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06th November Current Affairs

Why does air pollution rise in October every year?

In News:

Air pollution in Delhi and the whole of the Indo-Gangetic Plains is a complex phenomenon that is dependent on a variety of factors. But, every year in October, Delhi’s air quality starts to dip.

Factors responsible for this:

  1. Withdrawal of monsoons:

During monsoons, the prevalent direction of wind is easterly. Once monsoon withdraws, the predominant direction of winds changes to north westerly.

During summers, too, the direction of wind is north westerly and storms carry dust from Rajasthan and sometimes Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  1. Dip in Temperatures:

As temperature dips, the inversion height — which is the layer beyond which pollutants cannot disperse into the upper layer of the atmosphere – is lowered. The concentration of pollutants in the air increases when this happens.

  1. High-speed winds:

They are very effective at dispersing pollutants, but winters bring a dip in wind speed over all as compared to in summers.

  1. Farm fires:

A 2015 source-apportionment study on Delhi’s air pollution conducted by IIT-Kanpur also states that 17-26% of all particulate matter in Delhi in winters is because of biomass burning.

  1. Dust pollution:

Dry cold weather means dust is prevalent in the entire region, which does not see many rainy days between October and June. Dust pollution contributes to 56% of PM 10 and and the PM2.5 load at 59 t/d, the top contributors being road 38 % of PM 2.5 concentration.

  1. Vehicular pollution:

It is the second biggest cause of pollution in winters. According to the IIT Kanpur study, 20 % of PM 2.5 in winters comes from vehicular pollution.

Measures to improve air quality:

  • Improving public transport
  • Limiting the number of polluting vehicles on the road
  • Introducing less polluting fuel
  • Strict emission regulations
  • Improved efficiency for thermal power plants and industries
  • Moving from diesel generators to rooftop solar
  • Increased use of clean renewable energy
  • Electric vehicles
  • Removing dust from roads
  • Regulating construction activities
  • Stopping biomass burning, etc.

Govt. increases poll spend ceiling by 10%

In News:

The Law Ministry has increased the ceiling on poll expenditure for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections by 10%.

An amendment to the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 in this regard has also been notified.

The last time the expenditure ceiling was enhanced was in 2014 just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Significance of the move:

The move follows a recommendation by the Election Commission in view of curbs imposed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

This also comes as a relief for political parties and candidates as they deal with additional expenditure on public rallies and meetings in view of precautions that need to be taken in line with Covid-19 health protocols.

This included additional expenditure on sanitisers, masks and regulation of crowds so as to adhere to social distancing norms.

As per the changes:

The limit for all states/UTs where the cap for Lok Sabha poll was Rs 70 lakh, has been raised to Rs 77 lakh; and for states/UTs with Rs 54 lakh as existing limit, to Rs 59.4 lakh.

For assembly polls, candidates in states/UTs with Rs 28 lakh as the expenditure limit, can now spend up to Rs 30.8 lakh and those with Rs 20 lakh as existing limit, up to Rs 22 lakh.

Measures in place to ensure transparency:

Candidates must mandatorily file a true account of election expenses with the EC.

An incorrect account, or expenditure beyond the ceiling can attract disqualification for up to three years under Section 10A of The Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Why there is a need for ceiling on expenditures?

Limits on campaign expenditure are meant to provide a level-playing field for everyone contesting elections. It ensures that a candidate can’t win only because she is rich.

The 255th Report of the Law Commission on electoral reforms argued that unregulated or under-regulated election financing could lead to “lobbying and capture, where a sort of quid pro quo transpires between big donors and political parties/candidates”.

Further reforms:

Cap on party spends:

The EC has asked the government to amend the R P Act and Rule 90 of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to introduce a ceiling on campaign expenditure by political parties in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

It should be either 50% of or not more than the expenditure ceiling limit provided for the candidate multiplied by the number of candidates of the party contesting the election.

The limit will ensure level playing field for all political parties and curb the menace of unaccounted money in elections.

It will also control the money power used by political parties and their allies.

Supreme Court observations:

Supreme Court of India has said that money is bound to play an important part in the successful pursuit of an election campaign in Kanwar Lal Gupta Vs Amarnath Chawla case.

Voters get influenced by the visibility of a candidate and party and huge election spending thus impacts voter’s choice.

Various Committees and Commissions in this regard:

  • Law Commission of India- 170th Report on “Reform of the Electoral Laws” in 1999.
  • Election Commission of India- Report in 2004 on “Proposed Electoral Reforms”.
  • Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms in 1990.
  • Vohra Committee Report in 1993.
  • Indrajeet Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections in 1998.
  • National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution in 2001.
  • Second Administrative Reforms Commission in 2008.

Recently, the Law Commission in its 255th Report has also made several recommendations on electoral reforms under 3 categories namely viz:

  • Limits on political contribution and party candidate expenditure.
  • Disclosure norms and requirements.
  • State funding of elections.

These recommendations of the Law Commission are under consideration of the government.

Finance Ministry to divest Wildlife Institute of India (WII)

In News:

Finance Ministry is planning to divest the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) of its status as an autonomous body of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

This has triggered anxiety among scientists at the organisation.

What are the concerns expressed over this move?

The major responsibility of this Institute is to provide advice to MoEF based on scientific information on policy and management of the country’s Wildlife Resources. This role can only be performed and remains relevant as long as the institute remains a part of the MoEF.

Further, the government will cut funding to the institute by 25% every year, and it could become a ‘Deemed University’ engaged in teaching and research.

When and why did the Finance Commission decide so?

The move follows a review by its Expenditure Department of 194 autonomous bodies across 18 Ministries. Of them, 109 bodies must be merged into 26, and government must “disengage” from 23, one which is the WII.

What are Autonomous Bodies (ABs)?

Autonomous Bodies are set up whenever it is felt that certain functions need to be discharged outside the governmental set up with some amount of independence and flexibility without day-to-day interference of the Governmental machinery.

These are set up by the Ministries/Departments concerned with the subject matter and are funded through grants-in-aid, either fully or partially, depending on the extent which such institutes generate internal resources of their own.

Why government is taking such measures?

Despite a laid out administrative structure in Autonomous Bodies (ABs), there are a number of governance issues that need review.

Nature of these Bodies:

They are mostly registered as societies under the Societies Registration Act and in certain cases they have been set up as statutory institutions under the provisions contained in various Acts.

Issues with autonomous bodies:

Accountability: These bodies are funded by taxpayer’s money. However, there have been complaints that they don’t follow the policies of the government and are accountable the way the government departments are.

Recruitment issues: The mode of recruitment and recruitment rules differs for each of these bodies.

Non-Adherence to Envisaged Goal.

No uniform audit procedure: Some ABs are audited by CAG whereas many are done by chartered accountants.

Suggested reforms:

A legal framework should be devised which defines the boundaries of its working, its autonomy, and the various policies that it must follow.

To bring about uniformity in the policies, a task force needs to be set up under a pan-Indian agency such as SSC or UPSC.

Rationalisation of their numbers: ABs that have outlived the cause for which they were established may need to be closed or merged with a similar organisation or their memorandum altered as per the new charter.

Collaborated Approach: To ensure the participation of ministry officials, committee meetings of similar ABs should be held together so that the appropriate authorities could provide meaningful suggestions.

Uniform Independent Auditing: Audits of ABs should be undertaken by an independent agency.