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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (14th June)

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. Cabinet approves Bill for dam safety

The Bill seeks to establish a national regulatory body for dam safety and create a database of the existing dams. Goyal also announced that the Union Cabinet had shifted the North Eastern Council (NEC) from the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) to the Home Ministry.

  1. There are over 5200 large dams in India and about 450 are under construction. Plus there are thousands of medium and small dams.
  2. Due to lack of legal and institutional architecture for dam safety in India, dam safety is an issue of concern
  3. Unsafe dams are a hazard and dam break may cause disasters, leading to huge loss of life and property.
  4. The draft bill seeks to address all issues concerning dam safety including regular inspection of dams, Emergency Action Plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety, Instrumentation and Safety Manuals.

Benefits

  1. It will help all the States and UTs to adopt uniform dam safety procedures which shall ensure safety of dams and safeguard benefits from such dams.
  2. This shall also help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.
  3. A case in point is the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala, which is a perennial flashpoint between the State and neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
  4. The Chennai floods of 2015 due to unusually heavy rain were thought to have been compounded by an unprecedented release of water from the Chembarambakkam dam into the Adyar.

Key Propositions

  1. The Bill provides for constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety which shall evolve dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations as may be required for the purpose.
  2. This provides for the establishment of National Dam Safety Authority as a regulatory body which shall discharge functions to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety in the country.
  3. The Bill also provides for constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by State Government.

 National Dam Safety Authority

  • It shall maintain liaison with the State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSO) and the owners of dams for standardization of dam safety-related data and practices;
  • It shall provide the technical and managerial assistance to the States and SDSO
  • It shall maintain a national level database of all dams in the country and the records of major dam failures;
  • It shall examine the cause of any major dam failure;
  • It shall accord recognition or accreditations to the organizations that can be entrusted with the works of investigation, design or construction of new dams;
  • It will also look into unresolved points of issue between two states

State Committee on Dam Safety

  1. It will ensure proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in that State and ensure their safe functioning.
  2. It further provides that every State shall establish a “State Dam Safety Organisation“, which will be manned by officers from the field dam safety preferably from the areas of dam-designs, hydro-mechanical engineering, hydrology, geotechnical investigation, instrumentation and dam-rehabilitation.

2. Union Cabinet approves NEC repositioning

  1. The Union Cabinet chaired by the PM has approved the proposal of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).
  2. It held the nomination of Union Home Minister as ex-officio Chairman of North Eastern Council (NEC) – a statutory body with Governors and Chief Ministers of all the eight North Eastern States as its Member.
  3. The Cabinet also approved that Minister of State (Independent Charge), Ministry of DoNER would serve as Vice Chairman of the Council.

Impact of  this Restructuring

  1. NEC implements various projects through the State and Central agencies.
  2. This change would provide a forum for discussing inter-state matters more comprehensively and also consider common approaches to be taken in future.
  3. NEC can now also perform the tasks undertaken by the various Zonal Councils to discuss such inter-State issues as drug trafficking, smuggling of arms and ammunition, boundary disputes etc.

North Eastern Council

  1. North Eastern Council (NEC) was constituted as a statutory advisory body under the NEC Act 1971 and came into being on the 7th November 1972 at Shillong.
  2. NEC was established under the North Eastern Council Act, 1971 as an apex level body for securing balanced and coordinated development and facilitating coordination with the States.
  3. Sikkim was added to the council in the year 2002
  4. Subsequent to the Amendment of 2002, NEC has been mandated to function as a regional planning body for the North Eastern
  5. While formulating a regional plan for this area, shall give priority to the schemes and projects benefiting two or more states.
  6. In case of Sikkim, the Council shall formulate specific projects and schemes for that

3. Indian job prospects in the Maldives hit

  • 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 says 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.
  • India has taken up the issue through diplomatic channels urging the Maldives government to abide by the bilateral visa agreement, with the hope that the matter would be resolved soon.
  • Around 29,000 Indians live and work in the Maldives, and an estimated 2,000 have pending applications for work permits.

India-Maldives ties

  • India-Maldives ties have been on the downswing since 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his visit to Male over the treatment of Opposition leaders by President Yameen.
  • Since then, China’s growing presence and a free trade agreement with Beijing, as well as President Yameen’s emergency declaration and arrest of Opposition leaders, have led to protests from India, further straining ties.
  • Maldives had told India to remove its helicopters from two strategic locations by the end of June, when visas of Indian Coast Guard and naval pilots and personnel manning the choppers will expire.

4. Niti Aayog to launch Composite Water Management Index

  1. NITI Aayog has come up with the Composite Water Management Index as a useful tool to assess and improve the performance in efficient management of water resources.
  2. This index is an attempt to inspire States and UTs towards efficient and optimal utilization of water, and recycling thereof with a sense of urgency.
  3. The index would provide useful information for the States and also for the concerned Central Ministries/Departments enabling them to formulate and implement suitable strategies for better management of water resources.

Sectors Prioritized for Water Management Index

  • Restoration of Water Bodies– Source Augmentation
  • Groundwater– Source Augmentation
  • Major and Medium Irrigation – Supply Side Management
  • Watershed Development – Supply Side Management
  • Participatory Irrigation Practices – Demand Side Management
  • Sustainable on-farm Water Use Practices – Demand Side Management
  • Rural Drinking Water
  • Urban Water Supply and Sanitation
  • Policy and Governance

Managing Water Resources

  1. In view of limitations on availability of water resources and rising demand for water, sustainable management of water resources has acquired critical importance.
  2. The index can be utilized to formulate and implement suitable strategies for better management of water resources

5. Green ambitions — on renewable energy targets

  • Policy tweaks and incentives are needed to meet the renewable energy targets
  • In a surprising statement this month, Union Power Minister R.K. Singh 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.

Challenges

  • 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, which the government is prioritising, policy uncertainties loom large. 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.
  • But any such duty will deal a body blow to solar-power suppliers, who rely heavily on Chinese hardware, threatening the growth of the sector.
  • 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 — rooftop solar clocked a compound annual growth rate of 117% between 2013 and 2017 — India only hit 3% of its goal by the end of 2017, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report.
  • The reason being 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. So, homeowners need to be able to sell electricity back to the grid, which in turn needs a nationwide “net-metering” policy.

Conclusion

  • As of today, only a few States have such policies, discouraging users elsewhere. Such challenges can be overcome with the right incentives, but they will take time to kick in.
  • The good news is that 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, it must hold off on implausible claims.

6. The missing tiers

  • Twenty-five years ago, the Constitution underwent what is arguably its most significant transformation with the passage of the 73rd (mandating the creation of panchayats) and the 74th (creation of municipalities) Constitutional Amendments.
  • While the 73rd Amendment came into force on April 24, 1993, the 74th Amendment came into effect on June 1, 1993.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The disempowerment and depoliticisation has happened in multiple ways.

  1. First, elected representatives at the city-level are rendered powerless by making them subservient to the State government.
  2. 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.
  3. This disjuncture in municipal governance has been exploited by State governments to ensure that no city-level politician challenges their control over a city.

An overshadowing

  • Municipal corporations are further denied their political role by the continued operation of various parastatal agencies created by the State government.
  • These may take the form of 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.

Current situations

  • Central government programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission seek to ring fence projects from local government. This programme 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”.
  • The creation of parallel institutions that disempower the elected local government shows how higher levels of government distrust local politics and craftily retain control of a city’s reins. Even for performing functions that are within its purview (such as levying local taxes or undertaking civic projects above a certain budget) the local government requires State government permissions.
  • Hence, municipalities are not yet autonomous units that can be genuinely called as the “third tier” of government in India’s federal system.
  • Even after the 73rd and 74th Amendments, India has effectively only two levels of government — Union and State.

Future pathways

  • While the 74th Amendment has become a lodestar for civic activism in many cities, it has certain inherent limitations. 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 government — do 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.
  • Civic activism has often been focussed on the creation of two bodies mandated by the 74th Amendment — ward committees and metropolitan planning committees.
  • However, an over-reliance on such semi-representative bodies does not augur well for creating a genuinely democratic city government.
  • In fact, civil society’s fixation with nominating its members into ward committees can further depoliticise local governments and make them captive to the interests of certain elite resident welfare associations.
  • Instead of distrusting them, we must acknowledge that local governments are inherently political spaces where multiple interests compete.

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.
  • Unlike the 73rd Amendment which provides for three levels of panchayats (village, taluk, and district levels), power in urban areas is concentrated in a single municipal body (whether it is a municipal corporation, municipal council or town panchayat).
  • However, as Indian cities have grown exponentially over the last 25 years, with some crossing the 10 million population mark, we must rethink the present model of urban governance that vests power in a singular municipality.
  • While urban governance reforms can take multiple shapes, they must be foregrounded in the political empowerment of local government that furthers local democratic accountability.

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