1. Governments ignoring court orders, says CJI
‘Contempt petitions pose new burden on judiciary’
The sheer “defiance” of governments towards judicial pronouncements, their inclination to pass off the responsibility of decision-making to courts and the legislature’s ambiguity, lack of foresight and public consultation before making laws have led to docket explosion, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said here on Saturday. These have forced the judiciary to dabble in policy to render justice to the common man, he said at a joint conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The CJI pointed to how courts had to deal with the “new problem” of “contempt petitions” triggered by the “deliberate inaction” of governments that chose to ignore judgments and orders. “The contempt petitions are a new category of burden on the courts, which is a direct result of the defiance by the governments,” he said.
Contempt of Court in India:
- Supreme court is declared a Court of Record under Article 129. As a court of record, it has all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for its contempt.
- Under Article 129 and 142 of the constitution of the Supreme Court, ithas been vested with power to punish for contempt of court.
Types of Contempt of Court:
- Contempt can be criminal or civil.
- Criminal contempt involves an intentional interference with the administration of justice.
- Civil contempt is disobedience to orders or judgments of the court.
- Criminal Contempt:
- Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court;
- Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding;
- Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
Contempt of Court Act-1971:
- Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
- Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempt of its subordinate courts.
- Power to punish for contempt of court under Articles 129 and 215 is not subject to Article 19(1) (a).
- A contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term, which may extend to six months, or with fine.
2. Gross green violations in Sundarbans: CAG
Construction at East Kolkata Wetlands is also against CRZ norms, says report
A recent audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pointed out illegal construction and violations of environmental norms in two Ramsar sites in West Bengal, the East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) and the Sunderbans.
“There were illegal constructions in the EKW and Coastal Regulation Zone area in Sunderbans. However, such violations even in these ecologically fragile areas were rarely found to have been penalised; on a couple of rare occasions, (when) they were done, it was in compliance with the Kolkata High Court’s orders,” the CAG report said.
The report was made public in the last week of March before the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. The EKW, a unique peri-urban ecosystem that lies on the eastern fringes of Kolkata, covers an area of about 12,500 hectares. It is spread over 37 mouzas of the State’s South and North 24 Parganas districts. The CAG report pointed out that failure to delineate boundaries of the EKW and uncontrolled transfer of land resulted in its change of character and lack of effective action by the EKWMA (East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority).
“In absence of effective measures by EKWMA, waterbodies were dried up and filled illegally. Since 2007, EKWMA has identified 357 cases of violation, out of which 101 cases were identified between December 2015 and March 2020,” the audit said .
The CAG has also raised a red flag about a hovercraft station in Frazerganj in South 24 Parganas district. “Indian Coast Guard applied (September 2017) for setting up a hovercraft station in Frazerganj,” the CAG stated. According to the site plan, ICG would construct a guard room, officer’s mess and accommodation, park, fuel bunk, sailors’ institute, holiday home and a play ground.
“CRZ notification disallows construction of residential buildings in the No Development Zone. CRZ clearances by the West Bengal State Coastal Zonal Management Authority for constructions of buildings … was against the notification,” the report stated. The audit report points at a delay in the coastal zone management plan (CZMP), construction of multi-purpose cyclone shelters without clearances of CRZ norms and construction of three helipads and VIP rest houses in ecologically sensitive areas in the Sundarbans.
The CAG report has highlighted serious violations of CRZ norms in the Sundarbans particularly for an ecotourism project at Jharkhali. “The West Bengal government had undertaken (October 2015) a project of an ecotourism hub after clearing 69 acres of mangrove. Even the river channel, breeding place of crocodiles, was claimed by the project,” the report said.
- The coastal areas of seas, bays, creeks, rivers, and backwaters which get influenced by tides up to 500 m from the high tide line (HTL) and the land between the low tide line (LTL) and the high tide line have been declared as coastal regulation zone (CRZ) in 1991.
- The coastal regulation zones have been declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change under the Environment Protection Act 1986.
- While the CRZ Rules are made by the Union environment ministry, implementation is to be ensured by state governments through their Coastal Zone Management Authorities.
Classifications of Coastal Zones under CRZ Notification 2011
- CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive areas like mangroves, coral reefs, biosphere reserves etc.).
- No new construction shall be permitted in CRZ-I except
- Projects relating to the Department of Atomic Energy;
- Construction of trans-harbour sea link and roads without affecting the tidal flow of water, between LTL and HTL. Etc.
- Between Low Tide Line and High Tide Line in areas which are not ecologically sensitive, the following may be permitted;
- Exploration and extraction of natural gas;
- Construction of basic amenities like schools, roads, etc. for traditional inhabitants living within the biosphere reserves;
- Salt harvesting by solar evaporation of seawater;
- Desalination plants;
- Storage of non-hazardous cargo such as edible oil, fertilizers within notified ports;
- CRZ-II (Areas which are developed up to the shoreline and falling within the municipal limits; includes built-up area – villages and towns are that are already well established),
- Buildings are permissible on the landward side of the hazardous line.
- Other activities such as desalination plants are also permissible.
- Some construction is permitted only as per guidelines specified by the notification.
- CRZ-III: Areas that are relatively undisturbed and do not fall under either in Category I or II and also include rural and urban areas that are not substantially developed.
- Between 0-200 metres from HTL is a No Development Zone where no construction shall be permitted.
- Only certain activities relating to agriculture, forestry, projects of Department of Atomic Energy, mining of rare minerals, salt manufacture, regasification of petroleum products, non-conventional energy sources and certain public facilities may be permitted in this zone.
- Between 200-500 metres of HTL, those permitted in 0-200 metres zone, construction of houses for local communities and tourism projects are permissible.
- Between 0-200 metres from HTL is a No Development Zone where no construction shall be permitted.
- CRZ-IV: The aquatic area from low tide line up to territorial limits is classified as CRZ-IV including the area of the tidal influenced water body.
- There is no restriction on the traditional fishing undertaken by local communities.
- No untreated sewage or solid waste shall be let off or dumped in these areas.
- A separate draft Island Protection Zone Notification has been issued for protection of the islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Procedure for Clearances under CRZ 2011
A specific procedure has been provided in the 2011 Notification for obtaining project clearance.
- Rapid Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report;
- Disaster Management Report and Risk Management Report;
- CRZ map indicating HTL and LTL demarcated;
- No Objection Certificate from the concerned Pollution Control Boards;
- The clearance accorded to the projects shall be valid for a period of five years.
Ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) given Special Dispensations under CRZ 2011
- Sunderbans, Gulf of Khambat and Gulf of Kutch, Malvan, Achra-Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, Karwar and Coondapur in Karnataka, Vembanad in Kerala, Bhaitarkanika in Orissa, Coringa in East Godavari and Krishna in Andhra Pradesh would be declared as Critical Vulnerable Coastal Areas (CVCA) and the integrated management plan would be prepared for each of these areas in consultation with the local communities.
- Beaches such as Mandrem, Morjim, Galgiba and Agonda in Goa have been designated as turtle nesting sites and protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- No developmental activities shall be permitted in these areas.
Shailesh Nayak Committee Report on Coastal Regulation Zone
- Shailesh Nayak committee was constituted in June 2014, and it submitted its report in January 2015.
- The committee recommended relaxation on the terms set up by the CRZ 2011 notification. The major objective behind the recommendations was to boost tourism, port construction and real estate.
- The committee suggested diluting the regulatory powers of the Central Government in the coastal areas. Except for those activities which require environmental clearances all other activity should fall under the ambit of state and local planning bodies.
- Based on the recommendations of Shailesh Nayak committee, the suggestions were given by the coastal states and union territories, and the CRZ 2018 notifications were issued.
3. Climate change may increase risk of new infections
African, Asian nations face the greatest threat of increased virus exposure from animals to humans
Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 and that is likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.
This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, ebola and COVID-19.
Researchers, who published their findings on April 28 in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2°C, which recent research shows is possible.
They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals were not included in this study.
Researchers said that not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemic like the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans. The study highlights two global crises, climate change and infectious disease spread.
Previous research has looked at how deforestation, extinction and wildlife trade lead to animal-human disease spread, but there is less research about how climate change could influence this type of disease transmission., the researchers said at a media briefing on Wednesday.
“We don’t talk about climate a lot in the context of zoonosis — diseases that can spread from animals to people,” said study co-author Colin Carlson, an assistant professor of biology at Georgetown University. “Our study brings together the two most pressing global crises we have,” he said.
Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Disease, said the study acknowledges the threat posed by climate change in terms of increasing risk of infectious diseases.
“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate for potential emerging infectious disease spread caused by climate change,” said Brooks.
Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of The Centre for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study confirms long-held suspicions about the impact of global warming on infectious disease emergence.
“The study indicates that these encounters may already be happening with greater frequency and in places near where many people live,” Bernstein said.
Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that because climate-driven infectious disease emergence is already happening, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.
Jaron Browne, organising director of the climate justice group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the study highlights climate injustices experienced by people living in African and Asian nations.
“African and Asian nations face the greatest threat of increased virus exposure, once again illustrating how those on the frontline of the crisis have very often done the least to create climate change,” Browne said.
4. Why are electric vehicles catching fire?
Is the battery causing the problem? What safety measures need to be followed to prevent explosions?
The story so far: The Union government has constituted an expert panel to probe the recent series of battery explosions in electric vehicles (EVs). Manufacturers such as Okinawa and Pure EV have recalled some batches of electric scooters after their vehicles caught fire. Last Wednesday, an 80-year-old man died at his home in Telangana’s Nizamabad district after the battery of an electric scooter exploded while being charged. After the enquiry, the Ministry of Road Transport intends to issue guidelines for EVs, including tests for compliance with safety norms.
Why is the world poised to transition to electric vehicles?
The growing concern over climate change has led to global efforts to electrify the transportation sector. In parallel, cost of Li-ion (Lithium-ion) battery technology has decreased by a staggering order of magnitude in the past decade. The convergence of these two factors has resulted in a unique time in our history where we are at the cusp of a dramatic transition in the transportation sector, with electric vehicles poised to replace petrol vehicles.
The world has taken note of this moment with governments providing incentives to usher in the transition and private industry ramping up plans for capturing the market. There is a worldwide race emerging, with vehicle companies, battery manufacturers, and material suppliers vying with each other for market share. However, Li-ion batteries are complex devices requiring a level of sophistication that can takes years to perfect. Hurrying the development of this complex technology without careful safeguards can lead to increasing safety incidents, as evidenced recently on Indian roads.
What goes into a Li-ion battery?
Every Li-ion battery consists of three active components: the anode, typically graphite; the cathode, typically based on a nickel, cobalt, and manganese-based oxide; and an electrolyte, typically a salt of lithium in an inorganic solvent. Battery manufacturing is a complex operation involving forming sheets of the anode and cathode and assembling them into a sandwich structure held apart by a thin separator.
Separators, about 15 microns in thickness — about a fifth of the thickness of the human hair — perform the critical function of preventing the anode and cathode from shorting. Accidental shorting of the electrodes is a known cause of fires in Li-ion cells. It is important that the various layers are assembled with high precision with tight tolerances maintained throughout the manufacturing process. Safety features, such as thermal switches that turn off if the battery overheats, are added as the sandwich is packaged into a battery cell.
Battery cells are assembled into modules and then further assembled into packs. Li-ion batteries require tight control on the state of charge and the temperature of operation to enhance safety and increase usable life, achieved by adding multiple sensors. Packs are designed to ensure uniform temperature profile with minimal thermal variation during operation. Ensuring robust detection, coupled with battery management systems that interpret the data and change operation based on changes to the batteries state, remains critically important in enhancing battery performance.
Battery packs are integrated into the vehicle in unique formfactors depending on the design of the vehicle. The location of the battery should protect it from external penetration, ensure passenger safety while talking into consideration the overall weight distribution. Close interaction between vehicle manufacturers and battery manufacturers is essential so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
There are multiple trade-offs in this complex ecosystem: engineering higher safety often results in higher costs and lower driving range. In this competitive landscape where companies are vying for market share, a race to the bottom can compromise safety.
What causes battery fires?
While Li-ion batteries are complex, over the last three decades numerous companies have perfected the art of manufacturing high-quality cells and integrating them into vehicles with minimal safety concerns. The energy density of petrol is five hundred times that of a typical Li-ion battery, therefore safety should be manageable if robust controls are in place. However, batteries do store energy in a small package and if the energy is released in an uncontrolled fashion, the thermal event can be significant.
Battery fires, like other fires, occur due to the convergence of three parts of the “fire triangle”: heat, oxygen, and fuel. If an adverse event such as a short circuit occurs in the battery, the internal temperature can raise as the anode and cathode release their energy through the short. This, in turn, can lead to a series of reactions from the battery materials, especially the cathode, that release heat in an uncontrolled manner, along with oxygen. Such events also rupture the sealed battery further exposing the components to outside air and the second part of the fire triangle, namely, oxygen. The final component of the triangle is the liquid electrolyte, which is flammable and serves as a fuel. The combination leads to a catastrophic failure of the battery resulting in smoke, heat, and fire, released instantaneously and explosively.
The trigger for such events can be a result of internal shorts (like a manufacturing defect that results in sharp objects penetrating the separator), external events (an accident leading to puncture of the cell and shorting of the electrodes), overcharging the battery which leads to heat releasing reactions on the cathode (by a faulty battery management system that does not shut down charging despite the battery achieving its designed charge state), or bad thermal design at the module and pack level (by not allowing the battery internal heat to be released). Any of these triggers may cascade into a significant safety incident. (see graphic).
Are battery fires inevitable?
Over the past three decades, Li-ion batteries have proved to be extremely safe, with the industry increasing controls as safety incidents have surfaced. Safety is a must and is an important consideration that battery and vehicle manufacturers can design for at multiple levels from the choice of battery material to designs at the cell, pack, and vehicle level.
Preventing fires requires breaking the fire triangle. Battery cathodes are a leading cause of the heat release. Some cathodes, such as ones with lower nickel content or moving to iron phosphate, can increase safety. Tightly controlled manufacturing will prevent accidental shorts in the cells, eliminating a leading cause of fires. Many companies now add a ceramic layer on the separator to mechanically prevent shorts. Sensing the state of the battery and integrating this data into sophisticated battery management systems is an important aspect of design. Protecting the cell with robust thermal management is critical, especially in India where ambient temperatures are high. Finally, battery packs need to be protected from external penetration. Any large-scale manufacturing process inevitably has a certain percentage of defects; therefore, such steps are needed to minimise the number of adverse events.
Long-term changes are also under way. Safety remains a concern for Li-ion manufacturers worldwide especially as cell sizes become larger for applications such as solar-connected storage. Companies are developing internal “switches” that turn off parts of the battery that undergo thermal events to stop them at their inception. Research is now underway to replace the flammable liquid electrolyte with a solid electrolyte to eliminate one part of the fire triangle. A similar thread of research is the development of nonflammable liquid electrolytes. All these changes promise to remove the threat of battery fires as the roll out of mass electrification takes place.
Engineering safety requires commitment from all parts of the battery supply chain and tight integration between vehicle companies and battery companies. Further, regulators play an important role, providing the testing and certification needed to ensure that technology innovations perform at the level that is promised. Li-ion batteries are not forgiving of shoddy engineering and approaches that rely on cutting corners. Companies with tightly controlled manufacturing with years of experience can maintain the number of adverse safety incidents to a minimum. Such batteries maybe more expensive, but safety should not be “just another” metric. Rather, ensuring safety should be the priority for manufacturers.
5. States vs Centre: who increased fuel tax rate?
What is the stand of States ruled by BJP rivals on reduction of value-added tax to bring down petrol prices?
The story so far: Petrol is retailing at more than ₹100 a litre across India. The primary reason for the increase in pump prices over the past few years is the gradual rise in the Union government’s excise duty component. The excise duty was cut by ₹5 per litre last November. While some States followed with a cut in value-added tax (VAT), many others did not. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said fuel prices were too high in some non-BJP-ruled States as they did not “pass the benefits of the Centre’s excise duty cut” to consumers. He said States such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jharkhand did not reduce VAT last November while Karnataka and Gujarat did so.
By how much has the Central tax on fuel increased?
In October 2018, the Central excise duty on petrol amounted to ₹17.98 per litre. In February 2022, it increased to ₹27.9 per litre of petrol. In this period, the Centre’s tax component expanded by about ₹10 per litre of petrol.
By how much has the tax levied by States risen?
As on February 2019, Kerala charged 30.08% as sales tax along with ₹1 a litre additional sales tax, plus 1% cess. Telangana charged 35.2%. West Bengal charged 25% or ₹13.12 per litre whichever was higher, with minor additional components. None of the three States had made any increases to the rates till April 2022. Tamil Nadu charged 34% VAT on petrol as on February 2019. In 2022, the tax structure has changed to 13% VAT plus ₹11.52 a litre.
In the period under review, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra (Mumbai)’s tax on petrol has risen by ₹3 a litre, whereas Karnataka’s sales tax rate declined from 32% to 25.92%, and Gujarat’s from 17% to 13.7%. In the non-BJP-ruled States, in this period, tax rates increased between nil and ₹3 per litre, whereas in the BJP-ruled States, tax rates declined.
How can the impact of States’ taxes and the Centre’s excise duties on petrol be measured?
One way to do this would be to compare the Centre’s excise duty collections on crude oil and petroleum products, and the States’ VAT collections on petroleum products, as a percentage of GDP. Between FY15 and FY21, the Centre’s tax collections have increased from 0.79% of GDP to 1.88% of GDP. In the same period, States’ tax collections have marginally declined from 1.1% of GDP to 1.02% of GDP. Another measure would be to compare the Centre’s tax share in the retail price of petrol with State’s tax share. For instance, in Delhi, the Centre’s tax share currently forms 26.4% of the retail price. In May 2014 it was around 14%. The State’s tax share currently forms 16.25% of the retail price, compared with 17% in May 2014. So, both in terms of percentage of GDP and retail prices, the States’ tax collections have remained the same or even slightly declined, whereas the Centre’s tax collections have climbed sharply.