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24 January, 2020

22 Min Read

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Paper Topics Subject
GS-II One nation, one road tax
India’s gas-based economy
Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI­-2019)
ICJ orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya
Sagarmatha Dialogue International Relations
Republic Day 2020
Legislative Councils
GS-III New snake eel species discovered in Odisha
GS-II :
One nation, one road tax

Syllabus subtopic:  Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the govt.’s move and its implications; need for reform in road tax structure

 

News: The Union government is making a renewed push to get states on board to levy a uniform road tax for personal vehicles across the country.

 

Why?

The move is expected to bring relief to automobile buyers, while also helping protect revenue of states as some consumers tend to purchase vehicles in states with lower taxes, resulting in a loss of revenue for those with higher taxes.

 

Background

  • A group of ministers on transport set up by the roads ministry in 2018 had recommended a uniform road tax structure for vehicles across states and that the tax be charged based on the invoice price of a vehicle. For all personal vehicles, the tax should be 8% for a vehicle costing under Rs.10 lakh, 10% for a vehicle costing between Rs.10 lakh and Rs.20 lakh and 12% for a vehicle costing more over Rs.20 lakh.

 

  • A recent meeting between the Centre and state transport ministers to discuss the uniform road tax structure saw most of the ministers agreeing to the proposal.

 

About Road Tax

Road tax is paid during the registration of a vehicle in a particular state. It is levied along with the goods and services tax (GST) and directly impacts the price of a new vehicle.

 

 

Implications

  • A rejig in tax rates will have fiscal implications.
  • Tinkering with revenue has been a contentious issue. States have been averse to uniform tax rates as some of them would have to take a hit on revenue collection.
  • It will depend on the states as road tax features on the state list.

 

Current scenario

  • Currently, each state has a different formula for calculating the tax rate, which leads to anomaly in the final amount.
  • For instance, in Delhi, the road tax is calculated based on the make, model, engine and seating capacity of a vehicle. For four-wheelers less than 1,000kg, the tax is more than Rs.3,800.
  • However, in Arunachal Pradesh, it is calculated on the basis of the sale price of a four-wheeler, which is 2.5% or Rs.6,250 for a vehicle costing Rs.2.5 lakh, and 6.5% or Rs.1.3 lakh for a car costing over Rs.20 lakh.

 

 

Way forward

  • On its part, the automobile industry has been pushing for a uniform road tax structure along the lines of the unified tax regime under GST as any arbitrary increase in road taxes by certain state governments results in higher vehicle prices, adversely impacting sales.

 

  • This is a significant development for the auto industry since it was their long-standing demand. Apart from the poor state of the economy, increase in road taxes by states had impacted sales of vehicles in the past one year.
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GS-II :
India’s gas-based economy

Syllabus subtopic: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the draft policy and its significance; initiatives taken to boost gas-based economy, about PESO

 

News: In a bid to boost India’s gas economy, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural gas on Thursday released a draft city gas distribution policy.

 

About the draft policy

  • The policy could be adopted by states to facilitate speedy implementation of city gas distribution (CGD) networks and value-added services.

 

  • With a view to promote clean and green fuel, the draft policy is looking to make CNG/LNG as the preferred fuel in public transportation. State transport corporations will accord priority to CNG/ LNG buses, while purchasing new buses and retrofitting in present alternate fuel fleet (which is viable), in order to actively promote the usage of CNG/LNG in the public transport.

 

  • Reduced road taxes and value-added tax (VAT) may also be in the offing for gas- driven vehicles. In order to provide user-friendly clean and green fuel CNG and PNG to the general public at affordable and reasonable rates, VAT rates may be reviewed and rationalized with a ceiling of 5%.

 

  • Further, to promote the safe usage of CNG/LNG in the transport sector, state policy thrust may be given by rationalizing road tax for factory-fitted CNG/LNG vehicles and making them at par with electric vehicles.

 

Process of implementation

  • The draft policy suggests setting up of a committee, under the chairmanship of the chief secretary, which will help formulate policies and streamline the processes for various permissions to develop the CGD infrastructure.

 

  • It will cause setting up of a suitable single-window clearance mechanism for the same in the state for the promotion development of CGD infrastructure and ease of doing business.

 

  • The committee will also make a suitable mechanism for permissions from state divisions of the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), NHAI, the railways, etc.

 

Initiatives taken by the govt. to boost gas-based economy

  • Pricing and LNG marketing freedoms have been given to gas producers. LNG terminal capacity is being augmented and the national gas grid is being developed.
  • The government will also provide Rs.10,500 crore as viability gap funding for laying pipeline in eastern and north-eastern India. Gas pipeline network will be ready from Kutch to Kohima and Kashmir to Kochi. Around Rs. 4 trillion worth of investment is likely to be made in such projects, which is a challenge as well as an opportunity.

 

 

About Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO)

  • PESO is a department formed by Government of India under Department for the Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) under Ministry of Commerce and Industry, to administer Explosives Act 1884, Explosive Substance Act, Petroleum Act 1934, Inflammable substance Act 1952 and Environment Protection Act 1986 to control import, export, transport, storage and usage of explosive materials, flammable materials, pressure vessels, cryogenic vessels, design and installation of all necessary and relevant infrastructure etc.

 

  • PESO is a regulatory authority, with autonomous status. The Department is headed by Chief Controller of Explosives and is headquartered at Nagpur in the State of Maharashtra in India.

 

  • The authority framed various rules like Petroleum Rules 2002, Explosive Rules 2008, Gas Cylinder Rules 2002, Static & Mobile Pressure Vessels (Unfired) 2016, Ammonium Nitrate Rules, Calcium Carbide Rules 1987, Cinematographic Films Rules, 1948 etc.

 

  • It was established during the British India in 1890s as Department of Explosives and later expanded to various other activities.

 

  • PESO is known for one of the most efficient departments in India. The officers are selected by the UPSC into Indian Petroleum and Explosives Safety Service (IPESS), a central civil services cadre.

 

  • It is a statutory authority.
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GS-II :
Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI­-2019)

Syllabus subtopic: Role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: About the key highlights of the index; India’s performance; About Transparency International

 

News: Transparency International released the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI­2019) on Thursday.

 

About the Index

The 2019 CPI draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

 

Key highlights

  • The top ranked countries are New Zealand and Denmark, with scores of 87 each, followed by Finland (86), Singapore (85), Sweden (85) and Switzerland (85).

 

  • India’s ranking has slipped from 78 to 80 compared to the previous year. Its score of 41 out of 100 remains the same.

 

  • In democracies such as India and Australia, unfair and opaque political financing, undue influence in decision-making and lobbying by powerful corporate interest groups have resulted in stagnation or a decline in the control of corruption.

 

  • The report has revealed that a majority of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption.

 

  • It also shows corruption is more pervasive in countries where big money can flow freely into electoral campaigns and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well­connected individuals.

 

 

  • In the Asia Pacific region, the average score is 45, after many consecutive years of an average score of 44, which “illustrates general stagnation” in the region.

 

  • China has improved its position from 87 to 80 with a score of 41 out of 100, a two­point jump.

 

  • Despite the presence of high performers like New Zealand (87), Singapore (85), Australia (77), Hong Kong (76) and Japan (73), the Asia Pacific region hasn’t witnessed substantial progress in anti­corruption efforts or results. In addition, low performers like Afghanistan (16), North Korea (17) and Cambodia (20) continue to highlight serious challenges in the region.

 

  • According to Transparency International, while often seen as an engine of the global economy, in terms of political integrity and governance, the Asia Pacific region performs only marginally better than the global average.

 

  • Many countries see economic openness as a way forward, however, governments across the region, from China to Cambodia to Vietnam, continue to restrict participation in public affairs, silence dissenting voices and keep decision­making out of public scrutiny.

 

  • Given these issues, it comes as no surprise that vibrant economic powers like China (41), Indonesia (40), Vietnam (37), the Philippines (34) and others continue to struggle to tackle corruption.

 

About Transparency International (TI)

  • TI, a nonpartisan, nonprofit nongovernmental organization (NGO) founded in Berlin in 1993 to expose corruption and reduce its harmful effects around the world, especially on the poor and underprivileged.

 

  • TI consists of a global network of approximately 100 national chapters devoted to fighting corruption in their home countries. Headquarters are in Berlin.

 

  • TI does not conduct investigations into corruption itself but instead brings together officials in the areas of government, business, civil society, and the media to promote transparency in private and public affairs and to lobby for anticorruption measures.

 

  • TI targets corruption at every level, from local governments to multinational corporations, in keeping with its belief that corruption creates and perpetuates poverty, weakens democracy, distorts national and international trade, endangers national security, and threatens natural resources around the world.

 

  • It focuses on five areas of concern:
  1. corruption in politics,
  2. corruption in the private sector,
  3. corruption in public contracting,
  4. poverty and development, and
  5. international anticorruption conventions.

 

  • TI is governed by a board of directors, which is elected at an annual meeting of national chapters and individual members.

 

  • It publishes several annual reports, including the
  1. Global Corruption Report,
  2. Global Corruption Barometer, and
  3. Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks countries by perceived level of corruption based on surveys of experts.
  4. It also publishes books on specific regions and issues Integrity Awards to individuals who expose corruption in their countries.

 

  • The organization is primarily funded by government development agencies and foundations. It also receives project funding from international organizations, donations from private companies, and lesser income from publication sales and honoraria.
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GS-II :
ICJ orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya

Syllabus subtopic: Important International Institutions, agencies and fora - their Structure, Mandate.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the court’s ruling and its significance; about the Rohingya issue; about ICJ and its mandate

 

News: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide, a ruling cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since being forced from their homes.

 

Background

  • More than 7,30,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-­led crackdown in 2017, and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh. UN investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

 

  • Majority Buddhist Myanmar generally refuses to describe the Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group and refers to them as Bangladeshi migrants.

 

  • A lawsuit launched by Gambia in November at the United Nations’ highest body for disputes between states accuses Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 Genocide Convention.

 

What did the court rule and its significance?

  • In a unanimous ruling by the 17 judge panel, the court said the Rohingya face an ongoing threat and Myanmar must act to protect them.

 

  • Rohingya activists, who had come from all over the world to the Hague, reacted with joy to the unanimous ruling, which also explicitly recognised their ethnic minority as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.

 

  • The court’s final decision could take years, and Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for preliminary measures.

 

  • ICJ rulings are final and binding, but countries have occasionally flouted them, and the court has no formal mechanism to enforce them.
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GS-II : International Relations
Sagarmatha Dialogue

Syllabus subtopic:

  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • India and its Neighborhood- Relations.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: About the event and its significance

 

News: Nepal has invited the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, along with several other heads of governments and states, for the Sagarmatha Dialogue (Sagarmatha Sambaad).

 

Background

  • India and Pakistan have been caught up in a cycle of hostility which has prevented Islamabad from hosting the SAARC summit since 2016.

 

  • The dialogue aims at drawing all the SAARC leaders and providing an opportunity to break the ice.

 

About the event

  • The Sambaad (dialogue) is named after the world's tallest mountain Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) which is also a symbol of friendship and is meant to promote the notions of common good and collective well-being of humanity. Sagarmatha, being the highest natural landmark on the earth, is also the tallest witness of the unfolding global events.

 

  • The three­-day event (first-ever), to be held in Kathmandu, from April 2 will be the biggest diplomatic dialogue in Nepal’s recent history that will be attended by many global figures apart from the leaders of the SAARC countries.

 

  • Invitations have been sent to over 150 foreign guests including heads of government and heads of states, Ministers, business leaders, media, members of multilateral organisations, think tank experts, academics, civil society leaders and activists.

 

  • The event is expected to focus on the threat of climate change (Theme: "Climate Change, Mountains, and the Future of Humanity”) to the modern world. Given the large number of global leaders, the event is expected to emerge as a venue for bilateral interaction among leaders.

 

  • Discussions will also dwell upon the ‘organic link’ between mountains, oceans and many other ecosystems. Largely, the dialogue will be an opportunity to devise on the actions needed to realize the Sustainable Development Goals and commitment made under the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

 

 

Note:

  • Sagarmatha National Park is a national park in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal that is dominated by Mount Everest.

 

  • It encompasses an area of 1,148 km2 (443 sq mi) in the Solukhumbu District and ranges in elevation from 2,845 to 8,848 m (9,334 to 29,029 ft) at the summit of Mount Everest.

 

  • In the north, it shares the international border with the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve of Tibet. In the east it is adjacent to Makalu Barun National Park, and in the south it extends to Dudh Kosi river. It is part of the Sacred Himalayan Landscape.
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GS-II :
Republic Day 2020

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the national war memorial; significance of the republic day

News: In a first, homage will be paid to the fallen soldiers during the Republic Day parade this year at the National War Memorial. The ceremony had so far been conducted at India Gate.

 

About the National War Memorial

  • The National War Memorial is located at the ‘C’ Hexagon near India Gate. It was built in memory of 22,500 Indian soldiers who had laid down their lives for the country after Independence.

 

  • A new Amar Jawan Jyoti was also established there.

 

  • Since its inauguration in February last year, the National War Memorial has been the venue for the guard of honour at all national events. The Amar Jawan Jyoti will be used for regimental events.

 

Republic Day parade 2020

  • A major attraction at the parade will be the anti­satellite missile tested under Mission Shakti by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

 

  • The Army will showcase the recently inducted 155­ mm Dhanush towed howitzer.

 

  • There are 16 marching contingents this year, including six from the Army and 22 tableaux from various States and departments.

 

  • The Army would be represented by a mounted column of 61 cavalry, eight mechanised columns, six marching contingents and a fly­past by the Rudra and Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters of Army Aviation.

 

  • The traditional Christian hymn “Abide with me”, believed to have been a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, is back on the list of tunes for this year’s Beating Retreat ceremony.

 

  • Additionally, the national song Vande Mataram will be played for the first time at the Beating Retreat this year.

 

 

Why is 26th January celebrated as the Republic Day of India?

  • The Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950, a date specially chosen to coincide with the anniversary of ‘Purna Swaraj Diwas’. January 26, 1930 was marked as ‘Purna Swaraj Diwas’, or the day the nation would attain complete freedom from its colonisers by the Congress.

 

  • The members of the drafting committee felt that the birth of the constitution should be observed on a day that held some significance in their fight for independence. When India was ultimately granted freedom by the British in 1947, but on August 15 and not January 26, the date was instead assigned to celebrating India’s Republic Day.

 

  • This was the day the Indian Independence Act was consequently repealed and India was established as a democratic republic, no longer a dominion of the British Crown.

 

About Mission Shakti

  • Mission Shakti is a joint programme of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

 

  • As part of the mission, an anti-satellite (A-SAT) weapon was launched and targeted an Indian satellite which had been decommissioned. Mission Shakti was carried out from DRDO’s testing range in Odisha’s Balasore.

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GS-II :
Legislative Councils

Syllabus subtopic: Parliament and State Legislatures—Structure, Functioning, Conduct of Business, Powers & Privileges and Issues Arising out of these.

Prelims and Mains focus: about LCs: strength, selection of members, objectives

News: The Andhra Pradesh government seems to be contemplating abolishing the Legislative Council going by Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assertion that the “Upper House” did not deserve to exist if it rejects important Bills by violating rules.

 

About Legislative Councils (LC)

India has a bicameral system i.e., two Houses of Parliament. At the state level, the equivalent of the Lok Sabha is the Vidhan Sabha or Legislative Assembly; that of the Rajya Sabha is the Vidhan Parishad or Legislative Council.

A second House of legislature is considered important for two reasons:

  1. to act as a check on hasty actions by the popularly elected House and,
  2. to ensure that individuals who might not be cut out for the rough-and-tumble of direct elections too are able to contribute to the legislative process.

 

Arguments in favour of LCs

  • Having a second chamber would allow for more debate and sharing of work between the Houses.
  • A Legislative Council can help check hasty actions by the directly elected House.
  • The Legislative Council also enables non-elected individuals to contribute to the legislative process.

 

 

Arguments against LCs

  • Rather than fulfilling the lofty objective of getting intellectuals into the legislature, the forum is likely to be used to accommodate party functionaries who fail to get elected.
  • They can be used to delay progressive legislation.
  • It is also an unnecessary drain on the exchequer.
  • Unlike Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack the constitutional mandate to do so. Legislative Assemblies have the power to override suggestions/amendments made to a legislation by the Council.
  • While Rajya Sabha MPs can vote in the election of the President and Vice-President, members of Legislative Councils can’t. MLCs also can’t vote in the elections of Rajya Sabha members.
  • As regards Money bills, only fourteen days’ delay can be caused by the Council, which is more or less a formality rather than a barrier in the way of Money Bill passed by the Assembly.

 

Creation of a LC:

  • Under Article 169 of the constitution, Parliament may by law create or abolish the second chamber in a state if the Legislative Assembly of that state passes a resolution to that effect by a special majority.

 

  • Currently, six states have Legislative Councils (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana).

 

  • Jammu and Kashmir too had one, until the state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.

 

Strength of LCs

As per article 171 clause (1) of the Indian Constitution, the total number of members in the legislative council of a state shall not exceed one third of the total number of the members in the legislative Assembly of that state and the total number of members in the legislative council of a state shall in no case be less than 40.

 

Election of members of LCs

  • 1/3rd of members are elected by members of the Assembly.
  • 1/3rd by electorates consisting of members of municipalities, district boards and other local authorities in the state.
  • 1/12th by an electorate consisting of teachers.
  • 1/12th by registered graduates.
  • The remaining members are nominated by the Governor from among those who have distinguished themselves in literature, science, art, the cooperative movement, and social service.
  • Legislative Councils are permanent Houses, and like Rajya Sabha, one-third of their members retire every two years.

 

Powers of LCs vis-à-vis Rajya Sabha

The constitution gives Councils limited legislative powers. Unlike Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack the constitutional mandate to do so. Legislative Assemblies have the power to override suggestions/amendments made to a legislation by the Council.

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GS-III :
New snake eel species discovered in Odisha

Syllabus subtopic: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: About the new species of the eel; about ZSI and its functions

 

News: A new snake eel species residing in the Bay of Bengal has been discovered and documented this month ( January) by the Estuarine Biology Regional Centre (EBRC) of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) at Gopalpur­-on-­sea in Odisha.

 

About the new species

  • This new marine species has been named Ophichthus kailashchandrai to honour the vast contributions of Dr. Kailash Chandra, Director of ZSI, to Indian animal taxonomy.

 

  • Ophichthus kailashchandrai is the eighth species of the Ophichthus genus found on the Indian coast.

 

  • It is the fifth new species discovered by the Gopalpur ZSI in the last two years.

 

  • In 2019, two new species of marine eel, Gymnothorax andamanensesis and Gymnothorax smithi were been discovered by this ZSI centre.

 

About Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)

  • It is a subordinate organization of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India.
  • It was established in 1916 as a premier Indian organisation in zoological research and studies to promote the survey, exploration and research of the fauna in the country.
  • The headquarters is at Kolkata.

 

The main activities of the ZSI are:

  • Study of the fauna of states
  • Fauna of conservation areas
  • Fauna of important ecosystems
  • Status survey of endangered species
  • Fauna of India and
  • Ecological Studies & Environmental impact assessments.
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