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April 2019

[op-ed snap]The next revolution


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:IEA

Mains level: Suggestion to increase dependence on renewable energy to follow sustainable development.



The current trajectory is fundamentally antithetical to the objective of sustainable development.And, because time is of the essence.


  • Today, every projection of India’s energy future draws the same broad conclusion.
  • The International Energy Agency (IEA), multinationals like Exxon-Mobil, BP or Shell, the erstwhile Planning Commission, or now the NITI Aayog Conclusion is that
    • The forecast is that energy demand will move on an upward curve.
    • Indigenous supplies will fail to keep pace with this increase in demand;
    • Energy imports will rise in absolute and relative terms.
    • The environment will face increasing stress.
    • Coal will dominate, oil and gas will have significance; renewables, whilst on a rising trend, will account for a relatively inconsequential share and air pollution, depleting water tables and extreme weather conditions will presage ecological collapse.

Data Regarding Usage

  • India will import 95 per cent of its oil requirements; 60 per cent of its gas requirements and 30 per cent of its coal requirements (despite the fact that it contains the fifth largest deposits of coal in the world).
  • India will meet its Paris commitments to reduce GHG emissions by 35 per cent in 2035 relative to 2005.
  • It will be one of the largest absolute emitters of pollutants in the world.


1.Abundance of Coal

  • Coal is abundantly available — it is the cheapest of fuels and there are no competitive substitutes for liquids as a fuel for mobility.

2.High cost for renewables

  • The costs of transitioning to renewables — whether calculated in terms of the sunk costs of stranded thermal power assets or the creation of transmission and distribution infrastructure to overcome the problem of “intermittency” (the sun does not shine all the time; nor does the wind blow with regularity) are huge.

3.Technology and other constraints

  • There are technological (that is, storage or carbon sequestration) and regulatory (conservation norms, emissions standards) issues to overcome before clean energy can be brought to scale.

How to overcome dependence on energy imports

  • We have to ask the counterfactual and contemplate the counterintuitive — “What institutional, economic, technological, financial and collaborative steps must be taken to flip the ratio between fossils and renewables in the energy basket of emergent India?

Way forward

  • A few early steps must be taken by the new government to start this process.

1.Replacing the Current views on energy sectors

    • This lens provides a disaggregated picture and encourages a siloed approach to energy governance.
    • It does not facilitate a holistic overview of the linkages between the different components of energy (oil, gas, coal, renewables, nuclear, hydro, bio, non-commercial);
    • Nor between fuel usage, electricity, mobility, industry, and agriculture, on the one hand, and, ecology on the other.
    • A general equilibrium macro model is required that captures such linkages and enables decision-makers to consider the systemic implications of changes in one or more of these variables.

2.Creating appropriate Instituions

  • We have to create the appropriate institutional structures of decision-making.
  • The current structure of multiple “energy” ministries (petroleum, coal, renewables, power, atomic) should be collapsed into one omnibus Ministry of Energy and Environment.
  • This will enable integrated decision making; it will also provide a platform for collaborative public-private and constructively “disruptive” innovation.
  • Besides, it will also bring sustainability to the fore of policy.

3.Legislate Environment Act

  • The government should use its newly derived mandate to legislate an “Energy and Environment Security” Act.
  • The purpose should be to engage the public in the larger debate on how to weaken if not break the current unhealthy nexus between economic growth, energy demand and environmental degradation.
  • It should be to elevate the objective of wreaking an energy “discontinuity” into a national priority.



[op-ed snap] Kartarpur focus


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Challenges in talks to formulate the kartarpur corridor



India and Pakistan announced in November they would operationalise a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab.

Optimistic Background

  • It was hailed as a step forward in an otherwise fraught relationship.
  • Prime Minister appeared to share the optimism when he likened the initiative’s potential to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Challenges in the formulation of the corridor

  • There has been round upon round of wrangling between the two governments over every detail like
    •  The number of pilgrims to be accommodated,
    • The security restrictions.
    • The documentation and mode of transport to be used by pilgrims.


  • The base of the differences is the deep distrust between the two governments
    • A chasm that has deepened in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and the Balakot strike.
    • Pakistan Prime Ministers administration feels it should be given more credit for having cleared the Kartarpur proposal
    • For its part, New Delhi refuses to acknowledge Pakistan’s overture, and has made it clear the corridor will have no connection with furthering bilateral talks on other issues.
  • Meanwhile, security agencies have voiced concerns about a possible attempt by Pakistan’s military establishment to use the corridor to fuel separatist Khalistani sentiment.


  • Khalsitan Concerns
    • The government’s decision now to postpone the next round of technical talks, which were scheduled for April 2, is driven mainly by those concerns.
    • In particular the inclusion of some known Khalistan activists in a gurdwara committee that would interact with pilgrims from India.
    • Last week, the Ministry of External Affairs summoned Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner and sought clarifications on the “controversial elements” on the committee, and said the next meeting would only be held after it receives Pakistan’s response.

Balancing security and corridor

  • While none of the government’s concerns is unwarranted, it could not have been unprepared when it embarked on the corridor proposal.
  • Pakistan’s support to separatist Sikh groups goes back several decades.
  • India must work to secure its border from the threat even as it opens the gates for thousands of pilgrims to travel to Pakistan.
  • National security must get priority.
  • But for this, there must be an effort by all stakeholders in India — the Centre, the State government and the leadership of the BJP, the Akalis and the Congress — to resist scoring political points against one another.

Way Forward

  • Modalities and technical issues, such as on the numbers, eligibility and identity proof required for the trip to Kartarpur Sahib, should be ironed out by both governments.
  • Putting off meetings is hardly a constructive solution, given the proposed opening by November to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

Banking Sector Reforms

[op-ed snap] Setting limits


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RBI functioning, reserves of RBI, Basel norms, BIS

Mains level: The tussle between RBI & the government and the need for its early resolution for sending correct signals in the economy.



The former governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan, has reignited the debate on the autonomy or independence of the country’s central bank by suggesting that it was perhaps an opportune time to set statutory limits to protect the term of the governor.


  • The former RBI chief’s remarks appear to have been framed in the context of the exit late last year of Urjit Patel, well before the end of his term, after a spat with the government, as well as his own uneasy relationship during his three-year tenure.
  • He said that imposing checks on the government’s powers was important to secure operational independence and to put an end to constant interference by the sovereign, to achieve the broader objective of price and financial stability.

Need for autonomy

  • Some of his predecessors, too, have in the past pitched for a secure five-year term for the RBI Governor,
  • Arguing that a full service central bank — like the one India has — with a mandate not just for monetary policy but also oversight of the financial sector, besides currency management and payments and settlements, needs to be autonomous.

The conflict between the government and central bank regarding policy measures

  • The bank and government have differed often over how to achieve its goals
    1. Especially on interest rate management
    2. The approach to resolving the issue of bad loans.
  • It is not unusual to see such differences globally — like in the US.
  • Where President, Donald Trump, unhappy with the US Federal Reserve’s stance on interest rates, has issued threats to the world’s most powerful central bank chairman, Jerome Powell.

Reasons and nature of conflicts

  • These conflicts are naturally given
    1. The shorter political horizon of elected governments
    2. The need for central banks to take a non-political medium-term approach to achieve price or financial stability.
  • The 2008 financial crisis further
    1. Underlined the importance of macro-economic stability.t
    2. And that the policies for achieving it are inter-linked.s
    3. Signalling the importance of having a strong central bank free of political compulsions.

Ways to ensure autonomy

1. Making it accountable to parliament

  • One institutional response to ensure that and to shield the central bank from growing political assaults is to make it directly accountable to the Parliament without being dependent on funding,
  • like the way the US Fed derives its powers from the Congress.

2.Ensuring accountability

  • But that statutory protection to the RBI and its chief must be accompanied by an accountability mechanism.
  • Simply put, there is merit in central bank independence — not unbridled — as there are macro economic gains which would accrue besides boosting policy credibility.


  • Ultimately, as the first Indian governor of the RBI, CD Deshmukh, said seven decades ago, it is not the constitution of the institution that matters, but the spirit in which the partnership between the ministry of finance and the bank is worked.
  • The success of the partnership will, in the final analysis, depend on the manner in which the government asks to be served and provides opportunities accordingly.
  • It is the display of such a spirit by any government that will be critical to the future of India’s public institutions, including the RBI.

History- Important places, persons in news

Ramappa temple for world heritage site


Mains Paper 1: Arts and Culture| Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ramappa Temple, UNESCO

Mains level: India’s rich cultural treasure and ways to preserve it


Ramappa Temple to get the tag

  • Telangana may get its first UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it may be the Ramappa Temple at Palampet near Warangal than any of the Qutb Shahi era sites in Hyderabad.
  • The Qutb Shahi monuments of Hyderabad, Golconda Fort, Qutb Shahi Tombs and Charminar have been on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites from September 2010.
  • The Ramappa Temple’s application filed as ‘The Glorious Kakatiya Temples and Gateways’ has been fast-tracked from April 2014.
  • Earlier, the Ramappa Temple was part of a ‘serial nomination’ along with the Thousand Pillar Temple, Swayambhu Temple and Keerti Thoranas of Warangal Fort.

About the temple

  • The Ramappa Temple is a jewel of the Kakatiya era and it stands out.
  • An inscription in the temple dates it to the year 1213 AD and says it was built by a General Recherla Rudra, during the period of the Kakatiya ruler Ganapati Deva.
  • The Siva temple is perhaps the only one in the country that is known by the name of the architect rather than the king who commissioned it or its presiding deity.
  • The stunning dance sculptures and friezes of the temple appear as if they have been machined into shape on black dolomite, rather than being chiseled.
  • The temple is built on a valley and it rests on bricks that are scientifically shown to float in water.

Agencies involved

  • The property is evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) then provides advice on conservation of the site, and training.
  • After all these steps, the World Heritage Committee evaluates the site and decides to inscribe it or send back the nomination.
  • It remains to be seen whether the Ramappa temple will win the prized inscription at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee meeting to be held in Azerbaijan this year.



  1. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris.
  2. Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms etc.
  3. UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information.
  4. It designates projects and places of cultural and scientific significance, such as:
  • Global Geoparks Network
  • Biosphere reserves (Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), since 1971)
  • City of Literature
  • Endangered languages and linguistic diversity projects
  • Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
  • Memory of the World International Register, since 1997
  • Water resources management (International Hydrological Programme (IHP), since 1965)
  • World Heritage sites
  • World Digital Library

UNESCO World Heritage Committee

  • The World Heritage Committee selects the sites to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger.
  • It monitors the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties.
  • It is composed of 21 states parties that are elected by the General Assembly of States Parties for a four-year term.
  • India is NOT a member of this Committee.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Malham Caves


Mains Paper 1: Geography | Geographical features & their location

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Malham Cave

Mains level: Features of the cave


  • Israel unveils world’s longest salt cave.

Malham Caves

  • Malham is one of 150 caves in Mount Sodom, at the southern part of the Dead Sea, that are made of pure salt.
  • Mount Sedom sits near the Dead Sea, a shrinking salt lake (and lowest point on Earth) that extends into Jordan, Israel and the occupied West Bank.
  • A large part of the cave’s interior is covered by a fine dust that blows in from the desert.
  • Massive slabs of salt, some amber-colored from dust and minerals, stick out in dramatic formations.
  • A thin slab appearing to have been sliced out is nicknamed “The Guillotine,” while twin slabs that look like a pair of tablets in a different hall have earned the title of “The Ten Commandments.”
  • Israeli researchers say they have discovered the world’s longest salt cave near the desert site where, according to the Bible, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

How old is it?

  • Radiocarbon dating suggests it’s about 7,000 years old, its many passages carved by the very occasional rain storms that pass through the region.
  • Even now, Malham continues to grow when water flows in and dissolves more of the salt.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Asiatic Wild Dogs (Dhole)


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

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: Dhole and its habitat

Mains Level: Read the attached story 


  • A recent study has discovered a reduction in Dhole occupancy in Karnataka’s Western Ghats, from 62 percent in 2007 to 54 percent in 2015.

Asiatic Wild Dogs (Dhole)

  • The dhole is on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species and is protected under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in India.
  • Globally, dholes have disappeared from approximately 82 percent of their former range.
  • The Western Ghats perhaps supports the largest dhole population in the world and is therefore a critical conservation landscape for the species.

Various threats

  • Massive infrastructural initiatives in the area, human intrusion in protected zones, change in land-use pattern, forest fragmentation and loss of forest cover are some of the reasons for the decline in dhole population.
  • The presence of semi-feral, free-ranging domestic dogs in unprotected forest areas might be another reason for the decline in dhole occupancy.
  • Free-ranging dogs affect dholes as they compete with dholes for similar resources like prey animals.
  • Moreover, these dogs often carry lethal and non-lethal disease pathogens that could result in the spread of diseases in the dhole population.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Ocean heat hits record high: UN


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: State of Climate Report

Mains level: Oceanic warming


  • Ocean heat hit a record high in 2018, the United Nations has said.

State of the Climate Report

  • In its latest State of the Climate overview, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reaffirmed that the last four years had been the hottest on record.
  • 2018 saw new records for ocean heat content in the upper 700 metres.
  • The UN had data for heat content in the upper 700 metres of the ocean dating back to 1955.
  • About 93 percent of excess heat — trapped around the Earth by greenhouse gases that come from the burning of fossil fuels – accumulates in the world’s oceans.
  • It proves what we have been saying that climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it.

About World Meteorological Organization

  • The WMO is an intergovernmental organization with a membership of 192 Member States and Territories.
  • It originated from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), the roots of which were planted at the 1873 Vienna International Meteorological Congress.
  • Established by the ratification of the WMO Convention on 23 March 1950, WMO became the specialised agency of the United Nations for meteorology.
  • The Secretariat, headquartered in Geneva, is headed by the Secretary-General.

Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

IIT Madras converts petroleum waste toluene into useful product


From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Toluene

Mains level: Not much


What is Toluene?

  • Toluene is one of the petrochemical wastes that get released without treatment from industries such as refineries, paint, textile, paper and rubber.
  • It is a colorless, water-insoluble liquid with the smell associated with paint thinners.
  • Toluene has been reported to cause serious health problems to aquatic life, and studies point that it has genotoxic and carcinogenic effects on human beings.

Converting Toluene into Benzene

  • Using platinum nanocatalyst, a team of researchers at the IIT-M has successfully converted petroleum waste-product toluene into benzoic acid.
  • Toluene when oxidised gets converted into benzoic acid.
  • Benzoic acid is used as a food preservative (E210) and medicine for fungal/bacterial infection.
  • Toluene is converted into benzoic acid through selective and controlled oxidation in the presence of a catalyst — binaphthyl-stabilised platinum nanoparticles (Pt-BNP).
  • Also, a green oxidant (70% aqueous tert-butyl hydroperoxide or TBHP) is used for converting toluene into benzoic acid.