📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 03 March
🌐 No camps within 100m of Ganga: NGT
- The National Green Tribunal prohibited all camping activity from Shivpuri to Rishikesh on beaches along the Ganga which fall within 100 meters of the river.
- The roughly 50 km stretch between Shivpuri to Rishikesh is a hub of ecotourism and river rafting.
- “It cannot be disputed that river rafting is one of the significant components of ecotourism. It needs to be encouraged but with a clear mandate that it should not cause any environmental and biodiversity degradation particularly in relation to the flood plains and the forest areas adjacent to the sites identified for river rafting,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.
- The bench relied on various studies conducted by the Uttarakhand government and the Wildlife Institute of India.
- As per the studies, of the total 56 beaches, 33 beaches were recommended for camping while 23 beaches were not. Out of the 33 sites recommended for beach camping, three fall outside 100 meters, eight sites are wholly within 100 meters while the remaining 22 sites are partially within the limit imposed by the NGT.
- The judgment came on a petition filed by environment activist Vikrant Tongad, who highlighted how unregulated camping was leading to pollution in the river and its adjoining areas. He also highlighted how tourists coming to the area left behind litter and polluted the river and the soil.
- The bench ordered the implementation of the management plan prepared by the State government while noting how the authorities allowed people to carry weapons, drink on the beaches and even raise permanent/ concrete structures at the camping sites. “The illegal and improper activities at the camping sites led to the pollution of (the) Ganga,” it said.
- Signalling a major shift in its position on talks with Pakistan on the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), India has accepted an invitation to attend the next meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) to be held in Lahore in March, various sources confirmed.
- According to officials privy to the development, the move came after two months of diplomatic negotiations, with World Bank officials playing mediator in encouraging Pakistan to extend the invitation and for India to accept.
- The news closely follows the visit of World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva to Delhi, where she met with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, weeks after her visit in January to Islamabad, where she met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
- Officials acknowledged that the holding of the next annual round of the PIC, which was last held in July 2016 was a “positive” sign, given that India had announced it was “suspending” the talks after the Uri attacks in September.
- According to senior government officials at the time, the decision to suspend the talks had been taken when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with key officials, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, to “review” the IWT.
- In November another controversy erupted over the World Bank decision to constitute a Court of Arbitration to look into complaints from Pakistan over India’s construction of Kishenganga and Ratle river water projects.
- India said the World Bank decision was biased in Pakistan′s favour, threatening to “take steps” against it.
- Eventually the matter was resolved after it was taken up at the highest levels between the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who also spoke over telephone to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and to his Pakistan counterpart Ishaq Dar.
🌐 Key SAARC post for Pak. Official
- After months of difficulty posed mainly by India, Pakistan on 1 March 2017 succeeded in getting its official elected to the post of Secretary-General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
- Pakistan was backed by all members, including India, which made the selection consensus based.
- Officials at the SAARC secretariat, however, said the election was of administrative nature and diplomatic intent should not be read in it.
- “As the incoming chair, Pakistan was supposed to provide the next Secretary General and all members of SAARC allowed the smooth transition from Nepal to Pakistan,” said a source in the Secretariat in Kathmandu.
- The new chief of SAARC, Amjad Hussein B Sial, is a veteran Pakistani diplomat, who was expected to take charge a year ago. However, India′s tough stance on cross-border terrorism posed problem for the candidate, who has been in waiting since March 2016.
- Earlier, India had opposed holding of the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad in November 2016 following the terror strike in Uri.
🌐 Sri Lanka to co-sponsor UN resolution
- Even as Sri Lanka prepares to co-sponsor a UN resolution at the ongoing Human Rights Council session, seeking more time to fulfil its obligations, the country′s Tamil leadership has called for a time-table and strict monitoring of government initiatives.
- In October 2015, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that Sri Lanka co-sponsored, calling for a credible judicial process to probe the island′s civil war excesses.
- Sri Lanka assured the international community of a “four-pillar approach” to address truth, reconciliation, accountability and non-recurrence.
- Currently working on a draft with the U.S., the U.K. and Montenegro, Sri Lanka will soon submit a resolution that, it hopes, will give an extended deadline for the war-battered country to implement promises it made in 2015.
- Sri Lanka has sought a two year time frame to implement the 2015 resolution.
- However, the country′s main Tamil political alliance has expressed disappointment over the government′s failure to fulfil its obligations in the last 18 months.
- While the government′s apparently slow-paced efforts have made minority Tamils anxious, its attempt to draft a new Constitution has hit a roadblock without adequate consensus among various political actors.
🌐 Sweden to reintroduce conscription after 6 years
- Sweden announced that it will reintroduce compulsory military service starting this summer to respond to global security challenges, including from Russia.
- The Scandinavian nation, which has not seen armed conflict on its territory in two centuries, ended conscription in 2010 after it was deemed an unsatisfactory way of meeting the needs of a modern army.
- Sweden′s minority government is set to introduce to the Parliament a bill to restore conscription this summer for all Swedes born after 1999.
- Some 13,000 young Swedes are expected to be mobilised from July 1, but only 4,000 of them will be selected for military service based on motivation and skills.
- They will be called up each year after January 1 2018.
- Sweden is not a NATO member but has signed the body’s Partnership for Peace programme launched in 1994 to develop military cooperation between NATO and non-member countries.
- On defence issues, Sweden is very close to its Finnish neighbour, which has with Russia a border of 1,340 km.
- The Nordic and Baltic region′s only nonaligned countries, Finland and Sweden, have stepped up their military cooperation with U.S., following concerns over Russia′s increased military activity in northern Europe.
- The DRDO formally handed over an indigenously developed Weapon Locating Radar (WLR) system called ‘Swati’ to the Army.
- Swati provides quick, automatic and accurate location of all enemy weapons like mortars, shells and rockets firing within its effective zone of coverage and simultaneously handles multiple projectiles fired from different weapons at different locations. It can also direct artillery response based on the incoming enemy fire.
- The WLR has been a critical requirement of the Army, and in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict, it had to be imported from the U.S. in 2002 to fill critical needs.
- Swati has a range of 50 km which brings all artillery guns presently in service worldwide under its coverage. Four systems are currently in operation and another 30 are on order for the Army.
- Speaking at an event, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said it was an indigenous effort with an export potential. However, exports would take place after the Army’s requirements were fulfilled.
- The organisation also handed over a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) recce vehicle and NBC treatment drugs to the Army.
- Kalvari, the first of the Scorpene submarines being built in India, successfully conducted its maiden test-firing of an anti-ship missile in the Arabian Sea.
- Kalvari is scheduled to be commissioned into the Navy very soon.
- However, the submarines are still without a heavy weight torpedo, their primary weapon.
- Navy sources said the missile fired was a French SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile.
🌐 GST levy may go up to 40%, 4-slab structure to remain
- The GST levy may go up to 40% after the GST Council proposed raising the peak rate in the Bill to 20%, from the current 14%, to obviate the need for approaching Parliament for any change in rates in future.
- The model Goods and Services Tax Bill will replace the clause which states the tax rate “not exceeding 14%, with “not exceeding 20%” when it comes up for debate in Parliament during the second phase of Budget session beginning next week.
- The change in the peak rate will not alter the 4-slab rate structure of 5, 12, 18 and 28% agreed upon last year for the moment,but is only a provision being built into the model law to take care of contingencies in future.
- The revised draft of model GST law, which was made public in November 2016, provides for a maximum rate of tax under the new regime at 14% (14% central GST and an equal state GST, taking the total to 28 %).
- “There shall be levied a tax called the central/state goods and services tax (CGST/SGST) on all intrastate supplies of goods and/ or services… at such rates as may be notified by the central/ state government… but not exceeding 14 % on the recommendation of the Council and collected in such manner as may be prescribed,” the draft law states. Officials said this will now be changed to say the rate will not exceed “20%.”
- The GST Council, headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and comprising representatives of all states, has agreed to keep the upper band of the rate in the law at 20%.
- Mirroring the model GST law, the CGST, the SGST and the UTGST law will be firmed up by the Centre, states and Union Territories, respectively.
- The central and state officials will soon start the exercise to determine which goods and services should fall in which tax bracketand the same will be taken to the Council for approval soon.
- Together with this, they will also decide the goods and services that would attract a cess on top of the peak rate to create a corpus that can be used to compensate states for any loss of revenue from implementation of GST in the first five years. The union government is looking at GST rollout from July 1.
🌐 Public procurement needs to be opened up′
- Public procurement in India should gradually be opened up in a fair manner to ensure greater competition, while privatisation of public assets has to be done keeping in mind the country′s socio-economic needs and objectives, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
- Public procurement (procurement by government/its agencies for their own consumption and not for commercial resale) in India is estimated to be about 30% of the country′s GDP, with sectors such as defence, railways and telecom — having state-owned enterprises — accounting for a major portion of it, Ms. Sitharaman said.
- Referring to the recent CCI orders imposing penalties on some cement companies for rigging bids for supply of cement to the government, as well as on firms for bid rigging of tenders floated by Indian Railways for procurement of ‘brushless DC fans,’ the minister said these regulatory orders are with an aim to ensure greater competition in India′s public procurement.
- “Collusive bidding and cartelisation (in public procurement) are very serious. The CCI has an important role to play to prevent them and to ensure that there is fair trade and ultimately the consumer benefits,” the minister said.