Daily Current Affairs 14.02.2023 (Geo-sciences community calls for broad panel of experts to power heritage Bill, Top court upholds constitution of J&K delimitation panel, Aero India expo showcases India’s self-confidence: PM, Retail inflation rises to 6.52% in January, a 3-month high, ‘Worried’ about pending transfers, SC says a ‘lot more’ needs to be done, CJI wants HCs to ensure use of virtual court technology, says it is here to stay forever, Saudi Arabia to send its first woman to space , iscussing with G-20 nations on SoP to regulate crypto: FM, Functional tap water is a basic necessity that must be provided to all households,Hill or city, urban planning cannot be an afterthought)

Daily Current Affairs 14.02.2023 (Geo-sciences community calls for broad panel of experts to power heritage Bill, Top court upholds constitution of J&K delimitation panel, Aero India expo showcases India’s self-confidence: PM, Retail inflation rises to 6.52% in January, a 3-month high, ‘Worried’ about pending transfers, SC says a ‘lot more’ needs to be done, CJI wants HCs to ensure use of virtual court technology, says it is here to stay forever, Saudi Arabia to send its first woman to space , iscussing with G-20 nations on SoP to regulate crypto: FM, Functional tap water is a basic necessity that must be provided to all households,Hill or city, urban planning cannot be an afterthought)

1. Geo-sciences community calls for broad panel of experts to power heritage Bill

A draft Bill, aimed at protecting India’s geological heritage that includes fossils, sedimentary rocks, natural structures, has raised alarm in India’s geo-sciences and palaeontology community.

The Draft Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill, 2022, while deemed necessary by several researchers, vests powers entirely in the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a 170-year-old organisation that comes under the Ministry of Mines.

Provisions of the Bill give it the power to declare sites as having ‘geo-heritage’ value, take possession of relics (fossils, rocks) that rest in private hands, prohibit construction 100 metres around such a site, penalise — with fines up to ₹5 lakh and possibly imprisonment — vandalism, defacement, and violations of directives of a site by the Director General of GSI.

“We welcome a Geo-heritage Bill, however, rather than have all authority in the Director General, GSI, there needs to be a broader committee of experts from a wider range of institutions. This would mean that the interests and difficulties faced by researchers, who actually work in the field, are kept in mind,” G.V.R. Prasad, palaeontologist and head of Delhi University’s geology department, told The Hindu.

In 2019, the Indian National Science Academy and a group called the Society of Earth Sciences had submitted a proposal to the government to establish a broad-based National Geoheritage Authority that would advise State governments on conservation, setting up geo-heritage parks, deciding on the geological importance of sites and administer the possession of fossils or other relics in these regions.

A highly placed official in government told The Hindu, on condition of anonymity, that the current version of the Bill was unlikely to be placed before the Union Cabinet, a pre-requisite for it to be brought to Parliament.

Other than protecting places of geological interest, the need for a law that specifically protects sites of geo-heritage value follows from India being a signatory to the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, since 1972.

2. Top court upholds constitution of J&K delimitation panel

The court said the plea did not challenge the constitutional validity of the Commission.

The petition was filed by Srinagar residents, Haji Abdul Gani Khan and Dr. Mohammad Ayub Mattoo.

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a challenge to the constitution of the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission to readjust constituencies in the new Union Territory.

“Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution enable the Parliament to create new States and Union territories. Accordingly, the two new Union territories have been created. The J&K Reorganisation Act which created the two new Union territories assigns the role of readjustment of constituencies to the Delimitation Commission under the Delimitation Act, 2002… a law made under Article 3 can always provide for readjustment of the Constituencies in the newly constituted States or Union territories through the Delimitation Commission. Hence, we hold that there is no illegality associated with the establishment of the Delimitation Commission under the order of March 6, 2020,” a Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and A.S. Oka held.

Represented by senior advocate Ravi Shankar Jandhyala and advocates Sriram Parakkat and M.S. Vishnu Shankar, the petition was limited to a challenge of the notification issued by the Union government in March 2020 establishing the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission and a second one in March 2021 extending its term for the purpose of conducting delimitation only for Jammu and Kashmir. “Once the Delimitation Commission was established, there is nothing wrong if the Central government extended the period of appointment of the Chairperson till the task of delimitation/readjustment was completed,” Justice Oka concluded.

Justice Oka had said the notifications drew their power specifically from Section 62(2) of the 2019 Act. Section 62(2) provided for the readjustment of constituencies to be carried out by the Delimitation Commission.

The court questioned why the petitioners, without challenging the source of the government’s notifications — that is Section 62(2), had confined their challenge solely to the notifications.

3. Aero India expo showcases India’s self-confidence: PM

Sky is the limit: (from left) The ‘Trishul’ formation comprising three Su-30 MKIs of the Indian Air Force; the Light Combat Helicopter; and the aerobatic team ‘Suryakiran’, displaying their skills at the Aero India show at the IAF Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bengaluru on Monday.

This year’s exhibition in Bengaluru has the participation of more than 80 countries along with 800 defence firms, which comprise of around 100 foreign and 700 Indian companies

The perception of the biennial expo Aero India has changed and today it is India’s strength. It is a show that not only showcases the scope of the defence industry but also the self-confidence of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said here on Monday while inaugurating the 14th edition of Aero India.

Setting a target to take defence exports from $1.5 bn to $5 bn by 2024-25, Mr. Modi said the defence sector has seen a transformation in the last 8-9 years. “From here, India will take rapid strides to be included among the largest defence manufacturing countries and our private sector and investors will play a big role in that.”

He said the country which was the largest defence importer for decades has now started exporting defence equipment to 75 countries in the world. “The India of today thinks fast, thinks far and takes quick decisions”, Mr. Modi said, an analogy that India in Amrit Kaal is soaring like a fighter pilot.

This year’s expo has the participation of more than 80 countries along with 800 defence companies, which include around 100 foreign and 700 Indian companies.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a CEOs’ round table where he reiterated that India does not want to remain an assembly workshop and that manufacturing cutting-edge products was the need of the hour to attain Aatmanirbharta. The rouble table was attended by over 70 foreign and Indian CEOs.

Mr. Modi referred to the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as examples of India’s successes in self-reliance. “The new India of the 21st century will neither miss any opportunity nor will it lack any effort,” he added.

Addressing the CEOs’ round table, Mr. Singh listed out the series of “far-reaching” reforms undertaken by the Defence Ministry to create a business-friendly climate in the country.

4. Retail inflation rises to 6.52% in January, a 3-month high

India’s retail inflation shot back up to 6.52% in January after a two-month streak below the 6% mark, with consumer food prices hardening again to 5.94% from 4.2% in December 2022 amid a broad-based pick-up in price trends across goods and services.

Rural inflation, which has outstripped urban inflation in recent months, firmed up from 6.05% in December to 6.85% in January, while urban consumers faced retail price rise of 6% in January, compared to 5.4% in December.

There were no base effects at play as January 2022 had recorded 6.01% retail inflation, the beginning of a ten-month streak over the 6% upper tolerance threshold set for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) that included an eight-year high inflation of 7.8% last April and culminated in October at 6.77%.

The higher than expected rebound in January’s price rise may persist for a couple of more months, economists reckoned, and may compel the RBI to consider yet another rate hike at its next monetary policy review. It had projected an average 5.7% pace of price rise for this quarter that now looks difficult to attain unless there’s a significant mellowing down in prices over February and March. Vegetables that had reported a 15.1% fall in prices in December 2022, continued to be in deflationary territory falling 11.7% in January 2023, but most other food items continued to witness spiralling prices.

Among the major States, Telangana recorded the highest inflation in January at 8.6%, followed by Andhra Pradesh (8.25%), Madhya Pradesh (8.13%), Uttar Pradesh (7.45%) and Haryana (7.05%).

“Inflation remains fairly generalised across most categories as companies are still passing on higher input costs to consumers and this will continue through this quarter,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Bank of Baroda.

With core inflation (excluding food and energy prices) staying sticky as highlighted by RBI governor Shaktikanta Das in this month’s monetary policy review, Mr. Sabnavis said inflation will likely remain elevated in the next two months too, though the headline number may moderate.

5. ‘Worried’ about pending transfers, SC says a ‘lot more’ needs to be done

Court had in the past wondered how some collegium recommendations were cleared ‘overnight’, while others took ages; in the hearing held on February 3, it put the government on a 10-day ultimatum to clear pending transfers in High Courts

The government’s delay in clearing certain pending transfers, including that of Orissa High Court Chief Justice S. Muralidhar to Madras and the reiterated collegium recommendation of senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal for appointment as a Delhi High Court judge, saw a “worried” Supreme Court observe that a “lot more” is needed to be done, though “some developments” have happened since the last hearing on February 3.

“Some developments have happened, but a lot more is needed to be done,” a three-judge Bench, led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, orally said.

Justice Kaul was accompanied by Justices Manoj Misra and Aravind Kumar, two new appointments to the Supreme Court. Justice Misra was among a batch of five judges whose appointments were cleared on February 4, after a wait of nearly two months since the collegium recommended their names for top court judgeships on December 13 last year.

Justices Kumar and Justice Rajesh Bindal took oath as top court judges on Monday, about two weeks after the collegium recommended their names on January 31. The court had in the past wondered how some names were cleared “overnight” while others took ages.

“This cannot go on endlessly. At some point, My Lords have to crack the whip,” advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted.

Long delay

A note submitted by senior advocate Arvind Datar and Amit Pai features Justice Muralidhar’s name as first in a list of nine High Court judges recommended by the collegium for transfer to other High Courts in September-November last year.

They said the regular Chief Justiceship in Madras High Court has been vacant since September 12 last year.

In fact, the collegium had recommended the transfer of Justice T. Raja, the current Acting Chief Justice of the High Court, to Rajasthan on November 24, 2022. Justice Raja is scheduled to retire on May 24, 2023.

The collegium had proposed Justice Muralidhar’s transfer on September 28, 2022.

He is scheduled to retire on August 7, 2023.

Mr. Datar urged the top court to lay down a timeline for the government to notify a transfer in the interest of the administration of justice.

In fact, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju flagged the issue of a lack of a timeline in the Memorandum of Procedure for judicial transfers in the Lok Sabha on February 10.

The Supreme Court, in the previous hearing on February 3, put the government on a 10-day ultimatum to clear pending transfers in High Courts.

Attorney-General R. Venkataramani on February 3 sought more time. He did not appear on Monday. His office sought an adjournment.

In a January 6 hearing, the court had said delay in transfers “not only affects the administration of justice but creates an impression as if there are third party sources interfering on behalf of these judges with the government”.

Another list in the note submitted by Mr. Datar and Mr. Pai shows 13 pending reiterated recommendations for appointment to the High Courts, including that of Mr. Kirpal, who was first recommended on November 11, 2021 and reiterated again on January 18, 2023.

The Bench listed the case again on March 2.

6. CJI wants HCs to ensure use of virtual court technology, says it is here to stay forever

Virtual court technology is here to stay “now and forever” and the Chief Justices of High Courts, who have shut down online court hearings post-pandemic, are duty-bound to “fall in line and come on board”, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said on Monday.

The Chief Justice said he was “really disturbed” by the attitude of certain High Court Chief Justices who were disbanding technological infrastructure created by using public money. He said they could not just switch off the cameras and microphones and insist on the physical presence of lawyers and litigants.

“The problem lies when you have some Chief Justices who are technologically friendly and others who think the other way… I am going to ensure that everybody is online… This infrastructure for virtual courts is provided using public funds. I think all the Chief Justices of High Courts need to learn that they have to be on board and there are no exceptions,” he said.

The top judge’s comments were in response to submissions by some lawyers that certain High Courts just switch off their cameras and microphones during hearings, ignoring the infrastructure made available to them.

‘Deeply distressed’

“I am deeply distressed by this attitude… All the money which we have spent, they are just disbanding the infrastructure we have created for virtual hearing…,” Chief Justice Chandrachud, who heads the Supreme Court e-committee, lashed out.

He referred to how some judges were of the view that if they could come physically to court, lawyers could very well come too. “You have to understand that the conditions in which judges come to work are very different from that the Bar has to work in,” the CJI said. The Chief Justice referred to how the Union Budget has made available ₹7,000 crore for the e-courts project after a Parliamentary Committee gave a strong report in favour of more funds for the judiciary.

“The funds are not for us personally, we are going to use it for reaching out to people, to close the Internet divide at the grassroots level… Chief Justices need to take this mission forward… This is not how you deal with public money. If money has been spent, you [Chief Justices[ have to ensure that infrastructure is available,” he said.

7. Saudi Arabia to send its first woman to space

Saudi Arabia will send its first-ever woman astronaut on a space mission later this year, state media has reported, in the move to revamp the kingdom’s ultra-conservative image. Rayyana Barnawi will join fellow Saudi male astronaut Ali Al-Qarni on a mission to the International Space Station “during the second quarter of 2023”, the official Saudi Press Agency said on Sunday.

The astronauts “will join the crew of the AX-2 space mission” and the space flight will “launch from the USA”, it said. The oil-rich country will be following in the footsteps of the neighbouring United Arab Emirates which in 2019 became the first Arab country to send one of its citizens into space.

At the time, astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori spent eight days on the ISS. Another fellow Emirati, Sultan al-Neyadi, will also make a voyage this month. Nicknamed the “Sultan of Space”, Mr. Neyadi will become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in space when he blasts off for the ISS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

8. India discussing with G-20 nations on SoP to regulate crypto: FM

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said India was discussing with the G-20 member countries the need to develop a standard operating protocol (SoP) for regulating crypto assets.

Ms. Sitharaman said crypto assets and web3 were relatively new and evolving sectors, and required significant international collaboration for any specific legislation on these sectors to be fully effective.

The FM said crypto mining, assets or transactions were completely driven by technology and a standalone country’s effort in controlling and regulating it was not going to be effective.

“In the G20, we are raising it and having detailed discussions with members so that a standard operating protocol emerges which results in a coherent, comprehensive approach where all countries work together in bringing some regulation,” the Minister said during Question Hour in the Lok Sabha.

9. Editorial-1: Not a pipe dream

Functional tap water is a basic necessity that must be provided to all households

Among the marquee schemes that the government hopes to showcase ahead of the general election next year is the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). The aim here is to provide piped water to every rural household by 2024. In the Budget address, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman apportioned ₹69,684 crore, a 27% increase, from the ₹54,808 crore from the revised estimates of financial year 2022. However, the outlay reflects the extent of the work that remains. Of the targeted 19.3 crore rural households, only 3.2 crore had piped water in August 2019. The JJM dashboard on the Jal Shakti Ministry website says that as of February 2023, over 11 crore households, or about 57% of the targeted, now have tap water. While that is an impressive jump in percentage points for three years, it will be difficult with only 12 months to go to ensure that the remaining 47% are connected. So far, only the States of Goa, Gujarat, Haryana and Telangana have reported 100% coverage of eligible households with piped water, with Punjab and Himachal Pradesh nearly there at over 97%. Excluding these, only 10 other States or Union Territories have reported over 60% coverage. Large, populous States such as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have reported only 30% coverage, and Madhya Pradesh, around 47%.

A fully functional tap water connection is defined as a household getting at least 55 litres of potable water per capita per day all through the year; however, local reports suggest that despite having a tap connection, several village households revert to their local groundwater resources as the quality of supplied tap water is inadequate. Few independent assessments of the scheme exist. A sample survey of around 3,00,000 eligible households that was commissioned by the Ministry of Water Resources to assess the functioning of the scheme found only three-fourths of them reported water seven days a week, and, on average, households were getting water for only three hours a day. While over 90% of institutions such as anganwadis and schools reported access to tap water, several of them reported high levels of chlorine as well as problems with bacterial contamination. Moreover, the current numbers on the adoption in households are based on self-reporting by villages and are not certified by a third party. Some States such as Bihar have stated that most of their connections were provided for under State funds and not under the JJM. Functional, permanent tap water is a basic necessity and rather than aim to reach just a numerical target, the government should try to evaluate the extent of quality, consistent adoption of tap water in rural India. While planned as a bottom-up scheme, the Centre must ensure that States with the lowest adoption and largest population be assisted with improving numbers, rather than only facilitating States that are close to the finishing line.

10. Editorial-2: Hill or city, urban planning cannot be an afterthought

From Joshimath to Panjim, India’s flawed urban journey is a case of not having a multi-generational process in place.

On December 24, 2009, a tunnel boring machine in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, hit an aquifer about three kilometres from Selang village. This resulted in the loss of nearly 800 litres of water per second (enough to sustain the needs of nearly 30 lakh people per day). Soon after, groundwater sources began drying up even as the water flow reduced but never stopped. Meanwhile, Joshimath has no system to manage wastewater. Instead, the large-scale use of the soak-pit mechanism could exacerbate land sinking. Ongoing infrastructure projects (the Tapovan Vishnugad dam and the Helang-Marwari bypass road) may also worsen the situation.

The problem in hilly urban India

Land subsidence incidents in hilly urban India are becoming increasingly common —an estimated 12.6% of India’s land area is prone to landslides, especially in Sikkim, West Bengal and Uttarakhand. Urban policy is making this worse, according to the National Institute of Disaster Management (and highlighted in the National Landslide Risk Management Strategy, September 2019). Construction in such a landscape is often driven by building bye-laws that ignore local geological and environmental factors. Consequently, land use planning in India’s Himalayan towns and the Western Ghats is often ill-conceived, adding to slope instability. As a result, landslide vulnerability has risen, made worse by tunnelling construction that is weakening rock formations.

Acquiring credible data is the first step toward enhancing urban resilience with regard to land subsidence. The overall landslide risk needs to be mapped at the granular level. The Geological Survey of India has conducted a national mapping exercise (1:50,000 scale, with each centimetre denoting approximately 0.5 km). Urban policymakers need to take this further, with additional detail and localisation (1:1,000 scale). Areas with high landslide risk should not be allowed to expand large infrastructure; there must be a push to reduce human interventions and adhere to carrying capacity. Aizawl, Mizoram, is in ‘Seismic Zone V’, and built on very steep slopes. An earthquake with a magnitude greater than 7 on the Richter scale would easily trigger over 1,000 landslides and cause large-scale damage to buildings. But the city has developed a landslide action plan (with a push to reach 1:500 scale), with updated regulations to guide construction activities in hazardous zones. The city’s landslide policy committee is cross-disciplinary in nature, seeking inputs from civic society and university students, with a push to continually update risk zones.

Further, any site development in hazardous zones needs assessment by a geologist (with respect to soil suitability and slope stability) and an evaluation of its potential impact on buildings that are nearby. It may need corrective measures (retention walls), with steps to prohibit construction in hazardous areas. In Gangtok, Sikkim, the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham has helped set up a real-time landslide monitoring and early warning system, with sensors assessing the impact of rainfall infiltration, water movement and slope instability.

Rising flood risk

Flood risk is the second issue. In August 2019, Palava City (Phase I and II) in Dombivli, Maharashtra experienced heavy flooding, leaving residents stranded. Seasonal rain is now increasing in intensity, and the reason for the flooding soon became evident — the township, spread over 4,500 acres, was built on the flood plains of the Mothali river. When planned townships are approved, with a distinct lack of concern for natural hazards, such incidents are bound to occur. There are more examples. Floods in Panjim, Goa, in July 2021, led to local rivers swelling and homes being flooded, leaving urban settlements along the Mandovi affected. Again, urban planning was the issue; the city, built on marshlands, was once home to mangroves and fertile fields, which helped bolster its flood resilience. In Delhi, an estimated 9,350 households live in the Yamuna floodplains, while the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of March 2022 has highlighted the risk Kolkata faces due to a rise in sea levels. The combination of poor urban planning and climate change will mean that many of India’s cities could face devastating flooding.

Flood-proofing India’s cities will require multiple measures: urban planners will have to step back from filling up water bodies, canals and drains and focus, instead, on enhancing sewerage and stormwater drain networks. Existing sewerage networks need to be reworked and expanded to enable wastewater drainage in low-lying urban geographies. Rivers that overflow need to be desilted regularly along with a push for coastal walls in areas at risk from sea rise. Greater spending on flood-resilient architecture (river embankments, flood shelters in coastal areas and flood warning systems) is necessary. Protecting “blue infra” areas, i.e., places that act as natural sponges for absorbing surface runoff, allowing groundwater to be recharged, is a must. As rainfall patterns and intensity change, urban authorities will need to invest in simulation capacity to determine flooding hotspots and flood risk maps.

Looking ahead

Urban India does not have to embrace such risks. Instead, cities need to incorporate environmental planning and enhance natural open spaces. Urban master plans need to consider the impact of climate change and extreme weather; Bengaluru needs to think of 125 mm per hour peak rainfall in the future, as against the current 75 mm. Urban authorities in India should assess and update disaster risk and preparedness planning. Early warning systems will also be critical. Finally, each city needs to have a disaster management framework in place, with large arterial roads that allow people and goods to move freely. India’s urban journey is not limited to an election cycle. It must plan for a multi-generational process.

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