IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains
Focus)- 23rd December 2017
National Highways Investment Promotion Cell (NHIPC)
Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Infrastructure
- The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has created a National Highways Investment Promotion Cell (NHIPC).
- The primary focus of NHIPC will be to promote foreign and domestic investment in road infrastructure.
- The cell will focus on engaging with global institution investors, construction companies, developers and fund managers for building investor participation in road infrastructure projects.
- The government has set an ambitious target of construction of 35,000 km of national highways in the next five years involving an investment of Rs 5,35,000 crore under Bharatmala.
Article link: Click here
“SAMEEP”: An outreach mission of MEA
Part of: Mains GS Paper II- Important aspects of governance
- SAMEEP, aims to take Indian foreign policy and its global engagements to students across the country.
- The ministry of external affairs has asked all its officers to engage students in the schools and colleges in the jobs that the ministry is engaged in, so as to give them a fair idea of how India engages with the world, what are its foreign policy priorities and how diplomacy is actually conducted.
- The programme is voluntary and gives officials the option of going back to their alma mater or to any school or college in their hometown.
- The ministry would give them a standardized presentation and officials would be free to improvise and add their personal experiences.
- The idea is not only to get the ordinary student to take an interest in India’s place in the world and its global ambitions, but also to look at diplomacy as a career option.
Article link: Click here
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability and institutional and other measures.
Improving the Income Tax department
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has highlighted several issues in the functioning of the Government and its various departments. One was CAG highlighting that the income tax department made ‘exaggerated’ demands on large companies which were refunded the following financial year, along with interest.
This is not a new issue. It usually happens as over-zealous officers race to meet the stiff, and often unrealistic, targets set by the Government for tax collections. Assessees may be troubled by such unreasonable demands they have little choice but to comply.
While such practices may have been acceptable in the past, they’re out of tune with a modern economy that counts rankings in the ease of doing business as an important metric.
- Placing impromptu and unreasonable tax demands does not qualify for being investor-friendly and this is something that policymakers should factor into their operations.
- Tax collected and refunded along with interest puts a heavy burden on the Exchequer.
- The CAG also noted that there were irregularities in respect of corporation tax and income tax assessments cases over the years, with arithmetical errors in calculating income and corporate tax in nearly 500 cases.
- The CAG also pulled up the department for not adopting a uniform approach to deal with cases of fictitious donations or bogus purchases that are generally used to launder money. This caused a revenue loss to the government.
- The functioning of the income tax department needs to be streamlined. While revenue targets matter, going for broke to attain them, often at the cost of the assessee, is not acceptable in an economy which is striving to improve its ease of doing business rankings.
- The Income Tax Act needs to be simplified and the element of discretion available currently to assessing officers, plugged. The governments have often held forth on simplification of tax laws, including doing away with exemptions and deductions. Yet, it has remained a work in progress.
Simple tax laws and an improved Income tax department may not only help score points in ease of doing business rankings but also lead to lesser disputes with assesses and, arguably, even to buoyant revenues.
Connecting the dots:
- The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has highlighted several issues related to the Income tax department. What are these issues? Discuss the necessity of reform required in IT department.
General Studies 1:
- Geography – Key natural resources across the world (including India), exploitation of natural resources
General Studies 3:
- Environment and Ecology, Bio diversity – Conservation, environmental degradation, environmental impact assessment, Environment versus Development
Conserving Wetlands by identifying them right
Wetlands, a major water-based ecosystem apart from rivers, are at a moment of policy transition in the country.
- This year, a new legal framework for wetlands was passed, the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, replacing the earlier Rules of 2010.
- Also, this year the Supreme Court passed an order directing States to identify wetlands in the country within a stipulated timeframe.
Wetland is transitional land between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where water table is usually at or near surface or it may be land covered by shallow water.
Importance- Wetlands supports rich biodiversity and provides wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage and purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge etc.
In India there are 115 wetlands officially identified by Central Government. Out of these, 26 have identified as wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention designated as Ramsar sites.
Maintaining ‘Ecological character’ of wetlands:
The 2010 and 2017 Rules for wetlands both emphasise that the ecological character of wetlands ought to be maintained for their conservation.
‘Ecological character’ refers to processes and components which make the wetland a particular, and sometimes unique, ecosystem.
For example, as lagoons like Chilika (Odisha) and Pulicat (Tamil Nadu/Andhra Pradesh) are characterised by a mix of saline and fresh water, the flows of each type need to be maintained; river flood plains contain wetlands that require conservation so they can re-fuel the river with fish and other aquatic life during flooding.
The 2017 Wetland Rules have been criticised for doing away with strong wetland monitoring systems and omitting important wetland types.
- In the 2010 Rules, some criteria related to ecological character were made explicit, such as natural beauty, ecological sensitivity, genetic diversity, historical value, etc. These have been omitted in the 2017 Rules.
- There is multiple interest around wetlands. Multiple interests also have governance needs, and this makes it absolutely necessary to identify and map these multiple uses.
It is crucial to identify ecological criteria so that the wetlands’ character can be maintained.
The key to wetland conservation is not just understanding regimes of multiple use — but conserving or managing the integrity of the wetland ecosystem.
- Restriction of activities on wetlands will be done as per the principle of ‘wise use’, determined by the State wetland authority under the 2017 rules.
Whether wise use will include maintaining ecological character is not clear.
Under the new Rules, no authority to issue directions, which are binding in nature to desist from any activity detrimental to wetland conservation, has been prescribed to State wetland authorities.
- Salt pans as ‘wetlands’ have been omitted from the new Rules. They were identified as wetlands in the 2010 Rules, as they are often important sites of migratory birds and other forms of biodiversity. The omission in the 2017 Rules suggests that while saltpans do exist as wetlands, they do not require any conservation or ecological balance.
Salt pans are an example how one use (of making salt) has trumped the other (of environmental balance).
Case study: Deepor Beel
The issue of wetlands being multiple-use areas — and subsequently being abused due to clashes of interest — found centre-stage this year with the observations of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the case of Deepor Beel.
Deepor Beel is a Ramsar site and a part of it is also wildlife sanctuary in Guwahati, Assam. This wetland harbours a wide variety of biodiversity, and also suffers from intense man-made pressure — the city’s municipal waste is dumped close to the Beel. Large, meat-eating storks (Greater adjutant storks) are ironically found eating from the mountains of garbage at the site. Potential impacts of contamination or poisoning from the garbage are still unknown. This January, 26 storks died.
The fact that Deepor Beel exists as a wetland does not prevent garbage dumping; is a fate faced by many wetlands.
These are ways of killing a wetland and turning it from a wet to a dry ecosystem; or from a lake to a garbage dump or cesspool.
There are challenges ahead in identifying wetlands – multiple and competing use is one of them.
- Understanding the historic spread and ecological character of wetlands will be an important bulwark for the way forward.
- Setting clear governance systems would be the next.
Without either there will be dilution of wetlands in the country.
Connecting the dots:
- What do you understand by the term ‘wetland’. Why are they important as an ecosystem? Identifying wetlands is a challenging task. Discuss.
- Discuss the issues associated with the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. Also suggest way forward.
A capital mistake
Missing the pulse
To tax and to please