November 2019
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Air Pollution

[oped of the day] Stubble burning is not the only culpritop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Delhi air pollution


Context

The problem of air pollution in Delhi is safely pushed onto just one issue — stubble burning by farmers in Punjab.

An oversimplification

  • The simplification of the narrative to stubble burning may not stand scientific scrutiny.
  • Satellite observations on stubble burning from 2002-17 reported that there has been an increase of 3% in aerosol loading attributable to crop residue burning during October and November every year. 
  • No data were presented on the impact of the burning of biomass in urban Delhi, coal-fired ovens and coal-based industries, coal-based power plants in the outskirts of Delhi, the increase in SUVs in the NCR and so forth.

Stubble burning

  • Farmers do it out of economic compulsion. 
  • An argument puts that Punjab now produces 25% more rice than what it did 15 years ago. 
  • Many others argue that the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009 is the main culprit. 
  • Many believe that a generous distribution of direct seeders should make a difference.

Proposed three ways out

  • Reduce paddy area/production
  • Allow farmers to plant/transplant paddy before June
  • Distribute “happy seeders”

Reduction in production of paddy

  • Punjab was never a traditional rice cultivator.
  • It took up rice cultivation in response to the national policy of food self-sufficiency. 
  • They achieved the highest productivity in the country and contributed maximum among all States to the central pool of rice procurement. 
  • The area went up from 2.6 million hectares in 2001 to 3 million hectares in 2017. Production went up from 9 million tonnes to 12.5 million tonnes. 
  • Punjab dug deeper to get groundwater and caused long-term damage to itself.
  • Attempts at diversification did not take off because of the difference in net farm returns and market risks. 
  • A rice farmer earns about ₹57,000 per hectare whereas maize in a maize-wheat combination would set them back by about ₹15,000-17,000. 
  • An estimate by agricultural economist Ashok Gulati suggests ₹12,000 per hectare as an acceptable compensation. 
  • To reduce the area of common paddy by half a million hectares, and achieve a reduction of output of 2 million tonnes, the government has to support this change for the next five years. 
  • This half-a-million hectare should be in water-stressed blocks and can be encouraged to shift to maize or any other crop. Another one lakh hectare can shift to basmati production.

Falling water levels

  • Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act 2009 -there exist strong arguments to prevent over-exploitation of groundwater, especially if farmers cultivate rice in April/May. 
  • Strong evidence is necessary to establish improvement in groundwater levels.
  • If farmers are allowed to go back to the pre-2009 regime, it may deplete groundwater resources. 
  • The problem is one of free power to tube wells. This amount of about ₹6,000 crores can be shifted to a direct benefit transfer as has been suggested by policy experts.

Happy Seeder

  • Direct seeders do help but have limitations. 
  • The seeder has to operate within about 4-5 days of the harvest.
  • The effectiveness depends on the moisture present in the soil at the time of seeding. This requires a good understanding of soil conditions. 
  • Agronomic practices need to change with regard to the application of fertilizer and irrigation. 
  • These machines may be used only during the 15-day window in a whole year. They will remain idle for the remaining 350 days. 
  • Punjab may need about 20,000 of these machines if basmati areas and rice-potato areas are excluded from the calculation.

Conclusion

The problem is complex and needs a solution. But the solution should take into consideration the economic condition of farmers, the scientific options available and the willingness of the Central government to change policy and fund a major part of the expenditure. Blaming the farmers alone will not do.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] A blow to disclosure normsop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sec 8 RTI

Mains level : Threats to information disclosure


Context

Supreme Court’s November 13 judgment on Right to Information (RTI) reduced the scope of ‘information’ and widened that of ‘restrictions’. 

Judgement

  • The judgement expanded the power, length, and depth of exceptions under Section 8 of the Act.
  • Thus it deviated from earlier decisions that said that ‘restrictions’ should be interpreted strictly and ‘information’ liberally. 
  • The verdict also restricted the understanding of the terms ‘held by’ and ‘under the control’ of a public authority.
  • This makes several classes of information inaccessible to the public. 

Blow to RTI

  • The Chief Information Commissioner’s stature and autonomy were reduced by the recent parliamentary amendment to the Act.
  • Supreme Court judgment amounts to direct instruction to the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) on how not to give information on various counts.

Positives out of judgement

  • It did not deny that the apex court is a public authority and answerable under the RTI Act.
  • Judicial independence will only be strengthened with greater transparency.

Concerns with the judgement

  • Paragraph 59 of the judgement could potentially be used by bureaucrats to shoot down many RTI applications during the first request. 
  • Instead of empowering citizens with greater access to information, the court has armed public servants to kill access requests.

From the past

  • Supreme Court’s 2012 judgment in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner was being used as a precedent by the Department of Personnel and Training and various CPIOs to deny information on records of public servants. 
  • The case was about Special Leave Petition on an RTI request related to the service record and assets of a serving bureaucrat. 
  • The Supreme Court held that such information could not be revealed unless there was a larger public interest demonstrated. 
  • In this case, the court held that the applicant was not able to show a bona fide public interest element and hence denied information to the person. 
  • The November 13 verdict could supersede the Girish Ramchandra Deshpande verdict.

Paragraph 59 of judgement

  • Reading of the aforesaid judicial precedents… would indicate that personal records, including name, address, physical, mental and psychological status… are all treated as personal information. 
  • Similarly, professional records, including… evaluation reports, disciplinary proceedings, etc. are all personal information. 
  • Medical records… information relating to assets, liabilities, income tax returns… are personal information. 
  • Such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied. 
  • This list is indicative and not exhaustive.
  • The last sentence of this paragraph could become another tool in the hands of public servants to deny access requests.

Contradicting Section 8

  • Provisions for disclosure available under Sections 8(1)(j) and 8(2) of the RTI Act say that personal information can be disclosed if it has any relationship with public activity or interest. 
  • Even if such details have no relationship with the public interest, they can be given if the disclosure does not cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy. 
  • Even if the information causes unwarranted invasion of privacy, it could still be given if the larger public interest justifies the act. 
  • Even if there is no larger public interest, it could still be shared if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in its protection.

Unwarranted

  • Declaring educational qualifications, performance report or disciplinary proceedings pertaining to public servants as being outside the ambit of disclosure was unwarranted.
  • A specific educational degree which is a ‘qualification’ for a post, is also related to public activity.
  • If the cost of medical treatment is reimbursed by the state, the medical record cannot become personal information.

Back2Basics

Sec 8 RTI

Exemption from disclosure of information.

President’s Rule

[op-ed snap] Gubernatorial restructuringop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Restructuring the powers of governor


Context

The actions of the Maharashtra Governor over the last few days have invited scrutiny. Even after the Karnataka Assembly elections this year, the actions of the Governor were subjected to judicial scrutiny.

Misuse of power

  • Throughout the sequence of events, the governor was at the center of controversy. 
  • The controversy mostly relates to the discretionary powers of the Governor in forming the government.
  • This warrants a constitutional restructuring of the office of the Governor.

The Centre and its Governor

  • The Drafting Committee of the Constitution insisted on omitting all references to the discretionary powers of the Governor. 
  • B.R. Ambedkar said that the Governor “is required to follow the advice of his Ministry in all matters”.
  • But, Governor is required to exercise discretion in deciding the formation of government when there is no clear post-poll majority.
  • The cases of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, Rameshwar Prasad v. Union of India and Nabam Rebia v. Deputy Speaker provide judicial guidance to how the office of the Governor must encounter post-poll claims to form the government by staying immune to political bias.

Reasons for politicization

  • The appointment process of Governors has made the office vulnerable to the influence of the Union government. 
  • Over the years, occupants of this office have continued to look towards New Delhi for guidance. 
  • Constitutional expert A.G. Noorani cautions that a “state’s autonomy comes to naught if its people’s mandate can be defied or ignored by a central appointee.”
  • In Karnataka and Maharashtra, Governors invited the leader of the BJP when they did not have the support of the majority in the respective Legislative Assemblies. 
  • This brings into question the claims of support made by the BJP leaders to the Governors and how the Governors satisfied themselves with these claims. 
  • The swearing-in ceremony which happened with little or no public notice in Maharashtra is disappointing.

Need for restructuring

  • These actions of governors strengthen calls to review and restructure the office of the Governor.
  • The appointment and tenure of Governors need to undergo radical reform. 
  • Justice P.V. Rajamannar Committee recommended that State governments be included in the appointment process of Governors to drastically reduce their discretionary powers. 
  • There is a need to rectify the imbalance in Centre-State equations.
  • Governors have enjoyed a legal immunity on account of their sovereign functions. Supreme Court has powers to review the actions of the Governors. Any decision of the Governor can be subjected to judicial scrutiny, including the materials placed to arrive at that decision. 
  • The Westminster model of a sovereign and symbolic head of state is irrelevant to today’s times. 
  • The powers and privileges attached to the office of the Governor must be accompanied by answerability, transparency, and accountability. 
  • Governors and their offices must be scrutinized as much as any other public office.

UNESCO Convention against the trade of Cultural Property, 1970Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNESCO Convention against the trade of Cultural Property, 1970

Mains level : Read the attached story



Three culturally significant artefacts — a pair of ‘Dwarapala’ (door guardians) from Tamil Nadu and one ‘Nagaraja (serpent king)’ from either Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh will be returned to India by the Australian government.

What are the artefacts?

While the Dwarapalas from Tamil Nadu are said to be from the 15th century the Nagaraja dated 6th to 8th century is from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh.

Why this return?

  • The strong ties Australian and Indian institutions have made in recent years have helped develop important professional relationships and share culture.
  • The return of these artefacts also underscores the world’s debt to India’s magnificent culture, history and legacy.
  • The historic artefacts play a significant role in modern society by allowing communities to acknowledge and celebrate their shared history and culture.

About the Convention

  • The UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property is an international treaty.
  • The treaty, signed to combat the illegal trade in cultural items, was signed on 14 November 1970, and came into effect on 24 April 1972.
  • Under the 1970 Convention, cultural property is under protection.
  • Cultural property includes anything of scientific, historical, artistic, and or religiously significant, as defined by Article I of the convention.
  • However, every state can define its own cultural property, as long as it is an item of importance and within the categories defined in Article I.
  • Both India and Australia are party to the Convention.

The Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu (Merger of Union Territories) Bill, 2019Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UTs of India

Mains level : Governance of UTs in India



A bill which seeks to merge the Union Territories of Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli was passed by Lok Sabha.

About the merger

  • The merged Union Territory will be named as Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.
  • The country currently has nine Union Territories after the creation of the UTs of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
  • However, with the merger of Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, the number of UTs will come down to eight.
  • The number of Lok Sabha seats will remain unaltered and the jurisdiction of the Bombay High Court will continue over the two territories.
  • The reservations provided to people in the two union territories will continue.

Benefits

  • Merging of both the UTs will help in strengthening the administrative services. It will also give proper services. It will also lead to the proper developed of these UTS.
  • Merging will also help in cutting down the administrative cost.

Back2Basics

Portuguese rule in India

  • After India’s independence from the British Empire in August 1947, Portugal continued to hold a handful of exclaves on the Indian subcontinent—the districts of Goa, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli—collectively known as the Estado da Índia.
  • Dadra and Nagar Haveli were two Portuguese landlocked exclaves of the Daman district. It did not have any Portuguese military garrison, but only police forces.
  • From 1954 to 1961, Dadra and Nagar Haveli was administered by a body called the Varishta Panchayat of Free Dadra and Nagar Haveli with administrative help from the government of India.
  • Although it enjoyed de facto independence, Dadra and Nagar Haveli were still recognised internationally (e.g. by the International Court of Justice) as Portuguese possessions.
  • The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution of India was passed to incorporate Dadra and Nagar Haveli as a union territory, effective 11 August 1961.
  • On 31 December 1974 a treaty was signed between India and Portugal on recognition of India’s sovereignty over Goa, Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
Indian Army Updates

[pib] Exercise Him VijayPIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Exercise Him Vijay

Mains level : Peacetime efforts by Indian security forces


Indian Army undergoing its biggest transformation has started its biggest mountain assault exercise.

Exercise Him Vijay

  • The Indian Army Conducts routine military exercises every year.
  • It was one such endeavour.  It was conducted to validate operational capabilities of our combat formations.
  • The exercise is to test mobility, communication and coordination of such huge body of fast-moving troops in difficult terrain.
  • Indian Army is metamorphosing itself to incorporate changes for modern and quick and short war, added the Army officer.
  • During the last three years and the current year, about 72 joint exercises were conducted by Army, 39 by Navy, 21 by Air Force and 2 Tri-Service Exercises were conducted.
North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Loktak Inland Waterways ProjectPIBPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Loktak Lake

Mains level : Not Much


The Ministry of Shipping gave approval for the development of Loktak Inland Water ways improvement project in Manipur under the central sector scheme.

About Loktak Lake

  • It is the largest fresh water lake in North east located at Moirang in Manipur.
  • This lake is known for its circular floating swamps (called phumdis in the local language)
  • The term phumdis refers to a collection of heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil, and organic matter at various stages of decomposition
  • Sangai is the state animal of Manipur. Its hooves are adapted to walk on the phumdis
  • The lake is now endangered, with innumerable threats like pollution, decline in diversity of avifauna and thinning of phumdis
  • The team will enumerate the steps required to be initiated for declaring Loktak Lake as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

QS World University Rankings for AsiaIOCR

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : QS World University Rankings for Asia

Mains level : State of higher education in India



In the latest QS World University Rankings for Asia, 96 Indian institutions rank among 550 for the continent.

About the rankings

  • QS World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
  • It was previously known as Times Higher Education–QS World University Rankings.

Toppers

  • The National University of Singapore is ranked Asia’s best for the second consecutive year.
  • It is followed by Nanyang Technological University, which has risen from 3rd to 2nd; and the University of Hong Kong.

India’s performance

  • The best performing institution from India is IIT Bombay, which drops one place to 34th position. It is followed by IIT Delhi at 43rd place and IIT Madras at 50th.
  • IIT Bombay is the best Indian university in the ‘Academic Reputation’ indicator, which utilises the insights of over 94,000 academics regarding university quality.
  • It ranks 32nd in Asia in this dimension. IIT Delhi (34th) and the University of Delhi (50th) are next.
  • In the ‘Employer Reputation’ indicator, which utilises the insights of over 44,000 employers regarding the quality of a university’s graduates, IIT Bombay ranks 21st in Asia.
  • There are four other Indian universities among the top 50 (IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, University of Delhi and IIT Kharagpur).
  • India dominates the ‘Staff with PhD’ indicator with seven institutions achieving the perfect 100.00 score and raking No. 1 tied in this metric. All seven are IITs — Madras, Kharagpur, Kanpur, Bhubaneswar, Indore, Patna, and Ropar.
  • In the research indicators, India boasts five universities among the top 50 in the ‘Citations per Paper’ metric, and six among the top 50 in the ‘Papers per Faculty’ metric.

Comparison with China

  • Only Mainland China is more represented than India, with 118 featured universities.
  • While Mainland China has four in the top 10 this year, India does not yet have a university among the top 30.
  • The 96 Indian universities featured in the rankings include eight among the top 100, and 31 among the top 250. Of these 31, 18 dropped compared to last year, 12 gained ground and one remained stable.
  • Of the 96 Indian universities ranked, 20 are brand-new entries.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Trachischium apteiiSpecies in News

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Trachischium apteii

Mains level : Not Much



Researchers have discovered a new species of non-venomous burrowing snake in Arunachal Pradesh, named Trachischium apteii.

Trachischium apteii

  • It was found under fallen logs inside a thickly forested area of the Tally Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near the town of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh during a field expedition by researchers in July 2019.
  • It belongs to a group of fossorial snakes that live mostly underground, and surface mainly during or after a heavy monsoon shower.
  • Due to the burrowing habits of species of this genus, snakes belonging to the group are seldom seen and hence remain poorly studied.
  • This could have been one of the reasons that the species had eluded the researchers.

Physical features

  • Morphologically, the snake is distinguished by smooth and dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows throughout the body.
  • The dorsal colour of the holotype is dark brown to black with faint dorsal longitudinal lines.
  • Large-sized members of the genus measure about 293 mm to 299 mm (measuring less than a foot, that is 300 mm or 30 cm).

Behind the name

  • Trachischium apteii was named so to honour the contribution of Deepak Apte, well-known marine biologist and Director of the BNHS.
  • Trachischium species are commonly called slender snakes, and are currently known by seven species that are distributed across the Himalayas, and the Indo-Burma and Indo-China regions.