9TH NOVEMBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Cyclones in the month of October

News: October to December period is among the favourable months for the development of cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. This year, however, October passed without witnessing a cyclonic storm.

Cyclones on Indian Coasts:

  • About 80 cyclones are formed around the world annually, out of which five are formed in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, together known as the North Indian Ocean.
  • India’s east and west coasts are prone to cyclones with the maximum associated hazards—rain, heavy winds and storm surge— faced by coastal districts of West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Cyclones in the North Indian Ocean are bi-modal in nature, that is, they occur during two seasons— April to June (pre-monsoon) and October to December (post-monsoon).
  • Of these, May and November remain the most conducive for the development of cyclones.

Present Scenario:

  • Ocean disturbances enter the Bay of Bengal from the South China sea side and head towards the Indian coast. This year, however, there was no system which intensified to form a cyclone.
  • Another reason is the weak La Nina conditions along the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • There was also the influence of Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO). MJO is kind of an eastward-moving cyclic weather event along the tropics that influences rainfall, winds, sea surface temperatures and cloud cover. They have a 30 to 60-day cycle.
  • Also, in November, the vertical wind shear created due to significant wind speed difference observed between higher and lower atmospheric level prevented the low-pressure systems and depression from strengthening into a cyclone.

Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO)

  • Because Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was positioned in a favourable phase, the low-pressure systems intensified maximum up to a deep depression.
  • MJO is kind of an eastward-moving cyclic weather event along the tropics that influences rainfall, winds, sea surface temperatures and cloud cover. They have a 30 to 60-day cycle. Most importantly, there was the high wind shear noted between the different atmospheric levels, last month.
  • The vertical wind shear— created due to significant wind speed difference observed between higher and lowers atmospheric levels— prevented the low-pressure systems and depression from strengthening into a cyclone.

2. Statewise data on NFSA

News: The government has initiated the process of ascertaining the new State/UT-specific coverage ratios for rural and urban areas under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA).

Why such a move?

  • At present, NFSA covers up to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population in the country. Based on this, state-wise coverage under NFSA was determined by the erstwhile Planning Commission—now NITI Aayog. It was done by using the National Sample Survey Household Consumption Expenditure Survey data for 2011-12. Since then, the state-wise coverage ratio has not been revised.

Statewise data

  • Currently, Manipur has the highest coverage in rural areas across the country (88.56 per cent), while Andaman & Nicobar Islands has the lowest (24.94 per cent). Manipur is followed by Jharkhand (86.48 per cent), Bihar (85.12 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (84.25 per cent).
  • In urban areas too, Manipur has the maximum coverage ratio (85.75 per cent), while Andaman & Nicobar Islands has the lowest (1.70 per cent). In urban areas, Manipur is followed by Bihar (74.53 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (64.43 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (62.61 per cent).

National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013:

  • The objective is to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.

Provisions:

  • Coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): The TDPS covers 50% of the urban population and 75% of the rural population, with uniform entitlement of 5 kg of food grains per person per month. However, the poorest of the poor households will continue to receive 35 kg of food grains per household per month under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
  • Subsidised prices under TPDS and their revision: For a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act, Food grains under TPDS will be made available at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains.
  • Identification of Households: The identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTs under TDPS determined for each State.
  • Nutritional Support to women and children: Children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years and pregnant women and lactating mothers will be entitled to meals as per prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes. Malnourished children up to the age of 6 have been prescribed for higher nutritional norms.
  • Maternity Benefit: Pregnant women and lactating mothers will also be receiving maternity benefit of Rs. 6,000.
  • Women Empowerment: For the purpose of issuing of ration cards, eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above is to be the head of the household.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism: Grievance redressal mechanism available at the District and State levels.
  • Cost of transportation & handling of food grains and Fair Price Shop (FPS) Dealers’ margin: the expenditure incurred by the state on transportation of food grains within the State, its handling and FPS dealers’ margin as per norms to be devised for this purpose and assistance to states will be provided by the Central Government to meet the above expenditure.
  • Transparency and Accountability: In order to ensure transparency and accountability, provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees.
  • Food Security Allowance: In case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals, there is a provision for food security allowance to entitled beneficiaries.
  • Penalty: If the public servant or authority fails to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer, penalty will be imposed by the State Food Commission according to the provision.

3. Ghogha-Hazira Ro-Pax ferry service

News: PM has virtually inaugurated the Ghogha-Hazira Ro-Pax ferry service in Gujarat.

Ghogha-Hazira Ferry Service

  • It will work as a Gateway to South Gujarat and Saurashtra region. It will reduce the distance between Ghogha and Hazira from 370 km to 90 km.
  • It has a load capacity of 30 trucks (of 50 MT each) on the main deck, 100 passenger cars on the upper deck and 500 passengers plus 34 crew and hospitality staff on the passenger deck.
  • The reduced cargo travel time from 10 to 12 hours to about four hours will result in huge savings of fuel (approx 9,000 litres per day) and lower the maintenance cost of vehicles drastically.
  • The ferry service, while making three round trips per day on the route, would annually transport about 5 lakh passengers, 80,000 passenger vehicles, 50,000 two-wheelers and 30,000 trucks.

Benefits

  • It will reduce the fatigue of truck drivers and enhance their incomes by giving them more opportunity to do extra trips. It will give an impetus to the tourism industry with ease of access to the Saurashtra region and lead to the creation of new job opportunities.
  • With the onset of ferry services, the port sector, furniture and fertilizer industries in Saurashtra and Kutch region will get a big boost. Eco-tourism and religious-tourism in Gujarat, especially in Porbandar, Somnath, Dwarka and Palitana will grow exponentially.
  • The benefits of enhanced connectivity through this ferry service will also result in increased inflow of tourists in the famous Asiatic lion wildlife sanctuary at Gir.

4. GST on Mobility aids for disabled

Background

  • The petitioner, in Nipun Malhotra vs. Union of India, argued in Supreme Court that the tax imposed on mobility aids used by disabled citizens was patently discriminatory. A decision to impose a tax, the Court said, was a matter of policy over which the judiciary ought not to ordinarily interfere.
  • In adjourning the case, it suggested that the petitioner exhaust his options by submitting his grievances to the GST Council, which is the governing body responsible for determining which products are taxed, and at what rate.

Legitimacy of the tax

  • It might be keen to ensure that the judiciary does not sit on judgment over matters that fall within the domain of legislative and executive competence.
  • There is nothing inherently distinct about taxing laws; they are in no way plenary and unamenable to judicial review. Quite to the contrary, taxes have a direct bearing on how society is arranged.
  • The nature and rate of tax imposed on a product can impinge both on a person’s freedom and on a person’s right to be treated with equal care and concern.
  • Therefore, it ought to be well within an independent judiciary’s province — as the top courts in Canada and Colombia, among others, have recently held —to examine whether or not an imposition of a tax violates a fundamental right.

Rationale behind imposing such tax:

  • Until the advent of the GST, mobility aids were almost entirely immune from indirect taxes.
  • In virtually every State, exemptions were granted on the payment of value-added-tax on such goods.
  • However, under GST 18% tax was imposed on these devices and subsequently reduced to 5%.
  • The government claims that it cannot relieve mobility aids from taxation, because to do so will disincentivise domestic manufacturers.
  • Domestic manufacturers can claim “input tax credit” on taxes paid on raw material in the process of manufacturing when it remits the levy collected from the eventual purchaser of the product.
  • The State’s argument is that in the absence of a levy of GST on the final product, the manufacturer will be burdened with input taxes. Since it cannot claim any credit for those taxes paid, the prices of the final product would have to be concomitantly higher.
  • As a result, the manufacturer will be placed in a relative position of disadvantage to foreign makers.

Issues with the government’s argument

  • This argument, though, suffers from at least two fallacies. First, a reading of the various notifications issued by the GST Council shows that many other products that are essential to human needs are exempt from tax.
  • Second, that the grant of an exemption in cases such as these would disentitle manufacturers from claiming input tax credit is a matter of legislative design.

Way forward

  • Parliament can find other ways to ensure that domestic manufacturers are granted credit for the taxes that they pay on inputs. A decision taken on exempting goods from taxation is a matter of classification.
  • Given that the classification rests on a state of disability, it must be seen, on any sensible consideration of our equality jurisprudence, as, at least facially, inequitable.
  • The onus must, therefore, rest on the government to show the Court that it had cogent reasons for treating these goods as distinct from other commodities that are exempt from tax.
  • A failure to discharge this onus ought to render the levy illegitimate.
  • The GST Council can take a leaf out of the books of Canada and Australia, and grant a complete exemption on the levy imposed on mobility aids.

Conclusion

  • It is time we recognised that an unreasonable levy can deeply compromise fundamental human needs. To free taxing statutes from the ramparts of the Constitution is to risk the entrenching of inequality.