[op-ed snap] Serious concerns over Bt brinjal

Mains Paper 3 : PDS, Buffer Stock & Food Security |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GMO

Mains level : Concerns related to Bt Brinjal need to be addressed.


CONTEXT

A month ago, Bt brinjal genetically modified (GM) to resist the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (an insect), was found growing illegally in Haryana. This was a different Bt brinjal from the one developed by the Indian company.Even as the government clamped down on the illegal GM crop, some farmer groups have demanded the release of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal and other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline. But is Bt brinjal actually ready for release?

The impacts

1.Effect on prices, consumer and farmers’ income

  • The National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research anticipates that if Bt brinjal performs as Mahyco proposes, brinjal output will increase and retail prices will fall, benefiting consumers far more than farmers.
  • The report ignores the scenario that companies might charge premium prices for Bt brinjal seeds, in which case farmers may not benefit at all.

2.Biosafety Issue

  • The Dr. Y.S.R. Horticultural University highlighted crucial deficiencies in the characterisation of Bt brinjal, and in the environmental impacts assessment.
  • The ecologist, Madhav Gadgil, warned of contamination of India’s diverse brinjal varieties.
  • Biodiversity is critical for nutrition and sustainability, and the government’s own task force on biotechnology (2004) had recommended that no GM crop be allowed in biodiversity-rich areas.
  • Further, a majority of the technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court (in the public interest litigations over GM crops), recommended a ban on genetically modifying those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity. Brinjal happens to be such a crop.

3.Nutrition issues

Many health researchers and professionals, and scientists such as immunologist have argued that Bt brinjal poses risks to human health.

4.Responses from government

  • Bt brinjal found no support from State governments. Kerala and Uttarakhand asked for a ban on GM crops.
  • States with substantial brinjal cultivation, i.e. West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar opposed the release pending rigorous, extensive testing.
  • As did Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and undivided Andhra Pradesh.
  • In 2012 and 2017, respectively, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests assessed the GM controversy.
  • Both committees expressed grave concerns about lapses in the regulatory system.
  • In fact, the Committee on Agriculture was so alarmed by the irregularities in the assessment of Bt brinjal, that it recommended “a thorough probe by a team of eminent independent scientists and environmentalists”, which never happened.
  • Further, both committees endorsed labelling GM foods to protect a consumer’s right to know.

5.No scientific consensus 

  • In recent years, pests have developed resistance to Bt cotton, forcing farmers to spray lethal pesticides.
  • This led to over 50 deaths by pesticide-poisoning in Vidarbha in 2017.
  • A GM-based strategy of pest control is unsustainable, all the more so since farmers, already pressed for land, ignore the government’s recommendation to plant refuge crops.
  •  The problem of sustainable, remunerative farming has become more acute, and alternative strategies such as organic and zero budget natural farming, which do not allow GM seeds, are gaining ground.

Way Forward

 The government

    • Must detail the steps it has taken since 2010 to address the scientific lacunae.
    • Clarify precisely how Bt brinjal will benefit farmers
    • Put the infrastructure to ensure labelling into place
    • Demonstrate how Bt brinjal fits in with sustainable farming and biodiversity conservation.

Conclusion

As things stand, Bt brinjal runs counter to the framework for agricultural development and farmers’ well-being devised by parliamentary panels and the government’s own task forces and expert committees.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[op-ed snap] A blinkered understanding of migration

Mains Paper 2 : Indian Diaspora |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Issues in draft emigration Policy


CONTEXT

The draft emigration Bill is more about managing the export of human resources than being a humanitarian framework.

Benefits of emigration

  • A large emigrant population has many benefits for India:
  • The much-discussed international remittances (which touched $80 billion in 2018)
  • A positive impact on foreign direct investments, trade and foreign relations. The Indian diaspora also provides much needed philanthropic activities in health and education to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Issues

There is another side to the Indian emigration story, which is characterised by information and power asymmetries in the global labour markets to include exploitation, inhuman living conditions, violence and human rights violations.

Lost focus

  • Since Independence, a steadily increasing number of low-skilled emigrants moved to destinations in West Asia. In order to safeguard their rights and welfare, the government enacted the Emigration Act, 1983.
  • So, in an effort to update and upgrade this framework, a draft Emigration Bill, 2019 was released.

Abolishment of two different types of passport

  • What is most positive about the draft Bill is the inclusion of all students and migrant workers within its purview and the abolishment of the two passports (emigration clearance required and emigration clearance not required, or ECR and ECNR) regime based on a person’s educational qualifications.
  • This will significantly improve the collection of migration flow data when compared to the current system, which excludes most migrants leaving India.

Crucial exclusions

1.Exclusion of dependent migrants

  •  For instance, Indians reuniting with family members abroad .
  • These “dependent migrants” have increasingly little economic or political freedom at their destinations, an example being the recent attempt by the Trump administration in the U.S. to repeal the employment eligibility of spouses of high-skilled H1B immigrants (a majority are from India).
  • Also alarming are numerous instances of Indian spouses being ‘lured’ abroad in marriage and then stranded or exploited.
  • Between January 2015 and November 2017, the government received 3,328 such complaints.

2.Undocumented migrants

  • The perception is that undocumented migrants are those persons who leave India through informal channels, but most migrants become irregular on account of expired visas/permits.
  • In West Asia, when migrant workers flee their employers to escape exploitation, a single police complaint can make them ‘undocumented’ for no fault of theirs.

3.Regulation of intermediaries

  • The intermediaries play an instrumental role in minimising information asymmetries and migration costs.
  • Thus, any regulatory framework needs to balance strong disincentives for migrant welfare-destroying practices with the efficient supply of affordable intermediary services for prospective workers and students.

4.Return migrants

  • To effectively ensure their welfare, any emigration policy framework needs to be considerate of the complete migration cycle: the pre-departure, journey, destination and return.
  • The 2019 draft Bill addresses only the first three parts of the cycle while completely ignoring return migration.
  • Globally, one in four migrants today is a return migrant.

Other issues with emigrants

  • There is no complete database number of Indian migrants abroad.
  • There is also an erroneous assumption that Indian migrants in a developed destination country have sufficient protection and welfare. 
  • The draft Bill personifies the government’s primary view of emigration policy as a means for managing the export of human resources rather than a humanitarian framework to safeguard Indian migrants overseas.

Conclusion

Without drastic changes to the draft Bill’s approach, we will miss the opportunity to fulfil the hard-fought shared objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Unleashing the potential of urban India

Mains Paper 1 : Urbanization, Their Problems & Remedies |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : UK's City deals models may guide reform in metropolitan governance structure.


CONTEXT

India could learn from the U.K.’s model of City Deals

Background

The Global Metro Monitor 2018 reports that 36% of employment growth and 67% of GDP growth were contributed by the 300 largest global metros, with those in emerging economies outperforming those in advanced economies.

The relevance of metropolitan cities

  • Metropolitan areas concentrate and accelerate wealth as these are agglomerations of scale that concentrate higher-level economic functions.
  • Nine Indian metros feature in the top 150 ranks of the economic performance index.
  • Clearly metropolises are going to be a key feature of India’s urbanisation and will play a crucial role in fuelling growth.

Constitutional provisions regarding metropolis

  • Article 243P(c) of the Constitution defines ‘metropolitan areas’ as those having “population of ten lakhs [a million] or more, comprised in one or more districts and consisting of two or more municipalities/panchayats/ other contiguous areas, specified by the governor through public notification to be a metropolitan area”.
  • It recognises metropolitan areas as multi-municipal and multi-district entities.
  • It mandates the formation of a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) for preparing draft development plans, considering common interests between local authorities, objectives and priorities set by Central and State governments, and investments likely to be made in the area by various agencies.

Concerns with MPCs

  • Janaagraha’s Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2018 found that only nine out of 18 cities mandated to form MPCs have constituted them.
  • Where constituted, their functionality is questionable, with the limited role of local elected representatives raising further questions on democratic decentralisation.
  • Thus, the provision for an MPC has not introduced robust governance of metropolises, as the metropolises continue to be a collection of parastatals and local bodies in an entirely fragmented architecture.

City Deals’ model of UK

  • The U.K. has rolled out ‘City Deals’, an agreement between the Union government and a city economic region, modelled on a ‘competition policy style’ approach.
  • The city economic region is represented by a ‘combined authority’.
  • This is a statutory body set up through national legislation that enables a group of two or more councils to collaborate decisions, and which is steered by a directly elected Mayor.
  • This is to further democratise and incentivise local authorities to collaborate and reduce fragmented governance, drive economic prosperity, job growth, etc.
  • City Deals’ move from budget silos and promote ‘economic growth budget’ across regions.

Examples from other countries

The U.K. has established nine such combined authorities. Australia adopted a regional governance model along these lines in 2016 and has signed four City Deals till date. Meanwhile, China is envisioning 19 seamlessly connected super city clusters.

  • India, however, is yet to begin the discourse on a governance framework for the future of its metropolises.
  • It is yet to recognise that disaster management, mobility, housing, climate change, etc. transcend municipal boundaries and require regional-level solutions.
  • The World Bank notes that despite the emergence of smaller towns, the underlying character of India’s urbanisation is “metropolitan”, with towns emerging within the proximity of existing cities.

Way forward

  • It is time India envisions the opportunities and challenges from a ‘city’ level to ‘city-region’ level.
  • The Central government must create a platform to build consensus among State governments.
  • Perhaps, the Greater Bengaluru Governance Bill, 2018, drafted by the Expert Committee for Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Restructuring, could offer direction.
  • It proposes for a Greater Bengaluru Authority headed by a directly elected Mayor, responsible for the overall planning of Greater Bengaluru with powers for inter-agency coordination and administration of major infrastructural projects across the urban local bodies within the area.
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

Controversial: BT Brinjal

Mains Paper 3 : Major Crops & Cropping Patterns |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BT Brinjal

Mains level : Hazards of GM Crops



News

  • A month ago, Bt brinjal to resist the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (an insect), was found growing illegally in Haryana.
  • This was a different Bt brinjal from the one developed by the Indian company, Mahyco, in which Monsanto has a 26% stake.

BT Brinjal

  • Mahyco’s Bt brinjal has been under a moratorium since 2010.
  • Even as the government clamped down on the illegal GM crop, some farmer groups have demanded the release of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal and other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline.
  • It is true that the moratorium was imposed by the then MoEFCC, despite being cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body for GM crops.

Issues with BT Brinjal

I] Institutional dilemma

  • The Ministry of Agriculture has not offered evidence that Bt brinjal will benefit farmers.
  • If Bt brinjal performs as Mahyco proposes, brinjal output will increase and retail prices will fall, benefiting consumers far more than farmers.
  • Companies might charge premium prices for Bt brinjal seeds, in which case farmers may not benefit at all.

II] Biosafety issues

  • On biosafety issues, scientific opinion is divided down the middle. Brinjal happens to be such a crop.
  • While some scientists were in favour of releasing Bt brinjal, others highlighted crucial deficiencies in the characterization of Bt brinjal, and in the environmental impacts assessment.
  • Few ecologists warned of contamination of India’s diverse brinjal varieties.
  • Biodiversity is critical for nutrition and sustainability, and the government’s own task force on biotechnology (2004) had recommended that no GM crop be allowed in biodiversity-rich areas.
  • Further, a majority of the technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court recommended a ban on genetically modifying those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity.

III] Nutrition issues

  • In terms of nutrition, there seem to be some significant differences between Bt and ordinary brinjal.
  • Many health researchers have argued that Bt brinjal poses risks to human health.
  • S. Swaminathan and V.M. Katoch, then the Director General of the ICMR, asked for long-term (chronic) toxicity studies, before taking any decision on Bt brinjal.
  • Further, they asked that these be conducted independently, instead of relying exclusively on Mahyco for data.

In the debate

  • Bt brinjal found no support from State governments. Kerala and Uttarakhand asked for a ban on GM crops.
  • States with substantial brinjal cultivation, i.e. West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar opposed the release pending rigorous, extensive testing.
  • In 2012 and 2017, respectively, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests assessed the GM controversy.
  • Both committees expressed grave concerns about lapses in the regulatory system.
  • In fact, the Committee on Agriculture was so alarmed by the irregularities in the assessment of Bt brinjal, that it recommended “a thorough probe by a team of eminent independent scientists and environmentalists”, which never happened.
  • Further, both committees endorsed labelling GM foods to protect a consumer’s right to know.
  • However, since retailing is largely unorganised, enforcing truthful labelling is a logistical nightmare, and the Ministry of Agriculture believes it is impractical.
  • The FSSAI has only recently begun putting labelling rules into place.

No scientific consensus yet

  • In sum, there is a moratorium on Bt brinjal because there is no scientific consensus on its safety and efficacy, and because the States and Parliament have profound misgivings about the regulatory system.
  • In recent years, pests have developed resistance to Bt cotton, forcing farmers to spray lethal pesticides.
  • This led to over 50 deaths by pesticide-poisoning in Yavatmal in 2017.
  • If anything, the problem of sustainable, remunerative farming has become more acute, and alternative strategies such as organic and zero budget natural farming, which do not allow GM seeds, are gaining ground.

Way Forward

  • A GM-based strategy of pest control is unsustainable, all the more so since farmers, already pressed for land, ignore the government’s recommendation to plant refuge crops.
  • We cannot wish all these concerns away simply because some farmers want to try Bt brinjal, or farmers in Bangladesh have been cultivating Bt brinjal since 2013.
  • Farmers do not and cannot assess long-term impacts on ecology and health, which needs more rigorous and sensitive studies than those conducted so far.

 

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Controversial: BT Cotton

Mains Paper 3 : Major Crops & Cropping Patterns |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BT Cotton

Mains level : Hazards of GM Crops



News

Farmers opt for unapproved variety

  • Last week, a group of more than 1,000 farmers gathered in a village in Akola of Maharashtra to sow seeds of an unapproved variety of cotton.
  • For defying its regulations the government is now investigating what was planted.
  • The farmers in Akola planted a herbicide-tolerant variety of Bt cotton.
  • This variety (HtBt) involves the addition of another gene, ‘Cp4-Epsps’ from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. It is not cleared by GEAC.

Why?

  • The farmers claim that the HtBt variety can withstand the spray of glyphosate, a herbicide that is used to remove weeds, and thus it substantially saves them de-weeding costs.
  • Farmers spend around Rs 3,000-5,000 per acre for de-weeding. Along with the uncertainty in finding labour, de-weeding threatens economic viability of their crops, they say.

It’s a concern. Why?

  • Genetic changes made in a plant can make it unsafe for consumption, have adverse impacts on human or animal health, or introduce problems in the soil or neighbouring crops.
  • There is an elaborate process of tests and field trials to be followed.
  • Critics of GM technology argue that some traits of genes start expressing themselves only after several generations, and thus one can never be sure about their safety.

Legal Provisions

  • Legally, sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds is a punishable offence under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act 1989.
  • Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966 and the Cotton Act of 1957.
  • The Environmental Protection Act provides for a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violation of its provisions, and cases can be filed under the other two Acts.
  • Farmers who assembled in Akola alleged that the HtBt variety is being surreptitiously used by farmers across the country, smuggled from abroad.

Back2Basics

BT Cotton

  • Bt cotton remains the only GM crop allowed to be cultivated in the country.
  • Developed by US giant Bayer-Monsanto, it involves insertion of two genes viz ‘Cry1Ab’ and ‘Cry2Bc’ from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into cotton seeds.
  • This modification codes the plant to produce protein toxic to Heliothis bollworm (pink bollworm) thus making it resistant to their attack.
  • The commercial release of this hybrid was sanctioned by the government in 2002.

Approval in India

  • In India, it is the responsibility of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the MoEFCC to assess the safety of a genetically modified plant, and decide whether it is fit for cultivation.
  • The GEAC comprises experts and government representatives, and a decision it takes has to be approved by the Environment Minister before any crop is allowed for cultivation.
  • Besides Bt cotton, the GEAC has cleared two other genetically modified crops — brinjal and mustard — but these have not received the consent of the MoEFCC.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Mains Paper 1 : Climatic Change |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNCCD, Bonn Challenge

Mains level : Desertification in India


News

  • India for the first time will host the 14th session of the Conference of Parties (COP-14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in September 2019.

About United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Established in 1994, the UNCCD is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda.
  • It addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
  • 2006 was declared “International Year of Deserts and Desertification”.

Desertification in India

  • India faces a severe problem of land degradation, or soil becoming unfit for cultivation.
  • A 2016 report by the ISRO found that about 29% of India’s land (in 2011-13) was degraded, this being a 0.57% increase from 2003-05.
  • At the previous edition of the COP, India had committed to restore 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by the year 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030.

The Bonn Challenge

  • Ahead of the COP-14, MoEFCC launched a flagship project, part of a larger international initiative called the Bonn Challenge, to enhance India’s capacity for forest landscape restoration (FLR).
  • The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land under restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
  • It will be implemented during a pilot phase of three-and-a-half years in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Karnataka.
  • The project will aim to develop and adapt the best practices and monitoring protocols for the country, and build capacity within the five pilot States.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

REN21’s Renewable 2019 Global Status Report

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : REN21’s Renewable 2019 Global Status Report (GSR)

Mains level : Renewable energy in India


News

  • The REN21’s Renewable 2019 Global Status Report (GSR) was recently released.

Global prospects of the report

  • Renewables now supply around 26 per cent of global electricity production but the transport, cooling and heating sectors lag far behind in renewable adoption.
  • Underlining the subsidy support being given to fossil fuel, the GSR read that lack of political will and fossil fuel subsidies are threatening to derail the crucial UN 2030 Climate and Development Goals.
  • Renewable energy’s share in power consumption is increasing undoubtedly, but people would have consumed more had policy makers prioritized the sector.
  • Erratic policy decisions kept the world from using the sector to its potential in meeting climate change targets, added the report.

Indian case

  • India ranked fourth globally for new investment in renewable energy in 2018.
  • India’s new power generation capacity from solar photovoltaic panels decreased compared to 2017, according to the report.
  • However, India placed fifth, overtaking Italy, with 33 gigawatts (GW) total installed capacity.
  • The report confirmed that installed renewable power capacity was more than that of fossil fuel and nuclear power combined for the fourth consecutive year.
  • Around 100 GW of solar PV were added in 2018 which is enough to meet more than 25 per cent of electricity demand in France.

Decrease in investments

  • Lack of ambitious and sustained policies to drive decarburizing in heating, cooling and transport sectors indicates that countries are not trying to maximise the benefit of energy transition.
  • The investment has decreased 16 per cent compared to 2017. It attributes this to factors like:
  1. Land and transmission constraints,
  2. 25 per cent safeguard duty on imports from China and Malaysia
  3. Flaws in tender scheme
  4. Tax uncertainties
Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

G-20 Framework on Marine Plastic Waste  

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : G20

Mains level : Marine Plastic Waste


News

  • Group of 20 environment ministers agreed to adopt a new implementation framework for actions to tackle the issue of marine plastic waste on a global scale.

About the Framework

  • The new framework is aimed at facilitating further concrete action on marine waste, though on a voluntary basis, after the G20 Hamburg Summit in Germany adopted the “G20 action plan on marine litter” in 2017.
  • Under the new framework, G20 members will promote a comprehensive life-cycle approach to prevent and reduce plastic litter discharge to the oceans through various measures and international cooperation.
  • They will also share best practices, promote innovation and boost scientific monitoring and analytical methodologies.

About G20

G20 – Comprehensive Notes

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[pib] World Food India 2019

Mains Paper 3 : Food Processing & Related Industries In India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : World Food India 2019

Mains level : Food processing industries in India


News

  • Union Minister for Food Processing Industries has inaugurated the World Food India 2019, the biggest gathering of all global and domestic stakeholders in Food Processing Sector
  • It is aimed to position India as Food Processing Destination of the World.

World Food India

  • The government initiated a biennial event- World Food India to promote food processing sector at global level.
  • The first such event was conducted in 2017 and received wide success.
  • The event created Brand India in global food map by positioning India as a World Food Factory.
  • It was for the first time in India that all major policy makers and top industrialists across the globe in Food Processing Industries were together under one roof.

Food Processing Industry in India

  • Food processing is one of the six superstar sectors under the GoI’s Make in India initiative and has the potential to transform India as a leading food processing destination of the World.
  • It is critical to achieving the PM’s vision of doubling the farmers’ income in India and reducing food wastage.
  • Indian Food Processing Industry has grown tremendously recording 11% growth rate, which is twice the pace of Global Industry.
  • The sector has recorded double digit growth rate across all major sub-segments of the sectors both in terms of value and volume.
  • Despite huge domestic market of 1.3 billion customers with the youngest population globally and an abundant agricultural base, the processing levels in India remain low at 7.7%.
  • India lags behind several economies such as China, Malaysia and US. Its share in global exports of processed food is only 2%.
  • Besides, India also has a high share of harvest and post-harvest losses from major agricultural produces on account of poor storage, transportation and logistics to the extent of $13 Billion,3 times the agricultural budget.
Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments