PLPA.
- It gives state government the power to exempt “any class of person or areas or land” from “any or all provisions” of PLPA if it causes them “undue hardship”.
- It directed that PLPA orders and notifications will be valid for a period of 30 years, and the “regulations, restrictions or prohibitions” imposed shall “cease to exist” afterwards.
Supreme Courts response:
- Days later, on March 1, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Haryana government for the move, calling it “sheer contempt”, and restraining the state from implementing it.
- With uncertainty over what comes next, the fate of 60,000 acres of Aravallis in south Haryana, including over 20,000 acres in Gurgaon and Faridabad, hangs in the balance.
Why Aravallis matters:
- Green lungs to combat pollution
- The thick forest cover helps to naturally purify air in a region plagued by high levels of vehicular and industrial pollution through the year.
- Home to flora and fauna
- Around 400 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs, 200 native and migratory bird species, and wildlife including leopards, jackals, nilgai and hyena thrive here.
- Oasis in a concrete jungle
- The Aravallis are crucial to groundwater recharge, which is significant given the water scarcity the region faces during harsh summer months.
- The Aravallis in Haryana are home to over 400 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs, more than 200 native and migratory bird species, and wildlife that includes leopards, jackals, hyenas, mongoose and civet cats.
- The Wildlife Institute of India, in a 2017 report, had highlighted: “The forests of the Aravalli range in Haryana are now the most degraded forests in India, most of the indigenous plant species have disappeared.
- The rapid deforestation and developmental activities are destroying the unique landscape that requires immediate conservation attention.
- Environmentalist Vijay Dhasmana said the amendment would directly impact wildlife in the Aravallis, which serves as a corridor between Asola Bhatti sanctuary in Delhi and Sariska in Rajasthan.
- “There will be no space for animals to move, and there will be more human-animal conflict, especially in Gurgaon and Faridabad, where there is a good population of leopards. They will clash with the human population, and leopards may be killed,” he said.
What if PLPA amended?
- The PLPA amendment, if implemented, will also impact another legislation that is in place to protect the Aravallis — the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) — fear environmentalists.
- There are two criteria for an area to be declared NCZ — it must either be recognised as a forest, or as Aravallis.
- However, the Haryana government does not recognise the latter as a criterion for NCZ, and the only forests recognised in the state are PLPA notified lands.
- If the PLPA is gone, then NCZ will also come under threat because Haryana is resisting the identification of Aravallis as a criteria for NCZ.
- There will be no legal forest left; with the Aravallis not being accepted as a criteria, NCZ protection will go too.
Head Line: Poverty to vulnerability: Rethinking social protection
2) Mains Paper II: Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
- India is no longer largely chronically poor; it is now more unequal and vulnerable with pockets of deep poverty.
- Its future shared prosperity will depend to a large extent on how its social protection system evolves and catches up with its diversity and demography. World Bank economists weigh in.
Social protection programs:
- A steady, safe, well-paid job is the best protection against economic hardship.
- But when this ideal situation is not possible, social protection programs help people become more resilient to risks.
- Typically, a comprehensive social protection system requires three types of instruments to work together.
- First, promotional instruments invest in the ability of families to survive shocks on their own — by enhancing productivity, access to job opportunities and incomes through human capital infrastructure, wage legislation, labour policies, skills training and livelihood interventions.
- Second, preventive instruments aim to reduce the impacts of shocks before they occur by enabling households to use their savings from good times to tackle losses in tough times. This is mainly done through social insurance programs.
- Third, protective instruments mitigate the impacts of shocks after they have occurred through tax-financed redistribution from the non-poor to the poor. These programs would classically be called anti-poverty measures as they target social assistance or safety net programs to the poor or destitute, whether in kind or cash.
Background of Social protection programs in India:
- When social protection schemes were created in India after Independence, most of the country was reeling from famine, de-industrialisation and multiple deprivations.
- Half the population was chronically poor, the country had an aggregate food deficit, financial and banking networks were underdeveloped, growth rates were weak, and technology available for program administration was rudimentary.
- Therefore, India’s policymakers focussed almost exclusively on anti-poverty, protective instruments.
Changing scenario and Social Protection programs:
- But that India no longer exists, and the country’s social protection system needs to evolve and catch up with the needs of its new demography and risk profile.
- Analysis of the latest available data from 2012 highlight three stylised facts that are important to guide this evolution.
- First, despite the dramatic fall in households below the poverty line to 22%, the challenge of chronic poverty remains.
- Despite a decline in poverty levels, India shelters pockets of deep poverty and these households are geographically clustered.
- A significant 15% of households that were poor in 2005 remained poor in 2012. That’s 37 million households — the population of Germany.
- Second, inequality across locations and demographic groups has increased. The poverty rate of six of the poorest states in the country is twice that of other states.
- Seven low-income states — Chhattisgarh, MP, UP, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and Bihar account for 45% of India’s population but nearly 62% of its poor — continue to need strong safety nets programs.
- Within states, poverty and vulnerability remain highest amongst Adivasis. Women are largely missing from the workforce, and face serious risks to their mobility and well-being.
- Third, the majority of India is no longer poor. Instead, half of India is vulnerable.
- These are households that have recently escaped poverty with consumption levels that are precariously close to the poverty line, and remain vulnerable to slipping back.
- Programs must ensure that those who’ve escaped poverty are able to sustain improvements.
Changing needs of population:
- As families move out of poverty and the middle class grows, social protection programs can no longer be singularly focused on chronically poor households.
- In 2016, while traditional safety nets such as the Public Distribution System (PDS) expended $16 billion, the life and accident insurance programs spent less than $16 million together.
- Programs such as PDS and MGNREGS still constitute half of social protection spending in the country.
It’s critical that programs help those vulnerable to poverty to anticipate and manage risks and shocks better, not only attempt to provide aid to relieve deprivations experienced by the poor.
Tools for poverty prevention:
- Three types of portable tools are needed to prevent the new vulnerable class from falling back into poverty and debt traps — health insurance, social insurance (in case of death, accident and other calamities) and pensions.
- Portability is key to ensure migrants receive support while they try to build new lives in new places, as state governments often use residency criteria to target benefits.
Scenario of Social Insurance programs:
- At present, only 4% of households in India use government social insurance programs.
- Use of private sources of insurance is higher, particularly for wealthy households.
- IHDS 2012 data show that 27% households report members using/benefitting from private insurance.
- Unsurprisingly, the bottom 20% report very low uptake of private options for market-based insurance.
- Most Indian households — poor and non-poor — rely on personal savings to deal with health, accidents, or climate shocks. Micro surveys and administrative data also highlight major gaps in pension and health insurance coverage.
- Recent policies have taken steps in the right direction.
- The boost in crop insurance, new pension plans for the elderly, the rise in contributory pensions for those who have the wherewithal to save, and larger coverage of health insurance programs will help India re-balance its social protection architecture to match the needs of the rising numbers of its vulnerable people.
Effective safety nets:
- Effective safety nets can dramatically reduce the number of poor and the likelihood that poverty will be transmitted from one generation to the next.
- Strengthening their delivery systems is key, while allowing state governments to choose the optimal mix of preventive and protective programs to suit their state’s needs within an umbrella social protection budget.
- If insurance coverage is adequate and expands, many families would not need to rely on safety net transfers in the face of old age or health crises which would otherwise push households into long-term poverty and debt traps.
- Thus, an increased emphasis on interventions that help anticipate risks should be expected, particularly in medium- and high-growth states.
- The need to re-balance the mix of programs between protection and prevention may not require a dramatic change in the current umbrella social protection budget.
- Given the huge diversity in the economic profile of India’s states, a variety of approaches will be called for.
- India is no longer a largely chronically poor country but a more unequal and vulnerable country with pockets of deep poverty.
- India’s future shared prosperity will depend to a large extent on how its social protection system evolves and catches up with its diversity and demography.