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- The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018 has been introduced in India’s Parliament
- It aims at creating a national DNA database for use by the police in solving crimes and identifying missing persons
Use of DNA samples
- Using DNA effectively during criminal investigations requires proper crime scene examination, trained and reliable policing, a trusted chain of custody of samples, reliable analysis, and proper use of expert evidence in court
- Without these prerequisites, a DNA database will exacerbate rather than solve problems in the criminal justice system
- Many errors occur before samples get to the laboratory
- False matches or misinterpretation or planting of evidence, and diverting resources could lead to miscarriages of justice
Privacy protections not given in the bill
- An important one is the need to restrict DNA profiling so that it uses only non-coding DNA, a commonly used international standard for one, which prevents the use of parts of the DNA which code for personal characteristics, including medical conditions
- Any international sharing of DNA profiles should also be covered by a privacy or data protection law, and meet international human rights standards
- It is a best practice to separate the databases for missing persons and for criminals set up by the Bill so that people who volunteer their DNA to help find their missing relatives are not treated as suspects for criminal offences
- Provisions allowing the use of these databases for civil cases, for example, to test paternity, should be deleted from the Bill
- Volunteers must be fully informed about future storage and uses of their genetic information before they give consent
What more needs to be done?
- The requirement for laboratory accreditation in the Bill should include quality assurance for crime scene examination
- Consideration should be given to an independent forensic science regulator to ensure oversight of both laboratory quality assurance and crime scene examination
- There is also a need for elimination databases for police, crime scene examiners and laboratory workers, whose DNA may contaminate the evidence they touch
- Provisions which give the government or the DNA Profiling Board the power to amend aspects of the safeguards in the Bill, and to avoid accountability in court, should be deleted
- Important safeguards and a cost-benefit analysis are still lacking for this Bill
- The Bill needs further improvement, and full parliamentary scrutiny should be utilised to achieve that end
- The Supreme Court of India heads towards a decision on the validity of Article 35A of the Constitution of India.
- The Union government is not defending the case but has left it to the court. That can be attributed to the ruling BJP’s agenda of scrapping the special status of the state altogether.
- Scrapping of the special laws would close the last opening for reconciliation in Kashmir and therefore in South Asia
What is Article 35 A?
- It is a constitutional provision that allows the Jammu-Kashmir assembly to define permanent residents of the state.
- According to it a Permanent Resident is defined as a person who was a state subject on May 14, 1954, or who has been residing in the state for a period of 10 years, and has “lawfully acquired immovable property in the state”.
- It was brought in by a presidential order in 1954 in order to safeguard the rights and guarantee the unique identity of the people of Jammu-Kashmir.
- The Article was introduced larger Presidential Order package, which made several additions to the Constitution (not just Article 35A).
- Initially Kashmir was conceived as a State with “special status”.
- The controversial Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947 brought the State into the Union of India gave New Delhi control only over Kashmir’s defence, foreign policy and communications
- It enjoyed limited sovereignty under the protection of India.
- Furthermore New Delhi’s international commitment to hold a plebiscite in the State to decide its eventual fate further complicated the issue.
- It is because of this weak India-Kashmir constitutional link that Sheikh Abdullah became “Prime Minister” of Kashmir; the State had its own Constituent Assembly and flag; there were customs checks between India and the State; the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction over key issues in the State; Kashmir militia was constituted as a separate force; and Srinagar tried to send its own trade commissioners to foreign countries.
- With the coming into effect of the Indian Constitution in January 1950, New Delhi’s powers over Jammu and Kashmir were defined more clearly through a Presidential Order (a predecessor of 1954 Order).
- The overall gist of this Order was to give the Government of India enormously more powers over the State than it had enjoyed before.
- For the first time, India’s fundamental rights and directive principles were applicable to Jammu and Kashmir and the State’s finances were integrated with India and the order also extended the Indian Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over certain aspects of Jammu and Kashmir
- The view from the Right is that by striking down Article 35A, it would allow people from outside Jammu-Kashmir to settle in the state and acquire land and property, and the right to vote, thus altering the demography of the Muslim-majority state.
- Thus the constitutional validity of the Article is challenged as it goes against the “very spirit of oneness of India” as it creates a “class within a class of Indian citizens”. And it discriminates against a woman’s right to property.
- The state’s two main political parties, PDP and NC, contend that there would be no J&K left if this provision is tampered with.
- The Centre had, however, refused to take a stand on the issue.
- India’s effort to bring Kashmir into its need is to have some kind transparent democratic process.
- And regarding the removal of article 35, it must be an expression of the will of the people, through a political process which includes the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the discussion.
- The impact of climate change are no longer risks that exist in the distant future
- A recent HSBC Global Research report found India to be the most vulnerable of the 67 countries assessed for their vulnerability to and preparedness for climate change risks
Huge investments required to combat climate change
- The government aims to source 175 GW of power from renewables by 2022 and for nearly 57 per cent of total electricity capacity to come from non-fossil fuels by 2027
- It has been estimated that approximately $100 trillion of additional investment will be required between 2016 and 2030 to sync the imperatives of global development with that of addressing the challenge of climate change
- Financing clean energy infrastructure, sustainable transport, energy efficiency and waste management are among the key imperatives today
Green finance gaining traction
- Globally, green finance is gaining prominence as a medium to raise funds for environment-friendly and climate-resilient projects
- Investors are keen to put more of their cash into low-carbon, sustainable projects and those requiring capital
India needs more green finance
- In India the concept of green financing is nascent
- Measures to encourage green-bonds could help raise finances needed to “green” India’s economy
- Some of these can be:
- Reduce some of the regulatory constraints that currently hamper international investments as well as local pools of capital
- Guidelines asking provident funds, pension funds and insurance companies to invest a portion of their assets under management in green bonds
- The government could offer tax incentives to encourage mutual fund and other onshore investors to invest in local green bonds
- India could also look at issuing a sovereign green bond, like France did to great effect last year
- Diversifying the green bond market beyond project finance assets into corporate loans, and working more with mid-sized companies (mid-cap market), will go a long way towards building up the green financing ecosystem
- Allowing banks to claim “priority sector benefits” on their green investments would also help
- Amid all the issues that concern us — poverty, education, employment, health — it is easy to forget that global warming is one of the most critical challenges we face
- We need to do a lot more and a lot sooner or risk an environmental crisis
- The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve (KBR) of Sikkim, the highest biosphere reserve in the country that includes the third highest mountain peak in the world, Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), has been included in the UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserve (WHBR).
- The decision was taken at the International Coordinating Council of Man and Biosphere Reserve Programme, UNESCO, in its 30th Session held at Palembang, Indonesia.
- With the inclusion of the KBR, one of the highest ecosystems in the world, reaching elevations of 1,220 m to 8,586 m above sea level, the number of biosphere reserves from the country included in World Network of Biosphere Reserves has increased to 11.
- The last biosphere reserve to be included was the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in Kerala in 2016.
- The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was the first reserve from the country to be included in the WNBR.
- India has 18 biospheres reserves, of which 11 have been included in the WNBR.
- Sikkim, with a population of about 6 lakh, gets15 lakh tourists annually.
- The inclusion of the KBR in the UNESCO list will boost the unique ecosystem of Sikkim on two counts: collaborative research and tourism.
- This development will boost international research collaboration relating to flora, fauna and ecosystem of the KBR.
The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve
- The biosphere reserve comprises 41% of the entire geographical area of Sikkim.
- Of the 2,931 sq km area of the KBR, 1,784 sq km is the core area of the biosphere sphere, 835 sq km buffer area and 311 sq km comprises transition area between habitation and the biosphere reserve.
- Eighty six per cent of the core lies in the Alpine zone and the remaining portions are located in the Himalayan wet temperate and sub-tropical moist deciduous forest.
- The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve is one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots that has good species diversity with high levels of endemism, with many mountains, peaks, lakes, caves, rocks, stupas (shrines) and hot springs.
- There are 4,500 species of flowering plants in the KBR, including 424 medicinal plants and 36 rhododendrons, 60 species of primulas and 11 varieties of oaks.
- The biosphere reserve has also listed 362 species of ferns.
- Over 118 species of the large number of medicinal plants are found in Dzongu Valley in north Sikkim.
- Many species protected under the Wildlife Protection Act have their home in the KBR.
- This includes the Red Panda, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Beer and herbivores species of Musk deer, Great Tibetan Sheep, Blue Sheep, Boral and Barking Deer.
- Over 500 species and sub-species of birds, including high-altitude pheasants — Monal Pheasants, Tragopan Pheasants and Blood Pheasants (the State Bird) — are also found in the reserve.
- The Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), which comprises the core area of the KBR, was inscribed as India’s first “Mixed World Heritage Site”.
- The government has imposed a safeguard duty (SGD) on solar cells and modules from China and Malaysia, effective 30 July
- About 85% of India’s solar cells come from both countries
- The argument for such a trade intervention is the rising “dependency” on China on one hand and economic and employment loss on the other
- From an environmental, economic as well as (energy) security standpoint, such tariffs are unfortunately counterproductive
- India’s current production of solar cells and modules is much less sophisticated and not competitive enough to replace the Chinese product
- Catching up with China would require tremendous capital investment—with no promise of return as the decreasing prices further reduce profit margins
- China can offer low prices due to economies of scale
Time to act is now
- Germany’s solar industry has already experienced this conundrum
- Once prosperous and driven by subsidies, it could not keep up with China’s low-cost production
- It has the same problem with another technology too
- Today, nine out of 10 batteries are produced in China, South Korea or Japan
Impact on employment
- Import tariffs will raise the general price levels for solar cells and solar photovoltaic power plants, the number of installations will drop and employment will be affected
- Solar cell and module production is a highly automated process, which requires high-end precision machines rather than headcount
- The real job potential is in installation and maintenance
- It is this field which will be negatively affected
Consumers will also suffer
- Ultimately, the consumer will pay the premium
- Higher energy prices drive costs while lower energy prices drive the economy
- A growing economy increases energy demand—and prices if energy supply does not grow accordingly
- An import tax on solar cells ironically undermines India’s own magic formula for the energy transition
- India wants an effective carbon emissions reduction along with economic development and electrification of the country
Imports can continue from China
- Instead of a threat to India’s security and economy, China’s subsidized solar sector can be seen as a gift
- China practically pays for India’s energy transition, which will help to end the dependency on fossil fuels and will reduce the effects on climate and public health in the long run
- Given the chance to get the transition subsidized by another country, the Indian government’s introduction of the SGD seems irrational
- It will increase solar power rates to around ₹3 per unit, diminish employment potential, reduce power supply, and drive up energy prices
- The ambitious target of 175GW renewable energy capacity by 2022—now raised to 227GW—could lead to a price drop in energy prices if realized
- Coal, often pushed as the perfect energy source for India, will further lose its significance
- This is why the energy transition is inevitable
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