India, with its growing population and energy demands, faces a multifaceted challenge in balancing its commitment towards economic development with environmental sustainability. However, sometimes the governmental policies primarily designed for social welfare serendipitously end up as tools for environmental conservation. Two such schemes – the Gruha Jyoti and the Shakti schemes, implemented by the Congress government in Karnataka – although not explicitly aimed at combating climate change, have the potential to catalyze positive environmental change. This blog post delves into how the positive aspects of these schemes contribute towards climate change mitigation.
The Gruha Jyothi Scheme, a flagship scheme of the Congress government in Karnataka offers 200 units of free electricity to all residential households in Karnataka. The scheme aims to alleviate the financial burden on families, especially those in economically weaker sections of society. Interestingly, it also incentivizes energy conservation by levying specific consumption limits to avail the benefits. Households which recognize that crossing the 200-unit threshold would incur costs are nudged to adopt measures to keep their electricity consumption in check. This leads to innovative approaches to energy management, such as utilizing energy-efficient appliances like LED lights, and judiciously using electrical appliances by being mindful of turning off lights and fans when not in use. In doing so, the households contribute to reducing India’s overall carbon footprint, aligning with global goals of sustainable energy consumption.
Further, the Shakti Scheme, which provides free travel in government buses for women and members of the transgender community who are domiciled in Karnataka, encourages the use of public transportation. The scheme allows beneficiaries to travel in general and express bus services operated by State-run Road Transport Corporations using the ‘Shakti Smart Card’. This initiative leads to reduced traffic congestion, lower fuel consumption, and consequently, a decline in greenhouse gas emissions. Women and members of the transgender community, who have traditionally been marginalized in environmental discourse, find themselves at the helm of promoting sustainable mobility through their day-to-day choices.
Within the first few days of the Shakti Scheme’s implementation, over 41.81 lakh women (including 11.58 lakh pass holders) benefited, with over 51.52 lakh women availing of free rides on the third day of the scheme (a lakh is equivalent to a hundred thousand). The government reimburses the cost of free travel to corporations based on data from Shakti smart cards or ‘zero tickets’ (free tickets). The scheme led to an increase in demand for more buses to successfully implement the scheme, and the State-run road transport corporations planned to procure 1,894 new buses in response to this demand.
The unintended environmental impact of the Gruha Jyothi and Shakti Schemes aligns with broader international frameworks on sustainable development. Broadly speaking, the impact of these schemes on reducing carbon footprints and promoting sustainable transportation aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Specifically, the Gruha Jyothi scheme embraces the ethos of responsible consumption, aligning with SDG 12, and the Shakti scheme epitomizes the aspirations of SDG 11 by promoting sustainable cities and communities.
In Karnataka, the Gruha Jyothi and Shakti Schemes have evolved into inadvertent allies in the battle against climate change, despite being primarily designed for social welfare. This highlights the importance of recognizing the multifaceted impact of welfare policies. Therefore, policymakers, operating at both the national and international levels, must contemplate these multi-dimensional effects of social welfare policies and evaluate how they could be designed or modified to contribute to climate action. By weaving environmental sustainability into the fabric of social welfare, a synergistic effect can be achieved where social welfare and climate change mitigation advance in parallel. The Government as well as the people of Karnataka are showing the way forward. It is a testament to how the collective actions of individuals, fueled by well-thought-out policies, can make a significant impact on the global challenge of climate change.