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

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. Trouble in the hills: on Western Ghats ecology

The catastrophic monsoon floods in Kerala and parts of Karnataka have revived the debate on whether political profitability outshined science.

  • Western Ghats is spread over 6 states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, and Gujarat) and houses about 139 species of mammal, 508 species of birds and 179 species of amphibians.
  • UNESCO has globally acknowledged the Western Ghats as one among the 8 biodiversity hotspots in the World.
  • Many Rivers including Godavari, Kaveri and Krishna originate in the Western Ghats.

 

Details:

  • In the year 2010, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) was constituted by the Central Government, under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil.
  • WGEEP issued recommendations for the preservation of the fragile western peninsular region.

Highlights of Gadgil Report

  • Recommended that the entire stretch of the Western Ghats should be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  • It recommended the division of region into three zones – ESZ1, ESZ2, ESZ3 and gave a broad outline of certain restrictions for each zone.
  • The committee recommended the division of region into zones at the block/taluk level.
  • It recommended that no new polluting industries (red and orange) were to be permitted in ESZ1 and ESZ2 and gradual phasing out of such existing industries by 2016. Complete ban on mining in ESZ1 and regulation of mining in ESZ-2.
  • It was recommended that bottom to top approach be followed for conservation of Western Ghats.
  • Western Ghats Ecological Authority was proposed to be set up as a statutory body and given powers under the Environment protection Act 1986.
  • There were many criticisms of the Gadgil Committee Report. Some among them were that
    • The report was not prepared keeping in mind the ground realities. If the report is implemented, the development and the energy requirements in the states coming within the boundary of Western Ghats would be adversely affected.
    • There is no need to set up a new body while there are many such bodies for the protection of environment.
  • Madhav Gadgil has said the recent havoc in Kerala is a consequence of short-sighted policymaking, and warned that Goa may also be in the line of nature’s fury.

Following severe resistance to the implementation of Gadgil Committee report, Kasturirangan Panel was set up in 2012 to advise the government on Gadgil Committee Report.

Highlights of Kasturirangan Report:

  • Divide the western Ghats into Natural Landscape and Cultural Landscape
  • Of the natural landscape, it picked out 37% as “bioplogically rich” and with “some measure of contiguity”. Any restrictions were placed in this area.
  • It proposed the demarcation of ESZ be done at the village level.
  • Only red category (heavy polluting) industries were restricted.
  • Hydro power project would be given the green signal on a case to case basis, post assessment of its benefits and the possible damage it could cause.

Gadgil report laid too much importance to the environment, Kasturirangan report was biased towards development. Kasturi Rangan report was criticized by many as that it provided loopholes for mining, which if allowed would turn detrimental to the environment, in long-term will affect development too. Kasturirangan report got the tag as anti-environmental soon after its release. But this report was tagged anti-development too by many who fear that their livelihood and interests will be affected.

 

Way forward:

  • The evergreen topic of debate is between environment and development persists.
  • The State governments that are mainly responsible for the Western Ghats must go back to the drawing table with the reports of both the Gadgil Committee and the Kasturirangan Committee.
  • The task before them is to initiate correctives to environmental policy decisions.
  • Given the need to balance human development pressures with stronger protection of the Western Ghats ecology, this is not going to be easy.
  • The issue of allowing extractive industries such as quarrying and mining to operate is arguably the most contentious.
  • A way out could be to create the regulatory framework that was proposed by the Gadgil panel, in the form of an apex Western Ghats Ecology Authority and the State-level units, under the Environment (Protection) Act, and to adopt the zoning system that it proposed. This can keep incompatible activities out of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
  • Other low-impact forms of green energy led by solar power are available. A moratorium on quarrying and mining in the identified sensitive zones, in Kerala and also other States, is necessary to assess their environmental impact.
  • The goal has to be sustainable development for the Ghats as a whole. The role of big hydroelectric dams, built during an era of rising power demand and deficits, must now be considered afresh and proposals for new ones dropped.
  • Public consultation on the expert reports that includes people’s representatives will find greater resonance now, and help chart a sustainable path ahead.

2. A blasphemous law

  1. The Punjab government’s proposal to amend Article 295 of the Penal Code is deeply regressive and will have deep ramifications beyond Punjab
  2. The proposed amendment gives life imprisonment for whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to the Guru Granth Sahib, the Bhagwad Gita, the Quran and the Bible
  3. Using state power to enforce the sacred, both defiles the sacred and messes with the secular

Learnings from Pakistan

  1. The progressive strengthening of anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan during the Seventies was a sign of a toxic combination of greater intolerance and authoritarianism

What should a liberal state strive for?

A liberal state needs two sensibilities

  1. The first is that many good things are good and derive their authentic meaning precisely from the fact that there is no coercion behind them
  2. The second is that personal beliefs and faith, even if entirely sound, do not by themselves provide sufficient ground for the state using its coercive power to enforce them

Populist laws are tearing apart secular fabric

  1. In India, we are constantly expanding the circle of deference to the religious sentiment
  2. Making religious sentiments the basis for law is a recipe for competitive political mobilisation and conflict, not of peace
  3. The law is sectarian as it protects four texts and the state has decided which texts get protection
  4. If the desecrators have a political purpose, it is to make sure that they can use religious sentiments to destroy India’s liberal democracy
  5. Religious sentiments need not be illiberal, but they become illiberal when they become the basis for the state enforcing the idea that everyone has to defer to those sentiments

Using present laws to deal with this problem

  1. It is true that in Punjab there were acts of desecration of several religious texts
  2. But there are enough existing laws to deal with those who would want to maliciously generate enmity between communities

Way Forward

  1. Caving in to some nebulous argument about religious sentiments does not just make us destroy both religion and the state, it also produces political cowardice of the highest order
  2. Any law that empowers the state to give up to life imprisonment for injury to the book is about nothing but creating a pall of fear
  3. Its effect will not be the number of prosecutions; its effect will be more palpably felt in people not even daring to push the boundaries of protest

3. Poll panel to brainstorm on key issues

  • In the times of social media and phased elections, how can campaign silence be maintained during the last 48 hours before polling?
  • The Election Commission will be debating this and seven other issues, including limiting of expenditure and increasing participation of women, at a multi-party meeting on Monday. All seven registered national political parties and 51 State political parties have been invited.
  • The law prohibits canvassing during the last 48 hours before polling. This is meant to create an environment of neutrality and “silence” for the voter to exercise the franchise through reasoned reflection rather than be swayed by last-minute appeals by parties and candidates.
  • The agenda notes, circulated to all political parties and accessed by The Hindu, say the Commission has sought suggestions on how to “address the issue of online canvassing to promote or prejudice the electoral prospects of a party/candidate on social media during the last 48 hours”.
  • The Opposition parties, especially the Congress, have been consistently asking this question in view of the BJP’s extensive campaigning on the ground and on social media ahead of each election.

Adding print media

  • The Commission has asked the parties if the print media should be brought within the ambit of Section 126(1)(b) (which lists mediums in which display of election matter is prohibited and includes television, cinematograph or similar apparatus) of the Representation of the People Act. Seeking to raise a heated debate, the Commission has asked political parties on whether there should be a ceiling on party election expenditure. The present election laws only provide a limit on a candidate’s expenditure. The commission has also written to the Law Ministry exploring this question.
  • “It has proposed that such ceiling should be either 50% of or not more than the expenditure ceiling limit provided for the candidate multiplied by the number of candidates of the party contesting the election,” the agenda notes say.
  • The Law Ministry is yet to respond to the proposal.

Expenditure ceiling

  • The Commission wants to know the views of political parties on bringing a ceiling for expenditure in the Legislative Council elections. In these elections, huge amounts of unaccounted-for money is often spent by the candidates.
  • The Commission has asked the parties to take note of alternative modes of voting for domestic migrants and absentee voters, such as postal, proxy and e-voting. The Commission has proposed five strategies, the agenda note says, to ensure that no migrant worker is left out.
  • These include developing portability of voting rights by linking voter ID and Aadhaar. A one-time voluntary registration system for domestic migrants, electoral support services to be provided to migrants at the source and destination areas, raising awareness of voters’ rights and a helpline for domestic migrants are the other measures suggested by the Commission.
  • The Election Commission has asked “what measures can political parties undertake to encourage enhanced representation of women within the organisation structure of the political party.”
  • It has pulled out embarrassing statistics to build the case for a greater presence of women. There are only 11.4% women in the 16th Lok Sabha, substantially lower than the global average of 22.9%, the Commission noted.
  • It has said that at least seven countries have laws reserving seats for women in legislature, including Nepal

4. Commute-related pollution: Kolkata shines among megacities

  • An analysis of 14 Indian cities, including six megacities and eight metropolises, on how they fare when it comes to pollution and energy consumption from urban commuting, places Kolkata as the top-performing megacity.
  • Bhopal leads the list on the lowest overall emissions. Delhi fares the worst on the two counts.
  • The report titled ‘The Urban Commute and How it Contributes to Pollution and Energy’, compiled by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), was released in Kolkata on Friday.
  • CSE executive director Anumita Roychowdhury said air pollution was a national crisis and road transport was the sector showing the highest increase in emission of greenhouse gases.
  • Motorisation in India is explosive. Initially, it took 60 years (1951-2008) for India to cross the mark of 105 million registered vehicles. Thereafter, the same number of vehicles was added in a mere six years (2009-15).
  • In the study, with an aggregate of toxic emissions from urban commuting practices, such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, the cities were ranked based on calculations of heat trapping (CO2).
  • The study took two approaches to rank the cities — one based on overall emission and energy consumption and the other on per person trip emissions and energy consumption.
  • Six megacities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad) and eight metropolitan cities (Bhopal, Lucknow, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kochi and Vijayawada) were evaluated.
  • In terms of overall emissions and energy consumption, Bhopal was followed by Vijayawada, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Kochi and Jaipur. Kolkata, placed 7th overall, was better than the other five megacities as well as metropolitan cities like Pune and Ahmedabad.
  • Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai fared a little better than Delhi.
  • According to the report, though metropolitan cities scored better than megacities due to lower population, lower travel volume and lower vehicle numbers, they were at risk due to a much higher share of personal vehicle trips.

‘Resounding message’

  • Kolkata provides a resounding message that despite population growth and rising travel demand, it is possible to contain motorisation with a well established public transport culture, compact city design, high street density and restricted availability of land for roads and parking, the report pointed out, comparing Kolkata to Hong Kong and cities in Japan.
  • Mumbai, the report stated, had the highest GDP but a lower rate of motorisation compared with other megacities, proving that income levels were not the only reason for deciding a population’s dependence on automobiles.
  • Both Kolkata and Mumbai have grown with a unique advantage of a public transport spine well integrated with existing land use patterns.
  • Chennai was the first city to adopt a non-motorised transport (NMT) policy in 2004 that aims to arrest the decline of walking or cycling by creating a network of footpaths, bicycle tracks and greenways,the report said.

5. ISRO telemedicine nodes for soldiers in high-altitude areas

  1. In a major effort to improve emergency medical support to soldiers posted in high-altitude areas, especially Siachen, the Integrated Defence Staff of the Defence Ministry and the ISRO signed a MoU to set up telemedicine nodes in critical places across the country.
  2. ISRO will establish 53 more nodes in the first phase over and above the existing 20, in various establishments of the Army, Navy and Air Force across the country.

Battling Siachen’s extremity

  1. As part of this, in addition to a functioning node on the Siachen glacier, four more nodes are being established to enable medical consultation between soldiers deployed on the glacier and medical echelons in the rear.
  2. During winter months, many of the remote posts are cut off for several months because of adverse terrain and extreme weather, making emergency evacuation near impossible.
  3. Communication through satellite-enabled telemedicine nodes will be a paradigm shift in the delivery of lifesaving health care till the weather clears up and movement is possible.
  4. This joint initiative by ISRO and the Armed Forces Medical Services will transform the reach of telemedicine to soldiers, airmen and sailors in remote and isolated posts.

6. Oil rises as U.S. sanctions on Iran cloud supply view

Oil prices rose more than 1% on Friday, supported by signs that U.S. sanctions on Iran are already reducing global crude supply.

Benchmark Brent crude oil rose $1.30 a barrel to a high of $76.03 by 1425 GMT, on track for gains of more than 5% this week. U.S. crude was $1.20 higher at $69.03, heading for a weekly rise of more than 4%.

Both crude markers are on track to end a steady run of weekly declines. This is largely due to a tightening fundamental outlook on the back of looming Iranian supply shortages.

The U.S. Government reimposed sanctions on Iran this month after withdrawing from a 2015 international nuclear deal, which Washington saw as inadequate for curbing Tehran’s activities in the Middle East and denying it the means to make an atomic bomb. Tehran says it has no ambitions to make such a weapon.

Third largest producer

  • Iran is the third-biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, supplying around 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and condensate to markets this year, equivalent to about 2.5% of global consumption.
  • Third-party reports indicate that Iranian tanker loadings are already down by about 700,000 bpd in the first half of August relative to July, which if it holds will exceed most expectations.
  • Energy consultancy FGE says it expects Iran’s crude and condensate exports to drop below 1 million bpd by mid-2019.

U.S., China talks

  • Market sentiment was cautious, however, after talks between U.S. and Chinese officials aimed at resolving an escalating trade dispute ended on Thursday with no major breakthrough.
  • Instead, both countries activated another round of tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods.
  • Investors are likely to feel nervous as the two countries vow to step up the pressure.
  • Economists say a prolonged trade war would reduce business activity in the United States and China, and stifle world economic growth.
  • Despite the trade war, China’s Unipec will resume purchases of U.S. crude oil in October, sources said. Traders kept an eye on North Sea, where workers on three oil and gas platforms plan to go on strike.

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