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Detailed News Articles: 1 July 2019

1. Most see free legal aid as last-ditch option: report

A report has revealed that people look at free legal aid as the last option.

NALSA:

  • Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society and ensures justice for all.
  • Article 14 and 22(1) of the constitution also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity to all,
  • In 1987, the Legal Services Authorities (LSA) Act was enacted to give free and competent legal services to the poor.
  • The Act paved the way for the constitution of National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) and other legal service institutions at the State, district and taluka level.
  • The NALSA has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to monitor and evaluate implementation of legal services available under the Act.

Background

  • Last year, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) had come out with a report stating that India’s per capita lawyer ratio is better than most countries in the world.
    • There are about 1.8 million lawyers in India which mean there is one lawyer for every 736 people.
    • It had also stated there are 61,593 panel lawyers in the country, which translates to just one legal aid lawyer per 18,609 population or five legal aid lawyers per 1,00,000 population.
  • Free legal services under LSA Act are available to a person belonging to Schedule Tribe and Schedule Caste, woman, child, victim of human trafficking, differently abled person, industrial workman, and person in custody in a protective home and the poor.
  • According to the statistics provided by NALSA, about 8.22 lakh people across India benefited through legal aid services from April 2017 to June 2018.

Details:

  • First-of-its-kind pan-India research by a Professor of National Law University, Delhi (NLUD) has found that people don’t have faith over the services of legal aid counsel (LAC) under the free legal aid services due to a variety of factors.
  • Though the services offered by LAC are absolutely free, a majority of potential beneficiaries are disinclined towards the option of availing these services.
  • The study demonstrated that beneficiaries opt for free legal aid service due to the dearth of resources to engage a private lawyer.
  • They would never have approached for the legal aid services if they had resources to engage private legal practitioners,” the study found. 22.6% of the beneficiaries responded that they won’t opt for free legal aid services for the second time.
  • The study also found that 60% of women, who were aware of the free legal aid services, chose to opt for private legal practitioner because they could have better control over their lawyer. In addition, they had no faith over the quality of services.
  • 30% of beneficiaries claimed their LAC often demand money before or after every court hearing.

Way forward:

  • Currently, the engagement of LAC is usually on an ad-hoc basis. Around 45% of the regulators opined that making them full time will definitely improve the level of commitment.
  • The study recommended that making honorarium for a legal aided case at par with private cases, will compel LAC to not withdraw or desert aided cases in middle.
  • The selection process must ensure selection and empanelment of committed lawyers.

2. From baby steps to giant strides, GST gains momentum

Government along with partners from the trade and industry is celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of GST on 1st July 2019.

Details:

  • The historical goods and services tax (GST) was implemented across India from July 1, 2017.
  • India was not new to indirect tax levies, but consolidating Central and State levies and achieving uniformity was not easy.

How did the industry benefit?

  • The industry embraced and loved the GST for harmonising taxes, elimination of cascading effect of tax, widening the scope of input tax credit and for achieving a uniform tax rate for a product or service across the country.
  • Tangible benefits includes faster refunds, less interaction with tax authorities, abolition of checkposts, etc.
  • There are other intangible benefits on account of GST.
    • In the past, a manufacturer in State A would lose a customer in State B if he made a CST supply.
    • To prevent the loss, the manufacturer would open a depot in order to effect a local supply in State B.
    • The depot was not a business requirement, but one of tax.
    • Under GST, a supplier can supply goods from any part of India and tax or input tax credit is no longer an arbitrage in competition.
    • The customer is now in a position to source from any supplier and the latter is in a position to access markets across India.
  • Industry gains include elimination or dismantling of structures created under the pre-GST era for tax purposes, supply-chain efficiencies, direct customer access, and a robust transparent trail for the movement of goods.
  • However, there are a few concerns:
    • The industry is extremely unhappy with the massive increase in compliance requirements, frequent battles with the GST portal, wastage of man hours in dealing with technical glitches, and facing potential loss of ITC on account of supplier facing similar problems.
    • The industry is also not happy with frequent changes in law, including scenarios where the portal does not permit what the law permits.

How has the government benefitted?

  • Monthly revenue from GST has crossed ₹1,00,000 crore, even though the GDP growth is low and the economy is witnessing a slump.
  • GST has resulted in the widening of the tax base.
  • Excellent data mining has resulted in identification of tax evasion at an early stage.
  • E-way bill system has brought in an effective, transparent movement trail.
  • Higher tax collections even without intervention indicates compliance.
  • With more and more vendors and service providers walking into GST, the formalisation of economy has taken place.
  • The walk-in is voluntary and sometimes compelled by the bigger player, who prefers only registered compliant suppliers.
  • The natural corollary would be the increase in direct tax collections from these new assessees.
  • Many manufacturing states had anticipated huge losses on account of GST compared to their pre-GST collections.
  • This has not happened probably due to significant consumption of services in such manufacturing States.
  • Unlike many other countries which faced massive inflation on account of introduction of GST, India did not face any inflation. This was probably due to an effective rate of tax policy, as well as timely course correction.
  • However, there are a few concerns:
    • The government, is extremely unhappy with the fake invoice racket. These players provide a disservice to the economy and also to honest tax payers.
    • While action against fake invoice racket is welcome, the government should pursue the route of adjudication, prosecution and early conviction instead of the threat of non-bailable arrest provisions which have a potential for misuse.
    • The National Anti-Profiteering Authority had also played a role, but has outlived its objective. There was no necessity for a two-year extension.

How has the consumer benefitted?

  • The consumer has gained the most in GST.
  • From an era of cascading taxes, which had nearly 30% of taxes on goods; dual and multiple levies on services, the consumer is now seeing massive reduction in the rate of tax for goods and services.
  • For instance, In a typical restaurant, the customer is enjoying a flat 5% which is lower than the VAT rates applicable in many countries in the European Union.
  • Awareness of GST among consumers is at an all-time high.
  • Concerns:
    • However, the downside is tax evasion, which is now driven by consumers.
    • In the past, when a customer procured goods or services, he was least bothered about the tax rate since excise duty was invisible. The VAT rate was low and was not a significant deterrent.
    • When the overall indirect tax levy was 30%, it was not reflected in the invoice, but when the rate has declined to 12% and 18%, awareness about GST makes the customer assume it is a new levy which affects his pocket, and the consumer opens the cash channel.

Other Concerns:

  • GST law has turned out to be the most complex one on account of design faults and frequent tinkering.
  • The distinction between goods and services manifests itself in GST in multiple segments.
  • The Advance Ruling mechanism has failed since most rulings are in favour of the revenue and in some cases, against the provisions of the statute.
  • The constitution of the AAR is the issue, since it is not presided by a judicial member and comprises sitting officers of the tax department.

Conclusion:

  • The GST Council has played a stellar role in cooperative federalism since 35 meetings have taken place, where resolutions have been passed unanimously despite political differences.
  • This kind of unanimity is unseen even in flat association meetings.
  • In only two years of existence, 32 amendments to the CGST Act; 31 amendments to the CGST Rules; 87 CGST rate Notifications; 179 CGST non-rate Notifications; 90 IGST rate Notifications; 19 IGST non-rate Notifications; 101 Board Circulars; 10 Removal of Difficulty Orders; matching Notifications from 29 States, do not indicate a simple law.
  • In the third year of the GST regime, addressing procedural complexities of the GST portal system, implementation concerns and making compliance easier will further accelerate ease of doing business for industry in India.

3. Japan resumes commercial whaling, seen as face-saving end

Japanese fishermen have set sail to hunt whales commercially for the first time in more than three decades, following Tokyo’s controversial decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Background:

  • Introduced by the IWC in 1986 to protect the world’s last remaining whales, the ban on commercial whaling allowed Japan an annual whale quota for “scientific reasons.”
  • Even after the International Court of Justice in 2014 declared the killing of whales in the name of science illegal, Japan continued whaling.
  • Travelling as far as the North Atlantic or even to the Antarctic, home to the world’s largest populations of whales, Japanese fleets killed about 500 whales last year.
  • Japan announced last year that it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and would resume commercial whaling.
  • The decision had sparked global condemnation and fears for the worlds whales.

Details:

  • With the resumption of commercial whaling, Japanese boats will not be allowed to venture further than 200 miles (321km) off the country’s Pacific coast. But some environmentalists are still concerned because of the low whale stocks in Japan’s coastal waters.
  • The hunt will be confined to Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
  • Japan has long maintained that eating whale is an important part of its culture and that most species are not endangered.
  • Domestic consumption of whale meat was around 200,000 tons a year in the 1960s, when it was an important source of protein in the postwar years, but has slumped to less than 5,000 tons annually in recent years, according to government data.

Conclusion:

  • Some conservationists say the resumption of commercial whaling will likely lead to fewer whales being killed amid the shrinking demand for its meat as the government won’t be allowed to fish far beyond its waters.
  • By leaving the industry to survive at the whim of market forces, Shinzo Abe has in fact initiated the end of Japanese whaling, according the director of marine conservation for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
  • It is seen by many as a face-saving way out of whaling, the beginning of the end of Japanese whaling.

International Whaling Commission:

  • IWC is an international body set up under International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW).
  • IWC aims at providing for proper conservation of whale stocks and facilitate the orderly development of the whaling industry.
  • ICRW governs the commercial, scientific, and aboriginal subsistence whaling practices of fifty-nine member nations.
  • It was signed in Washington, D.C., United States, in 1946.

4. Why nuclear when India has an ‘ocean’ of energy

Nuclear energy is fast becoming an idea whose time has passed, at least in India. And there is something that is waiting to take its place.

Details:

  • Though the highly harmful source i.e, Nuclear Energy is regarded as saviour on certain counts, India has a better option under the seas.
  • India’s 6,780 MW of nuclear power plants contribute to less than 3% of the country’s electricity generation, which will come down as other sources will generate more.
  • Perhaps India lost its nuclear game in 1970, when it refused to sign – even if with the best of reasons – the Non Proliferation Treaty, which left the country to bootstrap itself into nuclear energy.

Three-stage programme

  • In the 1950s, the legendary physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha gave the country a roadmap for the development of nuclear energy.
  • In the now-famous ‘three-stage nuclear programme’, the roadmap laid out what needs to be done to eventually use the country’s almost inexhaustible Thorium resources.
  • The first stage would see the creation of a fleet of ‘pressurised heavy water reactors’, which use scarce Uranium to produce some Plutonium.
  • The second stage would see the setting up of several ‘fast breeder reactors’ (FBRs). These FBRs would use a mixture of Plutonium and the reprocessed ‘spent Uranium from the first stage, to produce energy and more Plutonium (hence ‘breeder’), because the Uranium would transmute into Plutonium.
  • Alongside, the reactors would convert some of the Thorium into Uranium-233, which can also be used to produce energy.
  • After 3-4 decades of operation, the FBRs would have produced enough Plutonium for use in the ‘third stage’. In this stage, Uranium-233 would be used in specially-designed reactors to produce energy and convert more Thorium into Uranium-233.

Concerns:

  • Seventy years down the line, India is still stuck in the first stage.
  • For the second stage, fast breeder reactors are needed.
  • A Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) of 500 MW capacity, construction of which began way back in 2004, is yet to come on stream.
  • The problem is about handling liquid Sodium, used as a coolant.
  • If Sodium comes in contact with water it will explode; and the PFBR is being built on the humid coast of Tamil Nadu.
  • The PFBR has always been a project that would go on stream next year.
  • The PFBR has to come online, then more FBRs would need to be built, they should then operate for 30-40 years, and only then would begin the coveted ‘Thorium cycle’!
  • The 6,700 MW of plants under construction would, some day, add to the existing nuclear capacity of 6,780 MW.
  • The government has sanctioned another 9,000 MW and there is no knowing when work on them will begin.
  • These are the home-grown plants.
  • Thanks to the famous 2005 ‘Indo-U.S. nuclear deal’, there are plans for more projects with imported reactors, but a 2010 Indian ‘nuclear liability’ legislation has scared the foreigners away.
  • With all this, it is difficult to see India’s nuclear capacity going beyond 20,000 MW over the next two decades.

Is nuclear energy worth it all?

  • There have been three arguments in favour of nuclear energy: clean, cheap and can provide electricity 24×7 (base load).
  • Clean it is, assuming that the ticklish issue of putting away the highly harmful spent fuel is taken care of.
  • However, it is no longer cheap. Nuclear power is pricing itself out of the market. A nuclear power plant takes a decade to come up, and it is hard to predict where the cost will end up when it begins generation of electricity.
  • Nuclear plants can provide the ‘base load’ — they give a steady stream of electricity day and night, just like coal or gas plants.
  • Wind and solar power plants produce energy much cheaper, but their power supply is irregular.
  • With gas not available and coal on its way out due to reasons of cost and global warming concerns, nuclear is sometimes regarded as the saviour.

Shift to Ocean Energy:

  • The Oceans are throbbing with energy. There are at least several sources of energy in the seas.
    • One is the bobbing motion of the waters, or ocean swells —a flat surface can be placed on the waters, with a mechanical arm attached to it, and it becomes a pump that can be used to drive water or compressed air through a turbine to produce electricity.
    • Another way is to tap into tides, which flow during one part of the day and ebb in another. Electricity can be generated by channelling the tide and place a series of turbines in its path.
    • One more way is to keep turbines on the sea bed at places where there is a current — a river within the sea.
    • Yet another way is to get the waves dash against pistons in, say, a pipe, so as to compress air at the other end.
  • All these methods have been tried in pilot plants in several parts of the world—Brazil, Denmark, U.K., Korea.
  • There are only two commercial plants in the world—in France and Korea—but then ocean energy has engaged the world’s attention.
  • India’s Gujarat State Power Corporation had a tie-up with U.K.’s Atlantic Resources for a 50 MW tidal project in the Gulf of Kutch, but the project was given up after they discovered they could sell the electricity only at ₹13 a kWhr.

Way forward:

  • When technology improves and scale-effect kicks-in, ocean energy will look real friendly.
  • Initially, ocean energy would also need to be incentivised, as solar was.
  • Also, wind and solar now stand on their own legs and those subsidies could now be shifted to ocean energy.

Thank you!

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