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November 2019

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Amending and updating the 1981 Air Act will help in the battle against pollution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Curbing air pollution in Delhi


Health emergency in Delhi

  • As New Delhi’s AQI crosses 500, the national capital has officially entered the public health emergency category.
  • Schools have been shut, children are complaining of breathing problems, but the state and Central governments are simply indulging in blame-games.

And blame game thus begins

  • When something as fundamental as the health of our children is at risk, we should devise a more robust, permanent solution to the problem of pollution.
  • This forms the basis of the need for amending the 1981 Air Act and making it more compatible with contemporary India.

Public Health at stake

  • Air pollution in India is not simply an environmental problem, but a major public health concern.
  • It impacts all those breathing in the polluted air — children, the elderly, women and men alike.
  • Recently, the Centre for Science and Environment reported that air pollution kills an average of 8.5 out of every 10,000 children in India before they turn five.
  • Similarly, the WHO in 2016 reported that pollution has led to the deaths of over 1 lakh children in India.
  • Overall, several internationally acclaimed studies have affirmed that life expectancy in India has declined anywhere between two to three years.

Impacting India’s image

  • Statistics show that India is in a worse situation compared to its global counterparts.
  • According to Greenpeace, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India and Delhi has yet again bagged the position of the world’s most polluted capital.
  • These are grim figures, especially when compared to India’s neighbours: Five in China, two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh.
  • In 2018, India was placed in the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index, ranking 177th out of 180 countries, along with Bangladesh, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal.

Learning from US

  • The Indian government needs to identify the tangible benefits that concrete legislation on air pollution has brought across the world.
  • In the United States, the Clean Air Act has proven that public health and economic progress can go together.
  • For instance, the aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants in the USA dropped an average of 73 per cent from 1970 to 2017.
  • Through one piece of legislation, the US has challenged multiple sources of pollution, airborne or motor vehicle-led.
  • Similarly, after declaring a war on pollution, Chinese cities reduced PM concentration by 32 per cent in 2018.

Goal isn’t too unrealistic

  • In a country with a human power and technical know-how like India, achieving a better feat is not impossible.
  • However, in India, we are ignoring the change that progressive legislation can bring.
  • In recent times, the government has worked on a much hyped “mission-mode” — drafting policies and programmes to alleviate pollution.
  • But with little to no legal mandate or a budgetary allocation of as little as Rs 300 crore under programmes such as the National Clean Air Programme, no true enforcement of targets and goals is guaranteed.
  • In such dire circumstances with high stakes, higher targets need to be set, penalties need to be stricter, and the mandate needs to be stronger.

Going back to Air Act of 1981

  • It is essential to retrace our steps back to the Air Act of 1981 that governs our pollution control system.
  • Under the 1981 Air Act, the Pollution Control Boards are presently unable to fulfil their mandate as watchdogs against polluting industries.
  • A new bill will plug many loopholes in the 1981 Act and would align the functions and priorities of the Pollution Boards towards reducing the adverse impact of pollution on human health in India.

Need for reforms in the Act

  • India’s pollution liability regime has never prioritized the adverse impact of pollution on health.
  • In its present form, India’s Air Act does not mention or prioritise the importance of reducing the health impact of rising pollution.
  • This is the first change that a new law on air pollution should bring protecting health needs to become the central mission that the boards work towards.
  • For instance, at any point that the State Boards find evidence of excess air pollution, they should take all measures possible to actively disseminate this information to the masses.
  • When the air quality goes from normal to toxic and hazardous, the boards must be empowered to declare public health emergencies, with the power to temporarily shut down all polluting activities.

Making industries comply

  • Accountability and deterrence are essential in making sure industries comply with emission standards.
  • While the boards cannot levy penalties, in the new law they should be empowered to encash environmental compensations from polluting industries to make up for the cost of mitigating the damage.
  • This possibility of paying compensation would be a strong reinforcement for industries to adopt cleaner technologies and comply with standards.

Working hand-in-hands

  • In a federal set-up the Centre and states must work in synergy to ensure that targets set for the country and states are fulfilled.
  • Therefore, the new law must push Central and state boards to convene joint sittings with a multi-sectoral participation from ministries such as housing, urban development, agriculture and road transport.
  • Air pollution is not, and has never been, a problem with a single solution.
  • It is caused by emissions from vehicles, industries and agriculture, construction dust, and other factors related to household consumption and municipal planning.

Bringing in Accountability

  • Because multiple ministries and government departments are involved, without appropriate political leadership, public commitment will remain on paper only.
  • Therefore, the new law on air pollution must give an additional mandate to either a senior minister, such as the minister of environment, forest and climate or the PMO needs to be involved directly.
  • Greater public transparency is essential to the success of winning the war on air pollution.
  • There is no better watchdog than active citizens, which is why the pollution targets must be made public every year for their perusal and to be evaluated at the end of the year.

Way Forward

  • Breathing clean air is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Human health must become a priority when it comes to legislating on air pollution.
  • As 2019 nears its end, and the season of smog begins, there is an urgent need for India to be a pollution-free nation.
  • Pollution control boards must be empowered sufficiently to ensure that pollution does not take more lives or hinders the overall progress of India.

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

[op-ed snap] A portrait of the student as a political activist


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Climate activism


  • Student protests are erupting across world capitals against rising inequality, corruption and a pervasive sense of alienation.
  • Thunberg’s denunciatory speech at the UN’s Climate Action Summit which found sympathetic echoes among students elsewhere also reflects frustration with current rulers for forfeiting the future.
  • It’s imprudent to ignore these uprisings, whether separated by geography or ideology.

Student’s activism

  • There is something else that connects Thunberg with the widening global arc of student protests: Both have re-ignited latent fires of patriarchy.
  • For example, critics of Thunberg’s speech have used different sticks to beat her argument, but they also revealed society’s dominant fault-line.
  • This is an aversion to sharing power with women or younger citizens, including students.

Rising above Patriarchy

  • Thunberg has triggered a predictable backlash from society’s dominant patriarchal system, especially the leadership of many countries.
  • There is indignation at a young girl challenging the writ of the established male political order, repository of all wisdom and knowledge.
  • At the same time, scholars investigate the consequences of patriarchy, i.e., differential access to scarce societal resources, including power, authority and opportunity by gender.”

Where Thunberg lags

  • There is the developed-versus-developing argument, which posits that as a Swedish citizen, Thunberg cannot tell poor nations that they must forgo their development for the sake of climate change.
  • Even Russian president Vladimir Putin, for example, dismissed Thunberg’s UN speech, citing her lack of understanding about special development needs of poor nations.
  • India, as many other developing nations, lags behind developed countries on the basis of per-capita emissions. But then two other issues kick in.

No easy answers for development

  • Even though India’s per-capita emissions lag, the overall emissions might be significant, given India’s population.
  • The second is a more ethical question: Even if we agree that India has a long way to go in playing catch-up it is not agreeable to keep emitting all the way up.

Students in the patriarchal world

  • But, while dismissing her developed-world credentials, Putin also revealed his patriarchal self by suggesting that Thunberg is perhaps being manipulated.
  • His statement, bereft of any proof so far, does betray a common failing: An inability to understand how young people can take an independent stand based on conviction.
  • This patronizing attitude speaks of a larger malaise in society: Misplaced expectations from students.
  • The world is surprised by the Hong Kong students’ force of conviction and prolonged resistance.

Generic ordeal for students

  • The popular notion is students should be studying, not indulging in politics. This ignores a ground reality.
  • Most college students are eligible to vote in general and state elections, which require thinking politics and taking a political decision.
  • But, thereafter, they are then expected to repress their personal political belief system.
  • Decades of emphasis on an employment-based education system has created a large technocratic base that privileges employability over political thought or awareness.

Vitality of independent thought

  • Society’s patriarchal attitude towards students, that youngsters are incapable of independent thought and are best kept yoked to textbooks and classrooms, save the occasional trip to the polling booth, is also at fault.
  • This disregards the historical fact that student protests are capable of fashioning societal changes.
  • The Indian independence movement may not have acquired the necessary mobilization without student participation.
  • The student protests that erupted across the globe primarily against racism, authoritarianism and war—may not have succeeded in shaping a global political revolution, but did accomplish a cultural revolution.
  • It is, therefore, always sensible to heed student protests—because they contain the seeds of future unrest.

RBI Notifications

[oped of the day] Small savings rates need to be managed for better rate cut transmission


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Monetary Policy Transmission


The slow growth of the economy requires interest rates to be eased so that money is available relatively easily and pumps up the pace of growth.

RBI’s monetary policy – Banks’ response

  • RBI has reduced interest rates, the overnight repo rate by 1.35% since February this year. 
  • However, the banks are not passing on the lower interest rate signals to lending rates.
  • In the latest policy review, RBI observed that over the period from February to September 2019, against the reduction of 110 basis points of signal repo rate, weighted average deposit rate eased by 4 bps only.
  • Weighted average lending rate on fresh rupee loans eased by 29 bps only and weighted average lending rate on outstanding rupee loans actually went up by 7 bps.

Why banks don’t pass on interest rates

  • In the past
    • A gauge called system liquidity measures how much on a daily basis banks are surplus or deficient in liquidity. 
    • It showed that banks are in deficit.
    • That was rectified through an RBI action called open market operations. RBI purchased a significant amount of government securities from banks and imparted liquidity. 
  • Slow rate of credit offtake – The pace of credit off-take from the banking system is growing at a pace slower than earlier. 
    • Credit-deposit ratio measures how much of incremental deposits in the banking system is leading to incremental loans.
    • The pace of credit off-take has slowed than earlier due to less of investments being done in the economy. 
    • The CD ratio is lower now. A lower CD ratio is the reason for banks to lower interest rates. 
  • Cost of funds – As per RBI diktat, from 1 October, floating rate loans from banks are based on an external benchmark not in the control of the bank. 
    • Fixed rate loans form the bulk of loans disbursed by banks and are benchmarked to the bank’s cost of funds. 
    • This is measured through MCLR. When MCLR comes down, banks would reduce interest rates on fixed rate loans.
  • Small savings – 
    • Banks face challenge from small savings schemes for mobilization of deposits, particularly in rural areas. 
    • Interest rates on small savings schemes are on the higher side given the context of benign inflation and the RBI having reduced the signal repo rate by 1.35%. 
    • Higher interest rates are good for depositors. Rates on small savings are market-linked, with government security yield movement of corresponding maturity.
    • Rates are reviewed every quarter. However, the rates given are much higher than what it is supposed to be as per the formula.

Small savings : Discrepancy between announced and formula based rates

  • RBI disclosed the formula-based interest rate and government-announced rates.
  • For the quarter October to December 2019, for Kisan Vikas Patra, the rate as per formula is 6.81% and the rate announced by the government is 7.60%, higher by 79 bps. 
  • For National Savings Certificate VIII Issue, the formula rate is 6.91% and the rate given is 7.90, higher by 99 bps. 
  • For Senior Citizens Saving Scheme, it is higher by 110 bps. 
  • For the spectrum of Post Office schemes, the differential over the G-Sec yield based formula is 70-110 bps. 
  • In the Union Budget, small savings has increased in importance. In 2012-13, it was 1.5% of total capital receipts. In the Budget of 2019-20, it is 16.8% of total capital receipts.


  • The spread of small savings stands in contrast, for the RBI measure to be transmitted to the broad system,. 
  • But, reduction of small savings rates is a sensitive issue. It will impact the masses adversely.

Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Explained: Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) in Telecom Sector


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AGR

Mains level : Slowdown in the Telecom sector

  • In a strongly-worded order, the Supreme Court of India upheld the Department of Telecom (DoT)’s interpretation of “adjusted gross revenue” (AGR).
  • This came as a huge blow to telecom service providers.
  • Following the order, the telcos are now staring at dues of an estimated ₹1.4 lakh crore, which needs to be paid to the government within three months.
  • Most industry players and analysts have argued that the payout of the huge amount could be the final straw for the already distressed sector.

What is AGR?

  • Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • It is divided into spectrum usage charges and licensing fees, pegged between 3-5 percent and 8 percent respectively.

Why is AGR important?

  • The definition of AGR has been under litigation for 14 years.
  • While telecom companies argued that it should comprise revenue from telecom services, the DoT’s stand was that the AGR should include all revenue earned by an operator, including that from non-core telecom operations.
  • The AGR directly impacts the outgo from the pockets of telcos to the DoT as it is used to calculate the levies payable by operators.
  • Currently, telecom operators pay 8% of the AGR as licence fee, while spectrum usage charges (SUC) vary between 3-5% of AGR.

Why do telcos need to pay out large amounts?

  • Telecom companies now owe the government not just the shortfall in AGR for the past 14 years but also an interest on that amount along with penalty and interest on the penalty.
  • While the exact amount telcos will need to shell out is not clear, as in a government affidavit filed in the top court, the DoT had calculated the outstanding licence fee to be over ₹92,000 crore.
  • However, the actual payout can go up to ₹1.4 lakh crore as the government is likely to also raise a demand for shortfall in SUC along with interest and penalty.
  • Of the total amount, it is estimated that the actual dues is about 25%, while the remaining amount is interest and penalties.

Is there stress in the sector?

  • The telecom industry is reeling under a debt of over ₹4 lakh crore and has been seeking a relief package from the government.
  • Even the government has on various occasions admitted that the sector is indeed undergoing stress and needs support.
  • Giving a ray of hope to the telecom companies, the government recently announced setting up of a Committee of Secretaries to examine the financial stress in the sector, and recommend measures to mitigate it.

Issue of lower tariff

  • Currently, telecom tariffs are among the lowest globally, driven down due to intense competition following the entry of Reliance in the sector.
  • The TRAI examines the merits of a “minimum charge” that operators may charge for voice and data services.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

NAVIC (Navigation in Indian Constellation)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NAVIC

Mains level : Utility of NAVIC

  • The ISRO and its older commercial arm Antrix Corporation Ltd. are poised to commercialise India’s regional navigation satellite system, NavIC.
  • Antrix recently floated two separate tenders to identify industries that can develop dedicated NavIC-based hardware and systems.

NavIC (Navigation in Indian Constellation)

  • It is the Indian system of seven satellites that is aimed at telling the business and individual users where they are, or how their products and services are moving.
  • The indigenous positioning or location-based service (LBS) works just like the established and popular U.S. Global Positioning System or GPS but within a 1,500-km radius over the sub-continent.
  • It covers India and a region extending 1,500 km around it, with plans for further extension.
  • NAVIC will provide two levels of service, the standard positioning service“, which will be open for civilian use, and a “restricted service (an encrypted one) for authorised users (including the military).
  • NAVIC is planned to become available for civilian use in the first half of 2020

Early users

  • The early set of commercial NavIC users would be potentially transporters of resources such as mined ore, coal and sand in various States.
  • Several transporters currently use GPS-based systems.

Positive developments

  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a leading producer of semiconductor chips, had developed and tested NavIC-friendly chipsets across its user bases and that it would add NavIC to them.
  • Apart from GPS, its chips can work with the global navigation satellite systems of Europe (Galileo), Russia (GLONASS) and China (Beidou.)
  • ISRO said this support would be available for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from November 2019.
  • It expects the indigenous system to ‘enhance’ the use of NavIC on mobile, automotive and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

3GPP project

  • The important positive for NavIC was the certification of the Indian system by the 3GPP (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project), a global body for coordinating mobile telephony standards.
  • The specifications will be available in March 2020 and the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) has said it would adopt them as a national standard.
  • The implication is that 4G and 5G devices with NavIC capability can use assisted-NavIC solution in place of, or in addition to, other constellations.

Fertilizer Sector reforms – NBS, bio-fertilizers, Neem coating, etc.

Glyphosate-based herbicides


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Glyphosate and its hazards

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Monsanto (the company Bayer acquired in 2018) produces the glyphosate based herbicides which allegedly has cancer risks.

Glyphosate based herbicides

  • The herbicides are based on a compound called glyphosate.
  • First developed in 1970, glyphosate is scientifically N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine under the IUPAC system of nomenclature.
  • It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill weeds. It is widely used in India, too.

Usage in India

  • According to a 2016 bulletin published by the ICAR the weedkiller in India goes by various brand names, including Roundup, Glycel, and Brake.
  • Glyphosate was highly accepted by the tea planters in the past two decades. It has a very good market size in the tea sector of West Bengal and Assam.
  • Presently, the consumption of glyphosate is highest in Maharashtra as it is becoming a key herbicide in sugarcane, maize and many fruit crops including mango, banana, grapes, pomegranate and citrus.
  • France, Italy, and Vietnam banned the herbicide’s use after the WHO finding.

Issues over Glyphosate

  • In 2015, the WHO study found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
  • Since then activists have been campaigning against glyphosate-based products.
  • The herbicide is needed for agriculture and is used in many countries, including the US, China, Brazil and Canada.
  • The harmful effects on human health are yet to be established as the WHO has not issued any advisory.

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

India’s labour productivity


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Labour Productivity

Mains level : Labour Productivity in India

  • An analysis done by India Ratings and Research of Annual Survey of Industries data on India’s labour productivity growth in the organised manufacturing sector shows a disappointing trend.

Falling labour productivity

  • During the high economic growth phase between 2004 and 2008 just before the global financial crisis hit India’s labour productivity grew by over 14 per cent every year.
  • But between financial years of 2011 and 2015, this rate fell to just half of that (7.4 per cent) and continued its deceleration to just 3.7 per cent between financial years of 2016 and 2018.

What is labour productivity and why does it matter?

  • Broadly speaking, productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which resources, both human and material, are converted into goods and services.
  • Besides land and capital, labour productivity plays a crucial role in deciding the rate of economic growth.
  • Indeed, India Ratings report points out that globally labour productivity growth alone accounted for about two-thirds of the GDP growth during FY01-FY10, leaving only one-third to labour/employment growth.

Reasons for decline

  • Productivity is the most powerful engine of driving and sustaining manufacturing growth, and making the sector globally competitive.
  • Labour productivity is crucially dependent on businesses investing in knowledge and innovation even as the governments bring about structural reforms that enable such investments to bear fruit.
  • A lot needs to be done quickly both on the policy front as well as companies level.

What else does the study reveal?

There are two other crucial results from the analysis:

  • One, that between fiscal years 2001 and 2018, the capital intensity — that is, fixed capital used per worker — in India’s organised manufacturing has been rising.
  • Two, notwithstanding this rise in capital intensity, the output intensity — that is, the value of output per fixed capital — has actually declined over the same period.
  • In other words, while more and more capital is being used per unit of labour, it is not yielding commensurate level of output growth.

Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

[pib] First ever movement of container cargo on Brahmaputra (NW -2)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NW-2

Mains level : Infrastructure facilities in NE India

  • The first cargo consignment will sail on National Waterway-2 from Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) to Pandu in Guwahati.


  • National Waterway 2 (NW-2) is a section of the Brahmaputra River having a length of 891 km between the Bangladesh border near Dhubri and Sadiya in Assam.
  • It was declared as NW No. 2 on 1 September 1988.
  • It has only one fixed terminals namely the Pandu Port while rest are floating which include Dhubri Port, Jogighopa, Tezpur, Silghat, Dibrugarh, Jamuguri, Bogibil, Saikhowa and Sadiya

Some facts

  • NW-1 has witnessed healthy growth with the augmentation of navigation capacity of Ganga under Jal Marg Vikas Project.
  • The traffic on NW-1 has grown from 5.48 million tonnes in 2017-18 to 6.79 million tonnes in 2018-19.
  • Out of the total traffic of 6.79 million tonnes on NW-1, approximately 3.15 million tonnes is the EXIM trade between India and Bangladesh using the Indo Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes.

What is the Indo Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route?

  • The Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) between India and Bangladesh allows mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of their waterways for movement of goods vessels of both countries.
  • The IBP route extends from Kolkata (India) on NW-1 to Silghat (Assam) on NW-2 (River Brahmaputra) and Karimganj (Assam) on NW-16 (River Barak).
  • In addition to the above, India and Bangladesh have taken major steps to enhance utilization of waterways in the recent past.
  • An SOP to facilitate the movement of goods to and from India through Chittagong and Mongla Ports in Bangladesh has been signed by the two countries on 5th October 2019.
  • The proximity of these two ports will reduce logistics cost and improve trade competitiveness of North East states.

Indian Army Updates

[pib] Exercise Dustlik 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Exercise Dustlik 2019

Mains level : NA

Exercise Dustlik 2019

  • Defence Minister is in Uzbekistan on a three-day visit since Saturday.
  • This is the first visit by an Indian Defence Minister to Uzbekistan in about 15 years.
  • The joint military exercise focused on counter-terrorism has commenced in Tashkent.
  • The exercise will enable sharing of best practices and experiences between the Armed Forces of the two countries and would lead to greater operational effectiveness.