Polity & Governance
- 15th Finance Commission seeks say in GST Council amid Centre-states row
- Farooq Abdullah, Pragya Thakur in parliament defence consultative panel
- 28 private member bills introduced in Lok Sabha
Government Schemes & Policies
- 728 ‘One Stop Centres’ sanctioned, 595 operational for women victims of violence
Issues related to Health & Education
- Govt considers generic scheduling of drugs to curb abuse of synthetic drugs
- Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea file review petition at Supreme Court in AGR case
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Crowd-sourcing, community participation to help in conserving rare toad
- Centre, Punjab at odds over stubble burning
Science & Technology
- The Hong Kong government must come clean about tear gas
- No relief to RO companies from Supreme Court
Key Facts for Prelims
- Minister of Petroleum appeals to the Steel Industry to work towards the “Green Steel”
- In Meghalaya living root bridges, study sees global potential. Can it work?
- Central Road and Infrastructure Fund
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Polity & Governance
15th Finance Commission seeks say in GST Council amid Centre-states row
A further simplification of the GST structure could help increase revenue and foster better tax compliance, according to N K Singh, chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, who called for a better co-ordination between the finance commission and GST Council to better optimise revenue.
Why finance commission should be included in GST Council?
- Tax rate cuts and grant of exemptions, decided solely by the GST council, affects the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s (FFC’s) goal of optimizing revenue targets of the Centre and states.
- Demand from states for extending the GST Cess compensation for revenue shortfall beyond the year 2022 will have impact on the formula that the FFC is set to recommend shortly on how the Centre should share its tax revenue with states.
What is GST Compensation Cess?
- GST is charged at the time of supply and depends on the destination of consumption.
- For instance, if a good is manufactured in state A but consumed in state B, then the revenue generated through GST collection is credited to the state of consumption (state B) and not to the state of production (state A).
- Due to the consumption-based nature of GST, manufacturing states like Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka etc. feared a revenue loss. Thus, GST Compensation Cess was introduced by the government to compensate for the possible revenue losses suffered by manufacturing states.
- This compensation cess is levied only for the first 5 years of GST regime: from 2017 to 2022.
About GST Council
- The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is governed by the GST Council. GST Council is constituted by the President.
- Article 279 (1) of the amended Indian Constitution states that the GST Council has to be constituted by the President within 60 days of the commencement of the Article 279A.
GST Council consists of the following members:
- Union Finance Minister as Chairperson
- Union Minister of State, in charge of Revenue of Finance
- Minister in charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State government, as members.
Mandate of GST Council:
- The predominant responsibility of the GST Council is to ensure to have one uniform tax rate for goods and services across India.
- Article 279A (4) specifies that the Council will make recommendations to the Union and the States on the important issues related to GST, such as, the goods and services will be subject or exempted from the Goods and Services Tax.
What is Finance Commission?
- The Finance Commission is a constitutional body formed every five years to give suggestions on centre-state financial relations.
- It is constituted by the President under article 280 of the Constitution to give its recommendations on the distribution of tax revenue between the Union and the States (vertical sharing) and among the states themselves (horizontal sharing).
- Finance Commission’s recommendations are advisory in nature and, hence, not binding on the Government.
To know more about Finance Commission refer to IASTopper’s current Affairs: https://www.iastoppers.com/18th-july-2019-current-affairs-analysis-iastoppers/
[Ref: Economic Times, LiveMint]
Farooq Abdullah, Pragya Thakur in parliament defence consultative panel
Former Chief Minister of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah, who is now under detention, and Malegaon blast accused Pragya Thakur have been nominated as members of the consultative committee of Parliament for the Ministry of Defence.
- The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs constitutes Consultative Committees of Members of both the Houses of Parliament, which are attached to various Ministries, and arranges meetings thereof.
- The Minister/Minister of State in-charge of the Ministry concerned, acts as the chairman of the Consultative Committee of that Ministry.
- The main purpose of these Committees is to provide a forum for informal discussions between the Government and Members of Parliament on policies of the Government.
- Meetings of these Committees are held both during the session and inter-session period of Parliament.
- The membership of these committees is voluntary and is left to the choice of the members and the leaders of their parties.
- The maximum membership of a committee is 30 and the minimum is 10.
- These committees dissolved upon dissolution of every Lok Sabha and reconstituted upon constitution of each Lok Sabha.
Informal Consultative Committees
- In addition, separate Informal Consultative Committees of the members of Parliament are also constituted for all the Railway Zones.
- Members of Parliament belonging to the area falling under a particular Railway Zone are nominated on the Informal Consultative Committee of that Railway Zone.
- Meeting of this committees can only be arranged during session periods only.
28 private member bills introduced in Lok Sabha
Measures to control population and compulsory teaching of vedic education were among the issues raised by members through 28 private member bills introduced in the Lok Sabha.
What are Private Member’s Bill?
- Any Member of Parliament (MP), who is not a Minister, is referred to as a private member. Private Member’s Bills (PMB) are introduced by non-Minister MPs.
- Their purpose is to draw the government’s attention to what individual MPs see as issues and gaps in the existing legal framework, which require legislative intervention.
- The admissibility of a PMB is decided by the Rajya Sabha Chairman. (In the case of Lok Sabha, it is the Speaker).
- Up to 1997, private members could introduce up to three Bills in a week. This led to a piling up of Bills that were introduced but never discussed. This resulted in capped of the number of PMB to three per session.
- The Private member must give at least a month’s notice before the Bill can be listed for introduction.
- PMBs can be introduced and discussed only on Fridays. However, only a fraction of private member’s bills that are introduced, are taken up for discussion.
- PMBs can deal with any issue; they can also be Constitutional Amendment Bills or Money Bills.
- A PMB that is introduced but not discussed in Rajya Sabha, lapses when Member retires.
Procedure for introduction
- Introduction of PMB by giving prior notice of one month along with a copy of the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ the Bill.
- The final order of introduction is decided by a ballot system to ensure fairness.
- On the day allotted for such Bills, the Speaker/ Chairman of the Lok Sabha/ Rajya Sabha calls out to individual Members who then introduce their Bills.
- A Parliamentary Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions allots time to different PMBs and helps in classifying PMBs based on their nature, urgency, and importance. This classification determines which of the introduced Bills are discussed first.
- If a Bill is successful in the ballot, it has to wait for the discussion to conclude on a Bill currently being debated by the House.
- After discussion, the Member piloting the Bill can either withdraw it on the request of the Minister concerned, or may choose to go ahead.
- If the private member gets the support of the House, the PMB is passed.
Importance of PMBs
- PMBs are designed to empower MPs to bring attention to issues that were ignored by the ruling party.
- PMBs are used to put forward important issues.
- Various countries across the world empower their Private Members in the law making process. For instance, in the UK, since 1948, as many as 775 Private Members’ Bills have been passed.
What stops PMBs from being passed by the Parliament?
- In recent years, governments have tended to view PMBs as an intrusion by non-Ministers into their domain.
- A perception also seems to have been built that the passage of PMBs would mean that the government is incompetent. As a result, the passage of PMBs is not encouraged.
- This has led to an unofficial convention where, if a PMB finds support in the House, the Government usually requests the Private Member to withdraw her/ his Bill with the assurance that the Government will introduce a Bill on the same issue.
Difference between government bills and Private member bills
- Government Bills are often deliberated upon and approved by the Council of Ministers before being introduced. This is not done for PMBs.
- Bills introduced by Ministers are called Government Bills.
- Only 14 Private member’s Bill have become law since India’s independence, the last being passed in 1970. More recently, The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 passed in the Rajya Sabha after a gap of 45 years since the passing of the last PMB.
[Ref: Indian Express, Times of India]
Government Schemes & Policies
728 ‘One Stop Centres’ sanctioned, 595 operational for women victims of violence
So far 728 OSCs have been sanctioned and 595 OSCs have started operations. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of operational Centres with 75, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Bihar with 51 and 38 Centres respectively.
About the One Stop Center Scheme:
- It is a centrally sponsored scheme of Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD).
- Implemented since 2015, it is a subscheme of Umbrella Scheme for National Mission for Empowerment of women including Indira Gandhi Mattritav Sahyaog Yojana.
- This scheme is popularly known as ‘Sakhi’ (Female friend.)
- To support women who are affected by violence in private and public spaces, within the family, community and at the workplace.
- To provide support and specialized services to women facing physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse.
- All women including girls below 18 years of age affected by violence.
- Funded through Nirbhaya Fund.
Services offered in OSCs
- Emergency Response and Rescue Services – Provision of rescue and referral services
- Medical assistance – Women affected by violence would be referred to the nearest Hospital for medical aid.
- Assistance to women in lodging FIR /NCR/DIR
- Psycho – social support/ counselling
- Legal aid and counselling – For facilitate access to justice for women affected by violence
- Shelter – Provide temporary/long term shelter facility to aggrieved women. Women affected by violence along with their children (girls of all ages and boys up till 8 years of age) can avail temporary shelter for a maximum period of 5 days.
- Video Conferencing Facility – To facilitate speedy police and court proceedings, the OSC provide video conferencing facility.
- Madhya Pradesh had the highest number of registered cases of domestic violence against women.
Issues related to Health & Education
Govt considers generic scheduling of drugs to curb abuse of synthetic drugs
To deal with the problem of abuse of synthetic drugs and ‘New Psychotropic Substances’ (NPS), the government is considering generic scheduling of drugs to replace the practice of substance-by-substance scheduling.
What are New psychoactive substances (NPS)?
- New psychoactive substances (NPS) are a range of drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine etc.
- NPS have been known in the market by terms such as ‘legal highs’, ‘bath salts’ and ‘research chemicals’.
- Manufacturers of these drugs develop NPS to replace those chemical which are banned.
Categories of NPS sold in the market
- Synthetic cannabinoids
- Synthetic cathinones
- Phencyclidine-type substances
- Plant-based substances
What are the risks of NPS?
Side effects of NPS range from seizures to agitation, aggression, acute psychosis as well as potential development of dependence.
Global emergence of new psychoactive substances
What is the legal situation of NPS?
- Since NPS are not controlled under the International Drug Control Conventions, their legal status can differ widely from country to country.
Indian National Policy on Narcotic Drugs
- The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, based on the Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, direct the State to bring about prohibition of the consumption, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating drugs injurious to health.
- India is a signatory to the single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.
Narcotics Control Bureau
- Government of India constituted the Narcotics Control Bureau in 1986, using the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
- Co-ordination of actions under the N.D.P.S. Act, Customs Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
- Implementation of counter measures against illicit traffic under the various international conventions.
- Assistance to concerned authorities in foreign countries to facilitate coordination for prevention of illicit traffic in drugs.
- To assist Member States in the identification and reporting of NPS, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) established the Early Warning Advisory (EWA) on NPS, offering information on NPS trends, harms etc.
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea file review petition at Supreme Court in AGR case
Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea filed a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) to review its judgement that ordered telecom companies to pay over INR 92,000 crore to the department of telecommunications (DoT) in penalties. The matter pertained to the DoT claiming that telecom companies had under reported their revenues.
What is Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR)?
- AGR is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
- The telecom sector was liberalized under the National Telecom Policy, 1994 after which telecommunication licenses were issued to companies in return for a fixed license fee.
- However, to provide relief from the steep fixed license fee, the government in 1999 gave an option to provide such fixed fee through revenue sharing fee model. Under this, mobile telephone operators were required to share a percentage of their AGR with the government as annual license fee (LF) and spectrum usage charges (SUC).
What is the issue?
- As per DoT, the AGR charges are calculated based on all revenues earned by a telecom companies including non-telecom related sources such as deposit interests and asset sales.
Telecom companies’ argument
- On the other side, Telecom companies are arguing that AGR should only include the revenues generated from telecom services.
The supreme court ruled in favour of DoT. Hence, Telecom firms will be required to include the non-core income for calculation of AGR. This will force them to pay the government more than Rs 92,000 crore extra, including disputed demand, interest and penalty.
- In 2005, the Cellular Operators Association of India challenged the DoT’s definitionfor AGR calculation.
- Subsequently, in 2015, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT)ruled in favour of telecom companies and said that the AGR should not include revenue from non-core sources such as rent, profit on the sale of fixed assets, dividend, interest etc.
- A single-judge bench of the Tripura High Court also ruled in 2018 that the revenue of telcos from ‘non-licensed activities’ could not be included while computing AGR.
- However, DoT filed an appeal before the Supreme Court, citing that the TDSAT had no jurisdiction on the validity of terms and conditions of licenses.
[Ref: Livemint, Business Line]
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Crowd-sourcing, community participation to help in conserving rare toad
The Metastring Foundation was awarded grant for its project on the Malabar Tree Toad (MTT), a very rare species of amphibian endemic to the Ghats.
About Malabar tree toad
- The Malabar tree toad or Asian tree toad, is a species of toad found in forests along the Western Ghats of India.
- It is an endangered species that spends most of its life on trees.
What is toad?
- Toad is a common name for certain frogs, especially of the family
- A distinction between frogs and toads is not made in scientific taxonomy. However, they differ from most frogs because they have dry skin, crests behind the eyes, and parotoid glands. The parotoid glands produce bufotoxin, a poisonous secretion that helps the toad defend itself from predators.
Frogs vs Toads
Need to live near water
Do not need to live near water to survive
Have smooth, moist skin
Have rough, dry, bumpy skin
Have a narrow body
Have a wider body
Have higher, rounder, bulgier eyes
Have lower, football shaped eyes
Have longer hind legs
Have shorter, less powerful hind legs
Have many predators
Do not have many predators.
[Ref: Down To Earth]
Centre, Punjab at odds over stubble burning
With paddy harvesting at its fag end in the key grain producing State of Punjab, both the Central and State governments released data on stubble burning, but with starkly different narratives.
Stubble burning data
- As per central government: Stubble burning had declined 19% in 2019, including a 16.8% reduction in Punjab. Haryana had recorded a 25% reduction while Uttar Pradesh had seen a 36 %. This reduction is due to the Centrally funded scheme to distribute stubble management machines to farmers as well as State schemes to compensate farmers who did not burn their fields.
- As per Punjab government: Increase of 2.3% in the number of Stubble burning events.
- The burning of crop residue is regulated under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
Science & Technology
The Hong Kong government must come clean about tear gas
The Hong Kong police force has deployed more than 9,000 rounds of tear gas in the city since June in responding to anti-government protests.
What is the issue?
- The deployment of tear gas in high-risk enclosed areas such as underground train stations as well as in locations adjacent to schools and retirement homes due to the anti-government protests have raised concord in Hong Kong.
What are Tear gas?
- Tear gas, also called lacrimator, are substances that irritate eyes, causing a stinging sensation and tears.
- Tear gas was first used in World War I, but since its effects are short-lasting, it came into use by law-enforcement agencies to disperse mobs, disabling rioters, and flushing out armed suspects without the use of deadly force.
- The substances most often used as tear gases are synthetic organic halogen compounds.
- The two most commonly used tear gases are Chloro acetophenone (CN), and Chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS). CN are often sold as
Effects of Tear gas on health:
- The effects on the respiratory system from tear gas can also asthma or bronchitis in susceptible people, particularly in the hot and humid subtropical environment of Hong Kong.
- Tear gas can degrade into more toxic chemicals, including cyanide oxide and phosgene, with the potential to cause heart, brain, nerve or lung damage depending on exposure.
- Cases of long-term disability or even death from exposure to tear gas have been documented worldwide.
- Moreover, the effects of tear gas on the respiratory system can cause asthma or bronchitis in susceptible people, particularly in the hot and humid subtropical environment.
No relief to RO companies from Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has refused to stay the May 2019 order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that banned the use of reverse osmosis (RO) systems where drinking water supply had total dissolved solids (TDS) less than 500 mg per litre.
What is the issue?
- In May 2019, the National Green Tribunal asked the government to frame rules for the use of Reverse osmosis (RO) filters and also banned the use of RO purifiers in locations where TDS is less than 500 mg per litre.
- This is due to the fact that RO purifiers lead to the wastage of almost 70-80 percent water. NGT also asked the RO manufacturers to ensure that they are able to recover about 75 % of the water.
- Recently, NGT found that its order was still not being implemented. Following this, the Water Quality India Association moved the SC to seek a stay on the RO ban. However, the supreme court refused to give a stay.
What is Osmosis?
Osmosis involves ‘a solvent (such as water) naturally moving from an area of low solute concentration, through a membrane, to an area of high solute concentration.
RO Desalination’ or Reverse Osmosis Desalination
- RO Desalination is one of the technique used to desalinate the brackish or salty water.
- RO is the most prevalent technology to convert salt water into freshwater.
- In this technology, a plant pumps in salty or brackish water, filters separate the salt from the water, and the salty water is returned to the sea.
- In a reverse osmosis system, an external pressure is applied to reverse the natural flow of solvent (which is from an area of low solute concentration to an area of high solute concentration).
- Seawater or brackish water is pressurized against one surface of the membrane.
- The pressure allows salt-depleted water to move across the membrane, releasing clean water from the low-pressure side.
Problems associated with RO plants:
- Deposition of brine (highly concentrated salt water) along the shores.
- Hyper salinity along the shore affects plankton, which is the main food for several of these fish species. The high pressure motors needed to draw in the seawater end up sucking in small fish and life forms, thereby crushing and killing them — again a loss of marine resource.
- Construction of the RO plants required troves of groundwater. Freshwater that was sucked out and is replaced by salt water, rendering it unfit for the residents around the desalination plants.
- On an average, it costs about ₹900 crore to build a 100 MLD-plant and, as the Chennai experience has shown, about five years for a plant to be set up.
- To remove the salt required, there has to be a source of electricity, either a power plant or a diesel or battery source. Estimates have put this at about 4 units of electricity per 1,000 litres of water. It is estimated that it cost ₹3 to produce 100 litres of potable water.
Is RO water healthy?
- There are concerns that desalinated the RO water may be short of vital minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, sodium, potassium and carbonates.
- Most RO plants put the water through a ‘post-treatment’ process whereby salts are added to make TDS around 300 mg/l.
Low-temperature thermal desalination (LTTD) technique:
- This technique works on the principle that water in the ocean 1,000 or 2,000 feet below is about 4º C to 8º C colder than surface water. So, salty surface water is collected in a tank and subject to high pressure (via an external power source). This pressured water vapourises and this is trapped in tubes or a chamber. Cold water plumbed from the ocean depths is passed over these tubes and the vapour condenses into fresh water and the resulting salt diverted away.
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion:
- It will draw power from the vapour generated as a part of the desalination process. This vapour will run a turbine and thereby will be independent of an external power source. While great in theory, there is no guarantee it will work commercially. For one, this ocean-based plant requires a pipe that needs to travel 50 kilometres underground in the sea before it reaches the mainland.
- Seawater has Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) close to 35,000 parts per million (ppm) which is equivalent to 35g of salt per one liter/kg of water.
TDS level as per WHO in drinking water:
- Excellent, less than 300 mg/litre
- Good, between 300 and 600 mg/litre
- Fair, between 600 and 900 mg/litre
- Poor, between 900 and 1200 mg/litre
- Unacceptable, greater than 1200 mg/litre; extremely low concentrations of TDS
Key Facts for Prelims
Minister of Petroleum appeals to the Steel Industry to work towards the “Green Steel”
In his inaugural address in the ISA Steel Conclave 2019 organised by Indian Steel Association, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Steel has asked the Steel industry in the country to work towards the mission of Green Steel.
About Ispati Irada
- In September 2019, a collaborative branding campaign named “Ispati Irada” was launched by the Ministry of Steel to promote appropriate usage of steel in India.
- became 2nd largest producer of crude steel during 2018,
- is the largest producer of Sponge Iron in the world.
- is the 3rd largest finished steel consumer in the world. after China & USA.
In Meghalaya living root bridges, study sees global potential. Can it work?
New research investigates the jing kieng jri or living root bridges structures and proposes to integrate them in modern architecture around the world, and potentially help make cities more environment-friendly.
What are the jing kieng jri or living root bridges?
- The living root bridges are aerial bridges built by weaving and manipulating the roots of the Indian rubber tree (Ficus elastic).
- They are handmade by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes.
- They are serving as bridge for crossing streams and rivers for generations in Meghalaya.
‘The two most popular Root Bridge: Riwai Root Bridge and Umshiang Double Decker Bridge are center of tourism growth.
Process of making living root bridges
- By guiding the roots of the Indian rubber tree to grow laterally across a stream bed, a living bridge of roots can be made.
- This process begins with placing of young roots growing from India rubber trees in hollowed bamboo trunks. These provide essential nutrition and act as aerial root guidance systems.
- Over time, as the aerial roots increase in strength, the bamboo trunks are no longer required.
Why only Indian Rubber Trees?
Found in abundance in Meghalaya
Roots of Indian Rubber Tree are
- Can easily combine
- Can grow in rough, rocky soils.
Finding of new research
- Living root bridges can be considered a reference point for future botanical architecture projects in urban contexts.
- However, such techniques of Living Root Bridges are in an early research phase.
Central Road and Infrastructure Fund
About Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF)
- The Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF) is earmarked for various infrastructure sectors such as Transport, Energy, Water and Sanitation, Communication, Social and Commercial Infrastructure, etc., as per the provisions of CRIF Act, 2000.
- The CRF, launched in 2000, is a cess imposed along with excise duty on petrol and diesel.
- In 2018 budget, the government created Central Road and Infrastructure Fund in place of the CRF by amending the Central Road Fund Act, 2000.
- Main purpose of the amendment is to use the proceeds of the road cess under CRIF to finance other infrastructure projects.
- As per the amendment, the share for each infrastructure project from the CRIF will be finalised by a Committee, headed by the Finance Minister.
- With the amendment of CRF Act, 2000, sanction of schemes for the State Roads is no longer a function of the Central Government.