Insights Daily Current Events Day 6 (October 16, 2013)
A third of Western Ghats to get protective cover
- The Environment Ministry has decided to turn approximately 60,000 square kilometres of the Western Ghats across six States (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) into an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
- The area will turn into a ‘no-go zone’ for mining and thermal power plants i.e., banning mining, quarrying, thermal power plants and polluting industries over the entire range. All other projects would be allowed only with the prior consent of gram sabhas (village councils) in the zone.
- The decision was taken on the lines of Madhav Gadgil and K. Kasturirangan’s report. Going with the recommendations of later, the Ministry has decided to declare the ESA over 37% of the Western Ghats under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- The Western Ghats now would become the largest protected forests in India, ranging over 1,500 km linear distance from the Tapti river in the north to Kanyakumari in the south.
Decisions taken in line with the panel:
- Three criteria that the panel had recommended:
- the use of biodiversity richness,
- fragmentation of forests and human population density to demarcate these forest patches that would turn into a no-go zone for mining, thermal power plants and other dirty industries. The type of industries banned would be those included in the ‘red list’ issued by the government under the Environment Protection Act. These are usually considered to be the most polluting of the lot.
- the hill areas with high population densities be kept out of the ESA ambit.
The above recommendations were approved.
- Within the ESA, prior consent from the gram sabhas and strict adherence to the Forest Rights Act would be made mandatory for any of the projects that are not on the negative list. This too would be done after studying cumulative impacts of the projects in the region.
- Townships and buildings over 20,000 square metres in the region too would not be allowed.
- Hydroelectric projects would be permitted in the ESA but with a new set of strict regulations that the Kasturirangan panel has recommended, including those on maintaining ecological flows in the rivers.The decision on the 163-MW Athirapally in Kerala and 400-MW Gundya in Karnataka to be deferred.
- The moratorium on mining in most parts of the two districts of Maharashtra – Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri would be removed since the panel has found that most of the areas of the two districts fall outside the demarcated forest zone which is to be declared as the ESA.
Decisions taken against the recommendation of the panel:
- The Ministry has decided not to go with the recommendations of the high-level panel in the case of windmills. Construction of windmills would be permitted in the ecologically sensitive area though environment regulations to review their impact may be brought in through other legal routes available to the government.
What was the recommendation of Madhav Gadgil Committee?
- The eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) had recommended that the entire Western Ghats should be declared as an ecologically sensitive area; had suggested three levels of categorization where regulatory measures for protection would be imposed and had recommended the establishment of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority for management.
Recommendation of Dr K Kasturirangan’s report:
- In August 2012, MoEF constituted the High Level Working Group (HLWG) to examine the large numbers of public responses received to the recommendations of the Gadgil report and to suggest the way ahead. Dr K Kasturirangan, is the Chairman of the HLWG.
- Dr K Kasturirangan’s report draws upon the basic framework suggested by WGEEP to use remote sensing technologies to demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats but with two key differences. It used satellite data, down to 24 m resolution, as against 9 km used by WGEEP. This is used to distinguish vegetation types over the landscape of the entire Western Ghats.
- It distinguishes between the cultural and the natural landscape of the region. According to the report approx. 60 % of the Western Ghats region is under cultural landscape- human dominated land use of settlements, agriculture and plantations. The natural landscape ranges the remaining 40%
- A prohibitory regime on those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment.
- To “incentivize green growth in the Western Ghats”. These include managing forests and improving their productivity to ensure inclusive growth and economic benefits for local communities; integrating forest accounts into state and national economic assessments; initiating an ecosystem service fund to help villages around the forests; promoting sustainable agriculture and; encouraging ecotourism for local benefits.
- As part of the governance of ecologically sensitive areas it has proposed to set up a Decision Support and Monitoring Centre for Geospatial Analysis and Policy Support in the Western Ghats, which will monitor changes and advise state government on policy reform.
- It has also recommended that the high-resolution map, which demarcates ecologically sensitive areas, down to each village settlement, must be put in the public domain so that people can be involved in taking decisions about environment, which is first and foremost their concern.
Aversion to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill
- The Bar Council of India (BCI) has urged the Union Government to withdraw the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill.
- The Bill provides for constitution of a National Judicial Commission (NJC) for appointment of judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court.
Why is BCI opposing JAC Bill?
- According to BCI, the constitution of NJC would interfere with the independence of the judiciary and also affect the basic structure of the Constitution as appointments would be made by the executive.
- The constitution has provided for Independence of Judiciary. Judicial Independence is vital and based on the doctrine of separation of powers. Separation of powers is the considered as the basic structure of the constitution. So anything which affects the ‘basic structure of the constitution’ would be void.
- There was also opposition to the 120th Constitutional Amendment Bill to amend Articles 124 and 217 on appointment of judges.
- The JAC Bill provides for constitution of the JAC comprising the Chief Justice of India, an ex officio chairperson; two Supreme Court judges next to the CJI in seniority as ex officio members; the Union Law Minister and two eminent persons, to be nominated by the collegium consisting of the Prime Minister, the CJI and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, as members. The Secretary in the Department of Justice in the Law Ministry will be the convener.
- The Supreme Court had evolved the collegium system through its judgment in 1993 and reaffirmed it in 1998; the government then had not sought any clarification or review of the system and had introduced the two Bills despite strong objections voiced by the Bar.
Suggestion from the BCI:
- Instead it has suggested a Central Advisory Committee comprising the Prime Minister or his/her nominee or the Union Law Minister; the Leader of the Opposition in either of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha or his nominee; the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General; a representative of the Bar Council of India and a representative of the Supreme Court Bar Association. The committee might be formed by the Supreme Court itself to aid and advise the collegium for appointment of Supreme Court judges.
- At the High Court level the advisory committee to advise the High Court collegium would consist of the Chief Minister or his/her nominee or the Law Minister; the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislature; the Advocate-General; one representative each of the State Bar Council and the High Court Bar Association. If this system was adopted, the collegium procedure would be more transparent, the statement added.
- The existing collegium system has been functioning well. However, it needs to be more transparent and the mechanism of the appointment procedure should be strengthened.
Switzerland signs agreement with OECD, puts an end to banking secrecy
- Switzerland, well known for its anonymous numbered bank accounts and tight banking secrecy became the world’s 58th nation to sign the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.
- the Convention “prepares the way for the automatic exchange of tax information.”
- This has a huge impact on India and other countries which are fighting against ‘tax havens’ and routing of black money in their economy.
What is Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)?
- Though the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was established in 1948 to run the US-financed Marshall Plan for reconstruction of a continent ravaged by war (Word war-II) it was officially recognized as Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1961. HQ: Paris, France. Totally there are 34 members in OECD.
- The mission of OECD is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.
- The OECD provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. It works with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change. It measures productivity and global flows of trade and investment, this data is analysed and compared to predict future trends. And then set international standards on a wide range of things, from agriculture and tax to the safety of chemicals.
- It also looks into issues that directly affect the lives of ordinary people, like how much they pay in taxes and social security, and how much leisure time they can take.
Source – OECD website
What do you mean by Tax haven?
- A tax haven is a state, country or territory where certain taxes are levied at a low rate or no tax at all. Individuals and/or corporate entities can find it attractive to establish shell subsidiaries or move themselves to areas with reduced or nil taxation levels relative to typical international taxation.
- The OECD identifies three key factors in considering whether a jurisdiction is a tax haven:
- Nil or only nominal taxes.
- Protection of personal financial information.
- Lack of transparency.
- Tax havens also provide little or no financial information to foreign tax authorities.
Source – Wikipedia
Iran’s nuclear talks with P5+1 begins on a positive note
- The recent meeting with the European Union (EU)- chaired P5+1 group the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany ends a six-month hiatus over Iran’s refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of punishing sanctions.
- For the first time, Presentation was delivered in English, underlining a positive environment over the issue.
Disagreement over FDI in pharma
- There is a disagreement over FDI in pharmaceuticals companies among Finance, Commerce, Health & Family Welfare ministries and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
- All the three ministries have strongly voiced for urgent reversal of the current policy which according to them threatens access to affordable medicines not only in India but also developing countries, including in Africa; whereas the PMO is for continuation of the policy.
- The Parliamentary Standing Committee of Commerce has recommended a blanket ban on FDI in existing pharma projects and urged that further takeover/acquisition of domestic pharma units be stopped.
- Rational behind the Ministries argument is that, if the policy continues to be implemented in the existing manner, the access to medicine in India could adversely impact production, availability and prices. This would lead to ‘dependency syndrome’ – India dependent for life-saving medicines either on domestic facilities of MNCs or imports. India is already import-dependent for intermediates and critical drugs like penicillin. Around 70% of India’s intermediates are imported from China.
- FDI is desirable in the production facilities, but cautious approach has to be taken since pharma is a sector impacting life and health of the people.
- The concerns of these Ministries come in the wake of major acquisition of Indian pharma companies during the last few years by MNCs. Some of the high profile ones include the acquisition of Ranbaxy by Daiichi Sankyo, Shantha Biotech by Sanofi-Aventis and Nicholas Piramal by Abbott raising concerns about future access to affordable medicines.
Widening India-China trade deficit
- According to the recent data released, India’s trade deficit with China in 2013 is likely to surpass even last year’s record $28 billion.
- After 9 months of this year, the trade imbalance in China’s favour has reached $24.7 billion, with India’s exports to China down by as much as 22.5% in September.
- The new figures, have underlined the increasingly skewed trade relationship, between the two countries. India has to take necessary steps to curb this deficit.
- The major imports of India include machinery, power and telecom equipment, whereas China imports iron-ore. Both sides have set a target of $100 billion by 2015.
- The down-trend in trade is mainly attributed to mining bans in Karnataka. With India struggling to diversify exports in other sectors, and power and telecom imports from China gloomy, following moves to impose duties and security concerns, the future of the trade relationship has appeared increasingly uncertain.
- Both countries are exploring new avenues to revive the waning ties. One proposal, made during the recent Chinese Premier’s visit to India was to set up dedicated industrial parks.
India, Finland sign MoU to produce ethanol
- India and Finland have signed a pact to set up a pilot project to produce ethanol, bio-chemicals and bio-coal from biomass residual matters.
- The technology used would all cellulose-based waste products into ethanol.
- The project will utilise wheat straw, which is now being burnt and not being put to productive use. The project would cost around Rs.300 crore is expected to be commissioned in 18-24 months.
Significance of this pact:
- Since 75 % of India’s ethanol requirements are met through imports, there is a large requirement which is not being met by indigenous production.
- This pact would help in production of indigenous ethanol to promote use of clean technologies and cut down the oil import bill.