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Daily Current affairs 15 January 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

Water desalination plants harm environment: UN

The News

  • According to a study backed by UN, though desalinization is a necessity to manage water scarcity globally, it is fraught with ecological challenges mainly due to discharge of Brine.

Background

Desalination

  • Globally around 1.5 to 2 billion people live in areas of physical water scarcity.
  • To tackle the problem of global water scarcity, desalinization plants are on the rise with about 15,906 operational plants in 177 countries.
  • Almost half of the global desalination capacity is located in the Middle East and North Africa region which lack renewable water resources.
  • However the main issue with desalinization plants is that for every litre of freshwater it produces, desalination plants also produce about 1.5 litres of brine.
  • The brine so produced has severe ecological effects on the marine environment according to a study by UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

Brine and Desalinization plants

  • Brine refers to all concentrate discharged from desalination plants.
  • It is highly concentrated salt water ‘hyper-salty water’, comprising of about 5% salt compared to 3.5% salt in global sea water.
  • As shown above for every litre of freshwater it produces, desalination plants also produce about 1.5 litres of brine.
  • The anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process use toxic chemicals like copper and chlorine which are of major concern.
  • Globally about 80% of brine is produced within 10 km of a coastline.

Harmful Effects of Brine

  • As 80% of brine is produced within 10 km of a coastline, desalination plants near the ocean most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment.
  • This greatly raises the salinity of the receiving seawater.
  • Further the oceans are polluted with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process including copper and chlorine.
  • This depletes dissolved oxygen in the receiving waters
  • High salinity and depleted dissolved oxygen levels severely impact benthic organisms including shellfish, crabs and other creatures throughout the food chain.

 

Way Forward

  • Alternative sources of water such as fog harvesting to aquifers below the seabed should be explored to deal with water scarcity
  • Further brine discharged into sea water can be alternately used in aquaculture with increases in fish biomass of 300%. 
  • Brine can also be used to irrigate salt tolerant species such as Spirulina.
  • Brine can also be used to generate electricity.
  • Further large amount of salts and metals contained in brine can be mined.

About UNU-INWEH

  • The Canada-based UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health is a member of the United Nations University family of organisations.
  • It is the UN think tank on water, created by the UNU Governing Council in 1996.
  • Its mission is to help resolve pressing water challenges of concern to the UN through knowledge-based research to generate scalable solutions.

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Section : Science & Tech

 

Coercion used for toilet construction: survey

The News

  • According to a study on open defecation in 4 northern Indian states, the increase in the number of toilets constructed has not proportionately translated into reduction in open defecation.

Background

  • The Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) spearheaded the study named “Changes in open defecation in rural north India between 2014 and 2018”.
  • In the study the researchers conducted an outcome studied of the impact of Swacch Bharat Mission in 4 states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • The study included survey of over 9,812 people and 156 government officials in 2018.

Key Findings

Construction of Toilets has not translated to reduction in open defecation

  • According to the survey, the toilet ownership in the states under study increased from 37% in 2014 to 71% in 2018.
  • However 44% of them still defecate in the open.
  • In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh 53% and 25% respectively were estimated to be defecating in the open.
  • Further about 23% of those who own a latrine still defecated in the open, a figure that has remained unchanged since 2014.
  • 40% of households with latrine and 56% of all households had at least one family member defecating in the open.
  • In conclusion, while the stress is on latrine construction, use of latrines is not.

Failure of Swacch Bharat Mission in bringing about behavioural change

  • The study indicated that self-constructed toilets are more likely to be used
  • According to estimates, households that built their own latrines were 10% more likely to use them than others.
  • While 12% of all respondents reported coercion in their own households, 56% were aware of some coercion in their village
  • The coercive methods used toilet construction included fines, threat of denial of benefits, stopped from open defecation.
  • Further the Adivasis, Dalit households were more likely to face coercion.
  • This shows that the idea of purity-pollution is still rampant in India and thus the failure of community-led action plan like SBM.
  • Further Hindu households with latrines were more likely to defecate in the open than Muslim households.
  • This could be because Hindu households with smaller pits require frequent emptying which is associated with ‘caste impurity’.

Manually-Scavenged single pits are still preferred

  • About 40% had single pits, while twin pits were observed in only 25% of latrines.
  • Only 31% of the latrines had a containment chamber which is the most expensive of all toilet designs.

Problem with the study

  • The main issue raised by The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is the survey’s sample size and definitions.
  • Accordingly the study does not reflect the ground reality.
  • While Swacch Bharat Mission covers a population of nearly 5 crore households and 2.3 lakh villages in the four States, the survey was only based on 1,558 households in 157 villages.
  • The community action such as sanctions on open defecation from local level bodies like Nigrani Samitis and Gram Panchayat may not be considered as coercion.

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Section : Social Issues

 

Helping build urban houses faster, cheaper

The News:

  • Recently, the Center has launched Global Housing Technology Challenge (GHTC) among stakeholders, a move aimed at introducing best technologies that seek to construct houses in a shorter period of time with lower cost.
  • The Centre will offer about ₹150 crore as a technology innovation grant to build 6,000 homes in a cheaper, faster and better.

Context:

  • PMAY-U was launched in June 25, 2015, with a target of providing 1.2 crore houses by 2022.
  • However, only around 8 lakh houses have been constructed under PMAY-U which does not even account for 10 per cent of the revised ministry target.
  • Thus, to accelerate PMAY-U's target of providing ‘housing for all, Global Housing Technology Challenge (GHTC) has been launched.

About Global Housing Technology Challenge (GHTC)

  • The Challenge is a part of the technology sub-mission of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Urban (PMAY-U).
  • Aim: To accelerate PMAY-U's target of providing ‘housing for all.
  • Focus: Identifying and mainstreaming proven demonstrable technologies for lighthouse projects and spotting potential future technologies for incubation and acceleration support through ASHA (Affordable Sustainable Housing Accelerators).
  • Four parameters: Time, Cost, Quality, and Sustainability.
  • The challenge will invite ideas from across the globe for alternative technologies that go beyond the brick-and-mortar building model used widely in Indian construction.
  • The winning technologies would be used to build mass houses, in a tie-up with the states under the affordable housing project vertical of PMAY-U.
  • Such houses will be constructed in varying geo-climatic zones across the country.
  • Finance: State and Central government will assist with ₹1.5 lakh each, also an additional technology innovation grant of ₹2.5 lakh for each house will be provided by Central government.
  • Issue: The use of innovative technologies will be optional for use, and there is no guarantee they will be adopted by private or government builders, or even used to construct PMAY homes. Thus, there is need of mindset change also.

Advantages of Innovative Technology Buildings V/s Conventional Building

  • Cost savings
  • Minimize impact on environment
  • Enhanced health & productivity of occupants
  • Speedy construction
  • Community & social benefits
  • Lower energy costs and maintenance costs
  • Improved space utilization
  • Increased occupant comfort

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Section : Social Issues

 

Citizenship Bill: Chakma and Hajong communities in a spot

Why in news?

  • The Chakma community is facing protests in Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram , after the recent passage of Citizenship (Amendment) bill in Lok Sabha.

Background

  • After hearing a plea from the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas, Supreme Court in 2015, directed the Centre to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajongs.
  • Following this, the Centre introduced amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955. and brought Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.
  • The Bill seeks to grant citizenship to six minority communities i.e. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians without valid documents from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of stay in India.
  • The bill was recently passed in the Lok Sabha on 8 January, 2019.

Note: Though cleared for citizenship now, they can't own land in Arunachal and will have to apply for Inner Line Permits

Why protests?

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed in Lok Sabha on 8th January 2019.
  • The bill if passed by Parliament will also give citizenship rights to Chakmas and Hajongs refugees.
  • Thus, they are facing opposition in the refugees' main home state of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, on claims that the move will change the demographics of the mostly tribal state.
  • Other N.E. states are also protesting against this Bill fearing threat to their cultural and linguistic identity. It will also defeat various other regulations like Assam Accord and Naga Accord.

About Chakmas and Hajongs:

  • From where did they came?
    • Chakmas and Hajongs came to India from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), having lost their homes and land to the Kaptai dam project (Karnaphuli river) mid-1960s.
    • They also faced religious persecution Out of those who reached India, some stayed in Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram) and others moved to present day Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Religion: Chakmas are Buddhists, while Hajongs are Hindus
  • Language: Chakmas' is close to Bengali-Assamese; Hajongs speak a Tibeto-Burman tongue written in Assamese

 

  • They are found in northeast India, West Bengal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

 

Other issues involved with the Citizenship Bill, 2016:

  • Against Assam accord: This will breach the clauses of the historic Assam Accord, which states that all illegal foreigners who came to the state after 1971 from Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion, have to be deported.
  • Non-Secular: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 imagines India as a Hindu homeland, which is a refutation of the constitutional idea of the republic. It has been seen by experts as a move to endorse Hindus from Bangladesh who migrated to Assam after 1971.
  • Against Article 14: The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
  • Cancellation of OCI: The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences.

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Section : Polity & Governance

 

New quota and basic structure

The news

  • The 10% quota for economically weaker sections has been challenged in the Supreme Court on grounds of violating the ‘basic structure’ of Constitution.

 

Background

  • The 124th Constitutional Amendment has been recently passed by the parliament.
  • This amended two fundamental rights:
  • Article 15
    • The Bill seeks to add clause 15 (6) which permits the government to provide special provisions for the advancement of “economically weaker sections”.  
    • Further, up to 10% of seats may be reserved for such sections for admission in educational institutions except minority educational institutions. 
  • Article 16
    • The Bill seeks to add clause 16 (6), which permits the government to reserve up to 10% of all posts for the “economically weaker sections” of citizens.
  • It also makes a note of the Article 46, which asks the government to promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society.
  • Thisconstitutional amendment has been challenged by an NGO, Youth for Equalityon the ground of violating the basic structure of the Constitution.
  • This article explains the relation between 124th constitutional amendment and Basic structure doctrine.

 

Evolution of concept of Basic Structure

  • The idea of basic structure was originally suggested by Justice M Hidayatullah& Justice J R Mudholkar in Sajjan Singh (1965).
  • It has been borrowed from Germany.
  • In Shankari Prasad (1951) and Sajjan Singh (1965), SC conceded absolute power to Parliament in amending the Constitution.
  • In Golaknath (1967) held that Parliament does not have the power to amend the Constitution.
  • In KesavanandaBharati (1973), the Supreme Court held that Parliament can amend the Constitution but does not have power to change its “basic structure”, which is yet undefined.
  • From the various judgements, the following have emerged as elements of theBasic structure:
    • Supremacy of the Constitution, Sovereign, democratic and republican nature of the Indian polity, Secular character of the Constitution, Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary and federal character of the Constitution.
    • Unity and integrity of the nation, Welfare state (socio-economic justice), judicial review, harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, Principle of equality, Independence of Judiciary, and Limited power of Parliament to amend the Constitution, etc.
  • Significance of Basic structure doctrine
    • It works as a safety valve against majoritarianism and authoritarianism.
    • It safeguards citizens’ liberties and preserves the ideals on which the Constitution is based.

 

Application of Basic structure doctrine on 124th constitutional amendment

  • To decide any element of basic structure, the Supreme Court looks into the intent of the constitution makers for any provision of the constitution.
  • For the intent of reservation under article 15 and 16 the Supreme Court can look into the basic philosophy behind reservation.
  • All the provisions related to the reservation whether, article 15, 16, 17, 46, 338, 338 (A), 339 and 335 are based on social and educational backwardness and not on economic backwardness.
  • While the 124th Amendment makes departure from social and educational backwardness by extending reservation to the economically disadvantaged.

 

Violation of basic structure by 124th amendment

  • To determine this, the Supreme Court has to examine the principles on which affirmative action is based.
  • Firstly, as per M Nagraj (2006), the amendment act has to justified on following grounds-
    • Quantitative limitations such as violation of the 50% ceiling for all reservations taken together.
    • Exclusion of creamy layer or qualitative exclusion.
    • Compelling reasons such as backwardness of the economically weaker sections for which this reservation has been made.
    • Overall administrative efficiency is not obliterated by the new reservation.
  • Secondly, Supreme Court will examine if the amendment alters the identity of the Constitution.
  • Equality has to be maintained in order to protect identity of the constitution.
  • This would require that the state’s decision is rational and non-arbitrary.
  • The amendment can only sustain if SC doesn’t considers past injustices and social backwardness necessary for affirmative action.
  • The government has to provide empiral evidences to prove backwardness of advance classes, as it was done by Mandal commission.

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Section : Polity & Governance

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