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Explained: Zearalenone in cereals

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Zearalenone (can be pronounced as Zee-ralley-none)

Mains level: Zearalenone and health issues associated with its consumption


News

  • This month, a Journal of Food Science study detected zearalenone in wheat, rice, corn and oats from markets in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The study, by researchers from Lucknow’s Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), found the substance in 70 of the 117 samples tested.

What is Zearalenone?

  1. Zearalenone is a fungal toxin infesting cereals such as wheat, maize and barley.
  2. It attacks crops while they are growing, but can also develop when cereals are stored without being dried fully.
  3. While numerous studies document this toxin in cereals across the world, no data existed for India until now.

Zearalenone’s hazard

  1. There is no strong evidence of toxicity in humans so far, though several research groups are investigating.
  2. As a result, the IARC classifies it as a Group 3 carcinogen, which means evidence is not sufficient for an evaluation yet.
  3. Zearalenone behaves like oestrogen, the female sex hormone, and could cause endocrine disturbances in humans. Its nasty effects in animals, such as pigs, are documented.
  4. When fed with mouldy corn, pigs develop inflamed vaginas, infertility and other symptoms.
  5. This is why countries like Brazil regulate zearalenone levels in animal feed.

Yet no cap of Regulation

  1. The FSSAI does not impose maximum limits for zearalenone, though the European Union (EU) does.
  2. Twenty-four of the U.P. samples exceeded the EU regulatory limits of 100-200 mcg/kg of cereals.
  3. Based on this, the authors say India should set limits on zearalenone in cereals.

Other Fungal toxins in Food

  1. Fungal toxins are commonly found in food, and can be a public health concern.
  2. India regulates the levels of some of these, including aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, ergot and patulin.
  3. The first three infest cereals, while patulin is found in apples.
  4. Each of these toxins has been associated with disease outbreaks.

Impact of Fungal Toxins

  1. For example, in 1974, a hepatitis outbreak in Rajasthan and Gujarat, which made 398 people sick and killed 106, was linked to aflatoxin in maize.
  2. Meanwhile, chronic aflatoxin consumption has been shown to cause liver cancer.
  3. Given this, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies aflatoxin as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is enough evidence for its carcinogenicity.

Way Forward

  1. More data are needed from cereals in other States, and from other storage conditions, before India decides to set limits.
  2. Since zearalenone favours cool climates, such contamination could be limited to a few States.
  3. Regulations cannot be awaited till outbreak.
  4. The research is an excellent starting point, since nothing was known about the chemical in India so far.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Tax officials to examine high usage of Input Tax Credits

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Input Tax Credit

Mains level: Problem of tax evasion in GST era


News

  • Concerned over a decline in GST revenues, tax officials are likely to examine the high usage of input tax credit (ITC) to set off tax liability by businesses.

What is Input Tax Credit?

  1. The meaning of ITC can be easily understood when we take the words ‘input’ and ‘tax credit’.
  2. Inputs are materials or services that a manufacturer purchase in order to manufacture his product or services which is his output.
  3. Tax credit means the tax a producer was able to reduce while paying his tax on output.
  4. Input tax credit means that when a manufacturer pays the tax on his output, he can deduct the tax he previously paid on the input he purchased.
  5. Here, while paying the tax on his output, he can deduct or take credit for the tax he paid while purchasing inputs.

Why review its usage?

  1. There are losses incurred in GST Revenues.
  2. Availing ITC ideally should not result in loss of revenue but there could be possibility of misuse of the provision by unscrupulous businesses by generating fake invoices just to claim tax credit.
  3. As much as 80 per cent of the total GST liability is being settled by ITC and only 20 per cent is deposited as cash.
  4. GST revenue has averaged around Rs 96,000 crore per month so far this fiscal and this reflects the cash component being deposited by businesses.

What concerns Revenue Officials: Fake Invoices

  1. Under the present dispensation, there is no provision for real time matching of ITC claims with the taxes already paid by suppliers of inputs.
  2. The matching is done on the basis of system generated GSTR-2A, after the credit has been claimed.
  3. Based on the mismatch highlighted by GSTR-2A and ITC claims, the revenue department sends notices to businesses.
  4. Currently there is a time gap between ITC claim and matching them with the taxes paid by suppliers.
  5. Hence there is a possibility of ITC being claimed on the basis of fake invoices.

Way Forward

  1. Once the new return filing system becomes operational, it would become possible for the department to match the ITC claims and taxes paid on a real time basis.
  2. The revenue department would now analyse the large number of ITC claims to find out if they are genuine or based on fake invoices and take corrective action.
Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Earth’s tree-covered areas fell by 35,204 sq km in 15 years

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CRIC 17 Assessment

Mains level: Impact of Urbanization on forest cover


News

  • A preliminary assessment report circulated by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) shows that tree-covered areas remain the dominant land use class.
  • While the rate of deforestation has slowed down after 2005, forests continue to shrink.

CRIC 17

  1. The Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 17) of UNCCD is meeting in Georgetown, Guyana.
  2. This is the first such global assessment of land degradation based on data submitted by countries party to the convention.
  3. The assessment is for the 2000-2015 period.
  4. Out of the 197 countries party to UNCCD, 145 have submitted data on land degradation.

Assessment on Tree-Cover

  1. The preliminary assessment based on this data shows that the world’s dominant land class is still the tree-covered areas that include natural forests.
  2. Tree-covered areas account for 32.4 per cent of total land cover area reported by countries.
  3. Globally, tree-covered areas fell by ~1, 41,610 sq km from 2000 to 2005, but rebounded by 2015 to a net decline of 35,204 sq km (-0.1 per cent) below 2000 levels,” says the assessment.
  4. After tree-covered areas, grasslands, croplands, wetlands and artificial surfaces represent 23.1 per cent, 17.7 per cent, 4.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent of the total reported land area.

Region-wise Highlights

  1. Tree-covered areas have increased in Central and Eastern Europe, the Northern Mediterranean and Asia.
  2. Such areas have decreased in Latin American and Caribbean countries and Africa.
  3. Sixty per cent of the tree-covered areas globally are in Central and Eastern Europe and in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Artificial Areas

  1. The world has reported the highest change in the land class called artificial areas that primarily account for lands diverted for uses like urbanisation.
  2. This class recorded a 32.2 per cent growth in the 2000-2015 period.
  3. In other words, an addition of 1, 68, 000 square km.
  4. This trend in increasing artificial areas is considered a critical transition, with 48,240 sq km of the new artificial areas coming from previously ‘natural’ areas, jumping to 143,200 sq km when combining ‘natural and semi-natural’ areas.”
  5. This transition mostly happened from croplands and grasslands.

What made all these changes?

  1. Transitions from other land to cropland are almost three times the transition of cropland to other land, indicating that more marginal lands have been brought back into production.
  2. Drivers of cropland losses include urbanisation, improper soil management, improper crop management and industrial activities.
  3. Population pressure, land tenure and poverty are the most frequently-cited indirect drivers of land cover change, says the report.
  4. This class has gained 575,000 sq km.
  5. Most of this is the result of transitions from tree-covered areas (369,000 sq km), other land (310,900 sq km) and grassland (424,700 sq km).
Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Ex-finance panel chief Kelkar for setting up ‘Niti Aayog 2.0’

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Indian Economy Issues relating to planning

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Analysing effectiveness of the erstwhile NITI Aayog and Planning Commission


News

  • Former Finance Commission chairman Vijay Kelkar has pitched for setting up of a ‘new NITI Aayog’ and giving it responsibility for allocating capital and revenue grants to the states.

Towards India’s New Fiscal Federalism

  1. Kelkar, in his paper said it is desirable that a functionally distinct entity such as the new Niti Aayog be put to use to do the job at hand related to the structural issues.
  2. It should function for removal of regional imbalances in the economy.
  3. However he did not suggested that the later to take the form of the old Planning Commission.
  4. Socialist-era Planning Commission was replaced by think-tank Niti Aayog on January 1, 2015, by the Modi government.

NITI Aayog isn’t effective?

  1. Kelkar argued that replacing the Planning Commission, which was promoting regionally balanced growth in India, by the Niti Aayog, a think tank, has reduced the government’s policy reach.
  2. This would mean that the new Niti Aayog or Niti Aayog 2.0 will be responsible for allocating development or transformational capital or revenue grants to the states.
  3. Kelkar also suggested that in order to make the new Niti Aayog more effective, it is essential to ensure that the institution is at the ‘High Table’ of decision making of the government.
  4. This means the vice-chairman of the new Niti Aayog will need to be a permanent invitee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).
  5. Thus, the new Niti Aayog will make available to the highest level of policy making the knowledge-based advice and provide the national and long term perspective on the policy proposals.

Need for Financial Autonomy

  1. India has consistently accelerated its growth rate over the last three decades.
  2. India’s democracy has proved to be sine qua non for effectively formulating key economic policies and conducting policy reforms in a country that is so diverse.
  3. Kelkar pointed out that the new Niti Aayog will annually need the resources of around 1.5 to 2 per cent of the GDP to provide suitable grants to the states for mitigating the development imbalances.

Back2Basics

NITI Aayog

NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India)

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[pib] ICAR launches National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP)

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ICAR, NAHEP, READY Scheme

Mains level: Better governance and management of agricultural education


News

National Agricultural Higher Education Project

  1. The ICAR has recently launched Rs 1100 crore ambitious National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP) to attract talent and strengthen higher agricultural education in the country.
  2. This project will be funded by the World Bank and the Indian Government on a 50:50 basis.
  3. The objective of the NAHEP for India is to support participating agricultural universities and ICAR in providing more relevant and higher quality education to Agricultural University students.
  4. In addition, a four year degree in Agriculture, Horticulture, Fisheries and Forestry has been declared a professional degree.

READY Yojana

  1. In order to promote the participation of students in agricultural business, Student READY (Rural Entrepreneurship Awareness Development Yojana) scheme is being run.
  2. Under this, practical experience of agriculture and entrepreneurship is provided to undergraduate students.
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[op-ed snap] Whose quota is it anyway

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the eligibility criteria for reservation for EWS as provided by the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, in a brief manner.


Context

  • According to experts, the eligibility criteria for reservation for economically weaker sections will enable the well-off to corner benefits of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act.
  • The Act provides 10 per cent reservation in jobs and education to the economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category.

Issue

  • Experts have held that the children of the poor from the upper castes — vegetable vendors, construction labourers, challenged individuals, self-employed or unemployed widows — deserve reservation as much as the children from Dalit households, who have enjoyed high economic and social status, say, for two generations.
  • Let us then reserve 10 per cent seats for the poorest 10 per cent of the households, not covered under reservation.

Criteria likely to be fixed for identifying the beneficiaries

  • The dearth of will and capacity to target the new quota to the actual poor is evident from the criteria that are likely to be fixed for identifying the potential beneficiaries.
  • Persons from households with annual earnings below Rs 8 lakh, possessing agricultural land below 5 acres, a plot less than 100 yards in a notified municipality or below 200 yards in the non-notified municipal area would be eligible for the reservation.
  • The new amendment also allows the states to set income cut-offs to decide who constitutes EWS.
  • They can even exceed the criteria set by the Centre.
  • It also allows the states to notify EWS “from time to time on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage” even if they are “adequately represented” in government jobs.

Who will be the real beneficiary?

  • SCs, STs and OBCs account for 70 per cent of the population and are entitled to 49.5 per cent reservation in the government sector.
  • The eligibility issue thus pertains to the remaining 30 per cent or 39 crore people, who fall under the general category.
  • Calculations based on available data suggest that about 95 per cent of the people in the general category will be eligible under the new criteria.
  • It is not difficult to understand who would be the real beneficiaries of the rather generous eligibility criteria for determining economic deprivation.
  • It is very likely the middle class, those who work in the private sector where it is difficult to establish the income-level and the unscrupulous who can con the system through false declarations, would grab the benefit.
  • The children of street vendors and agricultural labourers have very little chance to benefit from the new quota.

Poor stands very little chance of benefiting from the new quota

  • Indeed, whenever anyone has shown the benevolence of defining poverty with a high cut-off point, the real motives has been to help the top 10 to 20 per cent among the eligible.
  • The poor, as defined by the Tendulkar or Rangarajan Committees, stand very little chance of benefiting from the new quota.
  • It is also hard to believe that Muslims would benefit from the quota, simply because they have a higher share among the poor.
  • Very few Muslims would be in the top 20 per cent among those eligible for the EWS quota.

Conclusion

  • The need of the hour is to rationalise the eligibility criteria for reservation for economically weaker sections so that the well-off do not corner the benefits of the poor.
Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Dancing around the Supreme Court

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity| Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the recent SC judgement of statutory provisions and rules governing Maharashtra’s dance bars, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Recently, the Supreme Court has struck down several statutory provisions and rules governing Maharashtra’s dance bars.

Background

  • In 2005, the Maharashtra government imposed a ban on dance performances in bars, with the exception of hotels rated three stars and above.
  • The public rationale offered was that these performances were obscene, morally corrupt, and promoted prostitution.
  • Dance performance licenses were cancelled with immediate effect, prompting affected parties to file petitions in the Bombay High Court.
  • The High Court held against the government, resulting in an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling

  • The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision in July 2013, pursuing two lines of reasoning.
  • One, the government could not discriminate between luxury hotels and other establishments seeking licenses for dance performances.
  • Two, the ban had proven to be counterproductive, resulting in the unemployment of over 75,000 women, many of whom were forced by circumstances to engage in prostitution.

Government’s response

  • Rather than implementing the Supreme Court’s decision, the government imposed an outright ban on all dance performances, whether in street bars or upmarket hotels.
  • Although the government’s response addressed the court’s first concern, it failed to address the second.
  • This led to fresh proceedings in the Supreme Court.

Subsequent SC ruling and Govt response

  • While the court saw through the government’s attempt to circumvent its decision, it left room for the government to prohibit obscene dances with a view to protecting the dignity of the dancers.
  • This time the government’s response was more sophisticated and took cues from the Supreme Court’s decision.
  • Rather than seeking to impose a ban on dance performances altogether, it only did so to the extent that these performances were obscene or overtly sexual.
  • However, it imposed a number of other conditions on establishments seeking a license for such performances.

Conditions imposed by the govt to seek licence

  • Applicants were required to “possess a good character” with no criminal antecedents.
  • The establishment could not be within one kilometre of an educational or religious institution.
  • A CCTV camera would need to be fitted at the entrance.
  • Customers could not be permitted to throw coins or currency notes on the dancers, but could add tips to the bill.
  • The permit room (where alcohol was served) and the dance room would need to be separated by a partition.
  • The stage could not be smaller than a prescribed size.
  • Some of these conditions were challenged in the Supreme Court on the basis that they were far too onerous.

SC recent ruling

  • On January 17, the court upheld a few of these conditions, but struck down others.
  • For example, it noted that the CCTV requirement violated the right to privacy of the dancers and the patrons,
  • the “good character” requirement was vague,
  • the partition between the permit room and the dance room was unjustified, and
  • the one kilometre distance requirement was impractical.
  • However, the court found revealing that amongst the dozens of applications filed since the new rules were put in place, not a single one had been approved by the government.
  • The court therefore saw the government’s most recent response as a ban on dance bars masquerading as an attempt to regulate them.

Institutional interaction between governments and the courts

  • These developments yield insights on the institutional interaction between governments and the courts.
  • Through each iteration of this case, the Maharashtra government has responded more swiftly to judicial decisions than the Supreme Court has to the government’s attempts to sidestep them.
  • The final judicial decision in the first round took just short of eight years, while the government’s response took about 11 months.
  • In the second round, the court took a year and three months to make its decision; the government responded in six months.
  • In the third round, the court has taken just short of three years. The government’s response time is to be seen.

Reasons for disparity

  • A number of structural reasons may account for this disparity.
  • Despite heavy caseloads, courts must provide an opportunity for a fair hearing, deliberate, and set out reasons for their decisions.
  • Courts will also typically not consider cases unilaterally, but are dependent on parties to bring proceedings in search of a remedy.
  • Separately, the ban on dance bars has also received a disconcerting level of cross-party political support in Maharashtra, despite the regime changes since 2005.
  • This has meant that legislation has often been enacted unopposed, without any meaningful discussion on the floor of the House.
  • The amendments of 2014, for example, were approved by the Maharashtra Cabinet and sailed through the state legislature within minutes on the following day.

Significant delay on the part of Courts

  • The practical implication of the government being more nimble than the courts is that even when government responses are imperfect, the court produces significant delays.
  • This case outlines the vulnerability of Supreme Court, especially when it depends on the government to comply with its decisions in some positive way, such as by issuing dance bar licenses.
  • Even when the courts exercise the putatively “negative” function of striking down legislation or rules, the level of compliance with their decisions often lies in the hands of the executive.

Existing remedial landscape

  • These developments should also lead courts to introspect about the existing remedial landscape in cases where legislation is challenged.
  • The Supreme Court often deploys the writ of continuing mandamus (issuing a series of interim orders over a period of time to monitor compliance with its decisions) in public interest litigation cases that test the limits of its jurisdiction.
  • It has chosen not to adopt that enforcement strategy in this case, which falls squarely within the four corners of its jurisdiction.
  • While the court cannot direct the enactment of legislation, it can monitor compliance with an order to issue licenses to qualified applicants.

Conclusion

  • A further response from the Maharashtra government now seems inevitable.
  • The court struck down the one kilometre distance requirement, but did not say that any distance requirement would be invalid.
  • While unconstitutional in its present form, it noted that the “good character” requirement could be defined more precisely.
  • These are only two among the many options that are now available to the government in responding to the court’s decision.
  • The court concluded its judgment with the hope that applications for licenses would “now be considered more objectively and with an open mind”.
Issues and Judgments related to SC

[op-ed snap] Removing the roots of farmers’ distress

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economic Development| Agriculture| Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of Farmer’s distress.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the farmer’s distress issues and their possible solutions, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Recently, there has been active discussion on the strategies addressing farm distress.
  • There are reports that the ‘interim Budget’ may focus on the farm sector among other things.

Background

  • In the present context, agrarian distress is mainly in terms of low agricultural prices and, consequently, poor farm incomes.
  • Low productivity in agriculture and related supply side factors are equally important.
  • An issue that is connected is the declining average size of farm holdings and the viability of this size for raising farm incomes.

Issues and Possible solutions

  1. Prices and incomes
  • Prices play a key role in affecting the incomes of farmers.
  • Even during the Green Revolution, along with technology and associated packages, price factor was considered important.
  • In the last two years, inflation in agriculture was much lower than overall inflation.
  • The implicit price deflator for Gross Value Added (GVA) in agriculture was 1.1% while it was 3.2% for total GVA in 2017-18.
  • The advance estimates for 2018-19 show that the implicit deflator for GVA in agriculture is 0%, and 4.8% for total GVA.
  • Agriculture GVA growth was at 3.8% for both nominal prices and constant prices in 2018-19, giving the price deflator of 0%.
  • The consumer price index (CPI) also shows that the rise in prices for agriculture was much lower than general inflation in recent years.
  • Market prices for several agricultural commodities have been lower than those of minimum support prices (MSP).
  • All these trends show that the terms of trade to be moving against agriculture in the last two years.

Declining market price

  • When output increases well beyond the market demand at a price remunerative to producers, market prices decline.
  • In the absence of an effective price support policy, farmers are faced with a loss in income, depending on how much the price decline is.
  • The ‘farm distress’ in recent years has been partly on account of this situation, as the loss of income is beyond the ability, particularly of small farmers, to absorb.
  • It is the success in increasing production that has resulted in this adverse consequence.

Schemes to address this problem

  • A few schemes have been suggested to address the problem of managing declining output prices when output increases significantly.

(a) Price deficiency compensation scheme: It is one such mechanism which amounts to paying the difference between market price and the MSP.

(b) Open procurement system scheme: It has been in vogue quite effectively in the case of rice and wheat, where procurement is open ended at the MSP.

(c) Limited procurement scheme for price stabilisation:

  • A ‘price deficiency’ scheme may compensate farmers when prices decrease below a certain specified level. However, market prices may continue to fall as supply exceeds ‘normal demand’.
  • Under this scheme, the government will procure the ‘excess’, leaving the normal production level to clear the market at a remunerative price.
  • Thus, procurement will continue until the market price rises to touch the MSP.
  • The suggested ‘limited procurement system’ will not work if the MSP is fixed at a level to which the market price will never rise.
  • There are costs involved which will go up as production increases above the average level.
  • The government can sell the procured grain in later years or use them in welfare programmes.

(d) Rythu Bandhu and KALIA scheme

  • Some States have introduced farm support schemes, examples being the Rythu Bandhu Scheme (Telangana) and the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme (Odisha).
  • One problem with the Telangana model is that it does not cover tenants, who are the actual cultivators.
  • These schemes are income support schemes which will be in operation year after year.
  • Thus, raising the MSP, price deficiency payments or income support schemes can only be a partial solution to the problem of providing remunerative returns to farmers.

Sustainable solution: Reforming Agricultural Markets

  • A sustainable solution is market reforms to enable better price discovery combined with long-term trade policies favourable to exports.
  • The creation of a competitive, stable and unified national market is needed for farmers to get better prices.
  • Agricultural markets have witnessed only limited reforms.
  • They are characterised by inefficient physical operations, excessive crowding of intermediaries, and fragmented market chains.
  • Due to this, farmers are deprived of a fair share of the price paid by final consumers.
  • For better price for farmers, agriculture has to go beyond farming and develop a value chain comprising farming, wholesaling, warehousing, logistics, processing and retailing.

2. Low productivity of Indian agriculture

  • Basics such as seeds, fertilizers, credit, land and water management and technology are important and should not be forgotten.
  • Similarly, investment in infrastructure and research and development are needed.

Improving Water use efficiency

  • Water is the leading input in agriculture.
  • More than 60% of irrigation water is consumed by two crops: rice and sugar cane.
  • It is not investment alone but efficiency in water management in both canal and groundwater that is important.
  • India uses upto three times the water used to produce one tonne of grain in countries such as Brazil, China and the U.S.
  • This implies that water-use efficiency can be improved significantly with better use of technologies that include drip irrigation.
  • Yields of several crops are lower in India when compared to several other countries.
  • Technology can help to reduce ‘yield gaps’ and thus improve productivity.
  • Government policies have been biased towards cereals particularly rice and wheat.
  • There is a need to make a shift from rice and wheat-centric policies to millets, pulses, fruits, vegetables, livestock and fish.

3. Land size: shrinking size of farms

  • Another major issue relates to the shrinking size of farms which is also responsible for low incomes and farmers’ distress.
  • The average size of farm holdings declined from 2.3 hectares in 1970-71 to 1.08 hectares in 2015-16.
  • The share of small and marginal farmers increased from 70% in 1980-81 to 86% in 2015-16.
  • The average size of marginal holdings is only 0.38 hectares (less than one acre) in 2015-16.
  • The monthly income of small and marginal farmers from all sources is only around ₹4,000 and ₹5,000 as compared to ₹41,000 for large farmers.
  • Thus, the viability of marginal and small farmers is a major challenge for Indian agriculture.

Lack of opportunities in the non-farm sector

  • Many small farmers cannot leave agriculture because of a lack of opportunities in the non-farm sector.
  • They can get only partial income from the non-farm sector.
  • In this context, a consolidation of land holdings becomes important to raise farmer incomes.

Consolidation of land holdings

  • Experts had argued that compulsory consolidation of land holdings alongside land development activities could enhance the incomes/livelihoods of the poor in rural areas.
  • Unfortunately, there is little discussion now on land fragmentation and consolidation of farm holdings.
  • We need to have policies for land consolidation along with land development activities in order to tackle the challenge of the low average size of holdings.
  • Farmers can voluntarily come together and pool land to gain the benefits of size.
  • Through consolidation, farmers can reap the economies of scale both in input procurement and output marketing.

Conclusion

  • Farmers’ distress is due to low prices and low productivity.
  • The suggestions made above, such as limited procurement, measures to improve low productivity, and consolidation of land holdings to gain the benefits of size, can help in reducing agrarian distress.
  • However, a long-term policy is needed to tackle the situation.
Agricultural Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (MRSAM)

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Indigenization of technology & developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: MRSAM

Mains level: Army’s need for new types of equipment and their development in India


News

  • India displayed its latest surface-to-air missile system, called the MRSAM, in a parade held on 26 January to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding.

About MRSAM

  1. The new missile system is developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
  2. The MRSAM provides the armed forces with air defense capability against a variety of aerial threats at medium ranges.
  3. The missile launcher and the command post would be made in India, with the rest of the complex system – including the missile itself – to be made in Israel.
  4. IAI will reportedly supply India with 2,000 missiles capable of intercepting enemy aircraft and missiles within a 70-kilometer range.
  5. The proposed MRSAM, to replace the old Pechora missiles which currently in service of Indian Defense Forces.

Combat Capability

  1. The MRSAM missile is equipped with an advanced active radar radio frequency (RF) seeker, advanced rotating phased array radar and a bidirectional data link.
  2. The RF seeker, located in the front section of the missile, is used to detect moving targets in all weather conditions.
  3. The MRSAM surface-to-air missile is powered by a dual-pulse solid propulsion system developed by DRDO.
  4. The propulsion system, coupled with a thrust vector control system, allows the missile to move at a maximum speed of Mach 2.
  5. The weapon has the ability to engage multiple targets simultaneously at ranges of 70km.
Indian Missile Program Updates

Citizenship Bill: the concerns behind Mizoram’s strong protests

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Population & associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Citizenship Bill

Mains level: Issues with the Citizenship Amendment Bill


News

Context

  • Among various NE states where protests have broken out over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Mizoram witnessed massive amongst them.
  • These came into focus particularly because of photos, widely circulated on social media, that showed protesters with posters that proclaimed “Hello China, bye bye India”.
  • This protest was organised by the influential Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP).

What the Bill says

  1. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, relaxing the citizenship eligibility rules for immigrants belonging to six minority (non-Muslim) religions from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan.
  2. Read with various other provisions, the cutoff for eligibility becomes December 2014.
  3. Various groups in the NE have protested on grounds of its potential impact on the region’s demography, and questioned its constitutionality as it grants citizenship on the basis of religion.
  4. For protesters in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura, the concern is about Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.
  5. The Assam Accord, protesters in that state point out, lays down 1971 as the cutoff for acceptance as citizens; the NRC is being updated based on this cutoff, which does not differentiate on the basis of religion.

Concerns of Mizoram

  1. In Mizoram, the concern is not about Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh but about Chakmas, a tribal and largely Buddhist group.
  2. The Chakmas are present in parts of the Northeast, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, with which Mizoram shares an international border.
  3. While Christians form 87% of Mizoram’s 11 lakh population (2011), Chakmas number about 1 lakh.
  4. Certain sections in Mizoram blame Chakmas for illegal migration from Bangladesh, which the community denies.
  5. The state has seen ethnic violence, with instances of arson, names of Chakmas being struck off voters’ lists, and denial of admission to Chakma students in college.

Data on Chakmas

  1. The apex students’ body Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and the YMA, which are leading the current agitation, have often cited figures they attribute to the Census.
  2. In 1901, there were only 198 Chakmas in Mizoram and by 1991 it was over 80,000. The growth rate is far more than normally possible.
  3. This proves their constant influx from Bangladesh.
  4. Chakma activists cite a 2015 report submitted by the government of Mizoram to the NHRC.
  5. The veracity of the Census figures between 1901 and 1941 cannot be ascertained as the same are not available with the Census Directorate, Mizoram,” the then state Deputy Secretary (Home) wrote in the report.
  6. The report cites Census data that puts the Chakma population at 15,297 in 1951 and 96,972 in 2011.

Its Mizos Vs Non-Mizos

  1. Mizos clearly identify the Chakmas as ‘non-Mizo’.
  2. Radical groups often make calls to expel them from Mizoram as they were considered illegal immigrants.
  3. Their large-scale migrations having taken place in 1964 (caused by inundation of their land due to the damming of the Karnaphuli river for a hydro-electric project in Bangladesh) and 1980-4 (caused by insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts led by the Hills Peoples’ Movement of Bangladesh).
  4. Nor did the Chakmas want to identify themselves as Mizo.
Citizenship and Related Issues

Explained: Why India-South Africa relations are unique

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Red Fort Declaration

Mains level: India’s recent Africa focus and its strategic as well as economic importance


News

Background

  1. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the South Africa was the Chief Guest at the 70th Republic Day
  2. This is the second time a South African Head of State is Chief Guest for Republic Day — the first occasion was in 1995 with late Nelson Mandela.

India and South Africa

  1. India’s relations with South Africa go back centuries and have a powerful emotional component.
  2. It is here that Mahatma Gandhi began his political career, and over the decades of the 20th century, India stood solidly behind their struggle against apartheid.

Historical Significance

  1. India was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid government, and subsequently imposed a complete — diplomatic, commercial, cultural and sports — official ban on South Africa.
  2. India worked consistently to put the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the UN, NAM and other multilateral organizations and for the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions against South Africa.
  3. The African National Congress (ANC) maintained a representative office in New Delhi from the 1960s onwards.
  4. India actively worked for the AFRICA Fund to help sustain the struggle through support to the frontline states.
  5. In March 1997, during the visit of President Mandela to India, the two countries signed the historic Red Fort Declaration for Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa.

Red Fort Declaration

  1. South Africa achieved democracy in 1994, it was the Red Fort Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa, signed in March 1997 by which set the parameters for a rekindled relationship.
  2. The 20th anniversary of signing of the declaration was commemorated by an India-South African cultural extravaganza at High Commission of India, Pretoria on April 9, 2017.
  3. This Strategic Partnership between the two countries was again re-affirmed in the Tshwane Declaration (October 2006).
  4. Both these declarations have been instrumental mechanisms that has contributed in the past to both South Africa and India for achieving their respective national objectives.

Growth in Bilateral Trade

  1. India’s has had fairly flourishing commercial relations with South Africa since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1993.
  2. However, despite bilateral trade having been “on the upswing”, having “crossed the $10-billion benchmark in 2017-18.

Way Forward

  1. The uniquely intertwined histories of India and South Africa have ensured that the bonds much deeper than we generally realize.
  2. The partnership is about a shared and prosperous future, which realizes the dreams of Madiba and Mahatma for our people.

For more comprehensive reading on India-South Africa Relations, must navigate to:

Observer Research Foundation

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

Skill Ministry strengthens Jan Shikshan Sansthans

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Development & Employment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Jan Shikshan Sansthan, NSQF

Mains level: State of skill development institutes in the country


News

  • The government unveiled new guidelines for Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSS) aligning them to the National Skills Qualification Framework with an aim to providing standardised training across sectors.

About Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS)

  1. The scheme of JSS was initially launched in 1967 as Shramik Vidyapeeth, a polyvalent or multi-faceted adult education institution.
  2. Formerly under the Ministry of Human Resources Development, JSS was transferred to the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in 2018.
  3. It was aimed at improving the vocational skills and quality of life of the industrial workers and their family members as well as those persons who had been migrating from rural to urban settings.
  4. Now it has challenging mandate of providing vocational skills to non-literate, neo-literates as well as school drop-outs by identifying skills that have a market in the region of their establishment.

Scope of work of JSS includes:

  • Develop/Source appropriate curriculum and training modules covering vocational elements general awareness and life enrichment components.
  • Wherever possible, JSSs are encouraged to undertake training equivalent to courses designed by the Directorate of Adult Education, National Institute of Open Schooling and Director General, Employment & Training.
  • Provide training to a pool of resource persons and master trainers for conducting training as also availability of infrastructure and training – specific equipment.
  • Administer simple tests and award certificates.
  • Network with employers and industries for trainees to get suitable placements

Benefits of new Norms

  1. JSS guidelines have been reformed keeping in mind the diverse stake-holders engaged in running these institutions.
  2. The JSS can play an important role in bridging information asymmetry between skill training and market opportunities thereby giving an impetus to the creation of a workforce equipped in technology-driven skills.
  3. By aligning JSSs to the National Skill Framework, the government aims to provide standardised training across sectors.

Impactful progress till now

  1. Out of the 247 active JSSs, 43 have been established across 42 Aspirational Districts identified by NITI Aayog.
  2. The ministry will soon be introducing a few more in the LWE (left-wing extremism affected) regions to promote skill development of the youth in the region.
  3. In the past five years, over eight lakh people have benefitted from the JSS scheme. More than 86,000 men have been registered.
  4. More importantly there has been an unprecedented surge in the registration of women, with over 7 lakh registrations.
  5. It further said the JSSs have helped open over 1 lakh bank accounts under Jan Dhan Yojana and mobilised around 7.5 lakh beneficiaries who were enrolled in PM Suraksha Bima Yojana.
  6. With a substantial rise in establishment of more than 1 lakh entrepreneurs, JSS has successfully generated employment across various sectors.

Back2Basics

National Skills Qualification Framework

  1. The National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) is a competency-based framework that organizes all qualifications according to a series of levels of knowledge, skills and aptitude.
  2. These levels, graded from one to ten, are defined in terms of learning outcomes which the learner must possess regardless of whether they are obtained through formal, non-formal or informal learning.
  3. NSQF in India was notified on 27th December 2013.
  4. All other frameworks, including the NVEQF (National Vocational Educational Qualification Framework) released by the Ministry of HRD, stand superceded by the NSQF.
Skilling India – Skill India Mission,PMKVY, NSDC, etc.

Centre’s debt-to-GDP falls, States’ rises

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy| Issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the present situation of economy has been tested by UPSC in recent times

Mains level: The news-card analyses Public Debt situation


News

  • While the Centre is moving in the right direction in terms of meeting the N.K. Singh Committee recommendations on public debt, the States are moving in the opposite direction, data released by the government show.

States are lagging

  1. According to the Status Paper on Government Debt for 2017-18, the Centre’s total debt as a percentage of GDP reduced to 46.5% in 2017-18 from 47.5% as of March 31, 2014.
  2. The total debt of the States, however, has been rising over this period, to 24% in 2017-18, and is estimated to be 24.3% in 2018-19.
  3. In absolute terms, the Centre’s total debt from the end of March 2014 to till 2017-18, represents a 45% increase.
  4. The total debt of the States increased up to almost 63%.

Alarming for States

  1. The Central debt has been within control because the government has been trying to stick by-and-large to the fiscal deficit parameters.
  2. The increase in the debt stock at the State level is worrying because they don’t have the other means to service the debt if it goes beyond a certain point.
  3. The report says that the States do have some fiscal space to reduce their borrowing in the coming years due to the large cash surpluses they hold.
  4. State governments as a group have exhibited a tendency to hold large cash surpluses/investments in Cash Balance Investment Account on a consistent basis while at the same time resorting to market borrowings to finance their GFD (Gross Fiscal Deficit).
  5. This indicates scope for reducing the quantum of market borrowings by State governments in case they bring down their cash surpluses (parked as investment in treasury bills of the Central government).

N.K. Singh Recommends

  1. The N.K. Singh-headed FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Review Committee report had recommended the ratio to be 40% for the Centre and 20% for the States, respectively, by 2023.
  2. It said that the 60% consolidated Central and State debt limit was consistent with international best practices, and was an essential parameter to attract a better rating from the credit ratings agencies.

Role of UDAY bonds

  1. Outstanding liabilities of States have increased sharply during 2015-16 and 2016-17, following the issuance of UDAY bonds in these two years.
  2. It was reflected in an increase in liability-GDP ratio from 21.7% at end-March 2015 to 23.4% at end-March 2016 and further to 23.8% at end-March 2017.
  3. The total outstanding liabilities as a percentage of GDP stood at 24% as at end-March 2018 and are expected to move upward to 24.3% at end-March 2019.

Implications

  1. The ratings agencies have predicted that the combined fiscal deficit of the States to be 3.2% of GDP in financial year 2020 (higher than the prescribed 3%).
  2. It is unlikely that the States will meet their 20% debt-GDP ratio target by 2023.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

Yuva Swabhiman Yojana

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Yuva Swabhiman Yojana

Mains level:  Various initiatives for EWS


News

  • The Madhya Pradesh government has announced the launch of a scheme to ensure temporary employment to the youths from the economically weaker sections (EWS) in the urban areas.

Yuva Swabhiman Yojana

  1. The Scheme would guarantee 100 days of employment every year to the EWS youths.
  2. During their employment, youths would be given skills training of their choice, so that they can take benefits of the available job opportunities.
  3. While those in rural areas get employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), the urban poor youth are left out.
  4. This scheme will effectively cover them.
Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

[op-ed snap] Schools without a difference

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the relevance of Navodaya Vidyalayas in the light of recent reports about suicides in NVs, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The recent reports about suicides in Navodaya Vidyalayas demonstrate that they no longer exemplify the search for an alternative that the government once envisaged and has lost its purpose.

Background

  • Boarding schools are part of India’s modern history.
  • When the central government launched the Navodaya Vidyalayas (NVs) in the mid-1980s, they were presented as a major innovation in social policy in that they were intended to serve rural children.
  • Three decades on, the NV innovation has fully merged into the mainstream, coping with its familiar problems rather than exemplifying an alternative.

NV idea preceded the National Policy on Education (1986)

  • Although the NV plan was part of the National Policy on Education (1986), its idea preceded the policy.
  • Rajiv Gandhi had mentioned it in his first address to the nation as prime minister.
  • His desire to set up a residential school in every district was apparently inspired by his own experience as a child at Doon School.
  • Many people expected that NVs will emulate Doon’s example of high academic standards along with space for creative exploration.

Enrolment was based on an entrance test

  • Enrolment to NV’s Grade 6 was based on an entrance test, with 80 per cent reservation for children belonging to villages located in a district.
  • Not everyone was convinced that enrolment through a selection test was a good idea.
  • NCERT conveyed its doubts about the reliability and validity of a selection procedure dependent on a test among 11-year olds.
  • The government went ahead and started setting up NVs across the country.
  • Soon after the scheme was launched, coaching centres sprang up in every district to help children succeed in the NV enrollment test.

How NVs were different from other schools?

  • Each school was allotted sizeable land in the countryside.
  • Generous funding and impressive infrastructure, including on-campus housing for teachers and not just children, distinguished NVs from other state-run residential schools, such as the boarding schools in tribal areas.
  • NVs were promoted as “pace-setting” schools, implying that they would serve as a model for other schools in the district.
  • Their facilities and funds were way ahead and they were not governed by the state directorate.
  • The contrast was also sharp in teachers’ emoluments.
  • From the central government’s perspective, NVs offered a congenial institutional ethos where policies could be showcased.
  • The implementation of the three-language formula in NVs included exchanging the entire Grade 9 cohort across linguistic regions for the entire session.

Dilemma the NVs faced after a few years of its inception

  • Should they serve as models of child-centred education in rural areas or prepare village children for national-level contests for seats in prestigious institutions of medicine and engineering?
  • Proposals to provide coaching to the senior secondary level students were mooted.
  • NGOs like Dakshana were given permission to select children with the best potential and coach them.
  • Grilling the selected round the year without break bore fruit, exacerbating the familiar stress of exams on children and teachers.
  • The Dakshana website proudly claims that many of its students have cracked the JEE Advanced to secure admissions into IITs.
  •  It is hard to explain to the users of this discourse that there may be more to life than cracking the JEE.

NVs had emulated the urban public school model

  • There was little concern to develop a new vision for rural children.
  • Instead, the dominant ideology prevailing among administrators and teachers was that they should work for the standard routes towards upward mobility.
  • Success in examinations, that too with high marks, had dogged the NV experiment from the beginning.
  • Like their counterpart, the Kendriya Vidyalayas, NVs dared not ignore the mainstream trends of India’s education.
  • Principals and teachers were supposed to dedicate themselves to pushing all the children to work hard for marks.

Recent Suicides in NVs

  • The one-size fits-all template of secondary education in India has exacerbated the pressures that adolescents routinely face and feel, leading many to feel lonely, depressive and suicidal.
  • Suicides before and after higher secondary exams are reported every year across India.
  • In the NV case, nearly half of the reported 49 cases over the last five years are from marginalised groups.
  • As usual, the administration places the blame on teachers who are themselves overburdened.
  • The absence of trained counsellors adds to the problem.
  • The NV administration has asked teachers to notice symptoms of depression among students.
  • Such steps might offer some help, but they will not mitigate the larger tragedy of a scheme that forgot its mission and took the beaten track.

Conclusion

  • The NV story reminds us how inimical the systemic ethos is to any genuine innovation.
  • Most schools justify putting children under pressure by referring to parental pressures.
  • This argument does not account for suicides at NVs.
  • Their original mandate had little to do with competitive success.
  • They were expected to provide a humanistic alternative to the moribund, bureaucratised culture of common government schools.
  • NVs had the potential to present a creative alternative to the mindlessly competitive atmosphere of English-medium urban public schools.
  • However, the bureaucracy that runs them had little imagination or vision to define their pace-setting role in an original, creative manner.
Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

[op-ed snap] An inside problem

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of ill-effects of household air pollution.

Mains level: The news-card analyses how household air pollution is perhaps the single largest source of air pollution in India, in a brief manner.


Context

  • According to experts, household air pollution is the invisible factor increasing ambient air pollution in India.

Issue

  • The problem of air pollution and its ill-effects on people has gained significant traction in the media recently.
  • This is largely driven by the abysmal air quality in Delhi and the dubious honour of Indian cities repeatedly topping global air pollution charts.
  • This has led the conversation to be primarily about ambient air pollution (AAP), particularly in urban areas.
  • In turn, this has turned the spotlight on issues such as emissions from transport, crop burning, road dust, burning of waste and industries large and small.
  • However, this discourse leaves out the single largest source of air pollution — the pollution from our homes.
  • Burning of solid fuels such as firewood and dung-cakes, mainly for cooking, results in emissions of fine particulate matter and form by far the single largest source of air pollution in the country.

Single largest cause of AAP is actually household air pollution (HAP)

  • According to a 2018 international study led by many reputed researchers including five Indians titled “Burden of disease attributable to major air pollution sources in India”, 11 lakh deaths were attributable to AAP in 2015.
  • Of this, as many as 2.6 lakh were due to HAP.
  • A 2015 report of the Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Related Issues on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s website, reached a similar conclusion that about 26 per cent of particulate matter AAP was caused due to combustion of solid fuels in households.

HAP is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in the country on its own

  • The MoHFW, 2015 report states that HAP by itself, that is apart from its 26 per cent contribution to AAP, contributed to about 10 lakh deaths in 2010 and is the second biggest health risk factor in India (in comparison, AAP was seventh).
  • A 2017 study spearheaded by the Indian Council of Medical Research titled “India: Health of the Nation’s States” found that the five leading causes of mortality and morbidity in India are, respectively, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infection and stroke.
  • Of which there is strong and quantifiable evidence linking HAP to four with diarrhoeal diseases being the exception.
  • In other words, the overall, total health impacts attributable to HAP are more than half the health impacts attributable to air pollution.
  • Therefore, there is a strong case to be made for tackling HAP on a war footing.
  • This requires households to predominantly use fuels that burn cleanly, because even partial use of solid fuels can have significant health impacts.

Way Forward

  • On the policy and programme front, a scheme such as Ujjwala for providing LPG connections recognises this challenge and represents an important first step to tackle the problem.
  • However, it needs to be strengthened to improve affordability and reliability of supply. Addressing this challenge requires going beyond Ujjwala.
  • In a country as large and diverse as India, LPG need not be the only solution to address this problem and consumers should be given a wider choice of clean-burning options.
  • Demand-side interventions to encourage people to switch to cleaner options, in order to address any behavioural or cultural barriers, and, to track HAP and associated health impacts, are also critical.
  • This requires a coordinated strategy involving multiple government agencies and programmes.
  • It also requires setting well-defined targets for HAP and its associated health impacts, and having systems to monitor and publish them.
Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] A tragedy that was long in the making

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of ill-effects of illegal coal-mining in Meghalaya.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues with illegal rat-hole mining in Meghalaya causing ruinous effects on the environment, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The efforts to reach the 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine in the East Jaintia hills of Meghalaya since December 13 continue.
  • However, these efforts began belatedly and have faced many problems.
  • Further, illegal rat-hole mining in Meghalaya persists despite ruinous effects on the environment.

Rescue efforts were doomed from the beginning

  • First, the Meghalaya government has no idea what happens inside these rat-hole mines, which are barely 2 ft wide, since mining is a private activity.
  • Despite the National Green Tribunal ban of April 2014, mining continues in the State.
  • Second, it was unfortunate that the district administration assumed the miners to be dead on the very day of the tragedy.
  • This assumption was evident in the letter written to the National Disaster Response Force.
  • It was only after a Delhi-based lawyer and his team of human rights lawyers presented their suggestions to the court that the Meghalaya government got different actors to the accident site.

Issue: Why things were delayed?

  • The distance of the mine was a major hindrance.
  • The trapped miners were being racially profiled in the minds of the people and the state.
  • Of the 15 miners, only three were locals from the nearby village of Lumthari.
  • The rest were Muslims from Garo Hills, Meghalaya, and Bodoland, Assam.
  • Their socio-economic profile also worked against them.
  • They were the poorest of the poor who took a huge risk to enter a mine and dig for coal without any safety gear.

Other challenges faced: No single person or agency to coordinate the rescue mission

  • When a mine is flooded, the immediate response, apart from pumping out the water, is to stop further flow of water into it.
  • This requires a hydrologist to scientifically map out the area from where water entered the mine.
  • Sudhir Kumar, a hydrologist from the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, arrived only two weeks after the disaster.
  • So did the divers from the Indian Navy and the 100 HP water pumps from Kirloskar Brothers.
  • The remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) from Planys in Chennai came three weeks later and so did the geologists from Hyderabad.
  • All these delays happened because there was no one person or agency to coordinate the rescue mission.

Questions arise with respect to rat-hole mining of coal

  • Why does the state allow this archaic mining system, which has complete disregard for human life and safety?
  • Why is Meghalaya exempted from national mining laws?

Ill-effects of Rat-hole mining

  • Rat-hole mining, which started with gusto in the 1980s, has poisoned three rivers in the Jaintia hills: the Myntdu, Lunar and Lukha.
  • Scientists from the North-Eastern Hill University have found that these rivers have very high acidic levels.
  • Reports from other agencies suggest that pH of the water and sulphate and iron concentrations indicate significant deterioration of the rivers.
  • Acid mine drainage from abandoned mines was a major cause for water pollution in the areas investigated, the reports added.

Arguments of coal mine owners

  • According to the coal mine owners, rat-hole mining should continue because no other form of mining is viable.
  • They argue that the NGT ban should be lifted since they claim that coal mining provides livelihoods for many.

Tribes of Meghalaya are divided on the issue of rat-hole mining

  • Those who care for the environment and for a future for their children and grandchildren have been clamouring for an end to the practice of rat-hole mining and reckless limestone mining.
  • On the other hand, the mining elite have mobilised forces to demonise environmental activists.
  • To add to these woes, cement companies also release their effluents into the rivers.
  • So now a deadly cocktail of pollutants is being released into the environment.
  • The scale of the problem is clear in this one fact: there are 3,923 coal mines in one district with a geographical area of 2126 sq. km.

Meghalaya is a Sixth Schedule State

  • The other troubling factor is that coal mine owners are insisting that since Meghalaya is a State under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, national mining laws should be exempted here.
  • The Sixth Schedule was enacted to protect the community rights of tribals from any form of exploitation of their land and resources.
  • It cannot be used as an instrument to protect an activity that is a private enterprise and inhuman. It also violates Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Therefore, it seems that the Sixth Schedule is unable to protect the forests and rivers that are common property resources.
  • Acid mine drainage has rendered even agricultural land non-productive. Mine owners do not care about environmental degradation.

Abandoning their responsibility

  • There is complete disregard for corporate social responsibility by coal mine owners because the mines are privately owned by the tribals.
  • They have left thousands of abandoned mines as human graves.
  • The State also does not insist that they reclaim and afforest those mines.
  •  In 40 years of mining and profiteering, the mine owners have till date not constructed a single hospital or even a school.

Conclusion

  • The Central government and the Supreme Court should not allow this to carry on in one part of the country when strict laws are applied elsewhere.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

MoEFCC notifies new CRZ norms

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: New CRZ norms

Mains level: India’s efforts for marine environment conservation and various initiatives related to it


News

  • The Union Environment Ministry has released the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), 2019 opening up the coastline of the country for construction and tourism activities.

Background

  • In June 2014, the MoEFCC constituted a Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Shailesh Nayak to examine the various issues and concerns recommending appropriate changes in the CRZ Notification, 2011.
  • The Shailesh Nayak Committee held wide ranging consultations with State Governments and other stakeholders and submitted its recommendations in 2015.

New Rules

  • The new CRZ notification, issued under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 seeks to “to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles taking into account the dangers of natural hazards, sea level rise due to global warming.
  • It aims to conserve and protect the unique environment of coastal stretches and marine areas, besides livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities in the coastal area.

Salient Features

FSI Norms Eased

  • For CRZ-II (Urban) areas, Floor Space Index (FSI) or the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) had been frozen as per 1991 Development Control Regulation (DCR) levels.
  • In the CRZ, 2019 Notification, it has been decided to de-freeze the same and permit FSI for construction projects, as prevailing on the date of the new Notification.

Tourism infrastructure permitted in coastal areas

  • Temporary tourism facilities such as shacks, toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities etc. have now been permitted in Beaches.
  • Such temporary tourism facilities are also now permissible in the “No Development Zone” (NDZ) of the CRZ-III areas as per the Notification.
  • However, a minimum distance of 10 m from HTL should be maintained for setting up of such facilities.

CRZ Clearances streamlined

  • Only such projects/activities, which are located in the CRZ-I (Ecologically Sensitive Areas) and CRZ IV shall be dealt with for CRZ clearance by the MoEFCC.
  • The powers for clearances with respect to CRZ-II and III have been delegated at the State level with necessary guidance.

No Development Zone (NDZ) of 20 meters for all Islands

  • For islands close to the main land coast and for all Backwater Islands in the main land NDZ of 20 m has been stipulated.
  • It has been done in the wake of space limitations and unique geography of such regions, bringing uniformity in treatment of such regions.

Pollution Abatement

  • In order to address pollution in Coastal areas treatment facilities have been made permissible activities in CRZ-I B area subject to necessary safeguards.
  • The Notification contains provisions for defence and strategic projects.

Critically Vulnerable Coastal Areas (CVCA)

  • Sundarban region of West Bengal and other ecologically sensitive areas identified are as under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 such as Gulf of Khambat and Gulf of Kutchh in Gujarat, Malvan, Achra-Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, Karwar and Coondapur in Karnataka, Vembanad in Kerala, Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, Bhaitarkanika in Odisha, Coringa, East Godavari and Krishna in AP.
  • They are treated as Critical Vulnerable Coastal Areas (CVCA) and managed with the involvement of coastal communities including fisher folk who depend on coastal resources for their sustainable livelihood.

Way Forward

  • The changes brought about in the CRZ Notification will help creating additional opportunities for affordable housing and sustainable development activities.
  • It is stated that the new notification will boost tourism, creating employment opportunities.
Coastal Zones Management and Regulations

Cabinet decides to strengthen Northeast autonomous councils

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Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fifth and Sixth Schedules

Mains level: Development of Tribal Areas


News

  • The Union Cabinet has approved a Constitutional amendment to increase the financial and executive powers of the 10 autonomous councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the northeast.

Highlights of the Amendments

Easing Finances

  • The Finance Commission would be mandated to recommend devolution of financial resources to the councils.
  • Till now, the autonomous councils have depended on grants from Central Ministries and the State governments for specific projects.

Transfer of Subjects

  • The amendment also provides for transfer of additional 30 subjects including departments of Public Works, Forests, Public Health Engineering, Health and Family Welfare, Urban Development and Food and Civil Supply to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council and Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council in Assam.

Amendments in Schedule VI

  • The cabinet approves landmark amendment to Article 280 and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • As per the amendment, at least one third of the seats would be reserved for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura.

More powers to Village Councils

  • The village councils would be empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice including those related to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry.
  • The State Election Commissions would hold elections to the autonomous councils, village and municipal councils in the areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura. There would be a provision for anti-defection too.
  • Meghalaya has for the time being opted out of the provision for elected village and municipal councils and one-third reservation for women.

Way Forward

  • This will be a game changer, as it will substantially enhance the funds available to these local government institutions for undertaking development works in these tribal areas.
  • The proposed amendments provide for elected village municipal councils, ensuring democracy at the grass-roots level.
North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

[pib] eCourts Services through Common Service Centres

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  E-Court Services

Mains level: Utility of the E-Court Services


News

  • In order to provide efficient and time-bound access to the Courts services to litigant public, who are on the other side of the digital divide and don’t have access to internet, the Department of Justice has decided to deliver eCourts services to them through around 2 lakh Common Service Centres (CSCs).

E-Court Services

  1. The eCourts database contains case information in respect of over 10 crore cases and more than 7 crore orders / judgments.
  2. To ensure affordability, Department of Justice has decided not to charge any fee from the customers for eCourts related services delivered through CSC’s.
  3. The project has made significant progress under the guidance of e-Committee of Supreme Court of India in computerizing district and subordinate courts of the country through installation of case information software, hardware and local area network in courts.
  4. ECourts services are also being connected on Wide Area Network through a dedicated network offering bandwidth upto 100 Mbps.
  5. They have now been successfully rolled out through SMS, email, web, mobile app etc. benefiting millions of litigants and advocates.
  6. Court case information such as judicial proceedings/decisions, case registration, cause list, case status, daily orders, and final judgments of all computerized district and subordinate courts of the country will now be available across all CSCs in the country.

Why CSCs?

  1. The rural reach of the CSC’s is extensive, envisaging a minimum of one CSC in each Gram Panchayat, thus enabling eCourts services to reach all corners of the country.
  2. Towards cost of service, CSC’s has been authorized to charge Rs.5/- for any of the 23 services available on Courts portal.
Digital India Initiatives