Why in news?
Recently, floods in China that have inundated cities and caused deaths and damage to infrastructure have also raised questions on the effectiveness of the “sponge city” initiative aimed at reducing risks from urban flooding.
What is Sponge City?
- China’s sponge city initiative was launched in 2015 to boost flood resilience in major cities and to make better use of rainwater through nature-based solutions, and architectural, engineering, and infrastructural tweaks.
- Those solutions included the use of permeable asphalt, the construction of canals and ponds, and the restoration of wetlands, which would ease waterlogging.
Limitations of the Sponge Cities Initiative:
- Lack of legislation: Thirty pilot sponge cities were selected in 2015 and 2016. But until last year, only 64 of China’s 654 cities had produced legislation to implement sponge city guidelines.
- Unable to prevent: Even if sponge city measures had been implemented in full, they would have been unable to prevent this year’s disasters.
- Climate Change: Authorities are also playing catch-up to climate change. This year’s heavy rain hit cities in the normally arid north, where sponge city development is less advanced.
GS PAPER – II
Why in news?
To overturn the effect of a recent Supreme Court verdict on the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs), The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 introduced in Rajya Sabha.
- SC Ruling: On March 2, the SC ruled that a high-power committee consisting of the PM, LOP in Lok Sabha, and Chief Justice of India will choose the CEC and ECs.
What does the Constitution say?
Article 324(2) reads: “lhe Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time-to-time fix and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.”
- However, since Parliament made no law, the Law Minister suggests a pool of candidates to the PM, and the President makes the appointment on the advice of the PM.
Key Provisions of the bill:
- The bill says, “A Search Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary and comprising two other members not below the rank of Secretary to the Government of India, having knowledge and experience in matters relating to elections, shall prepare a panel of five persons for consideration of the Selection Committee…”.
- The Selection Committee will comprise:
(a) The Prime Minister — Chairperson;
(b) The Leader of Opposition of Lok Sabha
(c) A Union Cabinet Minister.
Issues with the bill:
- Composite Tenure: The total tenure of an EC, including if a candidate later became CEC, would be six years.
- Defeat the SC Ruling: The composition of the Selection Committee in the Bill raises a fundamental question: With the PM and a Minister nominated by the PM in the three-member panel, the LOP becomes irrelevant even before the process begins.
- The mandate of the Constitution Assembly: After going through debates of the Constituent Assembly, the court concluded that the makers of the Constitution “did not intend the executive to exclusively call the shots in the matter of appointments to the Election Commission”.
- Public Trust: The chief election commissioner and its members are the base of Indian democracy; hence, they must be politically neutral.
- Parliamentary Scrutiny and public debate must be held to deliberate on such an important matter.
- Give equal constitutional protection to all three-election commissioners as opposed to just the CEC.
- Institutionalise the convention where the senior-most EC should be automatically elevated as CEC in order to instill a feeling of security in the minds of the ECs and ensure that they are insulated from executive interference in the same manner as the CEC.
GS PAPER – II
Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) findings on Swadesh Darshan Scheme
Why in news?
Recently, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) has found a few irregularities, including undue benefits to contractors, in the implementation of the Ayodhya development project in Uttar Pradesh under the Centre’s Swadesh Darshan Scheme.
- The CAG has conducted a performance audit of the Swadesh Darshan Scheme from its inception in January 2015 to March 2022.
- According to the performance audit report, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, undue benefits of Rs 19.73 crore were made to contractors in six projects/circuits across six states.
About Swadesh Darshan Scheme:
- It was launched by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in 2014-15 for the integrated development of theme-based tourist circuits such as buddhist Circuit, Coastal Circuit, etc.
- Central Sector Scheme: It is 100% centrally funded.
- It aims to promote, develop, and harness the potential of the tourism sector in India and follow a pro-poor tourism approach.
About Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG):
- Article 148 of the Constitution of India provides for an independent office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) who is also the head of the Indian Audit and Accounts Department and is one of the bulwarks of the democratic system of government in India
- CAG is the guardian of the public purse and controls the entire financial system of the country at the central and state levels.
- His duty is to uphold the Constitution of India and the laws of Parliament in the field of financial administration.
- CAG is appointed by the President of India by a warrant under his hand and seal.
- Tenure: The CAG holds office for a period of six years or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
- CAG can submit his resignation to the President of India
- Removal: CAG can also be removed by the president on the same grounds and in the same manner as a judge of the Supreme Court.
- In other words, he can be removed by the president on the basis of a resolution passed to that effect by both Houses of Parliament with a special majority, either on the grounds of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.
Do You Know?
- CAG does not hold his office till the pleasure of the president.
GS PAPER – III
Why in news?
The hunt for a nuclear propulsion system by NASA and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) might potentially reduce the time it takes to reach Mars by half.
- The Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) is the name of this ambitious project, and the launch is planned for late 2025 or early 2026.
- The DRACO project holds out the promise of faster interplanetary travel and increased fuel efficiency.
- Principle: A nuclear reactor that makes use of the energy produced by uranium atom fission is at the heart of DRACO’s vision.
- Fuel Enrichment: DRACO uses less-enriched uranium than Project NERVA, which employs weapons-grade uranium. This change improves security and reduces the dangers related to using radioactive materials.
- In Space Activation: The DRACO engine’s nuclear reactor is dormant until it reaches space, when it is activated there.
GS PAPER – III
Why in news?
- In a move to make Unified Payments Interface (UPI) more user-friendly, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has proposed incorporating Artificial Intelligence-powered conversational features, to enable digital payments through voice commands.
Benefits of the move
- The move will enable users to engage in a conversation with an AI-powered system to “initiate and complete transactions in a safe and secure environment”.
- While payments through QR code are easy for everyone, the introduction of ‘Conversational Payments’ on UPI has the potential to take ease of payments to the next level. Those who find it difficult to navigate through a mobile application for making payments or want to save time will now be able to execute transactions with ease.
- The facility will initially be available in Hindi and English and will subsequently be made available in more Indian languages.
- This not only highlights the potential for ‘Make-in-India’ solutions to gain global recognition, particularly in technology-driven nations where AI is pervasive but also highlights India’s pioneering role in the digital payments’ domain.
- The chatbot will play a pivotal role by providing the user with a direct payment link or QR code.
- In yet another improvement to the UPI ecosystem and to promote UPI-Lite, the RBI is planning to facilitate offline transactions using near field communication technology. This feature will not only enable retail digital payments in situations where Internet or telecom connectivity is weak or not available, it will also ensure speed with minimal transaction declines.
- The RBI also announced plans to enhance the transaction limit for small-value digital payments in offline mode from ₹200 to ₹500 with the overall limit being retained at ₹2,000 per payment instrument to contain the risks associated with relaxation of two-factor authentication.
GS PAPER – III
Why in news?
- The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India, decided unanimously to keep the policy repo rate unchanged at 6.5% even as it raised the projection for retail inflation in the current fiscal year by 30 basis points to 5.4%.
- The MPC also decided by a majority of 5 out of 6 members to stay focused on withdrawal of accommodation to ensure that inflation progressively aligns with the target, while supporting growth.
- The cumulative rate hike of 250 basis points undertaken by the MPC is working its way into the economy. Nonetheless, domestic economic activity is holding up well and is likely to retain its momentum, despite weak external demand
- The MPC retained its projection for real GDP growth in 2023-24 at 6.5%.
- The CPI inflation projection for 2023-24, assuming a normal monsoon, was revised upwards to 5.4% from the 5.1% forecast in June, with Q2 at 6.2%, Q3 at 5.7%, and Q4 at 5.2%.
- To address the problem of excess liquidity with banks, the RBI decided that with effect from the fortnight beginning August 12, scheduled banks would maintain an incremental cash reserve ratio of 10% on the increase in their net demand and time liabilities (NDTL) between May 19, 2023 and July 28, 2023.
Basis of decision
- Headline inflation, after reaching a low of 4.3% in May 2023, rose in June and is expected to surge during July-August led by vegetable prices.
- While the vegetable price shock may reverse quickly, possible El Niño weather conditions along with global food prices need to be watched closely against the backdrop of a skewed south-west monsoon so far. These developments warrant a heightened vigil on the evolving inflation trajectory.
- This measure is intended to absorb the surplus liquidity generated by various factors including the return of ₹2000 notes to the banking system.
- This is purely a temporary measure for managing the liquidity overhang. Even after this temporary impounding, there will be adequate liquidity in the system to meet the credit needs of the economy.
Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)
- The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is a body of six members that decides the key policy interest rate and the monetary policy stance of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- The policy interest rate, also known as the repo rate, is the rate at which the RBI lends money to commercial banks for short-term purposes.
- The monetary policy stance is the direction in which the MPC intends to move the policy rate in the near future.
- The MPC was set up in 2016 as a result of an agreement between the RBI and the Government of India to ensure transparency and accountability in the conduct of monetary policy.
GS PAPER – III
Why in news?
- Leaders and ministers from eight Amazon nations signed a declaration in Belém, Brazil, that laid out plans to drive economic development in their countries while preventing the Amazon’s ongoing demise “from reaching a point of no return”.
About the Amazon Summit
- Brazil’s Amazon Summit closed with a road map to protect tropical rainforests that was welcomed as an important step in countering climate change, but without the concrete commitments sought by some environmentalists to end deforestation.
- Several environmental groups described the declaration as a compilation of good intentions with little in the way of measurable goals and time frames. However, it was lauded by others, and the Amazon’s umbrella organisation of Indigenous groups celebrated the inclusion of two of its main demands.
- The eight nations of — Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela — are members of the newly revived Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation (ACTO), who hope that a united front will give them a major voice in global environment talks ahead of the COP-28 climate conference in November.
- The summit reinforces Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s strategy to leverage global concern for the Amazon’s preservation.
- These are large tropical rainforests occupying the drainage basin of the Amazon River and its tributaries in northern South America and covering an area of 6,000,000 square km.
- Comprising about 40% of Brazil’s total area, it is bounded by the Guiana Highlands to the north, the Andes Mountains to the west, the Brazilian central plateau to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
- Tropical forests are closed-canopy forests growing within 28 degrees north or south of the equator. They are very wet places, receiving more than 200 cm rainfall per year, either seasonally or throughout the year. Temperatures are uniformly high – between 20°C and 35°C.
GS PAPER – III
Why in news?
- Government of Meghalaya has notified several sacred forests as Community Reserves under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
About Meghalaya’s village durbars
- Institutions such as traditional village durbars in Meghalaya play a vital role in Meghalaya’s society and economy, inter alia environmental conservation and raising awareness about sustainable practices.
- The traditions such as conservation of sacred groves, prevention of over-exploitation of natural resources such as forests; managing springs and other water sources wisely, customary law discouraging hunting of wild animals, are helpful in protecting ecology.
- Government of Meghalaya has already notified several sacred forests as Community Reserves under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
- The Centrally Sponsored Schemes of Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats and the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) of the Government have brought development to the communities by providing them alternative livelihood opportunities.
- Local communities and traditional institutions in Meghalaya are already involved in developmental planning, providing support to Village Employment Councils, identification of beneficiaries of various government programmes, making available community land for construction projects, Management of Community Reserves, etc. for development of tribal regions in the State.
Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK)
- Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) describes indigenous and other traditional knowledge of local resources.
- As a field of study in Northern American anthropology, TEK refers to “a cumulative body of knowledge, belief, and practice, evolving by accumulation of TEK and handed down through generations through traditional songs, stories and beliefs.
- It is concerned with the relationship of living beings (including human) with their traditional groups and with their environment.
- Indigenous knowledge is not a universal concept among various societies, but is referred to a system of knowledge traditions or practices that are heavily dependent on “place”.