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8th April Current Affairs

Dam Safety Act

(GS-II: Government Policies and associated issues)

In News:

The Supreme Court has found in the Dam Safety Act of 2021 a panacea to end the “perennial” legal battle between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam.

What’s the issue?

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been trading charges against each other over the safety, operation and maintenance of the Mullaperiyar dam.

While Kerala claims the 126-year-old dam is unsafe, badly maintained and a threat to thousands of people living downstream, Tamil Nadu denies it.

Kerala is pitching for a new dam in place of the existing one, while Tamil Nadu, which operates and maintains the reservoir, argues that the dam is well-preserved and so strong that the height water level could even be increased to 152 feet.

Linkages between Dam Safety Act and the Mullaperiyar dam:

As per the Act, the NDSA will perform the role of the State Dam Safety Organisation for a dam located in one State and used by another. Hence, the Mullaperiyar dam comes under the purview of the NDSA.

Experts believe that there is every possibility of the Union government will indicate in the court that the NDSA can subsume the functions of the supervisory committee.

Highlights of Dam Safety Act:

It provides for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning.

It provides for the constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety which shall evolve dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations as may be required for the purpose.

It provides for the establishment of the National Dam Safety Authority as a regulatory body which shall discharge functions to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety in the country.

It provides for the constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by the State Government.

Significance:

It will help all the States and Union Territories of India to adopt uniform dam safety procedures which shall ensure safety of dams and safeguard benefits from such dams. This shall also help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.

It addresses all issues concerning dam safety including regular inspection of dams, Emergency Action Plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety, Instrumentation and Safety Manuals.

It lays the onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for commission and omission of certain acts.

Need for:

Over the last fifty years, India has invested substantially in dams and related infrastructures, and ranks third after the USA and China in the number of large dams. 5254 large dams are in operation in the country currently and another 447 are under construction.

In addition to this, there are thousands of medium and small dams.

While dams have played a key role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural growth and development in India, there has been a long felt need for a uniform law and administrative structure for ensuring dam safety.

The Central Water Commission, through the National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS), Central Dam Safety Organization (CDSO) and State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO) has been making constant endeavours in this direction, but these organizations do not have any statutory powers and are only advisory in nature.

This can be a matter of concern, especially since about 75 percent of the large dams in India are more than 25 years old and about 164 dams are more than 100 years old.

A badly maintained, unsafe dam can be a hazard to human life, flora and fauna, public and private assets and the environment.

India has had 42 dam failures in the past.

Concerns raised:

The Act is too focused on structural safety and not on operational safety.

There is inadequate compensation to the people affected by dams.

There is a need for an independent regulator as well as for a precise definition of stakeholders.

Many states say it encroaches upon the sovereignty of States to manage their dams, and violates the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution.

They see it as an attempt by the Centre to consolidate power in the guise of safety concerns.

Electoral Bonds

(GS-II: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures)

In News:

Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has assured petitioners that the Supreme Court will take up for hearing a pending plea challenging the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018.

What’s the issue?

Two NGOs — Common Cause and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) — have challenged the scheme, alleging that it is “distorting democracy”. The CJI has not specified any date for the hearing.

What are electoral bonds?

Electoral Bond is a financial instrument for making donations to political parties.

The bonds are issued in multiples of Rs. 1,000, Rs. 10,000, Rs. 1 lakh, Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 1 crore without any maximum limit.

State Bank of India is authorised to issue and encash these bonds, which are valid for fifteen days from the date of issuance.

These bonds are redeemable in the designated account of a registered political party.

The bonds are available for purchase by any person (who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India) for a period of ten days each in the months of January, April, July and October as may be specified by the Central Government.

A person being an individual can buy bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.

Donor’s name is not mentioned on the bond.

Issues associated with the scheme:

The Electoral Bond Scheme acts as a check against traditional under-the-table donations as it insists on cheque and digital paper trails of transactions, however, several key provisions of the scheme make it highly controversial.

Anonymity: Neither the donor (who could be an individual or a corporate) nor the political party is obligated to reveal whom the donation comes from.

Asymmetrically Opaque: Because the bonds are purchased through the State Bank of India (SBI), the government is always in a position to know who the donor is.

Channel of Blackmoney: Elimination of a cap of 7.5% on corporate donations, elimination of requirement to reveal political contributions in profit and loss statements.

India abstains from Human Rights Council vote to probe Russian actions

(GS-II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate)

In News:

The United Nations General Assembly suspended Russia from the Human Rights Council during a meeting recently.

Details:

Ninety-four members voted in favour while 24 voted against, and 58 abstained.

India also abstained in the UNGA vote moved by the United States to suspend Russia over allegations that the country’s soldiers tortured and killed civilians while retreating from Ukrainian towns.

India’s position on Ukraine:

India’s position adds to a string of abstentions at the United Nations and multilateral groups since the start of Russian military operations in Ukraine on February 24, even as the continuing Russian military advances in Ukraine have seen more and more countries vote for resolutions that criticise Moscow.

About UNHRC:

UNHRC was reconstituted from its predecessor organisation, the UN Commission on Human Rights to help overcome the “credibility deficit” of the previous organisation.

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

Composition:

The UNHRC has 47 members serving at any time with elections held to fill up seats every year, based on allocations to regions across the world to ensure geographical representation.

Each elected member serves for a term of three years.

Countries are disallowed from occupying a seat for more than two consecutive terms.

Functions:

The UNHRC passes non-binding resolutions on human rights issues through a periodic review of all 193 UN member states called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

It oversees expert investigation of violations in specific countries (Special Procedures).

Challenges and Need for reforms:

The human rights record of the member-states such as Saudi Arabia, China and Russia in the council has also not been in line with the aims and mission of the UNHRC, which has led to critics questioning its relevance.

Despite the continued participation of several western countries in the UNHRC, they continue to harbour misgivings on the understanding of Human rights.

Non-compliance has been a serious issue with respect to the UNHRC’s functioning.

Non-participation of powerful nations such as the US.

What’s the concern now?

The Indian decision to abstain from the voting was not siding with anyone; it was in its own national interest, say few.

However, these decisions have been condoned by most Indian commentators as an attempt to make the best of a bad hand.

As our largest arms supplier, Russia has been a dependable ally, they say; it has shielded India at the UN over Kashmir, not to mention Bangladesh, back in 1971.

Moreover, to vote against Russia will push it further into China’s arms, multiplying that country’s security threat to India.

Why should India rethink its policy on Russia?

The above arguments have been out of date since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, and Vladimir Putin’s rise 20 years ago.

More dangerously still, they reveal a fatalism towards India’s own national security interests that will only damage us further as time goes by.

Yes, Russia is our largest arms provider and our supplies will be hit if we vote against it. But no, Russia is not a reliable arms provider; it has not been one since Putin came to power.

Arms supplies are frequently long-delayed, and Putin had used the delays to up the prices, sometimes even double them. By contrast, the French deliveries of the Rafael jets have been comparatively speedy.

Far from helping us, Putin has turned a blind eye to China’s many acts of aggression against India.

It was Russia that kept us out of Afghan peace negotiations in the very recent past.

Russia did little to help us when China raised Kashmir at the UNSC in 2019 and 2020. It was the US and European countries that helped then – going against their own human rights principles.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Amendment Bill, 2022

(GS-II: Important Government Policies)

In News:

The bill was recently passed in Lok Sabha.

Details:

The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, passed in 2005, only banned the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction.

The amendment bill is aimed at widening its ambit.

Need for the Amendment:

To focus on the financial bit of activities supporting WMDs. There was an urgent need to have provision to ban financing for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The existing legislation was silent on this aspect.

To provide more teeth to government to act against terror funding. The present bill empowers the Government to freeze, seize or attach funds or other financial assets or economic resources for preventing such financing.

Highlights of the Bill:

Prohibition on financing certain activities: The Bill bars persons from financing any prohibited activity related to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

It gives more powers to the Central Government: To prevent persons from financing such activities, the central government may freeze, seize or attach their funds, financial assets, or economic resources.

It may also prohibit persons from making finances or related services available for the benefit of other persons in relation to any activity which is prohibited.

What are weapons of mass destruction?

These are weapons with the capacity to inflict death and destruction on such a massive scale and so indiscriminately that its very presence in the hands of a hostile power can be considered a grievous threat.

India’s 2005 WMD Act defines Weapons of mass destruction as biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

In the USA, WMD includes a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, or other device that is intended to harm a large number of people.

India’s position on international Regime concerning WMDs:

India has signed and ratified both the:

  • Biological Weapons Convention, 1972.
  • Chemical Weapons Convention, 1992.

However, it has not signed the treaties regulating the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons (which includes NPT and CTBT).