Current affairs of October 5, 2021

Amendment in forest conservation act

  • The Union Government has proposed absolving agencies involved in national security projects and border infrastructure projects from obtaining prior forest clearance from the Centre as part of amendments to the existing Forest Conservation Act (FCA).
  • The FCA, which first came in 1980 and was amended in 1988, requires such permission.
  • The proposed amendment is part of a larger rationalising of existing forest laws, the government. There is also a plan in the document that is now available on the Environment Ministry’s website, to exempt land acquired before 1980 — before the FCA came into effect — by public sector bodies such as the Railways.
  • Currently, the document notes, there was “strong resentment” among several Ministries on how the Act was being interpreted over the right of way of railways, highways.
  • As of today, a landholding agency (Rail, NHAI, PWD, etc.) is required to take approval under the Act and pay stipulated compensatory levies such as Net Present Value (NPV), Compensatory Afforestation (CA), etc. for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes.


Relevance of international grouping

  • But despite the imperative for cooperation in vital fields, SAARC became an arena for India bashing, particularly by Pakistan.
  • It was bilateral diplomacy in the guise of multilateralism and it became moribund as India did not attend the last summit.
  • SAARC became a liability as it was clear that the region was not mature enough to have a regional instrumentality.
  • But despite the imperative for cooperation in vital fields, SAARC became an arena for India bashing, particularly by Pakistan.
  • It was bilateral diplomacy in the guise of multilateralism and it became moribund as India did not attend the last summit.
  • SAARC became a liability as it was clear that the region was not mature enough to have a regional instrumentality.
  • The time, the money and the energy spent on convening not only summits but also a whole paraphernalia of ministerial, official and expert level meetings do not seem justified.
  • Bureaucracies, with United Nations salaries and perks, grow around these bodies, developing vested interests to perpetuate them.
  • Such groups which do not have “sunset” clauses continue even after they diminish in importance.
  • Finding the agenda for these organisations and groups is another difficult exercise.



Case of Brics

  • The rationale of some of the other new groups was unclear even when they were formed.
  • A Goldman Sachs economist found similarities among fast growing economies such as China, Russia, India and Brazil and recommended massive western investments in these countries.
  • The countries concerned formed an intergovernmental group called BRIC and later BRICS, with South Africa added as a representative of the African continent.
  • At that time, it was feared that, with the presence of China and Russia in it, it would be construed as an anti-American group. As expected.
  • China quickly assumed the leadership of BRICS and tried to seek changes in the international economic system by establishing a bank, with the possibility of credit for its members.
  • The result of this development was undermining the relevance of another, less ambitious, group of India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA), which had several common interests




  • The SCO started off as a friendly group of China and some of the former Republics of the Soviet Union, but with the addition of India, Pakistan and Iran, it became a diverse group and it could not reach agreement.




  • India has also had experience of taking initiatives to encourage groups without the participation of Pakistan, knowing well that Pakistan’s presence is a sure recipe for trouble.
  • One of them is the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), an international organisation of seven South Asian and Southeast Asian nations which are dependent on the Bay of Bengal: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
  • The group remained dormant for many years till it was revived a few years ago as an alternative to SAARC
  • Another group which India has championed is the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
  • The organisation was first established as the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative in Mauritius in March 1995 and formally launched on March 6-7 1997 (then known as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation).
  • It also drags on without any significant progress.
  • On the other hand, the two active groups, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), have eluded us even though we have major stakes in them.
  • We campaigned actively for membership of these two bodies, but gave up when we made no headway. In the process of working with the U.S. on a bouquet of groups such as Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), NSG, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group, we ended up with membership of Wassenaar and the Australia Group, in which we were not interested


  • The proliferation of alliances and groups will be a matter of close scrutiny by many countries in the light of the new trend initiated by the U.S.
  • Collective bargaining is the strength of group diplomacy but it cannot be effective without commitment to a common cause
  • It stands to reason that India should also reconsider the plethora of groups we are in and rationalise them after a reality check


Bonn challenge and restoration of green cover

  • Covering nearly 30% land surface of the earth, forests around the globe provide a wide variety of ecosystem services and support countless and diverse species.
  • They also stabilise the climate, sequester carbon and regulate the water regime.
  • The State of the World’s Forests report 2020, says that since 1990, around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation, conversion and land degradation.
  • Nearly 178 million hectares have decreased globally due to deforestation (1990-2020).
  • India lost 4.69 MHA of its forests for various land uses between 1951 to 1995.
  • Despite various international conventions and national policies in place to improve green cover, there is a decline in global forest cover
  • India’s varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions are spread over 10 biogeographically regions and four biodiversity hotspots, sheltering 8% of the world’s known flora and fauna.
  • However, dependence on forests by nearly 18% of the global human population has put immense pressure on ecosystems; in India, this has resulted in the degradation of 41% of its forests.
  • To combat this, India joined the Bonn Challenge with a pledge to restore 21 MHA of degraded and deforested land which was later revised to 26 MHA to be restored by 2030.
  • The first-ever country progress report under the Bonn Challenge submitted by India by bringing 9.8 million hectares since 2011 under restoration is an achievement
  • Local ecology with a research base: forest restoration and tree planting are leading strategies to fight global warming by way of carbon sequestration.
  • Restoration, being a scientific activity, needs research support for its success.
  • Nearly 5.03% of Indian forests are under protection area (PA) management needing specific restoration strategies.
  • The remaining areas witness a range of disturbances including grazing, encroachment, fire, and climate change impacts that need area specific considerations.
  • Further, much of the research done so far on restoration is not fully compatible with India’s diverse ecological habitats hence warranting due consideration of local factors.
  • Further, encroachment of nearly 1.48 MHA of forest and grazing in nearly 75% of forest area is also linked to the livelihood of local communities.
  • Linked with the degradation of forests, this dependency, along with various social political and economic factors, complicates the issue manifold.
  • Adequate financing is one of the major concerns for the success of any interventions including restoration.
  • Active engagement of stakeholders including non-governmental organisations, awareness and capacity building of stakeholders with enabling policy interventions and finance can help a lot to achieve the remaining 16 MHA restoration objectives for India



Cities and climate action

  • Most cities report targeted projects to deal with heat waves and water scarcity, followed by inland flooding, extreme rainfall, and growing disease incidence.
  • Coastal flooding, sea-level rise, and cyclones are discussed less often despite India’s long coastline and highly vulnerable coastal cities and infrastructure.
  • This focus tends to overlook how multiple risks converge and reinforce each other — for example, seasonal cycles of flooding and water scarcity in Chennai.
  • Importantly, solutions exist and many of them can simultaneously meet climate action and sustainable development goals.
  • Front-runners in this space have been cities such as Ahmedabad, which has had a Heat Action Plan (HAP) since 2010, its success evident from reduced heat mortality
  • Combining infrastructural interventions (for example, painting roofs white) and behavioural aspects (building public awareness on managing heat), the model has now been scaled up to 17 cities across the country.
  • Nature-based solutions such as mangrove restoration in coastal Tamil Nadu and urban wetland management in Bengaluru have demonstrated how restoring ecosystem health can sustain human systems as well.
  • For example, urban parks provide cooling benefits and wetlands regulate urban floods.
  • Undertaking long-term planning needs resilience planners in every line department as well as communication channels across departments to enable vertical and horizontal knowledge sharing.
  • Another key aspect inherent in transforming cities is focusing on changing behaviours and lifestyles.
  • This is tougher and less understood because the norms we adhere to, the values we cherish, and the systems we are familiar with tend to stymie change.
  • One emerging example of slow but steady behavioural change is bottom-up sustainable practices such as urban farming where citizens are interpreting sustainability at a local and personal scale.
  • This can mean growing one’s own food on terraces and simultaneously enhancing local biodiversity; composting organic waste and reducing landfill pressure; sharing farm produce with a neighbour, bringing communities closer and creating awareness about food growing.
  • India is becoming increasingly urban. Its cities or city-like villages are sites where the twin challenges of climate change and inclusive development will be won or lost.



Smog Tower

  • ‘Smog tower’, a technological aid to help combat air pollution
  • The structure is 24 m high, about as much as an 8-storey building — an 18-metre concrete tower, topped by a 6-metre-high canopy. At its base are 40 fans, 10 on each side.
  • Each fan can discharge 25 cubic metres per second of air, adding up to 1,000 cubic metres per second for the tower as a whole. Inside the tower in two layers are 5,000 filters
  • Polluted air is sucked in at a height of 24 m, and filtered air is released at the bottom of the tower, at a height of about 10 m from the ground.
  • When the fans at the bottom of the tower operate, the negative pressure created sucks in air from the top.
  • The ‘macro’ layer in the filter traps particles of 10 microns and larger, while the ‘micro’ layer filters smaller particles of around 0.3 microns.

Further steps

  • First, policymakers should expand air pollution monitoring in areas with limited or no air quality monitoring and strengthen forecasting capacity across cities
  • Second, city-level emission inventories must be updated periodically
  • Third, targeted efforts must be made to improve air quality for urban slum dwellers who have no access to clean cooking energy.
  • Finally, and most importantly, cities should strengthen their enforcement capacity by investing in people and systems that can keep a round the-clock watch on both egregious and episodic polluters.