February 2020
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Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Let’s think afresh about how to govern India’s gig workforceop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- How to govern India's gig economy?


 Context

The gig economy plays to employment patterns in India, where most of the workforce is engaged in “informal” jobs in the “unorganized” sector.

Employment pattern in India

  • Non-contractual employment: A recent study of employment patterns over a 13-year period ended 2017 for the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council finds that non-contractual employment grew by 68 million over the period.
    • And “has been a hero of employment generation growing by about 5% annually“.
    • There were 145 million people in non-contractual employment in 2017-18.
    • Professionals constituted the most rapidly growing occupations, with older, better educated and skilled witnessing higher growth.
  • Unorganised sector growing at much higher rate than organised sector: The study also found that unorganized sector employment grew by 65 million between 2004 and 2017, compared to only 27 million new jobs in the organized sector.
    • What does the asymmetric rate suggests? It suggests that businesses are finding it more convenient to sustain themselves when they are below the radar of the government.
  • Potential for growth of gig economy: As technology and business models take the gig economy across the country and implant it more deeply into the Indian economy, we can expect to see a lot more people find employment through online marketplaces and technology platforms.

Regulation of labour laws and expanding the tax base

  • Social Security Code: In December, the government introduced legislation in Parliament that seeks to consolidate a number of labour laws into a Social Security Code.
    • Who will be covered in the code? The new statute encompasses self-employed professionals, freelancers and platform workers, such as those employed by taxi aggregators and food delivery companies.
  • Widening the tax base: The tax person is not far behind.
    • Recent reports suggest that revenue officials are leaning on platforms and aggregators to get gig workers registered with the goods and services tax (GST) network.
    • Need to reflect on how to govern the gig workforce? While it is just as well that the government is attempting to rationalize labour regulations and expand the country’s tax base, it is important to step back and reflect on how the gig workforce ought to be governed.

The new approach to classification of jobs: Income and volatility

  • Classification on the basis of two fundamental characteristics: If we discard the mental model that has long classified jobs as formal and informal, and look at work afresh, we observe that jobs vary along with two fundamental characteristics:
    • The level of income they generate and-
    • The volatility of this income.
    • Example: A security guard at a company might earn a few thousand rupees a month, but with the assurance of a regular monthly paycheque.
  • More informative way: Instead of the old binary formulation of informal versus formal jobs, it is more informative to see jobs being distributed on a spectrum depending on how much they pay and how volatile the income flows they provide are.
    • Wherever a job lies in this spectrum, the objective of public policy ought to be to ensure a “trimurti”.

Ensuring Trimurti

  • Frist-Providing dignified working conditions: Promoting dignified working conditions include-
    • Ensuring fairness.
    • Respect.
    • Safety.
    • Protection against exploitation and-
    • Arrangements for retirement.
    • Need to ensure the obligation from employers: This means that even as labour laws are rationalized to eliminate outdated and hard-coded regulations, it is necessary to ensure that all employers retain an obligation to promote the dignity of all their employees.
  • Second-Need to lower the barriers: Real wages grow not because the government imposes minimum wages, but when productivity rises.
    • Productivity growth occurs when barriers to trade, investment and travel are lowered.
    • A closed economy cannot be a successful gig economy.
  • Finally-A re-imagined social security system: A re-imagined social security system for the 21st century must tap government, corporate and social contributions for insurance and retirement accounts.
    • Such a multi-contribution system is possible today and the proposed Social Security Code is an opportunity to put in place such a future-proof framework.

How to handle the dispute arising out of the gig economy

  • Start online dispute resolution system: The gig economy is perhaps the best place for India to start its first online automated dispute resolution system.
    • You can’t govern the 21st-century economy with 18th-century technology.

Conclusion

While ensuring the application of the labour code to the gig economy and bringing them in the tax net the government also ensure the conducive environment for the gig economy to flourish and contribute significantly in the growth of the country.

 

 

Food Procurement and Distribution – PDS & NFSA, Shanta Kumar Committee, FCI restructuring, Buffer stock, etc.

A crisis deferredop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Reforms in foodgrain management, the PDS and the fertiliser subsidy.


Context

Union budget missed the opportunity to undertake reforms in the grain management system and food security act.

The massive reduction in food subsidy and its implications

  • Subsidy slashed by 75,552 crores: The revised estimates (RE) for food subsidy for 2019-20 have been slashed by a whopping Rs 75,552 crore -from the budgeted estimate (BE) of Rs 1,84,220 crore to Rs 1,08,668 crore (RE).
    • For the next fiscal year, the budget estimate has been kept at Rs 1,15,570 crore.
  • No major reforms in grain management system: One wonders whether any major reforms have been undertaken in the grain management system or in the National Food Security Act such that this massive reduction in budget estimates is feasible. But no such reforms are undertaken.
    • The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has been asked to borrow more from myriad sources, but most importantly from the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF).
    • An item that should have been in the budget, is now getting reflected as outstanding dues of FCI.
  • Implications of the movepostponing of the crisis:  In order to gauge how much is the effective food subsidy in the country, the budget numbers are becoming totally irrelevant.
    • One needs to add the actual subsidy numbers reflected in the budget to the outstanding dues of FCI.
    • Effective food subsidy: If one adds the due, the effective food subsidy turns out to be Rs 3,57,688 crore.
    • By not provisioning for it fully in the budget, and not undertaking any reforms in the foodgrain management system or the NFSA, the government is only postponing the crisis.

Need to bring down the coverage: The Economic Survey

  • Bringing down the coverage at 20 %: While the Economic Survey clearly states that the coverage under NFSA needs to be revisited, and brought down to say 20 per cent of the population.
    • The budget did not bite this bullet.
    • Cost of procurement to go up: The expected cost of rice to FCI in 2020-21 is going to be about Rs 37/kg, and for wheat it will be Rs 27/kg.
    • The issue price, that covers 67 per cent of the population, is just Rs 3/kg and Rs 2/kg respectively.

Excessive stock with the FCI

  • Actual stock in excess of buffer stocks: Compared to a buffer stock norm of 4 million tonnes, actual stocks with FCI (including unmilled paddy) were 3.5 times higher.
    • It speaks of a colossal waste of scarce resources, especially when tax revenues have been sluggish.
  • Stocks likely to increase further: Given that Skymet has predicted that the coming wheat crop is going to be one of the best in many years-the stocks is likely to touch 113 million tonnes.
    • With procurement prices being above global prices, the chances of wheat exports are bleak unless there is a subsidy for exports.
    • And that will be challenged in the WTO.
    • The FCI may run out of stock capacity: So, one should expect a piling up of grains stocks with a record procurement of wheat.
    • FCI may run out of storage capacity. Stock levels may touch 85-90 million tonnes, or even more, by July 1, 2020.

Fundamental questions

  • First: Is the government ignorant of the impending crisis of plenty?
  • Second: Does it realise that the policy of procurement prices (50 per cent above cost A2+FL), without looking at the demand side, is likely to create more troubles for the government?
  • Third: Does the government have any plan to reform the public distribution system under NFSA?

Way forward

  • Reforms in foodgrain management: Reforms in foodgrain management have to start with reforming the PDS system.
    • With moving gradually moving away from grains to cash transfers.
    • Think over implementing the Shanta Kumar Committee reports recommendations.
  • Stop open-ended procurement in Punjab-Haryana belt: The policy of procurement prices, with open-ended procurement in the Punjab-Haryana belt, is doing more damage by depleting the water table and not letting crop diversification take place.
    • This is very unfortunate as the “dead loss” in grain management runs to more than Rs 1,00,000 crore.
  • Rationalise the fertiliser subsidy: The other part related to this is the fertiliser subsidy, which is largely used in wheat and rice.
    • The budget estimates for 2020-21 show a reduction in the subsidy, while dues of the fertiliser industry keep on piling.
    • The fertiliser industry estimates that by April 2020, the dues will be roughly Rs 60,000 crore.
    • Demoralised fertiliser industry: While FCI has been asked to borrow, the fertiliser industry does not have that type of window.
    • It is feeling totally demoralised.
    • No private player wants to come and invest in this sector.

Conclusion

Instead of postponing the crisis by compelling the FCI to borrow, the government need to reform the foodgrain management system, rationalise the fertiliser subsidy and limit the coverage under the NFSA.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Hype Trumps Hopeop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India-US relation in changing circumstances.


Context

US president’s visit comes when a mutually beneficial framework of bilateral relationship stands disrupted.

Significance previous U.S. President’s visits

  • The Clinton visit:  The Clinton visit occurred against the backdrop of a new assessment within the American strategic community of India’s potential role in the post-Cold War era and against the backdrop of the rise of China.
    • Recognition of India’s nuclear power: He implicitly recognising India’s nuclear power status.
    • Kashmir issue: He suggested that the line of control (LoC) between India and Pakistan should be viewed as the international border so as to bury the “Kashmir issue” forever and-
    • Visas for Indians: increasing entry visas for Indians that has since contributed to the emergence of a sizeable community of Indian Americans.
    • As a counter to China: It was suggested that the rise of democratic India would be in the interests of the US and so the latter ought to be supportive of the former.
  • The Bush visit:
    • Political context: The rise of China and of radical Islam and jihadi terrorism provided the geopolitical context.
    • Economic context: The growth of an increasingly open Indian economy provided the economic context.
    • Cooperation in civil nuclear energy: Influenced by this new thinking, President George Bush took the next steps in strategic partnership and led the initiative to promote cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy that also explicitly recognised India as a nuclear weapons power.
    • As heads of state, Clinton and Bush altered US-India bilateral relations in a fundamental way.
  • The Obama visit:
    • P2P relation: His second visit was more a recognition of the growing importance of people-to-people (P2P) relations and
    • Defence sales to India: The visit also aimed at promoting defence sales to India.
    • During the nuclear deal negotiations, US Congresspersons would often suggest that it was a “123 for 126” deal — that is, they would vote in favour of the 123 agreement in Congress in the hope that India would buy 126 fighter jets from the US.
    • That hope remains as yet unfulfilled, with the French getting the Rafale deal and no decision taken on the purchase of US fighter jets.

America First policy of Trump

  • The credit for laying the foundation for a new and supportive post-Cold War relationship between the US and India goes singularly to President Bush.
  • Disruption with the arrival of Trump: The mutually beneficial framework that Bush helped create to promote the bilateral relationship has been rudely disrupted by the arrival of Donald Trump in Washington DC.
    • End of GSP: Trump’s “America First” policy offers no space for offering India “special and differential” treatment on any front, least of all trade.
    • Status of the Indian economy from the US perspective: With per capita annual national income of US $60,000, Trump’s America has no qualms declaring India, with a per capita annual average national income of US $2,000 a “developed economy” not deserving of any leniency in trade policy.
    • Clubbing together with China: To club China, a $15-trillion economy, with a $3-trillion India on the trade front is not just stupid but an affront to Indian sensibilities.

What are the hopes and what could be the outcomes of the visit?

  • No bi-partisan support to India’s rise: It has to be recognised that neither Democratic liberals nor Republican conservatives are any longer willing to be supportive of the Bush-Rice paradigm that views India’s rise in benign and mutually beneficial terms.
    • Inward-orientation in both the countries: Today the relationship seems caught in the pincers between the inward-orientation of rightwing nationalists in both nations.
    • No hope of change: There is no reason as yet to believe that this unfortunate state of affairs will be altered by the Trump visit next week.
  • Stand on Pakistan or Kashmir: Trump has also moved away from the Clinton-Bush framework on India-Pakistan relations and moved closer to approach of wanting to insert the US into the equation on Kashmir.
    • Appeasement of Pakistan: Trump’s motives are no different from those that initially drove Obama-namely, to appease Pakistan in the hope of securing a peaceful exit from Afghanistan.
    • Expect differences to persist: At best, India can hope to limit the damage Trump may do to strategic stability in the region.
  • Visa and investment: There will be much talk about US investments in India and increased visas for Indians going to the US.
    • Corporate interests: Both are driven largely by US corporate interests.
    • Given the direction of the Modi government’s trade policy, one cannot expect any dramatic concessions being made.
    • Defence purchases: The best India can do for the US is to buy more defence equipment and ease up on some trade restrictions.
    • Defence sales to India are an essentially commercial activity and much of it can go on even in the absence of strategic convergence and shared geopolitical perspectives.
  • Brain-drain and need to focus on education: Much is made of Indian Americans heading US multinationals and the Great Indian Diaspora in the US.
    • Outmigration of talent: The continued neglect of education in India is increasing the outmigration of talent, offering the US a reservoir of talent.
    • Drain on national resources: While the Indian elite celebrates this out-migration, the fact is that it is a drain on national resources.

Conclusion

In sum,  with the supportive Bush-Rice doctrine defining the post-Cold War US-India partnership virtually abandoned, and the new Trump doctrine treating India as a “developed” economy, demanding parity on trade, bilateral relations have become uncertain and testy. To hide the lack of substance in the relationship the Trump visit will focus on the hype and Prime Minister Modi has perfected the art of diplomacy as mass entertainment.

 

 

Judicial Reforms

Explained: Recusals by JudgesExplained

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Significance of Judiciary: Impartial and independent of all external pressures


Recently a Supreme Court judge recused himself from hearing a petition filed against the government’s move to charge Omar Abdullah under the Public Safety Act.  The case was finally heard by another bench.

Rules on Recusals

  • There are no written rules on the recusal of judges from hearing cases listed before them in constitutional courts. It is left to the discretion of a judge.
  • The reasons for recusal are not disclosed in an order of the court. Some judges orally convey to the lawyers involved in the case their reasons for recusal, many do not. Some explain the reasons in their order.
  • The decision rests on the conscience of the judge. At times, parties involved raise apprehensions about a possible conflict of interest.

Why Judges need recusal?

  • Recusal usually takes place when a judge has a conflict of interest or has a prior association with the parties in the case.
  • For example, if the case pertains to a company in which the judge holds stakes, the apprehension would seem reasonable.
  • Similarly, if the judge has, in the past, appeared for one of the parties involved in a case, the call for recusal may seem right.
  • A recusal inevitably leads to delay. The case goes back to the Chief Justice, who has to constitute a fresh Bench.

Should the reasons be put on record?

  • In his separate opinion in the NJAC judgment in 2015, Justice (now retired) Kurian Joseph, who was a member of the Constitution Bench, highlighted the need for judges to give reasons for recusal as a measure to build transparency.
  • It is the constitutional duty, as reflected in one’s oath, to be transparent and accountable, and hence, a judge is required to indicate reasons for his recusal from a particular case, Justice Kurian wrote.
  • One of his companion judges on the Constitution Bench, Justice (retired) Madan B. Lokur, agreed that specific rules require to be framed on recusal.
  • The two judges were referring to senior advocate Fali Nariman’s plea to Justice J.S. Khehar, who was then in line to be the next Chief Justice, to recuse himself.
  • But Justice Khehar refused to recuse himself though he admitted that Mr. Nariman’s plea left him in an “awkward predicament”.
  • Justice Khehar reasoned that he did not recuse himself for fear of leaving an impression that he was “scared”.

What happened in the Judge Loya and Assam detention centres cases?

  • In 2018, petitioners in the Judge Loya case sought the recusal of Supreme Court judges, Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, from the Bench as they both hailed from the Bombay High Court.
  • The case banked on the written statements of two judges from that High Court, both saying that Judge Loya’s death was from natural causes. The court refused the request and called it a “wanton attack”.
  • Recusal, the court observed, would mean abdication of duty. Maintaining institutional civilities are distinct from the “fiercely independent role of the judge as adjudicator”, the court explained.
  • In May 2019, in the middle of a hearing of a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander about the plight of inmates in Assam’s detention centres, the then-Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was asked to recuse himself.
  • In a lengthy order, Justice Gogoi said a litigant cannot seek recusal of the judge. “Judicial functions, sometimes, involve performance of unpleasant and difficult tasks, which require asking questions and soliciting answers to arrive at a just and fair decision.
  • If the assertions of bias as stated are to be accepted, it would become impossible for a judge to seek clarifications and answers,” the court observed.
Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Why have LPG prices seen a sharp rise?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LPG, PM Ujjwala Scheme

Mains level : Pricing mechanism of LPG in India


 

Recently, LPG prices, which are revised on a monthly basis, went up yet again.

What influences LPG prices in India?

  • Domestic prices of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are based on a formula — the import parity price (IPP), which is based on international LPG prices.
  • Saudi Aramco’s LPG price acts as the benchmark for the IPP and includes the free-on-board price, ocean freight, customs duties, port dues and the like.
  • This dollar-denominated figure is converted into rupees before local costs — such as local freight, bottling charges, marketing costs, margins for oil marketing firms and dealer commissions and the GST — are added.
  • This helps the government arrive at the retail selling price for LPG.
  • The government resets the LPG price every month, the decision being influenced by international prices and how the rupee has behaved against the dollar in the immediately preceding weeks.

Who will the price rise affect?

  • The price increase will affect retail consumers who have given up the subsidy.
  • The government has said that for those who avail subsidy, the increase would be mostly absorbed by the rise in subsidy.
  • The Centre said the price of an unsubsidized cylinder would increase from ₹714 to ₹858.50 in Delhi, for example, and that the subsidy offered would go up from ₹153.86 to ₹291.48.
  • Of the 27.76 crore retail consumers, 26.12 crore consumers avail LPG subsidy. Likewise, for Ujjwala consumers, the subsidy would go up from ₹174.86 to ₹312.48 per cylinder.

Does this help the government move to an open pricing regime?

  • Prior to the latest round of the price increase, the government had raised LPG cylinder prices by ₹62, starting from August 2019.
  • Compare this with the increase of ₹82 that had taken place over five years to mid-2019, indicating a penchant for increasingly lesser subsidy.
  • In the latest round, though, the Centre has sought to absorb much of the increase for those availing subsidy.
  • It looks like the most recent increase has been beyond its control and it is hence raising the subsidy levels to protect consumers, given that the economy is reeling from lack of consumer spending.

What is the outlook?

  • With international crude prices on the downtrend, it is plausible the LPG prices too would see a slump.
  • Aramco has lowered its propane price for February to $505 per metric tonne.
  • Assuming we receive no surprises from the rupee-dollar tango, a softening of LPG prices in the domestic context may be expected.

What are the implications for the broader economy?

  • At a time when consumer demand, in general, for goods and services in the country has slumped, more cash in the hands of the retail consumer may have helped spur demand.
  • It is ironic that the government has had to raise LPG prices now.
  • This sucks away even more disposable income from those consumers who pay market rates for LPG. As a result, household budgets are bound to go up, especially for those not availing the subsidy.
  • The increase in LPG price could spur headline inflation even further. As it is, the consumer price index inflation has seen a rise over the past few months.
Railway Reforms

Corporate Model of Indian RailwaysPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IRCTC, Train18 etc.

Mains level : Corporate Model of Indian Railways


 

The Kashi Mahakal Express is the country’s third ‘corporate’ train after the two Tejas Express trains between Delhi-Lucknow and Mumbai-Ahmedabad started over the past few months.

A new model

  • This is a new model being actively pushed by Indian Railways- to ‘outsource’ the running of regular passengers’ trains to its PSU, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
  • This has been dubbed an ‘experiment’ as a natural extension of this model is to lease out 100 routes to private players to run 150 trains, something that is in the works.

How does the model work?

  • In this model, the corporation takes all the decisions of running the service– fare, food, onboard facilities, housekeeping, complaints etc.
  • Indian Railways is free from these encumbrances and gets to earn from IRCTC a pre-decided amount, being the owner of the network. This amount has three components- haulage, lease and custody.
  • The haulage charge IRCTC is paying for the Tejas trains is in the range of Rs 800 per kilometer.
  • This includes use of the fixed infrastructure like tracks, signalling, driver, station staff, traction and pretty much everything needed to physically move the rake.

Finances

  • On top of that IRCTC has to pay the lease charges on the rake as Indian Railways coaches are leased to its financing arm, the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC).
  • Added to that there is a per-day custody charge, of keeping the rake safe and sound while it is in the custody of the PSU.
  • Roughly each of these components works out to be around Rs 2 lakh per day for the New Delhi-Lucknow Tejas rake.
  • In other words, IRCTC has to pay Indian Railways a sum total of these three charges, roughly Rs 14 lakh for the Lucknow Tejas runs in a day (up and down) and then factor in a profit over and above this.
  • This money is payable even if the occupancy is below expectation and the train is not doing good business.

What powers does IRCTC have?

  • Being a corporate entity with a Board of Directors and investors, IRCTC insists that the coaches it gets from Railways are new and not in a run-down condition, as is seen in many trains.
  • The quality of the coaches has a direct bearing on its business.
  • In this model, IRCTC has full flexibility to decide the service parameters and even alter them without having to go to Railway ministry or its policies.
  • To that end, the business of running trains can be run with the independence needed to run a business with profit motive.
  • This, policymakers believe creates the environment for enhanced service quality and user experience for the passengers.
  • IRCTC gets the freedom to decide even the number of stoppages it wants to afford on a route, depending on the needs of its business model.

What is Indian Railways’ benefit from this model?

  • The bright side for Indian Railways is that it doesn’t have to suffer the losses associated with running these trains thanks to under-recovery of cost due to low fares and its own hefty overheads.
  • The lease on its coaches is also taken care of.

Is this the same model for private train operators?

  • The model in which private train operators are sought to be engaged is different wherein along with haulage of Rs 668 per kilometer the operator needs to agree to revenue sharing with Railways.
  • The company willing to share the highest percentage of revenue will win the contract.
  • Private players may not need to pay lease and custody charges as it is expected that they will bring in their own rolling stock.
  • All this is because over the next five years, after the two dedicated freight corridors are operationalised and a lion’s share of freight trains move to the corridors, a lot of capacity will free up in the conventional railway lines for more passenger trains to run to cater to the demand.
  • The government wants private players and maybe also its own PSU, along with Indian Railways, to share the load of pumping in more trains into the system.
History- Important places, persons in news

Person in news: Dara ShikohPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dara Shikoh and his legacy

Mains level : Secular trends in Mughal Administration


 

The Ministry of Culture recently set up a panel of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to locate the grave of the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh (1615-59) nearby Humayun’s Tomb complex in Delhi.

Dara Shikoh’s legacy

  • The eldest son of Shah Jahan, Dara Shikoh was killed after losing the war of succession against his brother Aurangzeb.
  • Dara Shikoh is described as a “liberal Muslim” who tried to find commonalities between Hindu and Islamic traditions.
  • He translated into Persian the Bhagavad Gita as well as 52 Upanishads.

Antithesis to Aurangzeb

  • Some historians argue that if Dara Shikoh had ascended the Mughal throne instead of Aurangzeb, it could have saved thousands of lives lost in religious clashes.
  • Dara Shukoh was the total antithesis of Aurangzeb, in that he was deeply syncretic, warm-hearted and generous — but at the same time, he was also an indifferent administrator and ineffectual in the field of battle.

The remains of Dara Shikoh

  • According to the Shahjahannama, after Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikoh, he brought the latter to Delhi in chains.
  • His head was cut off and sent to Agra Fort, while his torso was buried in the Humayun’s Tomb complex.
  • Italian traveller Niccolao Manucci gave a graphic description of the day in Travels of Manucci, as he was there as a witness to the whole thing. That is the basis of the thesis.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Supergiant star ‘Betelgeuse’Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Supergiant star ‘Betelgeuse’

Mains level : Big Bang Theory


 

Using the European Space Organization’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have noticed the unprecedented dimming of Betelgeuse.

 Betelgeuse

  • It is a red supergiant star (over 20 times bigger than the Sun) in the constellation Orion.
  • Along with the dimming, the star’s shape has been changing as well, as per recent photographs of the star taken using the VISIR instrument on the VLT.
  • Instead of appearing round, the star now appears to be “squashed into an ova”.

Why is it significant?

  • Betelgeuse was born as a supermassive star millions of years ago and has been “dramatically” and “mysteriously” dimming for the last six months.
  • While Betelgeuse’s behaviour is out of the ordinary, it doesn’t mean that an eruption is imminent since astronomers predict the star to blast sometime (supernova explosion, which is the largest explosion to take place in space) in the next 100,000 years or so.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Urban Heat Islands in IndiaPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UHU effect

Mains level : UHU effect


 

A recent study from IIT Kharagpur called “Anthropogenic forcing exacerbating the urban heat islands in India” noted that the relatively warmer temperature in urban areas, compared to suburbs, may contain potential health hazards due to heat waves apart from pollution.

About the study

  • The research did study the difference between urban and surrounding rural land surface temperatures, across all seasons in 44 major cities from 2001 to 2017.
  • It found evidence of mean daytime temperature of surface urban heat island (UHI Intensity) going up to 2 degrees C for most cities, as analysed from satellite temperature measurements in monsoon and post monsoon periods.
  • Other researchers from elsewhere have also noticed similar rise in daytime temperatures in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai.

What is an Urban Heat Island?

  • An urban heat island (abbreviated as UHI) is where the temperature in a densely populated city is as much as 2 degrees higher than suburban or rural areas.
  • This happens because of the materials used for pavements, roads and roofs, such as concrete, asphalt (tar) and bricks, which are opaque, do not transmit light, but have higher heat capacity and thermal conductivity than rural areas, which have more open space, trees and grass.
  • Trees and plants are characterised by their ‘evapotranspiration’— a combination of words wherein evaporation involves the movement of water to the surrounding air, and transpiration refers to the movement of water within a plant and a subsequent lot of water through the stomata (pores found on the leaf surface) in its leaves.
  • Grass, plants and trees in the suburbs and rural areas do this. The lack of such evapotranspiration in the city leads to the city experiencing higher temperature than its surroundings.

Latent impacts

  • UHI s also decrease air quality in the cities, thanks to pollution generated by industrial and automobile exhaust, higher extent of particulate matter and greater amounts of dust than in rural areas.
  • Due to this higher temperature in urban areas, the UHI increases the colonization of species that like warm temperatures, such as lizards and geckos.
  • Insects such as ants are more abundant here than in rural areas; these are referred to as ectotherms.
  • In addition, cities tend to experience heat waves which affect human and animal health, leading to heat cramps, sleep deprivation and increased mortality rates.
  • UHIs also impact nearby water bodies, as warmer water (thanks to the pavements, rooftops and so on) is transferred from the city to drains in sewers, and released into nearby lakes and creeks, thus impairing their water quality.

Control of UHIs and mitigation

  • Industrialization and economic development are vital to the country, but the control of UHIs and their fallouts are equally vital. Towards this, several methods are being, and can be, tried.
  • One of them is to use greener rooftops, using light-coloured concrete (using limestone aggregates along with asphalt (or tar) making the road surface greyish or even pinkish (as some places in the US have done); these are 50% better than black, since they absorb less heat and reflect more sunlight.
  • Likewise, we should paint rooftops green, and install solar panels there amidst a green background.
  • The other is to plant as many trees and plants as possible

Why plant more trees?

Relevant to the present context are:

  • they combat climate change; clean the surrounding air by absorbing pollutant gases (NXOy, O3, NH3, SO2, and others) and trapping particulates on their leaves and bark;
  • they cool the city and the streets; conserve energy (cutting air-conditioning costs by 50%); save water and help prevent water pollution; help prevent soil erosion; protect people and children from UV light;
  • they offer economic opportunities; bring diverse group of people together; encourage civic pride by giving neighborhoods a new identity; mask concrete walls, thus muffling sounds from streets and highways, and eye-soothing canopy of green; and the more a business district has trees, more business follows.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Simplified Proforma for Incorporating Company Electronically (SPICe)Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SPICe

Mains level : Not Much


The Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) has come out with the format of the new web form — SPICe+ — for the incorporation of companies.

SPICe

  • The webform — issued as part of the Centre’s Ease of Doing Business initiative — has replaced the existing SPICe form.
  • The web form will help save many procedures, time and cost for starting a business in India.
  • The MCA has also come up with an AGILE PRO form, part of SPICe+, for GSTIN/ EPFO/ ESIC/ Profession Tax/ Bank Account.
  • The MCA also said the RUN service will be applicable only for a change of name of an existing company with effect.

Its components

  • SPICe+ has two parts — Part A for name reservation for new companies and Part B offering a bouquet of services including incorporation, DIN allotment, mandatory issue of PAN, mandatory issue of TAN, mandatory issue of EPFO and ESIC registration and mandatory opening of bank account for the company(through the AGILE PRO linked web form) besides allotment of GSTIN (if applied for).