India Has A History Of Flawed Climate Change Policies. Here’s Why

Under the Paris Agreement, India has been spearheading the clean energy revolution in Asia and has set itself ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions and follow sustainable development by generating 175 gigawatts of renewable energy (RE) by 2022.

In order to achieve its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) goals, India requires a whopping $200 billion as climate finance. The USA’s exit from its erstwhile commitments under the Green Climate Fund coupled with the shift in priorities under the Trump administration adds pressure on India and other developing countries to generate climate finance independently and place less reliance on international aids and subsidies. For this, India has started developing its climate finance instruments by economic liberalisation and following international practices.

In recent years, India has introduced ‘green bonds’- an innovative financial instrument to fund the RE sector. Green bonds have been successfully issued by several large corporate and financial institutions such as Yes Bank, Axis Bank and Hero Future Energies which have raised millions of dollars.

In May 2017, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) recognised and legitimised the use of these debt instruments and had laid down detailed disclosure guidelines which need to be followed for the issuance of green bonds. Among other norms, the SEBI laws mandate that the funds raised through green bonds must be utilised specifically for specified purposes such as RE projects, clean transportation, climate adaptation, sustainable waste management, land use and water management projects. The disclosure norms also mandate continuous end use monitoring and performance evaluation through an external audit to ensure that the issuer is utilising the funds efficiently and not misappropriating them towards other purposes.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also legitimised the issuance of ‘masala bonds’ which are debt instruments denominated in Indian currency. One emerging variant of the ‘masala bond’ is the ‘green masala bond’ which is a green bond denominated in Indian currency. “Addressing climate change is a priority for IFC in India, and the ‘green masala bond’ demonstrates the powerful role of capital markets in mobilizing international savings to help close the climate finance gap,remarked Jingdong Hua, Vice President, International Finance Corporation.

The green bond market in India is developing at a robust pace clocking an impressive 30% growth from 2015 to 2016. The primary factor driving the success of the green bond mechanism can be attributed to the robust regulatory monitoring mechanisms in place. This framework not only increases investor confidence in these instruments but also minimises the scope for corruption and misuse of funds by ensuring that the resources are allocated exclusively towards the earmarked purposes.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about all of India’s climate finance structures. One glaring example of systemic and pervasive corruption in this regard is the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) which is funded by the carbon tax. The carbon tax system in India is inherently flawed due for several reasons. Firstly, it is an indirect tax which transfers the ultimate burden on the consumer instead of the producer. This defeats the purpose of the levy because it does not affect the profits of the producer and consequentially fails to act as an effective deterrent against coal and does not adequately encourage a shift to renewable energy. In addition, it increases the cost of access to electricity for the poor Indian consumers who do not have access to alternative sources of electricity.

Secondly, the carbon tax system is not in consonance with internationally recognised practices such as adherence to the ‘polluter pays principle’, implementation of emissions trading schemes, the principle of ‘revenue neutrality’ as well as other effective practices. Further, the rate of this unsound tax has rapidly escalated since its inception in 2010 and currently stands at ₹400 per metric tonne of coal which is disproportionately high for the Indian economy.

This regressive tax policy begs the question: where is all the public money going and what is it being utilised for? As things stand, the nation-wide cess collected from the carbon tax is channelled into the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). The NCEF is a non-lapsable earmarked fund which is to be exclusively allocated to support renewable energy projects and aid in climate mitigation efforts. Since its inception, the NCEF has been riddled with corruption and characterised by maladministration.

Till date, only a fractional 30% of the fund has been used to finance RE projects across the country while billions of dollars lie unspent. This is because the NCEF by-laws are extremely restrictive and are available to very few RE projects which have to meet a set of arbitrary qualifications to be eligible for funding. Ironically, the NCEF in its nascent history has been used to fund several unrelated pet projects of the government which have nothing to do with the RE sector.

While innovative RE projects succumb due to lack of funding, the government indiscriminately dips into the NCEF as a general reserve on an ad hoc basis. However, the NCEF’s death knoll came recently with the introduction of a new indirect tax regime in India, i.e. the Goods and Services Tax (GST) whereby the unused funds accumulated in the NCEF amounting to approximately $25 billion have been diverted to a completely unrelated purpose; i.e., compensating states for losses incurred under the GST regime.

It is important to note that the NCEF is the largest Government administered RE dedicated fund and represents a huge quantum of India’s climate finance. In the absence of the NCEF, several innovative RE projects will be halted or even terminated on account of non-availability of finance. “The Fund cannot be treated as an adjunct to the general Budget, wherefrom shortfalls in meeting budgetary requirements of already approved Plan schemes can be met,” said Sunil Mitra, former Finance Secretary of India in an inter-ministerial meeting.

The blatant embezzlement of the NCEF also has spillover effects. It may lead to loss of investor confidence and as a result, may adversely affect the success of green bonds and other financial instruments. This is because the Government’s skewed climate change policies send mixed signals to the international community and consequentially causes regulatory uncertainties. Since regulatory predictability is the cornerstone of investor confidence, the diversion of NCEF may erode India’s reputation for climate finance management amongst the international community as a whole.

The expropriation of the NCEF highlights the failure of the Government to efficiently procure and administer climate finance and casts a looming shadow over India’s 2022 objectives. While the regulatory framework ensures proper governance of private RE funds such as green bonds; the Government’s unchecked discretion indicates a disconnect resulting the climate change policy to remain in a constant state of paralysis.

Prioritizing purely economic policies such as GST over the far more critical issue of climate change is symptomatic of Trump’s administrative regime. At a time when Trump has turned the USA into a traitor in the battle against climate change, the rest of the world cannot afford another country to be trapped in a state of policy paralysis.

Developing nations in Asia depend on emerging leaders such as India and China to lead the clean energy revolution and hence it is vital for India to come out of the current policy paralysis and develop comprehensive and robust mechanisms to enable procurement and proper administration of climate finance.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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