GST Bill sails through LS, Congress walkout helps
- With 352 votes in favour, the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill for introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) sailed through the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
- The fierce opposition displayed by the Congress, the BJD and the CPI(M) on May 5 did not translate into hurdles for the government.
- The Congress, in fact, walked out of the House, effectively helping the passage of the Bill while the BJD and the CPI(M) voted in favour. Only 37 votes were cast against the Bill — by the AIADMK members.
- The Bill proposes to empower both States and the Centre to levy the GST, which will subsume the services tax, excise duties, stamp duties, entry tax and central sales tax.
- It proposes that the Centre be empowered to tax sales of goods and States get to tax services.
- It has been estimated that the efficiency and savings from the shift to a well-designed GST regime can boost India’s growth by up to 2.5 percentage points.
Khel Ratna: Gowda and Seema recommended
- Commonwealth Games gold medallist discus thrower Vikas Gowda has been recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for the second time along with his female counterpart and CWG silver winner Seema Punia for the coveted award this year.
- The names of Gowda and Seema, who won a gold in 2014 Incheon Asian Games, have been recommended by Athletics Federation of India. Gowda, who won a silver in Incheon, was among those shortlisted for the Khel Ratna last year by the Sports Ministry though the selection panel ultimately decided not to name any sportsperson for the award.
- The AFI also recommended quartermiler M.R. Poovamma, triple jumper Arpinder Singh, middle distance runner O.P. Jaisha and Seema for the Arjuna Award.
- Besides Gowda and Seema, para-athletes H.N. Girisha and Devendra Jhajharia have also been recommended for the Khel Ratna.
- Jhajharia, who was also among those shortlisted by the Sports Ministry, was recommended by the Rajasthan government while Girisha got the nod from the de-recognised Paralympic Committee of India.
Vikas Gowda and Seema Punia
Whistle Blowers Act amendment cleared
- Hours after Congress president Sonia Gandhi attacked the government for its false promises on transparency, the Union Cabinet met on May 6 evening to approve an amendment that would effectively dilute the scope of the Whistle Blowers Protection Act of 2011. The amendment incorporates ‘necessary provisions’ to keep issues of national security out of its purview.
- Anti-corruption activists have argued that the new provisions could weaken the fight against corruption in key sectors like defence. In the past, several dubious deals like the Bofors, Scorpene, Tatra truck and AgustaWestland scams have been exposed by whistle blowers.
- Ms. Gandhi attacked the government in the Lok Sabha for not notifying the Bill despite it getting the President’s assent last year. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, in December 2011 and the Rajya Sabha had passed it on 21 February last year and it received the President’s assent on May 9. During the last days of UPA rule, the BJP had proposed certain amendments to the Bill when it came up for consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha. One was to bar whistleblowers from seeking information on national security.
- The Union Cabinet also gave approval to three major social security initiatives that will be launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 9. The schemes — the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) , the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) and the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) will be inaugurated in Kolkata where Assembly elections are due next year.
Pollution: particulate matter in India higher than WHO limit
- In 2010, air pollution killed nearly 600,000 people in India, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The situation has not changed in the last five years. A recent study shows that a significant population of Indian subcontinent breathes air with much higher particulate matter that is lesser than 2.5 micrometre (PM2.5) in size than the limit set by the WHO. Outdoor air pollution as a whole, especially the particulate matter, has been declared as class-1 cancer-causing agent (carcinogen) in 2013 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the WHO. Besides, it causes other respiratory and heart diseases.
- The PM2.5 is particularly dangerous and can cause adverse health effects owing to its greater penetrability into the human respiratory system and eventual accumulation in human organs and blood. Rural women, children and elderly population are more prone to diseases caused by air pollution. Rural women, in particular, face a greater risk from indoor pollution — locally made mud stoves fuelled by solid biofuel emit a far greater amount of finer particulate matter.
- Air quality of any area depends on local emissions, long-range transport, local and regional weather patterns, and to some extent the topography of the region. Due to increased buoyancy and efficient ventilation in summer, pollution plumes rise effortlessly to the free atmosphere. This leads to a reduced level of surface level PM2.5 concentration in our breathing zone. The problem gets aggravated during winter. Adverse conditions during winter help trapping of pollution leading to elevated level of surface PM concentration.
- Compared with peninsular India and coastal regions, the situation is far worse in the Gangetic Basin, especially during winter months. The Himalayas act as a barrier to dissipation of pollution plumes emanating from the cities located in the Basin. As a result, cities in the Basin are more prone to sustained bad air quality.
- Evidence is emerging that shows a strong positive relationship between increased pollution levels and occurrence of dense fog episodes. This clearly demands far more stringent emission norms in the cities located in GB if we have to achieve air quality to prescribed National Index. Although water is acknowledged as a precious resource, the air that we breathe is still not given a similar importance. It is time that an Air Resource Board be created, to begin with in a specific affected region of the country, which is equipped with larger and well-trained staff, technologists and legal aids, and has advanced monitoring stations — stationary and mobile — under it.
- The state of California was infamous for its worst air quality in the U.S. in early 1950s due to large emissions and valley-like topography that allows trapping of pollution. However, with science-based policies, appropriate technologies and strict regulations, residents of California enjoy better air quality today despite a steady growth in transportation sector and continued industrialisation.
- The State made effective use of diesel particulate filter (DPF) that does not allow emission of PM2.5 into environment in vehicular exhaust system. Refineries were augmented to produce low-sulphur fuel, a necessity for DRF installation. Recent epidemiological studies show reduced mortality and hospital admittance due to air pollution. The level of soot (therefore PM2.5) in California has reduced drastically over the last three decades, as a recent study reveals.
- India has begun taking steps in the right direction. The National Air Quality index, introduced recently, has created greater awareness of air pollution amongst the people. Recently, plying of diesel vehicles older than 10 years has also been prohibited.
- But the situation demands more action in order to restore good air quality and clear visibility. The economic gain due to avoidable loss of human life is too huge to be ignored. Technical intervention through efficient cooking stoves can significantly improve the lives of rural women. Improved power situation, especially in cold days, together with better handling of municipal waste and trash, can also help in achieving better air quality in the cities. Securing clean air, without compromising development, is achievable and sustainable. Environment protection is a challenge that has to be addressed more comprehensively.
- Central Pollution Control Board can be divested into various regional air boards that will be responsible for securing the environment in a more proactive manner. If mandatory, more laws need to be enacted and strictly enforced to accomplish these goals.