09 December 2021 – Daily Current Affairs

WHAT IS THE KEN-BETWA LINK PROJECT; WHICH REGIONS WILL BENEFIT FROM IT?

An agreement signed this week paves the way for implementation of the Ken-Betwa Link Project in drought-prone Bundelkhand. What does it envisage, and what is the status of other river linking projects?

On the occasion of World Water Day on March 22, a memorandum of agreement was signed between Union Minister of Jal Shakti and the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to implement the Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) on Monday. The agreement was signed through a video conference in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

WHAT IS THE KEN BETWA LINK PROJECT?

The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers. Under this project, water from the Ken river will be transferred to the Betwa river. Both these rivers are tributaries of river Yamuna.

The Ken-Betwa Link Project has two phases. Under Phase-I, one of the components Daudhan dam complex and its appurtenances like Low Level Tunnel, High Level Tunnel, Ken-Betwa link canal and Power houses will be completed. While in the Phase-II, three components — Lower Orr dam, Bina complex project and Kotha barrage will be constructed.

According to the Union Jal Shakti Ministry, the project is expected to provide annual irrigation of 10.62 lakh hectares, drinking water supply to about 62 lakh people and also generate 103 MW of hydropower.

WHAT IS THE ESTIMATED COST OF THE KBLP?

According to the Comprehensive Detailed Project Report, the cost of Ken-Betwa Link Project is estimated at Rs 35,111.24
crore at 2017-18 prices.

WHICH REGION WILL GET THE BENEFITS OF THE KBLP?

The Ken-Betwa Link Project lies in Bundelkhand, a droughtprone region, which spreads across 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

According to the Jal Shakti Ministry, the project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved region of Bundelkhand, especially in the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Raisen of Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.

“It will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor for development in the country,” the Ministry said in a statement.

WILL THE PROJECT AFFECT THE PANNA TIGER RESERVE

According to a written reply given by Minister of State for Jal Shakti Rattan Lal Kataria, out of the 6,017 ha of forest area coming under submergence of Daudhan dam of Ken Betwa Link Project, 4,206 ha of area lies within the core tiger habitat of Panna Tiger Reserve.

ARE THERE PREVIOUS EXAMPLES OF RIVER-LINKING IN INDIA?

In the past, several river linking projects have been taken up. For instance, under the Periyar Project, transfer of water from
Periyar basin to Vaigai basin was envisaged.

It was commissioned in 1895. Similarly, other projects such as Parambikulam Aliyar, Kurnool Cudappah Canal, Telugu
Ganga Project, and Ravi-Beas-Sutlej were undertaken.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ON INTERLINKING OF RIVERS IN INDIA

In the 1970s, the idea of transferring surplus water from a river to water-deficit area was mooted by the then Union Irrigation Minister (earlier the Jal Shakti Ministry was known as Ministry of Irrigation) Dr K L Rao.

Dr. Rao, who himself was an engineer, suggested construction of a National Water Grid for transferring water from waterrich areas to water-deficit areas. Similarly, Captain Dinshaw J Dastur proposed the Garland Canal to redistribute water from one area to another.

However, the government did not pursue these two ideas further. It was in August, 1980 that the Ministry of Irrigation prepared a National Perspective Plan (NNP) for water resources development envisaging inter basin water transfer in the country.

The NPP comprised two components: (i) Himalayan Rivers Development; and (ii) Peninsular Rivers Development. Based on the NPP, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) identified 30 river links—16 under Peninsular component and 14 under Himalayan Component. Later, the river linking idea was revived under the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government. Ken Betwa Link Project is one of the 16 river linking projects under the Peninsular component.

WHICH ARE THE CLEARANCES REQUIRED FOR A RIVER-LINKING PROJECT

Generally, 4-5 types of clearances are required for the interlinking of river projects. These are: Techno-economic (given by the Central Water Commission); Forest Clearance and Environmental clearance (Ministry of Environment & Forests); Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) Plan of Tribal Population (Ministry of Tribal Affairs) and Wildlife clearance (Central Empowered Committee).

WHAT’S ART, SURROGACY BILLS

Lok Sabha has passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, after the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill two
years earlier. What is the difference, and how does the new Bill propose to regulate ART?

On Wednesday, Lok Sabha passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, 2020, which makes provisions for the safe and ethical practice of assisted reproductive technology (ART) services in the country.

Another key bill to safeguard the reproductive rights of women the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 was passed by Lok Sabha on August 5, 2019. This one was referred to a Select Committee, which recommended that the ART Bill should be brought first, so that all the highly technical and medical aspects could subsequently be addressed in the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill relates to surrogacy, an infertility treatment, where a third person, a woman, is the surrogate mother. In ART, treatments can be availed by the commissioning couple themselves and it is not always necessary that a third person is involved.

Surrogacy is allowed for only Indian married couples. ART procedures are open to married couples, live-in partners, single women, and also foreigners. A 2015 notification prohibits commissioning of surrogacy in India by foreigners or OCI or PIO cardholders, but NRIs holding Indian citizenship can avail surrogacy. Foreigners can visit India under medical tourism to avail ART services.

Under the Surrogacy Bill, there will be a National Surrogacy Board that will be involved in policymaking, and act as a supervisory body, and State Boards that will act as executive bodies. The ART Bill provides for a National Board, with the powers vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure.

According to the Health Ministry, the estimated number of clinics practising surrogacy in India is likely less than 1,000, while that of those practising ART is likely more than 40,000.

WHY WAS THE ART BILL FELT NECESSARY

The growth of ART clinics in India is among the highest in the world, and these are a key part of medical tourism. These offer gamete donation, intrauterine insemination, in-vitro- fertilisation, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, and preimplantation genetic diagnostic.

India does not have standard protocols of ART clinics yet. Amid questions raised on their ethical, medical, and legal aspects, Lok Sabha passed the Bill that provides for regulation and supervision of ART clinics and ART banks.

WHAT IS AN ART BANK?

Under the Bill, ART will include all techniques that attempt to obtain a pregnancy by handling the sperm or the oocyte outside the human body, and transferring the gamete or the embryo into the reproductive system of a woman. It defines an ART bank as an organisation set up to supply sperm or semen, oocytes, or oocyte donors to ART clinics or their patients. ART services will apply to women above the legal age of marriage and below 50, and to men above the legal age of marriage and below 55.

HOW WILL ART SERVICES BE REGULATED

NATIONAL BOARD

It will advise the Centre on policy matters. It will review and monitor rules and regulations, and recommend any changes. It will set the minimum standards of physical infrastructure, laboratory and diagnostic equipment and expert manpower to be employed by clinics and banks. State boards will coordinate the implementation of the guidelines.

NATIONAL REGISTRY:

It will have a central database on all clinics and banks in the country, including nature and types of services provided, and the outcome of these services. The registry will provide the data to National Board for making policies and guidelines.

REGISTRATION AUTHORITY:

It will have the chairperson, who will be an officer above the rank of Joint Secretary in the Health Department; a vicechairperson, who will be above the rank of the Joint Director in the Health Department; an eminent woman representing a women’s organisation; an officer of the Law Department, and, an eminent registered medical practitioner.

The registration authority’s functions will include: to grant, suspend, or cancel the registration of ART centres; to enforce the standards and supervise implementation of the law; to investigate complaints of any breach of provisions, to take legal action against the misuse of ART and initiate independent investigations; and to recommend to the National and State Boards on modifying the regulation with changes in technology and social conditions.

WHAT RULES MUST CLINICS COMPLY WITH?

They have to ensure that the commissioning couples, women, and donors of gametes are eligible for ART procedures, and that the donor is medically tested. They will have to provide professional counselling about all the implications and chances of success — and inform the couples about advantages, disadvantages, costs, side effects, and risks including that of multiple pregnancies. They will have to establish a grievance cell.

ART clinics will have to make the commissioning couple or woman aware of the rights of a child born through ART, and ensure all data is kept confidential. The Bill says a child born through ART shall be deemed to be a biological child of the commissioning couple. The child will be entitled to all the rights and privileges available to a natural child from the commissioning couple, and the donor will have to relinquish all parental rights over the child.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER SAFEGUARDS?

The Bill says the clinic shall not perform any treatment or procedure without the written consent of all the parties seeking ART. It mandates an insurance coverage in favour of the oocyte donor by the commissioning couple or woman from an insurance company. The insurance will provide a guarantee of compensation for specified losses, damage, complications, or death of the donor during the process.

WHAT ARE THE REGULATIONS ON THE USE AND SOURCING OF GAMETES AND EMBRYOS?

The woman cannot be treated with gametes or embryos derived from more than one man or woman during one treatment cycle. Second, a clinic cannot mix semen from two individuals for the procedures. Third, the embryos shall not be split and used for twinning to increase the number. Also, there will be regulations for the harvest of oocytes or embryos, and the number of oocytes or embryos that may be placed in the uterus of a woman during the treatment cycle.

The Bill says the ART bank cannot supply the sperm or oocyte of a single donor to more than one commissioning couple. Also, the oocyte donor shall be an ever-married woman who has at least one live child of her own with a minimum age of three years. She can donate oocytes only once in her lifetime, and not more than seven oocytes are to be retrieved from her. The gamete or embryo of a donor shall be stored for a period of not more than 10 years.

WILL THERE BE TESTING FOR DISEASE?

The Bill mandates that pre-implantation genetic testing shall be used to screen the embryo for known, pre-existing, heritable, or genetic diseases. The test will identify genetic defects in embryos created through IVF before pregnancy. The National Board will lay down conditions on pre-implantation testing.

WORLD INEQUALITY REPORT 2022

World Inequality Report is a report by the World Inequality Lab at the Paris School of Economics that provides estimates of global income and wealth inequality based on the most recent findings compiled by the World Inequality Database (WID). WID, also referred to as WID.world, is an open source database, that is part of an international collaborative effort of over a hundred researchers in five continents. The World Inequality Report includes discussions on potential future academic research as well as content useful for public debates and policy related to economic inequality

As per the ‘World Inequality Report 2022’, India is among the most unequal countries in the world, with rising poverty and an ‘affluent elite.The report highlights that the top 10% and top 1% in India hold 57% and 22% of the total national income respectively while the bottom 50% share has gone down to 13%. The report was authored by Lucas Chancel and co-ordinated by renowned economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

The average national income of the Indian adult population is Rs 2,04,200. Here, the bottom 50% of earns Rs 53,610 while the top 10% earns Rs 11,66,520, over 20 times more. In India, the top 10% and top 1% hold 57% and 22% of the total national income respectively while the share of the bottom 50% has gone down to 13%

The report goes on to say that over the past three years, the quality of inequality data released by the government has seriously deteriorated which has made it particularly difficult to assess recent inequality changes.

The report notes that the share of public wealth across countries has been on a decline for decades now. Public assets typically include public buildings housing administrations, schools, universities, hospitals and other public services. The ‘secular decline’ in public wealth and rise in private wealth was exacerbated by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report says that emerging economies like India and China experienced faster increases in private wealth than wealthy countries after they transitioned away from regulated economies. In India, particularly, private wealth went up from 290% in 1980 to 560% in 2020.Going back in time, the report shows that the income inequality in India under the British colonial rule (1858-1947) was very high, with a top 10% income share around 50%. After independence, due to socialist-inspired fiveyear plans, this share was reduced to 35-40%. Owing to poor post-Independence economic conditions, India embarked upon deregulation and loosening controls in the form of liberalisation policies. The report argues that these policies have led to one of the most extreme increases in income and wealth inequality observed in the world. It says that while the top 1% has largely benefited from these economic reforms, the growth among low and middle-income groups has been relatively slow and poverty persists.

WEALTH INEQUALITY

The average household wealth in India is around Rs 9,83,010. The bottom 50% of the nation can be seen to own almost nothing, with an average wealth of Rs 66,280 or 6% of the total pie. The middle class is relatively poor with an average wealth of Rs 7,23,930 or 29.5% of the total. The top 10% owns 65% of the total wealth, averaging Rs 63,54,070 and the top 1% owns 33%, averaging Rs 3,24,49,360. In 2021, the wealthiest 10% of the population own 65% of total household wealth in India.

Gender inequality in India is also considerably on the higher end of the spectrum. The share of female labour income share in India is equal to 18% which is significantly lower than the average in Asia (21%, excluding China) & is among the lowest in the world. Although, the number is slightly higher than the average share in Middle East (15%).

However, a significant increase has been observed since 1990 (+8 p.p.) but it has been insufficient to lift women’s labor income share to the regional average.

WEALTHY COUNTRIES, POORER GOVERNMENTS

Countries across the world have become richer over the past 40 years, but their governments have become significantly poorer. The report shows that the share of wealth held by public actors is close to zero or negative in rich countries, meaning that the totality of wealth is in private hands. Following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, governments borrowed the equivalent of 10-20% of GDP, essentially from the private sector. The relatively lower wealth status of the governments can have an impact in curbing inequality in the future.

GLOBAL(AND INDIAN)TRENDS IN INEQUALITY

What is the World Inequality Report and how is its methodology diferent from other economic reports? How does India
fare on it?

The story so far: The World Inequality Lab, a research centre at the Paris School of Economics, released the 2022 World Inequality Report (WIR) on December 7, 2021. The report authored by a team of top economists led by Lucas Chancel, and coordinated by Nobel-winning economist Thomas Piketty, among others, synthesises data and analyses generated by more than 100 researchers over four years. It’s main fnding is that the gap between the rich and the poor in terms of share of national income is quite large, and growing rapidly as a result of government policies that favour the affluent elite.

SWHY DO WE NEED A REPORT OF THIS KIND?

While all governments regularly release economic numbers, such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and growth rate, these do not tell us how growth is distributed across the population which sections are gaining, and which ones losing. The WIR studies diferent kinds of fnancial data to fnd out how a country’s (and the world’s) income and wealth are distributed. This is vital information because in most democracies, the wealthy can, and do, transform their economic power into political power, and therefore, the higher the inequality, the greater the likelihood that an affluent minority could end up determining the fate of the majority. Availability of accurate data about levels of inequality can help generate public opinion in favour of policy measures that can mitigate them

WHAT ARE THE GLOBAL TRENDS IN INEQUALITY?

The report fnds that global inequality today is back to where it was in the early 20th century. The richest 10% of the global population takes home 52% of the global income, whereas the poorest 50% got only 8.5% of it. Global wealth inequities are worse than income inequalities. While the poorest 50% own just 2% of the global wealth, the richest 10% own 76% of all the wealth. While Europe was the region with the least amount of inequality (the income share of the top 10% was 36%), inequality was highest in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where the share of the top 10% was 58%. One major trend highlighted by the report is that inequality between countries was narrowing while inequality within countries was increasing. It points out that while the gap between the average incomes of the richest 10% of countries and the average incomes of the poorest 50% of countries has dropped from 50x to less than 40x, the gap between the average incomes of the top 10% and the bottom 50% of individuals within countries has almost doubled, from 8.5x to 15x. The report also found that the share of privately owned wealth in national wealth was rising, while that of public wealth (buildings, universities, roads, hospitals etc) was shrinking. In other words, while countries are growing richer, governments are becoming poorer.

WHAT ABOUT INCOME INEQUALITY IN INDIA?

The report has found India to be one of the world’s most unequal countries, with the top 1% getting 21.7% of the national income. Top 10% of Indians capture 57% of the national income, while the share of the bottom 50% is only 13%. While the average national income of the bottom 50% stood at ₹53,610, the top 10% earned more than 20 times more, ₹11,66,520. For comparison, this ratio in the case of France and Germany was 7 and 10 respectively. The report reveals that income inequality in India today is worse than it was under British rule. Under the British (1858-1947), the top 10% got about 50% of the national income (lower than today’s 57%). In the decades after India got independence, socialistic economic policies reduced income inequality, bringing the share of the top 10% to 35-40%. But starting from the 1980s, the report states, “deregulation and liberalisation policies have led to one of the most extreme increases in income and wealth inequality observed in the world.”

WHAT NEXT?

The report notes that the share of income of the poorest 50% of the world’s population today is lower than what it was in 1820 – before colonialism upended their lives. In other words, half of humanity is worse of today than it was 200 years ago. The report, however, points out that inequality and poverty are not inevitable but mainly the efect of policy choices. It tracks how inequalities burgeoned around the globe from the 1980s onward – in contrast to the previous three decades – following the liberalisation programmes that were implemented in diferent countries. It recommends wealth taxes on the super-rich and a robust redistribution regime as policy measures that could arrest, if not reverse, the current trend of rising inequality

HIGH LPG PRICES ARE SCORCHING THE AIR POLLUTION FIGHT

Reinstating subsidies on LPG reflls for low-income households can help reverse families going back to polluting fuels

The sustained rise in the price of LPG cylinders has been burning a hole in many a household budget for more than a year now. The price of LPG reflls has risen by more than 50% to over ₹900 per cylinder in November this year compared to around ₹600 over the past year. With no refll subsidies in place since May 2020, there is genuine concern about many households now slipping back to using polluting solid fuels for cooking, such as frewood and dung cakes.

A START

Solid fuel use for cooking is the leading contributor to air pollution and related premature deaths in India, estimated to be around over 600,000 every year, as per the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. To tackle this issue headon, the Government of India has taken several measures to improve access to clean cooking energy. For instance, under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme, the Government distributed more than 80 million subsidised LPG connections. But how far have we managed to dissuade households from biomass? What more do we need to do as a country to move the needle further? Sizing up India’s LPG revolution. Good news first. As per the India Residential Energy Survey (IRES) 2020, conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy, LPG has now replaced biomass as the most common cooking fuel in India. Nearly 85% of Indian homes have an LPG connection and 71% use it as their primary cooking fuel, compared to only 30% a decade back. This reversal of trends could be attributed to the success of the Ujjwala, consumption linked subsidies and gradual strengthening of the LPG distributorship. Needless to say, this would have signifcantly infuenced the sector’s contribution to air pollution. However, the battle is only half won. Around 30% of Indian households continue to rely on biomass as their primary cooking fuel, mainly due to high LPG prices. Another 24% stack LPG with biomass. The practice of biomass usage is predominantly concentrated in rural areas, particularly among States such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. Urban slums are also critical hotspots where the use of biomass for cooking is widely prevalent. Easy availability of free biomass and lack of home delivery of LPG reflls further reduce the efcacy of LPG as a reliable and afordable proposition.

REINSTATE SUBSIDIES

To sustain the country’s momentum on clean cooking energy access and thereby, cleaner air for all, we propose three key
steps.

First, reinstate the subsidies on LPG refll for low-income households. At the current refill prices, an average Indian household would have to spend around 10% of its monthly expense on LPG to meet all its cooking energy needs. According to a CEEW study, this is just double the actual share of reported expenses on cooking energy (as of March 2020). In fact, nearly half of all Indian households will have to at least double their cooking energy expense to completely switch to LPG at current prices. Given the loss of incomes and livelihoods during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the ability of households to afford LPG on a regular basis has taken a further hit. Thus, resuming subsidies would be critical to support LPG use in many households. Our estimates suggest that an efective price of ₹450 per LPG refill could ensure that the average share of actual household expenditure on cooking energy matches the prepandemic levels. The Government could take this into account as it reconsiders resuming LPG subsidy. The Government can also explore diverse approaches to identify benefciaries. This may include limiting the subsidy provision to seven to eight LPG reflls annually and excluding well-todo households using robust indicators. For instance, lowering the income based exclusion limit for LPG subsidy to ₹2,50,000 a year from ₹10 lakh a year or excluding families owning a non-commercial fourwheeler vehicle can signifcantly reduce the number of eligible benefciaries. At the bare minimum, subsidy must be resumed for the households granted LPG connections under the Ujjwala scheme.

Availability and biomass

Second, boost timely availability of LPG for all consumers. Only half the rural LPG users receive home delivery of LPG reflls, while the rest have to travel about fve kilometres one way to procure a cylinder. Gaps in the doorstep delivery of LPG cylinders are also present in urban pockets, particularly in slum areas. This is a major factor behind the use of biomass among urban slum households. There is a need to strengthen the LPG supply chain and enforce timely service delivery, particularly in States with a large number of Ujjwala connections and slum population. This must be complemented by higher incentives for rural distributors, who have to otherwise service a low but distributed demand at similar commissions. Looping in self-help groups could also help aggregate demand and create jobs in distant areas.

Third, create a new market for locally available biomass. The Government needs to pilot initiatives focused on promoting the use of locally available biomass in decentralised processing units that manufacture briquettes and pellets for industrial and commercial establishments. For instance, the National Thermal Power Corporation recently invited applications to supply biomass pellets to fre their power stations. The Government can incentivise entrepreneurs to participate in such activities. Similarly, households can be incentivised to supply locally available biomass (including crop stubble or dung cakes) to Compressed BioGas (CBG) production plants being set up under the Sustainable Alternative Towards Afordable 1 Transportation (SATAT) scheme. Such measures would help enhance local income and livelihood opportunities, in turn encouraging rural families to use LPG on a regular basis.

In August, the Prime Minister launched the Ujjwala 2.0 scheme to distribute 10 million additional free LPG connections to
poorer households. It shows the Government’s commitment towards promoting clean cooking energy access. But ensuring
afordability and timely availability of LPG cylinders for reflls would be a must to wean households away from polluting
biomass and reap the benefts of the investments made in the Ujjwala scheme over the past fve years. Such eforts would go
a long way in improving the health and well-being of our citizens.

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