Newspaper notes for UPSC 14-06-18

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Downturn in ties with Maldives

  • Since February, when Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen ordered an Emergency, which India took a strong position against, the Maldives Immigration Authority has reportedly held up thousands of work permits to Indians.
  • More startling are public advertisements from companies that are hiring, but say clearly that “Indians need not apply”, as they would not be given work permits.
  • Despite the increasing numbers of desperate job-seekers, the MEA has refused to take up the matter, and the Embassy of India in the Maldives (EoI) has replied to queries from the job-seekers by saying it cannot help.

Green ambitions

  • Union Power Minister said India would overshoot its target of installing 175 gigawatts of capacity from renewable energy sources by 2022. India was on track, he said, to hit 225 GW of renewable capacity by then.
  • This is a tall claim, considering India has missed several interim milestones since it announced its 175 GW target in 2015.
  • The misses happened despite renewable capacity being augmented at a blistering pace, highlighting how ambitious the initial target was.
  • Issues: Technological and financial challenges remain: both wind and solar generation could be erratic, and India’s creaky electricity grid must be modernised to distribute such power efficiently. Meanwhile, wind and solar tariffs have hit such low levels that suppliers are working with wafer-thin margins. This means small shocks can knock these sectors off their growth trajectories.
  • The obstacles have capped capacity addition to 69 GW till date, with India missing its 2016 and 2017 milestones. To hit its 2022 target of 175 GW, 106 GW will have to be added in four years, more than twice the capacity added in the last four.
  • In the solar sector alone so many issues are there: Manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) cells have demanded a 70% safeguard duty on Chinese PV imports, and the Directorate General of Trade Remedies will soon take a call on this.
  • There is also the problem of the rooftop-solar segment. Of the current goal of 100 GW from solar energy by 2022, 40 GW is to come from rooftop installations, and 60 GW from large solar parks.
  • Despite being the fastest-growing renewable-energy segment so far India only hit 3% of its goal by the end of 2017, Homeowners aren’t warming up to the idea of installing photovoltaic panels on their terraces because the economics does not work out for them.
  • Compared to industries and commercial establishments, a home typically needs less power and will not use everything it generates. Homeowners need to be able to sell electricity back to the grid, which in turn needs a nationwide “net-metering” policy.
  • Even if India hits the 175 GW target, it stands to meet its greenhouse-gas emission goal under the Paris climate agreement. This in itself will be a worthy achievement. Overshooting this target will be a plus, but until the government tackles the policy challenges.

Salient features of India’s INDC

  • To put forward and further propagate a healthy and sustainable way of living based on traditions and values of conservation and moderation.
  • To adopt a climate-friendly and a cleaner path than the one followed hitherto by others at corresponding level of economic development.
  • To reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • To achieve about 40 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030, with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance, including   from Green Climate Fund. [India aims to install 175 GW of  renewable energy 100 GW solar, 60 GW wind, and 15 GW biogas by 2022.]
  • To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
  • To better adapt to climate change by enhancing investments in development programmes in sectors vulnerable to climate change, particularly agriculture, water resources, Himalayan region, coastal regions, health and disaster management.
  • To mobilize domestic and new and additional funds from developed countries to implement the above mitigation and adaptation actions in view of the resource required and the resource gap.
  • To build capacities, create domestic framework and international architecture for quick diffusion of cutting edge climate technology in India and for joint collaborative R&D for such future technologies.

An improbable friendship

  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t,” wrote Mark Twain. Nothing proves it better than the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.
  • Less than a year ago, the heightened rhetoric on both sides had led to growing concerns about the possibility of a nuclear exchange as North Korea ramped up its nuclear and missile testing programmes.
  • The UN Security Council met repeatedly, tightening economic sanctions on North Korea.
  • Russia and China appealed for restraint, proposing a “freeze for freeze”, calling on the U.S. to stop military exercises with South Korea in return for North Korea halting its nuclear and missile testing.

New Take away Points:

  • The Joint Statement in Singapore is shy on detail but carries political promise. Instead of obsessing on the nuclear issue, it reflects clear recognition that a new beginning in U.S.-North Korea relations is possible only by replacing the 1953 Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace treaty and that regime security guarantee for North Korea is a prerequisite for denuclearisation.
  • The affirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration (signed between the two Korean leaders in April) means that bilateral normalisation between the two Koreas will move apace and a meeting involving the U.S. and possibly China to conclude a peace treaty can happen by end-2018.

The missing tiers

  • Read about 73rd and 74th amendments in Laxmikanth, to understand this article in a better way.

As the Central Government’s Smart Cities mission completes three years this month, it’s the right time to examine India’s tryst with municipal governance. 

  • Issues: Much has been written about the failure of States to implement the provisions of the 74th Amendment. However, it is important to examine concerns in the underlying constitutional design of urban local governments and the politics impeding this Amendment’s operation.
  • The “implementation failure” narrative tends to focus on how local governments are financially constrained and do not have the administrative capacity to carry out its functions. It is also important to explore how urban local governments are actively disempowered and depoliticised as an institution.

How the disempowerment and depoliticization has happened in multiple ways. ?

  • First, elected representatives at the city-level are rendered powerless by making them subservient to the State government.
  • In most municipal corporations, while the mayor is the ceremonial head, the executive powers of the corporation are vested with the State government-appointed commissioner.
  • This been exploited by State governments to ensure that no city-level politician challenges their control over a city.
  • Municipal corporations are further denied their political role by the continued operation of various agencies like urban development authorities (which build infrastructure) and public corporations (which provide services such as water, electricity and transportation).
  • These agencies, which function with a certain autonomy, are accountable only to the State government, not the local government.
  • Even urban planning and land-use regulation (globally a quintessential local government function) is with State government-controlled development authorities.
  • Further depoliticisation of local government is taking place through Central government programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission which mandates the creation of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) for Smart Cities which will have “operational independence and autonomy in decision making and mission implementation”. It further “encourages” a State government to delegate “the decision-making powers available to the ULB (urban local body) under the municipal act/government rules to the Chief Executive Officer of the SPV”.

Limitations of 74th amendment:

  • Many of its key provisions are not mandatory for the State government.
  • The functions listed under the 12th Schedule which a State government is expected to devolve to the local governmentdo not include essential civic issues such as urban transportation, housing or urban commons.
  • The 74th Amendment also contains an industrial township exception whereby a municipality need not be constituted in areas which are declared as industrial townships.
  • These provisions have been employed by State governments to keep local governments weak.

Way forward: As cities struggle to meet the basic needs of their inhabitants, we must re-examine the existing modes of organising power in urban India.

VA: The amendment also included provisions for a district planning committee under Article 243ZD to secure development planning for the district,addressing both rural and urban concerns. Similarly,under Article 243ZE,a committee for metropolitan planning is required to be set up for each multi-municipal metropolitan area with a population of 10 lakh or more.

The crimes of a few condemn the fate of many

  • On May 22, Amnesty International (AI) released a briefing that revealed that a Rohingya armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), had committed serious human rights abuses against Hindus in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar.
  • The May 22 briefing follows AI’s earlier reports documenting military attacks on the Rohingya that led to more than 693,000 people fleeing from their homes to other countries.
  • The issue here is not about which “side” committed more atrocities. The issue is about people. About civilians. It is about their rights as human beings.

What should we do ?

  • We should be calling for better protection for survivors fleeing persecution in accordance with international human rights law.
  • We should be calling for justice, truth and reparation for victims and their families.
  • We should be calling for unfettered access to the northern Rakhine State for independent investigators.
  • However, the reaction to the briefing report has been deeply disturbing.

What happened?

The debate has deteriorated to unfairly and unreasonably attributing the condemnable actions of the armed ARSA to all Rohingya people. What this means is that we are willing to demonise and malign an entire community for abuses they may not have committed.

India’s stand : Very Imp from exam point of view :

  • Despite irrefutable evidence that Rohingya people fleeing to India are at serious risk of human rights violations in Myanmar, the Indian government has refused to recognise them as asylum seekers and refugees.
  • Instead the Rohingya have been labelled as “illegal immigrants” even those recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India.
  • In fact, in August last year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs proposed to forcibly return to Myanmar all the 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India.
  • The Ministry claimed that the Rohingya are a threat to national security.

Solution

The UN Refugee Convention provides a straightforward solution to deal with the potential security concerns involving asylum seekers. Article 1F of the Convention excludes protection for those involved in serious crimes. Therefore, if India acceded to the Refugee Convention, it would be able to effectively assess Rohingya asylum applications and deny protection to those who might fall under Article 1F exceptions, such as members of ARSA who participated in the August 2017 violence.Indian authorities have outsourced refugee status determination to the UNHCR, which follows a rigorous process.

Why it wont work? However, this is largely meaningless as India refuses to officially recognise Rohingya people identified as refugees by the UNHCR. These people are left in a state of limbo with neither the UNHCR nor the Indian government providing them effective protection.

Criticism of India’s stand :

  • Even though India is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it has always had a longstanding tradition of providing shelter to those seeking protection. However, in this instance, it seems to be faltering, and it is time we question why.

Fortress mentality

Mostly Criticizing arm for it’s colonial mindset.

  • There is a raging debate in military circles about the opening of cantonment roads in Secunderabad. Many civilians do not know that cantonments are governed by an elected body under the Cantonment Act, which alone can legislate and approve closure of public roads. In the past, the Army has closed public roads for security, without approval from the Cantonment Board.
  • The Army believes that it is safe inside a deemed fortress, which belongs to it. It does not realise the discomfort that is caused to all those who undergo repeated security checks when entering a Cantonment. After all, these are public spaces. Private schools, hospitals, shopping complexes and parks are accessed by all, not just the military.
  • We should open up all our cantonments. Wherever there is a likely threat, use modern means of Artificial Intelligence, drones, CCTV and well-equipped Quick Reaction Team commandos. In places where there is a need, create military bases that have only the military and their families living and working there.
  • The cardinal rule should be to never harass or subject our own citizens to unnecessary security checks.

Cleaning up balance sheets

What is a ‘bad bank’?

  • The Central government has revived the idea of setting up an asset reconstruction or asset management company, a sort of ‘bad bank’ first mooted by Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian in January 2017.

How it helps?

  • A Public Sector Asset Rehabilitation Agency that would take on public sector banks’ chronic bad loans and focus on their resolution and the extraction of any residual value from the underlying asset.
  • This would allow government-owned banks to focus on their core operations of providing credit for fresh investments and economic activity.
  • Unlike a private asset reconstruction company, a government-owned bad bank would be more likely to purchase loans that have no salvage value from public sector banks. It would thus work as an indirect bailout of these banks by the government.
  • How will it be capitalised? The bad bank will require significant capital to purchase stressed loan accounts from public sector banks. The size of gross NPAs on the books of public sector banks is currently over Rs. 10 lakh crore. The chances of private participation are low unless investors are allowed a major say in the governance of the new entity.
  • How will it help the NPA problem? It would free public sector bank balance sheets from their deleterious impact and improve their financial position. As the quality of a bank’s assets deteriorates, its capital position (assets minus liabilities) is weakened, increasing the chances of insolvency.
  • Many public sector banks are effectively insolvent due to their poor asset quality. Consequently, banks have turned risk-averse and credit growth has taken a hit. If managed well, a bad bank can clean up bank balance sheets and get them to start lending again to businesses.
  • But it will not address the more serious corporate governance issues plaguing public sector banks that led to the NPA problem in the first place.

National Dam Safety Authority

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister , has approved a proposal for introduction of the Dam Safety Bill, 2018 in Parliament.
  • The Bill envisages a National Dam Safety Authority, which will liaise with State-level dam safety organisations and the owners of dams for standardising safety-related data and practices.
  • The NDSA will investigate dam failures and have the authority to fine the States that are found remiss in implementing safety measures.
  • It will look into “unresolved points of issue” between the States which share dam territory and look to “eliminating potential causes for inter-State conflicts.
  • Due to lack of legal and institutional architecture for dam safety in India, dam safety is a perennial concern.

India, China discuss ‘Oil Buyers Club’

  • With oil producers’ cartel OPEC playing havoc with prices, India discussed with China the possibility of forming an ‘oil buyers club’ that can negotiate better terms with sellers as well as getting more S. crude oil to Asia to cut dominance of the oil block.
  • On the discussion table was de-bottlenecking infrastructure to facilitate more U.S. crude oil coming to Asia so as to cut the dominance of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which supplies about 60% of India’s oil needs.
  • Production cuts by OPEC have led to international oil prices hitting a four-year high last month that forced a Rs. 3.8 per litre raise in petrol and Rs. 3.38 a litre increase in diesel prices.
  • Oil Minister wants to form an oil buyers’ club with China, Japan and South Korea to take up issues like premium being charged from Asian buyers.
  • At the International Energy Forum (IEF)meeting, India and China agreed to join hands to have a collective bargaining power against cartelisation of oil producers.

Why ?

  • So far, India has not been able to bargain better rates from the Gulf-based producers of the oil cartel, OPEC. Instead of getting a discount for bulk purchases, West Asian producers such as Saudi Arabia, charge a so-called ‘Asian Premium’ for shipments to Asian buyers, including India and Japan, as opposed to Europe.

Antarctic ice loss has tripled

  • Antarctica has lost a staggering three trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, according to a landmark study published by a  consortium of 84 scientists reported in the journal Nature that suggests the frozen continent could redraw the earth’s coastlines if global warming continues unchecked.
  • Two-fifths of that ice loss occurred in the last five years, a three-fold increase in the pace at which Antarctica is shedding its kilometres-thick casing.
  • Up to now, scientists have struggled in determining whether Antarctica has accumulated more mass through snowfall than it loses in meltwater run-off and ice flows into the ocean. But more than two decades of satellite data — the new findings draw from 24 separate space-based surveys — have finally yielded a more complete picture.
  • Covering twice the area of the continental U.S., Antarctica is blanketed by enough ice pack to lift global oceans by nearly 60 metres (210 feet).
  • More than 90% of that frozen water sits atop East Antarctica, which has remained mostly stable even as climate change has driven up earth’s average surface temperature by a full degree Celsius.
  • West Antarctica, however, has proven far more vulnerable to global warming. Already floating, ice shelves breaking off into icebergs do not add to sea level. But massive glaciers on West Antarctica slowly gliding seaward hold enough water to push oceans up by 3.5 metres (11 feet).
  • Oceans are currently rising by 4 millimetres (0.13 inches) per year. Since 1993, the global ocean watermark has gone up by 84.8 mm (3.3 inches).
  • In another study published in the journal Nature Communications , scientists pointed out that loss of coral reefs due to spikes in water temperature could double the damage from coastal flooding, and triple the destruction caused by storm surges.

Flood damage may double without reefs

  • Loss of coral reefs around the world could double the damage from coastal flooding, and triple the destruction caused by storm surges.
  • Coupled with projected sea level rise driven by global warming, reef decline could see flooding increase four-fold by century’s end.
  • Without coral to help absorb the shock, a once-in-a-century cyclone would wreak twice the havoc, with the damage measured in the tens of billions of dollars.
  • Coral reefs serve as natural, submerged breakwaters that reduce flooding by breaking waves and reducing wave energy.
  • Not all coral reefs are declining, and reefs can recover from bleaching, overfishing and storm impacts,but the overall pattern of signficant losses across geographies is clear.
  • Much of the world’s 71,000 kilometres of coastline with shallow reefs  concentrated in the tropics has been decimated by coastal development, sand mining, dynamite fishing and runoff from industry and agriculture.
  • Coral is also highly sensitive to spikes in water temperature, which have become sharper and more frequent with climate change.
  • A marine heatwave in 2016, for example, killed off nearly 30% of Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef.
  • The countries most at risk from coral reef loss are Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba.

A justice more efficient

  • LIMBS stands for Legal Information Management and Briefing System and is a Ministry of Law and Justice initiative. The idea is to reduce government litigation. Make government litigation more efficient, is a better statement. At the moment, this is about civil cases, though there is no reason why the idea can’t be extended to criminal cases.
  • Earlier, information about cases involving 64 ministries/departments was scattered in different places, typically in the form of physical files. That information is now available on a single platform, in electronic form.
  • As of now 2,65,272 cases are part of LIMBS, those 2,65,272 cases are scattered across 2,107 courts and 15,332 advocates.
  • LIMBS is meant to improve the Union government’s handling of cases. Its purpose isn’t that of facilitating research and/or reportage. Some data will no doubt be in the public domain, but not everything.

Mains Value addition :

  • The then prime minister addressed a Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices in September 2004. “One way of reducing the load on courts is to reduce the quantum of cases that come to the courts.
  • A sample survey conducted in Karnataka found that in 65 per cent of civil cases, the government was a litigant, sometimes on both sides.
  • Government litigation crowds out the private citizen from the court system.
  • Much of this government litigation is in the form of appeals and this survey again found that 95 per cent of government appeals fail. In a way, they are appeals that shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Solutions :

  • In 1994, the government had convened a meeting of law ministers and law secretaries that had resolved that, “disputes between the government and public sector undertakings (PSUs), and one PSU and another PSU ought not to go to courts or tribunals, and that such disputes should be settled between the parties amicably.” This, unfortunately, has not happened.
  • The government will now ensure that this decision is effectively implemented.This step, along with a better assessment of which judgments are to be appealed against, would lead to some reduction of cases in courts.

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