Panchayats to get ₹10 lakh cr. till 2026

Paper:II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

For forming up its recommendations for the years 2020-21 to 2025-26, the Finance Commission held a meeting with the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) headed by the Union Minister of Rural Development, Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare & Panchayati Raj.

Key Details:

  • The Panchayati Raj Ministry has pitched for a fivefold increase in Finance Commission funding for rural local bodies.
  • The Ministry asked for ₹10 lakh crore to be allocated for the 2020-21 to 2025-26 period, in comparison to the ₹2 lakh crore allocated under the 14th Finance Commission.
  • It noted that allocations had tripled between the 13th and 14th Commissions as well.
  • An impact evaluation study showed a 78% utilisation rate for FC grants between 2015 and 2019.
  • Road construction and maintenance, as well as drinking water supply have been the major projects carried out by panchayats using FC grants.
  • The 2.63 lakh panchayats across the country have 29 functions under their ambit, according to the 11th Schedule of the Constitution.

Importance of Panchayats during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Panchayats have also gained importance as crucial nodal points in times of crisis.
  • Going forward, the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan will depend on panchayats to generate employment for newly returned migrant workers.
  • The Ministry admitted that a major challenge during the pandemic and lockdown was that most panchayats could not provide cooked food at short notice. It has proposed that community kitchens be set up in each panchayat to be operated by local selfhelp groups.

Abide by UNSC orders, UN tells members after U.S. report on Pak.

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in News:

UN Secretary-General expects all member states to live up to their obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions, his spokesperson said, following a U.S. report that noted that Pakistan remains a safe haven for terrorists as it did not take actions against JeM founder Masood Azhar.

Key Details:

  • Recently, the U.S. released its 2019 country report for terrorism.
  • In the report, the State Department said Pakistan had continued to serve as a safe haven for regional terrorist groups.

 2019 country report for terrorism (The U.S.A):

  • The U.S. released its 2019 country report for terrorism, where the State Department said Pakistan had continued to serve as a safe haven for regional terrorist groups.
  • Pakistan allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated Haqqani Network (HQN), as well as groups targeting India, including LeT and its affiliated front organizations, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), to operate from its territory said the report.
  • It added that while Pakistan had taken modest steps in 2019 to tackle terror financing and restrain some India-focused terrorist organizations after the Pulwama attack in 2019, it still had not taken decisive action that would undermine the operational capability of India and Afghanistan focused terrorists.
  • The report also took note of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed’s arrest last year but pointed out that JeM founder Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir were at large. Azhar was designated a global terrorist by the U.N. in 2019.
  • However, the report said Pakistan had played a “constructive role” in facilitating U.S. talks with the Taliban.

‘IN-SPACe will be space industry regulator’

Paper:III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in News:

Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), a new entity of the Department of Space, has been approved by the Union Cabinet.

Functions of IN-SPACe:

  • IN-SPACe will regulate and promote building of routine satellites, rockets and commercial launch services through Indian industry and start-ups.
  • These activities had been largely the domain of the 50-year-old Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) until now.
  • It will have its own chairperson and board.
  • IN-SPACe will have its own directorates for technical, legal, safety and security, monitoring and activities promotion.
  • It is the second commercial arm of the Department of Space. (First being Antrix Corporation Limited)
  • It will function autonomously and parallel to ISRO.
  • NSIL [NewSpace India Ltd], which was launched in 2019, will be strengthened and empowered to work with IN-SPACe and enable industry consortia to take on some of the activities of ISRO.
  • These include launch vehicles and satellite production, launch services and space-based services.

Significance:

  • IN-SPACe is touted as the body that will ensure a level playing field for Indian industry in a fast-growing global space sector.
  • Private companies will be provided level playing field in satellites, launches and space-based services. Future projects for planetary exploration, outer space travel will be open for the private sector.
  • The reforms in the space sector are aimed at tapping the potential of the entire country for unlocking its potential by enabling private enterprises and start-ups to undertake end-to-end space activities.
  • They are also aimed at mitigating the large investments required to set up facilities for undertaking space activities through sharing of such existing facilities under ISRO.
  • It is expected that a large number of jobs will be created.
  • According to the ISRO Chairman, this [restructuring] will allow ISRO to allocate more time and resources for R&D endeavours while it continues to carry out its present activities with greater emphasis on development of advanced technology, human space flight missions and capacity building besides supporting private endeavours in the space sector.

New Satellite Navigation policy:

  • A new satellite navigation policy, which has a strategic military element to it, is being proposed.
  • The older ones, namely Remote Sensing Data Policy and the SatCom Policy of 2000, are being revised.
  • These are apart from a proposed policy for space activities that has seen a draft.

NGT asks OIL to pay ₹25 crore for well blowout damage

Paper:II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in News:

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered the public sector Oil India Limited (OIL) to deposit ₹25 crore with the administration of eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district for environmental damages due to fire at one of its wells.

Background:

  • An oil well at Baghjan had caught fire after it experienced a blowout. The well is close to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, which is within the eco-sensitive zone of the fragile Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
  • Recently, there was a continuous flow out of gas in Baghjan gas well in Tinsukia district of Assam, following a blowout.
  • The Baghjan well is a purely gas-producing well in Tinsukia district.
  • Since 2006, the gas well is being drilled by Oil India Limited (OIL).
  • It underwent a blowout – uncontrolled escape of gas at tremendous velocity – on May 27, 2020 and has been burning since bursting into flames on June 9.
  • There were reports of death of a river dolphin.
  • Locals complained of symptoms such as burning of eyes, headache, etc.
  • As many as 1,610 families with 2,500-3,000 people were evacuated to relief camps.
  • It is at an aerial distance of 900 metres from the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

Also close to it is the Maguri-Motapung wetland —an Important Bird Area notified by the Bombay Natural History Society.

Natural Gas:

  • Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel among the available fossil fuels.
  • It is used as a feedstock in the manufacture of fertilizers, plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals as well as used as a fuel for electricity generation, heating purpose in industrial and commercial units.
  • Natural gas is also used for cooking in domestic households and as a transportation fuel for vehicles.

Why do blowouts happen?

  • Sometimes, the pressure balance in a well may be disturbed leading to ‘kicks’ or changes in pressure. If these are not controlled in time, the ‘kicks can turn into a sudden blowout.

Similar events in the past:

In the past, two comparable blowouts have happened in Assam:

  • At an OIL-owned oil well in Dikhom (Dibrugarh) in 2005.
  • At an ONGC-owned oil well in Rudrasagar in the 1970s. This took three months to contain.

What are the possible reasons for the blow out?

  • Possible reasons behind blowouts range from simple lack of attention, poor workmanship, bad maintenance, old age, sabotage to morpho-tectonic factors.
  • A device called a blowout preventer is usually installed in wells.
  • The gas well at Baghjan was being serviced, and a new sand was being tested at another depth in the same well. The blowout preventer was also removed and suddenly, gas started to ooze out of the exposed well.

Why is it so difficult to control?

  • The control of a blowout depends on two things: the size of the reservoir and the pressure at which the gas/oil is flowing out.
  • While many blowouts automatically collapse on their own, it can take up to months.
  • To control a blowout, the first step is to pump in water, so that the gas does not catch fire.
  • This reservoir was particularly difficult to control since it was a gas well and ran the risk of catching fire at any point.

What is being done?

  • A preliminary assessment by TERI team is in progress at the site for studying air quality and noise level.
  • Bioremediation of sludge is being done using a technology developed in-house by OIL’s research and development wing.
  • Bioremediation is the cleaning of polluted sites through naturally occurring or introduced microorganisms for breaking down environmental pollutants.
  • OIL also updated the efforts to kill the well fire before capping the blowout. Certain steps such as erection of heat shield have been completed.

Dibru-Saikhowa National Park:

  • Dibru-Saikhowa is a National Park as well as a Biosphere Reserve situated on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra in Assam.
  • It is an identified Important Bird Area (IBA) notified by the Bombay Natural History Society.

Student unions seek recall of EIA draft

Paper:II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

Student unions from several universities and colleges from across India have petitioned the Union Environment Minister to put the draft of the proposed Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2020 on hold.

Key Details:

  • The EIA Notification 2020 is to replace and supersede the 2006 notification.
  • The new EIA Notification proposes fundamental changes in the environmental regulatory regime in India.

Points of dispute:

  • The key points of dispute with the proposed draft are that it shortens the period of public consultation hearings to a maximum of 40 days, and reduces from 30 to 20 days the time provided for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.
  • This would, in the petitioners’ view, hinder public access in places where information was not easily accessible or areas in which people weren’t familiar with the process.
  • Crucially, the draft also institutionalises violation projects.
  • Under a provision issued in 2017, it allows projects that have come up flouting environmental norms to be reviewed by a committee of experts and, if they so decreed, legalise the project after paying a fine.
  • Several environmentalists have argued that this is seriously contrarian to various established principles of environment law.

Ozone pollution sees a spike: report

Paper: III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in News:

According to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), while particulate matter and nitrous oxide levels fell during the lockdown, ozone (a harmful pollutant) increased in several cities.

Key Details:

  • The pandemic-led change in air quality has helped researchers understand summer pollution.
  • The characteristics of summer pollution are different: there are high winds, intermittent rains and thunderstorms, and high temperature and heat waves.
  • The analysis was based on Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data from 22 cities in 15 States in lockdown days.

Surface level Ozone/Bad Ozone:

  • Surface level Ozone is a harmful pollutant. In the Earth’s lower atmosphere (troposphere) near ground level, ozone is formed when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight.
  • Ozone gas is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight.
  • Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapours, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC.
  • Ozone pollution can be curtailed only if gases from all sources are controlled.
  • Ozone pollution is a concern during the summer months because strong sunlight and hot weather result in harmful ozone concentrations in the air we breathe.
  • Ozone is a highly reactive gas. Even short-term exposure of an hour is dangerous for those with respiratory conditions and asthma. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.
  • That’s why an eight-hour average is considered for ozone instead of the 24-hour average for other pollutants.
  • It damages crops, trees and other vegetation.
  • It is a main ingredient of urban smog.

FATF report flags wildlife trade

Paper:III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in its first global report on the illegal wildlife trade called “Money Laundering and the Illegal Wildlife Trade” report, has described it as a global threat, which also has links with other organised crimes such as modern slavery, drug trafficking and arms trade.

Findings of the report:

  • The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to generate revenues of up to $23 billion a year.
  • Criminals are frequently misusing the legitimate wildlife trade, as well as other import-export type businesses, as a front to move and hide illegal proceeds from wildlife crimes.
  • Criminals rely regularly on corruption, complex fraud and tax evasion.
  • The findings of the study expressed concern over the lack of focus on the financial aspects of the crime.
  • The study has highlighted the growing role of online marketplaces and mobile and social media-based payments to facilitate movement of proceeds.
  • The findings are based on inputs from some 50 jurisdictions across the FATF global network, as well as expertise from the private sector and civil society.

Issues/Concerns:

  • The FATF found that jurisdictions often did not have the required knowledge, legislative basis and resources to assess and combat the threat posed by the funds generated through the trade.
  • The report noted that in 2012, India amended the Prevention of Money Laundering Act removing a value threshold — of ₹30 lakh and above — that was earlier applicable to the wildlife trade predicates.
  • There is an increasing international concern that the crime could lead to more zoonotic diseases in the future.

Way forward:

  • The report says a financial investigation is the key to dismantling the syndicates involved, which can in turn significantly impact the associated criminal activities.
  • Spread of zoonotic diseases in the recent years underlines the importance of ensuring that wildlife is traded in a legal, safe and sustainable manner, and that countries remove the profitability of illegal markets.
  • Growth of online marketplaces for such illegal wildlife trade warrants a coordinated response from government bodies, the private sector and the civil society.