Wednesday January 22, 2020
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Patel quota demand: A genuine need or a political game? 

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By Vishakha Mathur

With the agitation at its peak and violence rising every day, one begets the question on what all this is about and if in fact, it is worth the trouble. The same community, which stood against the government of Solanki in 1985, protesting the then quota-system, is now asking for an OBC status for itself, so that it gets more benefits in a country where millions of people are not able to acquire even two square meals a day.

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The Patels today have become a cause of major agitation creating ripples for the government in Gujarat and the one at the Centre. This whimsical move by the Patels is leading us to a debate on the validity of the quota-system and its relevance in today’s time.

Decoding the reservations

Reservations, in India, are considered to be an affirmative action by the government, towards classes, castes or communities that have suffered discrimination in the past and do not have access to adequate opportunities for development. Since these communities have experienced a history of disadvantages, the developmental progress couldn’t have reached them without making special provisions.

With this view, the Mandal Commission was formed in 1979 to set the benchmark for a community to qualify as a “Backward” and be included in the OBC list to receive the benefits given by the government. The commission came up with a total of 3,743 communities to be included in this list based on three parameters: economic, social and educational.

Recognizing  a class as backward on the basis of the work they did, constituted the social parameter.

The castes/classes with 25% of the population living in kuccha houses, 50% having access to drinking water within 12kms of their house and average family assets below 25% were considered based on the economic parameters.

The educational parameter consisted of measuring the dropout rates. The communities/castes having 25% of dropouts for age group 5-15 years and same percentage of matriculates and same percent of people within the age group never having attended school are considered through this parameter.

Are the Patels really “Backward”?

Now with these parameters in hand, it is very easy to judge whether the Patels deserve the quota or not.

The Patels are one of the leading communities who have firmly established their presence abroad in nations like the UK where Patel is the 24th most common surname and US where “Patel” is ranked 124th among the top 500 surnames according to the 2000 census.

With this information in mind, one can understand that the Patels aren’t as poor as other communities such as Kulhaiya which is a community in northern part of Bihar with an illiteracy rate as high as 73% in some districts like Kishangarh.

Being historically landowners, they were one of the very few communities that benefitted from the British rule. As a result of this, their wealth has increased manifolds and the community hasn’t sunken into depravity- as the revolting Patidars are trying to portray. Keeping this in mind, it is time for the Patels to revaluate themselves against the standing conditions of the communities that are a part of the OBC list.

Patels have forgotten the reason behind affirmative action. It is not to give advantages to the average one, rather it is to give advantages to the disadvantaged ones. Patels have never suffered through the tedious times that other backward castes have been through. Therefore, their need for inclusion into OBC category is far-fetched.

Smoke without fire?

Nothing builds out of air, and I believe, so does this protest. The reasons as to why this community is completely acting up might be unclear, but it is sufficient to say that at least something is going wrong in the state; for a community like Patels, who have time and again supported Modi and his government, is now protesting against them for their rights despite having a good share in the state government.

It is being argued that the Patels might not be getting their fair share of advantages, which is why they are now standing up against the government. Going deep into this argument, it might appeal to some that this has been a phenomenon since quite some years, but the Patels couldn’t find appropriate grounds to rise and demand their rights earlier when Mr. Modi was in power. But now, seeing that the government relies heavily on their support, they believe that it is now rather easy to get whatever they want.

This entire reason would indicate that the so called “Gujarat model” has not been as successful as it is being projected as. This community may not have benefited from the model due to their reduced share of the business opportunities, as they have been subjected to ill-effects of fragmented land-holdings.

Despite all this, the Patel agitation demanding an OBC status for themselves does not seem appropriate, because if the Patels get this status then almost all communities and castes can demand the same, defeating the entire purpose of affirmative action. Instead of this violent protest, a peaceful dialogue with the government might help them in getting what they really want.

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2019 Was a Year of Climate Change Activism

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Hungary Climate Protest
Following the call of Fridays For Future Hungary and Extinction Rebellion Hungary young environmentalists demonstrate to demand measures against climate change in Budapest, Hungary. VOA

By Jamie Dettmer

2019 was the year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and an uptick in climate action pledges by governments across the globe.

From Britain to Germany, Europe’s mainstream party leaders scrambled to respond to a surge in electoral support for Green parties — and to growing public anxiety about the possible impact of climate change.

During European Parliament elections in June, 48 percent of voters identified climate change as their top worry. Opinion polls in Germany for some weeks of 2019 put the Greens ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s storied Christian Democratic Party, which, along with its junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, has been racing to sharpen climate policies.

Greta Thunberg climate
15-year-old Swedish girl Greta Thunberg holds a placard reading “School strike for the climate” during a manifestation against climate change outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, Sweden. VOA

British move

In Britain, the ruling Conservatives announced a hugely ambitious carbon reduction plan, enshrining into law a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so. Some smaller countries, including Finland and Norway, are earmarking dates earlier than 2050 to become net-zero greenhouse gas producers, but so far have not made their goals legally binding.

In America, an alliance of 24 states and Puerto Rico promised to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate action, despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the international pact.

Shouldn’t all these plans and pledges be music to ears of climate action activists and scientists?

Apparently not. On the eve of Christmas, Thunberg tweeted: “I hear many say 2019 was the year when the public woke up to the climate crisis. This is a misconception. A small but rapidly growing number of people have started to wake up to the climate crisis. This has only just begun. We’re still only scratching the surface.”

For Thunberg, her guardians and loyalists, change can’t come fast enough, however wrenching and dislocating it might be. Governments aren’t doing enough and are failing to count their emissions accurately, they complain, and corporations are dragging their feet.

For activists, December’s Madrid climate change conference epitomized the foot-dragging and a failure to be truly aspirational in cutting emissions. For Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion activists in Britain and Australia, the key task for the Madrid gathering was to unveil ambitious new goals — and fossil-fuel-dependent countries, notably Brazil and Australia, flunked it, they say.

The-COP-25-conference-center-in-Madrid
The COP 25 conference center is seen in Madrid. VOA

Rich vs. poor

The rift between wealthy, developed nations and poorer, developing nations over who is going to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions also remained as wide as ever. And governments in Madrid stalled on agreeing on new regulations for carbon markets and the trading of carbon permits between countries for the offsetting of emissions, one of the most critical and contentious issues at the climate change conference.

“In Madrid, the key polluting countries responsible for 80 percent of the world’s climate-wrecking emissions stood mute, while smaller countries announced they’ll work to drive down harmful emissions in the coming year,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S.-based climate action advocacy group. “World leaders dithered instead of taking stronger, critical action soon to reduce the global climate threat. They ignored dire scientific reports, worsening evidence of climate destruction and demands from millions of young people to protect their future.”

For others, though, the Madrid conference symbolized how politically complicated it will be to deliver climate action — a complexity activists ignore and glide over, some analysts warn. The venue for the conference itself spoke to that. The meeting was scheduled to be held in Chile, but it had to be switched to Spain because of riots in the Latin American country over a “Green” hike in transit fares.

And it wasn’t only in Chile that protesters were taking to the streets to complain about expensive Green policies that could make living standards plunge. In France, the Yellow Vests, drawn mainly from small towns, persisted with their demonstrations against the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, an agitation triggered initially by the imposition of higher eco-taxes on fuel.

The year 2019 also saw strong resistance in Germany from motorists, as a well as automakers, to planned higher fuel prices and an abrupt shift to electric cars — yet another front in a political backlash to climate action.

Climate Europe Coal
Smoke rises from chimneys of the Turow power plant located by the Turow lignite coal mine near the town of Bogatynia, Poland. VOA

Tricky politics

For governments, even environmentally friendly ones, climate change poses a massive political dilemma, and 2019 brought that home. Impose the tax hikes and costly regulations scientists say are needed to lower emissions and move economies away from dependency on fossil fuels, and governments risk prompting a backlash, largely from lower-income workers and pensioners, who can ill afford to bear the expense.

The alternative is to move slowly and risk blowback from climate action activists and their supporters among largely middle class and higher-income groups able to adapt with less hardship. Squaring the circle between those who demand fast-track climate-friendly measures and those who want to slow down and mitigate the impact of moving toward a low-carbon future isn’t going to be easy, say analysts.

In Europe, Central European governments sense the acute political danger to them and have been resisting a European Union plan to join Britain in earmarking 2050 as the year the bloc has to be “net zero.”

Poland has been especially vociferous in opposition. The country is heavily dependent on coal for its energy needs and more than a quarter-million Polish jobs are tied to the fossil fuel industry. Without coal, many towns in Poland will have no economic raison d’être. “You can’t expect Poland to leap to zero carbon in 30 years,” according to Marchin Nowak, a coal industry executive.

Also Read- Just 1 Dose of the HPV Vaccine May Prevent Infection: Study

While smaller developing countries fret that they will bear too much of the burden of climate action compared with richer nations, so, too, do those who already feel left behind in developed countries, fearing the costs and benefits of climate action will be unfairly placed on their shoulders. 2019 saw the opening salvos in this new political war over environmentalism. (VOA)