(GS-II: Indian culture – salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times)
The Supreme Court has urged its former Justice AK Sikri to take over as the Chairman of the high-powered committee constituted by it to “consider the cumulative and independent impact of the Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana (Char Dham Highway Development Project) on the entire Himalayan valley”.
What’s the issue?
In February 2022, Veteran environmentalist Ravi Chopra has resigned as chairman of the Supreme Court’s High Powered Committee (HPC) on the Char Dham project, saying that his “belief that the HPC could protect this fragile (Himalayan) ecology has been shattered”.
In his resignation letter to the secretary general of the Supreme Court on January 27, Chopra referred to the apex court’s December 2021 order that accepted the wider road configuration to meet defence needs, instead of what the HPC had recommended and the SC accepted in its earlier order in September 2020.
What has the Court said so far in this matter?
In 2018, the project was challenged by an NGO for its potential impact on the Himalayan ecology due to felling trees, cutting hills and dumping excavated material.
In 2019, the SC formed the HPC Chopra to examine the issues, and in September 2020, accepted his recommendation on road width etc.
In November 2020, the ministry of Defence sought wider roads to meet the requirement of the Army.
In December 2021, the SC modified its September 2020 order on the ground that the court could not “interrogate the policy choice of the establishment which is entrusted by law with the defence of the nation”.
About Chardham project:
The project involves developing and widening nearly 900-km of national highways connecting the holy Hindu pilgrimage sites of; Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri at an estimated cost of Rs.12,000 crores.
The highway will be called Char Dham Mahamarg(Char Dham Highway) and the highway construction project will be called Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana(Char Dham Highway Development Project).
What Are The Environmental Concerns That Were Flagged?
Large-scale construction works in hilly terrain is a recipe for disaster as it leads to a heightened risk of landslides given the felling of trees and loosening of rocks.
The project was being executed bypassing mandatory environment clearances and environment impact assessment (EIA) procedures.
Over 25,000 trees have reportedly been felled to make way for the project as a grave worry for the ecologically sensitive zone.
Since wider carriageways would require more excavation and blasting, the purpose of having an all-weather highway may be compromised since the topography would become that much more sensitive to slippage and landslides.
Developments so far wrt the Chardham Project:
The foundation stone for the Char Dham road project was laid by PM Narendra Modi in December 2016.
But the project was challenged on environmental grounds in courts with petitioners alleging irregularities vis-a-vis environmental clearances for the project and that it was being pursued in violation of existing norms.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) cleared the project in September 2018, but its order was challenged for being passed by a bench different from the one that had heard the matter. Supreme Court stayed the NGT order in October 2018.
In September 2020, it passed an order on a writ petition stating that highways for the Char Dham project should not exceed 5.5m in width as prescribed in a 2018 circular of the Union Road Transport Ministry. But the Defence Ministry had in December that year sought a modification in the order to allow the width to be of 10m.
The top court then asked its high-powered committee (HPC) to look into the contentions raised by the Centre on the width of the highways.
Model Tenancy Act
(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)
The long-awaited Chandigarh Tenancy Act will now be in queue for enactment by the Parliament.
The UT administration has decided to send the proposed Act, based on Centre’s Model Tenancy Act, 2021, to the Union government for approval and enactment.
The Union Cabinet, in June 2021, approved the Model Tenancy Act (MTA).
States and Union territories can now adopt the Model Tenancy Act by enacting fresh legislation or they can amend their existing rental laws suitably.
Highlights of the Model Law:
Applicable prospectively and will not affect the existing tenancies.
Written agreement is a must for all new tenancies. The agreement will have to be submitted to the concerned district ‘Rent Authority’.
The law also speaks about roles and responsibilities of landlord and tenants.
No landlord or property manager can withhold any essential supply to the premises occupied by the tenant.
If tenancy has not been renewed, the tenancy shall be deemed to be renewed on a month-to-month basis on the same terms and conditions as were in the expired tenancy agreement, for a maximum period of six months.
Compensation in case of non-vacancy: On the expiry of extended period of six months of agreed tenancy period or the termination of tenancy by order or notice, the tenant shall be a tenant in default and liable to pay compensation of double of the monthly rent for two months and four times of the monthly rent thereafter.
A landowner or property manager may enter a premise in accordance with written notice or notice through electronic medium served to the tenant at least twenty-four hours before the time of entry.
It is an important piece of legislation that promises to ease the burden on civil courts, unlock rental properties stuck in legal disputes, and prevent future tangles by balancing the interests of tenants and landlords.
Need for a law in this regard:
Young, educated job seekers migrating to large metropolises often complain of onerous tenancy conditions and obscene sums of money as security deposits that they are asked to fork out to lease accommodation. In some cities, tenants are asked to pay security deposits amounting to 11 months of rent.
Also, some house owners routinely breach tenants’ right to privacy by visiting the premises unannounced for sundry repair works.
Whimsical rent raises are another problem for tenants, many of whom complain of being squeezed as “captive customers“.
Besides, Tenants are often accused of “squatting” on the rented premises, or trying to grab the property.
One Nation, One Election
(GS-II: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act)
Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra has said that the Election Commission is ready to hold simultaneous elections or ‘One Nation, One Election’.
Earlier this year, on National Voters’ Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address had raised the topics of ‘One Nation, One Election’ and ‘One Nation, One Voters’ list’, and had said that the continuous cycle of election results is affecting development works.
What is ‘One Nation, One Election’?
It refers to holding elections to Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, Panchayats and Urban local bodies simultaneously, once in five year.
But, what are the challenges posed by frequent elections?
Benefits of Simultaneous Elections:
Governance and consistency: The ruling parties will be able to focus on legislation and governance rather than having to be in campaign mode forever.
Reduced Expenditure of Money and Administration.
Continuity in policies and programmes.
Efficiency of Governance: Populist measures by governments will reduce.
The impact of black money on the voters will be reduced as all elections are held at a time.
Impact on Regional parties:
There is always a tendency for voters to vote the same party in power in the state and at the Centre in case the Lok Sabha polls and the state elections are held together.
For simultaneous elections to be implemented, Changes to be made in Constitution and Legislations:
Article 83 which deals with the duration of Houses of Parliament need an amendment.
The Representation of People Act, 1951 Act would have to be amended to build in provisions for stability of tenure for both parliament and assemblies. This should include the following crucial elements:
Restructuring the powers and functions of the ECI to facilitate procedures required for simultaneous elections
A definition of simultaneous election can be added to section 2 of the 1951 act.
Iran Nuclear Deal
(GS-II: Effects of policies of developed nations)
Talks on the revival of the Iran nuclear deal have become a casualty of the war in Ukraine after an indefinite pause was announced over last-minute Russian demands.
What’s the issue?
An agreement on the nuclear deal to bring the US and Iran back into compliance would have led to a swathe of US sanctions on Iran being lifted, including Iranian crude oil exports and petrochemicals, in return for limits on Tehran’s nuclear activity.
In the past week, however, Moscow has insisted Washington pledge not to impose sanctions on any trade between Russia and Iran once an agreement is signed.
Russia has been a key broker of the painstaking talks in Vienna, which have lasted for almost a year. If the impasse is prolonged there is likely to be a debate over whether Moscow can absolutely use its UN veto on the agreement known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA).
Russia and JCPOA:
Russia’s most important role in JCPOA implementation would be as the importer of Iran’s excess enriched uranium stockpile, which would be transported to Russia via ship and exchanged for natural uranium.
About the Iran Nuclear Deal:
Also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The JCPOA was the result of prolonged negotiations from 2013 and 2015 between Iran and P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, or the EU).
Under the deal, Tehran agreed to significantly cut its stores of centrifuges, enriched uranium and heavy-water, all key components for nuclear weapons.
Significance of the deal for India:
Removing sanctions may revive India’s interest in the Chabahar port, Bandar Abbas port, and other plans for regional connectivity.
This would further help India to neutralize the Chinese presence in Gwadar port, Pakistan.
Restoration of ties between the US and Iran will help India to procure cheap Iranian oil and aid in energy security.