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14th July Current Affairs

Amnesty scheme for violators of environment norms

In News:

The union environment ministry has put together an amnesty scheme for infrastructure and industrial projects that have violated environmental clearance norms.

Background:

The SOP is a result of orders from the National Green Tribunal, which earlier this year directed the ministry to put in place penalties and an SOP for green violations.

Standard operating procedure (SOP) laid out by the ministry:

As per the new SOPs, projects that have expanded in capacity without requisite permissions will have to revert to older production limits until reassessed.

If prior EC was not required for the project but is now required under updated norms, then the project will have to restrict its production to the extent to which prior EC was not required till appraised again.

Only projects which are in complete violation of environmental norms and were never eligible for grant of environmental clearance shall be demolished or closed.

Projects that violate norms, but are “permissible”, will be assessed for the damage caused and a remediation plan developed. These projects will have to submit a bank guarantee equivalent to the remediation plan and a natural and community resource augmentation plan to the central or state pollution control boards.

The memorandum gives powers to government agencies such as the CPCB, state pollution control boards and state environment impact assessment authorities to identify such violations and take penal action against them.

Concerns/issues:

Experts say the provisions of the new amnesty scheme are very similar to provisions of dealing with violation cases under the draft environment impact assessment notification 2020 which drew widespread public criticism last year for “post-facto” clearances.

The memorandum normalises “post facto regularisation of violations” – in which violations are first committed and then the project proponent files for clearance by which they “are let off by paying a penalty”.

Also, this is the institutionalising of violations on the basis of the polluter pays norm.

The SOP gives “immense power” to the ministry in determining the violator and the offence. This gives scope for violators, especially the big players, to negotiate with the ministry.

Contentious provisions in the draft EIA notification 2020:

The draft notification includes an exemption of several large industries and projects from public consultation — as part of the environment impact assessment process — such as chemical manufacturing and petroleum products; building, construction and area development; inland waterways and expansion or widening of national highways.

The draft does not provide clarification regarding the criteria for categorizing projects ‘strategic’ by the Central Government and hence could be open to excessively broad interpretations.

There is a clause on “post-facto clearance”. These are for projects that have started without obtaining the required environmental clearances or permissions.

It shortens the period of public consultation hearings to a maximum of 40 days.

It reduces from 30 to 20 days the time provided for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.

The increased validity of the environment clearances for mining projects (50 years versus 30 years currently) and river valley projects (15 years versus 10 years currently) raises the risk of irreversible environmental, social and health consequences on account of the project remaining unnoticed for long.

RBI unveils retail direct scheme

In News:

The scheme was recently launched by the RBI.

Details:

Under the scheme, retail investors will be allowed to open retail direct gilt accounts (RDG) directly with RBI.

How it operates/works?

A dedicated online portal will provide registered users access to primary issuance of government securities and to Negotiated Dealing System-Order Matching system (NDS-OM). (NDS-OM refers to RBI’s screen-based electronic order matching system for trading in government securities in the secondary market).

There will be no charge on account opening and its management.

Objectives of the scheme:

To improve the accessibility of government securities.

Significance of the scheme:

The scheme is a one-stop solution to facilitate investment in government securities (G-secs) by individual investors.

Types of investments available for the users:

  • Government of India Treasury Bills.
  • Government of India dated securities.
  • Sovereign Gold Bonds (SGB).
  • State Development Loans (SDLs).

What is a Gilt Account?

A Gilt Account can be compared with a bank account, except that the account is debited or credited with treasury bills or government securities instead of money. In other words, it’s an account for holding government securities.

Who is a retail investor?

A retail investor is someone who buys and sells equity shares, commodity contracts, mutual funds, or exchange traded funds (ETFs) through traditional or online brokerage firms or other types of investment accounts.

After Singapore, Bhutan adopts India’s BHIM-UPI

In News:

Bhutan has become the first country to adopt India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) standards for its quick response (QR) code. It is also the second country after Singapore to have BHIM-UPI acceptance at merchant locations.

Details:

Bhutan will also become the only country to both issue and accept RuPay cards as well as accept BHIM-UPI.

What is BHIM?

Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) is India’s digital payment application (app) that works through UPI, a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application.

  • Developed by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).
  • Allows real time fund transfer.
  • Launched in December, 2016.

What is UPI?

Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is an instant real-time payment system, allowing users to transfer money on a real-time basis, across multiple bank accounts without revealing details of one’s bank account to the other party.

The BHIM app has three levels of authentication:

For one, the app binds with a device’s ID and mobile number.

Second, a user needs to sync whichever bank account (UPI or non-UPI enabled) in order to conduct the transaction.

Third, when a user sets up the app they are asked to create a pin which is needed to log into the app. The UPI pin, which a user creates with their bank account is needed to go through with the transaction.