Daily Current Affairs 17.03.2023( Wait continues in T.N. for Centre’s Pennaiyar tribunal, EC proposal to allow e-postal ballot for overseas voters under review: Law Minister, NIOT to set up green, self-powered desalination plant in Lakshadweep, February’s sharp foreign trade drop requires nuanced policy attention )

Daily Current Affairs 17.03.2023( Wait continues in T.N. for Centre’s Pennaiyar tribunal, EC proposal to allow e-postal ballot for overseas voters under review: Law Minister, NIOT to set up green, self-powered desalination plant in Lakshadweep, February’s sharp foreign trade drop requires nuanced policy attention )


1. Wait continues in T.N. for Centre’s Pennaiyar tribunal

In contention: T.N. opposes work on a check-dam across the Markandeya, a Pennaiyar tributary, by Karnataka. 

Three-month deadline fixed by the Supreme Court expired last week, and the State is awaiting Union government’s next course of action; efforts to settle the dispute through talks had failed

With the time limit fixed by the Supreme Court for the constitution of an inter-State river water disputes tribunal for Pennaiyar river getting expired last Tuesday, Tamil Nadu is waiting for the Centre’s next course of action.

In mid-December, the court gave the Centre three months to constitute the tribunal to resolve the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over constructions across the river. In 2018, Tamil Nadu filed an original suit against Karnataka constructing check-dams and diversionary structures on the river.

The direction came after the Centre had stated that Tamil Nadu’s complaint was referred to a Negotiation Committee, and there was “no likelihood of settlement by negotiation”. The Union government had also submitted that it was “likely to constitute a tribunal to resolve the dispute between the two States”.

On November 30, 2019, Tamil Nadu formally requested the Union government to constitute a tribunal for adjudication of disputes over the waters of the river, also known as ‘Thenpennai’.

In its complaint, Tamil Nadu objected to the construction of a check-dam across the Markandeya, a tributary of the Pennaiyar, by Karnataka.

According to those following the case in court, the matter, which was originally listed for March 14, did not come up that day. There is an expectation that it may be heard on March 21.

2. EC proposal to allow e-postal ballot for overseas voters under review: Law Minister

The Election Commission (EC) has proposed to change the rules pertaining to the conduct of elections to facilitate the electronically transmitted postal ballot system for overseas Indian voters and the matter is being discussed with the Ministry of External Affairs to “iron out” logistical challenges in implementing it, Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

In a written reply to a question by BJP leader G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, Mr. Rijiju said the total number of overseas voters on January 1 stood at over 1.15 lakh.

The Law Minister said that, on the recommendation of the EC, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2018 to enable overseas electors to cast their vote, either in person or by proxy, was passed by the Lok Sabha in August 2018.

The Bill had been pending in the Rajya Sabha for consideration but lapsed when the 16th Lok Sabha was dissolved.

On judicial vacancies

In response to another question regarding judicial vacancies in High Courts, the Law Minister said there were a total of 334 vacancies in various HCs.

“Presently, there are a total of 118 proposals recommended by High Court Collegiums, which are at various stages of processing. The recommendations against 216 vacancies in the High Courts are yet to be received from the High Court Collegiums,” he said.

Mr. Rijiju also said that though there is no provision for reservation in the judiciary, the government had been requesting High Court Chief Justices that due consideration be given to suitable candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities, and women to ensure “social diversity” in appointments to the higher judiciary.

It is being discussed with the Ministry of External Affairs to ‘iron out’ logistical challenges, he said

3. NIOT to set up green, self-powered desalination plant in Lakshadweep

Desalination plants, each of which supplies 1,00,000 litres of water every day, are now powered by diesel generator sets.

Stepping up from its ongoing initiative of providing potable water on six islands of Lakshadweep using low temperature thermal desalination (LTTD) technology, the Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) is working at making this process free of emissions.

Currently, the desalination plants, each of which provides at least 1,00,000 litres of potable water every day, are powered by diesel generator sets — there being no other source of power on the islands. The LTTD exploits the difference in temperature (nearly 15 degrees Celsius) in ocean water at the surface and at depths of about 600 feet. This cold water condenses water at the surface, which is warmer but whose pressure has been lowered using vacuum pumps. Such depressurised water can evaporate even at ambient temperatures, this resulting vapour when condensed is free of salts and contaminants and fit to consume.

However, the need for diesel power to reduce the water pressure means that the process is not fossil-fuel free and also consumes diesel, a precious commodity on the islands that has to be shipped from the mainland, critical for powering the electric grid.

“For the first time in the world, probably, we are setting up a [desalination] plant that will also supply power to the plant,” said G.A. Ramadoss, Director, NIOT, Chennai.

Currently, there are five desalination plants in operation on the Lakshadweep islands. Four more were expected to be functioning in the coming months. The proposed self-sustaining plant — the 10th plant — is expected to be ready later this year, he added.

The NIOT, an institute under the aegis of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), has worked for years on harnessing energy from the ocean. However, ocean thermal technology, while plausible for islands, was unlikely to be useful for supplying power onshore. “For such plants to work, we need a large gradient [difference in temperature between the surface and the ocean depths]. In Lakshadweep, these depths can be achieved fairly easily unlike, say, off the coast of Chennai. It will make the power produced this way extremely expensive,” M. Ravichandran, Secretary, MoES, told The Hindu.

While demonstration plants were funded by the MoES, the existing desalination plants were funded by the Lakshadweep administration. The Ministry provided technical assistance and the plants were commissioned via private industry, Mr. Ravichandran added.

4. EDITORIAL-1: Testing times

February’s sharp foreign trade drop requires nuanced policy attention

India’s goods exports fell for the third time in five months during February. The $33.8 billion of shipments marked an 8.8% drop from a year ago. In recent times of generally exuberant export growth, the only steeper decline was recorded in October 2022. A sharp 29% collapse in oil exports, a 12% fall in chemical shipments and a 10% contraction in engineering goods outflows — accounting for almost half of India’s merchandise exports — propelled February’s decline. But the effects of faltering global demand went beyond, dragging down 13 more of India’s top 30 export items. February’s exports are still 7.3% above October’s number, but the immediate outlook is reverting to the gloom that prevailed in the last quarter of 2022 — about large parts of the world slipping into recession. Resilient economic data from major markets over the past couple of months had infused a belief that the world economy may just end up avoiding the worst that was feared in 2023. But the Ides of March dispelled those hopes — for now, at least.

Retail sales in the U.S., India’s largest export destination, soared 3% in January as a positive surprise, but slumped in February. The failures at two U.S. banks and the disclosure of vulnerabilities by European banker Credit Suisse amid the U.S. Federal Reserve’s scramble to rein in inflation, suggest this momentum may not turn around anytime soon. On Wednesday, Brent crude prices dropped almost 5% — recession risks have clearly resurfaced after the unexpectedly benign start to the year. With manufacturing already shrinking for two quarters, a sustained spell of slipping shipments could mean factory job losses and dent consumption. As it is, the 8.2% drop in February’s imports — the sharpest in a three-month contractionary streak and the lowest import bill in almost a year ($51.3 billion) — does not reflect well on domestic demand that is hoped to insulate the economy from global shocks. Some of this may be due to prices rather than volume factors (oil and edible oil prices had zoomed after the Ukraine war). The government is looking to curb inessential imports to keep the deficit in check amid weaker exports. But this is tricky territory where factors such as quality, pricing and supply chain linkages matter too, and missteps could curb consumer (and investor) choice. With the deficit already constricted sharply over January and February from the record $29.2 billion level hit last September, policy bandwidth may be better used to support exporters to tap new markets and react more nimbly to fast-shifting dynamics in key markets. The long-dithered rejig of the 2015-20 foreign trade policy must not be delayed any further, at any cost.

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