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[op-ed snap] A coal commission for India

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Coal commission of India


Context

  1. Renewable energy will replace coal as most important part of our energy mix
  2. After a few years of renewable energy (RE) deployment, supplemented by unprecedented declines in RE prices, the consensus around RE seems to be clear: Within a few decades, RE will become an increasing part of India’s energy mix replacing coal.

Why we need a coal commission?

  1. India’s thermal coal base, which still provides over 60 per cent of the country’s overall generation, is still growing .
  2. Roughly 15-20 million people in the coal belt are dependent on the coal industry, either directly or indirectly, for their livelihood.
  3. The comparative geography of India’s wind and solar resources versus coal makes one thing abundantly clear: RE jobs will not be coming to the coal belt in large numbers.

Importance of public investment and PSU for Coal belt

  1. Many coal-bearing states are also in the bottom third by income per capita (Jharkhand, MP, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal in ascending order).
  2. But one of the big benefits of public investments is that they can be guided.
  3. This is already visible from the way the current government has been taking financial surpluses from both the NTPC and Coal India to invest in solar power, fertiliser plants, and other areas far from the core business areas of these companies.
  4. In fact, for all the criticisms of the public sector, one of its greatest achievements is that PSUs have continued to operate in eastern India for decades, despite the political complexities, adverse business environment, and infrastructural constraints that accompany the region.
  5. While large private investment has largely evaded the coal belt, PSUs like Coal India have built up considerable social and political capital in these regions which allow them to conduct business.

Questions coal commission will consider:

  1. It will consider the future of India’s coal industry, and the PSUs engaged in these industries.
  2. Can this social and political capital be used to pivot towards other activities?
  3. Can companies like Coal India become diversified national champions as part of a new industrial policy for the coal belt?
  4. Can Indian coal be used for non-combustion purposes and what technologies would be necessary for such a transition?

Way forward

  1. Ultimately, an Indian “coal commission” needs to articulate a credible economic future for the coal belt and the companies that exist there.
  2. As the latest COP in Katowice (Poland’s coal capital) delivers another disappointing outcome, it is clear that international financing for coal projects is an unrealistic expectation.
  3. Instead, if the Indian state can engage in some good old long-term planning it can anticipate and prevent the large-scale economic distress which will be experienced in eastern India with the decline of the coal industry.
Coal and Mining Sector

[op-ed snap] Powering South Asian integration

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India-SAARC relations


Context

  • The Ministry of Power (MoP) has issued new guidelines for import and export of electricity and power trading with neighboring countries.

Problems in the 2016 guidelines

  1. 2016 guidelines imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.
  2. There was a strong undercurrent of defensiveness in the guidelines of 2016.
  3. They seemed to be a reaction to perceptions of increased Chinese investment and influence in the energy sectors of South Asian neighbours.
  4. The guidelines prevented anyone other than Indian generators in the neighbouring country, or generators owned by that country’s government, from selling power to India.
  5. Excluded were scores of privately held companies, particularly in Nepal, that had hoped to trade with India.
  6. In restricting access to the vast Indian market, the economic rationale for Nepali hydropower built for export was lost.
  7. Bhutan was worried about a clause that required the exporting generation companies to be majority owned by an Indian entity.
  8. This created friction in joint ventures between India and Bhutan.
  9. Bhutan also fretted about limited access to India’s main electricity spot markets, where it would have been well placed to profit from evening peaks in demand.
  10. Bangladesh had sensed an opportunity to partially address its power crisis with imports from Bhutan and Nepal routed through Indian territory but the guidelines complicated this by giving India disproportionate control over such trade.

Key features of the 2018 guidelines

  1. The Ministry of Power (MoP) has issued new guidelines for import and export of electricity and power trading with neighboring countries.
  2. The 2018 guidelines will replace the existing guidelines on cross border trade of electricity issued in 2016.
  3. The objective of the new guidelines is the same as the previous one – to facilitate and promote cross-border trade of electricity, developing a dynamic and robust electricity infrastructure for import export of electricity and reliable grid operation and transmission of electricity.
  4. While the earlier guidelines allowed cross border power transactions only through bilateral agreements between two countries, the new guidelines allows power generating or distribution companies of India to export electricity generated by coal (with certain restrictions), renewable energy or hydro power to companies of neighboring countries directly or through trading licensees of India after taking government approval.
  5. Moreover, any  Indian power  trader  may,  trade in Indian Power Exchanges on behalf of any company of neighboring  country,  for  specified  quantum  as  provided  with government  approval  and  complying with CERC Regulations.

Why course correction?

  1. The current revision is a response to two years of intense backroom pressure from neighbours, particularly Bhutan and Nepal, to drop trade barriers put up in 2016.
  2. Ideas of tying South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries together with cross-border energy flows  that punctuated the early 2000s began to gain steam with substantial power trade agreements between India and Bhutan (2006) and Bangladesh(2010).
  3. These were driven by India’s need for affordable power to fuel quickened growth in a recently liberalised economy.
  4. The apotheosis came in 2014 with the signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and the India-Nepal Power Trade Agreement in quick succession.
  5. Yet, two years later, the Union Ministry of Power released guidelines that imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.
  6. There was a strong undercurrent of defensiveness in the guidelines of 2016. They seemed to be a reaction to perceptions of increased Chinese investment and influence in the energy sectors of South Asian neighbours.

Significance of 2018 guidelines

  1. After two years of protests from neighbours, the new guidelines resolve all these issues and restore the governance of electricity trade to a less restrictive tone.
  2. The new guidelines meet most of their demands, that were timed to coincide with the recent visit of Bhutan’s new Prime Minister.
  3. Earlier concerns that India was enabling the incursion of foreign influence into neighbouring power sectors seem to have been replaced by an understanding that India’s buyer’s monopoly in the region actually give it ultimate leverage.
  4. More broadly, India seems to have acknowledged that the sinews of economic interdependency created by such arrangements have the political benefit of positioning India as a stable development partner rather than one inclined to defensive realpolitik.
  5. India has thus signalled that it is serious about working with neighbours on the issues that should undergird 21st century South Asian regionalism, such as electricity trade.
  6. This course correction is a return to a trajectory of incremental, hard-earned progress developed over the decades.

How the new regulations will help India in achieving the greener grid?

  1. A liberal trading regime is in India’s national interest.
  2. As India transitions to a power grid dominated by renewables, regional trade could prove useful in maintaining grid stability.
  3. Major commitments to renewables, which could amount to half of India’s installed power within a decade, have prompted justifiable concerns about stabilising the grid when the sun goes down or in seasons when renewables are less potent.
  4. Harnessing a wider pool of generation sources, particularly hydropower from the Himalayas that ramps up instantly as India turns on its lights and appliances after sunset, could be an important instrument in achieving a greener grid.
  5. Nepal and Bhutan have long recognised that their prosperity is tied to the sustainable use of vast hydropower reserves.

Political implications of the new guidelines and way forward

  1. The new guidelines are a tentative first step towards the creation of a true regional market in which generators across the subcontinent compete to deliver low-cost, green energy to consumers.
  2. Since this would soften the hard borders of South Asia, it is essentially a political vision.
  3. The new guidelines are a significant step in this direction because, for the first time, they allow tripartite trading arrangements, where power generated in a country is routed over the territory of a neighbour to be consumed in a third.
  4. This is a crucial move towards the evolution of complex, multi-country market arrangements. Such markets require the construction of regional institutions that absorb the politics and manage the technicalities of electricity trade.
  5. At present, this function is managed by the Indian state because of its geographic centrality and the ready availability of institutions that manage its domestic power sector.
  6. As volumes increase and experience in regional trade grows, South Asian nations might feel the need to build joint, independent regional institutions that proffer clear and stable rules of the road. The political vision to create this — felt in the new guidelines — must be maintained.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Trump Signs Asia Reassurance Initiative Act Into Law

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ARIA Act

Mains level:  US influence in Asia-Pacific


News

  • US President Trump has signed an Act designed to counter the encroaching influence and growing threat from China and to reinvigorate US leadership in the Indo-Pacific region.

Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA)

  1. The ARIA aims to establish a multifaceted U.S. strategy to increase U.S. security, economic interests, and values in the Indo-Pacific region.
  2. ARIA draws attention to U.S. relations with China, India, the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Northeast Asian allies Japan and South Korea.
  3. It will authorize $1.5 billion in spending for a range of U.S. programs in East and Southeast Asia and develop a long-term strategic vision and policy for the Indo-Pacific region.
  4. The ARIA includes multiple provisions of Trump which have identified the Indo-Pacific as a strategic region of particular priority.

Regional Perspective

  1. North Korea: The act aims to justify the termination of U.S. support for any UNSC resolutions sanctioning North Korea or the lifting of any unilateral U.S. sanctions on North Korea.
  2. Taiwan: The ARIA encourages the travel of high level US officials to Taiwan, in accordance with the Taiwan Travel Act which was made law in 2018.
  3. South China Sea: ARIA calls on the US to support the ASEAN nations as they adopt a code of conduct in the South China Sea with China.

Impact on ties with India

  1. ARIA allocates a budget of $1.5 billion over a five-year period to enhance cooperation with America’s strategic regional allies in the region.
  2. Stressing the designation of India as a major defense partner, which is unique to India, the new law elevates defense trade and technology cooperation.
  3. The new law cites China’s illegal construction and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea and coercive economic practices.

Other perspectives

  1. The Act notes the increased presence throughout Southeast Asia of the Islamic State and other international terrorist organizations that threaten the US.
  2. The law also refers to Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between US, Australia, India, and Japan.
  3. It however clarifies that such a dialogue is intended to augment, rather than to replace, current mechanisms.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

India, Pakistan exchange list of nuclear installations

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Non-nuclear Aggression Agreement

Mains level: India-Pakistan Strategic Relations


News

  • India and Pakistan has exchanged for the 28th consecutive year a list of their nuclear installations under a bilateral agreement that prohibits them from attacking each other’s atomic facilities.

Non-Nuclear Aggression Agreement

  1. It is a bilateral and nuclear weapons control treaty between India and Pakistan, on the reduction (or limitation) of nuclear arms and pledged not to attack or assist foreign powers to attack on each other’s nuclear installations and facilities.
  2. It was signed on December 31, 1988 and came into force on January 27, 1991.
  3. The agreement says that the two countries will inform each other of nuclear installations and facilities to be covered under the agreement on January 1 of every calendar year.
  4. The two countries have adhered to the practice of exchanging the lists of prisoners and nuclear installations despite recurring tensions.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

States to rollout ‘PARIVESH’ by January 15

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of PARIVESH

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

  • An ambitious web-based single-window system ‘Parivesh’ will be rolled-out at state levels by January 15, bringing an end to the clearance nightmare for entrepreneurs.
  • This automated clearance has already been implemented at the Central level, while various States starting from Gujarat will begin to implement the scheme by January 15.

PARIVESH Portal

  1. It is a Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System which stands for Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window H
  2. It is a workflow based application and portal, based on the concept of web architecture.
  3. The system has been designed, developed and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC).
  4. It automates the entire process of submitting the application and tracking the status of such proposals at each stage of processing.

Utility of the portal

  1. It facilitates for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents to the MOEFCC, as well as to the State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAA).
  2. It will also he;p seek various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State and district-level authorities.
  3. The main highlights of PARIVESH include –
  • single registration and single sign-in for all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and CRZ),
  • unique-ID for all types of clearances required for a particular project and
  • single Window interface for the proponent to submit applications for getting all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forests, Wildlife and CRZ clearances)

More efficiency to be achieved

The facility of Geographic Information System (GIS) interface will help them in analyzing the proposal efficiently, automatic alerts (via SMS and emails) at important stages to the concerned officers, committee members and higher authorities to check the delays if any.

Digital India Initiatives

[pib] Yarn Bank Scheme

 

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Yarn Bank Scheme

Mains level: The importance of textiles and apparels industry and issues related to it.


News

Yarn Bank Scheme

  1. To avoid fluctuation in yarn price, government has launched a Yarn Bank Scheme as one of the component of PowerTex India with effect from 01.04.2017 to 31.03.2020.
  2. The Scheme provides interest free corpus fund up to Rs.2.00 crore to the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV)/Consortium formed by powerloom weavers to enable them to purchase yarn at wholesale rate and give the yarn at reasonable price to the small weavers
  3. It aims to avoid middleman and local supplier’s brokerage charge on sales of yarn.

Objectives

  1. To provide interest free corpus fund to Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) / Consortium to enable them to purchase yarn at wholesale rate and give the yarn at reasonable price to the small weavers.
  2. To avoid middle man/ local supplier’s brokerage charge on sales of yarn.

Eligibility Beneficiaries

  1. Registered Co-operative Society.
  2. Trusts
  3. Company set-up under the Companies Act, 1956 as amended.
  4. Firm set-up under the Limited Liability Partnership Act, 2008 as amended.
Textile Sector – Cotton, Jute, Wool, Silk, Handloom, etc.

[pib] Cabinet approves high level committee to implement Clause 6 of Assam Accord

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Functions & responsibilities of the Union & the States, issues & challenges pertaining to the federal structure

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Assam Accord of 1985

Mains level: Various policy safeguards for distinct Assamese community


News

  • The Union Cabinet chaired has approved the setting up of a High Level Committee for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord and measures envisaged in the Memorandum of Settlement, 2003 and other issues related to Bodo community.

Clause 6 of Assam Accord

  1. After Assam agitation of 1979-1985, Assam Accord was signed on 15th August, 1985.
  2. Clause 6 of the Accord envisaged that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
  3. However, it has been felt that Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has not been fully implemented even almost 35 years after the Accord was signed.
  4. Hence the Cabinet approved setting up of a High Level Committee to suggest constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards as envisaged in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

Mandate of the HLC

  1. The Committee shall examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
  2. It will hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the required quantum of reservation of seats in Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people.
  3. It will also assess the requirement of measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam.
  4. It will look onto quantum of reservation in employment under Government of Assam and other measures to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people.
  5. It is expected that the setting up of the Committee will pave the way for the implementation of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit and will help fulfil longstanding expectations of the Assamese people.

Other measures for Bodo Community

  1. The Bodo Accord was signed in 2003 which resulted in the establishment of a Bodoland Territorial Council under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.
  2. However, there have been representations from different organizations of Bodos to fulfil various outstanding demands.
  3. The Cabinet approved the establishment of a Bodo Museum-cum-language and cultural study centre.
  4. It will also undertake modernization of existing All India Radio Station and Doordarshan Kendra at Kokrajhar and naming a Superfast Train passing through BTAD as ARONAI Express.

Back2Basics

Assam Accord of 1985

  1. The Assam Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985
  2. A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1979
  3. It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord
  4. The accord prescribes deportation for everyone who entered the state illegally after the midnight of March 24, 1971.
Citizenship and Related Issues

[pib] Green – Ag Project

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Green – Ag Project

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

Green – Ag Project

  1. The government has launched a Global Environment Facility (GEF) assisted project namely Green – Ag in September, 2018.
  2. The theme of the project is “Transforming Indian Agriculture for global environment benefits and the conservation of critical biodiversity and forest landscapes”
  3. It has collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
  4. The project has been launched in high-conservation-value landscapes of five States namely
  • Madhya Pradesh : Chambal Landscape
  • Mizoram: Dampa Landscape
  • Odisha: Similipal Landscape
  • Rajasthan: Desert National Park Landscape
  • Uttarakhand: Corbett-Rajaji Landscape

Aim and Objectives

  1. The project seeks to mainstream biodiversity, climate change and sustainable land management objectives and practices into Indian agriculture.
  2. The overall objective of the project is to catalyze transformative change of India’s agricultural sector to support and conserve critical biodiversity and forest landscapes.
  3. The project will support harmonization between India’s agricultural and environmental sector priorities and investments.
  4. The achievement environmental benefits can be fully realized without compromising India’s ability to strengthen rural livelihoods and meet its food and nutrition security.