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Niti Aayog pitches for simultaneous elections, study on groundwater banking

It has made the Election Commission the nodal agency to look into the suggestion of simultaneous elections and set a “timeline” of March 2018.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2017 13:04 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India, New Delhi
Niti Aayog,Elections,Lok Sabha Election
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on August 24, 2017. (PTI)

The Niti Aayog has favoured conducting synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and assembly elections from 2024 in “national interest”.

All elections in India should happen in a free, fair and synchronised manner to ensure minimum “campaign mode” disruption to governance, the government think tank said in its report released recently.

“We may begin work towards switching to a synchronised two-phase election from the 2024 election to the Lok Sabha. This would require a maximum one-time curtailment or extension of some state assemblies,” it said.

To implement this in the national interest, a focused group of stakeholders comprising constitutional and subject matter experts, think tanks, government officials and representatives of various political parties should be formed to work out appropriate implementation related details, the report said.

“This may include drafting appropriate Constitution and statutory amendments, agreeing on a workable framework to facilitate transition to simultaneous elections, developing a stakeholder communication plan and various operational details,” it said in its “Three Year Action Agenda, 2017-18 to 2019-20”.

It has made the Election Commission the nodal agency to look into the suggestion and set a “timeline” of March 2018 for this purpose.

The recommendation of the Aayog assumes significance as former president Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have pitched for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls.

Mukherjee in his speech on the eve of this year’s Republic Day had favoured holding Lok Sabha and assembly elections together.

“The time is also ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after Independence when elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held simultaneously.

“It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties,” the former president had said.

Modi had in February said simultaneous elections would “cause some loss to all, including us” but political parties should not look at the idea through the narrow prism of politics.

“One party or a government cannot do it. We will have to find a way together,” the PM had said.

Elections are held all the time and continuous polls lead to a lot of expenditure, he had said replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Motion of Thanks to the former president’s address.

Modi had said that more than Rs 1,100 crore was spent on the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the expenditure had shot up to Rs 4,000 crore in 2014.

Over a crore government employees, including a large number of teachers, are involved in the electoral process. Thus, the continuous exercise causes maximum harm to the education sector, he had said.

Security forces also have to be diverted for the electoral work even as the country’s enemy keeps plotting against the nation and terrorism remains a strong threat, Modi had said.

Study on groundwater banking potential

The Niti Aayog has suggested conducting a study to assess the country’s groundwater banking potential by 2018 to effectively manage the limited resource.

Groundwater banking, the think tank said, is a practice of recharging specific amount of water in a groundwater basin that can be later withdrawn and used by the entity that deposited the water

The policy think tank has also recommended expediting the “Groundwater Development and Management” programme, under which the Centre is preparing aquifer management plans and quantifying the availability of water in aquifers.

An aquifer is a layer of permeable rocks which can contain or transmit groundwater.

The Aayog said that in 4,530 blocks (which were surveyed in 2011) in eastern and northeastern states, where groundwater development has been reported as safe, groundwater-based irrigation may be developed sustainably.

India’s groundwater resources amount to 433 billion cubic metres (BCM) and are 39% of the total water resources. Surface water resources make up the remaining 61%.

Groundwater accounts for around 63% of the total water used in irrigation.

“A feasibility study should be conducted for assessing the groundwater banking potential in India by 2018.

“Some clear advantages of groundwater banking are: low fixed costs as compared to dam and reservoir construction, no requirement for rehabilitation and resettlement and less environmental changes,” it said.

The Aayog has made the suggestions in “Three Year Action Agenda, 2017-18 to 2019-20”, released by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley three days ago..

On aquifer mapping being carried out under the Groundwater Development and Management programme, it said the scheme should be prioritised in pockets where the resource is “over-exploited, critical and semi-critical”.

As on March 31, 2011, out of the 6,607 administrative units surveyed, 4,530 units were safe. 1,071 were found to be over-exploited, 217 were critical, 697 semi-critical and 92 completely saline.

More than 50% of the over-exploited and critical administrative units were located in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Daman and Diu, according to the survey.

Groundwater development was reported more than 100% in Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana, while in northeastern and eastern states it was lower than the national average of 62%.

Special courts to deal with traffic challans

Niti Aayog has come out with a novel idea to take the load off subordinate judiciary— set up special courts solely to deal with traffic challans where offenders do not have to turn up before judges to pay fines.

The Niti Aayog has taken a cue from a July, 2014 Law Commission report which had recommended appointment of law graduates to preside over special traffic courts.

In its report submitted to the law ministry, the panel had said if law graduates preside over special traffic courts, judges in the lower judiciary can take care of other pressing cases.

In its ‘Three Year Action Agenda— 2017-18 to 2019-20’, released by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley here on Thursday, the government policy body said since traffic and police challan cases constituted 37.4% of the total number of cases during the three-year period examined by the law panel, special courts can be dedicated to these offences.

“Consideration may also be given to waiving the requirement that offenders must come to court to pay their fine,” it said.

The Law Commission had made a similar recommendation in the report. It had said that facilities should be made available for online payment of fines as well as payment at designated counters in the court complex to reduce pendency of cases.

The number of cases in lower courts have risen from 2.64 crore in 2014 to 2.74 crore in 2016 due to increase in filing of cases, the law ministry has said.

While the total strength of lower courts is around 21,000, the vacancies have been pegged at 4,937.

First Published: Aug 27, 2017 12:14 IST