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GS 2

Reality check

News:

  1. Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat ruled out the possibility of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies this year along with polls to the Assemblies of four States.

Important facts:

2. Four states includes:

  • Mizoram is due for elections in December, as the term of the Assembly ends on December 15.
  • Mizoram is followed by Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

3. Reasons:

  • Simultaneous polls pose too big a legal and logistical challenge to be implemented now.
  • Simultaneous elections would demand a massive increase in the number of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) units.
  • Ensuring the VVPATs everywhere poses a logistical challenge.
  • Altering the term of an Assembly needs an amendment to the Constitution.
  • Simultaneous elections will require the use of 24 lakh EVMs, needing the procurement of 12 lakh EVMs and an equal number of VVPAT units.
  • These figures ought to give pause to the clamour to hold simultaneous Assembly elections with the next Lok Sabha polls.

4. The BJP President Amit shah has written to the Law Commission favouring simultaneous polls.

5. The arguments in favour of the concept :

  • The country is perpetually in election mode, resulting in a lack of adequate focus on governance.
  • The scattered polling results in extra expenditure.

6. Way ahead:

  • Wide political consensus, as well as legislative cooperation from various parties at the Centre and in the States, is required for holding simultaneous elections.
  • It would be more productive for political parties to focus on basic electoral reforms and find ways to curb excessive election expenditure.

 

Sovereignty and sensitivity

News:

  1. The National Assembly of Bhutan was dissolved and an interim government was appointed recently

Important facts:

  1. The Border Roads Organisation helps in building Bhutanese roads under Project Dantak .
  2. Citizens were worried that this was an attempt by India to impose its flag on their countryside.
  3. In April last year, the Department of Roads had to remove a board which read “Dantak welcomes you to Bhutan” at the Paro international airport.
  4. And on the Thimphu-Phuentsholing arterial highway, another board that credited the “Government of India” had to be painted over.
  5. In the recent case, which was covered by the national weekly The Bhutanese, the Minister for Public Works stepped in, and the stickers were changed to blue and white.
  6. The incident was a blip in India- Bhutan relations, but it is a clear indicator of heightened sensitivities in the Himalayan kingdom as it heads to its third general election.
  7. The National Assembly of Bhutan was dissolved and an interim government was appointed this month.
  8. This election comes after the 73-day India-China stand-off in 2017 in the Bhutan-claimed area of Dokhlam.

The China factor:

  • The biggest issue between India and Bhutan will remain how to deal with China.
  • The Doklam crisis has brought home many realities for the Bhutanese establishment such as:
  • Doklam, which has long been discussed as part of a possible “package solution” to the Bhutan-China border dispute, could become a point of India-China conflagration, with Bhutan becoming a hapless spectator in the middle — again.
  • Experts point out that China’s actions since last June, to build a permanent military presence above the stand-off point, mean that Bhutan has a much reduced advantage in any forthcoming negotiations on the issue.

Way ahead:

  • India must step lightly and thoughtfully around the upcoming election.
  • PM Modi is expected to visit Thimphu once a new government is in place, and Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is expected for a state visit this year too. This is a welcome step from both sides.
  • Need to revive India’s Bhutan policy and address several issues that have come up in the past few years such as hydropower projects where delays in constructing and commissioning in Bhutan by Indian companies have led to the country’s burgeoning national debt.
  • Although the government agreed to raise tariffs for the original hydropower plant in Chukha (by about 30 paisa per unit) in February this year, other tariffs will need to be renegotiated too.
  • India also needs to focus on policing cross-border trade better.
  • The goods and services tax still hurts Bhutanese exporters, and demonetisation has left lasting scars on the banking system.

 

GS 3

‘Ganga stretches in Bengal unfit for bathing’

News:

  1. A recent map published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has revealed that water of the Ganga stretches in Bengal is so polluted that it is even unfit for bathing.

Important facts:

  1. The map was published after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) authorities to set up display board along the banks of the Ganga to indicate whether the water fit for bathing or drinking.
  2. The development comes at a time when the Centre has claimed that the Namami Gange project, has achieved considerable success.
  3. The graphic map marks the areas where the water of the Ganga is unfit for bathing with red dots.
  4. Apart from Kolkata, the other affected stretches of the Ganga are located in the districts of Howra (Uluberia, Shibpur), Hooghly (Tribeni, Serampore), North 24 Paraganas (Palta, Dakhineswar), Nadia (Nabadwip) and Murshidabad (Gorabazar, Behampore, Khagra).
  5. The CPCB guidelines upon which the map is based are given below.
  • States that water is fit for bathing when the amount of fecal coliform bacteria, found mainly in human faeces, is not more than 2,500 most probable number (MPN) per 100 ml.
  • Dissolved oxygen is not more than 5 mg per litre
  • Bio chemical oxygen demand is less than 3 mg per litre
  • The pH level-measurement of how acidic the water is, between 6.5 to 8.5.

6. Apart from West Bengal, the water of the Ganga is also unfit for bathing in States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

7. While, Uttrakhand remains the only exception with 11 stretches of the Ganga being fit for bathing along with Ara town in Bihar.

8. West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) claimed that the State is located at the downstream of the Ganga it receives all the pollutants which accumulates in the river from States in the upstream.

9. A renowned river expert, also pointed out that coliform bacteria, mainly found in sewage, is a major cause for concern due to its large presence in the Ganga.

 

For better slum policies

News:

  1. Mohit M. Rao, Principal Correspondent at the Hindu’s Bengaluru Bureau, emphasized that India’s rapid urbanization has been proceeding apace for decades, but policy solutions have been shots in the dark.

Important facts:

  1. Studies show that socio-economic distress is brewing in slums.
  2. The migrants to cities often get struck in a vicious cycle of debt and socio-economic stagnation.
  3. The 2011 Census estimated 65 million people in slums, a marked shortfall from the UN-HABITAT’s 2014 estimation of 104 million.
  4. Current slum policies primarily focus on housing, relocation or in-situ development of multi-storey complexes, which free up swathes of prime real estate.
  5. A long-term, multi-institutional survey by researchers from the Netherlands, the U.S. and a local NGO, Fields of View, reveals that over 70% of families in slums live in debt.
  6. The difference between their monthly earnings and expenses is less than ₹1,000 leaving them vulnerable in case of educational, vocational, social or health emergencies.
  7. The cumulative effect is that resident’s end up staying in the same slums for an average of 21 years, according to a study helmed by Duke University, U.S. Seven out of 10 households have stayed in slums for at least four generations.
  8. Suggestions for welfare of slum dwellers:
  • Economic opportunities and employment to these slum dwellers
  • Slums resembling tented refugee camps need housing and basic amenities.

 

Half of farm households indebted: NABARD study

News:

  1. According to a recent survey by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), morethan half the agricultural households in India have outstanding debt.

Important facts:

  1. The NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17 covered a sample of 1.88 lakh people from 40,327 rural households.
  2. Only 48% of these are defined as agricultural households, which have at least one member self-employed in agriculture and which received more than Rs 5,000 as value of produce from agricultural activities over the past year,  whether they possessed any land or not.
  3. Key highlights of the survey :
  • The survey pointed out that their average outstanding debt is almost as high as the average annual income of all agricultural households.
  • The survey found that 52.5% of the agricultural households had an outstanding loan on the date of the survey.
  • For non-agricultural households in rural India, that figure was 10 percentage points lower, at only 42.8%.
  • Agricultural households reporting any outstanding debt also had a higher debt liability compared with non-agricultural ones.
  • The average debt of an indebted agricultural household stood at approx Rs 1 lakh in comparison to Rs 75000(approx) for indebted non-agricultural households.
  • The average annual income of an agricultural household is approx Rs 1 lakh, more than the average outstanding debt of indebted farm households.
  • Only 10.5% of agricultural households were found to have a valid Kisan Credit Card at the time of the survey.
  • The Scheme aims to provide farmers credit from the banks with a simplified and flexible single –window procedure.
  • Households who had the card utilized 66% of the sanctioned credit limit.
  • The biggest reason for taking loans among agricultural households was capital expenditure for agricultural purposes,with a quarter of all loans taken for this purpose.
  • Around 19% of loans were taken for meeting running expenses for agricultural purposes, another 19% were taken for sundry domestic needs.
  • Loans for housing and medical expenses stood at 11% and 12%, respectively.
  • While all classes of farmers had debt, the highest incidence of indebtedness came from those owning more than two hectares of land.
  • Among small and marginal farmers owning less than 0.4 hectares, slightly less than 50% of the households were in debt.
  • Those with more land were more likely to have multiple loans.
  • The economically better-off households are more eligible for taking loans as they have enough assets to serve as security against the loans taken.
  • State wise figures:

The southern States of Telangana (79%), Andhra Pradesh (77%), and Karnataka (74%) showed the highest levels of indebtedness among agricultural households, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (69%), Manipur (61%), Tamil Nadu (60%), Kerala (56%), and Odisha (54%).

  • Farm households took less than half their loans from commercial banks.
  1. 46%- from Commercial banks
  2. 10% from self-help groups
  3. 40% from non-institutional sources (friends, relatives, moneylenders, landlords).
  • A sizeable 11.5% households exhibited dependence on local moneylenders and landlords, which exposes them to exploitation by having to pay exorbitant interest. These are mostly poor and illiterate people.

 

India building new fighter jet

News:

  1. First flight of Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), India’s next indigenous fighter, isexpected in 2032.

Important facts:

  1. Development work on the jet is under way.
  2. The new fighter programme is important as technologies coming in through that will flow into the AMCA project.
  3. The aircraft will be powered by the same GE-414 engine on the LCA Mk-2 variant which is in the design phase.
  4. A GE-414 produces 98kN thrust compared to 84kN thrust of the GE-404 engine which is on the LCA Mk1.
  5. This is India’s only fifth generation aircraft programme following the decision not to go ahead with the fifth generation project with Russia.
  6. The AMCA will feature geometric stealth and will initially fly with two GE-414 engines.
  7. Two major ways of making a military platform stealthier: – Geometric stealth and Material stealth.
  8. In geometric stealth, the shape of the aircraft is designed at such angles so as to deflect away maximum radar waves thereby minimizing its radar cross section.
  9. In material stealth, radar-absorbing materials are used in making the aircraft which will absorb the radio waves thus reducing the radar footprint.
  10. The AMCA will initially be based on geometric stealth, while the material stealth can be used at a later stage.
  11. The Indian Air Force has given land to the DRDO to set up facilities for the project.
  12. The objective is to build on the capabilities and expertise developed during the   development of the light combat aircraft (LCA) and produce a medium fifth generation fighter aircraft.
  13.  There are three critical technologies that need to be developed-stealth, thrust vectoring and super cruise.
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