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18 Feb Current Affairs

Greenpeace Report

In News:

The Greenpeace Southeast Asia has released a report titled ‘Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels’.

Details:

The report provides a global assessment of the health impact of air pollution from fossil fuels in 2018 and a first-of-its-kind estimate of the associated economic cost.

The study is limited to the following pollutants: fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and only that pollution which is emitted by fossil fuel combustion (coal, oil and gas).

Key Findings:

Impact of Air Pollution on Health:

Exposure to an air pollutant or combination of air pollutants, such as PM2.5, NO2 or ozone, is associated with increased incidence of diseases including Ischaemic Heart Disease (IHD), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, lower respiratory infections, type II diabete, etc.

Health impacts from air pollution generate economic costs through the cost of treatment, management of health conditions, and from work absences.

Economic Cost of Air Pollution:

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels costs an estimated 3.3% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), equivalent to US $8 billion per day and 12,000 premature deaths every day.

China, the US and India bear the highest economic cost of soaring pollution, at an estimated $900 billion, $600 billion and $150 billion (5.4% of the India’s GDP) a year, respectively.

Burden of PM2.5:

PM2.5 air pollution leads to the greatest health impact and the greatest financial cost of the three pollutants (PM2.5, O3, NO2).

Globally, air pollution is estimated to cause 4.5 million premature deaths each year. This includes 3 million deaths attributable globally to PM2.5.

Pollution from PM2.5 costs 2.5% of the global GDP whereas pollution from O3 and NO2 , each costs equivalent to 0.4% of global GDP.

India-Related Findings:

PM2.5 is one of the principal pollutants in northern Indian cities including Delhi.

The 2 million preterm births globally due to PM2.5 include 9,81,000 preterm births in India.

The report links approximately 3,50,000 new cases of child asthma in India to nitrogen dioxide. As a result of this, over 1.28 million more children in India live with asthma, which is linked to fossil fuel pollution.

In India, exposure to fossil fuels also leads to a loss of around 490 million workdays.

Way Forward:

India needs to increase its spending on the health sector.

It needs to be noted that India spends around 1.28% of the GDP on health while air pollution from burning fossil fuels costs an estimated 5.4% of India’s GDP.

The central government has allocated only Rs 69,000 crore for the health sector in the Union Budget 2020-21.

The coal fired power plants in India have repeatedly missed the emission deadline set by the Union Environment Ministry. Strict action should be taken against non-compliance of thermal power plants.

The government should ensure the construction of new coal-fired power plants is halted and existing plants should be shut down in phases.

Moving the energy generation sector from fossil fuels to renewables would help to prevent premature deaths and vast savings in health costs.

Direct Tax Vivad Se Vishwas Bill, 2020

In News:

Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved an amendment to the ‘Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Bill, 2020’ in order to widen its scope to cover litigation pending in various Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs).

Details:

The amendment also includes certain search and seizure cases where the recovery is up to ₹5 crore.

Therefore, the Bill in current form allows taxpayers to settle cases pending before the Commissioner (Appeals), Income Tax Appellate Tribunals (ITATs), Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs), High Courts and the Supreme Court.

The Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Bill, 2020 is similar to the ‘Sabka Vishwas Scheme’, which was brought in to reduce litigation in indirect taxes in the year 2019. It resulted in settling over 1,89,000 cases.

Under the Sabka Vishwas Scheme, the government expected to raise around ₹39,500 crore. However, after the closure of the amnesty window in January 2020 application in relation to taxes worth ₹90,000 crore were received. This shows the success of the scheme.

Key Points:

Objective: The Bill provides a mechanism for resolution of pending tax disputes related to direct taxes (Income Tax and Corporate Tax) in simple and speedy manner.

Reduce Litigation: According to the Finance Ministry, at present there are 4.83 lakh pending direct tax cases worth Rs.9 lakh crore in the courts. Through this scheme, the government wants to recover this money in a swift and simple way.

Addressing Revenue Shortfall: The government is witnessing a big shortfall in revenues, especially tax revenues, hence, increasing revenues in one of the priorities of the government.

Direct Tax collections have been lower than their budget targets due to the overall economic slowdown and a cut in the corporate tax rate in September, 2019.

Mechanism: In case of payment of tax, a taxpayer would be required to pay only the amount of the disputed taxes and will get complete waiver of interest, penalty and prosecution provided he/she pays by March 31, 2020.

But, if the tax arrears relate to disputed interest or penalty only, then 25% of disputed penalty or interest will have to be paid.

Those who avail this scheme after March 31, 2020 will have to pay some additional amount.

However, the scheme will remain open till June 30, 2020.

Immunity to Appellant: Once a dispute is resolved, the designated authority cannot levy interest or penalty in relation to that dispute.

Further, no appellate forum can make a decision in relation to the matter of dispute once it is resolved.

Revival of Disputes: However, if an appellant provides false information or violates the Income Tax Act, 1961, then case of dispute can be revived.

BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise -2020

In News:

The 2nd Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Disaster Management Exercise was conducted (11-13 February, 2020) in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

Details:

The focus of the 2nd edition of Exercise is on heritage structures’ protection.

The first edition of the BIMSTEC DMEx was also hosted by India in 2017 with the focus on testing the region’s preparedness and resilience towards effective activation of inter-Governmental interaction/dialogue/agreements for immediate deployment of regional resources for disaster response.

Key Points:

The exercise seeks to provide a platform for member states to evaluate existing capabilities, share best emergency response practices, improve emergency preparedness  and strengthen regional response mechanisms, to conduct risk assessment in the context of cultural heritage sites at the time of disasters and to test the multi-stakeholders’ coordination in a disaster scenario involving international, national, state, district and local agencies.

Participants in the exercise include BIMSTEC members except Bhutan and Thailand along with other global institutions like United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration Cultural Property (ICCROM) etc.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is building the capacity of its forces to play the role of first responder at heritage sites, which are vulnerable to disasters such as earthquake, floods, cyclones and tsunami across India.

Reasons for Focus on the Heritage Sites: In the backdrop of recent losses suffered in an earthquake in Nepal(2015), damages to Heritage Sites in Gujarat earthquake (2001), the need was felt to protect the Heritage Sites during disasters and build the capacity of NDRF personnel.

According to Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in India, there could be 11 lakh sites in towns and villages out of which close to 10,000 sites and buildings are protected and about 70,000 sites have heritage value.

India and Disaster Management:

Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI): Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the establishment of an International Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) in New Delhi.

The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) organized the 1st International Conference on “Landslides Risk Reduction and Resilience” in November, 2019 in New Delhi.

India has been at the forefront of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) efforts by hosting the South Asian Annual Disaster Management Exercise (SAADMEx) and the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR).

India has also offered its expertise and capabilities in DRR such as the South Asia satellite, GSAT-9, and the Tsunami Early Warning Centre to other countries.

Disaster Management was one of the important Agenda items the BIMSTEC leaders deliberated upon during the Goa BRICS Summit in October 2016 where BIMSTEC leaders were the Special Invitees.

The First United Nations Biodiversity Summit CMS COP-13 in India

In News:

India is all set to host the fist Biodiversity Summit of the United Nations. It is to be inaugurated by PM Modi in Gandhi Nagar, Gujarat on February 17, 2020. The CMS COP-13, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species Conference of Parties-13 is the only convention on migratory species.

Highlights:

The Agenda of the convention includes proposals on infrastructure of migratory mammals.

The migratory mammals to be focused in the summit includes Gobi bear, Persian Leopard and Urial.

The summit will also provide Biodiversity conservation to Ganges river Dolphins, great Indian Bustard and Asian Elephants.

1) Gobi Bear:

The Gobi Bear is a sub species of Brown Bear. It is found in Gobi-desert of Mongolia. As far 2009, there were only 30 adult Gobi Bears in the desert. The IUCN Red List categorizes Gobi Bear under Critically Endangered.

2) Persian Leopard:

The Persian Leopards are found in Iran, Afghanistan and central Asia. The IUCN Red List categorizes them as Endangered. As of 2008, only 871 mature Persian Leopards were recorded. They are threatened by poaching and illegal hunting.

3) Urial:

Urials are wild sheep. They are found in western and Central Asia, that is, in Kazakhstan, Pakistan and India. The IUCN Red List categorizes them as Vulnerable.

Future of Earth 2020

In News:

The Future of Earth 2020 report has been released by the South Asia Future Earth Regional Office, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science. The report was prepared with the aim of reducing carbon footprint and halting global warming below 2 degree Celsius by 2050.

Five global risks:

The report lists five global risks that have the potential to impact and amplify one another in ways that may cascade to create a global systemic crisis. They are:

  • Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • Extreme weather events.
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.
  • Food crises.
  • Water crises.

Key observations:

Interrelation of risk factors: Extreme heat waves can accelerate global warming by releasing large amounts of stored carbon from affected ecosystems, and at the same time intensify water crises and/or food scarcity.

Biodiversity loss and it’s impact: The loss of biodiversity weakens the capacity of natural and agricultural systems to cope with climate extremes, increasing our vulnerability to food crises.

The five years from 2014 to 2018 were the warmest recorded over land and ocean since 1880.

Concerns and Challenges ahead:

Major assessments in last two years have all argued that time is running out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This has inspired declarations of a climate crisis or climate emergency by the leaders of more than 700 cities, States and governments.

Yet, during 2019, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached more than 415 ppm.

Anthropogenic factors: Humans have now “significantly altered” 75% of our planet’s land area; about a quarter of species in assessed plant and animal groups are threatened.

Strains on food production are expected to increase, as a result of various forces including climate change, biodiversity loss, and a global population on the rise.

Denial of climate change: Right-wing populism, a breed of politics that exploits people’s fears during times of economic decline and growing inequality, and that focuses on nationalist tendencies to clamp down on borders and reject immigrants, is on the rise around the world. This often leads to a denial of climate change facts or impacts.

The digital platforms such as social media, search engines and e-commerce algorithms, tend to favour the spread of information designed to engage with emotion over reason, which can cause the propagation of “fake news”, and can lead to social harms like an erosion of trust in vaccines.

Environmental health and education:

New thinking about conservation is needed. The National Education Policy will address the question of environmental health and education at the school level.

Children in the last four years of secondary education will have a reasonable grounding to be sensitive towards the environment. Without it no government rules and policies can be helpful.

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