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Daily Current affairs 15 February 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

 

What NASA’s Opportunity rover achieved

The News

  • NASA has announced the formal end of its mars exploration rover mission ‘Opportunity’, launched in 2004.

About Opportunity

  • NASA launched ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’ rover missions in 2004 with the main objective of exploring the Martian surface.
  • Opportunity rover was landed at a site called ‘Meridiani Planum’ on the Mars, a possible Crater Lake of early times.
  • Opportunity rover continued exploring mars for a period of nearly 15 years travelling around 46 km on the Martian surface, the most by any rover.
  • Both Spirit and Opportunity were identical, golf-cart-sized, solar-powered rovers.
  • Both carried a tool designed to grind holes into rocks, thus revealing parts of the rock’s interior.
  • Further X-ray spectrometer of Opportunity helped to measure the chemical composition of rock samples.
  • It also had a panoramic camera for determining the mineralogy, texture and structure of the Martian surface.
  • Thermal Emission Spectrometer for identifying rocks and soils.

 

Objectives of Mars Exploration Mission

  • Study and categorise the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites.
  • Study of geologic activities water or wind erosion, sedimentation, hydrothermal mechanisms, volcanism, cratering etc.
  • Search for clues for presence of water in earlier times.
  • Assess if Martian environment was conducive to life

Achievements of Opportunity

  • Both Spirit and Opportunity found evidence for wetter and warmer past of Mars which could have supported microbial life.
  • For the first time, Opportunity rover identified and characterized sedimentary rocks on Mars.
  • Opportunity found the mineral hematite, which is usually formed in water.
  • Opportunity found bright-colored veins of gypsum in the rocks which is an evidence for river flow in the past
  • Opportunity found clay minerals formed in neutral-pH water, a friendly condition for microbial life

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Section : Science & Tech

 

SC allows Centre to retain upper hand in ruling Delhi

The News

  • Recently, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has ruled on key aspects of power tussle between Delhi government and the Centre government.

Background:

  • Delhi is an Union Territory which is administered by the Lieutenant Governor (LG) under the Article 239 AA.
  • Article 239AA of the Constitution of India granted Special Status to Delhi among Union Territories (UTs) in the year 1991 through 69th constitutional amendment by the Parliament.
  • Special Constitutional Status to Delhi (under Article 239 AA):
    • Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers responsible to such Assembly with appropriate powers of enacting laws
    • Public Order, Police & Land in NCT of Delhi fall within the domain and control of Central Government which shall have the power to make laws on these matters.
    • For remaining matters of State List or Concurrent List, in so far as any such matter is applicable to UTs, the Legislative Assembly shall have power to make laws for NCT of Delhi.
    • Council of Ministers (i.e. CM and his Ministers) are elected to aid and advise the LG in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative assembly has power to make law.
  • However, in 2014, when different parties held office at the Centre and Delhi, it started a power tussle between the two.
  • Also, this special status of Delhi got complicated when the Delhi High Court verdict declared that LG is the only decision-making authority in Delhi, which prompted the Delhi government to appeal against the orders in Supreme Court.
  • In June 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench ruled that decisions of the Delhi government will not require the concurrence of the Lieutenant-Governor, except in matters relating to Land, Home and Public Order.
  • However, the judgment was silent on matters relating to services and some other issues, which was recently dealt by a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court.

Who gets control of which department?

  • Electricity reforms and Tariffs:
    • Delhi government has power to issue directions to the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) in matters of policies involving public interest.
    • Delhi government also has right to appoint directors in the power distribution companies.
  • Power to appoint public prosecutor: Delhi government has power to appoint special public prosecutors to fight its cases. Thus, Lieutenant Governor, while appointing the Special Public Prosecutor, is to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers
  • Revision of minimum rates of Agricultural lands: Delhi government has the power of revision of circle rates of the land but LG can refer to President.
  • Anti-corruption Branch:
    • Center government's employees cannot be probed in corruption cases by Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) of Delhi government. Thus limiting the jurisdiction of the ACB to Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) employees alone.
    • The Delhi government’s quest for police powers remains unfulfilled as the bench noted that the ACB was created as a police station by the lieutenant governor way back in 1993 and that notification is still valid and has not been challenged.
    • SC held that "Public order" comes within the Centre’s jurisdiction and thus it excludes the Delhi government and concluded that the LG will have superintendence over ACB
  • Setting up of commissions of enquiry:
    • The SC bench ruled that the Delhi government is not empowered to appoint inquiry panels under the Commissions of Inquiry Act as the “state government” used in Section 2(a) of the act would not mean the Delhi government, which is a Union territory.
    • Thus the power of setting up of commissions of enquiry has been given to the Center government.
  • Transfer of officers:
    • Transfers of posting of Joint Secretary and above officers are in the domain of LG while other officers fall under Delhi govt.
    • However, in case of difference of opinion, view of LG to prevail.
  • Control of Services: Over the issue of control of services in the National Capital Territory: There was a split verdict on this matter between the two judges, thus they referred the matter to a larger bench.

Effects:

  • With the verdict not offering clarity about services, the future of close to 25,000 guest teachers could be affected.
  • It may also effect the WiFi services and doorstep delivery of ration, which is objected by the
  • In many respects, recent decision was very different from the Supreme Court’s clarification in last verdict. Thus the latest verdict could lead to a change in the dynamics of relationship between the political leadership and the bureaucracy.

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Section : Polity & Governance

 

Half of India’s waste-to-energy plants defunct

The News

  • According to a study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), nearly half of waste-to-energy plants in India are defunct.

Summary

  • Since 1987, 15 Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW) to Energy Plants  have been set up across India.
  • According to a report by Centre for Science and Environment, 7 out 15 WTE plants set up since 1987 have been shut down.
  • The mains reasons for closure of the plants are
  • Inability to handle mixed solid waste (due to lack of waste segregation at source)
  • High cost of electricity generated by them

 

Waste-Energy Plants: A backgrounder

What are Waste-Energy plants?

  • Waste-To-Energy (WTE) plants are innovative ways of converting non-recyclable wastes, organic and inorganic, into usable forms of energy including heat, electricity and fuel.
  • Different types of WTE processes include:
    • Incinerators which are used to produce usable form of heat by complete combustion of waste
    • Pyrolysis - thermal degradation of organic materials through use of indirect, external source of heat - used to convert wastes into liquid fuels
    • Anaerobic digestors - with moderate heating in the absence of oxygen - used to convert organic waste into biogas and sometimes compost
    • In-situ landfill gas recovery to produce biogas

 

Waste-Energy Plants in India

  • Waste-Energy sector is still at a nascent stage in India.
  • According to CPCB data of 2014-15, India generates about 1.5 lakh tones of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) every day.
  • However, the processing and treatment of MSW is very low, with only about 24% of the total waste generated is being treated.
  • The remaining waste is significantly adding to pollution as it is left untreated in dump sites or landfill sites.

Challenges to Waste-Energy Plants in India

  • Low level of collection and segregation of waste
  • High moisture content of the waste, making it expensive to segregate and treat
  • Low calorific value of the waste (about 1200 kcal/kg)
  • Inefficient management of MSW by urban local bodies
  • Lack of acceptance level of W-E plants among people due to perceived pollution woes
  • High cost of electricity generated from W-E plants, nearly Rs. 7 per unit compared to Rs. 3-5 offered by thermal and solar sources.

 

Way Forward

  • With growing urbanization, the MSW is expected to be 4.5 lakh tonnes per day by 2031, waste-energy plants are seen as an effective alternative to manage municipal solid waste.
  • As a result, NITI Aayog has proposed capacity upgradation of waste-energy plants by 10 fold.
  • NITI Aayog also proposed setting up of a Waste-to-Energy Corporation of India responsible for setting up incineration plants to treat MSW.

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Section : Environment & Ecology

 

Jaish chief Azhar: How China stood in India’s way

Why in news?

  • On 14th February 2019, 37 CRPF personnel were martyred in a suicide attack in Awantipora (J&K).
  • It is the biggest attack in terms of casualties that the paramilitary force has suffered in Kashmir since it took over law and order duties in the state from the BSF in 2005.
  • Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (Chief Masood Azhar) has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terrorist attack.

Context:

  • UN Sanctions Committee has already proscribed Pakistan-based JeM a terrorist organisation.
  • However, the committee has not taken any action against the organisation’s main leader, motivator and financier i.e. Masood Azhar who continues his terrorist actions unhindered.

 

About United Nations Security Council (UNSC)

  • The United Nations Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • It has 15 Members, and each Member has one vote.
    • There are 5 permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the UN General Assembly.
  • Under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.
  • The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression.
  • It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.
  • In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.

 

UNSC1267 committee

  • If a terrorist or terrorist organisation is included in this list, it helps in restricting their movement, financial penalties and assets freeze etc.
  • The Committee comprise of all the 15 members of the UNSC, which makes its decision by consensus and need consensus of each member.
  • If even a single member opposes a decision, there is no consensus.

India's attempts to list Azhar at the UNSC have been repeatedly blocked by China:

  • India had started pushing for Azhar’s listing in UNSC since 2008-09, after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks but China had been blocking it.
  • After the Pathankot attack in 2016, India again put forward a proposal to designate Azhar as a terrorist under the aegis of the UNSC 1267 committee.
  • However, China intervened at Pakistan’s behest and used its veto power to block the proposal.
  • China also employed a technical hold saying there was no consensus among UNSC members and blocked the proposal put forward by the US, the UK and France to designate Azhar as a terrorist.
  • Listing of Azhar has been one of the major items on the agenda with China during bilateral talks. However, there has not been any headway in the Chinese roadblock to Azhar’s listing.

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Section : International Relation

 

Bharat 22 ETF offer boosts government selloff kitty by Rs 10000 crores

The News

  • The government’s total divestment proceeds for the current fiscal will swell by Rs 10,000 crore after it successfully closed the second follow-on offer of the Bharat 22 exchange-traded fund (ETF).

 

What are Exchange-Traded Funds?

  • ETFs are baskets of securities that are traded, like individual stocks, on an exchange. 
  • An ETF is a basket of stocks that reflects the composition of an Index, like S&P CNX Nifty or BSE Sensex.
  • ETFs or exchange traded funds are similar to index mutual funds. However, they trade just like stocks. ETFs can be bought and sold throughout the trading day like any stock.
  • The ETFs trading value is based on the net asset value of the underlying stocks that it represents. 
  • An ETF owns the underlying assets (shares of stock, bonds, foreign currency, etc.) and divides ownership of those assets into shares.
  • ETF shareholders are entitled to a proportion of the profits, such as earned interest or dividends paid.
  • They enable investors to gain broad exposure to entire stock markets or specific sectors with relative ease.

 

Bharat 22 ETF

  • Bharat 22 comprises 22 scrips of public sector units, banks and entities in which the government holds a minority stake.
  • Bharat 22 ETF is diversified with investments across six core sectors — basic materials, energy, finance, FMCG, industrial and utilities.
  • The mechanism has proven to be a smart, effective way for the government to help meet its disinvestment targets, a key factor to keep fiscal deficit under control. 
  • The initiative is a part of the government's disinvestment program, announced by the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), Ministry of Finance and the government of India. 
  • Disinvestment is defined as the action of an organisation (or government) selling or liquidating an asset or subsidiary. It is also referred to as ‘divestment’.

Significance of Disinvestment

  • Improving the structure of incentives and accountability of PSUs in India.
  • Financing the increasing fiscal deficit
  • Financing large-scale infrastructure development, defense, education, healthcare etc.
  • For investing in the economy to encourage spending
  • Brings about greater efficiencies for the economy and markets as a whole
  • Bring relief to consumers by way of more choices and better quality of products and services, e.g. Telecom sector.

 

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Section : Economics

 

It’s a wage crisis Editorial 15th Feb’19 TheHindu

Themes of employment in India

  1. Self-exploitation has been labour market shock absorber till 1991:
  • ‘Self-exploitation’ refers to hanging out 'vella' (idle) with low or zero marginal productivity in farms, self-employment or subsistence wage employment.
  • This has been India’s labour market shock absorber since 1947 (as these people are not looking for or demanding more productive or high paying jobs).
  1. After 1991 people became more aspirational:
  • This shock absorber no longer works because Indians born after 1991 expect a living wage (that meets aspirations) rather than a minimum wage (that keeps mind and body together).
  1. Need to transition people to high productivity jobs:
  • These higher wage expectations can only be met by transitioning people to higher productivity sectors, geographies, and firms.

 

India has a wage problem not a job problem

Nearly anyone who wants a job can get a job:

  • Our current debate confuses jobs with wages.
  • Almost every Indian who wants a job has a job.

But not the job/wages they want:

  • But the issue is that they don’t get the wages they want or need.
  • This is because they work in:
    • Unviable sectors - 48 per cent of our labour force on farms generates only 13 per cent of the GDP
    • Unviable firms - our 6.3 crore enterprises only translate to 19,500 companies with a paid-up capital greater than Rs 10 crore
    • Unviable entrepreneurship - 50 per cent of our labour force is not self-employed but self-exploiting (that is, barely making any money)
    • Unviable geographies - 2 lakh of our 6 lakh villages have less than 200 people

High wages need a complex ecosystem of high productivity firms and individuals: 

  • High productivity firms and individuals will translate into higher wages in all sectors. 
  • For example, workers in service industry (like waiters) with skills similar to those in India makes 20 times higher wages because of the productivity (and wages) of the customers paying is very high.
  • But India is productive in only few sectors and geographies:
    • IT firms employ only 0.7 per cent of India’s labour force but produce 7 per cent of India’s GDP.
    • India’s 20 million manufacturing SME’s have at least 25 times lower productivity than Germany’s 200,000 mittelstand (SMEs). Similarly, the GDP of 1.2 billion Indians till 2019 was lower than 66 million Britons.
    • Even within India, there are huge productivity differences. Essentially, the GDP of 114 million Maharashtrians is more than 204 million people in Uttar Pradesh because Maharashtra is more formalised, industrialised, financialised, urbanised and skilled.

 

India’s poor economic choices brought us here:

  • A nation’s economic choices have consequences.
  • America amplified its prosperity, so much so that even a third of the people in official poverty have air-conditioning and 60 per cent have a car.
  • China has used markets to move 700 million people out of poverty since 1978.
  • Meanwhile in India, our socialist policies and licence-raj bred inefficiency. For example, in the 1980s, India’s public sector steel industry employed 10 times more people to produce half the steel of South Koreans.

 

But India is breaking with its past:

India is breaking with its past, which can be seen by the following:

  • Increasing formalisation: We have six million new registered enterprises after GST and 30 million new social security payers in three years.
  • Broad tax base: Finally, a modern state is a welfare state with a broad tax base; India has more than a crore new individual tax filers since demonetisation and GST, with a 45 per cent increase in returns with incomes below Rs 10 lakh last year.
  • Low inflation: Our new monetary policy committee and fiscal discipline have blunted inflation from 8.33 per cent in 2014 to 2.19 per cent.
  • Bankruptcy laws: Our new bankruptcy law has started recycling assets of Rs 14 lakh crore.
  • Digital adoption: Digital payments have exploded from 0.1 million the month before demonetisation to 650 million last month.
  • Improved Infrastructure: Infrastructure spending has doubled in the last five years accompanied by qualitative improvements in air connectivity, ports, highways and railways.

Youth is driving the break from the past:

  • India is no longer the same as earlier, when people were willing to wait longer, suffer more and work harder than other people.
  • The impatience of our young is changing India and her politics.
  • India’s youth recognises that a hard day’s work in a formal job provides dignity, strength, identity and purpose in addition to living wages.
  • They are no longer ready to be just dependent on subsidies or income without work.

 

Conclusion:

  • India’s challenge is not jobs but 'self-exploitation' or employed poverty. Acceptance of 'self-exploitation' in India was a form of mental bondage.  
  • While there is much unfinished work, India is changing and making good progress.
  • Rabindranath Tagore’s dream of India becoming a place where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.
  • The end of our acceptance of self-exploitation embodies a freedom that would please Tagore.

 

Importance:

GS Paper III: Economy

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Section : Editorial Analysis

 

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