17 October 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) City and the deluge-
GS 2- Disaster and disaster management
At least 80 people have lost their lives in floods in Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka in the past 72 hours.
- The maximum casualties(deaths) were caused by overflowing nallahs, incidents of wall or building collapse and electrocution in Hyderabad and Pune.
- This grim(serious) story has been repeating itself with worrying frequency in urban India for at least 10 years.
- Pune is facing the fury(storm) of torrential rains for the second consecutive year.
- Chennai faced a crippling flood five years ago, Guwahati gets submerged almost every year.
- Patna, Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai have their monsoon travails and Hyderabad received its heaviest September rainfall in more than 100 years last year.
- On Wednesday, as Telangana’s capital recorded its highest 24-hour rainfall for October in more than a century, its nearly 100-year-old drainage system was caught unprepared.
- As in most flooding incidents in the country, the only semblance(similarity) of resilience(flexibility) shown by Hyderabad’s authorities was in relief and rescue.
- But it’s time that Indian cities plan for the vagaries(oddity) of weather, develop systems that help them deal with hazards such as floods or excessive heat.
- As Indian cities have expanded, they have wrested areas that were once major drainage points.
- At the same time, stormwater drains in most Indian cities remain locked in decades-old networks and are most often clogged.
- This means excessive rainfall gets trapped within city boundaries. Climate vagaries of the last two decades have exacerbated(worsened) the problem.
- This year, Mumbai received 80 per cent of its August rainfall in the first five days of the month, parts of the city that have rarely been flooded were under water.
- More than one IPCC report has pointed to the climate vulnerability of coastal areas such as Mumbai and Chennai.
- It’s unfortunate that recent technology-enabled initiatives — the Smart Cities Project, for example — have very little by way of bolstering climate adaptability.
- In fact, according to a report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters and the NGO SEEDS, more than 55% of India’s smart cities are prone to floods.
- According to estimates, more people will live in urban centres in India compared to the rural ones by 2050.
- It’s imperative that while planning for houses, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure, policymakers respect an area’s hydrology.
- The solutions could vary according to local conditions and climate adaptability could be an adroit(skilful) mix of natural and technological means — sensors in drains that warn of floods, tried in Buenos Aires and some US cities for example.
- The floods in Hyderabad and Pune are a warning that there is no time to waste.
Untimely, excessive rainfall, as in Hyderabad and Pune, is here to stay. It’s time to plan for vagaries of weather, build resilience.
2) A half step-
- Centre, on Thursday, acceded(agreed) to the states’ request, announcing that it will borrow Rs 1.1 lakh crore to lend to states to compensate them for the shortfall in their GST revenues.
- This is indeed a welcome development.
- Not listening to states’ concerns, and not honouring its commitment to protect their revenues, would have set a bad precedent(example) and further strained Centre-state relations.
- Operationally, this mechanism is preferable and arguably more convenient as compared to all the states rushing to the bond market.
- Further, the Centre’s borrowing attracts a lower interest rate as compared to that of states, and as a result, the loans to the states will be at a uniform rate, avoiding interest rate differentials across states.
- Yet, several questions remain unanswered.
- First, the modalities of the transaction are yet to be clearly enunciated(described).
- Presumably, the transaction will be routed through the public account of India.
- The accounting treatment could also be along the lines of states’ loans from multilateral agencies which are routed through the Centre.
- However, whichever way it is treated, it will lead to a rise in general government debt.
- Second, while the Centre has agreed to borrow Rs 1.1 lakh Cr, what happens to the remaining shortfall — assuming that the total GST revenue shortfall remains at Rs 3 lakh Cr and that collections through the compensation cess stand at Rs 65,000 Cr?
- Will the state governments settle for being compensated only for losses arising on account of implementation issues and forgo the loss in GST revenues arising out of an “act of god”?
- Third, if as the Centre has said, this mechanism will not impact its fiscal deficit, then why not borrow the entire expected shortfall of Rs 2.35 lakh crore?
- If the repayment of the loan is not an obligation of the Centre, and will be met from proceeds from future compensation cess collections, then why the reluctance to borrow the full amount?
- Considering that the grand bargain struck between the Centre and the states for pushing through GST was premised on the Centre assuring states of a 14% growth in their GST revenues, the controversy over the last few months should have been avoided.
- The Centre’s approach, in effect placing the entire burden of the loss in GST revenues on states, was not in the spirit of cooperative federalism that the NDA government professes commitment to.
- This half-step now taken by the Centre must be built upon to bridge the mistrust between the two.
- But it is also incumbent(inherent) upon the states to show some flexibility, in the spirit of cooperation, given the sweeping distress in the economy.
- The GST Council should thus now approach the issue of compensating states for their remaining losses in a conciliatory manner.
Centre’s decision to borrow to compensate states is welcome. More clarity is needed on modalities, remaining GST shortfall.
3) Finding Common Ground- Spanish Ambassador
- There is no greater honour for a diplomat than to celebrate his National Day in the country he is serving, especially when you have been given the privilege of representing your nation in India.
- For an ambassador, the National Day is a perfect occasion to underline the state of relations between the countries, and to think about what has been done so far and what can be improved in the future.
- This year, our National Day, October 12, took place in trying circumstances caused by the pandemic.
- The whole world is facing a great political, economic, social and humanitarian challenge.
- I would like to pay tribute to the victims of the coronavirus and acknowledge the bravery and strength shown by all the sanitary professionals around the world, who have worked day and night to protect us.
- October 12 reminds us that Spain belongs to a great community comprising more than 500 million people who share a common language and history, strong economic ties and even family linkage.
- These common features between Spain and the Ibero-American countries led to the creation of the Ibero-American Summit in 1991.
- Today this body includes 22 European and American Spanish-and-Portuguese-speaking countries, whose leaders meet every two years to discuss issues of international agenda, focusing on social cohesion, education and culture.
- Our diplomatic relations with India started in 1956, but we have developed a deeper relationship more recently.
- Both countries have strengthened their friendship with an intense institutional agenda at the highest level.
- Just a few days after my arrival in India in 2017, His Majesty King Felipe VI and the former President of the Government of Spain Mariano Rajoy received Prime Minister during his official visit.
- Prime Minister Modi and the President of the Government of Spain Pedro Sánchez also held talks on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Argentina in December 2018, and both leaders discussed the situation caused by the current pandemic during a telephone conversation in April.
- More recently, during the sixth round of the India-Spain Consultation Mechanism in July, the Secretary-West of the Indian MEA and the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs met virtually to discuss the relations between our countries and the different areas where cooperation could be enhanced.
- Spain is committed to strengthening Indo-Spanish relations at the highest levels and in different areas.
- In the educational field, the launching of the Delhi-based Instituto Cervantes in 2007 marked a turning point for Indians interested in learning Spanish.
- This official institution, dedicated to promoting our language and culture has allowed thousands of Indians to learn Spanish every year, becoming one of the most important centres in the world.
- In addition to that, several MoUs signed between Indian Universities and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID), have helped introduce the learning of Spanish into the Indian academic system, thus strengthening the educational cooperation between our countries.
- In this respect, these exchange programmes should continue to expand in order to improve our mutual understanding and our citizens´ professional possibilities.
- The Spanish language gives access to a market that spans 20 million square kilometres and reaches more than 500 million people.
- Allow me to go back to 2016, as that year marked a turning point in our cultural relations, when Madrid held the IIFA awards.
- The eyes of millions of Indian citizens were staring at the capital of Spain, proving the great potential of cultural cooperation between the two countries.
- This event took place five years after the production of blockbuster Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara — a film that introduced Spain into every Indian home.
- These are only two examples of the great impact that Spain and India can have in each other’s countries.
- In the economic field, before the pandemic, exchanges between India and Spain were improving, but still have not reached their real potential.
- Economic flows significantly increased at the beginning of the century and will continue to do so if we manage to deal efficiently in the post-pandemic scenario.
- Spanish companies can offer great expertise acquired throughout the world over the last decades.
- To give only two examples — in the infrastructure field, Spain has many renowned companies that have contributed to developing ports, airports, roads and other facilities all over the planet.
- And in the field of alternative energy, Spain has built strong capabilities that represent another key sector with clear economic and commercial potential.
- Next year, India and Spain will celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations.
- India and Spain will fully recover from this pandemic and resume all necessary contacts to maintain and reinforce our partnership.
- The coronavirus has shown us that there are new ways of improving our political, economic and cultural ties that we have to take advantage of in order to build a stronger relationship.