IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains Focus)- 11th April 2018
The NITI NE Forum
Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Inclusive development
- Providing air connectivity between various State capitals of the North-Eastern States.
- Inclusion of Bangladesh in India’s ‘Act East’ policy.
- Imparting education and job skills to English-speaking youth.
- Bringing about wholesome economic development of the region.
The first-ever meeting of NITI NE Forum held here on Tuesday.
About the forum:
- The forum, set up at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February, has been given the task of identifying constraints that hamper socio-economic development of India’s most neglected region and streamlining resources available for its growth.
- Set up under the policy think-tank NITI Aayog, the forum would work closely with the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region and the North Eastern Council and have senior bureaucrats from the States and the Centre, policy makers, and other experts as members.
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TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
India-Nepal relations: Going forward
Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s earlier nine-month tenure as PM in 2015-16 had seen relations with India hit a new low. It thus made eminent sense to begin his second term on a positive note.
Unlike the first tenure, which began on the sour note of the Madhesi agitation against the new constitution, this time he has come to power with convincing election victories.
From all accounts, the Nepalese PM’s recent visit to India went well but it will take pragmatism and patient nurturing on both sides to restore the trust and confidence.
- Nepal’s political transition began nearly three decades ago when it adopted a new constitution in 1990 which ushered in multiparty democracy. However, stability eluded Nepal with a spreading Maoist insurgency. In the process, the gains of democracy were eroded.
- After a decade-long insurgency, which claimed 15,000 lives, followed by a reconciliation, an interim constitution was introduced and the ground prepared for yet another exercise in constitution drafting.
- This seven-year exercise finally produced a new constitution in 2015.
Nepal abolished its 250-year-old monarchy and emerged as a federal republic.
- Last year, 2017, was a year of elections in Nepal. Local body elections were held after a gap of 20 years. This was followed by the elections under the new constitution for the national parliament (the House of Representatives and the National Assembly) and the seven Provincial Assemblies which concluded earlier this year.
A rethink in Delhi:
In New Delhi too, there has been a growing realisation that time had come to make a new beginning with Nepal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in August 2014 had marked a new high in relations, but Mr. Oli’s nine-month tenure in 2015-16 was marked by acrimonious exchanges.
- India’s openly stated reservations on the new constitution in support of the Madhesi cause.
- The economic disruptions caused by the undeclared blockade had fuelled anti-Indianism.
- Last year, Mr. Oli visited Rasuwagadhi on the Nepal-Tibet border and announced that it would be upgraded as a road and rail hub between China and Nepal.
Compared to the Joint Statement issued in August 2014 at the time of Mr. Modi’s visit, the latest one is much shorter and talks about strengthening relations on the basis of “equality, mutual trust, respect and benefit”.
Issues still not covered in the lastes joint statement:
Difficult issues, including-
- A review of the contentious 1950 Treaty.
- Recruitment of Nepali nationals in the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army.
- Resolving the fallout of the 2016 demonetisation exercise which has left the Nepal Rastra Bank holding a stock of Indian currency.
- Long-pending hydel projects like Pancheshwar.
- Resumption of the SAARC summit process which remains stalled since 2016 after Jaish-e-Mohammed militants attacked the Army base in Uri.
- The need for an inclusive political process.
Do not find any mention.
Yet it is a step forward:
There is a realisation in Delhi that cultural and historical ties between the people in both countries are important but just as for India, globalisation offers new openings to Nepal too.
China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative offers Nepal an option that may end up carrying unacceptable baggage but at least appears attractive at first.
Poor Project implementation:
For decades, India has been Nepal’s most significant development partner. Yet the pace of project implementation has been slow, leading to significant time and cost over-runs.
To be fair, both India and Nepal share the responsibility for this.
- The idea of four Integrated Check Posts (ICP) on the India-Nepal border to facilitate movement of goods, vehicles and people was mooted 15 years ago and an MOU signed in 2005.
While preparation of surveys and project reports moved slowly on the Indian side, acquisition of land by the Nepali authorities got held up leading to delayed construction. As a result, only the Raxaul-Birgunj ICP has been completed.
- The two Prime Ministers also witnessed the ground breaking ceremony of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline, a project for which the MOU between the two governments was signed in 2004.
It took another three years for the Indian Oil Corporation and the Nepal Oil Corporation to sign the follow-up MOU, eight years to convert it into an agreement and three more to begin the works.
- More examples abound with the hydro-electric sector being the prime example.
Nepal’s installed hydel capacity is less than 700 MW while it sits on a hydel potential of over 80,000 MW and has to import electricity from India during the lean season. Given that over 60% of the Ganga waters come from Nepal’s rivers (Sarda, Ghagar, Rapti, Gandak, Bagmati, Kamala, Kosi and Mechi) and 80% of these flows take place in monsoon months, the imperative for effective water management for both irrigation and power generation is evident, and yet this sector has languished for decades.
What is now needed is effective delivery on the pending projects, the remaining ICPs, the five railway connections, postal road network in the Terai and the petroleum pipeline so that connectivity is enhanced and the idea of ‘inclusive development and prosperity’ assumes reality.
Connecting the dots:
- Pragmatism has finally taken root in Delhi and Kathmandu. Project implementation will be the test. Discuss.
TOPIC: General Studies 3:
- Infrastructure: Energy
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
Rooftop solar revolution led by DISCOMs: The SRISTI scheme
India’s rooftop solar ambitions are yet to gather momentum.
Incentives offered by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in the form of capital subsidies and a net metering policy, which allow consumers to sell excess power to distribution companies (DISCOMs), have failed to catalyse rapid deployment.
- Capacity addition in rooftop solar stood at around 870 megawatt (MW) in 2017, as compared to the targeted 5,000 MW for FY 2017-18.
- As of December 2017, cumulative rooftop solar installed capacity was only 1.6 GW.
At the current pace of deployment, rooftop solar installations are unlikely to cross even 10 GW by 2022, far short of the targeted 40 GW under India’s National Solar Mission.
The Sustainable Rooftop Implementation for Solar Transfiguration of India (SRISTI) scheme:
It was announced recently.
The SRISTI scheme is an evolutionary step towards a DISCOM-driven model of rooftop solar adoption.
This scheme can incentivise DISCOMs to lead a rooftop solar revolution.
The scaling up of rooftop solar offers great socio-economic benefits.
As per estimates by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the deployment of rooftop solar creates 24.7 full-time equivalent jobs per MW, significantly higher than the corresponding figure of 3.5 jobs per MW for utility-scale solar.
Realising 40 GW target would provide employment to 2,38,000 people.
DISCOMs, however, consider rising rooftop solar penetration as a threat to their business. Rooftop deployment, especially in the commercial and industrial category, has a two-fold impact on DISCOMs’ businesses-
- A reduction in demand for grid electricity leads to revenue losses.
- Since this segment cross-subsidises residential and agricultural consumers, these revenue losses compound the financial burden on DISCOMs.
Over the past 10 years, tariffs for grid power have risen at an annual rate of 7 per cent. On the other hand, the costs of rooftop solar systems and battery technologies have been declining.
As their competitiveness improves further, an increasing share of consumers will make the shift away from grid power.
The SRISTI scheme represents the perfect means for DISCOMs to capitalise on the opportunity presented by rooftop solar.
The proposed Rs. 14,400-crore incentive fund under the scheme would compensate DISCOMs for their revenue losses.
In order to maximize the benefits for DISCOMs, we propose five ideas that could accelerate rooftop solar deployment.
- There is a need to debunk the narrative of rooftop solar being a threat to the DISCOM business. Adoption of rooftop solar within the boundaries of the distribution network offers certain inherent economic benefits to DISCOMs.
Solar generation close to the point of consumption lowers transmission and distribution losses.
Further, targeted solar deployment in select geographies could minimise the problems of grid overloading, thereby lowering the requirements of investment for upgradation of distribution infrastructure.
- DISCOMs must raise consumer awareness to create demand for rooftop solar.
Given their limited penetration, solar PV systems are still an unfamiliar technology for many. Further, the lack of awareness of various incentive schemes and processes also contributes to the problem of weak demand. Moreover, many consider it as an expensive alternative to grid electricity despite solar tariffs dipping below Rs. 5 per kWh for small-scale projects.
DISCOMs could utilise their existing bill collection and payment networks to disseminate information, thus reducing a major barrier to rooftop solar adoption.
- DISCOMs could enable developers to expand their service areas beyond their regional geographies.
Given the widespread network of DISCOMs, they could provide certain additional services to developers such as bill collection and operations and maintenance. The opportunities for these services are the greatest in remote areas where such services are prohibitively expensive for developers.
Such facilities also offer opportunities for building new revenue streams to DISCOMs.
DISCOMs have been unwilling participants in India’s rooftop solar revolution so far. However, an alignment of interests could see DISCOMs champion the cause of rooftop solar.
Connecting the dots:
- At the current pace of deployment, rooftop solar installations are unlikely to cross even 10 GW by 2022, far short of the targeted 40 GW under India’s National Solar Mission. DISCOMs can be a game changer and the SRISTI scheme launched recently shows the way. Discuss.
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