QUESTION : Environmental impact assessment studies are increasingly undertaken before project is cleared by the government. Discuss the environmental impacts of coal-fired thermal plants.
Topic- THE ENVIRONMENT IS A NATIONAL ISSUE
Environmental Issues And Its Conservation
WHY IN NEWS ?
Environment issues are currently at the centre of a heated debate. Jayanthi Natarajan, a former Environment Minister discusses the issues and suggests policy measures to ensure better environmental conservation.
ENVIRONMENT PERFORMANCE INDEX :
- India secured the 168th rank out of 180 countries in the 12th edition of the biennial Environment Performance Index (EPI 2020). India’s rank was 177 in 2018.
- The EPI Index 2020 measures the environmental performance of 180 countries by considering 32 indicators of environmental performance across 11 issue categories covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
- India scored below the regional average score on all five key parameters on environmental health, including air quality, sanitation and drinking water, heavy metals and waste management.
- It has also scored below the regional average on parameters related to biodiversity and ecosystem services too.
- Among South Asian countries, India was at second position (rank 106) after Pakistan on ‘climate change’.
- The 11 countries lagging behind India were — Burundi, Haiti, Chad, Soloman Islands, Madagascar, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoir, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Liberia.
- All South Asian countries, except Afghanistan, were ahead of India in the ranking.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INDIA :
- India needs to re-double national sustainability efforts on all fronts.
- The country needs to focus on a wide spectrum of sustainability issues, with a high-priority to critical issues such as air and water quality, biodiversity and climate change.
ABOUT EPI :
- EPI is a biennial index prepared by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.
- It offers a scorecard that highlights leaders and laggards in environmental performance and provides practical guidance for countries that aspire to move toward a sustainable future.
- This index was first published in 2002 designed to supplement the environmental targets set forth in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals
ENVIRONMENT CONSERVATION PROGRAMME IN INDIA
- Climate Change: National Action Plan on Climate Change
- Desertification: National Action Programme to Combat Desertification
- Pollution Control: National Clean Air Program
- Environmental Impact Assessment: Environment Management Plan
- Forest Protection: National Afforestation Programme
- Animal Conservation: Project Elephant, Project Tiger
FOCUS ON DEFORESTATION:
- Deforestation ought to be a primary concern of any right-thinking government.
- Forest clearances for mining and industries, while major, are not the only causes of deforestation.
- Population pressure due to which the slash-and-burn (or jhoom cycle) has reduced in forest areas from 17-20 years to two-three years giving no time for forest regeneration and creeping conversion of forest to cultivated land are both major drivers of deforestation.
- There is also the increasing use of timber for household and industry purposes.
- However, while diversion of forests for mining and industry is regulated by law and challenged in courts, the other major drivers are not even discussed.
- ‘Nirmal Ganga’ can be achieved by zero discharge of effluents and domestic sewerage.
- But ‘Aviral Ganga’ can only be achieved by constant balancing between irrigation needs of agriculture and potable water for cities on the one hand and the environmental flow of the river on the other.
- India faces a number of serious environmental health risks, like poor air quality and contaminated water.
- The great winter smog and pollution in North India is a glaring example of this challenge. Indian cities often figure in the world’s most polluted cities. The high water pollution level is only exacerbating the water scarcity problem in India.
- There have been concerns over the alleged preoccupation with “ease of doing business” leading to lax environmental regulations that have proved to be detrimental to the environment.
- There are also problems of environmental laws that seem to be only focussed on large sources of pollution and tend to neglect the smaller but numerically larger number of pollution sources.
- The lack of coordination between the Centre and the States has had a detrimental impact. ‘Forests’ was a State subject until transferred to the Concurrent List by the 42nd Amendment Act.
ABOUT EIA :
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
- UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making.
- Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.
ENVIRONMENT (PROTECTION) ACT OF 1986 :
- In the wake of the Bhopal tragedy, the government of India enacted the Environment Act of 1986.
- The purpose of the Act is to implement the decisions of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment of 1972.
- The decisions relate to the protection and improvement of the human environment and the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants and property.
- The Act is an “umbrella” for legislations designed to provide a framework for Central Government, coordination of the activities of various central and state authorities established under previous Acts, such as the Water Act and the Air Act.
- In this Act, main emphasis is given to “Environment”, defined to include water, air and land and the inter-relationships which exist among water, air and land and human beings and other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property.
- “Environmental pollution” is the presence of pollutant, defined as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such a concentration as may be or may tend to be injurious to the environment.
MAIN PROVISIONS OF THIS ACT :
- The Act empowers the centre to “take all such measures as it deems necessary”.
- By virtue of this Act, Central Government has armed itself with considerable powers which include,
- coordination of action by state,
- planning and execution of nationwide programmes,
- laying down environmental quality standards, especially those governing emission or discharge of environmental pollutants,
- placing restriction on the location of industries and so on.
- authority to issue direct orders, included orders to close, prohibit or regulate any industry.
- power of entry for examination, testing of equipment and other purposes and power to analyse the sample of air, water, soil or any other substance from any place.
- The Act explicitly prohibits discharges of environmental pollutants in excess of prescribed regulatory standards.
- There is also a specific prohibition against handling hazardous substances except those in compliance with regulatory procedures and standards.
WAY FORWARD :
- India needs to re-double national sustainability efforts on all fronts.
- It needs to focus on a wide spectrum of sustainability issues, with a high-priority to critical issues such as air and water quality, biodiversity and climate change.
- There is a need to balance between the environment and the development needs of the country.
- The critical need of the hour is to harmonise the working of the central, state, and local governments.
- The environment is a national issue that requires the unwavering participation of all governments, and all citizens.
QUESTION : Enumerate the indirect taxes which have been subsumed in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India. Also, comment on the revenue implications of the GST introduced in India since July 2017
Topic- GST REFORMS NEEDS A NEW GRAND BARGAIN
GST and Its flaws
WHY IN NEWS ?
40th GST Council meeting and growing voices about compensation to states.
DID YOU KNOW ?
- Before GST, States had the power to levy some indirect taxes on economic activity. Therefore, after GST regime was introduced (in 2017), the Centre promised guaranteed compensation to the States for the first five years, for the revenues they lost after the shift from the earlier system.
- The compensation is calculated at a growth rate of 14% keeping 2015-16 as the base year.
CHALLENGES FOR GST DURING THE TIMES OF PANDEMIC :
- Shortfall: The tax collection has dropped significantly, while expenditure needs are sharply higher, especially at the frontline of the battle, at the State level.
- Centre abdicating responsibility: Using an equivalent of the Force Majeure clause in commercial contracts, the Centre is abdicating its responsibility of making up for the shortfall in 14% growth in GST revenues to the states (compensation amount)
- States are left for themselves: It seems that the States have been told that they are on their own to meet the shortfall in revenues.
Why is Centre putting onus on States to finance themselves considered wrong?
- Limited Avenues: States do not have recourse to multiple options that the Centre has, such as issue of a sovereign bond (in dollars or rupees) or a loan against public sector unit shares from the RBI.
- Less bargaining Power: The Centre can anyway command much lower rates of borrowing from the markets as compared to the States.
- Rating Agencies don’t differentiate: In terms of aggregate public sector borrowing, it does not matter for the debt markets, nor the rating agencies, whether it is the States or the Centre that is increasing their indebtedness.
- Macroeconomic Stability is Centre’s domain: Fighting this recession through increased fiscal stimulus is basically the job of macroeconomic stabilisation, which is the Centre’s domain.
- Erodes Federal Trust: Most importantly, breaking the important promise of compensation, using the alibi of the COVID-19 pandemic causes a serious dent in the trust built up between the Centre and States.
FLAWS IN THE CURRENT GST SYSTEM :
- The current design and implementation of the GST system have failed to deliver on the promise of enhanced economic growth and tax buoyancy.
- The article argues that the assured 14% year on year tax growth for five years was too optimistic a target to achieve given the fact that neither the national aggregate nor any of the major States had such high growth rates for the previous five years.
- The fixed 14% growth rate may also have not been the right way forward. The article suggests that the GST compensation system should have been based on the successful design as implemented under the Value Added Tax (VAT) system.
- The frequent changing of rate slabs has led to confusion and has also led to litigation in some cases. This has led to the politicizing of economic issues such as taxation and hence is a great cause of concern.
WAY FORWARD – GST 2.0
- Widening of Tax Base: GST is a destination-based consumption tax, which must include all goods and services with very few exceptions, such as food and medicine.
- Low and stable single rate: Widening of the tax base itself will allow us to go back to the original recommendation of a standard rate of 12%, to be fixed for at least a five-year period.
- Some extra elbow room for the States’ revenue autonomy can be obtained by allowing the States non VATable surcharges on a small list of “sin” goods such as liquor, tobacco, polluting goods such as SUVs, and industrial fuels such as diesel, aviation turbine fuel and coal.
- Sharing with Third Tier of Government: Of the 12% GST, 10% can be equally shared between the States and the Centre, and 2% must be earmarked exclusively for the urban and rural local bodies, which ensures some basic revenue autonomy to them. The actual distribution across panchayats, districts and cities would be given by respective State Finance Commissions.