Better Weather

  • For some time now, and especially after last November yielded an unexpected emissions reduction deal between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, India has been seen to take an uncompromising zero-sum view of how climate change responsibilities should be shared at international forums.
  • At his summit with Obama on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have made an aggressive, and welcome, pitch to counter and correct this narrative, in which India is routinely cast as an obstructionist outlier. Though the absence of an announcement along the lines of the US-China deal will have disappointed some — it was always unlikely that Obama could win similar concessions from Modi, given the vast schism in the development levels of India and China — Modi forcefully reiterated the government’s unilateral commitment to boost renewable energy, with ambitious capacity targets for solar (100 GW) and wind (60 GW) by 2022, more than six times the current installed capacities.
  • This, coupled with his call to developed countries to provide access to finance and technology to enable emerging economies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, indicates a commendable shift in India’s climate diplomacy. Over the past year,
  • India has signalled a willingness to step up cooperation on the issue while attempting to leverage its own domestic initiatives to stave off a deal that shrinks its ability to meet its developmental goals at the crucial UN Conference of the Parties in Paris in December.
  • In the past, India and other developing countries have staunchly stood by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, or the argument that wealthy economies like the US must bear the major burden of making emissions cuts to solve a problem they largely created. Many parts of the developed world, on the other hand, have been reluctant to act in isolation, pointing to developing countries’ increased share in global GHG emissions.
  • This wide gap in negotiating positions led to a stalemate in Copenhagen in 2009, and the forecast for a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol has been rather gloomy since.
  • Or it was, until the US-China agreement introduced a new spark of hope.There could have been no credible or meaningful global agreement without the two biggest GHG emitters in the world.
  • Modi’s “uncompromising commitment on climate change”, along with an earlier acceptance of the pressure from “future generations” to act, demonstrates India’s willingness to play its part. Now, the government must develop a workable long-term plan to wean the power grid off coal, on which it is overwhelmingly dependent.

Development and security

  • Development comes in many forms and serves multiple purposes. Over the last few months, the Central government has initiated a series of steps to upgrade communications and transport infrastructure in areas affected by naxalite activity.
  • The larger project is to not only usher in development in the tribal areas and improve the living conditions of populations in hilly and forest terrains, but also facilitate security operations against Maoists, who specialise in ambushes and hit-and-retreat tactics.
  • Hundreds of mobile phone towers have been erected along the Red Corridor, and roads and bridges are being built to connect naxalite-affected districts. Ending the isolation of some of the villages in remote areas of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand is, no doubt, part of a strategy to win over local populations and wean them away from the influence of armed groups of Maoists. But, coming as it does with heavy deployment of Central police forces, such infrastructure development is suspect in the eyes of many villagers in the tribal regions.
  • The ‘development’ is often seen more as an effort to allow access to tribal areas for security personnel in pursuit of Maoists rather than as an attempt to open up the outside world to the villages. Invariably, the state is seen as an external agency waiting to wield its authority and extend its reach without allowing substantial consequential benefits to the villages.
  • Any state-sponsored activity, even if it is in the name of development, is thus met with hostility, and viewed as no more than an extension of the security apparatus.
  • Better facilities can at best mark the beginning of a process of addressing the livelihood concerns and social insecurities of tribal populations. Without investing in health and education infrastructure, increasing employment opportunities, and raising the quality of life in tribal areas, it would be difficult to address the socio-economic grievances that feed into the Maoist agenda.
  • While the government ought to do everything in its power to end arbitrary and irrational violence by the Maoists, ‘development’ should not be reduced to building mobile towers, roads and bridges. Democratic institutions are yet to take root in many of the villages where Maoists have their sympathisers.
  • In many areas Maoists have assumed a representative character and elections are boycotted at the instance of leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Thus, merely concentrating on upgrading infrastructure without addressing long-standing grievances will not meet the government’s objectives.
  • Representative institutions in the villages must be made party to decision-making in the development process, which should go beyond the infrastructure needs of the security personnel.