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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 11 March 2021 | Legacy IAS Academy

Contents

  1. SC query on “Independent Environment Regulator”
  2. India’s biggest floating solar power plant in Telangana
  3. MHA on report of Caste Census – SECC 2011

SC QUERY ON “INDEPENDENT ENVIRONMENT REGULATOR”

Context:

The Supreme Court sent a notice to the central government on a public interest plea to set up a national environmental regulator under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Successive governments have been ignoring orders passed by the Supreme Court regarding an “Independent Environment Regulator”, for almost a decade.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation and Protection measures)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Environment Impact Assessment?
  2. “Independent Environment Regulator”
  3. Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC)
  4. Issues with the existing system of EAC
  5. What is the need for such an Independent Regulator?
  6. Recently in News: EIA Notification 2020

What is Environment Impact Assessment?

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
  • UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making.
  • It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
  • Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act (EPA) which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.

“Independent Environment Regulator”

  • The SC had ordered the setting up of a national environment regulatory body under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to ensure independent oversight of green clearances way back in Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India case (2011), commonly known as the Lafarge mining case.
  • The “Independent Environment Regulator” will carry out independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of projects for environmental clearances.
  • It will also monitor the implementation of the conditions laid down in the clearances and impose penalties on polluters. While exercising such powers, the regulator will ensure the National Forest Policy, 1988 is duly implemented.

Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC)

The EAC is a multidisciplinary sectoral appraisal committee comprising of various subject matter experts for appraisal of sector-specific projects. The EAC is the recommendatory body. Based on the recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committee, environmental clearance is accorded or rejected to the project by MoEF&CC.

After 2006 Amendment the EIA cycle comprises of four stages:

  1. Screening
  2. Scoping
  3. Public hearing
  4. Appraisal
  • Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not undergo the screening process.
  • Category B projects undergoes screening process and they are classified into two types.
  • Category B1 projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
  • Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).

Thus, Category A projects and Category B, projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from complete EIA process.

Issues with the existing system of EAC

  • The environmental clearance at the national level is overseen by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which functions on an ad-hoc basis, without much regulatory capacity.
  • The state-level appraisal committees overseeing the clearance also function without much regulatory support as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006.
  • The EAC has been questioned on many occasions for lack of expertise of its members and chairpersons.
  • EAC and the state-level committees are toothless due to the lack of effective legislative power and supporting institutional capacity.
  • There are too many clearances for the same thing; and none of them seem to be working for the environment or for protecting the rights of communities. Worse, they are adding to the burden of industry in terms of high transaction costs.
  • This multiplicity of regulations and regulatory authorities help unscrupulous elements in the industry and the government.

What is the need for such an Independent Regulator?

  • Lack of an independent body to oversee the entire environmental regulatory process could lead to a possible political interest in the decision making.
  • The major concerns regarding EIA norms, such as the compliance monitoring and ex-post regularisation, could be tackled with proper standard-setting by a regulator.
  • The present environmental regulation institutional mechanism in India, which lies with pollution control boards at the state and central level, lacks regulatory capacity and independence.
  • Cutting down on regulatory delays is also important. This may be possible with the help of a credible independent regulator. But an optimum level of rigour in the regulatory process and standards is important for environmental protection.

Recently in News: EIA Notification 2020

  • Among the major departures from existing regulations, the most significant difference in the new Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 is the removal of several activities from the purview of public consultation.
  • A list of projects has been included under Category B2, expressly exempted from the requirement of an EIA.
  • The projects under this category include offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration, hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW, irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area, micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in dye and dye intermediates, all inland waterway projects etc.
  • The projects in this list are, under existing norms, identified on the basis of screening by Expert Appraisal Committees, rather than being exempted through listing in the Schedule.
  • Also, coal and non-coal mineral prospecting and solar photovoltaic projects do not need prior environmental clearance or permission in the new scheme.

-Source: The Hindu


INDIA’S BIGGEST FLOATING SOLAR POWER PLANT IN TELANGANA

Context:

The country’s biggest floating solar power plant (by generation capacity) at Ramagundam in Peddapalli district of Telangana is set to be commissioned soon.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Industry and Infrastructure (Energy Sector, Renewable sources of energy)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Floating Solar Plants in Thermal Power Plants
  2. About the Floating Solar Power plant at Ramagundam

Floating Solar Plants in Thermal Power Plants

  • As all the thermal plants would have reservoirs, establishing floating solar plants in them was the immediate available opportunity without going for any land acquisition.
  • Floating solar plants is an opportunity to generate power with low cost as land acquisition of at least five acres per megawatt of capacity involves huge fixed cost.
  • Since there are a large number of major reservoirs in the Southern Region including in Telangana, it would be a huge opportunity to go for renewable energy in the floating solar method.

About the Floating Solar Power plant at Ramagundam

  • The 100-megawatt floating solar power plant, developed by NTPC in the reservoir of its thermal plant, is in the final stages of completion.
  • This will be one of the renewable (solar) energy plants being developed by the NTPC with an installed capacity of almost 450 MW in the southern region and the entire capacity will be commissioned by March 2023.
  • Except for the ground-mounted solar power plant at Ettayapuram in Tamil Nadu, the remaining capacity was to be commissioned by May-June this year.
  • The renewable energy plants that are likely to be commissioned in the next three months are 25MW floating solar plant at Simhadri thermal power plant near Visakhapatnam and 92MW floating solar plant at Kayamkulam in Kerala, besides the 100MW plant at Ramagundam.
On the given political map of India locate and label the following with  appropriate symbols. A. Namrup Thermal Power plant - Sarthaks eConnect |  Largest Online Education Community

-Source: The Hindu


MHA ON REPORT OF CASTE CENSUS – SECC 2011

Context:

The Union Minister of State for Home said that there was no proposal at present to release the report of the caste census – the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Empowerment of Social Sector)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)
  2. Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) – 2011
  3. About the use of the SECC-2011 data
  4. Views on collecting caste-wise population data
  5. Concerns with SECC

About Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)

The Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was first conducted in 1931 and is meant to canvass every Indian family, both in rural and urban India – to conduct a survey about:

  1. Their Economic status, so as to allow Central and State authorities to come up with a range of indicators of deprivation, permutations, and combinations of which could be used by each authority to define a poor or deprived person.
  2. Their specific caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups were economically worst off and which were better off.

SECC has the potential to allow for a mapping of inequalities at a broader level.

  • SECC is different from Census as – Census provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.
  • Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas according to the SECC website, “all the personal information given in the SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.”

Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) – 2011

  • The Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) – 2011, was the first paperless census in India, conducted on handheld electronic devices, in 640 districts.
  • It was the first-ever caste-based census since 1931 census of India.
  • Data was collected on manual scavenging and Transgender count in India.
  • Since SECC was not conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act, Disclosure of information was not mandatory and Sharing of details was voluntary for the citizens.
secc: Coming up: An app to help update Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011  data - The Economic Times

Ministries responsible for conducting SECC 2011

  1. Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation – Urban Areas.
  2. Ministry of Rural Development – Rural Areas
  3. Ministry of Home Affairs: Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India – responsible for the caste census.

About the use of the SECC-2011 data

  • The SECC 2011 data, excluding the caste data, had been finalised and published by the MoRD and the HUPA.
  • The Office of the Registrar General had provided logistics and technical support in conducting the SECC-2011.
  • The raw caste data has been provided to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) for classification and categorisation of the data.
  • In census, the castes and tribes that were specifically notified as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as per the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, were enumerated.

Views on collecting caste-wise population data

  • After Independence, India decided, as a matter of policy, not to enumerate caste-wise population other than the SCs and STs
  • The MHA said in 2018 that Census 2021 (now postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19) would, for the first time, collect data on Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
  • As per the National Commission for Backward Classes, there were 2,479 entries in the Central list of the OBCs.

Concerns with SECC

  • Caste has an emotive element and thus there exist the political and social repercussions of a caste census. There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities.
  • Due to these repercussions, nearly a decade after the SECC, a sizeable amount of its data remains unreleased or released only in parts.
  • Caste has never been a proxy for class or deprivation in India; it constitutes a distinct kind of embedded discrimination that often transcends class. For example: People with Dalit last names are less likely to be called for job interviews even when their qualifications are better than that of an upper-caste candidate.

-Source: The Hindu

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