9 PM Daily Brief – October 30,2020

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GS 2

1. Aser Report Analysis

2. India-US relations

GS 3

3. Farm Bill and MSP

4. New ordinance to curb Air Pollution

5. Stuble Burning Issue and Analysis


9 PM for Preliminary examination

FACTLY

1 ASER report analysis

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

Syllabus: GS-2- Education

Context: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students in rural areas have received only marginal assistance in the form of structured learning materials from teachers.

What are the findings of the Annual Status of Education Report 2020?

  • The ASER 2020 survey covering 26 States and four Union Territories found that there is a shift in enrolments from private schools to government institutions, of about five per cent over 2018, ranging from class one to higher secondary levels.
  • There is a marked rise in students not being enrolled, either because they dropped out, or because it was not possible to get admitted.
  • The survey found 43.6% of students in government schools are without access to a smartphone, while 67.3% of those who received learning materials in these institutions got them over WhatsApp. This underscores the role played by gadgets and connectivity.
  • Only about one-third of the surveyed children had access to online learning and only 11 per cent had access to live online classes.

What steps can be taken to better the situation?

  • This unsettling finding by the Annual Status of Education Report 2020 should prompt the Centre and the State governments to plan remedial measures for the future, when it will be safe again for students to return to the classroom.
  • Expanding availability of textbooks to all, including those who dropped out or are waiting to be formally admitted, will help parents and siblings aid learning.
  • Bridging the divide on educational aids by including smartphones, will enable transmission of learning materials, and personal tutorial sessions.
  • Students could use the safety of the open countryside to learn, under guidance from teachers. This is particularly feasible for lower classes, where observational learning creates a strong foundation.
  • Educational video, which has helped thousands, can advance learning even beyond the pandemic, using talented teacher-communicators.
  • States such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala have already hosted curriculum-based video lessons on the Internet, after beaming them on television.

Way forward

  • The experience of southern states in the past decades proves that investment in a public school system multiplies opportunities manifold.
  • It will take out-of-the-box thinking during the pandemic to come up with interventions that are a substitute for traditional methods and prevent 2020 becoming a zero year.

2. India-US relations

Source- The Hindu

Syllabus- GS 2 – Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Context – India-US relations over the year and significance of 3rd 2+2 Dialogue.

How India-US ties deepened with the end of Cold War?

In the post-cold war era, India’s relationship with the US on defence and strategic issues has strengthened. This can be reflected in the following:

  1. 1991- India’s engagement with the US on defence cooperation started with the 1991 Kicklighter Proposals.
  2. · 1998: Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee authorized five underground nuclear tests in response to Pakistan’s test firing of a surface-to-surface missile. This had set India and U.S at a confrontational footing.
  3. · 2005- New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship has established an institutionalized framework, With a Defence Policy Group and its four sub-groups-
    • The Procurement and Production Group.
    • The Joint Technical Group.
    • The Military Cooperation Group.
    • The Senior Technology Group.
  • Bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement 2008: Culminating a decade of partnership on civil nuclear issues, the two sides have agreed to build nuclear reactors in India. This was the time when the relationship between India and USA peaked and it was considered as a Game changer for INDO-US relations.
  • Bilateral trade: overall trade between the two countries has grown and reached $140 billion in 2018, the US is India’s largest trade partner.
    • From less than $400 million of defence acquisitions till 2005, the U.S. has since signed defence contracts of $18 billion.
  • 2016- The U.S. categorized India as “a Major Defence Partner” in 2016. It has helped that India also joined the export control regimes (Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement) and has practices consistent with the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • 2018- India was placed in Category I of the Strategic Trade Authorisation, easing exports of sensitive technologies.

Areas of growing cooperation:

  1. Quad – India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific and its distinctive inclusiveness in the region is against the premise of multilateralism that the Quad presupposes. ‘Quad’ grouping of like-minded democracies has the potential to dramatically change the region’s security landscape.
  2. Indo-pacific – The US under its Pivot to Asia policy views India as an ideal balancer to check the aggressive rise of China. Therefore, the US has formulated the concept of Indo-Pacific to counter China in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
  3. 2+2 dialogue: It is the dialogue between Indian External Affairs and Defence Ministers, and their US counterparts. The main outcomes of 3rd India-USA 2+2 dialogue are-
    • BECA – India has signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the USA. It will enable the exchange of geospatial data and information between the two countries and will improve the accuracy of India’s missiles in precision strikes.
      • BECA is one of the four foundational military communication agreements between the two countries. The other three are:
      • GSOMIA- General Security of Military Information Agreement.
      • LEMOA- Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement.
      • COMCASA- Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement.
    • India’s participation in Five Eyes meeting- India’s first-ever participation, in a meeting of the exclusive Five Eyes grouping that facilitates intelligence-sharing among the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Way forward-

India defined strategic autonomy as Non-alignment 2.0. The Indian strategic community needs to appreciate that policies cannot become prisoners of labels. The policy objective has to enhance India’s strategic space and capability.

3. Farm Bill and MSP

Source: Indian Express

GS3: Issues related to Direct and Indirect Farm Subsidies and Minimum Support Prices

Context: The recently enacted farm bills have triggered debate on the desirability of the MSP regime.

More in news: The period from 2004 to 2012 was the period of high commodity prices, high government procurement and rapid reduction in rural poverty. This shows a causal link between the high prices and decrease in poverty

What is the issue?

  •  The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) bill allow for free entry of agents (private individuals, producer collectives or cooperatives) to set up markets.
  •  This means that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other associated agencies can procure in the traditional mandis or in a new market established under this law or in their own backyard.
  •  Critics view that the dismantling of the monopoly of the APMCs as a sign of ending the assured procurement of food grains at minimum support prices (MSP).

Are MSPs irrelevant for the welfare of the farmers?

  •  According to the supporters of the farm bills the MSPs are irrelevant for most of the farmers in the country as it benefits only a small fraction of farmers (Punjab and Haryana) and procurement has remained confined to only a few crops.
  • However, it has indirectly benefited all food grain producers in the country.
  • For example, the procurement through MSP significantly exceeds the PDS requirement, this creates additional demand in the food grain market, pushing up the prices especially when the international prices have remained low.
  • The RBI’s annual report of 2017-18 on the impact of MSP-based procurement on the food prices conclusively shows that MSP is a leading factor influencing the output prices of the farm produce in the entire country.
  • Also, for rain-fed agriculturists, the only state supports these farmers (primarily cotton and pulse producers) have is that of MSPs as they are deprived of irrigation and they don’t benefit from subsidies on electricity and fertiliser.

4. New ordinance to curb Air Pollution

Source- The Indian Express

Syllabus- GS 2 – Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Context- Centre issued an ordinance to form new commission for air quality management in NRC and adjoining areas.

What is the new commission for air quality management?

Indian President has promulgated an ordinance to constitute a Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas.

  • The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020, released by the law and justice ministry
  • This commission for air quality management will replace the EPCA (environment pollution and prevention control authority).
  • Commission will be constituted for air quality management for better coordination, research, identification and resolution of problems surrounding the air quality index.
  • Area under commission– It will include representatives from Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan.
  • Composition– A Chairperson, a representative from the Ministry of Environment, members from the state of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, technical experts from Central Pollution Control Board and Indian Space Research Organization among others.

What are the powers of the commission?

  • The ordinance makes it clear that state as well as central bodies will not have jurisdiction over matters related to air pollution.
  • The commission has been given executive powers to act upon those found violating directions set by it to curb the pollution crisis.
  • The ordinance will erase the relevance of start pollution control bodies since they do not have the powers to make any autonomous decisions anymore.
  • It will also have the power to lay down parameters of air quality and emissions, issue directions to abate pollution crisis, take up matters suo moto on basis of complaints, stop power supply or take action against any entity or industry.

Penal power

  • There will be a penalty imposed for non-compliance to the commission’s orders.
  • The offence could be punishable with imprisonments upto a term or 5 years, with fine which may extend to RS 1 crore or more.
  • Offence under the ordinance shall be non-cognizable and be triable under the national green tribunal act in the court of the national green tribunal (NGT).

What are the challenges?

  1. Co-ordination problem– The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states.
  2. Rule enforcement– A major weakness, in tackling air pollution has been the inability of agencies to consistently enforce rules on the ground. For instance, factor in stubble burning or prevent pollution from thermal plants do exist, but these are often not strongly enforced always in States due to political considerations.

Issues with new ordinance-

  1. The central government has taken control over the pollution control matters in the Delhi NCR region.
  2. Limiting the adjudication to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and not any other court.

Political differences will also now play a part in the functioning of the Commission because states are not happy with the overarching powers being vested in it.

5.Stuble Burning Issue and Analysis

Source: The Hindu

GS3: Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life.

Context: New innovative method, the PUSA Decomposer, developed at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa can offer a sustainable solution for stubble burning.

What is stubble burning?

  • Stubble burning refers to the practice of farmers setting fire to plant debris that remain in farms after harvest.
  • Stubble burning is practised predominantly by farmers in north India.
  • It is to be noted that, before the 1980s, farmers used to till the remaining debris back into the soil after harvesting the crops manually.

Why farmers resort to stubble burning?

  • Advent of the Green Revolution: It resulted in increased production of rice and wheat which simultaneously increased stubble post-harvest.
  • Mechanised harvesting: Machines used in combined harvesting technique is not efficient as it left behind one-foot-tall stalks.
  • Economic reason: Due to the limited time period of 20-25 days between harvesting one crop and sowing another, Stubble burning offered a low-cost and speedy solution to farmers.

What are the negative impacts of Stubble burning?

  • Source for toxic gases: It releases harmful gases including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
  • Air pollution: It creates vast smoke blankets across the Indo-Gangetic Plains. As per TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) report, in 2019 the air pollution in New Delhi and other parts of north India was 20 times higher than the safe threshold level as prescribed by the World Health Organization.
  • Impact on crop production: It degrades soil fertility, destroys organic fertilizers and reduces ground water levels.
  • Impact on Health: Stubble burning during a pandemic could worsen the situation by making lungs weaker and people more susceptible to disease.

What are the Steps taken to control stubble burning?

Laws & Regulations

  • In 2013, the Punjab government-imposed ban on stubble burning.
  • Later, in 2015, the National Green Tribunal imposed a ban on stubble burning in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.
  • Stubble burning is an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.

Technological intervention

  • To control stubble burning NGT directed government to assist farmers by obtaining equipment like happy seeders and rotavator.

Setting up of independent Commissions

  • Recently, in Aditya Dubey v. Union of India, the Supreme Court appointed a one-man committee under Justice Madan B. Lokur to monitor and provide steps to prevent stubble burning activities in Punjab, Haryana and U.P. Haryana.
  • Presently, a permanent commission for air quality management was set up by the Union government through an ordinance. It will replace the Justice Madan B. Lokur Commission.

What is the way forward?

  • Setting up Custom Hiring Centres: it will facilitate farmers removing stubble by providing them with machinery such as the happy seeder, rotavator, paddy straw chopper, etc.
  • Innovative solutions: For example, the Union government is testing an innovative method, the PUSA Decomposer. It helps the paddy straw to decompose at a much faster rate than usual.

Technological innovations can offer a better solution for problems like stubble burning. The application of happy seeders and super SMS machines along with innovative solutions like PUSA Decomposer will not only reduce air pollution bur also increase soil fertility and agricultural productivity


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