Issues related to Health & Education
- Private schools grooming about 50% of students in country
- How lower mop-up has translated into delayed GST compensation
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Heatwaves, floods, droughts: projections for India in coming decades
- Study on Asian elephants
Bilateral & International Relations
- India Idea Summit 2020
- Virtual meeting of G20 Digital Economy Ministers
- International Union of Railways
- Lonar Lake
Science & Technology
- Third unit at KAPP achieves criticality
- Bacterial study gives insights on diabetes and fibrosis
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Issues related to Health & Education
Private schools grooming about 50% of students in country
First of its kind report by Central Square Foundation based on government data, “The State of the Sector Report: Private Schools in India” bring forth the rise of the private sector in school education
Key Highlights of the report
- Nearly 50% (12 crore) students in India are enrolled in private school while the government schools’ enrolment has come down to 52.2% in 2017 from that of 74.1% in 1978.
- 45.5% students in private schools pay less than Rs 500 a month as fees and yet the sector contributes approximately Rs 1.75 lakh crores to the economy.
- Enrolment in private unaided schools rose sharply following the economic liberalisation that raised incomes in the early nineties.
- Enrolment grew by 9% between 1998 and 2007, and by 16.6% between 2007 and 2017. If considered on its own, it is the third largest school system in the world, closely behind China’s school system and Indian’s public education system.
- 16 states have over 50% of students in private schools. The following 6 states have the greatest enrolment share.
Factors driving low learning levels in private school is because of
- Lack of information around school quality with the only independent markers being the Board examinations.
- With 60% of the private unaided schools ending before the grade board exam testing, it becomes difficult for parents to judge the quality of their schooling options. This means that schools are less likely to invest in learning-focused but likely to spend on things that are observable by parents but may not lead to much improvement in learning – like computer labs.
- Also, 42.3% of private unaided schools offer English as a language of instruction as opposed to 10.4% of government schools. However, schools which are English medium on paper may not be so in practice. Also, it may be hard for parents to judge how much their children are learning in school in absolute terms, or how good their school is in comparison to similar schools.
- There is insufficient evidence around the implementation on-ground of several regulations related to education, their context fit to private schools, and their impact on learning.
- Other reasons are teaching quality, students’ socioeconomic background and school fee level.
- Create a universal learning indicator to help parents compare learning performance across schools and make informed decisions.
- Develop a pragmatic accreditation framework that factors in constraints of low fee schools and state capacity to implement while focusing on learning outcomes and child safety.
- Establish an independent regulatory agency for the private school sector.
- Review the non-profit mandate for the education sector and existing fee regulations to attract investment.
- Strengthen RTE Act Section 12(1)(c) which mandates 25% reservations for underprivileged children to ensure more robust targeting and fee reimbursements. Stronger targeting mechanisms for disadvantaged sections wishing to participate in the scheme are needed, and transparent and direct fee transfers to parents rather than reimbursements to schools will create greater accountability around fund release.
How lower mop-up has translated into delayed GST compensation
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) collections recorded a 41 % decline in the April-June quarter. Lower GST revenues have translated into delayed and pending compensation payments to states.
What is GST Compensation Cess?
- GST cess is imposed to compensate for the State’s loss of revenue due to the implementation of GST.
- GST is charged at the time of supply and depends on the destination of consumption. For instance, if a good is manufactured in state A but consumed in state B, then the revenue generated through GST collection is credited to the state of consumption (state B) and not to the state of production (state A).
- Due to the consumption-based nature of GST, manufacturing states like Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka etc. feared a revenue loss. Thus, GST Compensation Cess was introduced by the government to compensate for the possible revenue losses suffered by manufacturing states.
- This compensation cess is levied only for the first 5 years of GST regime: from 2017 to 2022.
- The concern over compensation payments started surfacing in October 2019, when the payments to states got delayed as GST revenues came in lower than expected.
- Moreover, as the required amount to pay states
started rising with a compounded 14 % rate even as compensation collections
remained around the same level for two consecutive years, the high rate of 14 %
is not an economic reality for central government.
- The GST compensation Act guarantees a 14% annual growth in tax revenues for the states from the amount collected by them in 2015-16 till 2022.
Suggestions of various states
- Market borrowing has been discussed as
one of the possible solutions for meeting the compensation gap in the GST
Council. And this borrowing can be repaid by collection of cess in the sixth year
(after 2022) or further subsequent years.
- There are differing views among states on the Council itself resorting to market borrowing. While Kerala backs such a move and Bihar opposes it, all states are unanimous on sticking to the 14 % assured rate for compensation. Some states are also of the view that the compensation period should be extended beyond the stated period of five years.
- There is also an emerging view among states to hike
the GST rates or go for the restructuring of GST slabs as most states
concede that the current tax rates are lower than revenue neutral rates.
- However, states are not in favour of either Hiking the cess rate or lowering of the guaranteed compensation rate. As per an estimate, even if revenue collections in 2020-21 are projected to be even 65 % of the revenues collected in 2019-20, there would be a revenue gap of Rs 2,67,000 crore for states.
Transferring from other amounts
- In the Budget for 2020-21, Finance Minister
announced to transfer to the GST Compensation Fund balances due out of
collection of the years 2016-17 and 2017-18, in two instalments. At present,
the cess levied on sin and luxury goods such as tobacco and automobiles flows
into the GST compensation fund.
- Section 10(1) of the GST compensation Act allows for “other amounts” also to be credited to the Compensation fund with the approval of the GST Council.
- However, 13th Finance Commission Chairman said that While the Centre’s decision to restrict transfer to the Fund only to compensation cess collections seems more a fiscal aspiration than a legal compulsion.
- Increasing the state’s share (SGST) in GST. However, it is unreal for central government.
- The inclusion of petroleum products under GST,
- Simplification of GST rates and minimising exemptions,
- Review of complex structure of Integrated GST,
- An independent GST secretariat (which is at
present dominated by the Centre’s Revenue Department officials)
- Example: In recent GST meeting, GST council cut GST rates for 178 goods from 28 % to 12 % based on a rough figure rather than any actual estimate of the tax base and the loss anticipated by such reduction. Hence, GST Council needs professional and independent advice on tax matters. This can only occur through the creation of an independent GST Council Secretariat which would provide neutral and advice on all the matters.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Heatwaves, floods, droughts: projections for India in coming decades
The first ‘Assessment of Climate Change over Indian Region’ was recently released by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
- The projections are for the decades leading to the end of the 21st century.
- Surface air temperature over India has risen by 0.6°C per year during 1901-2018.
- Regions of North India have undergone warming more than the South, where warming has been mainly during winters.
- Every decade between 1951-2015 had 7.4 warmer days and 3.1 warmer nights than the annual averages for daily maximum and nightly minimum respectively.
- The frequency of warm days is projected to increase by 55% and that of warm nights by 70%, relative to 1976- 2005.
- In coming decades, the average duration of heatwaves during April-June is projected to double, and their frequency to rise by 3 to 4 times compared to 1976-2005.
- Average temperature over India is projected to rise by 4.4°C, relative to the average temperature during 1976-2005.
- Sea surface temperatures on the tropical Indian Ocean have been rising by an average 1°C annually over 1951-2015.
- During 1951-2015, annual rainfall over India
declined between 1-5 mm over central India, Kerala and the far Northeast
- Contrarily, precipitation increased over J&K and Northwest India.
Droughts and floods
- Since the 1950s, the frequency and intensity of both heavy rainfall events and dry days have gone up. These trends are prominent over Central India and South Peninsular regions during the southwest monsoon (June-September) and northeast monsoon (October-December) respectively.
- Since 1901, India has experienced 22 droughts during monsoon. Central India, Kerala, and some areas in South Peninsular and Eastern India experienced at least two droughts during 1901-2016.
- Projection: Eastern India could face two more droughts per decade compared to what was experienced during 1976-2005, while the Southern Peninsula is projected to experience one or two droughts fewer.
- Flood risks are higher over the east coast, West Bengal, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Konkan and cities like Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
- The Himalayan flood basins are projected to greater floods, due to the faster glacial and snow melting.
- During 1993-2015, the sea level over the North Indian Ocean (Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal) rose by 3.3 mm per year, which is in tune with the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) rise.
- By 2030, some 340 million coastal residents of the North Indian Ocean and its islands would be exposed to coastal hazards.
- Before the 1950s, 94 severe cyclonic storms formed in the Bay of Bengal, a number that jumped to 140 post the 1950s. For those formed in the Arabian Sea, the number has risen from 29 to 44 in the same period.
- Storms in the Arabian Sea are gaining more strength and the trend is projected to continue. The number of extremely severe cyclonic storms formed in the Arabian Sea has increased in the last 20 years.
Himalaya snow cover
- During the last 7 decades, the Hindukush Himalayas have warmed at an average 0.2°C per decade. The Karakoram Himalayas have reported an increase in snowfall during winter.
- By the end of the century, the Hindukush Himalayas are projected to be warmer by 2.6-4.6°C.
Cause & effect
- The main contributor to climate change is anthropogenic activities pushing up concentrations of greenhouse gases. This has led to rise in temperature and atmospheric moisture content.
- A higher concentration of water vapour, in turn, leads to intense rainfall during monsoon.
- Heating leads to vaporisation, which is directly linked to decreasing soil moisture, resulting in droughts. This can lead to reduction in food production and in availability of potable water, the report says.
- Rising sea levels would make India’s big cities vulnerable to erosion and damage to coastal projects.
Study on Asian elephants
- Researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) an autonomous institute of the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India found that Asian Elephant calves develop handedness (right or left-side bias) in trunk usage quite early. Analogous to human infants showing right-handedness or left-handedness soon after birth.
- The study was published recently in the International Journal of Developmental Biology.
- The team of researchers observed 30 unique calves from 11 distinct clans (female social groups) in Kabini Elephant Project in Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks from December 2015 to December 2017 to look at the development of trunk motor control, laterality in trunk usage, and various social and non-social behaviours.
About Asian Elephant:
- The Asian elephant is distributed throughout the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, from India in the west, Nepal in the north, Sumatra in the south, and to Borneo in the east.
- In India, Elephants are found in the states of Karnataka, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal.
- Their habitat ranges from wet tropical evergreen forests to semi-arid thorn and scrub forests.
- Elephants are mega-herbivores and require vast tracts of forests, rich in food and water to survive.
Threats: loss of habitat, habitat degradation, fragmentation and poaching
Conservation Measures by Government of India:
- The Government of India has declared Indian elephant as National Heritage Animal.
- It is provided with the highest degree of legal protection by listing it in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
- Project Elephant was launched in 1992 to provide financial and technical support of wildlife management efforts by states for wild Asian Elephants.
- It is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
- Presently, the project is being implemented in 22 States/UTs.
- To protect elephants, their habitat & corridors
- To address issues of man-animal conflict
- The welfare of captive elephants
Bilateral & International Relations
India Idea Summit 2020
Recently, the Prime Minister delivered the keynote address at the India Ideas Summit 2020.
About India Idea Summit
- The Summit is hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC).
- The theme is ‘Building a Better Future’.
- The virtual summit featured high-level presence from Indian and US government policymakers, state-level officials, and thought leaders from business and society.
U.S.-India Business Council
- Formed in 1975 at the request of the U.S. and Indian governments, the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) represents top global companies operating across the United States and India.
- 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of the formation of the Council.
- USIBC serves as the premier voice of the industry, creating connections between businesses and governments in both countries.
- Main offices are located in Washington, D.C., and New Delhi.
- The Council’s mission is to promote trade relations between India and the United States by supporting pro-growth policies and increased bilateral engagement, focusing on achieving the shared goal of $500 billion in two-way trade.
Work and Policy Priorities
- The Council’s policy and advocacy work are advanced through 12 industry-focused committees – Aerospace and Defense; Banking, Private Equity & Digital Payments; Digital Economy; Energy and Environment; Food, Agriculture & Retail; Infrastructure; Legal and Professional Services; Life Sciences; Manufacturing; Media & Entertainment; Supply Chain Logistics; and Tax, Insurance & Real Estate.
- Engage the U.S. and Indian governments to advocate for a bilateral trade deal that resolves longstanding trade irritants, including medical device price controls, market access for agricultural goods, information and communications technology (ICT) tariffs, and section 232 tariffs on aluminium and steel.
- Urge the Government of India to implement targeted economic reforms that improve India’s ease of doing business and jumpstart growth, with the goal of growing U.S.-India bilateral trade to $500 billion by 2030.
- Advocate against protectionist legislation that disadvantages non-Indian companies. This includes a move towards compulsory data localization, which hinders the free flow of data, increases cyber risk and inhibits trade, competition and innovation, as well as policies that restrict e-commerce activities.
Virtual meeting of G20 Digital Economy Ministers
Recently, a virtual meeting of G20 Digital Economy Ministers hosted by Saudi Arabia, which is holding the presidency of G20, took place.
Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology represented India during this virtual meeting.
Key Points mentioned by the Minister:
- Building a resilient global supply chain and making India as a destination for investment in the global supply chains.
- Initiatives like Aarogya Setu mobile app, a geofencing system for monitoring quarantined patients and COVID19 Savdhan bulk messaging systems have helped India handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Using digital innovations of India like Direct Benefit Transfers and digital payments even the weakest in the society was provided various financial relief during the lockdown.
- Emphasized the need for building trustworthy Artificial Intelligence systems that can transform society.
- India to put in place a personal data protection law which will address the data privacy-related concerns of citizens and ensure availability of data for innovation and economic development.
- Asked digital platforms anywhere in the world have to be responsive and accountable towards the sovereign concerns of countries including defence, privacy and security of citizens.
- The G-20 is a group of 20 nations of the world comprising of the G-7 Nations–Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States plus 11 emerging market and smaller industrialized countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey. The European Union is also a member of the G-20.
- The G-20’s members represent two-thirds of the world’s people and 85% of its economy.
- The G-20’s primary mandate is to prevent future international financial crises and shape the global economic agenda.
International Union of Railways
- Arun Kumar, Director General of the Railway Protection Force (RPF), has been nominated to be the vice-chairman of the Security Platform of the Union Internationale Des Chemins/International Union of Railways (UIC).
- His tenure as the Vice-Chairman of the Security platform will last from July 2020 to July 2022. And then take over as Chairman of the Security Platform from July 2022 to July 2024.
About International Union of Railways:
- The UIC is the global platform for railway systems working on interoperability, developing common technical standards for railways across the world.
- Established in 1922 and headquartered in Paris, France.
Overall objectives for UIC
- To enable UIC to effectively fulfil its mission,
3 levels have been defined for international cooperation activities:
- Strategic level: coordination with and between the 6 UIC Regions created as part of the new Governance (activities steered by the UIC Regional Assemblies for Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Europe and the Middle East).
- Technical/professional cooperation level (structured around the following railway activities): Passenger, Freight, Rail System – including infrastructure, rolling stock, operations – and Fundamental Values including cross-sector activities such as Sustainable Development, Research Coordination, Safety, Security, Expertise Development). Strategic priorities for technical cooperation activities are set out by forums and platforms composed of member representatives.
- Support services level: Finance, Human Resources, Legal, Communications and Institutional Relations.
About UIC Security Platform
- The UIC Security Platform is empowered to develop and formulate analysis and policy positions on behalf of the rail sector in matters relating to the security of persons, property and installations.
- The security platform promotes the exchange of information and experience among the security agencies of UIC members and proposes common interest projects and activities in the field of railway security as dictated by the requirement of members or external events.
The colour of the Lonar Lake in Maharashtra turned pink due to the presence of Haloarchaea microbes(salt-loving bacteria).
- Absence of rain.
- Less human interference
- High temperature
About the Lake:
- Lonar Lake was formed after a meteorite hit the earth some 50,000 years ago. It is one of the four known, hyper-velocity, impact craters in basaltic rock anywhere on Earth. The other three are located in Brazil.
- The meteor crater rim is about 1.8 kilometres in diameter.
- The water in the lake is both saline and alkaline.
- It is a notified National Geo-heritage Monument.
- A 2019 study, conducted by IIT Bombay found that the minerals, in the lake soil, are very similar to the minerals found in moon rocks brought back during the Apollo Program.
- It is currently a popular tourist hub.
- Haloarchaea or halophilic archaea is a bacteria culture found in water saturated or nearly saturated with salt.
- These bacteria produce a pink pigment.
- These microorganisms require high salt concentrations to grow.
- Haloarchaea can grow aerobically or anaerobically.
- These bacteria can be used in growing vegetation in hypersaline regions.
Science & Technology
Third unit at KAPP achieves criticality
The third unit of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP-3) in Gujarat achieved its ‘first criticality’ — a term that signifies the initiation of a controlled but sustained nuclear fission reaction that generates energy.
About Kakrapar Atomic Power Project
- It lies near city of Vyara in Gujarat.
- It consists of two 220 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor and two IPHWR-700 (Indian Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor-700, a Generation III+ reactor developed from earlier 220 MW and 540 MW designs).
The KAPP-3 is:
- India’s first 700 MWe (megawatt electric) unit, and
- India’s biggest indigenously developed variant of the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR).
Until now, the biggest reactor size of indigenous design was the 540 MWe PHWR, two of which have been deployed in Tarapur, Maharashtra.
Types of Nuclear reactors
About Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor
- It uses natural uranium as fuel and heavy water (deuterium oxide D2O) as moderator. They are the mainstay of India’s nuclear reactor fleet.
What does achieving criticality mean?
- Reactors are the heart of an atomic power plant,
where a controlled nuclear fission reaction takes place that produces heat,
which is used to generate steam that then spins a turbine to create
- Fission is a process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei, and usually some byproduct particles.
- When the nucleus splits, the kinetic energy of the fission fragments is transferred to other atoms in the fuel as heat energy, which is eventually used to produce steam to drive the turbines.
- For every fission event, if at least one of the emitted neutrons on average causes another fission, a self-sustaining chain reaction will take place.
- A nuclear reactor achieves criticality when each fission event releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain an ongoing series of reactions.
Fulfill energy demand
- India’s energy demand is likely to grow at 4.2% per annum through 2035. India used to generate 4.1 billion kWhr power during 1947-48, which grew to about 1,272 billion kWhr in 2014-15. However, India is still heavily dependent on fossil energy for its energy need.
- Also, currently, nuclear power capacity constitutes less than 2% of the total installed capacity of 3,68,690 MW (till January 2020).
- Hence, the development will, to some extent, help India meet its energy demand.
- It also marks a significant scale-up in
technology, both in terms of optimisation of its PHWR design — the new
700MWe unit addresses the issue of excess thermal margins — and an improvement
in the economies of scale, without significant changes to the design of the
540 MWe reactor.
- Thermal margin refers to the extent to which the operating temperature of the reactor is below its maximum operating temperature.
- The 700MWe reactors will be the backbone of a new fleet of 12 reactors to which the government accorded administrative approval in 2017.
12 nuclear power reactors programme
- In 2017, the government has accorded administrative approval for construction of 12 nuclear power reactors.
- Out of these, 10 will be indigenous Pressurised
Heavy Water Reactors (700 MW) and the 2 will be Light Water Reactors (1000 MW).
- 2 PHWRs each in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana
- 4 PHWRs in Rajasthan
- 2 LWRs at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.
- The PHWRs will be set up in fleet mode and the LWRs will be established in cooperation with the Russian Federation.
- As India works to ramp up its existing nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MWe to 22,480 MWe by 2031, the 700MWe capacity would constitute the biggest component of the expansion plan.
India’s nuclear power capacity
- Nuclear power is the fifth-largest source of electricity in India after coal, gas, hydroelectricity and wind power.
- At present, Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) handles 22 nuclear reactors in India.
- It procures 6,780 MW power.
Reactors under construction in India
Safety features of KAPP-3
- The biggest advantage of the PHWR design is the
use of thin walled pressure tubes instead of the large pressure vessels
that are used in pressure vessel type reactors.
- This results in the distribution of pressure boundaries to a large number of small-diameter pressure tubes, thus lowering the severity of the consequence of an accidental rupture of the pressure boundary.
- Additionally, it has enhanced safety through a
dedicated ‘Passive Decay Heat Removal System’, which can remove decay
heat (released as a result of radioactive decay) from the reactor core without
requiring any operator actions.
- This is on the lines of similar technology adopted for Generation III+ plants to negate the possibility of a Fukushima-type accident that happened in Japan in 2011.
- It is equipped with a steel-lined containment to reduce any leakages, and a containment spray system to reduce the containment pressure in case of a loss of coolant accident.
PHWR technology in India
- PHWR technology started in India in the late 1960s with the construction of the first 220 MWe reactor, Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS-1) under the joint Indo-Canadian nuclear co-operation. Canada supplied all the main equipment for this first unit, while India retained responsibility for construction and commissioning.
- For the second unit (RAPS-2), import content was reduced considerably, and indigenisation was undertaken for major equipment. Following the withdrawal of Canadian support in 1974 after Pokhran-1, Indian nuclear engineers completed the construction.
- From the third PHWR unit (Madras Atomic Power Station, MAPS-1) onward, the indigenisation of the design began.
- The first two units of PHWR using indigenously developed standardised 220 MWe design were set up at the Narora Atomic Power Station (Uttar Pradesh).
- This standardised design had several new safety systems that had been incorporated in five more atomic power stations (220 MWe) at Kakrapar, Kaiga, and Rawatbhata.
- To realise economies of scale, the design of 540 MWe PHWR was subsequently developed, and two such units were built at Tarapur.
- Further optimisations were carried out when the upgrade to 700 MWe capacity was undertaken, with KAPP-3 the first unit of this kind.
India’s three-stage nuclear power programme
- India’s three-stage nuclear power programme was formulated by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country’s long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India.
- Stage I – Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor
- Stage II – Sodium cooled Fast Breeder Reactor
- Stage III – Thorium Based Reactors
Bacterial study gives insights on diabetes and fibrosis
- Carbohydrates must be taken into the cell and broken down inside the cell into glucose to fulfil energy needs. Since being big molecules, they cannot penetrate the membrane of a cell.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati researchers have shown how some specialised protein molecules found on the membranes of all biological cells carry carbohydrate molecules into cells from outside. The results of this study have been published in The FEBS Journal.
- They have studied specific protein molecules called ABC (ATP-Binding Cassette) transporters, present in bacterial cell membranes and have shown that these transporters are selective about the type of carbohydrates they transport into cells.
- These special forms of proteins present in the cell membranes of almost all living cells, capture the carbohydrates from outside the cell and deliver them into the cells.
- Defective transport of carbohydrates into cells is associated with a range of disorders, including cystic fibrosis, hypercholesterolaemia and diabetes.
- Understanding the mechanism of carbohydrate transfer by the ABC transporters would enable a better understanding of the causes and effects of many of these disorders.