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January 2019

Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

[op-ed snap] Schools without a difference


Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the relevance of Navodaya Vidyalayas in the light of recent reports about suicides in NVs, in a brief manner.


  • The recent reports about suicides in Navodaya Vidyalayas demonstrate that they no longer exemplify the search for an alternative that the government once envisaged and has lost its purpose.


  • Boarding schools are part of India’s modern history.
  • When the central government launched the Navodaya Vidyalayas (NVs) in the mid-1980s, they were presented as a major innovation in social policy in that they were intended to serve rural children.
  • Three decades on, the NV innovation has fully merged into the mainstream, coping with its familiar problems rather than exemplifying an alternative.

NV idea preceded the National Policy on Education (1986)

  • Although the NV plan was part of the National Policy on Education (1986), its idea preceded the policy.
  • Rajiv Gandhi had mentioned it in his first address to the nation as prime minister.
  • His desire to set up a residential school in every district was apparently inspired by his own experience as a child at Doon School.
  • Many people expected that NVs will emulate Doon’s example of high academic standards along with space for creative exploration.

Enrolment was based on an entrance test

  • Enrolment to NV’s Grade 6 was based on an entrance test, with 80 per cent reservation for children belonging to villages located in a district.
  • Not everyone was convinced that enrolment through a selection test was a good idea.
  • NCERT conveyed its doubts about the reliability and validity of a selection procedure dependent on a test among 11-year olds.
  • The government went ahead and started setting up NVs across the country.
  • Soon after the scheme was launched, coaching centres sprang up in every district to help children succeed in the NV enrollment test.

How NVs were different from other schools?

  • Each school was allotted sizeable land in the countryside.
  • Generous funding and impressive infrastructure, including on-campus housing for teachers and not just children, distinguished NVs from other state-run residential schools, such as the boarding schools in tribal areas.
  • NVs were promoted as “pace-setting” schools, implying that they would serve as a model for other schools in the district.
  • Their facilities and funds were way ahead and they were not governed by the state directorate.
  • The contrast was also sharp in teachers’ emoluments.
  • From the central government’s perspective, NVs offered a congenial institutional ethos where policies could be showcased.
  • The implementation of the three-language formula in NVs included exchanging the entire Grade 9 cohort across linguistic regions for the entire session.

Dilemma the NVs faced after a few years of its inception

  • Should they serve as models of child-centred education in rural areas or prepare village children for national-level contests for seats in prestigious institutions of medicine and engineering?
  • Proposals to provide coaching to the senior secondary level students were mooted.
  • NGOs like Dakshana were given permission to select children with the best potential and coach them.
  • Grilling the selected round the year without break bore fruit, exacerbating the familiar stress of exams on children and teachers.
  • The Dakshana website proudly claims that many of its students have cracked the JEE Advanced to secure admissions into IITs.
  •  It is hard to explain to the users of this discourse that there may be more to life than cracking the JEE.

NVs had emulated the urban public school model

  • There was little concern to develop a new vision for rural children.
  • Instead, the dominant ideology prevailing among administrators and teachers was that they should work for the standard routes towards upward mobility.
  • Success in examinations, that too with high marks, had dogged the NV experiment from the beginning.
  • Like their counterpart, the Kendriya Vidyalayas, NVs dared not ignore the mainstream trends of India’s education.
  • Principals and teachers were supposed to dedicate themselves to pushing all the children to work hard for marks.

Recent Suicides in NVs

  • The one-size fits-all template of secondary education in India has exacerbated the pressures that adolescents routinely face and feel, leading many to feel lonely, depressive and suicidal.
  • Suicides before and after higher secondary exams are reported every year across India.
  • In the NV case, nearly half of the reported 49 cases over the last five years are from marginalised groups.
  • As usual, the administration places the blame on teachers who are themselves overburdened.
  • The absence of trained counsellors adds to the problem.
  • The NV administration has asked teachers to notice symptoms of depression among students.
  • Such steps might offer some help, but they will not mitigate the larger tragedy of a scheme that forgot its mission and took the beaten track.


  • The NV story reminds us how inimical the systemic ethos is to any genuine innovation.
  • Most schools justify putting children under pressure by referring to parental pressures.
  • This argument does not account for suicides at NVs.
  • Their original mandate had little to do with competitive success.
  • They were expected to provide a humanistic alternative to the moribund, bureaucratised culture of common government schools.
  • NVs had the potential to present a creative alternative to the mindlessly competitive atmosphere of English-medium urban public schools.
  • However, the bureaucracy that runs them had little imagination or vision to define their pace-setting role in an original, creative manner.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] An inside problem


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of ill-effects of household air pollution.

Mains level: The news-card analyses how household air pollution is perhaps the single largest source of air pollution in India, in a brief manner.


  • According to experts, household air pollution is the invisible factor increasing ambient air pollution in India.


  • The problem of air pollution and its ill-effects on people has gained significant traction in the media recently.
  • This is largely driven by the abysmal air quality in Delhi and the dubious honour of Indian cities repeatedly topping global air pollution charts.
  • This has led the conversation to be primarily about ambient air pollution (AAP), particularly in urban areas.
  • In turn, this has turned the spotlight on issues such as emissions from transport, crop burning, road dust, burning of waste and industries large and small.
  • However, this discourse leaves out the single largest source of air pollution — the pollution from our homes.
  • Burning of solid fuels such as firewood and dung-cakes, mainly for cooking, results in emissions of fine particulate matter and form by far the single largest source of air pollution in the country.

Single largest cause of AAP is actually household air pollution (HAP)

  • According to a 2018 international study led by many reputed researchers including five Indians titled “Burden of disease attributable to major air pollution sources in India”, 11 lakh deaths were attributable to AAP in 2015.
  • Of this, as many as 2.6 lakh were due to HAP.
  • A 2015 report of the Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Related Issues on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s website, reached a similar conclusion that about 26 per cent of particulate matter AAP was caused due to combustion of solid fuels in households.

HAP is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in the country on its own

  • The MoHFW, 2015 report states that HAP by itself, that is apart from its 26 per cent contribution to AAP, contributed to about 10 lakh deaths in 2010 and is the second biggest health risk factor in India (in comparison, AAP was seventh).
  • A 2017 study spearheaded by the Indian Council of Medical Research titled “India: Health of the Nation’s States” found that the five leading causes of mortality and morbidity in India are, respectively, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infection and stroke.
  • Of which there is strong and quantifiable evidence linking HAP to four with diarrhoeal diseases being the exception.
  • In other words, the overall, total health impacts attributable to HAP are more than half the health impacts attributable to air pollution.
  • Therefore, there is a strong case to be made for tackling HAP on a war footing.
  • This requires households to predominantly use fuels that burn cleanly, because even partial use of solid fuels can have significant health impacts.

Way Forward

  • On the policy and programme front, a scheme such as Ujjwala for providing LPG connections recognises this challenge and represents an important first step to tackle the problem.
  • However, it needs to be strengthened to improve affordability and reliability of supply. Addressing this challenge requires going beyond Ujjwala.
  • In a country as large and diverse as India, LPG need not be the only solution to address this problem and consumers should be given a wider choice of clean-burning options.
  • Demand-side interventions to encourage people to switch to cleaner options, in order to address any behavioural or cultural barriers, and, to track HAP and associated health impacts, are also critical.
  • This requires a coordinated strategy involving multiple government agencies and programmes.
  • It also requires setting well-defined targets for HAP and its associated health impacts, and having systems to monitor and publish them.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

[op-ed snap] A tragedy that was long in the making


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of ill-effects of illegal coal-mining in Meghalaya.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues with illegal rat-hole mining in Meghalaya causing ruinous effects on the environment, in a brief manner.


  • The efforts to reach the 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine in the East Jaintia hills of Meghalaya since December 13 continue.
  • However, these efforts began belatedly and have faced many problems.
  • Further, illegal rat-hole mining in Meghalaya persists despite ruinous effects on the environment.

Rescue efforts were doomed from the beginning

  • First, the Meghalaya government has no idea what happens inside these rat-hole mines, which are barely 2 ft wide, since mining is a private activity.
  • Despite the National Green Tribunal ban of April 2014, mining continues in the State.
  • Second, it was unfortunate that the district administration assumed the miners to be dead on the very day of the tragedy.
  • This assumption was evident in the letter written to the National Disaster Response Force.
  • It was only after a Delhi-based lawyer and his team of human rights lawyers presented their suggestions to the court that the Meghalaya government got different actors to the accident site.

Issue: Why things were delayed?

  • The distance of the mine was a major hindrance.
  • The trapped miners were being racially profiled in the minds of the people and the state.
  • Of the 15 miners, only three were locals from the nearby village of Lumthari.
  • The rest were Muslims from Garo Hills, Meghalaya, and Bodoland, Assam.
  • Their socio-economic profile also worked against them.
  • They were the poorest of the poor who took a huge risk to enter a mine and dig for coal without any safety gear.

Other challenges faced: No single person or agency to coordinate the rescue mission

  • When a mine is flooded, the immediate response, apart from pumping out the water, is to stop further flow of water into it.
  • This requires a hydrologist to scientifically map out the area from where water entered the mine.
  • Sudhir Kumar, a hydrologist from the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, arrived only two weeks after the disaster.
  • So did the divers from the Indian Navy and the 100 HP water pumps from Kirloskar Brothers.
  • The remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) from Planys in Chennai came three weeks later and so did the geologists from Hyderabad.
  • All these delays happened because there was no one person or agency to coordinate the rescue mission.

Questions arise with respect to rat-hole mining of coal

  • Why does the state allow this archaic mining system, which has complete disregard for human life and safety?
  • Why is Meghalaya exempted from national mining laws?

Ill-effects of Rat-hole mining

  • Rat-hole mining, which started with gusto in the 1980s, has poisoned three rivers in the Jaintia hills: the Myntdu, Lunar and Lukha.
  • Scientists from the North-Eastern Hill University have found that these rivers have very high acidic levels.
  • Reports from other agencies suggest that pH of the water and sulphate and iron concentrations indicate significant deterioration of the rivers.
  • Acid mine drainage from abandoned mines was a major cause for water pollution in the areas investigated, the reports added.

Arguments of coal mine owners

  • According to the coal mine owners, rat-hole mining should continue because no other form of mining is viable.
  • They argue that the NGT ban should be lifted since they claim that coal mining provides livelihoods for many.

Tribes of Meghalaya are divided on the issue of rat-hole mining

  • Those who care for the environment and for a future for their children and grandchildren have been clamouring for an end to the practice of rat-hole mining and reckless limestone mining.
  • On the other hand, the mining elite have mobilised forces to demonise environmental activists.
  • To add to these woes, cement companies also release their effluents into the rivers.
  • So now a deadly cocktail of pollutants is being released into the environment.
  • The scale of the problem is clear in this one fact: there are 3,923 coal mines in one district with a geographical area of 2126 sq. km.

Meghalaya is a Sixth Schedule State

  • The other troubling factor is that coal mine owners are insisting that since Meghalaya is a State under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, national mining laws should be exempted here.
  • The Sixth Schedule was enacted to protect the community rights of tribals from any form of exploitation of their land and resources.
  • It cannot be used as an instrument to protect an activity that is a private enterprise and inhuman. It also violates Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Therefore, it seems that the Sixth Schedule is unable to protect the forests and rivers that are common property resources.
  • Acid mine drainage has rendered even agricultural land non-productive. Mine owners do not care about environmental degradation.

Abandoning their responsibility

  • There is complete disregard for corporate social responsibility by coal mine owners because the mines are privately owned by the tribals.
  • They have left thousands of abandoned mines as human graves.
  • The State also does not insist that they reclaim and afforest those mines.
  •  In 40 years of mining and profiteering, the mine owners have till date not constructed a single hospital or even a school.


  • The Central government and the Supreme Court should not allow this to carry on in one part of the country when strict laws are applied elsewhere.

Coastal Zones Management and Regulations

MoEFCC notifies new CRZ norms


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: New CRZ norms

Mains level: India’s efforts for marine environment conservation and various initiatives related to it


  • The Union Environment Ministry has released the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), 2019 opening up the coastline of the country for construction and tourism activities.


  • In June 2014, the MoEFCC constituted a Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Shailesh Nayak to examine the various issues and concerns recommending appropriate changes in the CRZ Notification, 2011.
  • The Shailesh Nayak Committee held wide ranging consultations with State Governments and other stakeholders and submitted its recommendations in 2015.

New Rules

  • The new CRZ notification, issued under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 seeks to “to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles taking into account the dangers of natural hazards, sea level rise due to global warming.
  • It aims to conserve and protect the unique environment of coastal stretches and marine areas, besides livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities in the coastal area.

Salient Features

FSI Norms Eased

  • For CRZ-II (Urban) areas, Floor Space Index (FSI) or the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) had been frozen as per 1991 Development Control Regulation (DCR) levels.
  • In the CRZ, 2019 Notification, it has been decided to de-freeze the same and permit FSI for construction projects, as prevailing on the date of the new Notification.

Tourism infrastructure permitted in coastal areas

  • Temporary tourism facilities such as shacks, toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities etc. have now been permitted in Beaches.
  • Such temporary tourism facilities are also now permissible in the “No Development Zone” (NDZ) of the CRZ-III areas as per the Notification.
  • However, a minimum distance of 10 m from HTL should be maintained for setting up of such facilities.

CRZ Clearances streamlined

  • Only such projects/activities, which are located in the CRZ-I (Ecologically Sensitive Areas) and CRZ IV shall be dealt with for CRZ clearance by the MoEFCC.
  • The powers for clearances with respect to CRZ-II and III have been delegated at the State level with necessary guidance.

No Development Zone (NDZ) of 20 meters for all Islands

  • For islands close to the main land coast and for all Backwater Islands in the main land NDZ of 20 m has been stipulated.
  • It has been done in the wake of space limitations and unique geography of such regions, bringing uniformity in treatment of such regions.

Pollution Abatement

  • In order to address pollution in Coastal areas treatment facilities have been made permissible activities in CRZ-I B area subject to necessary safeguards.
  • The Notification contains provisions for defence and strategic projects.

Critically Vulnerable Coastal Areas (CVCA)

  • Sundarban region of West Bengal and other ecologically sensitive areas identified are as under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 such as Gulf of Khambat and Gulf of Kutchh in Gujarat, Malvan, Achra-Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, Karwar and Coondapur in Karnataka, Vembanad in Kerala, Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, Bhaitarkanika in Odisha, Coringa, East Godavari and Krishna in AP.
  • They are treated as Critical Vulnerable Coastal Areas (CVCA) and managed with the involvement of coastal communities including fisher folk who depend on coastal resources for their sustainable livelihood.

Way Forward

  • The changes brought about in the CRZ Notification will help creating additional opportunities for affordable housing and sustainable development activities.
  • It is stated that the new notification will boost tourism, creating employment opportunities.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Cabinet decides to strengthen Northeast autonomous councils

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fifth and Sixth Schedules

Mains level: Development of Tribal Areas


  • The Union Cabinet has approved a Constitutional amendment to increase the financial and executive powers of the 10 autonomous councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the northeast.

Highlights of the Amendments

Easing Finances

  • The Finance Commission would be mandated to recommend devolution of financial resources to the councils.
  • Till now, the autonomous councils have depended on grants from Central Ministries and the State governments for specific projects.

Transfer of Subjects

  • The amendment also provides for transfer of additional 30 subjects including departments of Public Works, Forests, Public Health Engineering, Health and Family Welfare, Urban Development and Food and Civil Supply to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council and Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council in Assam.

Amendments in Schedule VI

  • The cabinet approves landmark amendment to Article 280 and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • As per the amendment, at least one third of the seats would be reserved for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura.

More powers to Village Councils

  • The village councils would be empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice including those related to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry.
  • The State Election Commissions would hold elections to the autonomous councils, village and municipal councils in the areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura. There would be a provision for anti-defection too.
  • Meghalaya has for the time being opted out of the provision for elected village and municipal councils and one-third reservation for women.

Way Forward

  • This will be a game changer, as it will substantially enhance the funds available to these local government institutions for undertaking development works in these tribal areas.
  • The proposed amendments provide for elected village municipal councils, ensuring democracy at the grass-roots level.

Digital India Initiatives

[pib] eCourts Services through Common Service Centres


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  E-Court Services

Mains level: Utility of the E-Court Services


  • In order to provide efficient and time-bound access to the Courts services to litigant public, who are on the other side of the digital divide and don’t have access to internet, the Department of Justice has decided to deliver eCourts services to them through around 2 lakh Common Service Centres (CSCs).

E-Court Services

  1. The eCourts database contains case information in respect of over 10 crore cases and more than 7 crore orders / judgments.
  2. To ensure affordability, Department of Justice has decided not to charge any fee from the customers for eCourts related services delivered through CSC’s.
  3. The project has made significant progress under the guidance of e-Committee of Supreme Court of India in computerizing district and subordinate courts of the country through installation of case information software, hardware and local area network in courts.
  4. ECourts services are also being connected on Wide Area Network through a dedicated network offering bandwidth upto 100 Mbps.
  5. They have now been successfully rolled out through SMS, email, web, mobile app etc. benefiting millions of litigants and advocates.
  6. Court case information such as judicial proceedings/decisions, case registration, cause list, case status, daily orders, and final judgments of all computerized district and subordinate courts of the country will now be available across all CSCs in the country.

Why CSCs?

  1. The rural reach of the CSC’s is extensive, envisaging a minimum of one CSC in each Gram Panchayat, thus enabling eCourts services to reach all corners of the country.
  2. Towards cost of service, CSC’s has been authorized to charge Rs.5/- for any of the 23 services available on Courts portal.

Biofuel Policy

[pib] Bio-Jet fuel for Military Aircraft


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CELIMAC

Mains level: Uses of bio-fuels


  • After months of exhaustive ground and flight trials, the indigenous produced bio-fuel has been finally cleared for use by the premier airworthiness certification agency of the country.

 Bio-Jet Fuel for Military Aircrafts

  1. The Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) conducted various checks and tests conducted on bio-jet.
  2. It has formally granted its approval for use of this fuel, produced from non-conventional source i.e. non-edible vegetable/ tree borne oil to be used on military aircraft.
  3. The bio-jet fuel has been produced from seeds of Jatropha plant sourced from Chhattisgarh and processed at CSIR-IIP’s lab at Dehradun.
  4. This approval enables the IAF to fulfil its commitment to fly the maiden IAF An-32 aircraft with a blend of bio-jet fuel.

 Role of CEMILAC

  1. Any hardware or software which is to be used on Indian military aircraft, including those operated by Indian Navy or Army has to be cleared for use by CEMILAC before being inducted for regular use.
  2. This clearance is a major step for continued testing and eventual full certification of the bio-jet fuel for use on a commercial scale by civil aircraft as well.

Why it is important?

  1. Increased demand of bio-jet fuel would give impetus to increase in collection of tree-borne non-edible oil seeds.
  2. It will help generate ancillary income, increase remuneration for tribal and marginal farmers, and enthuse cultivation/ collection of oilseeds.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Crocodylus palustris, a crocodile species that is being removed from the Narmada


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Narmada river Crocodile

Mains level: Legal transportation of wild animals and provisions related to it


  • The Gujarat Forest Department has started evacuating muggers from two ponds on the Sardar Sarovar Dam premises on the Narmada, to facilitate a seaplane service at the Statue of Unity.

Narmada Crocodile

  1. The mugger crocodile, also called marsh crocodile or broad-snouted crocodile, is a species (Crocodylus palustris) native to freshwater habitats from southern Iran and Pakistan to the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka.
  2. Already extinct in Bhutan and Myanmar, the mugger has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1982.
  3. In India, it is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  4. Vadodara, 90 km from the Narmada dam, is the only city in the country where crocodiles live in their natural habitat amidst human population.

Transportation is conditionally legal

  1. Among the six schedules in the Act, Schedule I and part II of Schedule II provide the highest degrees of protection to listed species, with the most stringent penalties for offenders.
  2. For animals listed in Schedule I, any of kind of population control activity, capture for captivity, or transportation can involve cumbersome processes.
  3. This includes even transportation of crocodiles. So its relocation or capture is definitely illegal without permission.
  4. However, state governments have the authority to give permissions in some situations where they become a danger for the human population.

Why under Schedule I?

  1. Experts say crocodiles were listed under Schedule I not because of the fear of extinction but to prevent their trade.
  2. Crocodiles are valued for their skin and flesh.
  3. In some cases, they are also worshipped, including in the Narmada.



  • The mugger is a marsh crocodile which is found throughout the Indian subcontinent.
  • It is a freshwater species, and found in lakes, rivers and marshes.
  • IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Saltwater Crocodile

  • It is the largest of all living reptiles.
  • It is found along the eastern coast of India.
  • IUCN Status: Least Concerned


  • The Gharial is a fish eating crocodile is native to the Indian subcontinent.
  • It is listed as a Critically Endangered by IUCN.
  • Small released populations are present and increasing in the rivers of the National Chambal Sanctuary, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Son River Sanctuary.
  • It is also found at the rainforest biome of Mahanadi in Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary, Orissa.