22ND OCTOBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Issues with Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project

News: The National Green Tribunal (NGT)has held that environmental clearance (EC) to the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP)was grantedex post facto, after completion of substantial work, by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) “in violation of law”.

About Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project:

  • Originally called Pranahita-Chevella project in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, it was redesigned, extended and renamed as Kaleshwaram project in Telangana in 2014.
  • It is aimed to make Telangana drought proof by harnessing the flood waters of the Godavari.
  • The project is an under-construction multi-purpose irrigation project on the Godavari River in Kaleshwaram, Bhoopalpally, Telangana.
  • The project starts at the confluence point of Pranahita River and Godavari River.

Its significance

  • Waters of the Godavari will be tapped by reverse pumping and storage, thereby facilitating agriculture on over 38 lakh acres, helping rejuvenate thousands of tanks, providing water for industries, and supplying drinking water to Hyderabad and Secunderabad by creating a series of storage tanks and a network of pipelines. The project will also support Mission Kakatiya and Mission Bhagiratha schemes designed to provide drinking water to many villages and improve the capacities of tanks.
  • When completed, it will be the world’s largest irrigation and drinking water system.

Issues in the Project:

  • The petition filed in 2018 stated that while the Kaleshwaram Project was a lift irrigation system, the state government wrongly claimed, until the grant of environmental clearance (EC), that the project was not for lift irrigation, but only for drinking water supply.
  • Substantial work of the project had already been undertaken before granting of EC in December 2017. Thus, the EC was ex post facto, in violation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had published the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, with the intention to replace the existing EIA Notification 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The draft notification has provisions for post facto project clearance, reiteration of a March 2017 notification for projects operating without clearance.
  • The Project also underwent change by increase in capacity and inclusion of Mission Bhagiratha to provide drinking water to Hyderabad and certain villages of Telangana.
  • However, the pre-feasibility report submitted in January, 2017 and draft of EIA report submitted in July, 2017 did not mention the Mission Bhagiratha which involved interlinking of the two projects.
  • Feasibility of the changed project was never evaluated while granting EC.

NGT’s Observation:

  • There are two legal issues confronting the Project:
  1. One, Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project was functioning without requisite prior environmental clearance under EIA Notification, 2006, until 2017, when the EC was granted.
  2. Second, project contractor L&T was alleged to have cleared large areas of forest land for construction of quarters for its employees, without requisite forest clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
  • The NGT directed that until the Telangana government obtains final forest clearance, it should stop all work except the drinking water component. It has further asked MoEFCC to consider measures to prevent recurrence of such violations where EC is sought ex post facto.
  • It is particularly required when the projects are multi-purpose and part of it requires EC, so that such requirement is not defeated on specious plea that the project was partly not covered by the schedule Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification as has happened in the present case.
  • It observed that accountability of the responsible person needs to be fixed and remedial measures has to be taken. For that purpose, it has directed the MoEFCC to constitute a seven-member expert committee.
  • The expert committee could assess the extent of damage caused in going ahead with the project without EC – the period from 2008 to 2017 — and identify the necessary restoration measures.
  • The expert committee must be constituted within a month and needs to complete its exercise within six months.

2. China-India-Taiwan dispute

News: China has asked India to approach ties with Taiwan “prudently and properly”, and said it would “firmly oppose” any official exchanges between New Delhi and Taipei.

What’s the issue?

  • The statement from China came in response to reports that India and Taiwan were considering going forward with talks on a trade deal. India and Taiwan in 2018 already signed a bilateral investment agreement. India-Taiwan trade ties have expanded since, and Taiwanese firms are prominent investors in India, although India and Taiwan do not maintain formal diplomatic relations.

China- Taiwan relations- Background:

  • China has claimed Taiwan through its “one China” policy since the Chinese civil war forced the defeated Kuomintang, or Nationalist, to flee to the island in 1949 and has vowed to bring it under Beijing’s rule, by force if necessary.
  • China is Taiwan’s top trading partner, with trade totaling $226 billion in 2018. Taiwan runs a large trade surplus with China. While Taiwan is self-governed and de facto independent, it has never formally declared independence from the mainland.
  • Under the “one country, two systems” formula, Taiwan would have the right to run its own affairs; a similar arrangement is used in Hong Kong. Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asian Development Bank under various names.

India-Taiwan Relations

  • India and Taiwan do not maintain formal diplomatic relations. The areas of cooperation between India and Taiwan have been limited due to negligible political relations.
  • From 1995 to 2014, the bilateral trade turnover has grown manifold from just $934 million to $5.91 billion.
  • In the field of science and technology, there are more than thirty ongoing government-funded joint research projects.
  • In August 2015, the Taiwan-based Foxconn, one of the largest hardware manufacturers in the world, announced an investment of $5 billion in India. India and Taiwan in 2018 signed a bilateral investment agreement. India-Taiwan trade ties have been expanded and Taiwanese firms are prominent investors in India, Taiwan has for long been a world leader in high-tech hardware manufacturing, and can contribute much to the “Make in India”, “Digital India” and “Smart Cities” campaigns.
  • Taiwan’s agro-technology and food processing technology can also be very beneficial for India’s agriculture sector. Both sides have also expanded educational exchanges after a mutual degree recognition agreement in higher education was signed in 2010.

Challenges involved:

  • One China policy: India finds it difficult to realise the full potential of its bilateral relationship with Taiwan. At present, about 16 countries worldwide continue to recognise Taiwan as an independent state. India is not among the sixteen countries.
  • Trade & Investment: The economic exchange is still relatively insignificant. Taiwan’s share of trade with India is around 1% of its global trade.

3. Centre increased poll ceiling by 10%

News: The Law Ministry has increased the ceiling on poll expenditure for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections by 10% following a recommendation by the Election Commission in view of curbs imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Details:

  • The ceiling on poll expenditure varies across States, with candidates in Assembly elections in bigger States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu now allowed to spend up to ₹30.8 lakhs as against ₹28 lakhs earlier. For a candidate contesting a Lok Sabha poll in these States, the revised ceiling on poll expenditure is now ₹77 lakhs instead of the earlier amount of ₹70 lakhs.
  • Goa, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and a few Union Territories, based on the size of their constituencies and population, have a lower ceiling on poll expenditure.
  • Here while the enhanced ceiling for a Lok Sabha candidate is now ₹59.4 lakhs those contesting an Assembly can spend up to ₹22 lakhs.

Significance of the move:

  • The move follows a recommendation by the Election Commission in view of curbs imposed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • This also comes as a relief for political parties and candidates as they deal with additional expenditure on public rallies and meetings in view of precautions that need to be taken in line with Covid-19 health protocols. This included additional expenditure on sanitisers, masks and regulation of crowds so as to adhere to social distancing norms.

Role of Election Commission

  • The EC imposes limits on campaign expenditure incurred by a candidate and not political parties.
  • However, it does not cover expenses incurred either by a party or the leader of a party for propagating the party’s programme. Also, candidates must mandatorily file a true account of election expenses with the EC.
  • An incorrect account or expenditure beyond the ceiling can attract disqualification for up to three years as per Section 10A of The Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Further reforms:

Cap on party spends:

  • The EC has asked the government to amend the R P Act and Rule 90 of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to introduce a ceiling on campaign expenditure by political parties in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
  • It 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 limit will ensure level playing field for all political parties and curb the menace of unaccounted money in elections. It will also control the money power used by political parties and their allies.

Supreme Court observations:

  • Supreme Court of India has said that money is bound to play an important part in the successful pursuit of an election campaign in Kanwar Lal Gupta Vs Amarnath Chawla case. Voters get influenced by the visibility of a candidate and party and huge election spending thus impacts voter’s choice.

Various Committees and Commissions in this regard:

  • Law Commission of India- 170th Report on “Reform of the Electoral Laws” in 1999.
  • Election Commission of India- Report in 2004 on “Proposed Electoral Reforms”.
  • Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms in 1990.
  • Vohra Committee Report in 1993.
  • Indrajeet Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections in 1998.
  • National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution in 2001.
  • Second Administrative Reforms Commission in 2008.

Recently, the Law Commission in its 255th Report has also made several recommendations on electoral reforms under 3 categories namely viz:

  1. Limits on political contribution and party candidate expenditure.
  2. Disclosure norms and requirements.
  3. State funding of elections.
  • These recommendations of the Law Commission are under consideration of the government.

4. Ayushman Sahakar Scheme

News: The Agriculture Ministry has rolled out the Ayushman Sahakar Scheme to assist cooperatives in the creation of healthcare infrastructure in the country.

Ayushman Sahakar Scheme

  • The scheme is formulated by the National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC), the apex autonomous development finance institution under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
  • The scheme would give a boost to the provision of healthcare services by cooperatives.
  • It specifically covers establishment, modernization, expansion, repairs, renovation of hospital and healthcare and education infrastructure.

Financing the scheme

  • NCDC would extend term loans to prospective cooperatives to the tune of Rs 10000 Crore in the coming years. Any Cooperative Society with a suitable provision in its byelaws to undertake healthcare-related activities would be able to access the NCDC fund.
  • NCDC assistance will flow either through the State Governments/ UT Administrations or directly to the eligible cooperatives.
  • Apart from working capital and margin money to meet operational requirements, the scheme will also provide interest subvention of 1% to women majority cooperatives.

Benefits of the scheme:

  • COVID 19 pandemic has brought into focus the requirement of creation of more facilities.
  • Therefore, NCDC’s scheme will be a step towards strengthening farmers welfare activities by the Central Government. With this scheme, villagers will get many facilities including hospitals, medical colleges.

In line with the National Health Policy, 2017:

  • The scheme aligns itself with the focus of the National Health Policy, 2017, covering the health systems in all their dimensions- investments in health, organization of healthcare services, access to technologies, development of human resources, encouragement of medical pluralism, affordable health care to farmers etc.