Indian Express Explained 08/05/2020

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1)Explained: What are the safeguards against chemical disasters in India?

Why are we discussing this :- Recent Vizag Styrene gas leak and earlier to this Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984.

Some of the laws were:

1. Bhopal Gas Leak (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, which gives powers to the central government to secure the claims arising out of or connected with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Under the provisions of this Act, such claims are dealt with speedily and equitably.

2. The Environment Protection Act, 1986, which gives powers to the central government to undertake measures for improving the environment and set standards and inspect industrial units.

3. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, which is an insurance meant to provide relief to persons affected by accidents that occur while handling hazardous substances.

4. The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997, under which the National Environment Appellate Authority can hear appeals regarding the restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

5. National Green Tribunal, 2010, provides for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests.

2) Coronavirus is a test of India’s cooperative federalism

The Constitution of India provides for a federal system of government, wherein the purview/demarcation of legislative subjects of the centre and states is clearly defined.

Fault line in Our Federal structure :- Disaster Management Act 2005, which gives overriding power to the central government over states in terms of administration. As reported, the chief ministers of states were not consulted before implementing nationwide lockdown. This unilateral response from the government has put a mirror to some of the fault lines that exist in our federal structure.

This translated into various governance and financial problems:

Planning Problem :- States’ responses to the lockdown such as protocols for crowd management, guidelines for provision of essential supplies, travel, and creating social support systems took a while to be put in place, effectively bringing many places to a standstill. 

On-ground management:The successful execution of these required extensive coordination among governmental stakeholders. The sudden imposition of the lockdown caused information asymmetry for mid management officers (e.g. cluster and block level officers) and the frontline workers (e.g. Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, etc) who are among the first public touchpoints for citizens. 

Fiscal preparedness: States are facing a serious financial resource crunch while addressing the lockdown. At a time when expenditure on public health and relief efforts is increasing multifold and the economy is slowing, diminishing direct revenues are acting as a big hurdle for states to battle this pandemic. 

The national relief package for states was only announced ten days after the first lockdown, adding to the financial distress. A state’s borrowing capacity is limited due to the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, 2003. States are further financially restrained as they await their GST dues from the centre since November 2019.

Increasing trend of centralization in multiple spheres
Increasing centralisation during this pandemic is not a one-off incident; it is a part of the broad trend in recent times towards surging centralisation in legislative, finance and administrative matters.

In the financial sphere, the states have heavy fiscal dependence on the centre as they receive a component of the direct taxes, the State Goods & Services Tax and a part of the Integrated Goods & Services Tax – all of which are collected by the centre.

This pandemic has showed that we need a more coordinated response in exigencies and we need to give some sense of autonomy to States as well respecting the federal structure.

In a democracy like India, where many states are dominated by regional parties, we hope that this pandemic once again reignites the debate of cooperative federalism.

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