Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

India needs a Fiscal Council

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Idea of fiscal council

Mains level : Paper 2- Fiscal Council

The newscard highlights the need of bipartisan, independent Fiscal Council to report and analyse FRBM discrepancies by the Government.

Try this question for mains:
Q.Fiscal Council is an important institution needed to complement the rule-based fiscal policy. Discuss.

What is a Fiscal Council?

  • A Fiscal Council is an independent fiscal institution (IFI) with a mandate to promote stable and sustainable public finances.
  • They aim to provide nonpartisan oversight of fiscal performance and/or advice and guidance — from either a positive or normative perspective — on key aspects of fiscal policy.
  • These institutions assist in calibrating sustainable fiscal policy by making an objective and scientific analysis.

Voices for a Fiscal Council

  • The 13th Finance Commission recommended that a committee be appointed by the Ministry of Finance which should eventually transform itself into a Fiscal Council.
  • The FC expected it to conduct an annual independent public review of FRBM compliance, including a review of the fiscal impact of policy decisions.
  • The FRBM Review Committee too made a similar recommendation underlining the need for an independent review by the Finance Ministry appointing the Council.

Why need a fiscal council?

(1)Burgeoning deficits

  • For the current year, even without any additional fiscal stimulus, the deficit is estimated at about 7% of GDP as against 3.5% estimated in the Budget due to a sharp decline in revenues.
  • The consolidated deficit of the Union and States could be as high as 12% of GDP and the overall debt could go up to 85%.
  • Thus it is necessary that the government must return to a credible fiscal consolidation path once the crisis gets over.

(2)Transparency issues

  • Besides large deficits and debt, there are questions of comprehensiveness, transparency and accountability in the Budgets.
  • The practice of repeated postponement of targets, timely non-settlement of bill payments and off Budget financing to show lower deficits has been common.
  • The report of the CAG of India in 2018 has highlighted various advances done to keep the liabilities hidden.

Fiscal Council can be a game changer. How?

  • First, an unbiased report to Parliament helps to raise the level of debate and brings in greater transparency and accountability.
  • Secondly, costing of various policies and programmes can help to promote transparency over the political cycle to discourage populist shifts in fiscal policy and improve accountability.
  • Third, scientific estimates of the cost of programmes and assessment of forecasts could help in raising public awareness about their fiscal implications and make people understand the nature of budgetary constraint.
  • Finally, the Council will work as a conscience keeper in monitoring rule-based policies, and in raising awareness and the level of debate within and outside Parliament.

Issues meddling between

  • The problem is that a Council created by the Finance Ministry and reporting to it can hardly be expected to be independent.

Diverse role to play ahead

  • According to the IMF, there were 36 countries with IFIs in 2014 and more have been established since.
  • While most of the IFIs are in advanced countries, emerging economies too have also shown growing interest in them.
  • Although their common agenda has been to function as watchdogs, there is considerable diversity in their structure and functions.
  • Over the years, monitoring compliance with fiscal rules and costing policies and programmes have become major tasks of these councils.

Way forward

  • When the markets fail, governments have to intervene.
  • Whenever governments seem obstructed, it is here that we need systems and institutions to ensure checks and balances.
  • In that respect, a Fiscal Council is an important institution needed to complement the rule-based fiscal policy.

Conclusion

  • Of course, it is not a ‘silver bullet’; if there is no political will, the institution would be less effective, and if there is political will, there is no need for such an institution.
  • That is also true of the FRBM Act. While we cannot state that the FRBM Act has been an unqualified success, it has also not been an abject failure either.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Magnetoseismology of Sun’s Corona

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MHG, CoMP, Corona

Mains level : Study of solar atmosphere

A group of researchers has measured the global magnetic field of the Sun’s corona for the very first time.

Try this PYQ:

The terms ‘Event Horizon’, ‘Singularity’, `String Theory’ and ‘Standard Model’ are sometimes seen in the news in the context of (CSP 2017)-

(a) Observation and understanding of the Universe

(b) Study of the solar and the lunar eclipses

(c) Placing satellites in the orbit of the Earth

(d) Origin and evolution of living organisms on the Earth

Basis of the research

  • The properties of waves depend on the medium in which they travel.
  • By measuring certain wave properties and doing a reverse calculation, some of the properties of the medium through which they have travelled can be obtained.
  • Waves can be longitudinal waves (for example, sound waves) or transverse waves (for example, ripples on a lake surface).
  • The waves that propagate through magnetic plasma are called magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves.
  • From the theoretical calculation, it can be shown that the properties of the transverse MHD wave are directly related to the strength of magnetic fields and the density of the corona.

How was the Magnetic Field measured?

  • The team used a technique known as coronal seismology or magnetoseismology to measure the coronal magnetic field which has been known for a few decades.
  • This method requires the measurement of the properties of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves and the density of the corona simultaneously.
  • In the past, these techniques were occasionally used in small regions of the corona, or some coronal loops due to limitations of our instruments/and proper data analysis techniques.

The CoMP instrument

  • The team used the improved measurements of the Coronal Multi-channel Polarimeter (CoMP) and advanced data analysis to measure the coronal magnetic field.
  • CoMP is an instrument operated by High Altitude Observatory, of the U.S.
  • It is located at Mauna Loa Solar Observatory, near the summit of that volcano on the big island of Hawaii.

Why measure the solar magnetic field?

  • It is very important to measure the corneal magnetic fields regularly since the solar corona is highly dynamic and varies within seconds to a minute time scale. There are two main puzzles about the Sun which this advancement will help address:

(1) Coronal heating problem

  • Though the core of the Sun is at a temperature of about 15 million degrees, its outer layer, the photosphere is a mere 5700 degrees hot.
  • However, its corona or outer atmosphere, which stretches up to several million kilometres beyond its surface, is much, much hotter than the surface.
  • It is at a temperature of one million degrees or more.
  • What causes the atmosphere of the Sun (corona) to heat up again, though the surface (photosphere) is cooler than the interior? That is the question which has baffled solar physicists.
  • Popular attempts to explain this puzzle invoke the magnetic field of the corona. Hence the present work will help understand and verify these theories better.

(2) Mechanisms of eruptions of the Sun

  • The eruptions on the Sun include solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
  • These are driven by magnetic reconnections happening in the Sun’s corona.
  • Magnetic reconnection is a process where oppositely polarity magnetic field lines connect and some of the magnetic energy is converted to heat energy and also kinetic energy which leads to the generation of heating, solar flares, solar jets, etc.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Ammonium Nitrate:  Behind the massive explosion in Beirut

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ammonium Nitrate and its uses

Mains level : Chemical disasters these days

The catastrophic explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon caused by the blast of over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, has rocked the world.

Practice question:

Q. Despite a robust policy framework governing the hazardous chemicals in India, the recent gas leakage incident in Vizag highlights India’s unaddressed vulnerability to chemical disasters. Critically comment.

What is Ammonium Nitrate?

  • In its pure form, ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
  • A common chemical ingredient of agricultural fertilizers, the nitrogen-rich compound is also the main component of the explosive composition known as ANFO — ammonium nitrate fuel oil.
  • It is the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
  • Many Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used by terrorists around the world have ANFO as the main explosive, triggered by primary explosives like RDX or TNT.
  • In the majority of terror attacks in India, ammonium nitrate has been used along with initiator explosives like RDX.

Ammonium nitrate as an explosive

  • Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own.
  • It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the UN classification of dangerous goods.
  • If mixed with ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive.

Stored ammonium nitrate is a major fire hazard

  • Large quantities of stored ammonium nitrate are regarded as a major fire hazard, with multiple reported cases across the world.
  • The explosion of large storage can happen primarily in two ways.
  • One is by some type of detonation or initiation because the storage comes in contact with the explosive mixture.
  • Second, the blast can result due to a fire which starts in the ammonium nitrate store because of the heat generated due to the oxidation process at large scale.

Regulations in India about ammonium nitrate

  • Because it is used as an ingredient for the production of explosives, anaesthetic gases, fertilizers, cold packs and has a possibility of misuse, it is highly regulated in India.
  • There exists the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012, under The Explosives Act, 1884.
  • It defines ammonium nitrate as the compound with formula NH4NO3 including any mixture or compound having more than 45 per cent ammonium nitrate by weight.
  • The manufacture, conversion, bagging, import, export, transport, possession for sale or use of ammonium nitrate is covered under The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
  • The rules also make storage of ammonium nitrate in large quantities in populated areas illegal in India.
  • For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951.

Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

NPA issue in India:Complete analysis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Finance commission and related constitutional provisions

Mains level : Implication in federal relation; scope for reforms

The Financial Stability Report (FSR) released by RBI recently has once again underlined the vulnerability of the Indian public sector banks (PSBs). They have been under a severe balance sheet crisis even before the pandemic, and the crisis created by the pandemic, and the moratorium offered, will explode when the chickens come to roost.

Current banking scenario in India

According to the FSR

  • The gross non-performing assets would go up from 11.3% in March 2020 to 15.2% in March 2021, and to 16.3% under a very severe stress scenario. 
  • The CRAR is estimated to deteriorate from 14.6% in March to 13.3% in the baseline scenario, and to 11.8% under a very severe stress scenario. 
  • The volume of recapitalisation required is humongous.

What is a Non-Performing Asset (NPA)?

  • You may note that for a bank, the loans given by the bank is considered as its assets. So if the principle or the interest or both the components of a loan is not being serviced to the lender (bank), then it would be considered as a Non-Performing Asset (NPA).
  • Any asset which stops giving returns to its investors for a specified period of time is known as Non-Performing Asset (NPA).
  • Generally, that specified period of time is 90 days in most of the countries and across the various lending institutions. However, it is not a thumb rule and it may vary with the terms and conditions agreed upon by the financial institution and the borrower.

Reasons for rise in NPA in India

  • Historical factors -Between early 2000’s and 2008 Indian economy were in the boom phase. During this period Banks especially Public sector banks lent extensively to corporate. However, the profits of most of the corporate dwindled due to slowdown in the global economy, the ban in mining projects, and delay in environmental related permits affecting power, iron and steel sector, volatility in prices of raw material and the shortage in availability of. This has affected their ability to pay back loans and is the most important reason behind increase in NPA of public sector banks.
  • Relaxed lending norms : One of the main reasons of rising NPA is the relaxed lending norms especially for corporate honchos when their financial status and credit rating is not analyzed properly. Also, to face competition banks are hugely selling unsecured loans which attributes to the level of NPAs.
  • Lack of contigency planning: Banks did not conducted adequate contingency planning, especially for mitigating project risk. They did not factor eventualities like failure of gas projects to ensure supply of gas or failure of land acquisition process for highways.
  • Restructuring of loan facility was extended to companies that were facing larger problems of over-leverage& inadequate profitability. This problem was more in the Public sector banks.
  • Unforseen economic shocks like Demonetization and Covid 19

What is the impact of NPAs?

  • Lenders suffer a lowering of profit margins.
  • Stress in banking sector causes less money available to fund other projects, therefore, negative impact on the larger national economy.
  • Higher interest rates by the banks to maintain the profit margin.
  • Redirecting funds from the good projects to the bad ones.
  • As investments got stuck, it may result in it may result in unemployment.
  • In the case of public sector banks, the bad health of banks means a bad return for a shareholder which means that the government of India gets less money as a dividend. Therefore it may impact easy deployment of money for social and infrastructure development and results in social and political cost.
  • Investors do not get rightful returns.
  • Balance sheet syndrome of Indian characteristics that is both the banks and the corporate sector have stressed balance sheet and causes halting of the investment-led development process.
  • NPAs related cases add more pressure to already pending cases with the judiciary.

What are the various steps taken to tackle NPAs?

1.Corporate Debt Restructuring – 2005

It is for reducing the burden of the debts on the company by decreasing the rates paid and increasing the time the company has to pay the obligation back.

2.5:25 rule – 2014

  • Also known as, Flexible Structuring of Long Term Project Loans to Infrastructure and Core Industries.
  • It was proposed to maintain the cash flow of such companies since the project timeline is long and they do not get the money back into their books for a long time, therefore, the requirement of loans at every 5-7 years and thus refinancing for long term projects.

3.Joint Lenders Forum – 2014

  • It was created by the inclusion of all PSBs whose loans have become stressed. It is present so as to avoid loans to the same individual or company from different banks.
  • It is formulated to prevent instances where one person takes a loan from one bank to give a loan of the other bank.

4.Mission Indradhanush – 2015

The Indradhanush framework for transforming the PSBs represents the most comprehensive reform effort undertaken since banking nationalization in the year 1970 to revamp the Public Sector Banks (PSBs) and improve their overall performance by ABCDEFG.

  • A-Appointments: Based upon global best practices and as per the guidelines in the companies act, separate post of Chairman and Managing Director and the CEO will get the designation of MD & CEO and there would be another person who would be appointed as non-Executive Chairman of PSBs.
  • B-Bank Board Bureau: The BBB will be a body of eminent professionals and officials, which will replace the Appointments Board for the appointment of Whole-time Directors as well as non-Executive Chairman of PSBs
  • C-Capitalization: As per finance ministry, the capital requirement of extra capital for the next four years up to FY 2019 is likely to be about Rs.1,80,000 crore out of which 70000 crores will be provided by the GOI and the rest PSBs will have to raise from the market.
Financial Year Total Amount
FY15-16 25,000 Crore
FY16-17 25,000 Crore
FY17-18 10,000 Crore
FY18-19 10,000 Crore
Total 70,000 Crore
  • D-DEstressing: PSBs and strengthening risk control measures and NPAs disclosure.
  • E-Employment: GOI has said there will be no interference from Government and Banks are encouraged to take independent decisions keeping in mind the commercial the organizational interests.
  • F-Framework of Accountability: New KPI(key performance indicators) which would be linked with performance and also the consideration of ESOPs for top management PSBs.
  • G-Governance Reforms: For Example, Gyan Sangam, a conclave of PSBs and financial institutions. Bank board Bureau for transparent and meritorious appointments in PSBs.

5.Strategic debt restructuring (SDR) – 2015

  • Under this scheme banks who have given loans to a corporate borrower gets the right to convert the complete or part of their loans into equity shares in the loan taken company. Its basic purpose is to ensure that more stake of promoters in reviving stressed accounts and providing banks with enhanced capabilities for initiating a change of ownership in appropriate cases.

6.Asset Quality Review – 2015

  • Classify stressed assets and provision for them so as to secure the future of the banks and further early identification of the assets and prevent them from becoming stressed by appropriate action.

7.Sustainable structuring of stressed assets (S4A) – 2016

  • It has been formulated as an optional framework for the resolution of largely stressed accounts. 
  • It involves the determination of sustainable debt level for a stressed borrower and bifurcation of the outstanding debt into sustainable debt and equity/quasi-equity instruments which are expected to provide upside to the lenders when the borrower turns around.

8.Insolvency and Bankruptcy code Act-2016

  • It has been formulated to tackle the Chakravyuha Challenge (Economic Survey) of the exit problem in India.
  • The aim of this law is to promote entrepreneurship, availability of credit, and balance the interests of all stakeholders by consolidating and amending the laws relating to reorganization and insolvency resolution of corporate persons, partnership firms and individuals in a time-bound manner and for maximization of value of assets of such persons and matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

9.Pubic ARC vs. Private ARC – 2017

  • This debate is recently in the news which is about the idea of a Public Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARC) fully funded and administered by the government as mooted by this year’s Economic Survey Vs. the private ARC as advocated by the deputy governor of RBI Mr. Viral Acharya.
  • Economic survey calls it as PARA (Public Asset Rehabilitation Agency) and the recommendation is based on a similar agency being used during the East Asian crisis of 1997 which was a success.

10.Bad Banks – 2017

  • Economic survey 16-17, also talks about the formation of a bad bank which will take all the stressed loans and it will tackle it according to flexible rules and mechanism. It will ease the balance sheet of PSBs giving them the space to fund new projects and continue the funding of development projects.

11.Prompt corrective action

  • PCA is a framework under which banks with weak financial metrics are put under watch by the RBI.
  • The RBI introduced the PCA framework in 2002 as a structured early-intervention mechanism for banks that become undercapitalised due to poor asset quality, or vulnerable due to loss of profitability.
  • It aims to check the problem of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector.

12.RBI’s revised stressed asset resolution norms

  • The RBI in June 2019 released a revised set of norms on stressed asset resolution which are substantially less stringent from the previous one.

About the February 2018 RBI circular

  • Through a notification issued on Feb 12, 2018 the RBI laid down a revised framework for the resolution of stressed assets, which replaced all its earlier instructions on the subject.
  • Banks were required to immediately start working on a resolution plan for accounts over Rs 2,000 crore, which was to be finalised within 180 days.
  • In the case of non-implementation, lenders were required to file an insolvency application.
  • RBI termed it necessary to substitute the existing guidelines with a harmonized and simplified generic framework for resolution of stressed assets.
  • Also, banks have to recognise loans as non-performing even if the repayment was delayed by just one day.
  • Not adhering to the timelines in the circular would attract stringent supervisory and enforcement actions.

What did the revised framework replace?

  • The circular went into effect on the same day that it was issued, and all existing schemes for stressed asset resolution were withdrawn with immediate effect.
  • The circular was ostensibly intended to stop the “evergreening” of bad loans the practice of banks providing fresh loans to enable timely repayment by borrowers on existing loans.
  • The RBI warned banks that not adhering to the timelines laid down in the circular, or attempting to evergreen stressed accounts, would attract stringent supervisory and enforcement actions.

New circular of the RBI

  • The new framework gives lenders a breather from the one-day default rule whereby they had to draw up a resolution plan (RP) for implementation within 180 days of the first default.
  • It gives lenders (scheduled commercial banks, all-India financial institutions and small finance banks) 30 days to review the borrower account on default.
  • During this review period, lenders may decide on the resolution strategy, including the nature of the RP and the approach for its implementation.
  • Lenders may also choose to initiate legal proceedings for insolvency or recovery.
  • The new circular is also applicable to small finance banks and systemically important non-deposit taking non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) and deposit-taking NBFCs.
  • In cases where the RP is to be implemented, all lenders have to enter into an intercreditor agreement (ICA)for the resolution of stressed assets during the review period to provide for ground rules for finalisation and implementation of the RP in respect of borrowers with credit facilities from more than one lender.
  • Under the ICA, any decision agreed to by the lenders representing 75 per cent of total outstanding credit facilities by value and 60 per cent by number will be binding upon all the lenders. In particular, the RPs will provide for payment which will not be less than the liquidation value due to the dissenting lenders.
  • In cases where the aggregate exposure of a borrower to lenders (scheduled commercial banks, all-India financial institutions and small finance banks) is ₹2,000 crore and above, the RP has to be implemented within 180 days from the end of the review period, and the reference date has been set as June 7, 2019.
  • In the case of borrowers in the ₹1,500 crore and above but less than ₹2,000 crore category, January 1, 2020 has been set as the reference date for implementing the RP. In the less than ₹1,500 crore category, the RBI will announce the reference date in due course.

 What if the Resolution Plan is delayed?

  • There is a disincentive for banks if they delay implementing a viable resolution plan.
  • In case the plan is not implemented within 180 days from the end of the review period, banks have to make additional provision of 20% and another 15% if the plan is not implemented within 365 days from the start of the review period.
  • The additional provisions would be reversed if resolution is pursued under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

Further reforms needed

  • Banks have to accept losses on loans (or ‘haircuts’).
  • They should be able to do so without any fear of harassment by the investigative agencies.
  • The Indian Banks’ Association has set up a six-member panel to oversee resolution plans of lead lenders. To expedite resolution, more such panels may be required.
  • An alternative is to set up a Loan Resolution Authority, if necessary through an Act of Parliament.
  • Also, the government must infuse at one go whatever additional capital is needed to recapitalise banks — providing such capital in multiple instalments is not helpful
  • The quality of lending by PSB must be improved in future so that the same problem does not arise again.
  • To provide Public sector banks with greater autonomy the shareholding of the government can be reduced to less than 50 percent or 33 percent.
  • A second requirement is that public sector banks should become board-managed institutions, with the board responsible for all appointments, including that of the chief executive officer (CEO). If the shares of the government are actually transferred to a holding company, then decisions regarding appointments could be taken by the board of the new company on the recommendation of the board of the bank.
  • The objective of creating a genuinely commercial environment in which public sector banks can function and managements are made accountable can only be achieved if the government is willing to step back from exercising direct control. 

History- Important places, persons in news

What is the Gandhi-King Initiative?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi in India's freedom struggle

Mains level : World History: American Civil Rights Movement

A Bill to promote Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr’s legacies has been passed in American Senate.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Discuss how the civil rights movement in America is paralleled by India’s freedom struggle under Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi-King Initiative

  • The initiative is an exchange program between India and the U.S. to study the work and legacies of Gandhiji and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
  • It will establish annual scholar and student exchange programs for Indians and Americans to study the leaders’ legacies and visit historic sites in India and the U.S.
  • The visits will be relevant to India’s freedom struggle and the U.S.’s civil rights movement.

Gandhi-King Global Academy

  • The bill also seeks to establish the Gandhi-King Global Academy, a conflict resolution initiative based on the principles of nonviolence.
  • It proposes the establishment of the United States-India Gandhi-King Development Foundation set up by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the GoI, organized under Indian law.
  • The Foundation, which has a proposed budget authorized of up to $ 30 million per year for five years through 2025.
  • It is tasked with administering grants to NGOs that work in health, pollution and climate change, education and empowerment of women.

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

In news: Ghazipur Landfill

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Landfills

Mains level : Social and environmental threats posed by Landfills

The Ghazipur landfill site rises by nearly 10 metres a year and is expected to surpass the height of Qutub Minar and other vertical structures in the country.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2016:

Q.What can be the impact of excessive/inappropriate use of nitrogenous fertilizers in agriculture?

  1. Proliferation of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms in soil can occur.
  2. Increase in the acidity of soil can take place.
  3. Leaching of nitrate to the ground-water can occur.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

What are Landfills?

  • A landfill site, also known as a tip, dump, rubbish dump, garbage dump, or dumping ground, is a site for the disposal of waste materials.
  • Some landfill sites are also used for waste management purposes, such as temporary storage, consolidation and transfer, or for various stages of processing waste material, such as sorting, treatment, or recycling.

Threats posed by landfills

Landfills have the potential to cause a number of issues. Infrastructure disruption, such as damage to access roads by heavy vehicles, may occur amongst others.

1) Leachate

  • When precipitation falls on open landfills, water percolates through the garbage and becomes contaminated with suspended and dissolved material, forming leachate.
  • If this is not contained it can contaminate groundwater.

2) Decomposition gases

  • Rotting food and other decaying organic waste create decomposition gases, especially CO2 and CH4 from aerobic and anaerobic decomposition, respectively.
  • Both processes occur simultaneously in different parts of a landfill.

3) Other threats

  • Poorly run landfills may become nuisances because of vectors such as rats and flies which can spread infectious diseases.
  • The occurrence of such vectors can be mitigated through the use of daily cover.
  • Other potential issues include wildlife disruption due to occupation of habitat and animal health disruption caused by consuming waste from landfills, dust, odour, noise pollution, and reduced local property values.

Wetland Conservation

What is Khazan Farming System?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Khazan farming, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

Mains level : Integrated Farming System, Khazan etc.

The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in low-lying floodplains of Goa is characterized by an estuarine agricultural system called Khazan farming.

Try this question from our AWE initiative:

How far is the Integrated Farming System (IFS) helpful in sustaining agricultural production? (10 Marks)

Khazan Farming

  • The low-lying floodplains of Goa host an estuarine agricultural system called Khazan farming.
  • This system is a carefully designed topo-hydro-engineered agro-aquacultural ecosystem mainly based on the regulation salinity and tides.

How does it work?

  • Centuries ago, people in this region reclaimed low-lying brackish coastal floodplains and mangrove forests.
  • They constructed bunds using locally available material to prevent the ingress of saltwater, which killed the halophilic mangroves.
  • To control the flow of tidal waters, they built openings in bunds fitted with one-way gates.
  • These channels would fill in with the oncoming tide and bring with them fish, crab and shrimp, and the gates would automatically shut when the water level was equal on both sides.
  • This prevented the water from overflowing into the fields used to grow paddy and which has a low tolerance to salt.
  • When the tide receded, these gates would open outwards automatically, allowing the water to drain out.
  • During this time, a bag net was set at the gate to catch fish that had entered in earlier.

Benefits of Khazan

  • Every bit of space was precious and used efficiently — the bunds were used to grow a variety of vegetables.
  • The Khazan system allowed for the farmer and the fisher to harmoniously coexist and was the key to sustaining what is considered Goa’s staple — fish, curry and rice.

Why is it neglected these days?

  • Today, for various reasons, but primarily due to post-independence agrarian reforms of 1961, these lands largely lie fallow and are in a state of decay.
  • Lack of cultivation and maintenance of the bunds and sluice gates is leading to their breaching and the natural reclamation of these fallow lands by mangroves.
  • Moreover, mangroves are protected by law and it is illegal to cut them.
  • Areas that have these trees growing on them also come under the purview of the coastal regulation zone (CRZ); according to the 2011 notification, the mangrove areas are classified as CRZ I and cannot be developed upon.

Back2Basics: Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

  • The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is Goa’s smallest protected area — it comprises barely two square kilometres of lush mangrove forests.
  • The sanctuary is located on Chorão, one of Goa’s estuarine islands in the Mandovi river approximately five kilometres from capital Panaji.
  • The sanctuary and its surrounds are home to marsh crocodiles, smooth-coated otter, the unique glossy-marsh snake that feeds on crabs, mud lobsters, sap-sucking sea slugs, among others.

Anti Defection Law

Judicial intervention in Anti-defection Proceedings

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tenth Schedule

Mains level : Issues over Judicial discretion in Anti-defection

A Supreme Court Bench is scheduled to hear an appeal filed by the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker’s office challenging the State High Court order to defer anti-defection proceedings against former Deputy CM.

Try these questions:

Q. “The anti-defection law works best as an insurance against violation of the people’s mandate for a party, but it cannot be made a tool to stifle all dissent.” Discuss.

—–

Q.Which one of the following Schedules of the Constitution of India contains provisions regarding anti-defection? (CSP 2014)

(a) Second Schedule

(b) Fifth Schedule

(c) Eighth Schedule

(d) Tenth Schedule

What is the issue?

  • The petition said the HC has crossed its jurisdiction by asking the Speaker to put off his decision on the disqualification notices issued to dissident MLAs.
  • The HC order was an affront to the powers of the Speaker.
  • The High Court’s interim order granting extended time to rebel MLAs to file their replies to anti-defection notices amounted to a violation of Article 212 (courts not to inquire into the proceedings of the legislature).

Backed by Tenth Schedule

  • The petition said that judicial review of ongoing anti-defection proceedings was limited.
  • Notice is much prior to any final determination or decision on disqualification.
  • The proceedings, including the notice, are in the realm of the legislative proceedings under Paragraph 6(2) of the Tenth Schedule, the Speaker’s office argued.

Citing the Kihoto Hollohan case

  • The petition referred to the Constitution Bench judgment of the top court in the Kihoto Hollohan case in 1992 in this context.
  • Judicial review cannot be available at a stage prior to the making of a decision by the Speaker/Chairman and a prior action would not be permissible.
  • Nor would interference be permissible at an interlocutory stage of the proceedings, the verdict says.

Must read:

Kihoto Hollohan Order (1992)

What does the dissident MLAs have to say?

  • The dissident MLAs had challenged the constitutionality of Paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule which makes “voluntarily giving up membership of a political party” liable for disqualification.
  • The MLAs had argued that the provision infringed their right to dissent.
  • But the Speaker’s office countered that Paragraph 2 (1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule was the law of the land.
  • A mere challenge to its constitutionality cannot efface it from the statute book.

 


Back2Basics

Explained: Anti-defection law and its evolution

Urban Floods

National Flood Commission

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NFC

Mains level : Paper 3- Urban floods and related issues

At least 43 years after India’s first and last commission on floods was constituted, there is no national-level flood control authority in the country so far.

Try this question for mains:
Q. What are the various causes of urban floods in India?

National Flood Commission

  • Rashtriya Barh Ayog or the National Flood Commission (NFC) was set up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in 1976.
  • It aimed to study India’s flood-control measures after the projects launched under the National Flood Control Programme of 1954 failed to achieve much success.

NFCs recommendation

  • In 1980, the NFC made 207 recommendations and four broad observations:
  • First, it said there was no increase in rainfall in India and, thus, the increase in floods was due to anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, drainage congestion and badly planned development works.
  • Second, it questioned the effectiveness of the methods adopted to control floods, such as embankments and reservoirs, and suggested that the construction of these structures be halted until their efficacy was assessed.
  • Third, it said there have to be consolidated efforts among the states and the Centre to take up research and policy initiatives to control floods.
  • Fourth, it recommended a dynamic strategy to cope with the changing nature of floods. An analysis of the report suggested that the problem began with the methods of estimating flood-prone areas of the country.

Why revive NFC?

  • An accurate estimate is crucial for framing flood management programmes.
  • The NFC estimated that the total area vulnerable to floods in 1980 was around 40 million hectares.
  • There is another problem. The very definition of the flood-prone area does not reflect the effectiveness of the flood management works undertaken.

Supreme Court to examine Kerala Act on animal, bird sacrifices

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Animal sacrifice and associated issues

The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act of 1968 that prohibits sacrifice of animals and birds in temples to ‘please’ the deity.

Try this question for mains:

Q. The ritual slaughters of animals in India is a greater ethical issue than a legal one. Analyse.

The dichotomy over ritual slaughter

  • The Supreme Court is set to analyse how the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 allows the killing of animals but prohibits cruelty to animals.
  • It highlighted the “dichotomy” in animal protection law that allows the killing of animals for food but does not permit “killing of animals for an offer to a deity and then consumption”.

Why did SC interfere?

  • However, the 1968 Kerala law bans the killing of animals and birds for religious sacrifices but not for personal consumption.
  • This amounted to arbitrary classification.

Legal protections to Animal sacrifice

  • The Kerala Act criminalizes the intent behind the animal sacrifice and not animal sacrifice per se.
  • If the sacrifice is not for propitiating any deity but for personal consumption even in the precincts of the temple, it is not forbidden.
  • Section 28 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960 does not make the killing of animals for religious purposes and offence.

Appeal citing the necessity of the practice

  • The oral remarks came in an appeal filed by P.E. Gopalakrishnan and some others, who are Shakthi worshippers, and for whom, animal sacrifice is an integral part of the worship.
  • In their appeal, they said the animal sacrifice was an “essential religious practice” and the High Court had no power to interfere.

Why animal sacrifice needs a rethink?

  • All religions call for compassion, no religion requires killing or eating animals and hacking animals to death with weapons.
  • The way executioners handle, transport and kill animals for sacrifices typically violates animal transport and slaughter laws, making it a punishable offence.
  • There exist ample ambiguities in religious texts over allowing the ritual slaughter of animals.
  • Moreover, the practice of animal sacrifice normalizes killing and desensitizes humans to violence against animals.

History- Important places, persons in news

How the US’ Trinity Test led to the dawn of the atomic age?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Manhattan Project, WW2 and related stories

On this day, exactly 75 years ago, US scientists tested ‘Gadget’— the world’s first atomic bomb — in what was dubbed as the ‘Trinity Test’.

Practice question for mains:

Q.What is the Manhattan Project? Describe its consequences on the post-world war scenario.

The Trinity Test

  • The super bomb, nicknamed ‘Gadget’, was built by a team of scientists at a top-secret site in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
  • It was developed as part of the US-led Manhattan Project, which sought to build nuclear weapons to give the allied forces an edge over Germany, Japan and Italy in World War 2.
  • Very soon after the Trinity test, an identical nuclear bomb called ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of people.
  • Before it detonated, the scientists had placed bets on what could happen. Some believed that the bomb would be a dud and would fail to explode.

What was the Manhattan Project?

  • Germany initiated World War II by invading Poland.
  • A letter signed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein warned then-US President Franklin D Roosevelt of the potential threat posed by an atomic weapon being developed by Adolf Hitler.
  • Soon after, the US launched a secret atomic research undertaking, code-named the Manhattan Project, which sought to develop an atomic weapon to end the war.

Execution of the project

  • The Project remained a relatively small-scale initiative for the next two years.
  • It was only after the bombing of Pearl Harbour the project was officially kicked into gear.
  • By December 1942 facilities were established in remote locations across the US, as well as in Canada.
  • However, the superbomb was finally designed and conceptualized by a team of scientists at a top-secret laboratory in Los Alamos.
  • The Los Alamos team developed two types of bombs — one was uranium-based, which was later code-named ‘the Little Boy’ before it was dropped on Hiroshima; the other had a plutonium core.

Looping-in nuclear physicists

  • The project brought together some of the country’s leading atomic experts as well as exiled scientists and physicists from Germany and other Nazi-occupied nations.
  • The team at Los Alamos was headed by J Robert Oppenheimer, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Oppenheimer later came to be known as the “father of the atomic bomb”.
  • His team included famous Danish scientist Niels Bohr and Italian scientists Enrico Fermi.

What were the repercussions of the Trinity Test?

  • New Mexico residents were pointedly not warned before the test, to ensure that it was carried out secretly.
  • Data collected by the New Mexico health department, which showed the adverse impact of radiation caused by the detonation, was ignored for years after the test.
  • A sudden rise in infant mortality was reported in the months after the explosion. Several residents also complained that the number of cancer patients went up after the Trinity Test.
  • The dust outfall from the explosion was expected to have travelled nearly 100 miles from the test site, posing a serious threat to residents in the area.
  • Many families complained that their livestock suffered skin burns, bleeding and loss of hair.

Impact of bombing on Japan

  • The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are known to have killed well over 200,000 people — many of whom succumbed to radiation poisoning in the weeks after the blasts.
  • The uranium bomb in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroyed around 70 per cent of all buildings and caused around 140,000 deaths by the end of 1945.
  • The plutonium bomb explosion over Nagasaki, which took place three days later, killed 74,000 people that year, according to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW) data.
  • After seeing the destruction caused to the two Japanese cities, Oppenheimer publicly admitted that he regretted building a bomb that could cause an apocalypse.

Nuclearisation of the world thus began

  • Seventy-five years after the Trinity Test, as many as nine countries around the world are currently in possession of nuclear weapons.
  • These include the US, the UK, Russia, France, India, China, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
  • At least eight countries have detonated over 2,000 nuclear test explosions since 1945.
  • The most recent instance of nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India, were the series of five explosions done as part of the Pokhran-II tests in May 1998.
  • The first test, code-named Smiling Buddha, took place in May 1974.

World Drug Report: India in top five list

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Illicit drug seizures in India and neighbourhood

According to the latest World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the fourth highest seizure of opium in 2018 was reported from India, after Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Drug seizures in India and neighbourhood

  • The maximum of 644 tonnes of opium was seized in Iran, followed by 27 tonnes in Afghanistan and 19 tonnes in Pakistan.
  • In India, the figure stood at four tonnes in 2018.

Heroin

  • Heroin is manufactured from the morphine extracted from the seed pod of opium poppy plants.
  • Iran reported the highest seizure of heroin (25 tonnes), followed by Turkey, United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • India was at the 12th position in the world.

Global pattern

  • 97% of the total global production of opium in the past five years came from only three countries.
  • About 84% of the total opium was produced in Afghanistan, from where it is supplied to neighbouring countries, Europe, west Asia, south Asia and Africa.
  • From Myanmar, which accounts for 7% of the global opium production, and Laos, where 1% of the opium is produced, it is supplied to east and south-east Asia and Oceania.
  • Mexico accounts for 6% of the global opium production, while Colombia and Guatemala account for less than 1% of global production.

Some other details

  • The report said that the global area under opium poppy cultivation declined for the second year in a row in 2019.
  • It went down by 17% in 2018 and by 30% in 2019.
  • Despite the decline in cultivation, opium production remained stable in 2019, with higher yields reported in the main opium production areas.
  • Quantities of seized opiates remained concentrated in Asia, notably in south-west Asia (70%).
  • Asia is host to more than 90% of global illicit opium production.
  • Also, it is the world’s largest consumption market for opiates and also accounts for almost 80% of all opiates seized worldwide in 2018.

Consider the question asked in 2018 “India’s proximity to two of the world’s biggest illicit opium-growing states has enhanced her internal security concerns. Explain the linkages between drug trafficking and other illicit activities such as gunrunning, money laundering and human trafficking. What countermeasures should be taken to prevent the same?”

Railway Reforms

Railways to become Net Zero Carbon Emission Mass Transport by 2030

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : REMCL

Mains level : Paper3- Railways to become Zero Carbon emission mass transport

A new dawn ushers on Indian Railways as it endeavors to be self-reliant for its energy needs as directed by the Prime Minister and solarise railway stations by utilizing its vacant lands for Renewable Energy (RE) projects.

Moving towards ‘Net Zero’ Carbon Emission Railways

  • The Ministry of Railways has decided to install solar power plants on its vacant unused lands on mega-scale.
  • The use of solar power will accelerate the mission to achieve a conversion of Indian Railways to ‘Net Zero’ Carbon Emission Railway.
  • Railway Energy Management Company Ltd. (REMCL) is working to further proliferate the use of solar energy on mega scale.
  • It has already floated tenders for 2 GW of solar projects for Indian Railways to be installed on unutilised railway lands.

Projects along operational railway lines

  • Indian Railways is also adopting an innovative concept of installation of solar projects along operational railway lines.
  • This will help in preventing encroachment, enhancing the speed and safety of trains and reduction of infrastructure costs due to direct injection of solar power into the traction network.
  • With these mega initiatives, Indian Railways is leading India’s fight against climate challenge.
  • These are significant steps towards meeting its ambitious goal of being a net zero carbon emissions organisation and meeting India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) targets.

 

History- Important places, persons in news

Why Russia celebrates WWII triumph on a different date?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : WW2 and related stories

Raksha Mantri is on a three-day trip to Russia to attend the 75th Victory Day. India has sent a tri-services contingent to participate in the Victory Day Parade.

Try these questions from CS Mains:

Q.To what extent can Germany be held responsible for causing the two World Wars? Discuss critically. (CSM 2015)

 

Q.The New Economic Policy – 1921 of Lenin had influenced the policies adopted by India soon after independence. Evaluate. (CSM 2014)

What is Victory Day?

  • Victory Day marks the end of World War II and the victory of the Allied Forces in 1945.
  • Adolf Hitler had shot himself on April 30. On May 7, German troops surrendered, which was formally accepted the next day and came into effect on May 9.
  • In most European countries, it is celebrated on May 8 and is called the Victory in Europe Day.

Why does Russia not celebrate Victory Day on the same date?

  • The erstwhile Soviet Union had not wanted the surrender to take place in the west and wanted that such a significant event should reflect the contribution of the Red Army and the Soviet population.
  • According to historians, Joseph Stalin, premier of the Soviet Union, wanted Germany to also sign surrender in Berlin.
  • Since crowds were already gathering in London to celebrate, Victory in Europe Day celebration in Britain would take place on 8 May, as they did in the United States.
  • This did not convince Stalin, who argued that Soviet troops were still fighting the German forces in many areas.
  • German soldiers did not surrender in East Prussia, Courland Peninsula, Czechoslovakia till later. Hence victory celebration could therefore not begin in the Soviet Union even after May 9.

If May 9 is Victory Day, why is it being celebrated on June 24?

  • This year, the celebrations this year were pushed to June because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • After winning the war and having its own Victory Day on May 9, Stalin wanted to commemorate the victory with a military parade.
  • On June 22, 1945, he ordered the commemoration of the victory over Germany to hold the victory parade on June 24, 1945, in Moscow’s Red Square.
  • Hence the first Victory Day Parade took place on June 24 in Moscow. However, since then, the Parades have taken place on May 9.

Indian Army Updates

Why high-altitude warfare is challenging, how soldiers are trained

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Galwan valley, Shyok River

Mains level : Mountain warfare preparedness of India

The violent standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley of Ladakh region has thrown the spotlight on high-altitude warfare and the challenges that troops face, particularly when advantageous positions on the heights are occupied by the other side.

In the clouds of war, one may recall the huge amount of casualties faced by the Indian Army compared to the Pakistani side (being at advantageous positions) during the Kargil War.

Try this question for mains:

Q. Discuss why high-altitude warfare is challenging. Also discuss about India’s preparedness for a long-term war.

How is high-altitude warfare fought?

  • High-altitude warfare is fought keeping the terrain and weather in mind.
  • The kind of infrastructure and training that the troops require for high-altitude warfare are key factors.
  • The evolution of such warfare goes back a long way: European countries had mountain brigades in view of the kind of terrain prevalent in those countries.
  • The harshness of the terrain calls for a specialised kind of training to prepare soldiers in terms of mindset and acclimatization.

How is India equipped in such warfare?

  • Generally, India is considered a hub of mountain warfare skills since most of the country’s north and northeast requires such skills.
  • Ladakh Scouts are considered the best in this kind of warfare.
  • Mountain chop, a tactic involved in such warfare, evolved in India where the mountainous terrain is very difficult to scale.
  • To begin with, the troops are imparted training in basic and advance training in mountaineering to make them equipped for mountain warfare.

Actual tactics involved

  • The mindsets of the enemy sitting above are assessed. Taking stock of the entire situation, one needs to find out the easiest approaches.
  • Especially when there are vertical cliffs, it is generally perceived that the enemy that has taken defensive positions will be less guarded from the side of difficult approaches.
  • Basically, the most difficult approaches where the enemy is likely to give the least resistance need to be used efficiently.

What are the challenges involved in warfare in a high-altitude place like Galwan Valley?

  • A big factor is who has taken defensive positions and who is sitting on higher ground.
  • Once troops are sitting on high ground, it becomes very difficult to dislodge them from there.
  • In a place like Galwan Valley, which is absolutely barren, there is not much hiding place.
  • The soldier on high ground is absolutely stationary, which makes those on lower terrain easy targets; the enemy can pick them up one by one.
  • Normally in mountain warfare, troops on lower ground use a combat ratio of 1:6, but in circumstances as in Galwan, it may go up to 1:10.

How to approach such situations?

  • Generally, mountain warfare is fought using the period of darkness to reach the opposing army, engage and overpower them before the first light of day.
  • In case troops do not have the capabilities, fitness or strategies to do so before dawn, then it is a lost cause.
  • But without adequate trained troops who are well-versed with the terrain and are properly acclimatized, it is not an easy game.

What are the other challenges faced by soldiers in high altitudes?

  • The first major factor is acclimatization since the oxygen supply reduces drastically.
  • Next, the load-carrying capacity of individuals reduces drastically.
  • Things move very slowly in the mountains and mobilization of troops consumes time.
  • Thus, time and place need to be kept on top priority when deciding where the troops have to be stationed and how they have to be mobilized.

What are the logistical challenges in this kind of warfare?

  • One major challenge is that weapons jam, particularly in high-altitude areas.
  • When a soldier is at a height of 17,000 ft or above, it is very cold, and he needs to grease the weapons and clean the barrels at least once a week to ensure they function efficiently.
  • But at the time of combat, this becomes difficult.
  • Vehicles do not start when fuel jams. If the fuel is diesel, it won’t ignite unless it is mixed with thinners or other chemicals to make them thin enough to fire the engine.

Ensuring proper reinforcement

  • In Galwan, which is an extremely tactical area and strategically important, reinforcement plays a vital role, particularly when the Indian troops are not in a position of advantage.
  • For communication equipment, troops need to carry more batteries because they drain very quickly at high altitude.
  • While a battery tends to last for 24 hours in the plains, it will drain in 1-2 hours in these severely cold areas.
  • Transport animals such as mules need to be used to maintain adequate supplies, which is not an easy task. Weather constraints play a major factor.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

What makes Himalayan tourism spots vulnerable to landslides?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Himlayan mountain ranges

Mains level : Landslides in India

This newscard talks about the city of Dharamshala where landslides occur frequently.

Practice question for mains:

Q.“Himalayan region is more susceptible to floods and flood induced landslides than the Western Ghats”. Discuss.

Why is Dharamshala more vulnerable to landslides?

  • Dharamshala has a slope varying from gentle to steep, depending on different parts of the city.
  • It is located in Zone V in the earthquake hazard zoning map of India.
  • The large differences in slope between different parts of the city make it more susceptible to critical hazards like landslides.
  • The vulnerability of the geologically young steep slopes of Dhauladhar has increased because of anthropogenic activities and illegal construction due to the lack of availability of land.

Why do landslides occur?

  • Increasing urbanisation, deforestation and encroachment of areas at high hill slopes, unscientific road cutting and water-intensive agricultural practices contributed to the increase in intensity and frequency of landslides.
  • The situation is worse during the monsoon when landslide-prone areas are washed away due to exposure.
  • This is due to the demand for living within the city. It is not just the difference between slopes, but also anthropogenic causes that lead to the emergence of hazards like landslides.

Why tourist spots are more vulnerable?

1) Road traffic is high

  • During the peak tourist season, the road is marred with traffic jams due to continuous sinking.
  • Several factors have continuously contributed to an increase in the road’s vulnerability. The first is Illegal construction and uncontrolled levelling of hillocks along the roads.
  • Hillocks are flattened to accommodate housing projects, commercial establishments, etc. The informal sector often starts residing in these areas which are more vulnerable to risks.
  • These areas have comparatively lower land values and fewer people come to settle here.

2) Loss in green cover

  • The second is a loss in green cover, something that occurs as more people reside within the city, increasing soil erosion, risking the further vulnerability to landslides.
  • Due to the loss of green cover and steep gradient of the slope, water is not absorbed in the soil and washed away very quickly.

3) Damaged topography

  • The third is the unscientific manner of cutting hills for widening roads and construction.
  • This causes the sinking of roads, which affects road width and causes traffic interruptions.

4) Sewage failures

  • The fourth is the absence of a sewerage system in the area. Due to unavailability of sewerage systems, people construct septic tanks that are unsafe for soil strata.
  • Water from septic tanks drains to the upper layer of soil that has loose soil, making areas more vulnerable to damage from landslides.

Also read

The Northern and Northeastern Mountains | Part 1

Seeds, Pesticides and Mechanization – HYV, Indian Seed Congress, etc.

What is ‘Direct Seeding of Rice’ (DSR)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Paddy cultivation in India

Farmers are now being encouraged to adopt ‘direct seeding of rice’ (DSR) in place of conventional transplanting due to lack of labourers, who are stranded due to lockdown.

Recall the classification of cropping seasons on India based on onset and retreat of Monsoon.

The kharif crops include rice, maize, sorghum, pearl millet/bajra, finger millet/ragi (cereals), arhar (pulses), soyabean, groundnut (oilseeds), cotton etc. The rabi crops include wheat, barley, oats (cereals), chickpea/gram (pulses), linseed, mustard (oilseeds) etc.  Kindly make a note of this.

What is ‘Direct Seeding of Rice’ (DSR)?

  • In transplanting, farmers prepare nurseries where the paddy seeds are first sown and raised into young plants.
  • These seedlings are then uprooted and replanted 25-35 days later in the main field.
  • Paddy seedlings are transplanted on fields that are “puddled” or tilled in standing water using tractor-drawn disc harrows.
  • In DSR, there is no nursery preparation or transplantation. The seeds are instead directly drilled into the field by a tractor-powered machine.

How is the question of herbicides addressed in DSR?

  • Paddy being very much water-intensive is compromised by weeds that compete for nutrition, sunlight and water.
  • Water prevents the growth of weeds by denying them oxygen in the submerged stage, whereas the soft ‘aerenchyma tissues’ in paddy plants allow air to penetrate through their roots.
  • Water, thus, acts as a herbicide for paddy. The threat from weeds recedes once tillering is over; so does the need to flood the fields.
  • In DSR, water is replaced by real chemical herbicides. Farmers have to only level their land and give one pre-sowing irrigation or rauni.
  • Once the field has good soil moisture, they need to do two rounds of ploughing and planking (smoothening of soil surface), which is followed by the sowing of the seeds and spraying of herbicides.

What are these herbicides?

  • There are two kinds. The first is called pre-emergent, i.e. applied before germination. In this case, the pre-emergent herbicide used is Pendimethalin.
  • The second set of herbicides is post-emergent, sprayed 20-25 days after sowing, depending upon the type of weeds appearing.
  • They include Bispyribac-sodium (Rs 600-700 at 100 ml/acre) and Fenoxaprop-p-ethyl (Rs 700-800 at 400 ml/acre).

What is the main advantage of DSR?

  • The most obvious one is water savings. The first irrigation (apart from the pre-sowing rauni) under DSR is necessary only 21 days after sowing.
  • This is unlike in transplanted paddy, where watering has to be done practically daily to ensure submerged/flooded conditions in the first three weeks.
  • The second savings, relevant in the present context, is that of labour. About three labourers are required to transplant one acre of paddy at almost Rs 2,400 per acre.
  • As against this, the cost of herbicides under DSR will not exceed Rs 2,000 per acre.

Limitations of DSR

  • The main issue is the availability of herbicides.
  • The seed requirement for DSR is also higher, at 8-10 kg/acre, compared to 4-5 kg in transplanting.
  • Further, laser land levelling, which costs Rs 1,000/acre, is compulsory in DSR. This is not so in transplanting.
  • The yields are as good as from normal transplanting, but one need to sow by the first fortnight of June. The plants have to come out properly before the monsoon rains arrive.
  • There is no such problem in transplanting, where the saplings have already been raised in the nursery.

Air Pollution

What is Urban Ozone?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Urban Ozone

Mains level : Good and Bad Ozone

A Manchester (UK) based research has found that the nationwide lockdown may be leading to the generation of a dangerous pollutant, urban ozone.

The Ozone is formed due to different factors in the Troposphere and the Stratosphere (where the ozone acts as a protective layer). Note these differences from prelims perspective.

Urban Ozone

  • The photochemical production of ozone may become more important in urban areas during summertime in these low conditions of oxides of nitrogen.
  • As nitrogen oxides reduce, photochemical production may become more efficient and can lead to higher ozone concentrations in the summertime.
  • The higher summer temperatures increase emissions of biogenic hydrocarbon from natural sources such as trees. These biogenic hydrocarbons significantly affect urban ozone levels.
  • While ozone is important for screening harmful solar UV radiation when present higher up in the atmosphere, it can be a danger at the Earth’s surface and can react to destroy or alter many biological molecules.

Back2Basics: Ozone Gas

  • It is a gas that occurs both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level.
  • Ozone occurs in two layers of the atmosphere. The layer closest to the Earth’s surface is the troposphere.
  • Here, ground-level or “bad” ozone is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe and it damages crops, trees and other vegetation. It is the main ingredient of urban smog.
  • The stratospheric or “good” ozone protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Formation of Ozone

  • Ozone is produced naturally in the stratosphere when highly energetic solar radiation strikes molecules of oxygen, and cause the two oxygen atoms to split apart in a process called photolysis. If a freed atom collides with another O2, it joins up, forming ozone.
  • The majority of tropospheric ozone formation occurs when nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight, specifically the UV spectrum.

History- Important places, persons in news

What is Cinco de Mayo and why is it celebrated?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cinco de Mayo , Battle of Puebla

Mains level : World History - Napoleonic assertion in Europe

Cinco de Mayo, or fifth of May in Spanish, also called Battle of Puebla Day, is an annual celebration observed in Mexico and the US that marks the former’s military victory on its soil over French forces in 1862.

Possible mains question:

Q. The French colonization attempts went beyond India and had a global reach. Comment.

French advent in Mexico

  • In the 1860s, Mexico had been severely weakened by lengthy wars over the previous two decades – the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and the internal Reform War (1858-61).
  • As a result, in 1861, the then President Benito Juárez announced a temporary moratorium of two years on repaying Mexico’s foreign debts.
  • In response, troops from Britain, Spain, and France invaded Mexico, demanding reimbursement.
  • By April 1862, Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew.
  • France, which at the time was led by Emperor Napoleon III, decided to establish an empire in Mexican territories with the support of the local landowning classes.
  • France also intended to curb US power in North America.

The Battle of Puebla

  • In late 1861, a French fleet attacked the Mexican port of Veracruz on the country’s eastern coast and landed a large army that drove the Juárez government into retreat.
  • As they moved from Veracruz to capital Mexico City, the French encountered stiff resistance from Mexican forces.
  • At Puebla, over 100 km ahead of Mexico City, a poorly equipped and outnumbered Mexican force decisively defeated the advancing French troops on May 5, 1862, killing over a thousand.
  • The event marked a significant political victory of Mexican republicans and President Juárez and helped establish a sense of national unity in the country.

Cinco de Mayo: Present-day significance

  • In Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated annually with speeches, parades, and by reenacting episodes of the 1862 battle.
  • The city today houses a museum dedicated to the battle, and the actual battlefield is maintained as a park.
  • In the US, in the mid-20th century, the celebration became a way for immigrants from Mexico to express pride in their heritage.
  • Later, Cinco de Mayo also became popular with other demographics in the country when the festivities were linked with Mexican alcoholic beverages.
  • As the celebration assumed greater importance in the country, many have criticised the negative stereotypes of Mexicans that were perpetuated as a result, as well as the promotion of excessive drinking.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

[pib] River erosion in Ladakh Himalayas

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Himalayan rivers, Zanskar Padam

Mains level : Read the attached story

Indian researchers have studied rivers in Ladakh Himalaya, bringing out 35 thousand-year histories of river erosion and identified hotspots of erosion and wide valleys that act buffer zones.

Click here to read more about the Himalayan river systems and its orogeny

Erosion hotspot: Ladakh region

  • The Ladakh Himalaya forms a high altitude desert between Greater Himalayan ranges and Karakoram Ranges.
  • The Indus and its tributaries are major rivers flowing through the terrain.
  • The Zanskar River is one of the largest tributaries of the upper Indus catchment, draining orthogonally through highly deformed Zanskar ranges.

Zanskar: A major river in Ladakh

  • Two prominent tributaries of Zanskar River are the Doda and Tsrap Lingti Chu, which confluence at Padam village in the upper valley to form the Zanskar River.
  • Zanskar catchment was explored to understand the landform evolution in the transitional climatic zone, using morpho-stratigraphy and study of landforms like valley fill terraces, alluvial fans (triangle-shaped deposit of gravel, sand, and even smaller pieces of sediment, such as silt).

Zanskar Padam

  • Zanskar river makes a deep gorge in its lower reaches with the headwaters in upper Zanskar makes wide basin called as Padam.
  • The basin stores large amount of sediments in form of fans and river terrace deposits
  • The research suggested that the wide valley of Padam, with an area of 48 square km, in the upper Zanskar, has stored a vast amount of sediments in these landforms.
  • Thus Padam valley is a hotspot of sediment buffering in the Zanskar.

Sediment study reveals the erosion

  • The study suggested that most sediments were derived from Higher Himalayan crystalline that lies in the headwater region of Zanskar.
  • It was found out that dominant factors responsible for sediment erosion were deglaciation and Indian Summer Monsoon derived precipitation in the headwaters despite the presence of a geomorphic barrier (the deep, narrow gorge).

Significance of the study

  • The scientists have traced where the rivers draining Himalaya and its foreland erode the most and identify the zones that receive these eroded sediments and fill up.
  • The study will help understand river-borne erosion and sedimentation, which are the main drivers that make large riverine plains, terraces, and deltas that eventually become the cradle to evolving civilizations.
  • It will also help study the dynamics of devastating floods created by these Himalayan rivers in recent times.
  • Thus, the understanding of water and sediment routing becomes crucial while developing infrastructure and for other development works in the river catchment area.