Insights Daily Current Affairs, 30 September 2017
Insights Daily Current Affairs, 30 September 2017
Topic: Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Should Bengaluru get a directly-elected mayor with a five-year term and more powers?
Bengaluru got its 51st mayor recently. However, despite this `worshipful’ post of the first citizen of the city having been in existence for more than half a century, the role of the mayor of Bengaluru has largely remained a ceremonial one. The Kasturirangan committee report on Bengaluru’s urban governance released in 2008, had termed the post as “a one-year wonder intended only for ceremonial purpose.“
Time and again there has been talk about revisiting the mayor’s role. The latest was in 2015, when the BBMP Restructuring Committee recommended a directly-elected mayor with a five-year term.
Need for directly elected mayors:
- While there are multiple reasons for India’s urban woes, one of the underlying problems is the absence of powerful and politically accountable leadership in the city. Our cities have a weak and fragmented institutional architecture in which multiple agencies with different bosses pull the strings of city administration.
- Currently, the head of the municipal corporation, the mayor, is merely a ceremonial authority and executive decisions are carried out by the municipal commissioner appointed by the state government.
- An elected mayor with substantial powers of his own not only provides a single point for negotiations with outside agencies and investors but also ensures greater coordination among the different city departments and promotes decisive decision making.
- A popularly elected mayor with a fixed tenure also offers more stability in governance as the person is not dependent on the elected members of the council or on the local or state level political leadership for his survival in office. A stable leadership can also afford to roll out long term plans that will ensure major changes in the cities political and economic landscape.
The concept should face the following challenges before it becomes a reality:
- State governments do not wish to delegate more authority to city-level institutions. Often, urban resources are transferred to rural areas in the name of development. Even if the mayor is directly elected, the state governments can refuse to devolve power and resources, effectively reducing him to a figurehead.
- Municipal commissioner also, sometimes, becomes hurdle. Even if some powers are delegated to the municipality, the state governments have in place municipal commissioners to perform the executive functions, again cutting the mayor to size, the nature of mayoral election notwithstanding.
- If a directly elected mayor belongs to a party in minority in the municipality, it becomes difficult to get other municipality members on board in taking decisions. This was witnessed in Himachal Pradesh, which ultimately led to the scrapping of this system.
- Also, a mayor executing projects will tend to gain popularity at the expense of the local legislator whose job is to legislate and scrutinise the performance of the executive. A legislator will always see the directly elected and empowered mayor as a potential future rival and will do everything in his command to undercut his authority.
- It is also widely felt that elected mayors may blur the lines between the three tiers of government: the Union, the states and the local self governments.
Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Govt data shows India’s infant mortality rate has declined 8%
The latest data from Sample Registration Survey (SRS) show that India’s infant mortality rate (IMR) declined from 37 per 1000 live births in 2015 to 34 per 1000 live births in 2016. However, there is still a long way to go to meet the 2019 target of IMR 28 per 1000 live births.
What is IMR?
Infant mortality rate (IMR) is the number of deaths per 1,000 live births of children under one year of age.
- There has been a significant 8% decline in country’s IMR, even though more infants are dying in the rural areas. IMR in rural India is 38 per 1000 live births as compared to 23 in the urban areas.
- The data shows 90,000 fewer infants died in 2016 as compared to 2015. The total number of estimated infant deaths has come down from 9.3 lakh in 2015 to 8.4 lakh in 2016.
- What is more encouraging is that the gender gap in India for child survival is reducing steadily. The data shows that the gender difference between female and male IMR has reduced to below 10%.
- The government’s family planning programme seems to be going in the right direction, with the data showing a major drop in number of estimated births in a year which has come down to below 2.5 crore from 2.6 crore.
Significance of these findings:
The results signify that the strategic approach of the government has started yielding dividends and the efforts of focusing on low performing states is paying off. The countrywide efforts to increase the health service coverage through various initiatives, including strengthening of service delivery and drugs and diagnostics have worked well.
Topic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Centre notifies wetland rules
In a major decision, the union environment ministry notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 which prohibit a range of activities in wetlands like setting up and expansion of industries, waste dumping and discharge of effluents.
The new rules will replace the 2010 version of the rules.
- The new rules stipulate setting up of a State Wetlands Authority in each State and union territories that will be headed by the State’s environment minister and include a range of government officials. They will also include one expert each in the fields of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socioeconomics to be nominated by the state government.
- These authorities will need to develop a comprehensive list of activities to be regulated and permitted within the notified wetlands and their zone of influence, recommend additional prohibited activities for specific wetlands, define strategies for conservation and wise use of wetlands, and undertake measures for enhancing awareness within stakeholders and local communities on values and functions of wetlands. Wise use is defined as the principle of sustainable uses that is compatible with conservation.
- The State authorities will also need to prepare a list of all wetlands of the State or union territory within three months, a list of wetlands to be notified within six months, a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands within one year which will be updated every ten years.
- The rules prohibit activities like conversion of wetland for non-wetland uses including encroachment of any kind, setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries, manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances and construction and demolition waste, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements.
Why are few environmentalists not happy with these rules?
The new Wetland Rules have laudable objectives. However, it falls short in details. At the outset, the identification process by the State Wetland Authority does not distinguish between existing wetlands and especially those past wetlands which have been encroached and can be proved through legal documents.
- It also does not take into account the Jagpal Singh judgment of Justice Katju for restoration of encroached wetlands throughout the country.
- Provisions like “central government may consider proposals from the state government or union territory administration for omitting any of the (prohibited) activities on the recommendation of the authority” in the new rules can be misused.
- Another major objection is about the process of appeal against the decisions of wetland authorities. According to the 2010 rules, anyone aggrieved with the CWRA’s decisions could have filed an appeal with the National Green Tribunal, but the new 2017 rules are silent on the appeal process.
- The other big gap is the subjective definition of “wise use” which is to be determined by the state wetland authority. While the subject head talks about restrictions and the activities listed are to be prohibited, the provision gives ample space for undoing everything that ought to be prohibited.
What are wetlands?
Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water. They support rich biodiversity and provide wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge and others.
- But they are threatened by reclamation and degradation due to activities like drainage and landfill, pollution, hydrological alteration (water withdrawal and changes in inflow and outflow), over-exploitation resulting in loss of biodiversity and disruption in ecosystem services provided by them.
- There are at least 115 wetlands that are officially identified by the central government and of those 26 are identified as wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention which is an international intergovernmental treaty for conservation of wetlands. India is a party to the treaty.
Topic: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention.
Government Checking Report On Law To Deal With Internet Hate Speech
The Home Ministry is examining a report given by a high-level committee formed to propose new laws or amendments to deal with hate speech on the internet. The committee, headed by TK Viswanathan, has submitted a report on this to the Home Ministry recently.
The committee was formed after the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act. Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet. A conviction can fetch a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.
Considering the growing menace of hate speech and abuse on the internet in the absence of the provision, the committee was reportedly set up to propose new laws and amendments in existing laws.
Suggestions made by the committee:
- Section 78 of the IT Act needs to be substituted and Section 153 and 505A of the Indian Penal Code need to be amended.
- Section 78 primarily dealt with capacity building and needs to be relooked at with a view to sensitise law enforcement agency officers. Under it, a police officer of the rank of inspector or above was empowered to investigate offences.
- Each state should have a State Cyber Crime Coordinator which should be an officer not below the rank of Inspector General of Police.
- Each district to have a District Cyber Crime Cell headed by an officer not below the rank of sub-inspector.
Sources: the hindu.