The HINDU Notes – 08th January 2022 - VISION

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Saturday, January 08, 2022

The HINDU Notes – 08th January 2022


📰 NEET counselling can begin under existing EWS criteria: Supreme Court

Court upholds constitutional validity of 27% OBC quota in AIQ seats; Lists final hearing on validity of EWS criteria in March

•The Supreme Court on Friday allowed National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET counselling to proceed while maintaining 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10% for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the All India Quota (AIQ) seats in accordance with a July 29, 2021 government order not to “dislocate” medical admissions this year.

•The ₹8 lakh gross annual family income limit criterion for identifying the EWS, as originally notified by a January 2019 official memorandum and recommended for retention by the government-appointed former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey-led Expert Committee on December 31, 2021, would be implemented for the admission year 2021-2022.

•The court, however, upheld the 27% reservation for the OBCs in NEET’s AIQ seats for postgraduate and undergraduate admissions. There would be no further debate on this aspect.

•The question of the validity of the EWS criteria, including the ₹ 8 lakh income threshold, which have to be implemented in this year’s NEET counselling so as not to upset medical admissions for 2021-2022, would be heard finally and decided upon by the Supreme Court in March third week, a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna noted in its interim order.

•After pronouncing it, Justice Chandrachud clarified orally to the parties that “we have upheld the constitutional validity of the 27% reservation for the OBCs. On the EWS criteria, we have said for this year, the criteria which was notified earlier [January 2019] shall continue to operate to ensure that the admission process for this year shall not be dislocated”.

•The judge continued, “prospectively, and for the future, we will hear the petitions finally on the EWS criteria in the third week of March and rule on that. The ruling will then apply prospectively and for the future”.

•Pronouncing the operative directions in the interim order, the court noted the “urgent need to commence the process of NEET counselling” for 2021-2022.

•Firstly, the court agreed with the government and the Pandey committee that the EWS criteria as stipulated in January 2019 need to be used for the NEET admissions this year so that the entire exercise is not derailed.

•“Counselling for NEET PG 2021 and NEET UG 2021 shall be conducted by giving effect to the reservation provided by the notification of July 29, 2021, including 27% reservation for OBC and 10% reservation for EWS category for the AIQ seats,” it ordered.

•Secondly, it directed that the “criteria for the determination of the EWS, as notified by January 2019 official memorandum, shall be used for identifying the EWS category for candidates who appeared for NEET PG and NEET UG examinations in 2021”.

•Thirdly, it said any further and prospective recommendations made by the Pandey committee, modifying the criteria in the January 2019 memorandum, would be subject to the final result of the adjudication of the case in court.

Doctors’ plea

•The case concerns petitions filed by doctors in August 2021 against the July 29, 2021 notification issued by the Directorate General of Health Services of the Ministry of Health implementing 27% and 10% reservation for the OBC and EWS categories respectively while filling 15% undergraduate and 50% postgraduate AIQ seats under NEET.

•The hearings in the case saw the court raise questions about the ₹ 8 lakh income limit to identify the EWS category as per the January 2019 official memorandum. The Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, which introduced the 10% EWS quota, came into force on January 14, 2019. The court wondered whether there was any application of mind before fixing the ₹8 lakh limit , and whether it was only a “mechanical adoption” of the OBC creamy lawyer cut-off.

•On October 26, the government filed an affidavit maintainingthat the income limit was fixed after “due deliberations”.

•However, on November 25, it stated that it wanted four weeks to review the income criterion for the EWS. It had deferred NEET counselling for the time being.

•The Pandey committee was constituted on November 30 for the purpose. It submitted a report to the government on December 31, supporting the income limit as a “reasonable” criterion for identifying the EWS. It, however, suggested certain other modifications in the EWS criteria, which could be considered for implementation only from the next academic year. It recommended that the existing EWS criteria should retained for NEET admissions in 2021-2022.

•The government supported the Pandey panel recommendation in court and urged the court to allow NEET counselling for 2021-2022 to resume under the existing system as per the July 29, 2021 notification along with the EWS criteria stipulated in January 2019.

•The government’s urgency in court was apparent after doctors clashed with police in the Capital against the delay in NEET admissions even as a public health crisis raged in the country.

📰 The baton of forest restoration in the net zero race

For carbon sequestration, India must revisit its policy framework and reverse fading participation of local communities

•India’s pledge to set a net zero target by 2070, at the COP26 summit, Glasgow, has again highlighted the importance of forests as an undisputed mechanism to help mitigate the challenges of climate change. Though, in more specific terms, this was already highlighted during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) framework (2013) of REDD+ for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, along with the ‘sustainable management of forests for the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks’. In a study by Griscom (2017), land-based sinks (natural climate solutions which also include forests) can provide up to 37% of emission reduction and help in keeping the global temperature below 2° C. Further, recent research has favoured a natural regeneration model of restoration over the existing much-hyped mode of tree planting as such forests are said to secure nearly 32% carbon storage, as per one report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Continued degradation

•Though India is said to have increased its forest cover by 15,000 square kilometres in the last six years, the degradation of existing forests continues. As per the State of Forests Report (1989), the country had 2,57,409 (7.83% of its geographical area) under the open forest category, having a density of 10% to less than 40%. However, in 30 years (2019) this has been increased to 3,04,499 (9.26%). This means every year on average, nearly 1.57 lakh hectare of forests was degraded. This degradation highlights the presence of anthropogenic pressures including encroachment, grazing, fire, which our forests are subjected to. Having diverted nearly 1.5 million hectares of forests since 1980 for developmental activities and losing nearly 1.48 million hectares of forests to encroachers coupled with an intricate link between poverty and unemployment, India is witnessing enormous degradation of forests and deforestation. This warrants the participation of people as an essential and effective route to achieve the desired target of carbon sequestration through the restoration of forests.

Terms of engagement

•In a historic departure from pursuing commercial objectives to supporting the needs of people in a participatory manner (as envisaged in National Forest Policy, 1988), India made its attempt, in 1990, to engage local communities in a partnership mode while protecting and managing forests and restoring wastelands with the concept of care and share. This concept of joint forest management spelt much hope for States and forest-fringe communities. Later, the concept of forest development agencies was introduced to consolidate the efforts in an autonomous model, which paved the way for fund flow from various other sources to joint forest management committees. The efforts to make this participatory approach operative resulted in the formation of nearly 1.18 lakh joint forest management committees managing over 25 million hectares of forest area. Most of these became active and operative while implementing various projects financed by external agencies such as the World Bank, the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) Japan, the Department for International Development (DFID) United Kingdom and the European Union (EU). The similar system of joint management in the case of national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves which existed in the name of eco-development committees initially proved effective as it could garner the support of these participating communities not only for the protection and development of biodiversity but also in the considerable reduction in man-animal conflicts and the protection of forests from fires and grazing.

•However, the completion of the project period and lack of subsequent funding affected their functionality and also the protection of forests due to a lack of support from participating local communities including associated non-governmental organisations.

•Except for the National Mission for Green India, in all other centrally sponsored programmes such as Project Tiger, fire management, Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH) including the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), the lack of priority and policy support to ensure the participation of local communities via the institutions of joint forest management committees slowly made their participation customary. This caused a gradual decline in their effectiveness.

Changed role now

•The role of local institutions of gram panchayat or joint forest management committees is now restricted to be a consultative institution instead of being partners in planning and implementation. This indifference and alienation from the participatory planning and implementation of various schemes further affects the harmony between Forest Departments and communities, endangering the protection of forests. This is more relevant while taking up restoration activities including tree planting outside the designated forest areas where motivation and encouragement of stakeholders (especially panchayats and urban local bodies) are crucial.

•As committed at Glasgow, India will have to ‘focus much more on climate change and devise strategies and programmes to achieve the net zero target’. Besides reducing the quantum of emissions in a phased manner — itself full of challenges — the approaches for carbon storage and offsetting through natural sinks such as forests need to be given equal priority.

Replicate Telangana model

•To achieve net zero targets there is a need to revisit our existing legal and policy mechanisms, incentivise the local communities appropriately and ensure fund flow for restoration interventions, duly providing for the adequate participation of local people in planning and implementation through local institutions. Political priority and appropriate policy interventions (as done recently in Telangana by amending the panchayat and municipal acts for environmental concerns and creating a provision for a Green Fund, or Telangana Haritha Nidhi, for tree planting and related activities) need replication in other States. These should be supported by enabling financial and institutional support mechanisms and negotiations with stakeholders to incentivise local communities to boost efforts to conserve and develop forest resources. Though India did not become a signatory of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, the considerations of land tenure and the forest rights of participatory communities with accelerated finances will help aid steps in the race toward net zero. This inclusive approach with political prioritisation will not only help reduce emissions but also help to conserve and increase ‘our forest cover’ to ‘a third of our total area’. It will also protect our once rich and precious biological diversity.