Bills/Act/LawsDOMRExplainedGovt. SchemesHistorical Sites in NewsIOCRMains Onlyop-ed of the dayop-ed snapPIBPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC JudgementsSpecies in NewsStates in News
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Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[oped of the day] Draft policy seeks to plug gaps in implementation of waste laws

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Waste management

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

Waste generation is inextricably linked to urbanization and economic development. From the collection of waste to disposal, cities are struggling to implement an affordable and sustainable model. 

Waste generation in India

  • Currently, India generates about 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW). 
  • Waste generation in cities is increasing by 5% each year because of the growing population and consumption. 
  • With poor systems of segregation, recycling and reuse, wastes including hazardous wastes are improperly disposed of, endangering the environment and human health.

Circular Economy

  • CE seeks to restore and regenerate, and also reduce waste by replacing the end-of-life concept. 

Draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP), 2019

  • Key principles
    • Reduction in primary resource consumption to ‘sustainable’ levels in line with the Sustainable Development Goals
    • creation of higher value with less material through resource-efficient and circular approaches
    • waste minimization
    • material security
    • creation of employment opportunities,
    • business models beneficial to the cause of environment protection and restoration
  • Policy instruments
    • Addressing regulatory gaps in implementation of waste laws
    • Landfill taxes
    • High tipping fees for bulk generators of waste, etc.
  • The National Resource Efficiency Authority (NREA) is mandated to drive the agenda of resource efficiency by designing database templates for material use and waste generated and recycled and landfilled, across various sectors and life cycle stages and across different regions (states/zones).
  • To promote maximum plastic recycling, the draft has proposed 100% recycling and reuse of PET plastic by 2025 and 75% recycling and reuse rate of other plastic packaging materials by 2030.
  • It also mentions a ban on disposal of recyclable waste to landfills by 2025. 
  • Concerning construction and demolition (C&D) waste, it mentions that municipalities in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities should start inventorizing C&D waste data by 2022. 
  • Recycling rate for C&D waste should reach 50% by 2025 and 75% by 2030.

Challenges

  • Significant work on the circular economy (CE) model has not been done yet.

Conclusion

Reduced waste generation through closing the loop using CE and resource efficiency (RE) approaches will reduce pollution associated with waste disposal and save costs in resolving the trade-offs between growth and environmental sustainability.

Banking Sector Reforms

[op-ed snap] Banking on politics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Bank mergers; Money in Politics

CONTEXT

India’s economic crisis is partly due to the decline of investments, which is partly due to the fact that companies cannot get access to loans as easily as before. This is a direct consequence of the huge level of the banks’ Non-Performing Assets (NPAs).

State of NPAs

  • NPAs have jumped from Rs 1.2 trillion in 2012 to 9.5 trillion in 2018. 
  • Public banks represented 70% of these NPAs.

On Bank Mergers

  • Centre announced reforms in the banking system which are mostly the mergers of weak banks

Background to the NPAs

  • Why did the public sector banks lent so much money to companies which are today unable to pay it back? 
  • In the 2000s, everybody thought that double-digit growth rates were there to stay and practised aggressive lending. This practice did not stop even in 2014.
  • In 2015, a 57-page report of Crédit Suisse gave a detailed account of the debts accumulated by a dozen big Indian companies. 
  • Soon after that, the RBI declared 12 Indian companies responsible for 25% of the NPAs. 
  • The Crédit Suisse report showed that companies facing heavy debts continued to borrow from the banking system. The Adani group’s debt, for instance, increased by 16% in 2015.
  • The piling up of the NPAs has to do with the relationship between the country’s rulers and the heads of the public banks
  • Crony capitalism – the nexus between businessmen and politicians is based on an exchange of favours: The former help the latter to get access to credit in return for funds for election campaigns.

Politics and money

  • According to several estimates — by the Centre for Media Studies and the Association for Democratic Reforms — India’s 17th general elections were the costliest ever in the history of democracies. Parties have spent $7.2 billion. 
  • Cash, drugs, liquor and precious metals worth nearly Rs 3,500 crore were reportedly seized by enforcement agencies in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
  • Political parties were able to amass money due to a scheme authorising businesses and individuals to make anonymous contributions to political parties — electoral bonds
  • The ruling party reaped 95% of the contributions through such bonds which former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi, described as “legalisation of crony capitalism”.
  • Alt News scrutinised the Ad Library Report of Facebook to find out that pro-BJP and pro-central government pages represented 70% of the total ad revenue made public by Facebook. Of the top 10 political advertisers, eight were related to the BJP and spent Rs 2.3 crore on Facebook ads. 
  • The BJP spent about Rs 6 crore on political ads on Google platforms, 10 times more than the Congress. 
  • Unofficial BJP Facebook pages, such ‘Bharat ke Mann ki Baat’, ‘Nation with NaMo’ and ‘My First Vote for Modi’ cumulatively spent Rs 4.50 crore in the same period.

Way ahead on banking reforms

  • Protection of the banks’ CEOs from political interferences. 
  • Privatisation – the private banks are not as badly affected by the NPAs as the public ones.
  • More rigorous management autonomy under the aegis of a robust regulator.

Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

[op-ed snap] Raise the bar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Renewable Energy - Challenges

CONTEXT

At the Global Climate Action Summit, Prime Minister made several announcements about the government’s plans to curb plastic use and invited countries to join the Coalition For Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. He announced the plan to cross the target of 175GW by 2022 and later to 450 GW. 

Progress so far

  • The country has made big strides in renewable energy (RE) in the last five years. 
  • Increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in the energy mix is one of India’s commitments under the Paris Climate Pact
  • India pledged an installed electricity capacity of 175 GW by 2022 — a more than 5-fold capacity increase in seven years
  • In the last four years, India has more than doubled its RE capacity.

Challenges

  • To meet its Paris Pact target, India will need to add more than 20 GW of RE installation a year.
  • This is more than double the rate achieved in the past four years. 
  • According to the clean energy research outfit, Mercom, India added 8.3 GW of solar capacity last year. This is a 13% dip from 2017.
  • The fall in the pace of adding solar installations has continued this year.
  • As per the report, land acquisitions are a major worry for large-scale solar projects. 
  • The loss in momentum shouldn’t be ignored as solar installations constitute nearly 60% of the country’s RE energy mix under Paris commitments.
  • When it comes to RE, the gap between installed capacity and actual electricity generation can be large, especially when weather conditions are not congenial.

Conclusion

The conversation about REs in the country have largely been about installed capacity. The discourse on needs to go one notch higher.

J&K – The issues around the state

Explained: Kashmir Issue at UN and Line of Control

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Art 35 and 51 of UN charter

Mains level : Kashmir issue and its international prospects

Context

  • Union Home Minister recently held India’s first PM Nehru responsible for the existence of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as he had declared an untimely ceasefire to the hostilities after Pakistan had invaded Kashmir in October 1947.
  • He said that had Nehru taken the matter to the United Nations under Article 51 of the UN Charter, instead of Article 35, the outcome would have been different.

The ceasefire

  • The ceasefire was brokered by a UN Mission.
  • According to UN records, on January 1, 1948, the GoI reported to the UNSC details of a situation existing between India and Pakistan owing to the aid which invaders, consisting of Pak nationals and tribesmen.
  • Pointing out that J&K had acceded to India, the GoI considered the giving of this assistance by Pakistan to be an act of aggression against India.
  • The Government of India, being anxious to proceed according to the principles and aims of the Charter, brought the situation to the attention of the Security Council under Article 35 of the Charter.

Pak denial

  • Pakistan denied this on January 15, 1948, and said India’s complaint under Article 35 contained a threat of direct attack against it.
  • Under the same article, Pakistan brought to the UNSC’s attention “a situation existing between India and Pak which had already given rise to disputes tending to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • It falsely accused India of a “genocide of Muslims”, “failure to implement agreements between the two countries”, “unlawful occupation of Junagadh” and “India’s actions in J&K”.

Article 35

  • Articles 33-38 occur in Chapter 6 titled “Pacific Settlement of Disputes”.
  • These six Articles lay out that if the parties to a dispute that has the potential for endangering international peace and security are not able to resolve the matter through negotiations between them, or by any other peaceful means, or with the help of a “regional agency”.
  • The Security Council may step in, with or without the invitation of one or another of the involved parties, and recommend “appropriate procedures or methods of recommendation”.
  • Specifically, Article 35 only says that any member of the UN may take a dispute to the Security Council or General Assembly.

Article 51

  • This Article occurs in Chapter 7 titled “Action With Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression”.
  • The chapter assumes that the Security Council is already seized of the situation.
  • Article 51 essentially says that a UN member has the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” if attacked, “till such time that the UNSC has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security”.
  • It says that exercise of this right must be immediately reported to the UNSC by the member, and “shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the UNSC.

The outcome: Line of Control

  • The decision to set up a UN Mission was taken on January 20 same year.
  • The UN invoked Article 34 to mandate the mission to investigate facts of the situation, and to exercise any “mediatory influence…likely to smooth away difficulties”.
  • The title of the agenda before the Security Council was also changed from the “Jammu & Kashmir question” to the India-Pakistan question.
  • The five-member Mission, which had members nominated by India and Pakistan, and three others, eventually brokered the cessation of hostilities from January 1, 1949, and the establishment of a ceasefire line on July 27, 1949.
  • Thus Pakistan left the areas of Jammu & Kashmir that were under its control on that day.
  • It was this ceasefire line that came to be termed the Line of Control in the Simla Agreement of 1972.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Methane-powered Rocket Engine

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Methane-powered Rocket Engine

Mains level : Benefits of methane as a cryogenic fuel

  • ISRO is planning to develop methane-powered rocket engines.

LOX methane engines

  • The space agency is developing two ‘LOx methane’ engines (liquid oxygen oxidiser and methane fuel) engines.
  • One of the two projects is trying to convert the existing cryogenic engine, which uses liquid hydrogen for fuel, into a LOx methane engine.
  • The other is a smaller engine of 3 tonnes thrust, which will feature an electric motor.
  • These are being developed at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Trivandrum.

Presently used fuel

  • ISRO currently prefers to use a fuel called Unsymmetrical Di-Methyl Hydrazine, along with Nitrogen tetroxide for oxidizer, in its liquid fuel (Vikas) engines, which are used in the lower stages of its rockets, PSLV and GSLV.

Why methane?

  • Di-Methyl Hydrazine like all hydrazine-based fuels, is said to be highly toxic and cancer-causing.
  • Globally, governments are keen on banning hydrazine.
  • Besides, methane beats hydrazine on every other count.
  • Apart from being non-toxic, it has a higher specific impulse which means one kg of the gas can life one kg of mass for a longer time.
  • Methane, which can be synthesized with water and carbon dioxide in space, is often described as the space fuel of the future.
  • It is easy to store, does not leave a residue upon burning, less bulky, and, importantly, can be synthesized up in space.

Methane vs. DMH

  • Methane-fired engines need an igniter to start the fire.
  • Hydrazine fuels are hypergolic, which means they start burning on their own upon coming in contact with oxygen.

Development in India

  • Mumbai-based start-up Manastu Space is developing a propulsion system that will use Hydrogen peroxide as fuel.
  • Currently, Manastu’s engines are meant for steering satellites in orbit but they can be scaled up to power launch vehicles.
  • According to the company, the space industry started with Hydrogen peroxide, but moved to a ‘better’ hydrazine.
  • But Manastu has developed a chemical additive, which it is trying to patent — the additive will enable Hydrogen peroxide to elbow hydrazine out of the competition.

Coal and Mining Sector

Coal Gasification

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Coal Gasification

Mains level : Benefits of Coal Gasification


  • Recently Odisha’s Talcher fertilizer plant was awarded a contract for starting a coal gasification unit for the production of urea and Ammonia.
  • The decision is geared towards reducing India’s reliance on imports and helping the country meet its CoP-21 Paris Agreement commitments.

What is Coal Gasification?

  • Coal gasification is the process of converting coal into synthesis gas (also called syngas), which is a mixture of hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • The syngas can be used in a variety of applications such as in the production of electricity and making chemical products, such as fertilizers.
  • The coal gasification process holds good potential in the future, with coal being the most abundantly available fossil fuel across the world, and that even low-grade coal can be used in the process.

Why opt coal gasification?

  • Urea is currently produced using pooled natural gas, which comprises of both domestic natural gas and imported LNG.
  • The usage of locally available coal for making fertilizers would help reduce the import of LNG.
  • The Ministry also said that India currently imports 50 to 70 lakh tonnes of urea every year, and that the revival of the units would help increase the availability of domestically produced fertilizers.
  • The project’s environment-friendliness would help India in meeting its commitments under the CoP-21 Paris Agreement.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Ramanujan Prize

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ramanujan Prize

Mains level : Not Much


  • The SASTRA Ramanujan prize for 2019 will be awarded to mathematician Adam Harper, Assistant Professor with the University of Warwick, England.

Ramanujan prize

  • Every year, this prize is awarded by SASTRA University on its campus near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, on Ramanujan’s birth anniversary, December 22.
  • The prize carries a citation and an award of $10,000 and is conferred annually on mathematicians from across the world who are less than 32 years of age, working in an area influenced by the genius Srinivasa Ramanujan.
  • The age limit is 32 years to commemorate the fact that Srinivasa Ramanujan accomplished a phenomenal body of work in this short span.
  • The Award has gained global repute ever since it was instituted in 2005 and today is easily amongst the top five awards of this type for mathematics.

Electoral Reforms In India

[pib] Special Expenditure Observers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Special Expenditure Observers

Mains level : Ensuring transparency in Electoral processes

  • ECI has recently appointed two Special Expenditure Observers for the upcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections.

Special Expenditure Observers

  • The Special Expenditure Observers are appointed in the exercise of the powers conferred on ECI under Article 324 of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • The SEO would be required to watch the conduct of Elections with special emphasis on controlling the abuse of money power, in consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer.
  • The SEO will be supervising and monitoring the work being done by the electoral machinery and ensure that stringent and effective enforcement action is undertaken.
  • Their actions would be based on intelligence inputs and complaints received through C-VIGIL, Voter Helpline 1950 against all persons/entities trying to induce voters by distributing cash, liquor & freebies etc. in order to vitiate the poll process.