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  1. Concept of Eco-Sensitive Zones
  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986 neither mentions nor defines the word “Eco-sensitive Zones”. It has been derived from the following sections of the given Act.
  • The section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards.
  • Besides the section 5 (1) of this act says that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of considerations like the biological diversity of an area, maximum allowable limits of concentration of pollutants for an area, environmentally compatible land use, and proximity to protected areas.
  • The above two clauses have been effectively used by the government to declare Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFA). The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones.
  • Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas are areas within 10 kms around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. In case of places with sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, even area beyond 10 km width can also be included in the eco-sensitive zone.
  • Concerned state govts and stakeholders have 60 days’ time to raise objections/make suggestions. If no changes have to be made, the notification will become final.
  • Once the ESZ is declared around a Reserve, commercial mining, setting up of polluting industries, establishment of major hydro-electric projects, use/production/processing of any hazardous material, discharge of untreated effluents into nearby waterbody or on land surface, setting up of new brick kilns, saw mills etc would be prohibited in the area.

Criteria for declaring a region as ESZ

A committee constituted under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has set up certain guidelines to be followed to declare a particular area as ESZ. Some of them include:

  • Species Based Criteria like Endemism, Rarity etc
  • Ecosystem Based Criteria like sacred groves, frontier forests etc
  • Geomorphologic feature based Criteria like uninhabited islands, origins of rivers etc

Why in news?

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had issued a new draft notification for reducing the Eco-Sensitive Zone of Bannerghatta National Park (BNP), Bengaluru in Karnataka. As reported previously, this represents a 37% reduction from the first draft notification issued in 2016 which had marked an ESZ area of 268.9 sq.km. It has reduced the size of the park by almost 100 sq. kms in comparision to the first proposed draft.
  • The new ESZ will range from 100 metres (towards Bengaluru) to 1 kilometre (in Ramanagaram district) from the periphery of the protected area. The ESZ Committee estimates that between 150 and 200 elephants were observed at BNP.
  • The reduction in the ESZ, may open up more areas in the vicinity for mining and commercial development around the rapidly-urbanising Bengaluru city, thereby threatening the precious lives of flora and fauna in the region.
  • Over 65,000 people signed various online petitions against the move, apart from researchers and activists who sent specific objections. The fear of many was that this reduction would lead to more quarrying in the area.
  • While thousands of objections were sent to the MoEF, they were dismissed by the ESZ Committee as a ‘safe zone’ of 1km around protected areas is already in place across the country.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that nature has its own role to play in attaining climatic equilibrium, hence any adverse step against the nature is bound to disturb this equilibrium and cause what is called ‘Climate change’. More over flora and fauna have limited space for their dwelling as against the case of humans who are conspicuous everywhere. This needs to be understood and respected by limiting our territories of ‘development’.

  1. Justice delayed is market stymied

Subject: Indian Polity

Sub-Topic: Judiciary

Introduction 

  • Justice delayed is markets stymied – borrowed from the famous saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, states the issue that our justice system needs urgent reform.

  Background

  • Since 1991 economic reforms, India has improved tremendously in almost all economic indicators, and is now one of the fastest growing economies across the world.
  • Various economic policies of the current government have enabled the economy to move faster than ever before. These include tax reforms leading to the introduction of the GST, reforms making India more competitive in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index, and implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

Why we need an efficient judiciary?

  • The importance of the judiciary cannot be underplayed in a market economy. Three things are crucial for the market economy to function efficiently:
  • Transparency in information – Clear and transparent information is very important for business to flourish.
  • Efficient dispute settlement mechanism – This build trust in the market and invites more players to take part in it. It is very important for attracting foreign investment.
  • Contract enforcement in a time bound manner bound manner powered by an effective judiciary.
  • There would be corruption and crony capitalism if we don’t have an efficient and effective judiciary. Both ‘corruption and crony capitalism’ repel ‘market growth and foreign investment capital’. Therefore, these are inversely related.

      Some Facts on the Judiciary and Markets

  • The situation of the judicial system is so desperate that the Economic Survey 2017-18 had to set aside an entire chapter on the need for ‘Timely Justice’.
  • It is noted that the current working capacity of the High Courts and the Supreme Court is only 63.6%.Plus, there are huge numbers of pending cases: 1.8 lakh in six of the major tribunals, and close to 3.5 million in the High Courts.
  • For economic cases, the average duration of pendency is about 4.3 years for the five major High Courts.
  • Centre and the States approximately spend 0.08-0.09% of the GDP on administration of justice, which is very low.
  • In 2017, India spent about Rs.0.24 per person on the judiciary; the U.S. spent Rs.12 per person.

Issues Related To Economic Theories and Markets

  • There is a problem with the economic theories we follow in India (currently) because unlike our policymakers, those in other countries seem to have realized the importance of the judiciary in the efficient functioning of a market economy.
  • The proponents of reform (in India) belong to the school of neoclassical economics (Neoclassical economics is an approach to economics that relates supply and demand to an individual’s rationality and his ability to maximize utility or profit.) and are taught that transactions are costless.
  • However, in reality, the rules and regulations that affect economic activity determine whether transactions are costless or not.
  • This theory of new institutional economics questions the two crucial assumptions of neoclassical economics — costless transactions and perfect information — and stresses the role of institutions in facilitating market exchange by reducing transaction costs, providing a predictable framework for exchange, and overcoming imperfect information.
  • In India, there are few practitioners of new institutional economics and that could explain why this aspect has not been addressed in the past decade.

     Way Ahead

  • It has never been more important to strengthen the quality of the material which makes up the engine of the economy, i.e. India’s institutions.
  • As a democracy, India has an advantage: the roots of all its institutions are strong – i.e. our institutions are born democratic and are under constant public scrutiny. However, these institutions have simply failed to grow due to the growing population and with increasing demands (putting excessive pressure on the system).
  • As of today, the judicial system, in particular, is far from reaching the pace required for efficient functioning.
  • Also, in a market economy, the government has little role to play in transactions among players. However, it plays an effective role by setting up efficient dispute settlement mechanisms, so that the costs of transactions are minimal.
  • In such an economy, the judiciary plays the pivotal role by enforcing contracts in the case of disputes through minimal costs.
  • Thus, in India, a strong judiciary is required for economic growth and development, and most importantly for generating trust in our markets and business environment across the globe.
  1. Electoral Procedure

Subject: Indian Polity

Sub-Topic: Elections

India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. Democracy runs like a golden thread in the social, economic and political fabric woven by the Constitution given by ‘We, the People of India’ unto ourselves. The concept of democracy as visualised by the Constitution pre-supposes the representation of the people in Parliament and State legislatures by the method of election. The Supreme Court has held that democracy is one of the inalienable basic features of the Constitution of India and forms part of its basic structure. The Constitution of India adopted a Parliamentary form of government.

Election Procedure

  • Notification for Election

The process of election officially begins when on the recommendation of Election Commission, the President in case of Lok Sabha and the Governor in case of State Assembly issue a notification for the election. Seven days are given to candidates to file nomination. The seventh day is the last date after the issue of notification excluding Sunday. Scrutiny of nomination papers is done on the day normally after the last date of filing nominations. The candidate can withdraw his/her nomination on the second day after the scrutiny of papers. Election is held not earlier than twentieth day after the withdrawal.

  • Filing of Nomination

A person who intends to contest an election is required to file the nomination paper in a prescribed form indicating his name, age, postal address and serial number in the electoral rolls. The candidate is required to be duly proposed and seconded by at least two voters registered in the concerned constituency. Every candidate has to take an oath or make affirmation. These papers are then submitted to the Returning Officer designated by the Election Commission.

A person is disqualified for being chosen as a member of any House,

  • if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or of any State (The offices of Ministers or Deputy Ministers are not regarded as offices of profit for this purpose)
  • if he is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court
  • if he is an un-discharged insolvent
  • if he has ceased to be a citizen of India
  • if he is so disqualified under any law made by Parliament.

The Representation of the People act, as amended from time to time disqualifies a person from the membership of a Legislature:

  • if he has been found guilty of certain election offenses or corrupt practices in election
  • if he has been convicted and sentenced to transportation or to imprisonment for not less than two years
  • if he has been dismissed from government service for corruption or disloyalty to the State.

Scrutiny of Nominations

The Returning Officer scrutinizes the nomination papers very carefully. When someone is dissatisfied, he is officially stopped from contesting election for six years. The candidates can withdraw their nomination papers even after they have been found in order.

Every candidate standing for election to the Lok Sabha or to State Legislative Assembly has to make a security deposit of Rs. 10,000 arid Rs. 5,000 respectively. In case the candidate belongs to any of the Scheduled Castes or Tribes, the security deposit is reduced by half.

The security deposit of such candidates as having obtained less than one-sixth of the total number of valid votes polled is forfeited.

Election Campaign

The campaign is the period when the political parties and candidates put forward their arguments with which they hope to persuade people to vote for them. Candidates are given a week to put forward their nominations. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officers and if not found to be in order can be rejected after a summary hearing. Validly nominated candidates can withdraw within two days after nominations have been scrutinised. The official campaign lasts for above two weeks from the drawing up of the list of nominated candidates, and officially ends 48 hours before polling closes. Once an election has been called, parties issue manifestos detailing the programmes they wish to implement if elected to government, the strengths of their leaders, and the failures of opposing parties and their leaders. Slogans are used to popularise and identify parties and issues, and pamphlets and posters distributed to the electorate. Rallies and meetings where the candidates try to persuade, cajole and enthuse supporters, and denigrate opponents, are held throughout the constituencies. Personal appeals and promises of reform are made, with candidates travelling the length and breadth of the constituency to try to influence as many potential supporters as possible. Party symbols abound, printed on posters and placards.

Model Code of Conduct

During the election campaign the political parties and contesting candidates are expected to abide by a Model Code of Conduct evolved by the Election Commission on the basis of a consensus among political parties. The Model Code lays down broad guidelines as to how the political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during the election campaign. It is intended to maintain the election campaign on healthy lines, avoid clashes and conflicts between political parties or their supporters and to ensure peace and order during the campaign period and thereafter, until the results are declared. The Model Code also prescribes guidelines for the ruling party either at the Centre or in the State to ensure that a level field is maintained and that no cause is given for any complaint that the ruling party has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign.

Limit on Poll Expenses

There are tight legal limits on the amount of money a candidate can spend during the election campaign. In most Lok Sabha constituencies the limit as recently amended is Rs. 70,00,000/- although in some smaller States the limit is Rs. 28,00,000/-. For Vidhan Sabha elections. Although supporters of a candidate can spend as much as they like to help out with a campaign, they have to get written permission of the candidate. Similarly, while parties are allowed to spend as much money on campaigns as they want, recent Supreme Court judgments have said that, unless a political party can specifically account for money spent during the campaign, it will consider any activities as being funded by the candidates and counting towards their election expenses. The accountability imposed on the candidates and parties has curtailed some of the more extravagant campaigning that was previously a part of Indian elections.

Ballot Papers & Symbols

After nomination of candidates is complete, a list of competing candidates is prepared by the Returning Officer, and ballot papers are printed. Ballot papers are printed with the names of the candidates (in languages set by the Election Commission) alongwith there photographs and the symbols allotted to each of the candidates. Candidates of recognised Parties are allotted their Party symbols. Some electors, including members of the armed forces or Government of India officials serving outside the country, are allowed to vote by post.

Electronic Voting Machine

Electronic Voting Machines have been developed to facilitate easy polling and counting. The use of machine is to save cost of paper and printing etc. and also to get the result within three to four hours, thus saving a lot of manual exercise involved in conventional counting. The machines have been developed by Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Corporation of India Limited (BEL). These machines provide full safeguard for ensuring secrecy of ballot and against tampering of machines apart from ensuring rapidity of poll and instantaneous results. The Parliament has amended the Representation of People Act, 1951, in March, 1989, introducing Section 61 (A) in the said Act, which provided for the recording of votes of voting machines in such manner as may be prescribed, may be adopted in such constituency or constituencies as the Election Commission may specify. In pursuance of the above provisions, the Central Government amended the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, by inserting a new Chapter II [Rules 49(a) to 49(x)] for facilitating the use of Electronic Voting Machines. The Commission has already made arrangements to ensure availability of adequate number of EVMs for the smooth conduct of elections. The Commission has issued a new set of instructions with regard to the First Level Check of EVMs, that will be used in the poll in the States. The First Level Check of EVMs, is done in the presence of representatives of political parties.  A two-stage randomization of EVMs are done. In the first stage, all the EVMs stored in the district storage centre will be randomized by the District Election Officer (DEO) in the presence of the representatives of the recognized political parties for allocation assembly constituency-wise. EVMs will be prepared and set for elections after finalization of the contesting candidates. At this stage also, candidates or their agents/representatives will be allowed to check and satisfy themselves in every manner about the functionality of the EVMs. After the EVMs in a constituency are prepared for the poll by the Returning Officer and the ballot units are fitted with ballot papers, then the EVMs will again be randomized to decide the actual polling stations in which they will be ultimately used. The Second Stage randomization will be done in the presence of Observers, Candidates or their Election Agents.

Vvpat – Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail

From 2013, a new system has been added in the EVM called Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. A printer is attached with the EVM and kept into Voting Compartment which prints S.No., Name and Symbol of the candidate for whom a voter has voted. This printed slip remains exposed for 7 seconds under a transparent  window and gets cut automatically and falls into a dropbox which remain sealed.

None of the Above (NOTA) Option In EVMs

In its judgment dated 27th September, 2013 in Writ Petition (C) No. 161 of 2004, the Supreme Court has directed that there should be a “None of the Above” (NOTA) option on the ballot papers and EVMs.  The Court has directed that the Commission should implement it ‘either in a phased manner or at a time with the assistance of Government of India’.
On the Balloting Unit, below the name of the last candidate, there will now be a button for NOTA option so that electors who do not want to vote for any of the candidates can exercise their option by pressing the button against NOTA.

The Commission takes all steps to bring this to the knowledge of voters and all other stakeholders and to train all field level officials including the polling personnel about the NOTA option. Similarly NOTA provision is also there for the Postal Ballots.

  1. Japan’s new imperial era name Reiwa

Subject: International Affairs

Sub-Topic: Culture

Japan has declared that Reiwa would be name of the new imperial era to begin on May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne. He will succeed his father, Emperor Akihito, who is abdicating on April 30, ending the 31-year Heisei era.

The imperial era name, or “gengo”, is used on documents, newspapers, calendars and coins. It is the way many Japanese count years.

Origins of Gengo

Japan imported the imperial calendar system from China about 1,300 years ago. Starting with the Meiji era (1868-1912), it adopted the practice of “one emperor, one era name.” Previously, era names were sometimes changed mid-reign, such as after disasters. There have been four era names in the modern period: Meiji, Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and the current Heisei. There were calls to abolish the system after Japan’s 1945 defeat in World War Two, but a law enacted in 1979 after a push by conservatives gave it new legal basis.

Selection process

The two characters chosen for Reiwa mean “order” or “command” and “peace” or “harmony”. Traditionally, characters were selected from ancient Chinese texts, but this time they were taken from a collection of Japanese classical poetry called Manyoshu.

  1. J&K’s uniquely vulnerable Special Police Officials

Subject: Internal Security

Sub-Topic: Public Order

The Special Police Officers (SPOs) of Jammu and Kashmir have been helping security forces to tackle militancy since 1996.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police Act says an SPO may be appointed “when it shall appear that any unlawful assembly or riot or disturbance of peace has taken place or may be reasonably apprehended and that the police force ordinarily employed for preserving the peace is not sufficient…”

Unlike the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the salaries of SPOs are budgeted under the Union Home Ministry’s Security Related Expenditure. SPOs used to be appointed directly by Superintendents of Police without any screening; however, following the massive protests after the 2016 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the Union Home Ministry announced that 10,000 SPOs would be recruited through District Level Screening Committees headed by Deputy Commissioners.

Eligibility

Men and women between the ages of 18 and 28 who have cleared Class 10 can apply. The physical test eligibility is for men to run 1,600 m in 6 minutes and 15 seconds, and for women, it is at least 1,000 m in that same time.

Upon recruitment, men are deployed in both counter-insurgency and law and order duties, while women SPOs are deployed for law and order.

Vulnerability

The 30,000-strong SPO cadre is an important, if inadequately acknowledged, force-multiplier for the 90,000-strong regular Jammu and Kashmir Police. However, even after a revision of salaries in September last year, SPOs with less than five years in the job get a meager Rs 6,000 per month. Those who have put in 5-15 years get Rs 9,000, and veterans of over 15 years get a paltry Rs 12,000 per month. In comparison, a constable, the lowest-ranked regular policeman, is paid Rs 23,000 per month.

Since SPOs are seen as government stooges and enemies of the militant struggle, they are obvious soft targets. Despite being at the forefront of counter-insurgency operations, their entire training consists of a basic seven-day course that does not go much beyond ceremonial aspects. Those in counter-insurgency operations get another short course on handling weapons, but it is not considered adequate by most police officials. In fact, SPOs who are not involved in counter-insurgency operations are not even issued a weapon.