Daily Current Affairs 05.01.2023(Centre clears ₹19,744 cr. Green Hydrogen Mission, Services PMI shows surge in Dec., private sector output growth rises to 11-year high, Silent Valley bird species’ number goes up to 175, Pariksha Pe Charcha with PM to be held on January 27, Gaming and gambling, The values of local self-governance)

Daily Current Affairs 05.01.2023(Centre clears ₹19,744 cr. Green Hydrogen Mission, Services PMI shows surge in Dec., private sector output growth rises to 11-year high, Silent Valley bird species’ number goes up to 175, Pariksha Pe Charcha with PM to be held on January 27, Gaming and gambling, The values of local self-governance)


1. Centre clears 19,744 cr. Green Hydrogen Mission

Plan is to reduce fossil fuel imports, decarbonise major sectors of the economy and turn the country into a global hub of production and export of green hydrogen and its derivatives.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission with an initial outlay of ₹19,744 crore, in a move aimed at making the country a global hub to produce, utilise and export green hydrogen and its derivatives.

The government expects that the initiative will help abate nearly 50 million tonnes (MT) of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and cumulatively reduce fossil fuel imports estimated at over ₹1 lakh crore.

Briefing presspersons about the Cabinet decisions, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said the mission would be instrumental in making India energy-independent and decarbonising major sectors of the economy.

The initial outlay includes ₹17,490 crore for the Strategic Interventions for Green Hydrogen Transition Programme (SIGHT); ₹1,466 crore for pilot projects; ₹400 crore for research and development; and ₹388 crore for other mission components.

Hydrogen is sought after as a fuel because its combustion releases only steam. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is to formulate the scheme guidelines for implementation of the respective components.

Offers incentives

The government has already announced some incentives with a view to cutting the cost of hydrogen by half by 2030. They include priority power supply for manufacturers, concessions and short-term waivers for distributors and transmission costs, respectively; and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is expected to operate a single-window clearance system for proposals.

Centre clears Green Hydrogen Mission

According to the government, the mission would lead to the development of green hydrogen production capacity of at least 5 MMT per annum with an associated renewable energy capacity addition of about 125 GW by 2030. It is expected to bring in investments of over ₹8 lakh crore, create over six lakh jobs, and help meet international commitments to fight climate change.

“Under the SIGHT programme, two distinct financial incentive mechanisms — targeting domestic manufacturing of electrolysers and production of green hydrogen — will be provided. The mission will also support pilot projects in emerging end-use sectors and production pathways. Regions capable of supporting large-scale production and/or utilisation of hydrogen will be identified and developed as green hydrogen hubs,” it said.

Public-private partnership

While a robust standards and regulations framework is to be developed for the ecosystem, the mission will facilitate a public-private partnership framework for research and development (R&D).

The new policy is in part to green the hydrogen used as fuel in various sectors, to the tune of 6 million tonnes per annum as of 2020, and to replace fuels in other sectors.

Some roadblocks in its implementation are procuring the electrolysers and electrolytes required to produce ‘green’ hydrogen and reducing the contribution of fossil fuel sources in India’s power generation mix. The former are already in great demand; the latter requires more and cheaper solar and wind power.

The Ministry of Power is expected to raise demand for use of hydrogen as a fuel, which, industry members have noted, could be another issue in the absence of a mandate to transition and technologies to adapt hydrogen fuel cells for use in vehicles.

Storing and moving hydrogen also incurs non-trivial costs because the gas leaks easily. Even small quantities of liquid hydrogen, which is easier to transport, react explosively with air.

2. Services PMI shows surge in Dec., private sector output growth rises to 11-year high

 India’s services sector reported a sharp growth in new business in December, led by finance and insurance services, as per the S&P Global India Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI). The index rose to 58.5 last month from 56.4 in November 2022. A reading of 50 on the index indicates no change in business activity levels.

This is the 17th month in a row that new orders grew for services firms and the uptick was sharpest since August 2022, as per the survey-based PMI Business Activity Index, which reflected the strongest pace of overall growth in services since mid-2022.

With the India Manufacturing PMI also reporting a strong rise in December, the S&P Global India Composite PMI Output Index for the month sped from 56.7 in November to 59.4 in December, marking the quickest rate of growth for India’s private sector since January 2012.

Real estate and business services saw the slowest expansion in new orders even as input cost inflation accelerated from November’s levels, with firms mentioning wage pressures and higher prices for energy, food and transportation.

Services PMI shows surge in December

Consumer services were hit the most by this surge in input cost inflation, while financial and insurance services firms enhanced their charges by the most extent for the second successive month.

The services sector continued to scale up hiring to keep pace with the upturn in output and business, but the extent of job creation dropped to a five-month low. Though overall positive sentiment was above-average, companies were ‘least upbeat’ in three months with competitive pressures and inflation concerns dampening overall optimism, S&P Global said.

“As we head into 2023, companies signalled strong optimism towards the outlook for output,” said Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “Around 31% of panellists forecast growth, while only 2% anticipate a contraction,” she added.

“Inflation trends were mixed, as input prices rose at a faster pace and the upturn in charges moderated. On the expense front, services firms reported pressure from energy, food, staff and transportation costs and several companies felt the need to transfer escalating costs through to clients,” she added.

Aggregate sales rose sharply and at the fastest pace since August, boosted by quicker expansions at goods producers and services companies, S&P Global noted about the combined performance of manufacturing and services sector in December.

3 . Silent Valley bird species’ number goes up to 175

 Visual treat: (from left) Grey-headed canary-flycatcher, Nilgiri flowerpecker and Pompadour green pigeon spotted in the Silent Valley National Park in Kerala. Special Arrangement.

A bird survey conducted at the Silent Valley National Park in Kerala in the last week of December identified 141 species, of which 17 were new. So far, 175 species of birds have been spotted in Silent Valley.

The survey held on December 27, 28 and 29 marked the 30th anniversary of the first bird survey in Silent Valley. Although the first survey was held in the last week of December 1990, the anniversary could not be celebrated in 2020 December because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Veteran birders such as P.K. Uthaman and C. Sushant were the only members in the 7th survey team who had attended the first survey held in 1990.

As many as 30 birders and forest staff took part in the bird survey by staying in seven camps inside the core area of the Silent Valley. Wildlife Warden S. Vinod said that another bird survey would soon be held in the buffer zone of the national park.

The survey was held in association with the Kerala Natural History Society.

New species

Brown wood owl, Banded bay cuckoo, Malabar woodshrike, White-throated kingfisher, Indian nightjar, Jungle nightjar, and Large cuckooshrike were among the 17 species newly identified in the Silent Valley. As many as 139 birds had been identified in a survey held in 2006, and the number of species went up to 142 in the last survey held in 2014.

Birds such as Crimson-backed sunbird, Yellow-browed bulbul, Black bulbul, Indian white-eye and Indian swiftlet were found in abundance in Silent Valley. Silent Valley officials said several species endemic to high elevation areas were also identified during the survey. Among the birds they sighted were Nilgiri laughingthrush, Nilgiri flowerpecker, Brown-cheeked fulvetta, Black-and-orange flycatcher, Grey-headed canary-flycatcher, Greenish warbler, Common chiffchaff, Tytler’s leaf warbler, Shaheen falcon, Nilgiri wood pigeon, and Malabar whistling thrush.

A bird survey conducted in Kerala in the last week of December identified 141 species, of which 17 are new

4. Pariksha Pe Charcha with PM to be held on January 27

Pariksha Pe Charcha is among the most exciting programmes that give an opportunity to discuss ways to make exams stress-free and support students, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday. Mr. Modi will interact with students, parents and teachers during the annual Pariksha Pe Charcha on January 27. The sixth edition of the interaction will be held at the Talkatora indoor stadium here. “Pariksha Pe Charcha is among the most exciting programmes, giving an opportunity to discuss ways to make exams stress-free and support our #ExamWarriors,” Mr. Modi tweeted on Wednesday. The registrations for participation were open from November 25 to December 30. The Ministry of Education said the registrations (students: 31.24 lakh, teachers: 5.6 lakh and parents: 1.95 lakh) have more than doubled this year from the 2022 figure. 

5. Editorial-1: Gaming and gambling

Economic rights, personal freedoms, social imperatives must be in balance.

The Union government’s proposed measures for regulating online gaming in a draft amendment to the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 leave several questions unanswered. Some of these proposed measures, such as the establishment of a self-regulatory body, collection of know-your-customer (KYC) information from players, and appointment of a grievance officer within the company, are already in place. These are moves that industry bodies representing such companies have encouraged. States such as Tamil Nadu want much stricter regulation of the sector than what is being proposed by the Centre in the draft, particularly for gambling with real money. The Centre’s draft remains ambiguous on the question of whether States can have additional restrictions. So far, the industry has staved off several bans by mounting legal challenges arguing that they offer games of skill and not those purely dependent on chance — a tenuous distinction for real money gaming. Still, games that require wagering are outlawed in the physical form under the colonial Public Gambling Act, 1867 or States’ own gambling laws. A clear answer should come from the Union government on whether States are empowered to prohibit these games online as they do offline. While the gaming industry has huge potential as an economic driver of growth in India, there is strong case for robust regulation. Of skill or of chance, all online games impact individuals and society, in the short and the long term.

The government has indicated that the definition of an ‘online game’, which is limited in the draft amendment to wagering platforms, may be expanded in future to include all games broadly. Societies around the world have grappled with the effects of video games on young players, and the addictive cycles that some gamers can get stuck in; China, for instance, has limited the number of hours that young gamers are allowed to play daily, after which they are locked out for the day. Care and restraint must be exercised when pondering similar steps in India, lest the government introduces uncertainty for both small domestic game developers and large international studios with Indian audiences. The government has said the goal is to facilitate the industry and not hinder its growth. It has also indicated that in future, it will try to curb “violent, addictive or sexual content” in video games. There should be widespread public consultation to ensure that economic rights, individual freedoms, and social imperatives remain in balance.

6.Editorial-2: The values of local self-governance.

Debates on federalism should include larger discussions on how power should be divided and shared between governments at the Union, State, and local level.

In December 1992, Parliament passed the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, which instituted panchayats and municipalities, respectively. These amendments mandated that State governments constitute panchayats (at the village, block and district levels) and municipalities (in the form of municipal corporations, municipal councils and nagar panchayats) in every region. They sought to institute a third-tier of governance in the federal framework through the devolution of functions, funds, and functionaries to local governments.

Since local governments seldom derive their authority directly from the Constitution, India’s constitutional reforms for decentralisation are exceptional. But despite these reforms, municipal governments are often seen to be ineffective in addressing even the most basic needs of citizens, such as reliable water supply and walkable footpaths. Urban residents tend to blame “corrupt” local politicians for these civic woes.

However, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of these reforms, it is important to ask fundamental questions: Why should local governments be empowered? Why are they weak despite constitutional reforms? How can the idea of local self-governance be revived?

The normative basis of local self-governance

Understanding the normative basis of local self-governance is important since this also informs the institutional form local governments take. Local self-governance is linked to the idea of subsidiarity and is typically grounded on two broad arguments. First, it provides for efficient provision of public goods since governments with smaller jurisdictions can provide services as per the preferences of their residents. Second, it promotes deeper democracy since governments that are closer to the people allow citizens to engage with public affairs more easily.

India’s decentralisation agenda is also arguably driven by these values. The 73rd and 74th amendments require States to vest panchayats and municipalities with the authority “to enable them to function as institutions of self-government”, including the powers to prepare and implement plans and schemes for economic development and social justice. They also mandate the regular conduct of local elections, provide for the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Schedules Tribes and women in local councils, and institute participative forums like gram sabhas in panchayats and ward committees in municipal corporations. Hence, the core values that the amendments sought to entrench are that of deepening local democracy and devolving functions for meeting the ends of economic development and social justice. Debates on the role and responsibilities of local governments should be foregrounded by these normative values which have found expression, at least in some regard, in the Constitution.

Despite the constitutional promise of local self-governance, local governments, especially municipalities, operate with limited autonomy and authority. Their frailty may be attributed to the inherent limitations of the 74th amendment and the failure of State governments and courts to implement and interpret the amendment in letter and spirit. Limitations include the discretion given to the States regarding devolution of powers and levying of local taxes. State governments are reluctant to implement the 74th amendment as cities are economic powerhouses and controlling urban land is important for financing State governments and political parties.

The courts have also mostly interpreted the 74th amendment narrowly, allowing State governments to retain their control over cities. In this context, the Patna High Court’s recent order declaring some provisions of the Bihar Municipal (Amendment) Act, 2021 as unconstitutional is path-breaking. The 2021 amendment had transferred the powers of appointment of Grade C and D employees of municipalities from the Empowered Standing Committee of the municipality to the State government-controlled Directorate of Municipal Administration. The court held that these provisions violate the 74th Amendment since the recentralization of power and the weakening of self-governance “are incompatible with the idea, intent and design of the constitutional amendment”.

Local governments and federalism

This judgment is unprecedented since it tested State municipal laws against the letter and spirit of the 74th Amendment and can potentially reset the position of local governments in India’s federal framework. As India is undergoing a centralising shift in its politics, economy, and culture, there’s also been a renewed assertion of federalism. However, this assertion of State rights is hardly articulated as value-based normative claims. If we unpack the intellectual arguments for federalism, many of them are also applicable for local self-governance. Hence, debates on federalism should include larger discussions on how power should be divided and shared between governments at the Union, State, and local level since local governments are, normatively and structurally, an integral part of the federal framework of the Constitution.

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