The HINDU Notes – 08th January 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 08th January 2019

📰 Centre plans 10% quota for the poor

Union Cabinet approves Constitution Amendment Bill for reservation in general category

•The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a Constitution Amendment Bill to provide 10% reservation to the economically backward sections in the general category, a senior government official said. The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities. The quota will be over and above the existing 50% reservation to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes (OBC).

•The decision, which comes ahead of the general election in April-May, was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The specific details of the Bill were not available as there was no word from the government after the meeting. A press briefing scheduled for the evening was cancelled. The reservation is for those castes that now do not avail themselves of quota in any category.

Bill likely today

•Vijay Sampla, Minister of State, Social Justice and Empowerment, told The Hindu that those who have an annual salary of less than Rs. 8 lakh per year and possess less than 5 acres of land will be able to avail themselves of reservation in educational institutions and jobs.

•The government is likely to introduce the Bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the last working day of the winter session. The sitting of the Rajya Sabha has been extended till January 9. Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution will have to be amended for the implementation of the decision, the Minister said.

•A nine-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court had, in the Indira Sawhney case, capped reservation at 50%. The court had ruled on November 16, 1992, that “clause (4) of Article 16 of the Constitution speaks of adequate representation and not proportionate representation” and “relaxation can be done in extraordinary situations and while doing so, extreme caution has to be exercised and a special case made out.” According to the 2011 Census, the population of the country was 1.21 billion. The population of the Scheduled Castes was 201.4 million and that of the Scheduled Tribes stood at 104.3 million.

•Reacting to the decision, the Congress said it agreed with the principle of helping the poor in getting access to education and jobs but questioned the Modi government’s intent.

‘Where are the jobs?’

•At a press conference, Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala asked why the decision was taken when there are only 100 days left for the next Lok Sabha election. “We are committed to giving opportunity, reservation and employment to the poor. But the youth of the country are asking basic questions to Modiji. Where are the job opportunities?” Mr. Surjewala said.

📰 Centre okays Citizenship Bill

Redrafted document is likely to be tabled in Parliament today

•The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 recommended that Assam government should help settle migrants “especially in places which are not densely populated, thus, causing lesser impact on the demographic changes and providing succour to the indigenous Assamese people.”

•The Bill paves way to grant citizenship to six religious minorities -- Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists -- from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.

•There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam as it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came after March 1971, in violation of the agreement of the Assam Accord, 1985.

•The Union Cabinet cleared the redrafted Citizenship Amendment Bill on Monday, and it is likely to be tabled in the Parliament on Tuesday.

RAW expresses concern

•The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) expressed its concern before the committee.

•“Our only concern has been that the agencies who are inimical to us should not have a legal framework within which they can exploit our situation and infiltrate their own people into our own country. That is a matter of great concern for us,” the report quoted a R&AW representative as saying.

•The committee headed by BJP’s Rajendra Agarwal appreciated the government’s decision, claiming such people were being subjected to “unfair treatment” in those countries and submitted the 440-page report in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

Dissent notes defeated

•The dissent notes given by some parliamentarians were defeated.

•“As a matter of fact, protecting the interest of the indigenous Assamese people is the responsibility of both the Central Government and the State Government of Assam. The re-settlement packages and compensation to the State Governments, as provided by the Central Government for accommodating the migrants should motivate and encourage the State Government to help settle such migrants especially in places which are not densely populated, thus, causing lesser impact on the demographic changes and providing succour to the indigenous Assamese people,” the report tabled in the Lok Sabha said.

•Asked by the committee about the mechanism to establish religious persecution in a foreign land, the Home Ministry replied, “Inputs from security agencies along with other corroborative evidence in the print/electronic media would help to establish religious persecution in a foreign land.”

•The committee rejected the amendment to exclude Bangladesh from the list of benefactor countries.

•The Director of Intelligence Bureau suggested that after the Bill is passed, one more round of verification should be done for the applicants.

📰 Leprosy is no longer a ground for divorce

Lok Sabha passes amendment Bill

•Lok Sabha on Monday passed a Bill seeking to remove leprosy as ground for divorce stating that this was a “discriminatory” provision for a disease that is now curable.

•“Leprosy is being removed as a ground for divorce as it is now a curable disease as against the earlier notion of it being incurable,” said Minister of State for Law P. P. Chaudhary moving the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, in the Lok Sabha.

•The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, has sought to amend five Acts — the Divorce Act, 1869, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 — on provisions related marriage, divorce, and separation of Hindu and Muslim couples.

•Each of these Acts prescribe leprosy as a ground for seeking divorce or separation from the spouse. The Bill cleared on Monday removes this as a ground for divorce or separation.

•The Bill was passed by a voice vote amid din as Congress and Samajwadi Party protested over the Rafale fighter jet deal and the CBI raids issue respectively.

📰 Morning digest: 10% quota Bill may fail legal test, Meghalaya miners overlooked risks for higher pay, and more

10% quota Bill may fail legal test

•A proposed law, which got Cabinet approval on Monday, to provide 10% reservation for upper castes (or the unreserved category) exclusively with reference to their economic backwardness may run into rough weather if challenged in the Supreme Court.

Miners in Meghalaya overlooked risks for higher pay

•A majority of men in Bogidari in Chirang district have worked at some point in Meghalaya’s coal mines.

20 crore workers will strike work, say unions

•Ten central trade unions on Monday expected 20 crore workers to respond to their call for a nationwide general strike on January 8 and 9.

T.N. Minister Balakrishna Reddy gets jail term for rioting

•Tamil Nadu’s Youth Welfare and Sports Development Minister P. Balakrishna Reddy, along with 15 others, was convicted and sentenced on Monday by a special court to three years’ imprisonment in a case of unlawful assembly and rioting in 1998 in Bagalur village near Hosur, in Krishnagiri district.

India secures extradition of bookie Sanjeev Chawla

•India secured another legal victory in the U.K. as a judge at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court has said that the extradition of alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla can proceed, and referred the case to Home Secretary Sajid Javid for a final decision.

'Akhilesh approved 14 illegal mining deals’

•Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav allegedly approved 14 mining leases in Hamirpur, in violation of his own government’s e-tendering policy and an Allahabad High Court directive, according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Family will kill me, says Saudi woman to UN refugee agency, pleads for asylum

•An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and barricaded herself inside a Bangkok airport hotel to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities has left the airport after talks with the United Nations refugee agency, an official said on Monday.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to step down on February 1

•In a surprise move, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on Monday announced that he will step down from his position on February 1 - much before the end of his term in 2022.

📰 SC notice to EC on VVPAT verification

Plea says it should be done in at least 30% polling stations

•The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Election Commission to respond to a plea that the counts from electronic voting machines and voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) units should be cross-verified in at least 30% randomly chosen polling stations in each Assembly and Lok Sabha constituency, especially in light of the Lok Sabha election in May.

•A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, ordered the Commission to respond to the petition jointly filed by former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam, ex-diplomat K.P. Fabian and retired banker Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev, represented by advocate Prasanna S.

‘Inexplicably minuscule’

•The petition said the commission had chosen to conduct the cross-verification exercise in an “inexplicably minuscule” manner in the recent Assembly elections.

•The fraction of polling stations chosen for such random cross-verification has been inexplicably minuscule (less than 1% of polling stations in each constituency). This is manifestly arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, the petition said.

•It said the principle of elections not only need to be free and fair but also seen to be free and fair.

•The petition sought that “in order to detect and deter any such mischief or bias in the EVM process, at least 30% of all polling stations in a constituency must be chosen randomly for EVM counts to be cross-verified with VVPAT counts”.

2013 order

•The petitioners submitted that the Supreme Court in its judgment inSubramanian Swamy versus ECI , reported in 2013, had held that it was imperative that elections held through EVMs ought to implement a mechanism of voter verifiable paper audit trails so that the voter can satisfy himself that his vote was accurately recorded.

•The court’s judgment and need for voter confidence and transparency in the election process led to the mechanism for random cross-verification of EVM and VVPAT counts. This was in order to detect any technological mischief or mal-programming of EVMs, the petitioners contended.

📰 Wild animals begin migration to Wayanad sanctuary

•When the mercury rises in the Neelgiri Biosphere the seasonal migration of wild animals has begun from the adjacent wild life sanctuaries in Karnataka and Tamilnadu to Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary (WWLS) in search of fodder and water.

•The sanctuary is a haven for the wild animals such as wild elephants, gaur, different species of antelopes, bears and numerous birds during the summer season. Easy availability of fodder and water through out the year is the attraction of the sanctuary.

•The annual migration usually begins from the end of February and it will continue till the advent of monsoon. The forest department has made highly structured measures to assure the availability of fodder, water and protection measures for the migrating wild guests.

•Though water scarcity is not affected the sanctuary till now, two temporary check dams is being built inside the sanctuary, where the streams may dry up during summer, a forest official told The Hindu on Sunday . He added that they have a tender machine with a water storage capacity of 3000 litres and we can pump water where ever necessary.

•More over, the construction work of a new earthen dam will begin soon at Muthappankolly, an important habitat of wild elephants in Muthanga range under the WWLS at a cost of Rs.3 lakhs, he said.

•As a part of the fodder management, the coarse grasslands have been trimmed to grow the soft grasses in the sanctuary for ensuring the fodder security for the herbivores, the officials said.

•The sanctuary has been closed till 31 March as a part of generating a trouble free movement for the migrating wild animals from Muthumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, The official said.

•Apart from the 17 permanent anti poaching camps and two watch towers at important strategic points inside the sanctuary as many as 9 newly erected tree top machans (temporary watch towers) have been started functioning this year and forest officials including guards and watchers have been deployed there to alert against poaching and wild fire.

•Jungle patrolling has also been introduced during the season led by a deputy forest range officer and the regular patrolling under the forest range officers in 4 ranges under the sanctuary is intensified inside the sanctuary. As a fire season as many as 130 watchers have been deployed inside the sanctuary including 70 newly appointed temporary watchers .

•The watchers were equipped with binoculars for observation and wireless apparatus. Free rationing is also provided for the as they are working in remote areas, the officials said.

📰 Death traps: on Meghalaya's illegal mines

The Meghalaya government must urgently ensure that all illegal mines are shut down

•The tardy response of the Centre and the State of Meghalaya to the plight of at least 15 workers trapped in a rat-hole coal mine since mid-December has exposed the extraordinary indifference in government to labour welfare and the law. Two workers have been found dead in a second mine in the East Jaintia Hills district. The primary responsibility for the operation of illegal mines lies with the State government, and it should be called to account for ignoring the directions of the National Green Tribunal to close them and levy punitive royalties on those that extracted the coal. Several appeals are before the Supreme Court in connection with a ban ordered by the Tribunal on rat-hole mining and the transport of already mined coal. It should be possible at least now to put an end to it. The Meghalaya government has been evasive on the issue of the continued operation of the illegal mines, in spite of the adverse findings of the Justice B.P. Katoki committee appointed by the NGT. It avoided taking action even after a similar mine-flooding accident that claimed 15 lives in 2012 in South Garo Hills, and the subsequent ban. Although the NGT has ordered the State to deposit ₹100 crore with the Central Pollution Control Board for environmental restoration in the wake of the recent disaster at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills, the first-order priority is to close the rat-hole mines. It is the responsibility of the Centre and the State to rehabilitate the workers from impoverished communities, reportedly including some child labourers, who are ready to undertake the risky labour because of the higher-than-average wages paid. This should not be difficult, considering that the value of extracted coal stored in Meghalaya was officially estimated at over ₹3,078 crore four years ago, and mineral resources should be treated as state property.

•The scale is high: as interpreted from satellite images and reported by the Katoki panel, it could be of the order of 24,000 mines, many of them illegal. If illegal mines continue to operate in flagrant violation of rules under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the responsibility lies with the State government. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has said a ban on coal mining is not the solution, given the economic conditions in the region. Yet, the State government has done little to implement reforms and diversify employment away from dirty mining under primitive conditions over the years, in spite of judicial orders. In fact, authorities in Shillong continue to ignore such directions, as the accident at the Lumthari mine in East Jaintia Hills shows. As recently as in December, Parliament was informed that 22 States had constituted a task force to review illegal mining and act on it, but Meghalaya does not figure in that list. A clean-up is overdue.

📰 Jaitapur: A risky and expensive project

Unless the government is transparent about details, it will be engulfed in yet another controversy

•In December, the French company Électricité de France (EDF) submitted a “techno-commercial proposal” to the Indian government for the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra. The idea of importing six nuclear European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) was initiated by the United Progressive Alliance government more than a decade ago, but the project had made little progress due to concerns about the economics and safety of the EPRs, local opposition, and the collapse of the initial French corporate partner, Areva. Despite these problems, in the past few months, the Modi government has taken several high-level steps towards actuating the project.

•In March 2018, EDF and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) signed an “industrial way forward” agreement in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron. Last month, after meeting the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced that “both countries are working to start the Jaitapur project as soon as possible”. The urgency is inexplicable as it comes before the techno-commercial offer has been examined and as earlier questions about costs and safety remain unanswered. Moreover, with the Indian power sector facing surplus capacity and a crisis of non-performing assets (NPAs), a large investment in the Jaitapur project is particularly risky.

Delays and cost increases

•It is clear that electricity from the Jaitapur project will be more expensive than many other sources of electricity, including solar and wind power. Using international estimates of capital costs for EPRs from the 2010-2012 period, and after adjusting for cost savings in India, we had shown in 2013 that first year tariffs from the project would be around ₹15 per kilowatt-hour (“Repeating Enron in Jaitapur”, June 21, The Hindu). Even this figure must be revised upwards to account for the construction experience with EPRs over the past five years. Across the world, EPRs have experienced delays and cost increases. The first EPR entered commercial operation in December 2018 at the Taishan site in China, five years later than originally projected. Its final capital cost was estimated by industry sources to be “40% over the original estimate”. The story in Europe is more dramatic. The EPR at Flamanville in France, for example, went from an expected start date of 2012 to 2020, and a cost estimate of €3.3 billion to €10.9 billion. Two EPRs have been planned at Hinkley Point in the U.K. Even before construction began, the estimated cost has risen significantly to £20 billion (about ₹1.75 lakh crore). The British National Audit Office assessed that the project “locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits.”

•While nuclear costs have been rising, other low-carbon sources of electricity, especially solar energy, have become cheaper. In 2010-11, tariffs for solar photovoltaic (PV) projects under the National Solar Mission were between ₹10.95 and ₹12.76 per unit. But several projects approved under Phase II of the mission have been connected to the grid in the last year with tariffs below ₹5 per unit. In recent auctions for solar PV projects, winning tariff bids in the range of ₹2 to ₹2.50 per unit have become routine.

•The high capital costs of the EPRs are of particular concern because power-generating capacity in India has grown faster than demand causing projects to run into financial difficulties. In March 2018, the parliamentary standing committee on energy listed 34 “stressed” projects, including NPAs and “those which have the potential to become NPAs”, with a cumulative outstanding debt of ₹1.74 lakh crore. In this context, the government seems to be throwing caution to the winds by investing lakhs of crores in the Jaitapur project. Because the NPCIL’s debts would ultimately be underwritten by the Indian government, if the project encounters financial difficulties, the costs would fall on Indian taxpayers.

Safety problems

•In addition to the high costs, safety problems with the reactor design and construction have emerged in several EPRs. The most serious of these pertained to the pressure vessel, which is the key barrier that prevents the spread of radioactive materials from the reactor. In April 2015, the French nuclear safety regulator, Autorité Sûreté Nucléaire, announced that some sections of the pressure vessel that the French Creusot Forge had supplied to the Flamanville and Taishan reactors had too much carbon in the steel. The Flamanville project was also found to have substandard welding in the reactor’s pipes. The EPR at Olkiluoto in Finland encountered problems with vibrations in the pipe that connects the primary coolant system with the pressuriser, which maintains the pressure of the water circulating in the reactor.

•These safety concerns are exacerbated by India’s flawed nuclear liability law. If and when completed, Jaitapur “will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world”. In the event of an accident, the nuclear liability law would require the public sector NPCIL to compensate victims and pay for clean-up, while largely absolving EDF of responsibility.

•The Indian law provides NPCIL with a limited opportunity to obtain compensation from EDF for the “supply of equipment... with... defects... or sub-standard services”. But the joint statement issued in March 2018 promises that the “enforcement of India’s rules” would be in accordance with the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage, which severely limits the operator’s right of recourse. This raises the disturbing possibility that the NPCIL may have promised not to exercise its right to claim compensation from EDF as allowed by Indian law. In any event, there is a “moral hazard” here: since EDF can escape with limited or no consequences even after a severe accident, it has little material incentive to maintain the highest safety standards, particularly if the requirements of safety come into conflict with the imperative to lower costs. Such pressures might be accentuated by EDF’s poor financial state.

•The Modi-Macron statement “emphasized the need for the project to generate cost-effective electricity”. It is hard to see how this is possible. To begin with, the government must answer several specific questions: how much will the entire project cost, who will be accountable for cost increases and delays, and what is the precise arrangement that the government has reached with France on liability? Unless it is transparent about these details, the Modi government may well find itself engulfed in yet another controversy involving overpriced French equipment.

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