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Off the road – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/off-the-road/article18461920.ece

  • Off the road
  • Don’t shut the door on diplomacy overChina’s Belt and Road Initiative
  • Three years after the plan for the Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI, formerly called the Silk Road Economic Belt or One Belt One Road) was announced, China has concluded the first Belt and Road Forum
  • While 130 countries participated, of which at least 68 are now part of the $900-billion infrastructure corridor project, India boycotted the event, making its concerns public hours before the forum commenced in Beijing.
  • While 130 countries participated, of which at least 68 are now part of the $900-billion infrastructure corridor project, India boycotted the event, making its concerns public hours before the forum commenced in Beijing. India’s reservations, according to the carefully worded statement issued b
  • India’s reservations, according to the carefully worded statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, are threefold
  • One, the B&RI’s flagship project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, ignoring India’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
  • Two, the B&RI infrastructure project structure smacks of Chinese neo-colonialism, and could cause an “unsustainable debt burden for communities” with an adverse impact on the environment in the partner countries.
  • And three, there is a lack of transparency in China’s agenda, indicating that New Delhi believes the B&RI is not just an economic project but one that China is promoting for political control.
  • These concerns are no doubt valid, and the refusal to join the B&RI till China addresses the objection over Gilgit-Baltistan is understandable. The decision to not attend even as an observer, however, effectively closes the door for diplomacy. It stands in contrast to countries such as the U.S. and Japan, which are not a part of the B&RI but sent official delegations.
  • India’s anxiety about the possible debt trap may be well-founded, but it ignores the benefits these countries believe will accrue from the project. Simply put, India cannot appear to be more worried about these countries than their own governments are, or to determine their stance.
  • As a friend and neighbour, India can at best alert them to the perils of the B&RI, and offer assistance should they choose another path. India may also face some difficult choices in the road ahead, because as a co-founder of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (from June 2017) it will be asked to support many of the projects under the B&RI.
  • At such a point, especially given the endorsement from the UN Secretary General, who said the B&RI is rooted in a shared vision for global development, India should not simply sit out the project.
  • It must actively engage with China to have its particular grievances addressed, articulate its concerns to other partner countries in a more productive manner, and take a position as an Asian leader, not an outlier in the quest for more connectivity.

The ‘public’ in public health – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/the-public-in-public-health/article18461941.ece

  • The ‘public’ in public health
  • The discourse must move beyond a top-down approach to listen to the people and formulate best insurance practices
  • Much ink has been spilled in documenting the inadequacy of budgetary allocations for public health insurance, specifically for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the world’s largest publicly-funded health insurance (PFHI) scheme
  • Though the 2017-18 budget allocation has marginally increased from last year’s revised estimates, it has declined relative to last year’s budgeted amount by about Rs. 500 crore
  • Under the scheme, a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family of five is entitled to more than 700 treatments and proc
  • Under the scheme, a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family of five is entitled to more than 700 treatments and procedures at government-set prices, for an annual enrolment fee of Rs. 30
  • However, even nine years after its implementation, it has failed to cover a large number of targeted families — almost three-fifths of them.
  • However, even nine years after its implementation, it has failed to cover a large number of targeted families — almost three-fifths of them. Their exclusion has been due to factors like the prevalent discriminati
  • Their exclusion has been due to factors like the prevalent discrimination against disadvantaged groups; a lack of mandate on insurance companies to achieve higher enrolment rates; and an absence of oversight by government agencies.
  • Increase in hospitalisation
  • True, there has been a substantial increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is unclear if it has enabled people to access the genuinely needed, and hitherto unaffordable, inpatient care.
  • Often, doctors and hospitals have colluded in performing unnecessary surgical procedures on patients to claim insurance money.
  • Indeed, in the absence of regulations and standards, perverse incentives are created for empanelled hospitals to conduct surgeries. It is thus not surprising that there is no robust evidence of an improvement in health outcomes.
  • One study revealed that poorer households in districts exposed to the RSBY and other PFHIs recorded an increase in out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditures for hospital care, and a corresponding rise in incidence of catastrophic expenditure.
  • There is near-consensus that the RSBY has resulted in higher OOP expenditures. Though it is a cashless scheme, many users are exploited by unscrupulous hospital staff.
  • There is a need to bring the ‘public’ back into the discourse on public health to highlight its present culture
  • Card not accepted
  • many hospitals refused to acknowledge the card’s value.
  • Households clearly separated the economic value from social ones. A section saw health insurance as a bad omen, one that announced arrival of illness.
  • Overall, while the discourse on a greater allocation to RSBY and enhancement of cost-effectiveness are important, a shift of emphasis is needed, bringing the ‘public’ back into the sphere of public health.

Putting a global price on carbon – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/putting-a-global-price-on-carbon/article18461929.ece

  • A carbon tax is less likely to face political opposition while creating avenues for businesses and growth
  • We stand today on the brink of a long-term anthropogenic and ecological change, caused not by the forces of nature but our own exploitation of the planet’s resources.
  • There is compelling evidence that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, and there is a large chance of a global average temperature rise exceeding 2ºC by the end of this century
  • It has also been established in various scientific studies that any such warming of the planet will lead to increased natural calamities such as floods and cyclones, declined crop yields and ecological degradation. A large increase in global temperatures correlates with an average 5% loss in global GDP, with poor countries suffering costs in excess of 10% of GDP.
  • As a mitigation policy
  • A global and immediate policy response is urgently required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • A carbon tax aims to internalise the externality of climate change by setting a price on the carbon content of energy consumed or greenhouse gas emitted in the production or consumption of goods.
  • Carbon tax regimes will only be effective if harmonised internationally. Different country-wise policies could lead to ‘carbon leakages’ where energy-intensive businesses will most likely move to less strict national regimes.
  • Harmonised carbon taxes hold advantages over quantitative limits imposed through government control and regulation.
  • First, a carbon tax regime avoids the problems related to choosing a baseline. In a price approach, the natural baseline is a zero carbon tax.
  • Second, a carbon tax policy will be better able to adapt to the element of uncertainty which pervades the science of climate change.
  • Quantity limits on emissions are related to the stocks of greenhouse gas emissions, while the price limits are related to the flow of emissions.
  • Fourth, quantity limiting policies are often accompanied by administrative arbitrariness and corruption through rent-seeking. This sends off negative signals to investors. In a price-based carbon tax, the investor has an assured long-term regulation to adapt to and can weigh in the costs involved.
  • Addresses issue of equity
  • Fifth, the most contentious issue in any international negotiation on climate change mitigation either at the level of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been the issue of equity between high-income and low-income countries.
  • The price-based approach in the form of carbon taxes makes it easier to implement such equity-based international adjustments than the quantity-based approach.
  • Finally, the carbon tax will essentially be a Pigovian Tax which balances the marginal social costs and benefits of additional emissions, thereby internalising the costs of environmental damage. It can act as an incentive for consumers and producers to shift to more energy-efficient sources and products.
  • Some countries and regions such as the U.S. and the European Union already have fairly successful carbon pricing regimes in place in the form of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes
  • The political consensus in favour of a direct carbon tax will be difficult to achieve in low- and middle-income countries that have developmental priorities and lack the capacity to administer such regimes. A general tax on energy consumption combined with a technology-centric policy that promotes entrepreneurs and investors who develop low-energy intensive products can be a good starting point from where they can gradually move towards a direct carbon tax. Another near-term approach can be a ‘cap-and-tax’ which combines the strengths of both quantity and price approaches. Cap-and-tax might also address the concerns of environmentalists that a price-based approach does not impose hard constraints on emissions.
  • Africa as a priority region
  • ountries must negotiate and share policy experiences and researches in this area. They also must decide upon the appropriate forum to discuss and implement any such mitigation policy. The WTO could be the preferred forum, given the important nexus between international trade and climate change. Finally, any prospective policy regime must give the highest importance to the African continent. A rapidly growing African economy must then be able to learn from past lessons without having to choose between economic growth and climate change mitigation.
  • A carbon tax policy might not seem a magic wand, but it is also less likely to face political opposition and compromise while creating new sectors for businesses and growth.

Triple talaq not fundamental to Islam – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/triple-talaq-not-fundamental-to-islam/article18461925.ece

  • The Supreme Court will be well within its rights to lay down the procedure of divorce as per Koranic principles
  • When the five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court began hearing petitions challenging the validity of instant triple talaq, halala and polygamy, there was a tizzy of excitement across India, especially in Muslim circles. The expectation was that these practices would be struck down as unconstitutional as demanded by some Muslim women’s groups. But the judges have made it clear that they will be examining only triple talaq now.
  • A case of misplaced priorities
  • it was the apex court which had asked for the registration of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in October 2015 to be put up before an appropriate Bench. Muslim individuals and groups impleaded themselves in the case only after the PIL was registered.
  • Surprisingly, the case in which the PIL was ordered — Prakash v. Phulavati , (2016) 2 SCC 36 — had nothing to do with the Muslim law.
  • It pertained to the rights of Hindu daughters under the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.
  • The Supreme Court’s self-registered PIL brought into sharp focus Muslim issues which, despite their gender discriminatory and un-Islamic nature, did not deserve to be prioritised.
  • deed, amid a storm of media hype, one of these issues — triple talaq — metamorphosed into a convenient stick in the hands of majoritarian forces to beat the Muslims with.
  • It was politicised to the extent that it became a topic of heated debate during the recent U.P. elections as though it was the only problem facing Muslim women.
  • A look at the 2011 Census would reveal that out of a total Muslim female population of 83.97 million in India, about 2.12 lakh are divorced. The census, however, does not tell us by what legal procedure these women were divorced. Therefore, even the hypothetical presumption that all these women were divorced instantly would not take the number of triple talaq-divorced Muslim women in India beyond quarter per cent of their population — 2.12 lakh is just 0.25% of 83.97 million.
  • Compare this to the fact that a whopping 48.1% of Muslim women in India are illiterate as per the same census, which no Muslim women’s group seems to be aware of.
  • Nonetheless, to answer the question raised by the Supreme Court, instant talaq ( talaq-e-bid’a ) has no basis in the Koran and, therefore, is not fundamental to Islam.
  • Divorce in Islam
  • And as per the Koran, only after four serious attempts at reconciliation (which includes arbitration) is a Muslim husband permitted to utter the first divorce, which is followed by a three-month waiting period called iddah . If within iddah the marital dispute gets resolved, conjugal relations may be resumed without undergoing the procedure of remarriage. But after the expiry of iddah the husband can either re-contract the existing marriage on fresh and mutually agreeable terms or irrevocably divorce his wife — in the presence of two witnesses — by pronouncing the final talaq.
  • This is the only method of divorce mandated in the Koran. Other forms such as talaq-e-bid’a, talaq-e-hasan , talaq-e-ahsan and talaq-e-tafweez are concepts of Hanafi jurisprudence. They find no mention in the Koran.
  • it was the Koranic procedure that the apex court endorsed in 2002 when in the Shamim Ara v. State of U.P. case it invalidated talaq not preceded by arbitration or reconciliation attempts between the husband and the wife.
  • In the Koranic view, first divorce becomes effectual only after the parties have gone through the process of reconciliation and arbitration. Divorces uttered without exhausting these options have no legal validity in Islam.
  • The way forward
  • Given the reluctance of Muslim religious bodies in India to give up their sectarian conformism and delegitimise talaq-e-bid’a , the Supreme Court will be well within its rights under Articles 141 and 142 of our Constitution to resort to, in consultation with progressive Islamic scholars, a neoteric interpretation of the terms “talaq” and “Shariat” mentioned in section (2) of The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, and lay down the procedure of divorce in accordance with the egalitarian and gender-just principles of the Koran.
  • In pursuance of this, the Constitution Bench may, without putting the Muslim personal law to the test of Article 13 (1), further clarify, elaborate and enlarge the scope of the Shamim Ara judgment and make the Koranic procedure of divorce ratified in that ruling common to both men and women. This would render the law gender-just by eliminating the need for khula , wherein Muslim women seeking divorce are required to get the concurrence of their husbands or the qazi to get the marriage dissolved.