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September 2019

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] ISRO’s Moon mission presents India a chance to reassess its space priorities


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Space industry and the future goals


Vikram lander appears to have made a hard-landing because of which ISRO is not able to establish any contact so far. 

Past experience

There have been occasions in the past when declared “dead” satellites/space probes have suddenly come alive. NASA’s IMAGE satellite launched in early 2000 stopped transmitting in late 2005 and was declared dead. NASA declared this satellite alive again in 2018.

ISRO – What lies ahead

  • With various successes in the domain of space, ISRO has raised the stature of the country internationally.
  • India should make an assessment of the technical resources and expertise available with ISRO to carry forward a major space programme. 
  • It is important to factor in the nature of the private space industry to support a space programme of this size. 
  • International collaborations have become an important element in the present times. 
  • Going to the Moon and Mars is important for multiple reasons, including the quest for minerals and energy security (Helium 3). 
  • India should avoid getting swayed by the “Space Race”.
  • Space should emerge as an important constituent of foreign policy. Missions to the Moon and Mars offer India opportunities for bilateral or multilateral collaboration. Such collaborations could allow technology sharing and they could also prove to be more cost-effective and time-saving.
  • India needs to make more investments in its strategic programme: Efforts made to conduct an ASAT (anti-satellite test) should be capitalised upon. Today, the armed forces require many more satellites for various purposes. There is a need to evolve a separate agency for this purpose.


Investments in this domain should be done only for social reasons, for science and for security. If India has to emerge as a space power, then it should be via a combination of soft and hard power. Missions like the ones to the Moon offer such opportunities.

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

[op-ed snap] Shades of green


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Land Degradation

Mains level : Land Degradation - Importance for India


Prime Minister announced that India will scale up its ambition to restore degraded land at the ongoing 14th CoP of the United Nation’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).


  • The step is significant for India’s global environmental commitments. 
  • This move will now restore 26 million hectares by 2030. That is 5 million hectares more than what is pledged at the Paris Climate Change Meet.
  • This also acknowledges the growing crisis of desertification. According to ISRO’s Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas, nearly 30% of land in the country is degraded. 

Landscape restoration

  • The plan is to reverse degradation by adopting a landscape-restoration approach. 
  • This needs a shift from plantation-oriented afforestation schemes to recognising the importance of ecosystem services of land and forests such as watershed management, biodiversity conservation and improving soil health.

Increasing forest cover

  • Over the past two decades, the Forest Survey of India has reported a consistent increase in the country’s forested area. 
  • But the question of how forests have not been impacted by pressure on land is not answered. 
  • The answer lies in a methodological problem with the FSI’s audits: it uses satellite images to identify green cover as forest and does not discriminate between natural forests and plantations. 
  • Several studies show the limitations of monoculture plantations in sequestering GHG emissions. A study published in the journal Science in 2016 found that the capacity of the green areas in Europe to absorb CO2 has come down significantly despite recording an increase in such areas over the past 250 years.

Land degradation and climate change

  • An IPCC report last month has shown the links between global warming and land degradation. 
  • Climate change not only exacerbates land degradation processes but it becomes a dominant pressure that introduces degradation pathways in ecosystems. 


India’s environment establishment now needs to re-evaluate the methods to measure the country’s green cover.



Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife.

Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] One year after ‘Navtej Johar’, imagining an equality law


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Equality law and the need for it


One year since the SC judgment in Navtej Johar v. Union of India on Sec 377. We have moved from a society where transgender, intersex, lesbian, gay, bisexual and gender non-conforming persons were treated as criminals to constitutional recognition of rights to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Impact of the judgment

  • The recognition of these rights impacts not only LGBTI persons, but everyone as it protects out rights of self-expression, equality, and autonomy.
  • It laid the ground for stronger equality recognition : Judgment in the Joseph Shine case decriminalising adultery (2018) and the judgment in the Sabarimala case recognising the rights of women to enter religious shrines (2018).
  • It also led to the decriminalising of same-sex intercourse in other jurisdictions such as the High Court of Botswana and inspired a constitutional challenge to Section 377A in Singapore.

Challenges remain

  • Decriminalization is the first step towards the recognition of equal rights. Navtej decision has to be followed by positive steps for equality. 
  • Transgender persons still face a number of legal barriers and LGBTI people continue to face discrimination, exclusion, abuse, and harassment at work, school, health care settings and in public places. 
  • We still do not have equality and anti-discrimination law to protect persons from discrimination on different protected grounds.
  • Even the only close statute, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. only addresses discrimination against persons with disabilities in the public sector and does not address the private sector. 
  • Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 make some discriminatory acts criminal offenses but do not provide civil remedies such as damages for acts of discrimination. 
  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is limited to sexual harassment at work.
  • The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 addresses only transgender and intersex persons’ rights. The rights of equality and non-discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation are not covered.

What’s next

  • Overarching legislation is needed to guarantee equality to all persons on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, sex, caste, religion, age, disability, marital status, pregnancy, nationality, and other grounds. 
  • The law should impose obligations of equality and non-discrimination on all persons, public and private, and in the areas of education, employment, healthcare, land and housing and access to public places. 
  • It should provide for civil remedies to stop discriminatory behaviour, costs and damages, and positive action to make reparations.
  • We need an equality law to define what equality would encompass. 
  • Supreme Court comes held in its privacy judgment in K.S. Puttuswamy v. Union of India (2017) that equality and liberty cannot be separated, and equality encompasses the inclusion of dignity and basic freedoms. 


Situations like what we see in J&K show us that we need an equality law that not only addresses discrimination against individuals but also addresses structural forms of discrimination and exclusion.

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

Market Intervention Price Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the scheme

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Kashmir’s famed apple is battling to get exported outside the State this year as militants are campaigning against the fruit’s trade.
  • The government is planning to procure almost 12 lakh metric tonnes of apple this season, under the MISP, with the help of the National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED).

About the Market Intervention Price Scheme

  • MIP is a price support mechanism implemented on the request of State Governments for procurement of perishable and horticultural commodities in the event of a fall in market prices.
  • The Scheme is implemented when there is at least 10% increase in production or 10% decrease in the ruling rates over the previous normal year.
  • MIP works in a similar fashion to Minimum Support Price based procurement mechanism for food grains, but is an adhoc mechanism.
  • Its objective is to protect the growers of these horticultural/agricultural commodities from making distress sale in the event of bumper crop during the peak arrival period when prices fall to very low level.
  • Thus it provides remunerative prices to the farmers in case of glut in production and fall in prices.


  • Proposal of MIP is approved on the specific request of State/UT Government, if the State/UT Government is ready to bear 50% loss (25% in case of North-Eastern States), if any, incurred on its implementation.
  • Further, the extent of total amount of loss shared is restricted to 25% of the total procurement value which includes cost of the commodity procured plus permitted overhead expenses.

Implementation of MIS

  • The Department of Agriculture & Cooperation is implementing the scheme.
  • Under MIP, funds are not allocated to the States.
  • Instead, central share of losses as per the guidelines of MIP is released to the State Governments/UTs, for which MIP has been approved, based on specific proposals received from them.


  • Under the Scheme, a pre-determined quantity at a fixed Market Intervention Price (MIP) is procured by NAFED as the Central agency and the agencies designated by the state government for a fixed period or till the prices are stabilized above the MIP whichever is earlier.
  • The area of operation is restricted to the concerned state only.
  • The MIS has been implemented in case of commodities like apples, kinnoo/malta, garlic, oranges, galgal, grapes, mushrooms, clove, black pepper, pineapple, ginger, red-chillies, coriander seed etc.

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

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ZBNF

Mains level : Debate over efficiency of ZBNF

  • Addressing the COP14 to the UNCCD, PM mentioned that India was “focusing on Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)”.
  • The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) however, criticised the “unproven” technology of ZBNF citing no incremental value gain to either farmers or consumers.


  • ZBNF is a farming technique that seeks to bring down input costs for farmers by encouraging them to rely upon “natural products”, rather than spending money on pesticides and fertilisers.
  • The concept behind ZBNF is that over 98 per cent of the nutrients required by crops for photosynthesis — carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water, and solar energy — are already available “free” from the air, rain, and Sun.
  • Only the remaining 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent nutrients need to be taken from the soil, and converted from “non-available” to “available” form (for intake by the roots) through the action of microorganisms.
  • The idea is that since these too, need not be purchased, farming remains practically “zero-budget”.

Components of ZBNF

  • To help the microorganisms act, farmers must apply ‘Jiwamrita’ (microbial culture) and ‘Bijamrita’ (seed treatment solution).
  • It uses ‘mulching’ (covering plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves) and ‘waaphasa’ (giving water outside the plant’s canopy) to maintain the right balance of soil temperature, moisture, and air.
  • To manage insects and pests, ZBNF recommends the use of ‘Agniastra’, ‘Brahmastra’ and ‘Neemastra’, which, like ‘Jiwamrita’ and ‘Bijamrita’, are based mainly on urine and dung of Indian cow breeds.

Arguments for

  • Proponents claim this system is also more environment-friendly, since it does not require chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Apart from increasing crop yield and leading to healthier produce, this model can also help prevent farmer suicides.
  • Farmers fall into the debt trap mainly because input cost of agriculture is high, they claim, and ZBNF brings it down.

What is the criticism?

  • Scientists say there isn’t much evidence to support claims of the efficacy of ZBNF, and that giving up modified high-value seeds and fertilizers can actually hurt agriculture.
  • There is no verifiable data or authenticated results from any experiment for it to be considered a feasible technological option.
  • 78 per cent of air is nitrogen, but it is not freely available to plants.
  • Being non-reactive, atmospheric nitrogen has to be fixed into a plant-usable form such as ammonia or urea.

Human Rights Issues

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNHRC

Mains level : Mandate of the UNHRC

  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and the communications blackout and detention of political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir.


  • The UNHRC describes itself as “an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.
  • It addresses situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.
  • The first session took place from June 19-30, 2006, three months after the Council was created by UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 on March 15 that year.
  • The UNHRC has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year.
  • The HRC replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).

HRC Meetings

  • The Human Rights Council holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least 10 weeks.
  • The meetings take place for four weeks in March, for three weeks in June, and for another three weeks in September.
  • The sessions are held at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • If one-third of the Member States so request, the HRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies.


  • The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States, which are elected by the UNGA through a direct and secret ballot.
  • The General Assembly takes into account the contribution of the candidate states to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.
  • Members of the Council serve for a period of three years, and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
  • As of January 1, 2019, 114 UN Member States have served on the HRC. Both India and Pakistan are on this list.
  • The HRC has a Bureau of one President and four Vice-Presidents, representing the five regional groups. They serve for a year, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle.

Seats distribution

  • African States: 13 seats
  • Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  • Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  • Western European and other States: 7 seats
  • Eastern European States: 6 seats

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Bombay blood group


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Blood Groups

Mains level : Not Much

  • Over the last two weeks, the “Bombay blood group”, a rare blood type, has been at the centre of attention in Mumbai’s healthcare scene.
  • Demand for the blood type has coincidentally spiked at hospitals, but supply has been scarce.

Bombay blood group

  • The four most common blood groups are A, B, AB and O.
  • The rare, Bombay blood group was first discovered in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1952.
  • Each red blood cell has antigen over its surface, which helps determine which group it belongs to.
  • The Bombay blood group, also called hh, is deficient in expressing antigen H, meaning the RBC has no antigen H.
  • For instance, in the AB blood group, both antigens A and B are found. A will have A antigens; B will have B antigens. In hh, there are no A or B antigens.

Rare in India, rarer globally

  • Globally, the hh blood type has an incidence of one in four million.
  • It has a higher incidence in South Asia; in India, one in 7,600 to 10,000 are born with this type.
  • This blood type is more common in South Asia than anywhere else because of inbreeding and close community marriages.
  • It is genetically passed. Shared common ancestry among Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis has led to more cases of hh blood phenotype in this region.

Testing for the group

  • To test for hh blood, an Antigen H blood test is required.
  • Often the hh blood group is confused with the O group.
  • The difference is that the O group has Antigen H, while the hh group does not.
  • If anyone lacks Antigen H, it does not mean he or she suffers from poor immunity or may be more prone to diseases.
  • Their counts for haemoglobin, platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells are similar to the count of others based on their health index.
  • Because of rarity, however, they do face problems during blood transfusion.

Transfusion limitations

  • The individuals with Bombay blood group can only be transfused autologous blood or blood from individuals of Bombay hh phenotype only which is very rare.
  • Rejection may occur if they receive blood from A, B, AB or O blood group. In contrast, hh blood group can donate their blood to ABO blood types.