March 2019
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[op-ed snap] A meaningful safety net for the poor

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: PM-KISAN

Mains level: PM-KISAN and its mandate and benefits arising from it.


NEWS

CONTEXT

In the last week of February, the government launched a scheme to pay Rs 6,000 every year to poor rural households who own less than 2 hectares of land.

Analysis of rural income and the impact of cash transfer

  • The national sample survey (NSS) of household expenditures for 2011-12 (the latest publicly available) provides MPCE by fractile groups such as the poorest 5 per cent, the next 5 per cent, the next 10 per cent, and so on.
  • In 2011-12, the household size in rural areas in the state was 5.5. The consumer price index for rural areas changed from 111 in 2011-12 to 137 in 2017-18, giving a ratio of 1.23. Therefore, Rs 6,000 per family in terms of 2011-12 prices translates to Rs 74 per month (Rs 6,000/12/5.5/1.23).
  • According to the Rangarajan Committee Report, the poverty line for rural Bihar was Rs 971 in 2011-12.

  • Thus, the transfer leads to significant reduction in poverty. A similar calculation for all the states and union territories show a 10 per cent reduction in the percentage of the poor in many of them.

Analysis fo benefits by analysing Food security Scheme

  • The actual reductions are likely to be greater once one accounts for the benefits of the food security scheme.
  • The NSSO survey of consumption expenditure of 2011-12 provides data on the quantity of rice and wheat obtained from the ration shop and market as well as the prices at which they were obtained. The average purchase by the bottom 5 percentile households in 2011-12 was 15 kg of rice and 6.5 kg from the PDS shops at around Rs 3.5 per kg of rice and Rs 3.7 per kg of wheat.
  • The household would save Rs 195 per month on its purchase of wheat and rice.
  • With a household size of around 5.5, the food security act provides an additional income of Rs 35 per month per person.
  • The poverty line should be lower by that amount and the poverty gap would reduce by Rs 35. Thus, in the case of Bihar, another 10 per cent will cross the poverty line. Consequently, poverty will reduce from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.

Conclusion

  • The annual benefit of Rs 6,000 will provide the household some cushion against unexpected expenditure due to illness or accidents, which pushes many people to the margins of the poverty line — at times, even below it.
  • The new scheme will not eliminate poverty. But its impact on reducing poverty will not be negligible.
Direct Benefits Transfers

[op-ed snap]Back to life: on the belated acquittal of death row convicts

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | 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: Not much

Mains level: The newscard talks against the death penalty. It supports the argument that there is no point of allowing death penalty.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Six members of a nomadic tribe spent 16 years in prison in Maharashtra;three of them were on death row for 13 of these years.A three-judge Bench has now found that unreliable testimony had been used to convict the six men.

Supreme Court’s Judgements

  • In recent years, the Supreme Court has been limiting the scope for resorting to the death penalty by a series of judgments that recognise the rights of death row convicts.
  • A few years ago it ruled that review petitions in cases of death sentence should be heard in open court.

Deepening inequality in access to Justice

  • It is inevitable that the long wait on death row, either for a review hearing or for the disposal of a mercy petition, could ultimately redound to the benefit of the convicts and their death sentences altered to life terms.
  • In a system that many say favours the affluent and the influential, the likelihood of institutional bias against the socially and economically weak is quite high.
  • Also, there is a perception that the way the “rarest of rare cases” norm is applied by various courts is arbitrary and inconsistent.

Way Forward

  • The clamour for justice often becomes a call for the maximum sentence.
  • In that sense, every death sentence throws up a moral dilemma on whether the truth has been sufficiently established.
  • In that sense, every death sentence throws up a moral dilemma on whether the truth has been sufficiently established.
Death Penalty Abolition Debate

[op-ed snap] Wiggle space: on SEBI’s new rules

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Need for better regulation of CRAs to maintain investor confidence in Indian markets


NEWS

CONTEXT

According to new regulations issued by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), liquid mutual funds holding debt securities with a maturity term of more than 30 days will have to value these securities on a mark-to-market basis.

Changes in rules

  • Until now, liquid mutual funds could report the value of debt instruments with a maturity term of up to 60 days using the amortisation-based valuation method.
  • Only debt securities with a maturity term of over 60 days were to be valued on a mark-to-market basis. So the new rule seemingly narrows the scope for amortisation-based valuation.
  • Amortisation-based valuation, which is completely detached from the market price of the securities being valued, allowed mutual funds to avoid the volatility associated with mark-to-market valuation.

Impact

  • By exempting securities with a maturity period of up to 30 days from mark-to-market valuation, however, SEBI may be doing no favour to individual investors.
  • this helps avoid the volatility of mark-to-market accounting and the need to provide a fair account of the value of their investments.
  • What is likely is a decrease in the yields received on securities maturing in 30 days or less and an increase in the yields on debt instruments with a maturity period of 31 to 60 days.
  • It will, however, do nothing to make investors in mutual funds become more informed about the real value of their investments.

Contrast with earlier arrangements

  • The latest SEBI rules are also in direct contrast to the usual accounting practices when it comes to the valuation of securities.
  • Generally accepted accounting principles mandate securities with the least maturity to be reported on a mark-to-market basis while allowing the amortisation-based method to be employed to value other securities with longer maturity periods.
  • This makes sense as the profits and losses associated with securities with shorter terms are closer to being realised by investors when compared to longer-term securities.

Conclusion

  • SEBI would do well to mandate that all investments made by liquid mutual funds should be valued on a mark-to-market basis. Simultaneously, it should work on deepening liquidity in the bond market so that bond market prices can serve as a ready reference to ascertain the value of various debt securities.

 

 

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

Nitrogen Pollution

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: N2 Pollution

Mains level: India’s vulnerability to Nitrogen Pollution


News

  • The annual Frontiers Report 2019 published by the United Nations (UN), has included a chapter on nitrogen pollution in its latest edition.
  • Pollution caused by the reactive forms of nitrogen is now being recognised as a grave environmental concern on a global level.

Frontiers Report 2019

  • The report was released by the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi.
  • It highlights that growing demand on the livestock, agriculture, transport, industry and energy sector has led to a sharp growth of the levels of reactive nitrogen — ammonia, nitrate, nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide (N2O) — in our ecosystems.
  • The report claims that the total annual cost of nitrogen pollution to eco system and healthcare services in the world is around $340 billion.
  • The report also warns that the scale of the problem remains largely unknown and unacknowledged outside scientific circles.

Nitrogen: A limited necessity

  • Nitrogen is essential to all life on Earth as it forms an important component of life-building and propagating biochemical molecules like proteins.
  • But overuse in agriculture in the form of fertilisers and other fields have made this important element more bane than boon.
  • Some of these forms of nitrogen like N2O can have far reaching impacts for humanity.
  • N2O is 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Nitrogen: The “new carbon” for India

  • In 2017, a large team of Indian scientists had come out with The Indian Nitrogen Assessment (INA).
  • India had become the third country/entity after the United States and the European Union to have assessed the environmental impact of nitrogen on their respective regions comprehensively.
  • The INA shows that agriculture is the main source of nitrogen pollution in India. Within agriculture, cereals pollute the most.
  • Rice and wheat take up the maximum cropped area in India at 36.95 million hectares (ha) and 26.69 million ha respectively.

Overuse of Fertilizers

  • India consumes 17 Mt (million tonnes) of nitrogen fertiliser annually as per the data of the Fertiliser Association of India.
  • Only 33 per cent of the nitrogen that is applied to rice and wheat through fertilisers is taken up by the plants in the form of nitrates (NO3). This is called Nitrogen Use Efficiency or NUE.
  • The remaining 67 per cent remains in the soil and seeps into the surrounding environment, causing a cascade of environmental and health impacts.

India is curious about it

  • The Indian government is leading a resolution on nitrogen pollution in the UNEA in Nairobi that starts from this March 11.
  • This is a historic event as India has never pushed for a resolution of such importance at any UN congregation before.
  • And this has happened because India can now leverage its own nitrogen assessment and its strong support to South Asian and other regional assessments with a more inclusive approach.
  • This would lead a process for faster global consensus and a more realistic programme of action.

Way Forward

  • All the policy frameworks, which deal with nitrogen, should be studied and a single framework like the one that exists for carbon should be built.
  • Bringing together nitrogen pollution and benefits under one framework will help in calculating the tradeoffs between the two and informing governments and the public about the total societal cost of using nitrogen.
  • There should be an international convention and forum for the discussion on nitrogen.
Air Pollution

The Indian Museum of the Earth (TIME)

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Achievement of Indians in science & technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: The Indian Museum of the Earth (TIME)

Mains level: India’s geological and paleontological evolution


News

  • India has set in motion an ambitious plan to create Indianised version of the world-famous Smithsonian Museum, showcasing Indian subcontinent’s evolutionary history.

The Indian Museum of the Earth (TIME)

  • This museum will be modelled on the American Museum of Natural History, or the Smithsonian museum in the U.S.
  • The museum, which will be set up as a public-private partnership, would be located somewhere in NCR.
  • Unlike static museums that are commonplace, the proposed Earth museum would be a dynamic place to encourage fossil research, student activity, public outreach besides driving policy decisions.
  • The museum would be having a repository where individual collectors and researchers can submit their life long collection for safekeeping and allowing future generation researchers to study those samples.

India’s richness

  • India has a rich geological history and fossils dating back to the breaking up of the Gondwanaland super-continent nearly 150 million years ago.
  • Prominent fossils include the jaw of an extinct ape, Gigantopithecus bilaspurensi, dinosaur eggs so large they were mistaken for cannon balls, and the skeleton of a horned carnivore, Rajasaurus narmadensis, or the royal Narmada dinosaur.

Why need such museum?

  • India is home to a vast treasury of geological and palaeontological specimens that contain a wealth of scientific information about the planet and its history.
  • Several collections of fossils and important geological specimens weren’t properly organised, and they survived only due to the efforts of individual researchers who maintained them within their labs.
  • But these rare specimens are scattered in different labs all over the country.
  • India doesn’t have a single such museum of repute, or a repository where new finds may be compared to those already discovered.
Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

ISRO, French agency to set up maritime surveillance system

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Oceansat-3-Argos mission

Mains level: All missions of the ISRO are important from examination point of view


News

  • ISRO and its French counterpart CNES has sealed an agreement to set up a joint maritime surveillance system in the country.
  • The two nations will explore putting up a constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites.

Oceansat-3-Argos Mission

  • The system will be augmented with the launch of Oceansat-3-Argos mission in 2020 along with a joint infrared Earth-observation satellite.
  • These will identify and track movement of ships globally – and in particular those moving in the Indian Ocean region where France has its Reunion Islands.
  • Before that, they will initially share data from their present space systems and develop new algorithms to analyse them, according to the Paris based National Centre for Space Studies.
  • They work together for the design and development of joint products and techniques, including those involving Automatic Identification System (AIS), to monitor and protect the assets in land and sea.

Other collaborations

  • The two agencies have put up two climate and ocean weather monitoring satellites Megha-Tropiques (of 2011) and SARAL-AltiKa (2013) that is considered a model.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Most polluted cities of the world are in India

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Air Quality Report 2018

Mains level: Ever increasing air pollution in India


News

  • Fifteen of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in India, according to an analysis of air quality in several cities around the world.

World Air Quality Report 2018

  • The report was compiled by IQAir Group, a manufacturer of air-monitoring sensors as well as purifiers and environmentalist group Greenpeace.
  • It relies on ground-based sensors located in 3,000 cities from 73 countries.
  • The main objective behind the report was to measure the presence of fine particulate matter known as Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, which has been recorded in real-time in 2018.
  • Exposure to PM 2.5 pollution increases the risk of lung cancer, stroke, heart attack and respiratory diseases, including asthma symptoms among all age groups.

Highlights of the Report

  • Gurugram, in Haryana, topped the list with an average annual particulate matter (PM 2.5) quality of 135 g/m3 (micrograms/cubic metre), in 2018.
  • Delhi — a frequent fixture on global pollution hotspots — was only the 11th most noxious city behind Lahore, Pakistan (10th) and Hotan, China (8th).
  • When ranked by country, Bangladesh emerged as the most polluted followed by Pakistan and India respectively.
  • Jakarta and Hanoi emerged as Southeast Asia’s two most polluted cities and average concentrations in the cities in China fell by 12% from 2017 to 2018.
  • Beijing ranks now as the 122nd most polluted city in the world in 2018 and China, the 12th most polluted country in the world.
  • Of the countries analyzed, Iceland emerged as the one with the cleanest air.
Air Pollution

Ministry plugs loophole that allowed plastic waste import

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Features of the Amendment rules

Mains level: Issues related to plastic waste disposal in India


News

  • Solid plastic waste has been prohibited from import into the country including in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and by Export Oriented Units (EOU) said the MoEFCC.
  • The change in law was part of the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019.

Salient features of the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management& Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019:

  • Solid plastic waste has been prohibited from import into the country including in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and by Export Oriented Units (EOU).
  • Exporters of silk waste have now been given exemption from requiring permission from the Ministry.
  • Electrical and electronic assemblies and components manufactured in and exported from India, if found defective can now be imported back into the country, within a year of export, without obtaining permission from MoEFCC.
  • Industries which do not require consent under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, are now exempted from requiring authorization also under the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, provided that hazardous and other wastes generated by such industries are handed over to the authorized actual users, waste collectors or disposal facilities.

Why such move?

  • In spite of having a significant plastic pollution load of its own, and a ban on plastic waste imports, imported PET bottles from abroad for processing SEZ.
  • The influx of PET bottles was quadrupled from 2017 to 2018.
  • Indian firms are importing plastic scrap from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling.
  • India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes.
  • To incentivise domestic plastic recycling units, the government had banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles, in 2015.
  • In 2016, an amendment allowed such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies situated in SEZs.
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc