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9 March 2017 Editorial

 

9 MARCH 2017

Dire straits

There is no certainty about the circumstances that led to the killing of a Tamil Nadu fisherman somewhere between the Indian and Sri Lankan coast on 6 March 2017 night. There is no telling who pulled the trigger — whether it was the Sri Lankan Navy or some armed group. It is also not clear where the shooting took place, whether in Sri Lankan waters or elsewhere. Unmistakably though, this was a tragedy waiting to happen, the direct fallout of the long-standing dispute between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen over fishing rights in the Palk Bay. While the Sri Lankan Navy denies it had a hand in the killing, the shooting exposes the lack of progress in the implementation of the agreement between the two countries on preventing loss of life while managing the fishing dispute through official channels. Last year, the two countries agreed on establishing a Joint Working Group(JWG) on fisheries to help resolve the dispute. A hotline between the Coast Guards of India and Sri Lanka, convening of the JWG once in three months, and meetings of the fisheries ministers every half-year were the components of the mechanism to be put in place. But short-term measures lose their efficacy in the absence of any forward movement toward long-term solutions. Without arriving at a settlement on sustainable exploitation of the marine resources that would end the use of bottom trawlers from Tamil Nadu, India and Sri Lanka will not be able to ensure incident-free fishing in the strait.

Although instances of Indian fishermen crossing into Sri Lankan waters have always been commonplace, the consequences for such transgressions in recent years have been limited to seizure of boats and prolonged detention. Unlike during the period of Sri Lanka’s war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, when its Navy indiscriminately shot at boats and trawlers fearing smuggling of contraband by the Tamil rebels, the last few years have seen few instances of firing at fishermen. But to view Monday’s killing as an aberration is to underestimate the political and economic contours of the problem. After he returned to power in 2015, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Indian fishermen who crossed the maritime boundary to fish in another country’s territorial waters would be fired upon. Indian fishermen, who invoke traditional rights to justify their incursions, want a three-year phase-out period before they end trawling. But unless they take to deep- sea fishing, and inland alternatives, India’s fishermen will be locked in a conflict with their Sri Lankan counterparts as well as with a hostile Sri Lankan Navy.

 

Staying cool

India has launched the second phase of the programme to eliminate the use of hydrochloroluorocarbons (HCFC) as part of its commitment under the Montreal Protocol, which requires the complete removal of chemicals that result in ozone depletion and aid global warming. These are used mainly in the air conditioning, refrigeration, polyurethane foam manufacturing and cold chain sectors, and must be replaced with better alternatives. All these sectors are in high growth mode as emerging economies witness greater urbanisation and higher agricultural productivity. The data for refrigerant consumption during 2015 compiled by the European Union show that in the developing world, split air-conditioning units, car ACs and commercial refrigeration record the highest use of these chemicals. It is imperative the Central government ensures that its efforts to upgrade industries using the $44.1 million in funding available under the Protocol are scaled up to meet the need fully. Modernising the technology used by 400 industrial units, many of them small and medium enterprises, by 2023 has to be complemented by policy changes that encourage adoption by consumers. Systemic change requires the active participation of State governments, which can enact and enforce new building codes and purchase regulations that are envisaged in the current phase. Newer refrigerants with lower global warming potential are available to industry, and there are some early adopters, while research on chemicals with greater energy reduction and very low contribution to global warming has to continue. Credentialed training of service technicians in the newer technologies is welcome as it will bring about change of refrigerants used in the repair and replacement market and create additional employment. It is important to make consumers aware of green options among products in terms of the underlying technologies, and incentivise adoption through tax structures.

The Environment Ministry’s proposal to prescribe energy-efficient temperature limits for air-conditioning units in public facilities is promising. A lot of energy is wasted because of poor infrastructure and lack of understanding of efficiency metrics. Equally, the Centre should conduct audit of public buildings to determine whether they are suitably designed, as climate control relies as much on passive influences such as insulation, green roofing and the nature of materials used in construction. It is possible, for instance, to adopt the Paris idea and ask all major buildings to incorporate solar panel roofing or suitable green cover. The continued success of the Montreal Protocol in its goal to eliminate HCFCs by 2030 will depend on reducing the acquisition costs of cleaner technologies. The greater affordability of solar photovoltaic power and its rapid adoption at various scales is a clear pointer. More people will have access to air-conditioning and refrigeration in coming years, and the focus of government policy must be to make them energy-efficient and eco-friendly.

 

 

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