30 December, 2020 - Daily Current Affairs Analysis & MCQs - The Daily News Simplified from The Hindu

  • PTS announcement
  • Explore utilisation of fly ash in cement plants: NGT (Environment & Ecology)
  • The broken bonds of democracy (Polity & Governance)
  • The tragedy of conservation - (Polity & Governance + Environment & Ecology)
  • The global angle to the farmer protests - (Indian Economy)
  • Question for the day (Environment & Ecology)

Prelims Quiz

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    UPSC Current Affairs: Explore utilisation of fly ash in cement plants: NGT | Page - 04

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment | Mains – GS Paper III – Environment 

    Sub Theme: utilisation of fly ash in cement plants | Uses of Fly Ash | UPSC

    Context: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed a Faridabad based thermal power plant to explore utilisation of fly ash in cement plants and also directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to monitor whether covering of the ash dump meets scientific environmental norms.   

    Previous year prelims question [2015]

    With reference to ‘fly ash’ produced by the power plants using the coal as fuel, which of the following statements is/are correct?

    Fly ash can be used in the production of bricks for building construction.

    Fly ash can be used as a replacement for some of the Portland cement contents of concrete.

    Fly ash is made up of silicon dioxide and calcium oxide only, and does not contain any toxic elements.

    Select the correct answer using the code given below –

    a) 1 and 2

    b) 2 only

    c) 1 and 3

    d) 3 only 

    Solution: (a)

    Which of the following is/are the characteristic/characteristics of Indian coal?

    High ash content

    Low sulphur content

    Low ash fusion temperature

    Select the correct answer using the codes given below.

    (a)  1 and 2 only

    (b)  2 only

    (c)  1 and 3 only

    (d)  1, 2 and 3

    Solution: (a)

    Fly ash

    • Fly ash is a coal combustion product that is composed of the particulates (fine particles of burned fuel) that are driven out of coal-fired boilers together with the flue gases.
    • Ash that falls to the bottom of the boiler's combustion chamberis called bottom ash.
    • In modern coal-fired power plants, fly ash is generally captured by electrostatic precipitators or other particle filtration equipment before the flue gases reach the chimneys.
    • Together with bottom ash removed from the bottom of the boiler, it is known as coal ash.
    • Depending upon the source and composition of the coal being burned, the components of fly ash vary considerably, but all fly ash includes substantial amounts of –
      • Silicon dioxide (SiO2)
      • Aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and
      • Calcium oxide (CaO), the main mineral compounds in coal-bearing rock strata.
    • The minor constituents of fly ash depend upon the specific coal bed composition but may include one or more of the following elements or compounds found in trace concentrations - arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with very small concentrations of dioxins and PAH compounds.

    Environmental harm caused by fly ash

    • Fly ash is a major source of PM 2.5and black carbon. It becomes air borne, and gets transported to a radius of 10 to 20 kms.
    • It can settle on water and other surfaces. It willcontaminate water and soil systems.
    • Fly ash contains heavy metals from coal. The wet disposal of Fly ash results in leaching of toxic heavy metals in ground water system.
    • The destruction of mangroves, drastic reduction in crop yields, and the pollution of groundwater in the Rann of Kutch from the ash sludge of adjoining Coal power plants has been well documented.

    Uses of fly ash

    Fly ash can be used as a replacement for some of the Portland cement contents of concrete

    Indian fly ash is primarily of the calcareous variety, implying that it possesses not only pozzolanic, but also hydraulic (self-cementing) properties. In contrast, European fly ash is of a silicious or class F variety, implying an absence of hydraulic properties.

    Fly ash chemically reacts with the byproduct calcium hydroxide released by the chemical reaction between cement and water to form additional cementitious products that improve many desirable properties of concrete. Compared to cement and water, the chemical reaction between fly ash and calcium hydroxide typically is slower resulting in delayed hardening of the concrete. The initial compressive strength is low but as days pass, fly ash concrete gains more strength and eventually has a lot more strength as compared to normal Portland cement.

    Fly-ash pellets which can replace normal aggregate in concrete mixture.

    In view of its alkalinity and water absorption capacity, may be used in combination with other alkaline materials to transform sewage sludge into organic fertilizer or biofuel

    Embankments and other structural fills.

    Stabilization of soft soils.

    Road subbase construction.

    As aggregate substitute material (e.g. for brick production).

    Agricultural uses: Fly ash is used as an agent for acidic soils, as soil conditioner. It improve some important physicochemical properties of the soil such as hydraulic conductivity, bulk density, porosity, water holding capacity, etc.

    Fly Ash Management

    We cannot stop thermal power plants and hence production of fly ash:

    • 12th five year plan calls for faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth.
    • India’s per capita GDP - $1965 (world average ~ $10,000)
    • HDI – 0.64 (130/189)
    • Per capita energy consumption ~ 1/5th of global average.
    • ~300 million people do not have electricity

    At the same time Climate change aggravates poverty, health issues, inequality etc. Frequency and intensity of Disaster is increasing. IPCC report has said that this is the last chance for fight against climate change. Hence there is need of management of toxic materials. Also, Indian coal has much more ash content than other countries. Diverse approaches must be needed for fly ash management.

    • It includes washing coal at its place of origin will prevent ash from coming to power plant.
    • Promoting R&D for increasing efficiency of power plants will also help in reducing ash generation.
    • 100% utilisation of fly ash.

    Fly ash usage and disposal norms by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC)

    • Mandatory for power plants to give fly ash free of cost to users within 300-kilometre-radius. It will effectively address the utilisation of fly ash. According to MoEFCC, the fly ash utilisation in the country was 57.63 per cent in 2014 as against 13.51 per cent in 1999.
    • Mandatory for cement industries, within radius of 300 kilometres of a coal or lignite based thermal power plant, to use fly ash for manufacture of the cement as per the specifications of Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The cost of transportation of fly ash is to be borne collectively by the thermal power plant and the industry concerned.
    • Construction agency engaged in construction of roads within a radius of 300 kilometers from a coal or lignite based thermal power plant would be bound to use fly ash in accordance with the guidelines or specifications issued by the Indian Road Congress.
    • Mandatory for use of fly ash bricks in construction activities happening 500 km around thermal power plants.
    • Fly ash will be used to make bricks, blocks, tiles, wall panels, cement and other construction materials.

    Recent measures taken by the government

    • The pricing of fly ash is increasingly becoming a contentious issue that is hampering its gainful utilisation.GST rates on fly ash and its products have been reduced to 5%.
    • To facilitate 100% ash utilization by all coal based thermal power plants, a web portal for monitoring of fly ash generation and utilization data of Thermal Power Plants and a mobile based application titled “ASHTRACK” has been launched by the Government that will help to establish a link between fly ash users and power plants executives for obtaining fly ash for its use in various areas.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: Electoral Bonds - Broken Bonds of Democracy (Article)| Page 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Polity & Governance | Mains – GS Paper II – Polity & Governance  

    Sub Theme: CIC - Judgment Against Disclosure | Electoral Bonds | RTI | UPSC 

    Context: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has held that the disclosure of identity of electoral bond scheme donors will not serve any larger public interest and will violate provisions of the Right to Information Act itself. The article in this reference mentions that electoral bond scheme is non-transparent, promotes arbitrariness and is therefore illegal.       

    About the Judgment of CIC

    • Maharashtra based RTI activist Vihar Durve had sought information from Central Public Information Officer, State Bank of India about scheme donors and donees.
    • The Information Commissioner held that there appears to be no larger public interest overriding the right to privacy of the donors and donees concerned.
    • Here Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act has been used as shield to withheld information by the CIC as the information was barred from disclosure on two grounds under the provision:
    • the information sought has been held in fiduciary capacity by SBI
    • there was no public interest involved in the application.

    Section 8(1)(e) of RTI Act

    • There shall be no obligation to give any citizen - information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
    • So, CPIO has the discretionary power to realise or understand whether larger public interest is served or not on disclosure of such information.
    • Thus, the concerned CPIO declined the request, stating that the names of donors being third party information and relating to their customers were held by the bank in fiduciary capacity. Therefore, the information was exempted under provisions of section 8 (1) (e) and (j) of RTI Act.

    What are Electoral Bonds?

    • Electoral Bonds are bearer instrument in the nature of a Promissory Note and are an interest free banking instrument.
    • Electoral Bond shall be issued for any value, in multiples of Rs 1000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore from the Specified Branches of the State Bank of India (SBI).
    • The purchaser would be allowed to buy Electoral Bonds only on due fulfillment of all the extant KYC norms and by making payment from a bank account. It will not carry the name of payee.
    • The Electoral Bonds would have a life of only 15 days during which it can be used for making donation only to political parties which has secured not less than one per cent of the votes polled in the last general election to the House of the People or to Legislative Assembly.
    • Every political party in its returns will have to disclose the amount of donations it has received through electoral bonds to the Election Commission.

    Demerits of Electoral Bonds

    • Identity of Donor Unknown - The electoral bonds will likely be bearer bonds but the identity of the donor will not be known to the receiver. Thus, through the disguised process of electoral bonds, the identity of the person will never be known. While the identity of the donor is captured, it is not revealed to the party or public. So transparency regarding electoral funding is not enhanced for the voter.
    • No Upper Limit for Donation - Any individual or company can make any amount of donations as there is no upper limit on donations. This will increase corruption as any money can be raised anonymously even by registering a fictitious or through shell companies.

    Strengthen Corrupt Nexus - This process of redeeming money through bonds without disclosure of name will penetrate and strengthen the nexus between corporate houses and political parties. Political parties may also start taking care of the highest bidder in such scenario and may grant them unreasonable favours which may affect our economy and business environment in the long run.   

    • Aid Corruption & Red Tapism - Business houses will expect favourable policies from the future government and the political party shall be obliged to obey when it comes to power. This nexus further increases chance of corruption and red tapism.
    • Frivolous Donations - There are loopholes to electoral bonds too. If identity of persons donating cash to political parties is not revealed, then it may lead to frivolous donations from unaccounted source.
    • Formation of Shell Companies to route funds - Persons also includes companies and organisations. Hence shell companies can be formed just to route funds to buy electoral bonds without revealing the identity of such companies. Companies are also included as person as per Income Tax Act, 1961.
    • Restrictions on existence of Company Removed - Similarly, earlier only those companies which were in existence for at least 3 years were allowed to make contributions. Such a restriction was basically laid down in order to prevent the shell companies from influencing the political parties. Even this restriction has now been removed and hence concerns have been raised that the shell companies would end up influencing the policies of the Government.
    • Corporate Funding of Elections: Earlier, the companies were prohibited from donating more than 7.5% of their average net profit over the previous 3 years to the Political parties. However, this restriction has now been removed. Going forward, even the loss-making companies could also make contributions through the Electoral Bonds.
    • Lack of Transparency: In a democratic country, voters need to be aware of how the political parties are funded in order to ensure greater transparency in the elections. However, by keeping the political donations anonymous, the electoral bonds violate the right of the citizens to know the information related to political funding.
    • Foreign Influence: The Election Commission cannot monitor the funding through Electoral Bonds as there is secrecy of donor, therefore it becomes difficult to know what is coming in is black money or not. Electoral Bonds can be misused for routing foreign money and thereby increase ability of other countries to influence Indian elections.
    • FCRA Amendment - Further, the amended Foreign Contribution Regulation (FCRA) rules enable the political parties to accept donations from foreign companies. This leaves a scope for the foreign companies in influencing Indian Politics.
    • Against Electoral Democracy - Such an arrangement goes against best practices of electoral democracy and is repugnant to the freedom of speech and expression as explained by Supreme Court in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (2003). Supreme Court held that the freedom of speech and expression also contains the fundamental right of a voter to secure information about the candidates who are contesting the election. 

    Opinion Expressed in the Article

    • According to the author, both grounds stated by the Information Commissioner (1. Information being held in fiduciary capacity & 2. There being no public interest) does not stand a bare scrutiny of law. 
    • Also, that the Information Commissioner should have interpreted Section 8 in a very narrow sense rather than giving it a liberal interpretation.
    • The Article also mentions about Section 8(2) of RTI Act which states that a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.
    • Now, this judgment to be taken under Section 8(2) is within discretional reach of the Public Information Officer while deciding cases on disclosures in public interest.
    • According to the author, public interest in the present matter to disclose information on electoral bonds is undisputable and also goes as per the Supreme Court judgment in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (2003) which stated that the freedom of speech and expression also contains the fundamental right of a voter to secure information about the candidates who are contesting the election. 
    • Author on Public Interest - The funds received by parties from donors would naturally be of interest to voters in order to understand their financing and functioning. Donations by corporate entities would also be of interest to their shareholders and potential shareholders. Therefore, the failure of the CIC in appreciating the present issue as one of high public importance and resorting to technical objections defeats the objects of the RTI Act itself.
    • Chief Information Commission (CIC) Judgment shuts future applications on Electoral Bonds.
    • Appeal against CIC Judgment – There is batch of petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is sub judice. Therefore, the CIC’s decision, if carried to the Supreme Court on appeal, may also be tagged and heard altogether.

    Conclusion & Way Forward

    The public scrutiny of parties and political candidates is an essential and inalienable part of a free and fair democratic process. By suppressing knowledge of political financing, we are breaking the basic bonds of democracy holding the country together. An unsettled law is as dangerous as bad law. The Court must conclusively settle the questions around the constitutionality of electoral bonds. 

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: The tragedy of conservation (Article) | Page–7

    UPSC Syllabus:| Prelims: Polity & Governance/Environment | Mains: GS Paper II – Polity & Governance | GS Paper III – Environment

    Sub Theme: Depriving tribals of their land |Rights of Tribals | UPSC   

    Context:

    • Since the time the Ministry of Environment and Forests began identifying the potential heritage sites, there has been unrest among the indigenous people. When the exercise began, they feared for their existence in lands that they had inhabited for decades. The restrictions on movement following the declaration of these territories as ecologically sensitive areas aggrieved them further.
    • So there is a belief among the people that India has traditionally given preference to Environment conservation over the rights of tribals.

    And that is also true to some extent. Let us understand the genesis of laws (very quickly) to understand how Indian tribals have been deprived of their land, forests and traditional rights.

    1856: 

    • We know that Railways were first introduced to India in the year 1853 from Mumbai to Thane. Increasing difficulty of obtaining adequate supplies of timber (needed for the great extension of railway lines then being undertaken) necessitated the need to have controls over forests..
    • Apart from this, The Indian teak, suitable for ship building, saved England during the war with Napoleon.

    1865: The Indian Forests Act of 1865 

    • The Indian Forests Act of 1865extended the British Colonial claims over forests in India

    1878: The Forest Act of 1878 

    • The Forest Act of 1878was introduced and it truncated the centuries-old traditional use by communities of their forests and secured the colonial governments control over the forestry. 
    • The provision of this Act established a virtual State monopoly over the forests in a legal sense on one hand, and attempted to establish, on the other, that the customary use of the forests by the villagerswas not a ‘right’, but a ‘privilege’ that could be withdrawn at will.

    1927:  The Indian Forest Act, 1927

    • In continuance with the forest use policy of 1878, this landmark law – India’s main forest law, had nothing to do with conservation.
    • It was created to serve the British need for timber.
    • It sought to override customary rights and forest management systems by declaring forests state property and exploiting their timber. 

    1980: Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed to check further deforestation and conserve forests. 4 major objectives of this act were –

    • restricting the use of forest land for non-forest purposes
    • preventing the de-reservation of forests that have been reserved under the Indian Forest Act, 1927
    • restrict leasing of forest land to private individuals, authority, corporations not owned by the Government
    • to prevent clear felling of naturally grown trees

    Recent

    • In 2012, 39 areas covering national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved forests in the Western Ghats were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
    • These sites are crucial for their biodiversity value. Ten of them are in Karnataka.
    • Since the time the Ministry of Environment and Forests began identifying the potential heritage sites, there has been unrest among the indigenous people. When the exercise began, they feared for their existence in lands that they had inhabited for decades. The restrictions on movement following the declaration of these territories as ecologically sensitive areas aggrieved them further.

    Ultimately The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood.

    But still, the award of entitlements have been very dismal.

    So according to the author: This is wrong approach

    • Assuming that denying tribals or other traditional forest dwellers their rights in the forest would serve the purpose of conservation is far from the truth.
    • Invariably, an approach adopted to isolate the indigenous people from their natural habitats to protect biodiversity is the root cause of conflict between them and conservationists.
      • The Global Environment Outlook Report 5 mentions that there is decreased biodiversity across the globe even as ‘protected areas’ have been expanding. People living in nature’s surroundings are integral to conservation as they relate with it in a more integrated and spiritual way.

    Case study:

    • The Maldhari community is a tribe of herdsmen in the border state of Gujarat. The name Maldhari means owner of goods - in this case, goods referring to cattle. The Maldharis have lived in the Gir National Park, in the Banni Grasslands Reserve area, for the past thousand years.
    • They have co-existed with the lions, which the Gir National Park was created to preserve, for these thousand years. The lions have been periodically hunting the Maldhari cattle for food, but the Maldharis understand the cycle of life. They consider the taken cows an offering to the lions, whose territory they share.

    Declaration of the Western Ghats as a World Heritage Site is as important in preserving the rich biodiversity of the region as the recognition of the rights of the people who depend on the forests. As confirmed internationally, preserving biodiversity requires the legal empowerment of the people living in those areas.

    The Forest Rights Act is an ideal instrument to push forward the objective. To realise it on the ground, the government must make an effort to build trust between its agencies in the area and the people who depend on these forests by treating them as equal citizens like everyone else in the country.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: The global angle to the farmer protests (Lead Article) | Page - 6

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Economy | Mains – GS Paper III – Economy

    Sub Theme: Farm Acts| Agreement on Agriculture | Domestic Support | Blue Box Subsidy | Amber Box Subsidy | UPSC

    Context: This article has appeared in the newspaper in the context of the recent protests over the Farm Acts. This article is highly critical of the farm acts wherein it highlights that apart from domestic firms, even the foreign agri-business firms could exploit Indian Farmers. Through the contract farming, the foreign agri-business firms could force farmers to grow those crops which they need in their own country. Once these crops are procured by them, these crops would be exported out of India. 

    This could be dangerous proposition on account of number of factors. One, it could lead to diversion of land away from food crops to commercial crops and thus affect India's food security. Two, it could expose the Indian farmers to the exploitation by the global MNCs. Third, it would weaken the procurement and distribution of food grains and thus lead to income poor support for the farmers.

    Agreement on Agriculture

    The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)  basically aims to facilitate international trade in agricultural goods by putting a cap on the agricultural subsidies given by the member countries.

    This stands on 3 pillars viz. Domestic Support, Market Access, and Export Subsidies.

    Domestic Support:

    Green Box Subsidies:  It include subsidies such as R&D, Expansion of Irrigation Facilities, Income support to the Farmers (which is not product specific) etc. These subsidies are considered to be non-distortionary in terms of International trade. In order to qualify, green box subsidies must not distort trade, or at most cause minimal distortion. They have to be government-funded and must not involve price support. There is no limit on Green Box Subsidies.

    Blue Box Subsidies:

    Blue box supports are subsidies that are tied to programmes that limit production. Hence it is an exception to the general rule related to agricultural support. The Blue box subsidies aim to limit production by imposing production quotas or requiring farmers to set aside part of their land.  Currently only few countries like Norway and Iceland provide such subsidies. There is no limit on Blue Box Subsidies. ]

    Amber Box Subsidies: Nearly all domestic support measures which distort production as well as International trade. These include subsidies Electricity, Fertilisers, Seeds, Water, MSP etc.

    Limit on Subsidies

    • Developing countries: 10% of the domestic agricultural value production in 1986-88.
    • Developed countries: 5% of the domestic agricultural value production in 1986-88

    Current Issues with the AoA

    In order to implement National Food Security Act(NFSA), the Government is required to subsidies over and above the limit specified under AoA. At the Bali ministerial conference in December 2013, India secured a “peace clause". Under it, if India breaches the 10% limit on subsidy under AoA, other member countries will not take legal action under the WTO dispute settlement mechanism. Further, in 2014, India forced developed countries to clarify that the peace clause will continue indefinitely until a permanent solution is found. Presently, India has been demanding a permanent solution on Public stockholding in order to implement National Food Security Act. 

    India's Argument against Subsidies under AoA

    • The percentage limit on the Subsidies is quite deceptive. In terms of absolute value, the developed economies have been providing subsidies far higher than India.
    • The limit on the subsidy does not factor in the Inflation. It is calculated as the value of production in 1986-88. Since then, the prices of agricultural commodities have increased.
    • Under the Green Box Subsidies, direct income support to the farmers (not linked to specific product) is allowed. This has been misused by countries such as USA. The direct cash transfers to the farmers in USA account for almost 50% of its agricultural value production.
    • Procurement of the Commodities under MSP regime is not for boosting agricultural exports, rather it is for meeting food security needs of Indian Citizens.
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