Current Affairs, 06th and 07th July 2018
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Special Category Status for states
Context: The Central government has filed a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court expressing its inability to give Special Category Status (SCS) to Andhra Pradesh and said all commitments under the A.P. Reorganisation Act (APRA), 2014 had been addressed.
What is the economic rationale for the demand and how serious are the economic challenges for Andhra?
- When the state was divided, Andhra not only lost a capital but also an important industry hub, which was in and around Hyderabad. The contribution of agriculture to state GDP is higher for Andhra than its neighbouring states.
- In fact, today it is arguably the highest in South. This is also a reflection of a lower level of industrialization and along with it a lower per capita income and again, the lowest in South.
- Much of this is because of Hyderabad, which political analysts argue has gone on to make Telangana, a city-centric state, with the city still an important growth engine and revenue source for Telangana. Today, the per capita income for Telangana is at par with states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and many see this as largely on account of Hyderabad.
What is Special Category Status?
There is no provision of SCS in the Constitution; the Central government extends financial assistance to states that are at a comparative disadvantage against others. The concept of SCS emerged in 1969 when the Gadgil formula (that determined Central assistance to states) was approved.
Some prominent guidelines for getting SCS status:
- Must be economically backward with poor infrastructure.
- The states must be located in hilly and challenging terrain.
- They should have low population density and significant tribal population.
- Should be strategically situated along the borders of neighbouring countries.
What kind of assistance do SCS States receive?
- The SCS States used to receive block grants based on the Gadgil-Mukherjee formula, which effectively allowed for nearly 30 per cent of the Total Central Assistance to be transferred to SCS States as late as 2009-10.
- Following the constitution of the NITI Aayog (after the dissolution of the Planning Commission) and the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC), Central plan assistance to SCS States has been subsumed in an increased devolution of the divisible pool to all States (from 32% in the 13th FC recommendations to 42%) and do not any longer appear in plan expenditure.
- The FFC also recommended variables such as “forest cover” to be included in devolution, with a weightage of 7.5 in the criteria and which could benefit north-eastern States that were previously given SCS assistance. Besides, assistance to Centrally Sponsored Schemes for SCS States was given with 90% Central share and 10% State share.
When was the first Special Category status bestowed?
The NDC first accorded SCS in 1969 to Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Nagaland. Over the years, eight more states were added to the list — Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and, finally, in 2010, Uttarakhand. Until 2014-15, SCS meant these 11 states received a variety of benefits and sops.
Considering special status to any new State will result in demands from other States and dilute the benefits further. It is also not economically beneficial for States to seek special status as the benefits under the current dispensation are minimal. States facing special problems will be better off seeking a special package.
For Prelims and Mains: SCS and associated issues.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: The Law Commission of India has submitted a report to the government recommending “cashless” gambling in sports as a means to increase revenue and deal a blow to unlawful gambling.
- Since it is impossible to stop illegal gambling, the only viable option left is to “regulate” gambling in sports.
- It will increase revenue and deal a blow to unlawful gambling. The money generated can be used for public welfare activities.
- A country as poor as India should not allow ‘legalised gambling’. Such a move would leave the poor poorer and only vested interests want legalisation of gambling.
- Socio-economic and cultural circumstances of the country are not pragmatic to accept legalised gambling activities as it is still treated as a social stigma.
- It may also prompt future generations to take unethical paths.
Law commission recommendations:
- The revenue from gambling should be taxable under laws like Income Tax Act, the Goods and Services Tax Act.
- Transactions between gamblers and operators should be linked to their Aadhaar and PAN cards so that the government could keep an eye on them.
- There is a need for classification of ‘proper gambling’ and ‘small gambling.’ Proper gambling would be for the rich who play for high stakes, while small gambling would be for the low-income groups.
- The government should introduce a cap on the number of gambling transactions for each individual, that is, monthly, half-yearly and annual.
- Restrictions on amount should be prescribed while using electronic money facilities like credit cards, debit cards, and net-banking. Gambling websites should also not solicit pornography.
- Regulations need to protect vulnerable groups, minors and those below poverty line, those who draw their sustenance from social welfare measures, government subsidies and Jan Dhan account holders from exploitation through gambling.
- Foreign Exchange Management and Foreign Direct Investment laws and policies should be amended to encourage investment in the casino/online gaming industry. This would propel tourism and employment.
For Mains: Legalize gambling- need, concerns, challenges in regulation and solutions.
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
ICAT releases First BS-VI engine certificate
Context: ICAT has completed the first BS-VI certification for a heavy-duty engine model for M/s Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicle Limited.
What are BS norms?
The BS — or Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. India has been following the European (Euro) emission norms, though with a time-lag of five years.
Difference between BS-IV and the new BS-VI:
The major difference in standards between the existing BS-IV and the new BS-VI auto fuel norms is the presence of sulphur. The newly introduced fuel is estimated to reduce the amount of sulphur released by 80%, from 50 parts per million to 10 ppm. As per the analysts, the emission of NOx (nitrogen oxides) from diesel cars is also expected to reduce by nearly 70% and 25% from cars with petrol engines.
Why is it important to upgrade these norms?
Upgrading to stricter fuel standards helps tackle air pollution. Global automakers are betting big on India as vehicle penetration is still low here, when compared to developed countries. At the same time, cities such as Delhi are already being listed among those with the poorest air quality in the world. The national capital’s recent odd-even car experiment and judicial activism against the registration of big diesel cars shows that governments can no longer afford to relax on this front.
With other developing countries such as China having already upgraded to the equivalent of Euro V emission norms a while ago, India has been lagging behind. The experience of countries such as China and Malaysia shows that poor air quality can be bad for business. Therefore, these reforms can put India ahead in the race for investments too.
Facts for Prelims:
- The International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT)is a division of NATRiP implementation society (NATIS), under the administrative control of the Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Government of India.
- ICAT is the first of new world-class centers established under the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) with the main objective of carrying out Research & Development besides extending homologation facilities in the field of Automotive Engineering.
- For Prelims: BS Norms and composition.
- For Mains: BS norms- implementation- issues, challenges and solutions.
Topic: Awareness in space.
Parker Solar Probe
Context: NASA puts finishing touches to 430,000mph Parker Solar Probe that will launch next month to help predict devastating solar storms.
About the Parker solar probe:
What is it? NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission will revolutionize our understanding of the sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds. Parker Solar Probe will travel through the sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.
Journey: In order to unlock the mysteries of the sun’s atmosphere, Parker Solar Probe will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun. The spacecraft will fly through the sun’s atmosphere as close as 3.9 million miles to our star’s surface, well within the orbit of Mercury and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before.
Goals: The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.
Parker Solar Probe has three detailed science objectives:
- Trace the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the solar corona and solar wind.
- Determine the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind.
- Explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energetic particles.
Why do we study the sun and the solar wind?
- The sun is the only star we can study up close. By studying this star we live with, we learn more about stars throughout the universe.
- The sun is a source of light and heat for life on Earth. The more we know about it, the more we can understand how life on Earth developed.
- The sun also affects Earth in less familiar ways. It is the source of the solar wind; a flow of ionized gases from the sun that streams past Earth at speeds of more than 500 km per second (a million miles per hour).
- Disturbances in the solar wind shake Earth’s magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts, part of a set of changes in near-Earth space known as space weather.
- Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. The more we learn about what causes space weather – and how to predict it – the more we can protect the satellites we depend on.
- The solar wind also fills up much of the solar system, dominating the space environment far past Earth. As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean.
- For Prelims: Parker solar probe, living with a star program.
- For Mains: Study of sun- significance and how it helps in better understanding of earth.
Topic: indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
ISRO conducts pad abort test
Context: ISRO recently conducted the first ‘pad abort’ test critical for a future human space mission. The Pad Abort Test demonstrated the safe recovery of the crew module in case of any exigency at the launch pad.
What is PAT?
PAT (pad abort test) is the first in a series of tests to qualify a crew escape system technology of a manned mission in the future.
What is Crew Escape System?
It is an emergency escape measure to quickly pull the astronaut cabin along with crew out to a safe distance from launch vehicle during a launch abort.
Topic: Conservation related issues.
4 species added to recovery programme by Wildlife Board
Context: National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) recently added four species into the center’s recovery Programme for critically endangered species. This decision will lead to targeted conservation of these species whose population is on the decline.
The species are Northern River Terrapin, Clouded Leopard, Arabian Sea Humpback Whale and Red Panda.
- Terrapins have been exploited for illegal trade across borders, especially for its meat and carapace. Clouded leopard and Red Panda are facing habitat loss and poaching threat for their meat, medicine and pelts.
- While the Northern River Terrapin is largely found in West Bengal, the clouded leopard is found in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim and Assam while the Red Panda is largely found in Sikkim, western Arunachal Pradesh, North Bengal and parts of Meghalaya.
- Arabian Sea Humpback Whale is facing threats from accidental entanglement in fishing gears, ship strikes and seismic explorations. Humpback whales migrate towards India’s west coast from Oman and there have been several instances of these gargantuan species getting beached on Maharashtra’s long coastline.
Species recovery programme: The species recovery programme of the Union Environment Ministry is implemented under Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats — a centrally sponsored umbrella scheme for management and conservation of parks, wildlife habitats and conservation.
- Started in 2008-09, IDWH is meant for providing support to protected areas (national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation reserves and community reserves except tiger reserves), protection of wildlife outside protected areas and recovery programmes for saving critically endangered species and habitats.
Facts for Prelims:
Species already included in the recovery programme: Snow Leopard, Bustard (including Floricans), Dolphin, Hangul, Nilgiri Tahr, Marine Turtles, Dugongs, Edible Nest Swiftlet, Asian Wild Buffalo, Nicobar Megapode, Manipur Brow-antlered Deer, Vultures, Malabar Civet, Indian Rhinoceros, Asiatic Lion, Swamp Deer and Jerdon’s Courser.
India is a party to the International Whaling commission that is committed to the protection of whales and its habitats in Indian waters.
National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is a statutory Board constituted in September 2003 under Section 5 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The NBWL is chaired by the Hon’ble Prime Minister.
Facts for Prelims:
‘Sambal’ scheme: What is it? It is a power bill waiver scheme and subsidised power scheme for labourers and poor families launched by the Madhya Pradesh Government.
- Under the scheme, the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families would be provided electricity at a cost of 200 rupees per month. The objective of this scheme to make sure that all the households have power facility in the state.
- What is it? It is the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years. It is located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. It is famous for a 19th century outburst that briefly made it the second-brightest star in the sky.
- Why in News? It is accelerating particles to high energies, some of which may reach the earth as cosmic rays.
Gaming University In Andhra Pradesh:
- Context: UNESCO has entered into an agreement with Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB) to establish a ‘Gaming Digital Learning Hub’ in Vishakhapatnam.
- The Design University for Gaming will help UNSECO to develop edutech gaming in state, with the target of providing 50,000 jobs in 10 years.
Editorial: India’s Double-digit GDP growth is doable
India’s $2.2 trillion economy makes it the seventh largest in the world in terms of nominal GDP (and the third largest in PPP terms), but the country’s per capita income is less significant.
With a per capita income of $1,700, India ranks well behind some of the key emerging markets, like China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico, and Turkey.
Context: Getting GDP to grow by 10 per cent in real terms, though not impossible, is quite challenging. As a nation we need to aim for a high target and then set the house in order to enable various elements to deliver this kind of growth. This has been the goal of the government and a lot has been done to provide the right environment through a series of reforms.
Given that in the last three years growth has come down from 8 per cent to 6.7 per cent, it looks unlikely there will be big-bang growth in the next couple of years; it is more likely to be gradual.
Looking back at times of Crisis and booming:
Interestingly, if one looks back to see whether this number has been reached, it can be observed that during 2005-08 India had recorded an average growth of around 9.5 per cent, which was just before the financial crisis.
Subsequently, the spliced series reveals that during 2009-11 growth came in at just below 9 per cent. There is a cruel disruption in the Indian growth story of almost a decade.
Soon after 2008 global financial crisis, there were expectations that there would be resurgent India growing fast at double digit or more on a sustained basis for 30 years.
So, by 2030, India becomes world’s top 3 economies. However, due to policy paralysis from 2011 to 2014 and unprecedented structural changes from 2014 till present has not allowed the economy to grow as expected.
The second is consumption. Low income is still prevalent in the country and has come in the way of spending. In the last decade or so, growth has benefited households at higher income levels where consumption tends to be satiated and hence does not provide the impetus for consuming more goods, except at the margin where the households go in for higher branded products.
Therefore, if this gap can be plugged by creating more jobs and hence incomes, there is vast potential for bringing about accelerated growth in consumption which is a prerequisite to higher GDP growth.
what needs to be done?
Broadly speaking, there are three segments that have to grow at high rates on a continuous basis.
The first is agriculture, which has to be resilient and grow continuously to keep the economy moving in an upward trajectory. Past experience shows that high GDP growth has been associated with years when agriculture grew by 4-5 per cent.
For this to materialise farm output has to be resilient and grow in an unhindered way. Every time agriculture slips, it has a ricocheting impact on other sectors as rural spending comes to a standstill. Therefore, while agriculture has a 15 per cent share in GDP, it has to be kept moving independent of monsoons on a sustained basis.
Also, a single crop failure leads to high inflation which has an impact on overall spending, interest rates and investment ultimately. Such supply-shock led inflation has always come in the way of higher growth.
Building on industry:
The second is industry, where the two building blocks would be manufacturing and construction. This segment has to register 10 per cent growth continuously for the overall growth number to clock 10 per cent. This has to change for which support has to come from investment and consumption.
Also, a greater role has to be played by the private sector. But clearly we need to resolve the NPA (non-performing asset) issue and grow the bond market as funding is a major necessity for growth.
The NPA problem, along with the requisite capital requirement, will take another two years to resolve and hence achieving the 10 per cent mark is still some distance away.
Construction, which is part of industry, would however be the easier goal to achieve as the focus of all governments has been on developing infrastructure, especially roads and urban development.
Add to this the emphasis on affordable housing, and one can see acceleration in growth which will bode well to linked industries such as steel, cement, machinery and metals.
Service sector matters a lot:
The service sector has three parts which have to necessarily grow by over 10 per cent each, which again is not impossible given that such growth rates have been witnessed in the past.
Individually, various components such as trade, transport, finance, real estate, and public administration have registered over 10 per cent growth in different years. It is, therefore, important that all of them should be clocking this kind of growth in a year to get a headline number of above 10 per cent.
Two challenges remain on this front.
- The first is that the banking sectorhas to be in order before growth can pick up. In fact, along with real estate this segment has been an under-performer since RERA and the NPA recognition norms kicked in.
- Second, the government sector has to play a progressive roleon a continued basis, but this is becoming difficult given the fiscal path that has been chosen. In the past when this sector grew rapidly, growth was enabled by higher fiscal spending, which is not possible today.
The expectation of a double-digit growth rate in GDP is definitely well-founded. Also, while touching 10 per cent is okay the goal must be to sustain this level for at least five years to generate jobs and move the poor out of the trap.
More investments in agricultural sector, increased private investments, focus on reviving MSMEs will help to give the necessary fillip. Thus, the Indian economy will see an upturn soon thereby galloping towards one of world’s fastest growing economy in the world.
Thus, India’s macroeconomic front is reasonably sound. It is possible to take risk to economic boost. Growth has to come from private sector. If the government tries to expand and tries to spend out of its way, it will hit the macroeconomic situation. Fiscal deficit ceiling cannot be breached.
The private sector in India depends on government to give signal which is problematic. GST, IBBI enactment, fiscal ceiling are the solid measures to put the growth trajectory on sound footing.
Spare capacity can be defined as large investment opportunities, especially in infra space where the lacunae present scope for higher doses of capital formation. Even today, the US does pump prime the economy by spending on infra, which has come down in quality and requires renewal.
If a country has perfect roads, power, water supply, telecom and ports, then there would be less scope for fresh investment. But with large gaps in most of these sectors, India has opportunity for leveraging the same to grow just like China did in the 1980s and 1990s to reach the position it is in today.
The global institutions report said that India’s millennial population of 400 million is the largest in the world and is armed with around $180 billion in spending power and with high smartphone adoption and widespread availability of mobile broadband infrastructure, it will become a disruptive force faster than most businesses expect.
The population dynamics will therefore be a key force in shaping India’s overall growth trajectory and also in shaping how product markets will develop as the preferences of the population evolve.
The reports, however, noted that the demographics factor alone is not sufficient for an acceleration in GDP growth. It is important that the working age population is adequately skilled to participate in a globalised competitive environment.
The next leg of harnessing this young and better skilled population would require creation of adequate employment opportunities, which is an opportunity for India if consciously used.
Current Affairs, 07 July 2018
Topic: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.
National Green Tribunal
Context: Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has been appointed the chairperson of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
About the National Green Tribunal (NGT):
What is it? NGT has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
Ambit: The tribunal deals with matters relating to the enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property.
Sanctioned strength: currently, 10 expert members and 10 judicial members (although the act allows for up to 20 of each).
Chairman: is the administrative head of the tribunal, also serves as a judicial member and is required to be a serving or retired Chief Justice of a High Court or a judge of the Supreme Court of India.
Selection: Members are chosen by a selection committee (headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India) that reviews their applications and conducts interviews. The Judicial members are chosen from applicants who are serving or retired judges of High Courts.
Expert members are chosen from applicants who are either serving or retired bureaucrats not below the rank of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India (not below the rank of Principal Secretary if serving under a state government) with a minimum administrative experience of five years in dealing with environmental matters. Or, the expert members must have a doctorate in a related field.
- The Tribunal is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.
- The Tribunal’s dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts.
- The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.
For Prelims and Mains: NGT- establishment, composition, roles, powers and functions.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
Chief Justice of India as ‘Master of Roster’
Context: The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the “master of the roster,” the Supreme Court has reaffirmed, declining to accept former law minister Shanti Bhushan’s suggestion that the CJI consult his collegium colleagues –the top four judges after him in seniority –in allocating cases to various benches.
Supreme Court’s observations:
Position of CJI: CJI is the master of roster in allocating cases to different benches and his power cannot be delegated to collegium comprising of CJI and four senior most judges. Although the constitution is silent on the CJI’s role as the master of the roster, his power is based on a healthy practice and “convention aimed at maintaining discipline and decorum.” He is described as “first among equals.”
Moral responsibility of CJI: SC highlighted that the CJI owes a moral responsibility to his colleagues and the public at large while flexing his powers as ‘Master of Roster’ to allocate cases. “Absolute discretion” cannot be confined in just one man, the CJI.
Qualities for a CJI: The court listed some of the qualities a CJI should possess as the Master of Roster, including balance, fortitude, moral courage and independence of mind. Also, as the court’s spokesperson, it is the CJI’s duty to usher in and administer reform as a continuous process.
What does ‘master of the roster’ mean?
- ‘Master of the Roster’ refers to the privilege of the Chief Justice to constitute Benches to hear cases.
- This privilege was emphasised in November last year, when a Constitution Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, declared that “the Chief Justice is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted.”
- It further said that “no Judge can take up the matter on this own, unless allocated by the Chief Justice of India, as he is the master of the roster.”
- The immediate trigger for this was a direction by a two-judge Bench that a petition regarding a medical college corruption case, involving an alleged conspiracy to bribe Supreme Court judges, be heard by a Bench fo the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
Undoubtedly, the chief justices enjoy a special status and they alone can assign work to a judge sitting alone and to the judges sitting in division bench or full bench. They have the jurisdiction to decide which case will be heard by which bench. If judges were free to choose their jurisdiction or any choice was given to them to do whatever case they may like to hear and decide, the machinery would collapse and the judicial work of the court would cease by generation of internal strife on account of hankering for a particular jurisdiction or a particular case.
- For Prelims: CJI- appointment and powers.
- For Mains: Master of Roster- meaning, concerns and viable solutions, moral responsibilities of CJI.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Issues related to health.
National Health Stack
Context: NITI Aayog has proposed creation of National Health Stack (NHS), a centralized health record for all citizens of the country, in order to streamline the health information and facilitate effective management of the same.
Need for a database:
- India today is witnessing significant trends in health: increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases for instance, as well as marked demographic shifts. Climbing out-of-pocket costs is becoming difficult for most households.
- The proposed NHS is an approach to address the challenge and seeks to employ latest technology including Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning Artificial Intelligence, a state of the art Policy Mark-up Language and create a unified health identity of citizens – as they navigate across services across levels of care, i.e. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary and also across Public and Private.
The innovativeness of the proposed National Health Stack design lies in its ability to leverage a shared public good – a strong digital spine built with a deep understanding of the incentive structures of the system. Once implemented, the National Health Stack will significantly bring down the costs of health protection, converge disparate systems to ensure a cashless and seamlessly integrated experience for the poorest beneficiaries, and promote wellness across the population.
For Mains: NHS- need and significance.
Topic: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
Uttarakhand HC declares animal kingdom a legal entity
Context: The Uttarakhand high court has declared the entire animal kingdom, including birds and aquatic animals, as a legal entity having rights of a “living person”. The move aims to ensure “greater welfare” of animals.
- The entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic ones, are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.
A legal entity means an entity which acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, whose acts are processed within the ambit of law. This means the animal kingdom could be represented by a custodian.
- Invoking Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said: “Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word ‘life’ means animal world”.
- The court cited a 2014 Supreme Court judgment to say any disturbance from the “basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animals life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution”.
As part of the judgment, the court has issued following directions:
- Create an animal welfare committee in every districtof the state. All citizens of Uttarakhand shall be “persons in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent). This gives them the responsibility to protect animals and ensure their welfare.
- The court also gave directions ranging from the amount of load allowed to be pulled by various animals in accordance with the kind of carriage being pulled to the amount of riders per carriage.
- Further banning the use of spike or other sharp tackle or equipment on the animal, the court also directed the state government to ensure that if temperature exceeds 37 degree Celsius or drops below 5 degree Celsius, no person be permitted to keep in harness any animal used for the purpose of drawing vehicles.
- The court also went into the aspect of animal safety, highlighting the need for fluorescent reflectors in carriages and animals, certificates of unladen weight of vehicles, compulsory shelter of suitable size for horses, bullocks and stray cattle and a direction to the veterinary doctors of Uttarakhand to treat any stray animals brought to them or by visiting them.
- The court said as the carts driven by animals have no mechanical devices, animal-drawn carriages have to be given Right of Way over other vehicles.
The order came in response to a public interest litigation seeking directions to restrict the movement of horse carts/tongas between Nepal and India through Champawat district and highlighted that ailing, infirm and old horses were being abandoned by the owners in the Indian territory.
This order will go a long way in building a compassionate society as it was illogical to treat sentient creatures as inanimate objects.
Facts for Prelims:
Uttarakhand high court in March last year accorded the status of “living entity” to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, a decision subsequently stayed by the Supreme Court.
- For Prelims: Legal entity- meaning.
- For Mains: Animal Kingdom as a Legal entity- need, challenges in implementation of the judgment and solutions.
Topic: Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
IAS officers for village outreach
Context: A battalion of Central government IAS officers has been drafted to ensure on the ground implementation as the Centre races to saturate 117 “aspirational districts” with seven flagship social welfare schemes by Independence Day.
What’s the plan?
At least 800 Deputy Secretaries, Under-Secretaries and Director-level officers, drawn from Ministries as diverse as Defence and Urban Affairs, have been assigned about 75 villages to visit, as part of the Extended Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (EGSA) from June 1 to August 15. In total, 49,178 villages — most with a majority SC/ST population — are being targeted.
- Over the two-and-a-half month period, these Central officials are being absorbed into EGSA duty for at least 15 working days.
- In each village, the Central team convenes a meeting of villagers and beneficiaries along with a State government or district official, a lead bank representative and local officials from the agencies responsible for enrolling people into the schemes.
Central officers could direct the local representatives to give immediate sanction for gas cylinders, bank accounts or electricity connections. The teams can also directly input the day’s progress into a data system.
Senior Ministry officials also make direct daily calls to a section of District Collectors to monitor progress, while third-party observers for each district —mostly from NGOs or academia — have been drafted in to do random checks of villages and report back to the Ministry.
The large-scale involvement of Central officers raises questions about the viability of such drives, and about roles in a federal democracy. Questions are being raised about Centre-State relations under this model, in an election year.
Direct connections to the district administration tend to bypass State administrations, while sending out large Central teams to do the work of local officials fails to empower local human resources.
About Gram Swaraj Abhiyan:
- The campaign, undertaken under the name of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Gaon, Sabka Vikas”, is to promote social harmony, spread awareness about pro-poor initiatives of government, reach out to poor households to enroll them as also to obtain their feedback on various welfare programmes.
- As a special endeavour during the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, saturation of eligible households/persons would be made under seven flagship pro-poor programmes in 21,058 identified villages.
- The programmes covered are Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Saubhagya, Ujala scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Mission Indradhanush.
- For Prelims: Aspirational districts programme, Gram Swaraj Abhiyaan.
- For Mains: Deployment of Central officers- concerns, threat to the spirit of cooperative federalism and issues to be addressed.
Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications.
Nasscom unveils centre for data, AI
Context: The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), India’s premier software lobby, has opened a Center of Excellence (CoE) for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in Bangalore.
- Nasscom also signed a MoU with NITI Aayog to collaboratively foster applied research, accelerating adoption and ethics, privacy and security.
Centre of excellence:
The CoE initiative is a nationwide programme on innovation, focusing on solutions in smart manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, agriculture, energy, IoT, banking and financial services, retail, telecom, and host of emerging technologies.
The center aims to “support SMBs, by fast-tracking their product development, provide market access to enterprises and assist them by co-creating programs along with other industry partners and start-ups to solve complex and real-world business problems.”
With the aim to strengthen the country’s AI ecosystem, the CoE and MoU, both aim to serve as a platform for intelligence-sharing and technology collaboration between stakeholders to build collective capabilities for the industry and country in the cutting-edge areas artificial intelligence.
- It is a trade association of Indian Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
- Established in 1988, NASSCOM is a non-profit organisation.
- NASSCOM facilitates business and trade in software and services and encourages the advancement of research in software technology. It is registered under the Indian Societies Act, 1860.
- It has over 2000 members, of which over 250 are companies from China, EU, Japan, the U.S. and the UK.
Facts for Prelims:
Context: India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri Lanka to operate the country’s loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota.
- It is dubbed as the “world’s emptiest airport” due to a lack of flights.
- The airport infrastructure was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport was officially opened in March 2013.
- The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.
Editorial: India’s forest cover: What data shows
Editorial: India’s forest cover: What data shows
The Delhi high court will hear a petition challenging the felling of 16,000 trees to build houses for government employees in Delhi. The hearing comes in the wake of growing protests over the felling of 16,000 trees.
On the face of it, the protests appear surprising in a city which has claimed to have witnessed a spectacular rise in green cover since the turn of the 21st century.
According to official estimates of the Forest Survey of India, Delhi has witnessed a whopping 73% rise in forest cover between 2001 and 2017, the third highest gain among all states and Union territories (UTs).
However, the official and alternative estimates suggest that the Forest Survey of India estimate may be grossly overstating the true extent of forest cover in the national capital, and in the nation.
Official estimates might be overstating forest cover in India:
While the official data suggests that India has been able to increase green cover since the turn of the century, alternative estimates provided by Global Forest Watch, (GFW) —a collaborative project of the University of Maryland, Google, USGS, and Nasa—suggests that green cover has declined sharply in the country.
The main reason for the stark difference in the two estimates seems to lie in the definition of forest cover used by Forest Survey of India.
Forest Survey of India employs satellite imagery to estimate “forest cover”, considering “all lands which have a tree canopy density of more than 10% when projected vertically on the horizontal ground, within a minimum areal extent of one hectare” as forests.
This definition fails to distinguish between native forests and man-made tree plantations, overstating the extent of forest cover.
While the Convention on Biological Diversity has a similar definition of forests, it mentions that the land in question should not be under agricultural or non-forest use.
A 2010 study by researchers from Pondicherry University and James Cook University, Australia, described the Forest Survey of India results as “technically accurate but misleading”.
As in the case of Forest Survey of India, the GFW database relies on satellite data for estimation of “tree cover”, employs similar criteria as Forest Survey of India, and a similar resolution of satellite imagery.
Therefore, the “forest cover” defined by Forest Survey of India and “tree cover”, defined by the GFW are comparable in terms of both definition and accuracy.
However, the GFW definition is stricter as it only considers vegetation that is taller than 5 metres in height. It is this difference that seems to explain the striking differences in results obtained from the two data sources.
Diversion of forests for industrial and development projects without settling forest dwellers rights and without their free and prior informed consent has been indiscriminately carried out.
Cumulative loss of tree cover between 2001 – 2017:
While the latest estimate of tree cover extent from GFW is of 2010, data on loss of forest cover is updated annually. The tree cover loss for Indian states shows an accelerating trend in recent years, with the heavily forested north-eastern states, Odisha, and Kerala showing the greatest amount of tree cover loss in the period 2001-2017.
However, the official data represents that Kerala gained 30% forest cover in the same period. This can be explained by the fact that Kerala is one of the biggest producers of plantation crops in India, with rapidly growing plantation crops likely compensating for the loss of native forest cover.
According to the GFW data, all states and union territories with the exception of Chandigarh show a decline in the extent of tree cover in the time period 2000-2010. In contrast, in terms of official data, 28 of 36 states and UTs have registered an increase in forest cover.
Since the GFW data adopts a globally consistent definition, it enables international comparison of the extent of tree cover loss, and the results do not paint a pretty picture. India ranks 14th among all countries in tree cover loss in the decade 2000-2010.
“India is ranked 10th in the world, with 24.4% of land area under forest and tree cover, even though it accounts for 2.4% of the world surface area and sustains the needs of 17% of human and 18% livestock population.”
Communities are the best managers for the governance and conservation of forests:
Forest Survey of India reports show that forest cover in tribal districts, constituting 60% of the country’s total forest cover, contradicted the national trend and increased by 3,211 sq. km over 2001-03.
In Odisha alone, more than 12,000 self-initiated forest protection groups cover more than 2 million hectares of forest.
These community-led initiatives have successfully regenerated forests by adopting sustainable- use practices, regeneration through traditional knowledge of forests and species, guarding and penalizing poachers, among others.
India’s diverse forests support the livelihoods of 250 million people, providing them firewood, fodder, bamboo, beedi leaves and many other products. The timber currently benefits the state treasury.
There is a need of revamping India’s forest policy. But the latest draft overlooks the ecological and social implications of carbon and production forestry and the need for decentralised democracy. Thus, there is a need to have a re-look.
India posted a marginal 0.21% rise in the area under forest between 2015 and 2017, according to the biennial India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017. The document says that India has about 7,08,273 square kilometres of forest, which is 21.53% of the geographic area of the country (32,87,569 sq. km).
Getting India to have at least 33% of its area under forest has been a long-standing goal of the government since 1988.