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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (25th May)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. India falling short of meeting conservation goals on biodiversity

India currently spends about $2 billion per year on biodiversity conservation efforts, but the country requires between $5-15 billion more every year to meet its biodiversity conservation targets.

India is falling way short of fulfilling conservation goals

  1. In the last three years, it has lost 36,500 hectares of forest land to development
  2. Expansion of National Highways 6 and 7 in central India is destroying at least six crucial tiger corridors, including the Pench-Kanha corridor
  3. The submergence of a part of the Panna tiger reserve by river interlinking projects, proposed denotification of tiger reserves for mining and hydropower projects are also huge setbacks for the conservation of biodiversity

Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBD): Not as per expectations

  1.  A total of 196 countries, including India, are signatories of the CBD and will highlight their achievements as part of the programme
  2. All 196 signatories are part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for 2011-2020
  3. However, with only two years left for completion, experts say there is little to celebrate when the actual figures and status are considered

Financial Issues

  1. India currently spends about $2 billion per year on biodiversity conservation efforts,
  2. but the country requires between $5-15 billion more every year to meet its biodiversity conservation targets

Reality is quite different from Government Data

  1. Yet there are glaring examples of how natural forest is getting fragmented by linear infrastructure
  2. Rampant poaching of endangered species, excessive pollution, unplanned infrastructure and urban development are indicating a decline in biodiversity

2. ‘Clean Air India Initiative’ launched

Clean Air India Initiative’

  • The campaign aims to curb air pollution in Indian cities by promoting partnerships between Indian start-ups and Dutch companies and build a network of entrepreneurs working on business solutions for cleaner air.
  • The Clean Air India Initiative is a collaborative project between Get In The Ring, a platform for start-ups, the government of the Netherlands, Start-up India, and INDUS Forum, an online matchmaking platform of Indian and Dutch businesses.
  • Governments need to be articulate about the problems they want to solve, bring together the right partners, and channelise entrepreneurs in the right direction to find solutions to global problems.
  • Sustainable businesses present an opportunity to do social good, as they represent a for-profit orientation in the right framework. They advance the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] in a smartly profitable way.

Stubble burning

  • A major business opportunity for Dutch firms that was highlighted included the potential for sale of equipment (such as sensors), data, and solutions concerning air quality monitoring (AQM), with experts estimating that 80% of India is not covered by AQM data collecting which is the first step toward monitoring and combating air pollution.
  • Also under focus was the severe air pollution in Delhi caused by the burning of paddy straw in neighbouring Haryana and Punjab.

INDUS impact

  • The ‘INDUS impact’ project aims to halt the hazardous burning of paddy stubble by promoting business partnerships that “upcycle” it.
  • This entails using paddy straw as feedstock to make materials that would find use in construction and packaging — a technology and expertise that Dutch companies are keen to market in India.

3. Windfall oil tax on ONGC in offing to soften fuel prices

  • The revenues so collected would be used to pay fuel retailers so that they absorb spikes beyond the threshold levels.
  • This may be accompanied by a minor tinkering with excise duty rates to give immediate relief to consumers. States too would be asked to cut sales tax or VAT to show a visible impact on retail prices.
  • Sources said the thinking in the government is to levy cess on all oil producers — both public and private sector — so as not to attract criticism of stifling State-owned explorers.
  • A similar tax was considered in 2008 when oil prices were on the rise but the idea was dropped after stiff opposition from private sector firms like Cairn India.
  • Windfall tax, they said, is levied in some of the developed countries globally. The U.K. in 2011 raised the tax rate to be applied to North Sea oil and gas profits when the price was above $75 per barrel.
  • China on April 1, 2006, began levying the special upstream profit tax on domestic oil producers to redistribute and allocate the windfall income enjoyed by the oil companies and subsidise disadvantaged industry and social groups that are most affected by soaring crude oil prices. It, in 2012, raised the windfall tax threshold to $55 per barrel.
  • Sources said the windfall tax is one of the options being considered by the government as a permanent solution to dealing with the problem of spike in oil prices.

Excise duty cut

  • This follows reluctance on part of the Finance Ministry to cut excise duty as it has to ensure adequate funds are available to social welfare schemes in the election year.
  • In particular, resources have to be arranged for the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) that aims to provide health insurance cover of Rs.5 lakh to every eligible household.
  • Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had stated that the government will take a long-term view on the retail prices of petrol and diesel, which had touched record high instead of having an ad hoc measure.
  • Petrol and diesel prices were raised for the 11th day in succession on Thursday as the State-owned oil firms gradually passed on to the consumer the increased cost of international oil that had accumulated since a 19-day freeze was imposed just before Karnataka elections.
  • Since the time the hiatus ended on May 14, rates had gone up by Rs.84 a litre in case of petrol and Rs.2.60 in diesel. Petrol costs Rs.77.47 a litre in Delhi and diesel Rs.68.53. Sources said a $70 per barrel threshold for the windfall tax is sufficient to cover for capital expenditure requirement of ONGC and other oil producers.

Fuel subsidy

  • Incidentally, ONGC and Oil India Ltd. had till June 2015 provided for up to 40% of the annual fuel subsidy bill.
  • This they did by way of providing discounts on crude sold to downstream refining and marketing companies, IOC, BPCL, and HPCL. This discount helped the retailers make good a part of the losses they incurred on selling petrol and diesel below cost.
  • The government raised excise duty nine times between November 2014 and January 2016 to shore up finances as global oil prices fell, but then cut the tax just once in October last year by Rs.2 a litre.
  • The Centre levies Rs.48 as excise duty on a litre of petrol and Rs.15.33 on diesel. State sales tax or VAT varies from state to state. Unlike excise duty, VAT is ad valorem and results in higher revenues for the State when rates move up.

4. The Russian ride: on Modi’s meeting with Putin

Aims

  • As was his Wuhan meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Sochi visit was aimed at resetting and rebalancing bilateral ties that have weakened over the past few years.
  • The special understanding between India and Russia has frayed, with India drifting closer to the U.S. and Russia to China.
  • The personal touches — hugs, handshakes, a boat ride on the Black Sea — projected the impression of two strong leaders addressing each other’s concerns “man to man”. Substantively, Mr. Modi’s visit was premised on a number of new realities facing India.
  1. India’s existing dependence on Russian military hardware, with orders for about $12 billion more in the pipeline, must not be jeopardised at any cost. These have been made more difficult by a new U.S. law (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) that would hit India’s big-ticket hardware purchases and energy deals from Russia, and Mr. Modi would have wanted to reassure Mr. Putin that India will not bow to such pressure.
  2. Russia’s recent military exercises and helicopter sales to Pakistan, as well as its outreach to the Afghan Taliban, have been viewed with deep concern by India, which has sought to extract assurances that this would not in any way hurt its national security interests.
  3. The new push to strengthen ties is driven by the global instability that the Donald Trump administration has set off.

India’s views

  • India appears to have decided it can no longer depend on consistency in the S.’s foreign policy.
  • As a result, the recalibration of Mr. Modi’s foreign policy from its perceived Western tilt to a more even-handed approach of aligning with all in India’s interests is welcome.
  • Informal summits of the kind in Sochi and Wuhan are also useful to break the ice and reset relations when needed.
  • But a comprehensive shift in foreign policy must be accompanied by greater transparency.
  • If India is contemplating a turnaround from its earlier postures with world powers, it needs to explain the change of course.
  • The secrecy surrounding Mr. Modi’s dashes to Wuhan and Sochi is intriguing since he is already scheduled to meet both Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin at least twice in the next two months, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao and the BRICS summit in Johannesburg.
  • Even more curious are the official outcomes of the informal summits that India and China will cooperate in Afghanistan, while India and Russia will coordinate on the Indo-Pacific.
  • Both have hitherto only been referenced in India’s ties with the U.S. and its allies, Europe, Japan and Australia.
  • Without clarity, at a time of global flux India may appear to be attempting to travel in two boats at once.

5. Seller beware: homebuyers and Bankruptcy Code

  • The proposed change to the Bankruptcy Code must treat homebuyers a step above lenders
  • Homebuyers parted of their money by real estate developers have some relief coming their way.
  • The Union Cabinet has cleared an ordinance amending the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), a law which came into force in November 2016 to hasten the process of winding up failed businesses.
  • While the government refused to divulge specific details of the amendment, the change to the law is expected to help offer better treatment to homebuyers when it comes to recovering their dues from bankrupt companies.
  • A 14-member panel formed by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had recommended last month that homebuyers should be treated as financial creditors during the bankruptcy resolution process.
  • It is yet to be known whether homebuyers will be treated better or worse than banks and other financial lenders under the amended law.
  • But there is a sound reason to treat them a step above these traditional lenders.
  • Economically speaking, homebuyers are not creditors but only customers to real estate developers.
  • Unlike traditional creditors such as banks and institutional investors, they do not offer their money in expectation of excess returns.
  • Homebuyers simply want the delivery of a good that was promised to them. It is thus unfair to push homebuyers, who did not choose to risk their money on an uncertain venture in the first place, down the pecking order when it comes to sharing the spoils of a bankrupt entity.
  • Until now, homebuyers have had to knock on the doors of the courts to uphold their rights, while other stakeholders benefited significantly at their cost.
  • The travails of several homebuyers in the Jaypee insolvency case, in which the Supreme Court had to intervene in favour of homebuyers in the bankruptcy resolution process, is a case in point.
  • The amendment, if it meets expectations, could also reduce the inconsistencies between the IBC and the Real Estate Regulation Act (RERA).

Why RERA was introduced?

  • While RERA was introduced with the goal of protecting the rights of buyers by ensuring the timely and honest delivery of homes, they have had to be content with a relatively low status among the various stakeholders in a bankruptcy proceeding.
  • In fact, buyers have been treated as unsecured creditors. The removal of this inconsistency can help courts deliver better justice to homebuyers in the future.
  • Along with RERA, the proposed amendment can go a long way in stopping unscrupulous real estate developers from fleecing homebuyers with promises that they cannot really keep.
  • While upholding homeowner rights could cause pain to wayward real estate developers and large creditors like banks, it will help in the development of a transparent and more efficient real estate market.

6. For better protection of human rights

Cabinet approval

  • The Union Cabinet approved the Protection of Human Rights (Amendments) Bill, 2018, in order to protect and promote better human rights in India.
  • The Bill intends to give the NHRC teeth as well as claws to act against human rights violations.

Proposals

  • The Bill makes many proposals. One is to ensure that the NHRC is more inclusive.
  • For this, the Bill proposes to include one member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights within its fold as a deemed member as well as a woman member.
  • It proposes to enlarge the scope of eligibility and selection of the Chairperson of the NHRC as well as of State Human Rights Commissions. It also proposes to incorporate a mechanism to look into cases of human rights violations in Union Territories.
  • Further, it proposes to amend the term of office of the Chairperson and members of the NHRC and the State Human Rights Commissions to ensure that it is in consonance with the terms of the Chairpersons and members of other commissions.
  • The Amendment Bill seeks to strengthen human rights institutions so that they can discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively. Moreover, the amended Act will be in sync with the agreed global standards and benchmarks on ensuring rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of individuals in the country.
  • The amendment to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 will make the NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions more compliant with the Paris Principle “concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide-ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights”.

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