Government Schemes & Policies
- Meghalaya Cabinet approves draft water policy
- Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan has a long road ahead
- National Mobile Property Registry and Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR)
- Will privatisation help the Railways?
- Why is India opting for overseas bonds?
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- As per Botanical Survey of India, India is home to 1,256 species of orchid
Bilateral & International Relations
- Second round of talks on Kartarpur Corridor held at Wagah, Pakistan
- El Nino could be losing steam
Science & Technology
- Chandrayaan-2 mission called off due to technical snag in launch vehicle
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Government Schemes & Policies
Meghalaya Cabinet approves draft water policy
The Meghalaya cabinet became the first state to approve a draft water policy to address water issues, conservation, and protection of water sources in the state.
Highlights of the Policy:
- The need for this policy came from the fact that Meghalaya, being a hilly State, receives a lot of rainfall but the same water cannot be retained and all of the water reaches Bangladesh in no time.
- All issues related to utilization of water and livelihood and how to preserve water bodies have been outlined in the policy.
- Issues such as the protection of catchment areas and river pollution have also been outlined in the policy.
- It also includes community participation by constituting a water sanitation village council at the village level.
- Recently, Meghalaya has launched the Jal Shakti mission to address the problems related to water.
Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan has a long road ahead
What is Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan?
- Jalyukta Shivar is the flagship programme of the Maharashtra government launched in December 2014.
- It aims to make 5,000 villages free of water scarcity.
- The scheme targeted drought-prone areas by improving water conservation measures in order to make them more water sustainable.
- The scheme envisaged to arrest maximum run-off water, especially during the monsoon months, in village areas known to receive less rainfall, annually.
- It also proposed to rejuvenate water storage capacity and percolation of tanks and other sources of storage.
Why was the scheme introduced?
- About 82 per cent area of Maharashtra falls is rainfed sector while 52 per cent of area is drought prone.
- This, when coupled with natural rainfall variability and long dry spells during the monsoons, severely hampers agriculture activities.
- Since 2014, hundreds of villages in Marathwada, Madhya Maharashtra and Vidarbha have experienced droughts for consecutive years.
- The scheme, thus, aimed at addressing these water issues mainly by building decentralized water bodies at local levels that could aid in better groundwater recharge.
- Water streams in a locality are deepened and widened which would later be connected to the newly constructed cement nullah bunds in the village.
- Efforts would be made to arrest and store water in small earthen dams and farm ponds in such areas.
- Maintenance of existing sources like canals and all kinds of wells would be undertaken.
- Recharge of dug and tubewells would be taken up in specific locations.
- A mobile-app developed by the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre (MRSAC) for quick monitoring of the scheme is functional in this respect.
- Enhanced soil fertility
- Increased farm productivity and water storage capacity
- Increased groundwater recharge
- Reduction in water run off
- Improved Farmers Income
What is the current status of the scheme?
- More than 11,000 villages where Jalyukta Shivar was introduced are declared drought-free.
- The scheme increased the cropping intensity to 1.25 to 1.5 times than before.
- The overall agriculture productivity jumped up 30 to 50 per cent from areas where the intervention measures reached.
National Mobile Property Registry and Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR)
The National Telecom Policy of 2012 calls for the establishment of a National Mobile Property Registry to address the issue of “security, theft, and other concerns including reprogramming of mobile handsets”.
- Based on this, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) under the Ministry of Communications initiated a Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR) for mobile service providers.
- The DoT issued a memorandum in July 2017 announcing the CEIR with a pilot project led by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited in Maharashtra.
- In January 2018, this project was handed over to the Centre for Development of Telematics (CDoT). Now, it is all set to roll out.
What is CEIR?
Based on a 2008 order from the DoT, every mobile network provider in India has an Equipment Identity Register (EIR), or a a database of the phones connected to its network. These EIRs will now share information with a single central database, the CEIR.
- In essence, it will be a repository of information on all mobile phones connected to networks across India.
- CEIR will have information on the device’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number (every phone or mobile broadband device has this unique 15 digit code that precisely identifies the device), model, version, and “other information”.
- It will also know if the phone is blacklisted, and the reason why it has been blacklisted.
Objectives behind setting up CEIR:
- Such centralised databases are meant to identify and block stolen or illegal mobile phones across networks. Currently, when a customer reports a mobile phone as missing or stolen, mobile service providers have the ability to blacklist the phone’s IMEI in their EIRs and block it from accessing their network. But if the SIM is changed to a new network, it can continue to be in use.
- With a CEIR, all network operators will be aware that the phone is blacklisted.
- The CEIR will also access the GSMA’s database of IMEI numbers to check whether the phone is authentic. There are cases of phones being in use with duplicate IMEI numbers, or with all zeroes instead of an authentic IMEI number.
- The CEIR will also be able to block services to subscribers. This ability had rested with individual networks till now.
- It also enables “IMEI-based lawful interception”, which means allowing legal authorities to use CEIR data.
Concerns related to CEIR:
- Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) raises a key issue with the CEIR — who should maintain such a high-value database? Should it be the service provider, or a neutral third party?
- Another major issue is cloning or reprogramming stolen or unauthorised mobile phones to attach existing genuine IMEI numbers. Blocking cloned IMEI numbers could result in the authentic ones also being blocked.
Will privatisation help the Railways?
The Bibek Debroy Committee, which was set up to suggest ways to mobilize resources for the Indian Railways and restructure the Railway Board, has favored privatization of railways.
Highlights of Bibek Debroy Committee (2015):
- The committee recommends to achieve two main aims: changing the institutional structure between the government and the Indian Railways and increasing competition.
- Link increase in passenger fares to better passenger services
- Create a separate company for railway infrastructure
- Open access for any new operator who wishes to enter the market for operating trains
- Separate suburban services and run them as joint ventures with state governments.
- Private entry into running both freight and passenger trains in competition with Indian Railways
- Separation of rail track from rolling stock
Pros of privatization of Railways
- It will lead to better infrastructure which in turn would lead to improved amenities for travelers.
- It is expected that a private company will ensure better amenities.
Balancing Quality of Service with High Fares
- The most persistent complaint regarding Indian Railways is that the quality of services provided hardly matches up to the charges paid by the travelers.
- This problem could be solved when private players are allowed to enter the sector since it would foster competition and hence lead to overall betterment in the quality of services.
- Private ownership can result in safe travel and higher monetary savings in the long run.
Cons of privatization of Railways
Coverage Limited to Lucrative Sectors
- An advantage of Indian Railways being government- owned is that it provides nation-wide connectivity irrespective of profit. This would not be possible with privatisation since routes which are less popular will be eliminated.
- It will also render some parts of the country virtually inaccessible and omit them from the process of development.
- Given that a private enterprise runs on profit, it is but natural to assume that the easiest way of accruing profits in Indian Railways would be to hike fares, thus rendering the service out of reach for lower income groups.
- Private companies are unpredictable in their dealings and do not share their governance secrets with the world at large.
- In such a scenario it would be difficult to pin the accountability on a particular entity in case of any discrepancy.
Why is India opting for overseas bonds?
Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan highlighted the perils of the budget announcement plan to start raising a part of its gross borrowing programme in external currencies.
What is government bond or sovereign bond?
- A government bond or sovereign bond is a form of debt that the government undertakes wherein it issues bonds with the promise to pay periodic interest payments and also repay the entire face value of the bond on the maturity date.
- So far, the government has only issued bonds in the domestic market.
Why government is interested in external commercial borrowing?
- India’s sovereign external debt to GDP ratio is among the lowest around the world, at less than 5%. Against this background, the government proposes to start raising a part of its gross borrowing programme in external markets in external currencies.
- Moreover, according to the government, there are not enough funds in the domestic market to cater to its needs as well as those of the private sector.
- Global interest rates are at historic lows.
Benefits of an overseas bond issue in context of Indian Market:
- Currently, government borrowing is at such a level that there are not enough funds available for the private sector to adequately meet its credit and investment needs.
- Hence, borrowing overseas allows the government to raise funds in such a way that there is enough domestic credit available for the private sector.
- Moreover, overseas borrowing programme allows the government to maintain its gradual reduction of the fiscal deficit.
- It also has a beneficial impact on the demand for government securities in the India.
- It will also reveal how the India is viewed globally on the risk factor. For example, if the rate at which India can borrow overseas is low, then this would mean the global market assigns a low risk to India defaulting.
- Direct borrowing by the Indian government (sovereign) is always cheaper than for any other entity. With Government borrowing more and the corporates less in international financial markets, there would be net welfare gains for the economy.
- The sovereign is the best credit in the country. As such, sovereign bonds set the lowest possible benchmark for Indian borrowers in international financial market.
- India has a huge infrastructure deficit. Global experience is that most of infrastructure investment would need to come directly or indirectly from government. Issuing overseas bonds for infrastructure deficit can indirectly benefit the larger economy.
- In the 1970s, several of South American countries borrowed heavily overseas when the global market was flush with liquidity. However, when their currencies depreciated sharply a decade later, these countries were in position to repay their debt. Several economists have expressed their concerns over the fact that India might follow the path of these countries.
- Overseas borrowings can lead to a quicker increase to India’s foreign exchange reserves leading to a stronger rupee when it is already appreciating against the dollar. However, this is an adverse effect. A stronger rupee would encourage imports at a time when the government is trying to curb them and discourage exports at a time when they are being encouraged.
- Another problem with an overseas bond issue is that the government would not be able to print foreign currency to repay its debt.
- In other words, in the domestic market, if the government does ever reach the stage where it is finding it difficult to repay its debt, it can simply print more money, let inflation rise quickly and repay its debt. However, this cannot be done in an overseas bond issue.
- India has been conservative in the matter of external commercial borrowing (ECB) ever since the balance of payment (BoP) crisis of 1991-92.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
As per Botanical Survey of India, India is home to 1,256 species of orchid
The Botanical Survey of India has come up with the first comprehensive census of orchids of India putting the total number of orchid species or taxa to 1,256.
- Orchid are species of flowered plants distributed throughout the world, especially in wet tropics.
- They are found in every continent in the world except Antarctica.
- Orchids have complex floral structure that facilitates biotic cross-pollination and makes them evolutionarily superior to the other plant groups.
- Orchid can survive up to 100 years.
- The size of orchids depends on the species. They can be tiny or extremely large, weighing couple of hundred pounds.
- Orchids do not have usual roots. They have rhizome, tuber or aerial roots.
- All orchids are listed under appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and hence any trade of wild orchid is banned globally.
- Some of the orchids like Dendrobium , Phalaenopsis, Oncidium and Cymbidium are quite popular in floriculture trade and have a demand both within and outside India.
- Substances isolated from orchids are used in industry of perfumes, spices and in traditional Asian medicine. Vanilla is one of the best known and widely used flavors which is extracted from the pod of Vanilla planifolia which is a species of orchid.
Life forms of Orchids:
Orchids can be broadly categorized into three life forms:
- This are plants growing on another plants including those growing on rock boulders and often termed lithophyte.
- Epiphytic orchids are abundant up to 1800 m above the sea level and their occurrence decreases with the increase in altitude.
- These are plants growing on land and climbers.
- These orchids grow directly on soil.
- They are found in large numbers in temperate and alpine region.
- These are plants which derive nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that are attached to the roots of a vascular plant.
- These orchids are mostly associated with ectomycorrhizal fungi and are found in temperate regions or are found growing with parasites in tropical regions.
About 60% of all orchids found in India, which is 757 species, most are epiphytic and terrestrial and few are mycoheterotrophic.
Where are they found?
- The Himalayas, North-East parts of the country and Western Ghats are the hot-spots of Orchids. Darjeeling Himalayas have also high species concentration.
- The highest number of orchid species is recorded from Arunachal Pradesh, followed by Sikkim and West Bengal.
- Of the total endemic species of orchids in India, one-third endemic species are found in Western Ghats.
- Among the 10 bio geographic zones of India, the Himalayan zone is the richest in terms of orchid species followed by Northeast, Western Ghats, Deccan plateau and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Bilateral & International Relations
Second round of talks on Kartarpur Corridor held at Wagah, Pakistan
Officials from India and Pakistan met to finalise the modalities of the Kartarpur corridor and related technical issues.
Highlights of the talks:
On the second round of talks, India reiterated its various requests to Pakistan which are:
- 5,000 pilgrims should be allowed to visit gurudwara Kartarpur everyday
- 10,000 additional pilgrims should be allowed to visit on special occasions
- Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) holding OCI cards to be allowed
- Visa-free movement
- Pakistan to reconsider charging any fee or introducing any permit system
- Provisions for preparation and distribution of langar and ‘prasad’
- The Kartarpur Corridor is a border corridor between the India and Pakistan, connecting the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab) and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur (in Punjab, Pakistan).
- The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is located on the banks of the Ravi River, about three-four km from the border in Pakistan.
- It is intended to commence the pilgrimage through Kartarpur corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
- For decades, Sikh devotees have been demanding that India and Pakistan collaborate to build a corridor linking it with the Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.
- Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had first suggested the corridor in 1999.
- It could initiate meaningful confidence-building measure (CBM).
- It could drastically cut down the journey pilgrims have to make from more than 200 km to just 6 km.
- The initiative can also become a template for cross-border exchanges based on faith, which could provide a balm for many communities.
- For example, Kashmiri Pandits, who have long asked for access to visit the Sharda Peeth in the Neelum Valley in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Sufis in Pakistan who wish to visit the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan.
- More people-to-people contact can help improve ties between the two nations. History shows that religious triumphs can be a diplomatic tool to ease tension between countries.
- Over the past year, gurdwaras in Pakistan have been used for a pro-Khalistan campaign.
- A gurdwara in 2018 displayed posters and distributed pamphlets for the ‘Sikh Referendum 2020’ (campaign to separate Punjab from India).
- Indian officials are wary of the corridor being misused by both state and non-state actors in that country.
- In Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, Guru Nanak (founder of Sikhism) assembled a Sikh community and lived for 18 years until his death.
El Nino could be losing steam
A weak El Nino prevailing in the Pacific Ocean since the start of 2019 is beginning to dissipate and a fully neutral condition is likely to be restored in the Pacific Ocean over the next two months.
What is El Nino?
- El Nino refers to a band of warm ocean water that develops in the Pacific Ocean and causes global changes of both temperatures and rainfall.
- El Nino is the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle (ENSO).
- The ENSO cycle is the way scientists describe the fluctuations in temperature between the atmosphere and the ocean in the east-central Equatorial Pacific.
- Basically, El Nino is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.
- El Nino is Spanish for “the boy child,” which is often used to refer to Jesus Christ, and the phenomenon earned this name because it typically occurs in December around Christmas.
- El Nino occurs every 2-7 years, and can last anywhere between nine months and two years.
What causes El Nino?
- El Nino sets in when there is anomaly in the pattern. The westward-blowing trade winds weaken along the Equator and due to changes in air pressure, the surface water moves eastwards to the coast of northern South America.
- The central and eastern Pacific regions warm up for over six months and result in an El Nino condition. The temperature of the water could rise up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Warmer surface waters increase precipitation and bring above-normal rainfall in South America, and droughts to Indonesia and Australia.
What is El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)?
- The ENSO cycle is the fluctuations in temperature between the atmosphere and the ocean in the east-central Equatorial Pacific.
- El Nino and La Nina are opposite phases of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. While El Niño as the warm phase of ENSO, La Niña is referred to as the cold phase of ENSO.
- Hence, El Niño and La Niña are the extreme phases of the ENSO cycle, between these two phases is a third phase called ENSO-neutral.
- This oscillating warming and cooling pattern or ENSO cycle, directly affects rainfall distribution in the tropics and can have a strong influence on weather across the United States and other parts of the world.
- Between 1880 and 2014, around 90 per cent of all evolving El Nino years have seen below normal rainfall and 65 per cent of them experienced droughts.
- The last El Nino event that ended in 2016 had lasted for two years and caused heat waves all around the world which caused massive coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and droughts in parts of Africa, South East Asia and South America.
- In 2018, Australia underwent its worst drought in last 400 years.
- Heat waves are the third highest cause for deaths among natural disasters in India, after lightning strikes and earthquakes.
Science & Technology
Chandrayaan-2 mission called off due to technical snag in launch vehicle
Chandrayaan-2 mission, nicknamed Baahubali, launch has been called off due to a technical snag in the launch vehicle just 56 minutes before the launch.
About Chandrayaan-2 mission:
- It is India’s second mission to Moon after Chandrayaan-1.
- It will use Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV MK III –M1) rocket.
- The modules in the mission include the orbiter, the Lander named Vikram and the Rover called Pragyan.
- It will target a completely unexplored section of the Moon which is its South Polar region.
- The mission aims to get a better understanding of the Moon’s origin and its evolution by conducting topographical studies and mineralogical analyses.
- The payloads of this mission also include payload from Europe, US and Bulgaria.
- A Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) of NASA is among the payloads and is aimed at understanding the dynamics of earth’s moon system and deriving clues on the lunar interior.
Significance for India:
- When launched, Chandrayaan-2 will be the first Indian expedition to attempt a soft landing on the lunar surface.
- This mission will make India the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to carry out a soft landing on the Moon.
- No country has ever attempted to land a spacecraft in the polar regions of the moon. Hence, this mission could give India a lead in space exploration on an international level.
Why the south polar region of the moon?
- Due to the moon’s axis, few regions on the south pole of moon remains forever dark specially the craters which have higher chances of containing water.
- The bottom of the polar craters, due to low angular tilt of the moon axis, receives few/no sunlight, thereby increasing the chances of presence of ice on such surfaces.
- Moreover, the moon’s south pole is much larger than that of its north pole increasing the possibility of the presence of water.
- The challenges involved in the moon landing are identifying trajectory accurately; taking up deep space communication; trans-lunar injection, taking up soft landing on the moon surface, and facing extreme temperatures and vacuum.
About GSLV Mk-III:
- India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) is a three-stage vehicle primarily designed to launch communication satellites into geostationary orbit.
- It is developed by ISRO.
- It has a mass of 640 tonnes that can accommodate up to 8,000 kg payload to LEO and 4000 kg payload to GTO.
- GSLV Mk-III vehicle is powered by two solid motor strap-ons (S200), a liquid propellant core stage (L110) and a cryogenic stage (C25), that has been designed for carrying the four-tonne class satellites.
- The C25 is powered by CE-20, India’s largest cryogenic engine, designed and developed by the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre.