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May 2019

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Seawater from Ice Age tucked in rocks discovered in Indian Ocean


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ice Age

Mains level : Read the attached story

Seawater from Ice Age

  • Scientists have discovered the remnants of seawater dating back to the Ice Age, tucked inside rock formations in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
  • Researchers from the University of Chicago in the U.S. made the discovery during a months-long scientific mission exploring the limestone deposits that form the Maldives.
  • The ship, the JOIDES Resolution, is specifically built for ocean science and is equipped with a drill that can extract cores of rock over a mile long from up to three miles beneath the seafloor.
  • The water in actual specimen was found to be 20,000-year-old as it was much saltier than normal seawater.

Importance of the study

  • Scientists are interested in reconstructing the last Ice Age because the patterns that drove its circulation, climate and weather were very different.
  • Understanding these patterns could shed light on how the planet’s climate will react in the future.

Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Superconductors and their future uses

  • Researchers from IISc Bengaluru have confirmed that the material they tested exhibits major properties of superconductivity at ambient temperature and pressure.


  • Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic flux fields occurring in certain materials, called superconductors, when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature.
  • A material is said to be a superconductor if it conducts electricity with zero resistance to the flow of electrons.
  • Until now, scientists have been able to make materials superconduct only at temperature much below zero degree C and hence making practical utility very difficult.
  • They help build very high efficiency devices leading to huge energy savings.

Silver embedded gold matrix

  • The material that exhibited superconductivity is in the form of nanosized films and pellets made of silver nanoparticles embedded in a gold matrix.
  • Interestingly, silver and gold independently do not exhibit superconductivity.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Equip Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EQUIP Project

Mains level : Promoting quality education in India

EQUIP Project

  • Equip stands for Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme.
  • The Ministry of HRD plans to launch this ambitious ₹1.5 lakh crore action plan to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education over the next five years.
  • The Centre would mobilise money from the marketplace through the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA).
  • The joint venture between the HRD Ministry and Canara Bank, set up in 2017, has been tasked with raising ₹1 lakh crore to finance infrastructure improvements in higher education by 2022.

Objectives of the project

The committees have drafted strategy to improve access to higher education, especially for underserved communities:

  • improve the gross enrolment ratio;
  • improve teaching and learning processes;
  • build educational infrastructure;
  • improve the quality of research and innovation;
  • use technology and online learning tools; and
  • work on accreditation systems, governance structures and financing.

A news NEP

  • This is being described as the implementation plan for the National Education Policy — a 2014 poll promise from the NDA.
  • The last NEP was released in 1986, with a revision in 1992.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

MeerLICTH Optical Telescope


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SKA, MeerLitch

Mains level : SKA

  • Scientists in South Africa have launched the world’s first optical telescope linked to a radio telescope, combining “eyes and ears” to try to unravel the secrets of the universe.
  • The device forms part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the remote Karoo desert, which will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope system.

Square Kilometre Array

  • The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre of collecting area.
  • The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a unique instrument, with the detailed design and preparation now well under way.
  • The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail.
  • Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • South Africa’s Karoo host the core of the high and mid frequency dishes, ultimately extending over the African continent. Australia’s Murchison Shire  host the low-frequency antennas.


  • The latest move combines the new optical telescope MeerLITCH — Dutch for ‘more light’ — with the recently-completed 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope, located 200 kilometres away.
  • This is the eye, with the MeerKAT being the ears as a radio telescope.
  • The MeerLITCH uses a main mirror just 65 cm in diameter and a single 100 megapixel detector measuring 10 cm x 10 cm.
  • Astronomers have previously had to wait for a cosmic incident to be picked up by a radio telescope and then carry out optic observations afterwards.
  • The project has been six years in the making by a joint-team of South African, Dutch and British scientists.

Purpose of MeerLITCH

  • MeerLICHT boasts of a huge field of view that allows astronomers to see an area 13 times the size of the full moon in exquisite detail, and pick up objects one million times fainter than is possible with the human eye.
  • The priorities for MeerLITCH is the study of black holes, neutron stars and stellar explosions, which must be scrutinized quickly before they fade away.
  • The study of exploding stars across the universe will gain a whole new dimension.
  • Flashes of radio emission known as Fast Radio Bursts may now be ‘caught in the act’. Hopefully we can finally determine the origin of these enigmatic flashes.

Members of SKA

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

[op-ed snap] Fire and laissez-faire: fix accountability for Surat tragedy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Fire safety measures should be stringent.


The deadly fire in a Surat coaching centre that resulted in the death of 22 young people highlights the gap between India’s dreamy visions of smart cities and the cruel reality of urban chaos and lawlessness.

Flawed Urbanisation

These young Indians are the latest victims of a culture of laissez-faire urbanisation that city governments have bred and which the courts allow to be pursued without severe penalties.

History of fire incidents

  • India’s abysmal record on fire safety is reflected in the death of 17,700 people countrywide in fires in both public and residential buildings during 2015, according to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
  • Periodically, high-profile cases such as the Uphaar cinema blaze in Delhi that killed 59 people in 1997, and the Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu in 2004 in which 94 children perished shock the nation, but even these are not strong enough to persuade governments to make fire safety the priority it should be.

Accountability is missing

Neither has prolonged, aggressive litigation by the affected families in the Uphaar case made a difference, because the criminal culpability of the administrative machinery and officials who sanctioned unsafe buildings, often in return for bribes, remains largely unaddressed.

Ignorance towards safety norms

Negligence by the fire department – The Surat fire cannot be called an accident, since there are reports of notices having been served to the builder on the risks, but not pursued by the Fire Department.

Negligence by civic department – Civic officials have displayed unforgivable indifference, since two deaths occurred in another coaching centre in the city late last year.

That tragedy should have led to a comprehensive review of public buildings.

Way forward

Look for deviation – The present inquiry into the disaster should go into any deviations from the sanctioned plan for the commercial building housing the coaching centre, and the role of urban planning officials in allowing it to come up.

Responsibility of the judiciary – Ultimately, litigation on fire disasters goes to the courts, and it is essential for the judiciary to send out the message that there will be no tolerance to corruption and evasion in the enforcement of building rules and fire safety.

Enforcing accountability –

  • Beyond suspending a few officials and filing cases against the building owners, there is a need to make an example of sanctioning and enforcement authorities.
  • The unwavering message must be that Indians demand accountability. Mandatory Building Insurance
  • Mandating compulsory insurance for all public buildings against fire risk and public liability can bring about a change to the way architects and builders approach the question of safety, since the insurer would require a reduction of risk and compliance with building plans. At least, that would be a start to rewriting India’s shameful record on fire safety.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[op-ed snap] Farm price challenge


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM- AASHA

Mains level : Farm prices should be boosted to protect farmers interest.


A persistent slump in the commodities market despite substantial hikes in the official floor prices of major crops to  50 per cent above their production cost is among the issues the new government would need to address urgently.


  • Most of the commodities for which the government fixes minimum support prices (MSPs) are being traded at 10 to 30 per cent below these rates in the ongoing rabi marketing season.
  • The situation in the last kharif season was no different. The only exceptions are wheat and rice in select areas where these  are procured by  official agencies and a few others like barley, tur (pigeonpea) and cotton, whose  demand outstrips supplies.
  • Though pulses and oilseeds are also purchased in some areas by government-designated agencies, the quantities picked up by them are too meagre to impact the market.
  • The government’s flagship price support scheme, PM-AASHA (Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan), has remained virtually a non-starter.
  • The losers in the process are the farmers who, it is feared, might resume their protests once the new government settles down in office.

Reasons for price meltdown

  • The present commodity price meltdown can, indeed, be  attributed largely to factors such as consistent surplus production in the last couple of years, subdued global commodity prices and unfavourable domestic and external trade policies concerning agri-commodities.
  • Besides, some imprudent moves such as offloading previously procured stocks and permitting imports while the domestic crops are still being marketed also seem to have contributed to it.

Flaws of PMAASHA –

  • This aside, the PM-AASHA (Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan) scheme has been marred by some basic flaws in all the three price support components:
  • Physical procurement of stocks at MSPs, price deficiency payment of the kind tried out in Madhya Pradesh, and a few other states, and the participation of private  trade in the procurement and management of farm produce on a fixed-commission basis.
  • The system of open-ended procurement of staple cereals, notably rice and wheat, has been in operation for decades and has served well to  run the world’s largest public distribution system but at a huge cost to  the exchequer.
  • Open-ended procurement limited to few states – It has, however,  remained confined primarily to  parts of a handful of states  where the procurement infrastructure exists.
  • Elsewhere,  even rice and wheat are traded at sub-MSP rates. Universalising this system to  cover all crops all over the country is unthinkable.
  • Failure of price deficiency system – The price deficiency payment system, too,  has failed to  deliver the results because of a cumbersome registration procedure; mandatory sale through the regulated mandis dominated by  manipulative  middlemen; and capping total purchases at 25 per cent of production.
  • Less participation by private traders – The third option of roping in private traders in price support operations has found no takers chiefly because the proposed commission of 15 per cent of the MSP for the operation involving buying, bagging, transporting, storing and disposing of the stocks is too meagre for the task.

Way Forward

  • Apart from addressing these issues, several other measures may be needed to prop up agri-commodities prices.
  • An export window as an outlet for surplus stocks is a must.
  • This can be created by modifying import-export tariffs with an eye on boosting agri-exports.
  • Besides, the farmers need to be incentivised to diversify their production by growing high-value crops, which could yield better returns without the government’s intervention.
  • The overarching objective  of the policy regime has to  be  to  strike a balance between the farmers’  interests and inflation management

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Left adrift


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing

Mains level : Reasons for left's decline in Indian Politics


The communists once wielded influence out of proportion with their numbers. Now, they are in retreat on both fronts.


  • The communist parties have plumbed the nadir in the general elections, with just five seats in the Lok Sabha — four in Tamil Nadu, one in Kerala and absolutely none in West Bengal and Tripura, their former strongholds in the east.
  • Apart from the numbers, the influence that they had wielded in national affairs and policymaking has also dwindled to nothing.
  • Once upon a time, they could claim to provide the moral armature of Manmohan Singh’s government, highlighting welfare and deploying the work of academics loyal to the cause for leverage in steering policy.

Start of decline

  • That was before they let their anti-Americanism get the better of their political sense and withdrew support to the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, a decision they were unable to explain to the electorate.
  • That misadventure alone would have sapped the energy of the cadre in less committed parties, but it was not the first.
  • In 1996, to the dismay of the troops, the Politburo had prevented Jyoti Basu from becoming prime minister of the United Front government.
  • And in 2008, Somnath Chatterjee was expelled by the CPM for being more loyal to Parliament than to his party.

Limited to academia

  • Ever since, the left has been almost shouldered off the electoral field and had retreated to the groves of academe.
  • It ventured out of that safe haven this year to do combat in Begusarai, and lost one of the most closely watched contests.
  • This would only embolden the BJP to proceed with its declared project to clear universities of left influence.
  • Of course, success in this initiative would also deprive it of a pet peeve, that it had been excluded from academia and the writing of history by left-wing intellectuals.
  • But that would be a small price to pay, now that it has demonstrated its electoral prowess beyond doubt.

Other reasons for the decline

1. Loss of class notions

The left movement has lost relevance because it is overtaken and outclassed. Its politics is based on the notion of class, whose contours have changed over time.

2. Caste is not class –

Historically, it was also hamstrung by its decision to interpret caste through the lens of class. It doesn’t really matter any more, because Hindu pride may have, in many ways, trumped caste, too, in this election.


The eclipse of the left may be a historical necessity, but which party is capable of filling the moral vacuum it will leave behind – its commitment to welfare, and to the centrality of the poorest? That question lingers on.