The Centre has notified the Bharat Stage (BS)-VI emission standards for two-wheelers and four-wheelers from April 2020 across the country.
With this, the government has decided to skip the BS-V emission standards and move directly to BS-VI from the BS-IV norms currently being followed in various cities.
Automobile makers have urged the government to make available the testing BS-VI compliant fuel a year sooner across the country.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, through a notification dated September 16, has given the Union Petroleum Ministry four years to make BS-VI fuels available to auto companies.
Oil companies will be investing more than Rs.60,000 crore towards BS-VI fuels. BS-VI is the Indian equivalent of the Euro-VI norms. At present, BS-IV norms are being followed in over 30 cities while the rest of the country followBS-III norms.
India’s external debt rises to $486 billion
India’s external debt at the end of March 2016 stood at $485.6 billion, up 2.2 per cent from over its level at over end-March 2015, largely driven by the increase in long-term external debt, particularly NRI deposits.
In contrast, short-term external debt declined by 2.5 per cent from $84.7 billion at end-March 2015 to $83.4 billion at end-March 2016.
Of total external debt, the government’s share stood at 18.9 per cent or $93.4 billion at end-March 2016 compared to 18.8 per cent ($89.7 billion) at March 2015. “India’s external debt has remained within manageable limits in 2015-16 as indicated by the increase in foreign exchange reserves to debt ratio to 74.2 per cent, the external debt-GDP ratio of 23.7 per cent and fall in short term debt to 17.2 per cent.
Finance Ministry moves to fill SAARC Development Fund posts
The Union Finance Ministry has posted a call for applications for economy, infrastructure and social development posts in the “umbrella financial mechanism” for the region’s projects and programmes, the SAARC Development Fund.
The openings include the jobs of the Directors of the Fund’s three funding windows: Social, Economic and Infrastructure.
The Ministry posted the openings on its website. They will be located in the Fund’s Secretariat in Thimphu, Bhutan.
The Fund’s Economic and Infrastructure windows are in the process of being operationalised. Bankable projects for lending in the region are under evaluation.
The Economic Window is expected to extend funding to non-infrastructural projects related to areas such as trade and industrial development and agriculture. It is also to be utilised for identifying, studying, developing and sponsoring commercially viable programmes and projects of regional priority.
Under the Social window, the Fund is already implementing ten regional projects. The focus of most of these projects is on poverty alleviation, education; health; human resources development; support to the disadvantaged; funding needs of communities, mirco-enterprises and rural infrastructure development.
The social projects are being implemented by a total of 62 agencies covering all the eight Member States.
The Infrastructure Window will finance projects in areas such as energy, power, transportation, telecommunications, environment, tourism and other infrastructure sectors.
Among the projects in the pipeline is a four-year (2013 – 2017) programme for the implementation of climate and energy use component of HCFC Phase-out Management Plan (HPMP) in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The programme is expected to result in GHG emission mitigation of around 5.5 million tons of CO2-eq annually and 5700 million KWh of energy savings during 2012-2015.
Current account moves into surplus, raises export concerns
India’s current account moved in to surplus in the April-June quarter of the current fiscal year, after a gap of 9 years. Slow growth in imports, reflecting the persisting weakness in the investment sentiment, tipped the account. The current account was in surplus last in the January-March quarter in the year 2007.
A surplus is expected to bolster the rupee, which could render India’s already subdued exports less competitive.
If a surplus were reported, the RBI could be expected to intervene in the foreign exchange markets to prevent the rupee from strengthening too much.
Exports to the U.S., India’s largest export destination, fell 1.1 per cent in April-July 2016 against the corresponding quarter in the previous year. In the same period, imports from China, the largest exporter to India, fell 7.4 per cent.
Following a moderate current account deficit of $.4 billion, or (-) 0.1 per cent of GDP, in the January-March quarter, the expected current account came in at a surplus of $2 billion or 0.4 per cent of GDP in April-June quarter.
A current account in deficit reflects that the imports of goods, services and investment incomes into the economy outstripped the value of its exports.
Emerging signs of mass extinction?
Large-sized marine animals, more than the smaller ones, face a greater threat of extinction, says a study published in Science.
The authors base the analysis on comparisons with fossil records and similar situations that were encountered during the five massive extinction events that have taken place in the last 55 million years.
The end-Permian event that happened 252 million years ago when reef-building animals were exterminated and the end-Cretaceous one (66 million years ago) when non-avian dinosaurs were eliminated are the two biggest extinction events.
The authors record that during previous mass extinctions, body size was either inversely associated with extinction probability or not at all.
On the other hand, the present day extinction threat, they say, is biased against larger animals. This is a crucial difference because of the importance of large animals’ role in the ecosystem.
Larger animals, especially predators, are crucial in stabilising the ecosystem. .Large animals such as whales move nutrients within the oceans by feeding in one place and defecating elsewhere.
Also, large animals are often also top predators that regulate the abundances of other species. The predatory giant sea snail, triton, is a good example of how removing an animal from the top of the ecosystem can destabilise it.
When triton is removed from ecosystems, this can lead to population increase of its prey, the crown of thorns starfish. The starfish, in turn, eats corals, and so corals can suffer when triton is removed.
In the geological record, all of the major mass extinction events are associated with evidence for large and rapid environmental change. Therefore, each mass extinction appears to have been caused by a single, large, triggering event. It is still possible that different species died out for different proximal reasons, but the overall driver appears to be singular for most, if not all, of these events.
The dominant threat identified by the authors in this case are human fishing and hunting, rather than climate change itself.
Political malady and legal remedy – Anti-Defection & Arunachal
Those looking for loopholes are always one step ahead of those seeking to plug them. For decades, since the ‘aaya ram, gaya ram’ days of Indian politics, Parliament and courts have been coming down on mass defection and frequent change of party loyalties.
But no piece of legislation is a deterrent when politicians, for what are usually self-serving reasons, decide to switch parties.
After the Supreme Court restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh in July, most of the party’s MLAs returned under the leadership of a new Chief Minister, Pema Khandu.
But, in a couple of months, they have again deserted the Congress to join the People’s Party of Arunachal, a constituent of the North-East Democratic Alliance, a front led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In effect what the MLAs have done is get over the legal hurdles to defection. Once the Supreme Court restored the Congress government of Nabam Tuki, those who had deserted the party returned on condition that Mr. Khandu, and not Mr. Tuki, be the Chief Minister. This must have seemed the easiest way to stay in power for those who had allied with the earlier government of Congress rebels led by Kalikho Pul. Now, in a replay of the mass defection, the Congress rebels have taken care to play by the book. There is no unseating of the government, no withdrawal of support by the ruling party’s MLAs. Instead, the change is neat and clean, from a Congress government to a pro-BJP PPA government. The Governor had no role; and a legal challenge to the realignment is made that much more difficult.
Several legislative efforts have been made to curb defections. The 52nd Constitution Amendment provided for disqualification of defectors other than in the case of a split in the party, involving a group of not less than one-third of its members.
A later amendment disallowed splits, and provided only for merger in cases where at least two-thirds of the members of one party merged with another party.
This too did not prove to be a deterrent, as has been evident in Arunachal Pradesh. True, defections engineered through unscrupulous means undermine democratic institutions and subvert the people’s mandate.
But, so far, the cure for this malady in the form of legislation does not seem to have had any effect. When defection is made more difficult, the means adopted become even more inventive. Ideally, the matter of dealing with defection should be left in the hands of the voters. Legal remedies to what is essentially a political issue will never work.