Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 14 September 2023

‘National disaster’ tag after heavy rains

GS Paper - 3 (Disaster Management)

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare the destruction caused by heavy rains in the state a national disaster. States affected by natural disasters often make such requests to the Centre. Demands for special relief packages are also made.

Why is Himachal Pradesh demanding assistance?

  • Himachal Pradesh suffered losses of Rs 10,000 crore due to rain-related incidents this monsoon. He demanded that the calamity be declared a national disaster and a special disaster package be announced.
  • According to the state emergency operation centre, 418 people have died (265 in rain-related incidents and 153 in road accidents) since the onset of monsoon on 24 June 2023 till 9 September 2023, while 39 are missing.

How are states assisted during natural disasters?

  • There is no official or defined category of “national disasters”. Disasters of this nature come under the 2005 Disaster Management Act, which defines a “disaster” as “a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.
  • The Act saw the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), to be headed by the Prime Minister, and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers. Together with district-level authorities, an integrated Disaster Management setup was to be created in India.
  • The Act also led to the National Disaster Response Force. It has several battalions or teams, which are responsible for on-ground relief and rescue work in several states.

What is the NDRF?

  • The National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) is mentioned in the 2005 Disaster Management Act.
  • Similarly, SDRFs exist for the states and are the primary funds available to state governments for responses to notified disasters.
  • The Central Government contributes 75% to the SDRF in general states and 90% in northeastern and Himalayan states.
  • The SDRF is to be used only for meeting the expenditure for providing immediate relief to the victims of notified calamities like cyclonesdroughtsearthquakesfiresfloodstsunamis, hailstorms, landslides, avalanches, cloud bursts, pest attacks and frost/cold waves.
  • According to a publication of the National Disaster Management Authority from November 2019,
  • “The state government is primarily responsible for undertaking rescuerelief and rehabilitation measures in the event of a disaster.” But these can be supplemented with Central assistance.
  • In the event of a calamity of a severe nature, where the requirement of funds for relief operations is beyond the funds available in the State’s Disaster Response Fund account, additional Central assistance is provided from National Disaster Response Fund, after following the laid down procedure.

What is a severe calamity?

  • This classification is based on a specific procedure, where the state government needs to submit a memorandum indicating the sector-wise damage caused by a disaster and its requirement of funds.
  • Afterwards, an inter-ministerial central team is constituted and it conducts an on-the-spot assessment of damage and requirement of funds for relief operations.
  • After this, specific committees examine these assessments and submit their reports. A High-Level Committee must approve the quantum of immediate relief to be released from the NDRF.
  • The Disaster Management Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs will then provide support and monitor the utilisation of funds.
  • A calamity is declared to be of “rare severity”/”severe nature” based on undefined criteria, but factors such as the intensity and magnitude of the calamity, level of assistance needed, etc. are looked at.
  • A Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) is set up, with the corpus shared 3:1 between Centre and state. When resources in the CRF are inadequate, additional assistance is considered from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF)funded 100% by the Centre.

Tax on diesel vehicles

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said that people needed to move away from fuels such as petrol and diesel, and that if the use of diesel-run vehicles (and equipment such as diesel-run generators) continued, he might consider proposing to the Finance Minister that an additional 10% GST be imposed on these vehicles as “pollution tax”. However, Gadkari clarified soon afterwards that “there is no such proposal currently under active consideration by the government”.

Why is there a pushback against diesel?

  • The panel’s report follows the government’s stated aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to produce 40% of India’s electricity from renewables as part of its goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2070.
  • Diesel accounts for about 40% of India’s petroleum products consumption, according to estimates by the Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell, the official data source for the hydrocarbon sector.
  • Around 87% of total diesel sales are to the transport segment, with trucks and buses accounting for about 68% of diesel sales in the country.
  • Three states — Uttar PradeshMaharashtra, and Haryana — account for almost 40% of the diesel sold in India.

Why have carmakers started to move away from diesel?

  • The higher compression ratio of diesel engines means increased emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which is one of the main drawbacks of diesel engines versus petrol.
  • Globally, the biggest blow to diesel was the Volkswagen scandal of 2015 — the German automaker was found to be activating emissions controls in its diesel engines during lab tests while allowing them to emit dozens of times more NOx in actual driving — which led to a rise in the negative perception about diesel across markets, including India.
  • Also, the reason why Maruti Suzuki and other carmakers announced an exit from the diesel segment was the rollout of the new BS-VI emission norms that kicked in from 1 April 2020, and the prohibitively high cost of upgrading their diesel engines to meet the new standards.
  • The manufacturers have argued that the government’s decision to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI made the retention of diesel in their portfolio unviable.

What is the reason an individual user might prefer diesel to petrol?

  • The higher fuel economy of diesel engines compared to petrol is a factor. Diesel has greater energy content per litre, and diesel engines are inherently efficient.
  • Diesel engines do not use high-voltage spark ignition (spark plugs), and use less fuel per kilometre as they have higher compression ratios. This makes diesel the fuel of choice for heavy vehicles.
  • Also, diesel engines offer more torque (rotational or turning force), and are less likely to stall as they are controlled by a mechanical or electronic governor, thereby proving to be better for haulage.
  • The main reason for this was the significantly lower price of diesel compared to petrol — at its peak, the difference was a yawning Rs 25 per litre.
  • But this changed when the decontrol of fuel prices started in late 2014. The price difference is now around Rs 7 per litre — the closest the two fuels have been in price since 1991. Diesel cars accounted for less than 20% of overall passenger vehicle sales in 2021-22.
  • A further increase in taxation on diesel vehicles will impact sales further given that the tax incidence on this segment is already very high — and force companies that have a diesel portfolio to reconsider the viability of diesel engine cars.

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