1.Climate change in Sunderbans (The Hindu)
2.A move towards more productive house (The Hindu)
3.Explained: Impact of GST on the finances of Urban local bodies
1.Climate change in Sunderbans (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of climate change, depleting mangrove forest cover in the Indian Sundarbans. (GS paper III)
- Mangrove ecosystems are threatened by climate change. “Climate change components that affect mangroves include changes in sea-level, high water events, storminess, precipitation, temperature, atmospheric CO2 concentration, ocean circulation patterns, health of functionally linked neighboring ecosystems, as well as human responses to climate change”.
- A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world. The mangrove forest cover in the Indian Sundarbans has been depleting alarmingly over the past few decades. Lying in the low coastal zone makes the Sundarbans more vulnerable to floods, earthquakes, cyclones, sea-level rise and coastline erosion.
- The Sundarbans is a cluster of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, spread across India and Bangladesh, famous for its unique mangrove forests. This active delta region is among the largest in the world, measuring about 40,000 sq km.
- Sundarbans is home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the estuarine crocodile, royal Bengal tiger, Water monitor lizard, Gangetic dolphin, and olive ridley turtle.
- The forest in India is divided into the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and 24 Parganas (South) Forest Division, and together with the forest in Bangladesh is the only mangrove forest in the world where tigers are found.
- The total forest cover of the Indian Sundarbans as assessed by remote sensing shows that the loss in the mangrove forest in the Indian Sundarbans is about 5.5 %. The continuation of this process in response to climate change and sea level rise poses a serious threat to the carbon sequestration potential and other ecosystem services of this mangrove forest in future.
- Studies suggest that climate change is leading to increased salinity and higher tidal surges, and permanent submergence of land mass. This results in loss of critical habitat for biodiversity, both fauna and flora
- The mean sea level rise at the Sagar Island Station can be considered as a driving factor for coastal erosion, coastal flooding, and an increase in the number of tidal creeks.
- Climate change and sea level rise has contributed to the phenomenon of losing land, including mangrove forests in the Sundarbans, in the last part of the 21st century.
- There is less fresh water flow and sediment supply in the western (Indian) part of the delta, so we have starvation of sediment and the rate of sea level rise is higher than sediment supply. Hence we are losing land, including mangrove forest and the eastern (Bangladesh) side of the delta is gaining land because of the huge amount of sediment and water flow from the Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. The loss of forest cover occurs despite significant addition of forest land as plantations.
- According to the Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS), an NGO that has been working in the Sunderban ecosystem, said that a critical minimal inflow of freshwater is necessary for the luxuriant growth of mangroves.
- A majority of the population here depends on fuel wood for thermal energy, as biomass in the villages is inadequate to meet their energy demands this biotic pressure and unsustainable exploitation of forest resources leads to degradation of the natural habitat, resulting in loss of biodiversity.
- Climate change is a huge global problem; natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather more frequent and more intense.
- Adequate attention must be given to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already occurring, while at the same time preparing for future impacts. There is need to ensure adequate and rapid support to the most vulnerable countries and communities. Increased investment in adaptive capacity, such as strengthening the ability of countries to reduce disaster risk, will safeguard economic progress and increase the climate resilience of economies on the way to achieving overall development goals.
Question: How mangrove succession will be impacted in coastal regions due to erratic flow of rivers? How far climate change is responsible for it?
2.A move towards more productive house (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issues of low performance in the Parliament due to various reasons. (GS paper II)
- Parliamentary debates, which once focussed on national and critical issues, are now more about local problems, viewed from a parochial angle.
- With insufficient attendance by our Members of Parliament (MPs), poor quality of debates and pandemonium marking the proceedings, there is seemingly little value that a parliamentary representative can add to the policy discourse.
Issues plaguing the productivity in Parliament
- Problem of low productivity
- Each minute of running Parliament in sessions costs ₹2.5 lakh, which is utilised poorly. Between the 1950s and the 1960s, the Lok Sabha used to meet for an average of 120 days in a year. In comparison, in the last decade, it has met for an average of 70 days a year. Its productivity in the 2016 winter session was 14%, while that of the Rajya Sabha was 20%.
- In comparison, the British House of Commons has met for an average of 150 days a year over the last 15 years.
- Most Parliaments are in session throughout the year. While our Parliament lacks the power to convene itself, it should have a minimum mandated number of days to meet with the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution recommending 120 and 100 days for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively.
- Odisha has already shown the way, mandating a minimum of 60 days for the State Assembly to sit.
- Women representation in Parliament
- In 2012, India ranked 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament. While the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments enabled the reservation of 33% of seats in local government, political representation by women candidates continues to be subdued.
- This needs to be changed dramatically, beginning with the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) reserving 33% of all seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women.
- Issues related to passage of bills
- Parliamentary legislation is often criticised for being hastily drafted and being rushed through Parliament in an ad hoc and haphazard manner. In 2008, for instance, 16 Bills were passed with less than 20 minutes of debate.
- The non-passage of private member Bills doesn’t help either. Only the second half of every Friday, during a parliamentary session, is devoted to debating private member Bills. To date, only 14 private member bills have been passed.
- Policy research and analysis
- Most MPs have limited or no research staff, leaving them bereft of expert in-house advice — budgetary expenses allocated for their secretarial staff and constituency expenditure leave little for conducting primary research.
- Other parliaments offer funds to hire research teams for MPs. Investing in Parliament’s intellectual capital is necessary and additional budgetary support should be provided while assisting MPs in employing research staff.
- Voting pattern in parliament
- Individual voting record of MPs remains unknown. With no record maintained of the voting record associated with each MP, it is difficult to distinguish their individual progressive or conservative nature, let alone their leadership abilities.
- Currently, the Anti-Defection Act punishes MPs who deviate from their parties’ stated position, with the risk of losing their seats. The Anti-Defection Act needs to be recast, and used only in the most exceptional circumstances, while allowing MPs free rein on their self-expression. The U.K., for example, has the concept of a free vote allowing MPs to vote as they wish on particular legislative items.
- In this context, most MPs have limited or no research staff, leaving them bereft of expert in-house advice budgetary expenses allocated for their secretarial staff and constituency expenditure leave little for conducting primary research.
- India’s citizens need a more robust legislative system that offers public representatives our MPs, Ministers and the Prime Minister a greater sense of authority.
- We need a systematic approach to legislative engineering and prioritisation — the parliamentary committee, an unfashionable institution, long out of vogue, can assume institutional importance in this process.
- As highlighted by the Law Ministry, we require a constitution committee. Instead of constitutional amendments being presented to Parliament like ordinary pieces of legislation in the form of Bills, often at short notice, it would be desirable to have the committee conduct an appropriate priori scrutiny before the actual drafting of the proposal for constitutional reform.
- We also need an institutionalised process to raise the quality and rigour associated with the budget scrutiny process. India needs a parliamentary budget office, akin to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, which can be an independent and impartial institution devoted to conducting a technical and objective analysis of any Bill with spending or revenue raising requirements. Other countries have led the way with such entities established in Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, the Philippines, Ghana and Thailand.
Question: It is high time that govt. should take urgent steps to reform legislative practices in the parliament and should ensure efficient functioning in order to realise true democracy. Comment.
3.Impact of GST on the finances of Urban local bodies (GS paper II)
- ULBs, such as municipalities and municipal corporations, are local self-governments that provide basic community services like healthcare, water supply, educational institutions, housing, transport and waste management.
- Though they rely heavily on grants-in-aid from the state government to finance their budgets, they are authorised to collect various taxes, such as those levied on property, entertainment, advertisements through hoardings and billboards, and when articles enter the region (Octroi duty or entry tax).
- These taxes, howsoever meagre they are, ensure the financial auto nomy of ULBs to some extent.
Importance of ULB(s)
- A study by the Reserve Bank of India shows that municipalities in the country contribute a mere 0.75 per cent to the GDP, compared to 6 per cent in South Africa. ULBs in states like Maharashtra and Gujarat excel in delivering basic services to urban dwellers because they generate huge revenue and depend less on state grants.
- The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai earns Rs 7,000 crore a year from Octroi duty alone. But these sources of revenue will dry up with the enforcement of GST.
- But these sources of revenue will dry up with the enforcement of GST. Though the unified revenues would be divided between the Centre and states based on a mutually accepted formula at the GST Council, headed by the Union finance minister, no such formula has been developed for revenue sharing between states and local bodies. This may leave ULBs cash-strapped.
Weakening local bodies
- With no independent revenue sources and no share in the unified GST revenue, ULBs will become weaker and more dependent on state grants. This will stifle their autonomy and lead to weak urban governance.
- The Union Ministry of Urban Development had highlighted these concerns way back in 2015, when GST was being formulated. It had suggested that 25-30 per cent of the state’s share of GST should directly go to ULBs to compensate them for the huge financial loss they are likely to suffer in the unified tax regime.
- The 14th Finance Commission, which came into being in 2013, recommends states to directly transfer grants meant for local governance to ULBs instead of keeping them waiting for the doles.
- Besides, there is no uniformity in taxes collected by local bodies. Entertainment tax, for instance, is collected by local governments in Kerala, whereas it is collected by the state government in Tamil Nadu. Local bodies will suffer if no clarity is brought into laws regarding devolution of funds.
- Without a proper mechanism, states with poor financial condition may deprive local bodies of their rightful share in the unified GST revenue.
- local bodies are like neglected children. States need to show some maturity to believe in them and the GST Council needs to put in place a formula that enables fair sharing of GST revenue between states and local bodies. Or else, the GST Act would defeat the purpose of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, which had formalised local governance in the country, and would lead to centralisation of financial power.
Question: ULB are the engines of growth and they are needed to be oiled with adequate finances. What are the ways in which finances of ULB can be augmented?