ECONOMY, INFRASTRUCTURE & ENVIRONMENT
TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
- Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways
- Conservation, Environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Eco-friendly road building
Roads are the arteries of any economy it is said. Our road network is essential to the free flow of goods and people across the country and connects rural villages to the rest of the nation. India’s roads, together with the railways, make us one.
There is an upper limit to the area that any nation can allocate to its road network many relevant questions need be raised.
- Aside from the fact that building roads is expensive, the opportunity cost must also be considered; the land given over to building a road can now no longer be used for other purposes.
- Building a road requires contiguous stretches of land, and in a country like India where there is a mixture of public and private property, land acquisition has its own financial and political costs.
Road building also has long-term ramifications, especially on the environment and ecology.
- Road construction necessitates the altering of ecosystems;
- Mining of construction materials
- The clearing of the road’s planned alignment result in the cutting of trees
- The disposal of excavated rock and debris.
- While ecosystem alteration itself can have persistent impacts –
- The mere presence of a road also has long-term effects, modifying environmental variables such as the groundwater recharge rate, the local biodiversity, and even the local temperature.
- They also make previously wild areas more accessible, increasing incidences of poaching and illegal timber felling.
- And once we factor in traffic movement, the number and severity of impacts only increases.
- Wild animals using roads are often hit by vehicles, commonly being injured or killed.
- Over time, entire animal populations may start avoiding roads, restricting their access to food, water, and shelter, and setting them on the path to local extinction.
- For all the pros of building roads, there are also clear cons.
- This is true across the world, but is felt especially hard in India, where we face the unique circumstance of having both a highly dense human population, as well as high densities of biodiversity in specific regions.
- While people need roads, they are also dependent on ecosystem services such as clean air and clean water, which originate from the same wild areas being damaged by roads.
This should not be an either-or situation. Indians require both roads and intact ecosystems, and hampering the development or function of one for the sake of the other will not benefit the nation.
- To maximise the benefits of roads and minimise their impacts, far more time and effort should be spent on determining exactly where roads should be built.
- Geo spatial studies inspired by global researches, taking into account the requirements of the nation, would be extremely valuable, as they enable planners to clearly assess the pros and cons of road construction before any action is taken.
- In those cases where it is deemed necessary to construct new roads that may have adverse impacts on the environment, decision-makers must follow the mitigation hierarchy.
- Identifying those impacts that can be avoided or minimized, and then mitigating or compensating for those that cannot, would go a long way toward preserving ecosystem services, while also allowing for road development.
Consultation and transparency:
- The task thus falls to India’s civil society, India’s judiciary, and to the development banks that fund road projects, to ensure that the costs and benefits of proposed roads are well thought through before implementation.
- Those government agencies and private agencies responsible for road construction can help by making proposed road alignments available for public debate and discussion.
- Eliciting constructive feedback from the public — including wildlife and environmental experts — at the planning stage will help prevent delays and the resulting escalations in costs due to legal challenges or protests during the actual construction phase.
Development has to be have environmental concerns imbibed within. It is only by wisely planning for the future that we will be able to ensure that India has a world-class road network that takes into account the needs of all its citizens.
Connecting the dots:
- India is on path of huge infrastructure expansion. In this light critically discuss the importance of development framework which has ecological concerns imbibed within.
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
Legislations without scrutiny
Parliament is the temple of democracy and legislations have to be passed with due deliberation and scrutiny. But due to political scores settling and populism in recent days important legislations have missed scrutiny of the parliament. We must move to a system where every Bill goes through the committee stage in each House of Parliament
In the recently concluded budget session Lok Sabha clocked in 108% of the originally scheduled hours, while Rajya Sabha did 86%.
- The Budget dates were advanced to enable the discussion and passing before the beginning of the financial year. Several important Bills were passed.
- However, there were several instances when Parliament failed to perform its role in scrutinizing Bills before passing them.
- The Session, had 20 Bills introduced, and to date none of these have been referred to standing committees of Parliament;
- one Bill — the constitutional amendment to create a national commission for backward classes — was passed by Lok Sabha and then referred by Rajya Sabha to a select committee.
- In the last three years, just 29% of Bills have been referred to parliamentary committees.
- This is in contrast to the 60% and 71% of bills examined by committees in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabhas, respectively.
- The important contribution of committees is evident in the progress of the Bills referred to them.
- The Mental Healthcare Bill passed this session and the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill passed by Lok Sabha this week incorporated most of the changes recommended by the committees.
Some problematic Bills
Three Bills passed by Parliament may face constitutional challenges.
- The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill follows up on the demonetisation exercise.
- It provides a limited time period for citizens who were abroad between November 9 and December 30 to exchange their notes. Indian residents could do that until the end of March 2017, and NRIs till June.
- The Bill also made it an offence to hold more than 10 pieces of the old notes (25 for research or numismatic purposes).
- This Bill raises significant constitutional issues.
- The second Bill is the Finance Bill.
- Other than amending tax rates, it allowed the process of appointment, removal and service conditions of members of appellate tribunals to be determined by rules.
- That is, the terms of engagement of quasi-judicial bodies will be determined by the Central government by notification instead of being specified in the Act.
- This provision may contravene several judgments that lay out the independence of the judiciary as a basic feature of the Constitution.
- Another provision of the Finance Bill permits income tax officers to refuse to disclose to any court or tribunal the information that formed the basis for a raid; this may contravene the principle of judicial review of executive action.
- The third Bill is the Enemy Property Bill which vests the rights over enemy property with the Central government.
- This amendment has been made with retrospective effect (going back four decades), and will affect all property that may have been sold (and resold) since then.
- The Bill also bars any court from hearing cases related to enemy property. These provisions may not adhere to principles of due process and judicial review.
In a parliamentary democracy where the emphasis is on representativeness than stability it is important to stress on detailed scrutiny by Parliament. Perhaps, it may be advisable to move to a system like that of the British Parliament where every Bill goes through the committee stage in each House. That may take more time to pass a Bill but will ensure that there is adequate deliberation by parliamentarians before they pass a Bill.
Connecting the dots:
- Critically analyse the importance of the due deliberation and scrutiny of legislation in a parliamentary democracy.
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