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INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIALS AND EXPLAINED 3RD FEBRUARY 2020

ISSUE: WETLANDS

WHY IN NEWS?

Sunday, February 2, was World Wetlands Day. It was on this date in 1971 that the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was adopted in Ramsar, Iran. Only last week, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had announced that the Ramsar Convention had declared 10 wetlands from India as sites of “international importance”, taking the total number of Ramsar Sites in the country to 37.

Why the focus on wetlands?

The Ramsar Convention definition for wetlands includes marshes, floodplains, rivers and lakes, mangroves, coral reefs and other marine areas no deeper than 6 metres at low tide, as well as human-made wetlands such as waste-water treatment ponds and reservoirs.

The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) the global assessment identified wetlands as the most threatened ecosystem. This impacts 40% of the world’s plant and animal species that live or breed in wetlands, according to UNESCO. Thirty per cent of land-based carbon is stored in peatland; one billion people depend on wetlands for their livelihoods; and wetlands provide $47 trillion in essential services annually, according to the Wetlands Day official website.
This year’s Wetlands Day theme is Wetlands and Biodiversity.

What is the status of wetlands in India?

India has over 7 lakh wetlands and rules for their protection; yet not one of the wetlands has been notified under domestic laws, according to environmentalist Anand Arya, a petitioner in a Supreme Court case on wetlands.

Wetlands are regulated under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. The 2010 version of the Rules provided for a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority; the 2017 Rules replace it with state-level bodies and created a National Wetland Committee, which functions in an advisory role. The newer regulations removed some items from the definition of “wetlands” including backwaters, lagoon, creeks, and estuaries.

“The 2010 Rules required States to identify and prepare Brief Documents, submit them to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which was to notify them. Under the 2017 regulations, the whole process has been delegated to States,” Arya told The Indian Express.

“We have a total of 7,57,060 wetlands, covering 1.6 crore hectares or 4.5% of India’s area. In February 2017, the Court extended protection to 2,01,503 of these under Rule 4 of the 2010 Rules, and ordered authorities to notify sites. The wetlands were supposed to have been notified by March 25, 2019, 180 days after the 2017 Rules went into force (September 26, 2017). Yet so far, not a single wetland has been notified,” Arya said. The 2,01,503 wetlands, measuring over 2.25 hectares, were identified using ISRO’s satellite imagery.

In October 2017, the Supreme Court expressed concern over the disappearance of wetlands, and observed, “If there are no wetlands left, it will affect agriculture and several other things. It is a very, very important issue.”

What does being a Ramsar Site mean?

The designation is for “Wetlands of International Importance”. “They are recognised as being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole… The inclusion of a wetland in the list embodies the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained. The Convention includes various measures to respond to threats to the ecological character of Sites,” the Ramsar Convention website said.

The selection is made on the basis of various criteria defined under the convention. Article 2.2 says: “Wetlands should be selected for the List on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology.”

There are currently over 2,300 Ramsar Sites around the world, covering over 2.1 million square km.

In India, the 10 new wetlands declared Ramsar Sites are Nandur Madhameshwar in Maharashtra; Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve and Nangal in Punjab; and Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and Sarsai Nawar in UP.

ISSUE: BANK DEPOSIT INSURANCE

WHY IN NEWS?

The government, in the Union Budget tabled on Saturday, proposed to increase the insurance cover on bank deposits from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. The proposal is expected to instill more confidence and trust of the public in the banking system, leading to a rise in savings by depositors.

What led to the hike?

In September 2019, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slapped curbs on Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank Ltd (PMC Bank), a leading cooperative bank headquartered in Mumbai with deposits of over Rs 11,000 crore, appointed an administrator and superseded its board of directors, sending shock waves among thousands of its depositors. Panic-stricken customers rushed to bank’s branches across the state and were unable to withdraw more than Rs 1,000, leading to widespread protests.

What is the role of DICGC?

The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC), a subsidiary of the RBI, gives insurance cover up to Rs one lakh deposits in banks. Banks will now insure deposits up to Rs 5 lakh per customer with the DICGC as per the Budget proposal. It has surplus funds of Rs 87,995 crore as of March 2019, according to the Annual Report of the Corporation. It reported Rs 152 crore worth of claims in 2018-19 as against Rs 183 crore in the previous year.

What will depositors get?

When a bank collapses, depositors will get Rs 5 lakh from the Corporation. However, now depositors holding more than Rs 5 lakh in their account have no legal remedy in case of the collapse of the bank. Once the Budget is passed by the Parliament, irrespective of the deposit amount, be it Rs 25 lakh or Rs 5 crore, the depositor will get only Rs five lakh if a bank collapses.

What will be the impact on banks?

Given the size of insured deposits is likely to increase, the deposit insurance premium paid by banks will increase the operating expenses of banks and will be negative for their profitability to the extent they are not able to pass it on to the bank customers. As on March 31, 2019, 28 per cent of deposits (in value terms) and 92 per cent of depositors (in terms of number of accounts) were covered by deposit insurance, which is likely to increase to 40-50 per cent, said Karthik Srinivasan, Group Head, Financial Sector Ratings, ICRA Ltd.

 

ISSUE: LOCUST ATTACK

WHY IN NEWS?

Over the weekend, Pakistan and Somalia have declared locust emergencies. During the past few weeks, major locust attacks have been observed in several countries in western and southern Asia and in eastern Africa.

In India, locusts attacks emanating from the desert area in Pakistan have struck parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, causing heavy damage to standing crop.

Which countries are affected by the global crisis?

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has currently identified three hotspots of threatening locust activity, where the situation has been called “extremely alarming” — the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea area, and southwest Asia.

The Horn of Africa has been called the worst-affected area, where the FAO has said there is “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods”. Locust swarms from Ethiopia and Somalia have travelled south to Kenya and 14 other countries in the continent. Ethiopia’s Rift Valley has also been hit by the pest.

The outbreak is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years, and the worst infestation in Kenya in the past 70 years. Without international help, the FAO has said that locust numbers across the region could grow 500 times by June.

In the Red Sea area, locusts have struck in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen. The swarms are presumed to have arrived here from the Indo-Pakistan border area.

What are locusts, and how do they inflict damage?

Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers that multiply in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms (up to 150km in one day).

The swarms devour leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and growing points, and also destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in massive numbers.

Four species of locusts are found in India: Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust (Nomadacris succincta) and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.).

The desert locust is regarded as the most destructive pest in India as well as internationally, with a small swarm covering one square kilometre being able to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.

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