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GS: 1


Society related issues:

Supreme Court dismisses plea to make rape a gender-neutral offence(The Hindu)

Context

Making crime gender neutral

Question were asked in a PIL which was dismissed by the court

  • Why are certain crimes like rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) targeting men alone?
  • Why cannot women also be the perpetrators of crimes like under Section 375 b (insertion of foreign objects into the private parts of a woman)?

View of the Court

  • The judges on the Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reacted with different questions, all voicing an opinion that it is up to Parliament to gauge the changed social circumstances, and may be revamp the colonial penal code
  • Article 15 was specifically intended to protect women and children from discrimination

View of the petitioner-in-person

  • The term ‘man,’ wherever it is used in the definition of crimes under the IPC, should be replaced by ‘whoever,’ thus making the crime applicable for both men and women
  • IPC was violative of the fundamental right against discrimination on the basis of gender enumerated in Article 15 of the Constitution

Link between sanitation, stunting questioned (The Hindu)

Context

Relation between stunting and sanitation

What is stunting?

  • Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation
  • Children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median

(source: WHO)

Research findings were published in The Lancet Global Health on January 29

  • Stunting among children, or low height for age, is common in developing countries with poor sanitation.
  • Scientists hypothesise that this is because open defecation and unclean water expose children to faecal bugs.
  • Even if these pathogens do not cause diarrhoea, they inflame a child’s gut and hamper the food absorption

Recent studies show different results

Where: Bangladesh and Kenya

Findings: The studies, which targeted over 13,000 families, showed that water purification, sanitary latrines and hand-washing (WASH) interventions in select households were not enough to prevent stunting in those households.

Then what do the findings of The Lancet Global Health mean?

  • First, WASH interventions may need to be very widespread to make a difference
  • Second, factors other than WASH may be critical to stunting

Role of WASH might be declining

Earlier when the water was contaminated WASH might have played a major role but today when people are less exposed to pathogens, the role of WASH in stunting may be declining.

But exposure could occur from other sources too (besides unclean water and OD)

  • Children also come in contact with the outside environment and animal faeces
  • Plus, while chlorine is a good disinfectant, it may not work against protozoa like Giardia lamblia.

Get cracking: on implementing ‘Modicare’ (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

Implementation roadmap for the new National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) launched in the budget

Challenges before us

These included transfer of resources to provinces, recruitment of health personnel, and purchase and distribution of medicines to the chosen units

For-profit tertiary care sector

Moreover, the steady growth of a for-profit tertiary care sector poses the additional challenge of arriving at a basic care package for those who are covered by the NHPS, at appropriate costs.

State-funded insurance schemes

  • A national health system will also have to subsume all existing state-funded insurance schemes.
  • This will give beneficiaries access not just within a particular State but across the country to empanelled hospitals.

Steps to address these challenges

  • Strict regulation

The efficiency of a large-scale health system depends on strict regulation.

  • Determination of treatment costs

Determination of treatment costs by the government is therefore important.

GS: 2

International relations:

Forging a new nuclear deal (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

No progress on the India-US civil nuclear deal

No sign of any concrete contract: There is no sign yet of any concrete contract between an American company and the Indian authorities to build a reactor.

Reasons for the failure:

  • GE-Hitachi refused to accept the formula on supplier liability

Instead, GE-Hitachi’s plans were shelved after it rejected the Obama-Modi agreement in January 2015, saying GE would not accept the compromise formula on supplier liability

  • Toshiba-Westinghouse financial troubles

After a near-bankruptcy, Toshiba bought Westinghouse for just $4.6 billion to a Canadian consortium a deal that is now expected to be cleared by the end of 2018.

What now?

U.S. will send Westinghouse officials to India next week to reopen negotiations,

Indian government needs to consider various factors for renegotiations

Shifts in global politics, renewable energy technology, the U.S.’s commitment to India, and the supplier’s capacity and ability

The problem in detail:

  1. Major cost overruns for Westinghouse in the US: The financial crisis was set off because Westinghouse went into major cost overruns, possibly worth more than $15 billion, in building four AP1000 reactors at two projects in the U.S., the same reactors as the ones meant for India.
  2. 2. Projects were already 5 years over schedule: When work was halted on the Westinghouse projects in South Carolina, the construction was already five years over schedule.
  3. Mean time to construct a reactor in India is 9 years: India’s past record with Russian projects (the only foreign collaboration operational so far) puts the mean time to construct a reactor here at nine years.
  4. So reactors in India would be complete by 2029 only: This would mean that even if an India-U.S. techno-commercial contract is finally readied in 2019, and the ground breaking begins immediately, it may not see fruition until 2029, a good 20 years after the nuclear agreement was signed.

Other factors

  • The Trump effect: pushing fossil fuels instead of renewable energy

Donald Trump’s presidency has taken a very sharp turn away from renewable energy, and even the promise of nuclear dollars have dimmed in comparison to the lucre of fossil fuels in America.

  • India’s own requirements changed

India’s own requirements from the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal have changed considerably:

    • PHWRs in inland sites

Even as it makes a push for indigenous nuclear power plants, the Department of Atomic Energy is also advocating PHWRs in more inland sites in Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, with concerns about too many nuclear projects dotting the southern coastline which lies along tsunami and earthquake faultlines, as the U.S. and French projects are 

    • Russian collaboration delivering much more value

India has also found much more comfort in its existing agreement with Russia’s Atomstroy export, that began with the Intergovernmental Agreement for Kudankulam 1 and 2 in 1988, and has kept a slow but steady pace in delivering reactors and operationalizing power projects.

    • Cost issues

Indo-French negotiations for six 1,650 MW European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur have dragged on for a decade on this count, with the Department of Atomic Energy announcing in 2013 that the cost “cannot go above” ₹6.50 per unit, and the French company Areva (the project has now been handed to EDF) clearly seeking more.

  • More focus on stringent safety requirements

As the pressure to lower nuclear power tariffs increases, nuclear safety requirements have become more stringent, putting intense strain on all those in the business.

  • Nuclear power losing its prominence in the energy

More countries now see nuclear power as a “base-load” option, to be kept as back-up for the unstable, but infinitely less costly and eco-friendly solar and hydroelectric power options.

Data

In 2016, for example, global wind power output grew by 16%, solar by 30%, but nuclear energy only by 1.4%.

Conclusion

As a result of all these changes, the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement for commercial projects, as it was completed all those years ago, is now obsolete and reviving it will require a different template that takes into account India and the new global realities. The deal that was “done” is now dead. Long live a new deal.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Supreme Court refers jallikattu challenge to Constitution Bench(The Hindu)

Context

Jallikattu issue

What happened?

The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a Constitution Bench to decide whether the people of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra can conserve jallikattu and bullock-cart races as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.

What is article 29 (1): Right to conserve a culture, distinct language etc.

  • Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.
  • Though commonly used to protect the interests of minorities, Article 29 (1) mandates that “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”.

To Constitution bench

  • The Constitution Bench would also look into whether the 2017 jallikattu and bullock cart races laws of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra actually subserve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.
  • The Bench will also have to say whether the laws are really in consonance with the basic tenets of the 1960 Act.

If the Constitution bench upholds Jallikattu?

If jallikattu is upheld by the Constitution Bench as a cultural right and part of the “collective culture” of the people of Tamil Nadu under Article 29 (1), provisions of other laws which undermine jallikattu may run the risk of being struck down

SC admits CPI(M)’s plea against electoral bonds(The Hindu)

Context

The Supreme Court on Friday admitted a petition filed by the CPI(M) and party general secretary Sitaram Yechury to strike down the government’s Electoral Bond Scheme 2018 and amendments in the Finance Act, 2017, which allows for “unlimited donations from individuals and foreign companies to political parties without any record of the sources of funding”

Plea says amendments made to Finance Act ‘jeopardises the very foundation of Indian democracy’

The petition said that the requirement of disclosure of electoral bonds, the names and addresses of their contributors in the account statement of political parties is omitted by the amendment to the Representation of the People Act of 1951.

Corporate donations made secretive

Further, the petition said the system of corporate donations has been made correspondingly “secretive by removing the requirement of disclosure of the names of political parties to whom contributions have been made by amendment to the Companies Act, 2003.”

Promoting Quid pro quo arrangements

In effect, at both ends of the transaction, neither the contributor nor the recipient of the fund is required to disclose the identity of the other… Quid pro quo arrangements, not unknown to Indian polity, will only be strengthened

Removal of any ceiling on the donation amount

  • The amendment to the Companies Act results in the removal of any ceiling on the amount for donation by a company to a political party.
  • It allows a company to be eligible as a political contributor regardless of whether the company is making profits or losses.

Passage of the amendments as Money bill also challenged

Challenging the passage of the amendments as a Money Bill, the petition recalls the words of the Finance Minister that the changes in laws were meant to introduce transparency and reduce the usage of black money in financing political parties.

The scheme helps in increasing black money

Instead of incentivising political party contributors to forego black money, the scheme actually allows them to continue to bury their unaccounted wealth with political parties, the petition said.

GS: 3

Scorpene submarine programme makes progress (The Hindu)

Context

Defense – Scorpene Submarine programme

Scorpene class submarines with India

  1. INS Kalvari
  2. Khanderi, the second Scorpene class submarine was launched in January 2017, and is currently undergoing the rigorous phase of sea trials and is also scheduled to be delivered shortly
  3. Karanj was launched on, 31 January 2018. Karanj will now undergo rigorous trials and tests, both in harbour and at sea before it is commissioned into the Navy

Specialty of Scorpene class submarines

  • Scorpene submarines can undertake multifarious types of missions i.e
    • Anti-Surface warfare
    • Anti-Submarine warfare
    • Intelligence gathering
    • Mine laying & area surveillance etc
  • The submarine is designed to operate in all theatres, with means provided to ensure interoperability with other components of a Naval Task Force
  • The Scorpene class is the Navy’s first modern conventional submarine series in almost two decades since INS Sindhushastra which was procured from Russia in July 2000

Manufactured by

  • Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) is manufacturing six Scorpene submarines under technology transfer from Naval Group of France under a 2005 contract worth $3.75 bn

Boot Together

It is a process wherein five separate sections are welded to put a submarine together

Key Terms: Boot Together, Khanderi, Kalvari, Karanj

Economy:

Lower minimum employment rule to spur jobs: leather sector (The Hindu)

Context

The leather industry has welcomed the Budget proposal to cut the minimum period of employment

The change

Earlier the

  • Minimum period of employment was 240 days

Now,

  • Minimum period of employment is 150 days

Intention behind the move

The move is aimed at creating new employment opportunities

  • The Centre has made these changes along with certain amendments to Employment Provident Fund Act to encourage employment of more women. Earlier, this relaxation was available to the textile sector and the anomaly has been set right

Environment:

Dust mitigation plan must for firms (The Hindu)

Context

The Environment Ministry has made it mandatory for companies seeking environment clearance to ensure that they put in place a dust mitigation plan

Required standards

  • Roads leading to or at construction sites must be paved and black-topped
  • There could be no soil excavation without adequate dust mitigation measures in place
  • No loose soil, sand, construction waste could be left uncovered
  • A water sprinkling system was mandatory, and the measures taken should be prominently displayed at the construction site
  • The grinding and cutting of building materials in open area is prohibited and no uncovered vehicles carrying construction material and waste would be permitted

Who developed the standards?

The standards were developed by the Central Pollution Control Board as part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)

Who is responsible for pollution in Delhi?

Key pollutants: A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and commissioned by the Delhi government reported, in 2015, that road dust, burning of biomass and municipal solid waste, constituted the lion’s share of the city’s air pollution

Road dust, key villain

  • Road dust contributed 56% of all PM10 pollution, while it was 38% for PM2.5
  • Another estimate by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune had different numbers but still ranked dust as the major contributor — 52% — to the city’s PM10 load

Dust

Dust is a generic term for a vast mix of metals and non-metals — silicon, aluminium, titanium, manganese, copper, barium, antimony, selenium and zinc

Centre’s plan may boost farmers’ solar power use (The Hindu)

Context

The Centre has announced a Rs1.4 lakh-crore scheme for promoting decentralized solar power production of up to 28,250 MW to help farmers, according to R. K. Singh, Minister of State for Power and New and Renewable Energy

Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan or KUSUM scheme

The components of the scheme include

  • Building 10,000 MW solar plants on barren lands
  • Providing sops to DISCOMS to purchase the electricity produced
  • Solarising’ existing pumps of 7250 MW as well as government tube wells with a capacity of 8250 MW
  • Distributing 17.5 lakh solar pumps

Share of subsidy

    • The 60% subsidy on the solar pumps provided to farmers will be shared between the Centre and the States
    • 30% would be provided through bank loans
    • 10% will be borne by the farmers

Expected benefits

  • Scheme would provide extra income to farmers, by giving them an option to sell additional power to the grid through solar power projects set up on their barren lands
  • Help in de-dieselising the sector as also the DISCOMS
  • Promotion of decentralised solar power production
  • Reduction of transmission losses
  • Providing support to the financial health of DISCOMs by reducing the subsidy burden to the agriculture sector
  • The scheme would also promote energy efficiency and water conservation and provide water security to farmers

Tulsi and ashvagandha to purify Neknampur Lake in Hyderabad (The Hindu)

Context

Use of hydroponics to clean the Neknampur lake in Hyderabad

What is hydroponics?

Science of growing plants without soil

Floating Treatment Wetland (FTW)

Gently floating on the surface of Neknampur Lake is an artificial ‘island’ made of meticulously chosen plant species. The island is a floating treatment wetland (FTW)

  • How plants help?

Several plants on this FTW help clean the lake by absorbing nutrients such as excess nitrates and oxygen present in the water. They thus reduce the content of these chemicals

National recognition to the FTW

Measuring 3,000 sq. ft., the FTW is a joint effort of Dhruvansh, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority, the Ranga Reddy district administration and other organisations. It has already been recognised by the India Book of Records as the largest FTW in the country

How does it work?

The FTW comprises four layers.

1st layer: Floatable bamboo forms its base, over which Styrofoam cubicles are placed (2nd layer)

3rd layer: The third layer consists of gunny bags

4th Layer: The final layer is of gravel

Cleaning agents

Cleaning agents planted on the FTW include

  • Vetivers
  • Canna
  • Cattalis
  • Bulrush
  • Citronella
  • Hibiscus
  • fountain grass
  • flowering herbs
  • tulsi
  • ashvagandha

Cleaning process by microorganisms

Micro-organisms growing on the FTW and plant root systems break down and consume the organic matter in the water through microbial decomposition. The root systems filter out sediments and pollutants.

Cheaper tech

Compared to sewage treatment plants, this method is much cheaper

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