IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs 11th Aug, 2017

IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 11th Aug 2017

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ENVIRONMENT

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Introduction:

A new regulatory regime for groundwater, that provides for equitable use, is urgently needed. The water crisis India faces is of such a magnitude that urgent measures are necessary to address it. Yet, while the crisis is often discussed, law and policy measures to address it remain insufficient.

Issues:

  • Water tables have been falling rapidly in many parts of the country, indicating that use generally exceeds replenishment.
  • Over the past decade, the situation has become increasingly dire not only in States where water tables are falling but also in those that are less affected by quantity concerns. Indeed, the quality of the water pumped is increasingly becoming cause for concern; thus the worry is about accessing a sufficient amount of groundwater that is not harmful to health.
  • One of the underlying reasons for excessive use of groundwater is the legal framework governing access to the resource. Access to a source of groundwater has progressively become a source of power and economic gain. The latter has become increasingly visible in recent decades with the propagation of mechanical pumps, which allows big landowners to sell water to others.
  • The primary source of domestic water and irrigation is groundwater but the media and policymakers still and often focus on surface water.

An inadequate framework:

The present legal regime has clearly failed to address the growing multiple crises of groundwater. This has been officially recognised since at least the beginning of this decade, first in the Planning Commission and more recently by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation.

Inadequacies:

  • It focused on adding some State-level control over new, additional uses of groundwater but did not address the iniquitous regime giving landowners unlimited control over groundwater.
  • This was only taken up by around a dozen States from the late 1990s onwards. The States that now have groundwater legislation based on the model Bill conceptualised in 1970 have on the whole failed to manage to address the problem of falling water tables due to increasing use.
  • In addition, there is no provision in the existing legal regime to protect and conserve groundwater at the aquifer level.
  • Further, since the legal regime fails to give gram sabhas and panchayats a prevailing say in the regulation of what is essentially a local resource, the present framework remains mostly top-down and is incapable of addressing local situations adequately.

Proposed new regime:

The Groundwater Bill, 2017:

The Groundwater (Sustainable Management) Bill, 2017 is based on current understandings of groundwater and its links with surface water and on the legal framework as it has evolved since the 19th century.

Key provisions:

  • It proposes a different regulatory framework from the century-old, outdated, inequitable and environmentally unfriendly legal regime in place.
  • It is based on the recognition of the unitary nature of water, the need for decentralised control over groundwater and the necessity to protect it at aquifer level.
  • The Bill is also based on legal developments that have taken place in the past few decades. This includes the recognition that water is a public trust (in line with the oft-quoted statement that groundwater is a common pool resource), the recognition of the fundamental right to water and the introduction of protection principles, including the precautionary principle, that are currently absent from water legislation.
  • The Bill also builds on the decentralisation mandate that is already enshrined in general legislation but has not been implemented effectively as far as groundwater is concerned and seeks to give regulatory control over groundwater to local users.

Way forward:

  • A new regulatory regime for the source of water that provides domestic water to around four-fifths of the population and the overwhelming majority of irrigation is urgently needed.
  • Overall, the increasing crisis of groundwater and the failure of the existing legal regime make it imperative to entrust people directly dependent on the source of water the mandate to use it wisely and to protect it for their own benefit, as well as for future generations.

Conclusion:

For decades, policymakers behaved like the proverbial ostrich because the ‘invisibility’ of falling groundwater tables made it possible not to address the problem immediately. In many places, the situation is now so grave that regulatory action is unavoidable. The proposed new regime will benefit the resource, for instance through the introduction of groundwater security plans, and will benefit the overwhelming majority of people through local decision-making.

Connecting the dots:

  • The water crisis India faces is of such a magnitude that urgent measures are necessary to address it. Yet, while the crisis is often discussed, law and policy measures to address it remain insufficient. Discuss.
  • Discuss the provisions under The Groundwater (Sustainable Management) Bill, 2017 and elaborate how the proposed regime is much better over the older framework which had many inadequacies.

NATIONAL

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

In news:

Democracy has metamorphosed into complex systems of representative politics. The basic norm for any democratic polity is the impartial and free exercise of “consent” or choice. The recent event in Gujarat raises significant questions in this respect.

What happened?

The Election Commission reently invalidated two votes cast against a congress candidate in Rajya Sabha. The controversy ensued when the two electors from the Congress cast their ballots for a BJP candidate and saw the same to Amit Shah.

While the incident brings issues ranging from the scourge of horse-trading to the operation of the anti-defection law, the power and role of the EC, NOTA, secrecy of the ballot etc.
We will be discussing the

Rules:

  • As per the Conduct of Election Rules 1961, the procedure laid down for the Rajya Sabha elections calls for a ballot-in-secret.
  • Secrecy under Rule 39A mandates that the elector cannot declare his ballot to anyone; any deviation results in the invalidation of the ballot by the presiding officer.
  • But Rule 39A seems to be amiss of the grundnorm of a secret ballot.

Need to maintain secrecy:

  • Secrecy aims to protect the vote as it affords the right to the voter to keep silent over the choice of candidate.
  • All electoral polling, either for the presidency, vice-presidency, Parliament, or state assemblies, is in essence a secret ballot.

Two means of executing secrecy:

  • The rights-based measure
    The rights-based measure provides the voter the right to keep his vote a secret. Such a right creates a correlative duty on the election authorities to afford voting facilities and procedures that do not disclose the vote. But the voter can choose to not opt for secrecy. The voter is given legal anonymity for the vote he casts, but he may choose to claim authorship over the same.
  • The duty-based measure
    On the other hand, the duty-based measure imposes secrecy as a statutory duty not only on the election authorities but also on the voter. The voter even by his consent cannot declare his choice; doing so would invalidate his vote.
    Rule 39A creates secrecy in the nature of a duty-based measure.

Issue:

A duty-based secrecy creates pragmatic absurdities that weaken electoral practice.

  • An argument for the mandatory non-disclosure of the vote presses upon the need that the voter should not be given an option to declare his vote because the flexibility would allow others to pressure him informally into declaring his choice.
  • Prima facie the argument lends credence, however Rule 39AA of the Conduct of Election Rules defeats this purpose.

Curtailing voluntary declaration- Makes little sense:

  • Rule 39AA mandates that an elector belonging to a political party must declare his vote to the party agent, if the political party has issued a whip regarding the vote. Refusing to do so is a violation of the election procedure and the vote stands invalidated. Essentially, all non-independent electors would have to disclose their choice in a secret ballot.
  • Rule 39AA creates a party hegemony that assails the democratic consent of the elector. This allows for internal voter intimidation by parties.
  • In such a case, it makes little sense to curtail the voluntary declaration outside the immediate party affiliation; rather it can be argued that a universal declaration eases political pressure that an elector might face.
  • Rule 39A applies only while the election process is underway. There is nothing in the Conduct of Election Rules or the Representation of People’s Act which prohibits a voter from declaring his vote after the process is completed. This scheme lacks procedural merit because it cannot control the behaviour of the elector outside the ballot box. Therefore, the scheme of duty-based secrecy fails.

Conclusion:

Ballot secrecy should be guided by the principle of “consent” or choice; the means to adopt should be the rights-based measure. We may continue to apply the statutes and rules. But law is also a process which evolves with democratic values and electoral practicality.

Connecting the dots:

  • Recent incident in Gujarat Rajya Sabha has raise question over rules on secrecy ballot in the Rajya Sabha. Discuss the issues and the way forward.

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