Tuesday, 5th September 2023
1 Editorial of the day
Make agriculture less damaging
2 Daily Current Affairs
One Nation, One Elections
Curbs on rice exports
Man-made Natural Disaster
Issue About RTI
Special Session” of Parliament
Third Rail of Kolkata Metro Railway
Global Fund to slash HIV treatment price.
New species of leaf insects
Red sand boa
Make agriculture less damaging
Exam View: Agriculture Working Group (AWG) of G20; India’s role in Global South.
Context: India with its G20 presidency can benefit the masses in the Global South for whom food and nutritional security is still a challenge, one made worse by climate change.
Decoding the editorial: Agriculture Working Group (AWG) of G20
- The AWG of G20 highlighted priority areas in agriculture.
- Encourage diversification in agriculture.
- Promoting sustainable agriculture.
- Channelling financial resources towards environmentally conscious and climate-resilient farming.
- Climate-smart farming practices and precision technologies for agricultural production to withstand climate fluctuations.
- Food and nutritional security via higher investment in agri-R&D, especially bio-fortification.
- Strengthening a rules-based, open, predictable, transparent, non-discriminatory, inclusive, equitable and sustainable multilateral trading system.
- Strengthening local, regional, and international agri-food value chains.
- A sustainable multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core, can increase market predictability and boost business confidence.
- The Deccan High-Level Principles as outlined in the ‘Outcome Document and Chair’s Summary’ of the AWG of G20 nations at Hyderabad are:
- Facilitate humanitarian assistance to countries and populations in vulnerable situations;
- Enhance availability and access to nutritious food and strengthen food safety nets;
- Strengthen policies and collaborative actions for climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture and food systems;
- Strengthen resilience and inclusivity in agriculture and food value chains;
- Promote the one health approach;
- Accelerate innovation and the use of digital technology, and
- Scale-up responsible public and private investments in agriculture.
India’s role in Global South
- India can develop technologies to help farmers of the Global South overcome challenges of extreme weather events.
- It could be on the same lines as the application of precision technologies in space that India used in Chandrayaan-3, while spending a fraction of the cost that the US would incur for the same feat.
- The ultimate goal is to enhance the efficiency and resilience of agri-value chains and promote digitisation as a catalyst for agricultural transformation.
- This includes the establishment of standardised agricultural data platforms as digital public goods and harnessing novel digital technologies to revolutionise the agri-food sector.
- Sensor-equipped drips, drones and LEOs (Low Earth Orbits), for instance, can be used in agriculture to get “more from less”, saving the planet’s scarce resources.
- India can disseminate its research in bio-fortification to farmers in the Global South to achieve nutritional security.
- ICAR scientists have already demonstrated that even basic staple crops such as wheat, rice, maize, and millet can be bio-fortified with enhanced iron, zinc, and even anti-oxidants.
- ICAR has created 87 varieties of climate-resistant and nutritious crops.
- These crops were developed as a result of collaboration between national and international organisations.
- India released zinc-rich rice and wheat, which can be shared with countries of the Global South.
- Bio-fortification is much more cost-effective compared to supplementing rice with nutrients, say iron, in our public distribution system.
- But India spends only 0.48 percent of agri-GDP on agri-R&D. This needs to be doubled, if the country has to play the role of a leader.
- India could bring millets to the fore, even on the dining tables of G20 members.
- But much more product innovation and dissemination is needed to make it a part of global cuisine, akin to say quinoa.
- India needs to re-purpose its agri-policies.
- Current policies of open-ended and assured procurement with Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy and wheat, coupled with massive subsidies on fertilisers, power, and irrigation, have caused damage to our natural resources, especially soil, water, air, and biodiversity.
Time is running out and the G20 needs to work closer, faster, and smarter with demonstrable results by 2030 to feed this world and also save the planet, by making it green and clean.
One Nation, One Elections
In News: The Centre set up an eight-member committee to examine various legal and logistics aspects for implementing the “one nation, one election” idea.
The Law Ministry has outlined seven terms of reference which include examining if a constitutional amendment to facilitate simultaneous polls would have to be ratified by the states.
About Simultaneous Elections/ One Nation, One Election:
- Simultaneous Elections refer to restructuring the Indian election cycle in a manner such that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronized together. Elections to Local bodies, which is a state subject, are not included in it.
- The current electoral system holds separate polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies in a gap of five years, aligned to the respective conclusion of their five-year tenure.
- If India implements simultaneous elections, India would be the fourth country to do so after Belgium, Sweden, and South Africa
- Historically, Parliament and state elections were held simultaneously until 1967, but over the years as Assemblies and Lok Sabhas were dissolved before the end of their terms, the elections fell out of sync with each other.
Need for simultaneous elections:
- Frequent elections: Elections are held in one or more states every year. Frequent elections divert precious time, energy, and resources of the nation and slow down developmental processes.
- Implementation of Model Code of Conduct: Elections in states lead to the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which puts on hold the entire development programme and activities. Simultaneous elections would ensure consistent governance.
- Affects social unity: Elections are also polarising events that perpetuate caste, religion, and communal issues because candidates are often forced to talk politically for the sake of electoral benefits. Simultaneous elections would prevent such incidents.
- Reduced manpower: Crucial manpower is often deployed on election duties for a prolonged period of time. If simultaneous elections are held, then this manpower would be made available for other important tasks.
- Reduced disruption of Public Life: Continuous election has an impact on the functioning of essential services. Simultaneous elections will limit the disruption to normal public life associated with elections such as rallies and traffic problems.
- Provision for alternate government: Law Commission has recommended that a no-confidence motion against a government should be followed by a confidence motion so that if the Opposition doesn't have the numbers to form an alternative government, the regime in office cannot be removed.
Challenges in implementing simultaneous polls:
- Logistics challenges: Currently there are only 13.06 lakh control units (CUs) and 17.77 lakh ballot units (BUs) of EVMs. Simultaneous elections would require 30 lakh EVMs and VVPAT machines
- Confusion for voters:Limited knowledge of voters about the process and lack of clarity about varying national and state issues might make the voters vote for same parties at Centre and State. This could result in marginalising regional parties.
- Lack of manpower: There is a dearth of enough security and administrative officials to conduct simultaneous free and fair elections throughout the country in one go.
- Complex Legislative Process: To implement the new election rules, five articles in the Constitution and Representation of the People Act (1951) would have to be amended. Every recognised state and national party would also have to agree to the change.
- Against federal spirits: Assembly elections deal with local issues and parties are judged in the context of their work done in the state. Clubbing them with the general election could lead to a situation where the national narrative submerges the regional developments.
- Against multi-party democracy: Simultaneous elections may favour national parties and specially the parties in power which have more resources, potentially marginalising regional parties and issues.
- As per the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing committee, elections to some legislative assemblies whose term end within six months to one year before or after the election date could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha .For the rest of the states, elections could be held along with the general elections to Lok Sabha.
- Accomplishing one year, one election could be the first step towards one nation, one election.
Curbs on rice exports
Why in News: Recently, government has levied certain restrictions on rice export to check the domestic rise in prices and to ensure domestic food security.
Rice Production in India and Export:
- India is the second-largest producer of rice in the world, after China. As per Second Advance Estimates, the estimated production of Rice for 2022-23 is 1308.37 Lakh Tonnes.
- West Bengal is the largest rice producer in India. In certain states like Tamil Nadu, some farmers anticipate delayed planting due to insufficient rainfall from the southwest monsoon.
- India is the world’s largest exporter of rice, with a 45% share.
- Shipments of non-Basmati rice recorded a growth of 7.5% in May despite the imposition of a 20% export duty on white rice and the prohibition of broken rice exports by the government in September last year.
- The export of non-Basmati rice has demonstrated a consistent upward trend over the past three years.
- According to government-provided statistics, up until August 17 of this year, total rice exports have surged by 15%. It reached 7.3 million tonnes in contrast to the 6.3 million tonnes during the same period last year.
Restrictions on Rice Export:
- In May 2022, the government banned wheat exports.
- In June 2023, restrictions on stock holdings were imposed.
- In September 2022, the export of broken rice was prohibited, and a 20% tariff was imposed on non-parboiled white grain shipments.
- In July 2023, non-basmati white rice exports were entirely prohibited, with only parboiled non-basmati and basmati rice allowed.
- Recently, a 20% duty was introduced on all parboiled non-basmati rice exports.
Benefits for the farmers:
- Increase in MSP- The government has increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for rice.
- Increase in price- Paddy procurement by rice millers are at a price higher than the MSP.
- Check in price rise- The prices will not decline for farmers, restrictions on exports will ensure that there is no steep climb in rice prices in the market.
Challenges of the restriction:
- Export limitations can be bypassed through inaccurate classification. White non-basmati rice has been exported using codes intended for parboiled and basmati rice.
- The $1,200 Minimum Export Price is considered too high. Only specific rice varieties achieve these prices, accounting for just around 15% of basmati exports.
- The earnings of the farmers are impacted due to the restrictions.
- Proper classification of rice should be done as common and speciality rice, rather than just as Basmati and non-Basmati.
- Protect varieties of rice with Geographical Indication (GI) recognition from general market interventions.
- For Basmati rice, permit exports to continue or set a minimum export value, such as $900 per tonne, as new crop arrivals are expected to meet demand due to good quality and consistent supply.
Man-made Natural Disaster
Why in News: Heavy rains in several parts of north India, particularly Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, damaged various infrastructures and took hundreds of lives. While a warming Arctic is said to be a cause for the unusually heavy rains, years of haphazard planning and construction have multiplied the tragedy.
A natural disaster is a catastrophic event that is caused by the forces of nature. Examples of natural disasters include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. E.g., The 2020 Haiti earthquake, and a recent landslide in Himachal Pradesh.
Impact of Human Activities on Natural Disasters:
- The frequency and intensity of hazards have increased, and anthropogenic climate change has played a major role in that.
- Humans have built on floodplains, encroached water bodies, and planned cities without thinking about sustainability.
- Some landscapes have changed drastically and exceeded their carrying capacity that exacerbated the extent of loss and damage in these areas.
- Rapid urbanization often leads to inadequate infrastructure such as roads, water supply, and sewage systems, causing congestion and public health issues.
- Unsustainable development harms ecosystems, leading to deforestation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
Solutions for Various Natural Disasters:
- Flood: Improved drainage systems, floodplain zoning, early warning systems, flood-resistant, infrastructure, flood insurance. E.g., Netherlands’ extensive network of dikes and levees to prevent river flooding.
- Wildfire: Controlled burns, firebreaks, forest management, public awareness campaigns, and firefighting infrastructure. E.g., Australia’s “Prepare, Act, Survive” strategy to educate and prepare communities for bushfires.
- Drought: Efficient water management, rainwater harvesting, drought-resistant crops, water conservation, drought monitoring and early warning. E.g., Israel’s advanced drip irrigation systems to maximize water efficiency.
- Cyclones: Advanced storm tracking, early warning systems, coastal defences, building codes, and evacuation plans. E.g., United States National Hurricane Centre’s forecasts and evacuation plans for hurricane-prone regions.
- Earthquakes: Seismic building codes, retrofitting existing structures, early warning systems, community. E.g., Japan’s stringent earthquake building codes and disaster preparedness.
- Tsunami: Tsunami warning systems, coastal land-use planning, public education on tsunami safety. E.g., Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS) for early warnings.
- Volcanic Eruptions: Monitoring volcanic activity, evacuation plans, hazard mapping, and resilient infrastructure. E.g., Iceland’s comprehensive monitoring and response system for volcanic eruptions.
Issue About RTI
In News: Activists raises concerns about the dilution of the Right to Information (RTI) over the years
About issues with RTI:
- The Right To Information (RTI) Act was enacted in 2005 to grant citizens the right to request access to government-held data, documents, and information.
- It empowers citizens to access information to identify delays in public works, shortcomings in welfare schemes, and provided insights into government decision-making.
- Previously, India's RTI Act has been hailed as one of the world's most comprehensive public records access legislations.
- Major issues:
- The RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019 gave the Union Government unilateral power to decide the tenure and salaries of information commissioners who handle appeals against unsatisfactory RTI responses.
- The effectiveness of the RTI Act depends on subordinate Rules made by both the Union Government and State Governments, leading to inconsistencies in implementation.
- The choice of payment method for filing RTI requests varies by state, with some, like Tamil Nadu, not accepting convenient options like Indian Postal Orders.
- Delays in appointing information commissioners in Central and State Information Commissions have undermined confidence in the RTI framework, resulting in prolonged appeals.
- Amendments to RTI Act:
- The Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, amended the RTI Act by introducing a blanket ban on disclosing personal data, raising concerns about transparency.
- The National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI) highlighted that this amendment could hinder 'social audits' in ration distribution, preventing citizens from verifying beneficiaries.
- The amendment also raises concerns that powerful public officials could evade accountability by using the ban on disclosing personal information.
- While online RTI applications simplify the process, not all states have online portals, and some government bodies are not registered on these platforms.
- The Union Government's RTI portal, launched in 2013, has experienced technical issues, including the disappearance of past data and the removal of the account creation feature.
- There is a rising trend of first appeals being filed, indicating increasing dissatisfaction with the information provided by public officials.
- Weakening of the RTI Act is not solely due to changes in the law's text but also stems from institutional and implementation issues, hindering citizens' ability to conveniently access information.
- Concerns have also been raised about the RTI Act's limited applicability and broad exemptions for political parties, the judiciary, and intelligence agencies.
- Overall, there is need to increase the effectiveness of the RTI Act in holding public officials accountable and improving the transparency in functioning of Union and State Governments.
Special Session” of Parliament
In News: Union government announces a 'Special Session of Parliament'
About Special session of Parliament:
- The term "special session" is not defined in the Constitution and is typically used for specific occasions like commemorating milestones.
- Previously, a committee in 1955 proposed a parliamentary session timetable, but it was never implemented.
- As India's Parliament does not have a fixed calendar of sittings, the union government decides when Parliament meets, and the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs makes these decisions.
- The President is informed about the committee's decision, and Members of Parliament are summoned accordingly.
- The Constitution mandates that no more than six months should elapse between two parliamentary sessions.
- This provision was borrowed from the Government of India Act of 1935, aiming to prevent excessive taxation and evade legislative scrutiny.
- Article 352 (Proclamation of Emergency) mentions a "special sitting of the House," added through the Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act, 1978.
- It outlines procedures for convening a special meeting in the event of an Emergency if Parliament is not in session.
- A special session of Parliament is a unique and distinct session convened for specific purposes and occasions outside of the regular parliamentary calendar.
- These are often called to address pressing legislative matters that cannot wait until the next regular session such as emergency laws, financial bills, or critical policy decisions.
- It can also be convened to commemorate significant national milestones, anniversaries, or historical events of national values.
- In some cases, the Constitution or legal provisions may require a special session for specific purposes, such as the President's address at the beginning of a new parliamentary term.
- Special sessions follow the same parliamentary procedures as regular sessions including debates, voting, and discussions on bills and resolutions.
- The presiding officers of both Houses of Parliament—Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha—oversee the proceedings during special sessions.
- The duration of a special session can vary widely, depending on the agenda and the issues being addressed.
- Before independence, the central assembly met for around 60 days a year, which increased to 120 days annually in the early post-independence years.
- Previously, various bodies including the conference of presiding officers and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, have recommended increasing the number of sitting days.
- The US Congress and parliaments of countries like Canada, Germany, and the UK meet throughout the year with fixed sitting day calendars.
- Overall, these sessions help government in pushing legislative agenda however, as it is not explicitly defined in the Constitution there is need to bring more transparency and consensus in its implications.
Why in news? The government has recently exempted imports of LPG (liquid petroleum Gas), liquified propane, and liquified butane from the 15% Agriculture Infrastructure Development Cess (AIDC) with effect from September 1.
- This exemption reverses the previous imposition of the agriculture cess (also called Agriculture infrastructure and development cess (AIDC)) on these goods in
- It is also imposed on Crude Palm Oil.
- Cess is a kind of special-purpose tax which is levied over and above basic tax rates.
- It is levied by the government for a specific purpose.
- For example, a cess for financing primary education – the education cess (which is imposed on all central government taxes) is to be spent only for financing primary education (SSA) and not for any other purposes.
Agriculture Infrastructure Development Cess (AIDC)
- The AIDC was introduced in the Budget 2021.
- It is a type of special-purpose tax that aims to raise funds specifically for financing the development of agriculture infrastructure in India.
- The purpose of the AIDC is to raise funds to finance spending on developing agriculture infrastructure.
Third Rail of Kolkata Metro Railway
Why in news? Recently, Indian Railways’ Kolkata Metro has decided to replace its steel third rail with a composite aluminum third rail.
- The third rail system is a means of providing electric power to a train through a conductor placed alongside the rails.
- Kolkata Metro Railway has been using steel Third Rail for the last 40 years.
- Kolkata Metro Railway has now decided to use composite Aluminium Third Rail in all the upcoming corridors being undertaken for construction along with retrofitment in existing corridors with steel Third Rail.
- This move aligns Kolkata Metro with prestigious international metro systems like those in London, Moscow, Berlin, Munich, and Istanbul, which have also made the shift from steel to aluminium third rails.
The advantages of aluminium composite third Rail over steel third Rail include:
- Reduction in resistive current loss and improved Traction voltage level.
- Reduced maintenance and life cycle cost.
- Improved acceleration with the same rolling stock.
- Enhanced efficiency of train operations.
- Significant improvements in energy efficiency and a reduction in carbon footprint.
- Improved train headway, leading to better train scheduling and operations.
Global Fund to slash HIV treatment price.
Why in news? Recently, The Global Fund has reached an agreement with generic drug manufacturers to significantly reduce the price of an advanced HIV medication called TLD.
- This deal will make TLD available for under $45 per person per year, marking a 25% reduction in price.
- The TLD pill contains three essential drugs for HIV treatment: tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, lamivudine, and dolutegravir.
- It is a three-in-one pill.
- This combination has been recommended by the World Health Organization as the preferred first-line treatment for HIV in adults and adolescents due to its effectiveness in suppressing the virus, minimal side effects, and ease of use.
- This drug rapidly suppresses the virus that causes AIDS.
- The price reduction of the drug will help resource-limited countries enhance treatment programs, prevention efforts and ultimately save more lives while reducing new infections.
- The Global Fund is an international financing and partnership organization.
- It was created in 2002 and its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.
- The Global Fund was established to raise and disburse funding for programs that reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in low- and middle-income countries.
- The Global Fund raises and invests $4 billion a year to fight these diseases.
- The majority of the Global Fund’s financial support comes from public resources.
- More than 80 countries have made or pledged contributions to the Global Fund.
- India joined the Global Fund as a donor in 2006 and pledged US$25 million for the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment, covering 2023-2025.
New species of leaf insects
Why in news? Recently, an international research team, has identified seven previously unknown species of leaf insects, also known as walking leaves.
- Walking Leaves, also called leaf insects, are part of the phasmatodea order.
- They are also referred to as “phasmids” or “stick and leaf insects.”
- They are known for their remarkable camouflage that makes them appear like parts of plants such as twigs, bark, or leaves.
- They feed on plants and typically inhabit densely vegetated areas.
- They are also largely nocturnal, resulting in a relative lack of movement during the day that makes locating them quite difficult in the wild.
- Their natural range extends from islands in the Indian Ocean, across parts of mainland South Asia and Southeast Asia, to Papua New Guinea and Australia in the western Pacific.
- This disguise offers protection from predators and poses challenges for researchers.
- Genetic analysis played a key role in identifying these “cryptic species” that cannot be differentiated based solely on their external appearance.
- They measure roughly 28 to 100 mm in body length.
- Males tend to be smaller than females.
- They are mostly brown or green, some slightly speckled or have serrated edges like nibbled leaves.
- Female walking leaves cannot fly but males can fly short distances.
Red sand boa
Why in news? Recently, A report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)-India has highlighted 172 incidents of seizures involving the red sand boa (Eryx johnii) between 2016 and 2021 in India.
- The red sand boa (Eryx johnii) is a non-venomous snake that lives in the dry parts of the Indian subcontinent.
- It’s also known as the Indian sand boa.
- The Red Sand Boa is the largest of the sand boa in the world.
- It is ovoviviparous and nocturnal and spends the majority of its time under the ground.
- The red sand boa is a thick-set snake that’s usually reddish-brown, known for its blunt tail, which it uses to mimic its head when it senses a threat.
- Unlike most snakes, the tail is almost as thick as the body and gives the reptile the appearance of being "double-headed".
- Found in the whole of India excluding North-east states and North-Bengal; also not found in Indian islands.
- IUCN Red List: Near Threatened
- CITES: Appendix II
- Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972: Schedule IV.
- Threats to Red Sand Boa:
- Demand upsurge in pet trade, as well as for use in black magic.
- Poached for perceived medicinal benefits.
- Expansion of human settlements and activities.
Key Highlights of the Report:
- The report aims to shed light on the illegal trade of red sand boas, particularly online, to raise awareness and prevent further illegal collection and sale of the species.
- The report reveals that illegal sand boa trade occurred in 18 Indian states and one Union Territory, spanning 87 districts across the country. Maharashtra recorded the highest number of incidents.
- The report recommends that local and international conservation organizations conduct research to better understand the illegal reptile trade.
- Social media, especially YouTube, aids illegal trade, with 200 sales-promoting videos in 2021.
- The report's findings underscore the urgent need for conservation efforts to prevent the further decline of the red sand boa population and protect India's biodiversity.
Why in news? Recently, the genetic mapping of the kākāpō population, a critically endangered flightless parrot native to New Zealand, has provided crucial insights for conservation biologists striving to save this unique species.
- Kākāpō are remarkable and unusual birds, found only in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- The kākāpō, also known as the owl parrot, is a large, flightless parrot.
- Kākāpō are known for their unique appearance, which includes a facial disc, owl-like eyes, and a large, gray beak.
- It is often referred to as the "night parrot" due to its nocturnal habits.
- They only breed every few years, triggered by the availability of certain forest foods.
- Rimu fruit, which is part of the kākāpō diet, is thought to trigger breeding.
- IUCN Status: critically endangered.
- Population Recovery: Due to conservation efforts, the kākāpō population has risen to 247 birds on predator-free islands.
- Disease and Infertility: Challenges include diseases like aspergillosis and high egg infertility rates.
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