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Daily Current affairs 19 January 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

 

India flays Pakistani SC move on Gilgit-Baltistan

The News

• The Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan was summoned and a strong protest was lodged on recent order by Supreme Court of Pakistan on the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, which is interference in India’s internal affairs.

 

Background

• The Kashmir conflict is a territorial conflict  between India and Pakistan, having started just after the partition of India in 1947.

• India claims the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

• However, India administers approximately 43% of the region, including Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, and the Siachen Glacier.

• India's claims are contested by Pakistan, which administers approximately 37% of the region, namely Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. India calls this entire region as Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

• China currently administers the remaining 20% mostly uninhabited areas, the Shaksgam Valley, and the Aksai Chin region.

• The recently proposed China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) pass through Gilgit-Baltistan in PoK, on which Indian had raised questions.

• Some recent moves by Pakisan and a recent Pakistani Supreme Court order regarding the Gilgit-Baltistan region are creating a new tussle between Indian and Pakistan.

 

What did Pakistan do to provoke Indian protest?

• Pakistan has recently taken a series of steps to ensure full constitutional and legal guarantees to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan region.

• The people of Gilgit-Baltistan region were not given constitutional safeguards explicitly till now, but recently the Government of Pakistan ordered constitutional safeguards for the region.

• While hearing on this, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, ordered that the region of Gilgit-Baltistan comes within its ambit.

 

How did India respond?

• India issued a press note saying that the Gilgit-Blatisatn region was, and would remain, an integral part of India.

• India summoned the Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan and lodged a strong protest on recent order by Supreme Court of Pakistan and indicated that it doesn’t recognize its order, as it considers the order as interference in India’s internal affairs.

• India considers that such moves by Pakistan are coming inview of the passage of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through the region.

• India rejected the attempts by Pakistan to bring material change in these occupied territories, as it considers that such steps are only to cover up human rights violations, exploitation and sufferings of the people living there.

• India asked Pakistan to immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation.

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Section : International Relation

 

Rajasthan’s State bird may be extinct soon

The News

  • While the Great Indian Bustard is on the verge of extinction, the species has not got adequate attention with lack of progress in their recovery and conservation plans.

 

Background

About Great Indian Bustard

• The Great Indian Bustard is one of the largest flying birds in the world.

• It is also one of the heaviest flying birds that weigh up to 15 kg.

• It is considered to be the flagship grassland speciesbeing endemic to the grasslands of India.

• Further the great Indian bustard is classified as “critically endangered” in the IUCN Red List.

• Accordingly it a “schedule I species” in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, requiring similar attentiongiven to tiger in India.

• Desert National Park being the primary habitat of the critically endangered GIB, it is declared the state bird of Rajasthan.

 

Habitat

• As mentioned Great Indian Bustard is endemic to grasslands of India.

• Till 1980s, about 1,500-2,000 Great Indian Bustards were spread throughout the western half of India, spanning eleven states.

• The Desert National Park of Rajasthan is a natural habitat for the Great Indian Bustard.

• Being a ‘nomad’, the bird moves around the landscape spanning about 8,000 sq km in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district which is aptly called the Great Indian bustard arc.

• In the Thar, the Great Indian Bustard is concentrated mainly about 250 sq km of 3,162 km of the Desert National Park.

• Gujarat’s Kutch province is another home to the bird species which houses India’s second-largest bustard population.

 

Dwindling population

• While in 1980s there were about 1500-2000 GIBs, this number has dwindled to around 125 birds of which about 100 are in Rajasthan.

• The main reasons for dwindling populaion of Great Indian Bustard are:

✓ Loss of habitat due to declining grasslands

✓ Rampant poaching

✓ Renewable energy projects

✓ Lackadaisical approach in their conservation

 

Recovery and Conservation Plans

• In 2011, the bird was categorised as “critically endangered” in IUCN Red list.

• The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests prepared a species recovery programme for the Great Indian Bustard in 2017.

• The Rajasthan state government Rajasthan also launched the Project Great Indian Bustard to recover the population of the critically endangered bird. 

• Further it has been classified as schedule 1 species(endangered, threatened or of special concern) under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 with same level of protection as tiger.

 

Failure of Conservation Plans

• Though GIB is classified as ‘schedule 1’ species under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, they have not received adequate attention like tiger.

• In 2016, the Central government decided to set up captive breeding and hatchery centres in Rajasthan. 

• However captive breeding is challenging for a large bird that is easily injured by living in cages.

• Captive breeding also prolongs the time taken to reach reproductive maturity leading to very low fertility rate.

• Further it is difficult to save GIB in situ as msost of the time it’s outside the protected areas where we have no control over grazing and the laying of the pipelines, wires and roads.

 

Way Forward

• Setting up the conservation breeding centres as per the 2017 plan.

• Necessary support for setting up of breeding centresshould be extended in expeditious way including land allotment and deploying a scientist to facilitate breeding training.

• While the breeding centres take time, incubation units, which take only few weeks, should be set up in the GIB arc.

• GIB should get the highest priority in the conservation plans.

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Section : Environment & Ecology

 

Rural housing reaches only 66% target

The News

• A recent data has been released by the Ministry of Rural Development regarding houses for rural poor built under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G).

 

Pradhan Mantri Awas YojanaGramin

• Ministry : Ministry of Rural Development

• Objective: To provide pucca house to all who are houseless and living in dilapidated houses in rural areas by 2022.

• In order to meet the objective the rural housing scheme Indira Awas Yojana was replaced with Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin in March 2016.

• Under the scheme, it was proposed that one crore households would be provided assistance for construction of pucca house under the project during the period from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

• The scheme is implemented in rural areas throughout India except Delhi and Chandigarh.

• Beneficiaries: Identification of beneficiaries eligible for assistance and their prioritisation is done usinginformation from Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) of 2011.

• Funding: The cost of houses would be shared between Centre and States in the ratio 60:40 in plain areas and 90:10 for North Eastern and hilly states.

Note: This Housing for All (HFA) scheme is envisioned with the objectives of bringing a ‘Pucca house’ for every family in urban cities with water connection,  toilet  facilities,  24×7  electricity  supply  and  complete  access.

 

Highlights of the data

• Target Achieved till now:

o The PMAY-G scheme has achieved only 66% of its target to complete one crore houses.

o Only 12% of the 4.72 lakh identified landless beneficiaries had been provided land for house construction.

o Since April 2014 (including IAS and PMAY-G), a total of 1.37 crore houses have been built so far in the rural areas of the country.

• Construction time reduced: The scheme has been successful in reducing the average time of construction from 314 days to 114 days.

Related welfare schemes: Homes built under rural housing schemes are related other welfare too such as:

• MGNREGA scheme for providing jobs.

• Saubhagya programme for electricity connection.

• Ujjwala programme for LPG connection.

• Swachh Bharat Mission for toilet construction.

 

Other Rural development schemes:

• MGNREGA- to guarantee the ‘right to work’.

• Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana(PMGSY)- to provide connectivity to  unconnected Habitations as  part of a poverty reduction in  order  to ensure  sustainable management  of  the rural  roads  network.

• Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana - to  provide continuous power supply in rural India.

• Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana- creating efficient and effective institutional platforms of the rural poor enabling them to increase household income through sustainable livelihood enhancements and improved access to financial services.

• Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP)- to generate employment opportunities in rural as well as urban areas through setting up of self employment ventures.

• National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP)- to provide every rural person with adequate safe water for drinking, cooking and other basic domestic needs on a sustainable basis.

• Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin)- To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation.

 

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Section : Polity & Governance

 

Prelims Program: Atlas Work- Ross Island, Neil Island and Havelock Islands

Location:

  • Ross, Neil and Havelock Islands are present in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.

 

 

Why in news? Union Government has decided to rename these islands as follows:

  • Ross Island- Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island
  • Neil Island- Shaheed Dweep
  • Havelock Islands- Swaraj Dweep

 

Ross Island/ Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island: Earlier was seat of British Administration.

Neil Island/ Shaheed Dweep: Known for timbering operations.

Havelock Island/ Swaraj Dweep:  Known for Coral Reefs

 

Mapping of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

  • Andaman and Nicobar archipelago is composed of 265 big and small islands.
  • The Andaman Islands are the extension of the submerged Arakan Yoma Tertiary Mountain range of Myanmar and the Nicobars are the continuation of the Mentawai Islands to the south and southeast of Sumatra.
  • The main rocks of these islands are sandstone, limestone and shale.
  • These two island groups situated in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Main Islands of Andaman Islands:
    • North Andaman-( Saddle peak - Highest Peak of Andaman and Nicobar)
    • Middle Andaman
    • South Andaman- Port Blair (Capital of Andaman and Nicobar Island)
    • Little Andaman
  • Main Islands of Nicobar Islands:
    • Car Nicobar
    • Little Nicobar
    • Great Nicobar

 

 

Biggest Island:

  • Middle Andaman Islands (Andaman group)-1536 square kilometers.
  • Great Nicobar Islands (Nicobar group)-1045 square kilometers.
  • Smallest Island:
    • Ross Island (Andaman)-0.8 square kilometers.
    • Pilomillow Island (Nicobar)-1.3 square kilometers.
  • Duncan passage: Passage Separating Little Andaman from South Andaman.
  • Ten Degree Channel: Channel Separating Great Andaman group of islands from the Nicobar group.
  • The Coco Strait: Strait between North Andaman islands and Coco Islands of Myanmar.
  • Only Active Volcanoes in India present in- the Barren and Narcondam islands 

 

 

Important Facts:

  • Some of the islands are fringed with coral reefs. Many of them are covered with thick forests. Most of the islands are mountainous.
  • Most of these islands are made of tertiary sandstone, limestone and shale resting on basic and ultrabasic volcanoes.
  • Tribes: - Onge, Sentinelese, Jarawa and Andamanes of the Negroid origin, and Shompen and Nicobarese of Mongoloid descent.
  • Languages - Nicobarese, Malayalam, Telegu, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, etc.
  • Climate: The Andaman and Nicobar Island has a tropical marine climate influenced by the seasonal flow of monsoon winds.
  • Forests: The region is under dense tropical rain forests. The coastal regions have mangrove forest.
  • Coconut fruit is the staple food of the people. Fisheries, piggery are also followed.
  • The Islands are also famous for the largest and rarest species of crab, the Giant Robber Crab. It can climb the coconut trees and break the hard shell of the fruit.

 

 Note: The students are expected to mark these places on their atlas and also read about the surrounding land and water bodies.

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Section : Miscellaneous

 

India catching with the concept of ‘one nation, one grid’

Power sector in 2018:

  • The year 2018 been a really happening one for the Indian power sector, and it also managed to draw global attention.
  • In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report among 190 economies, India ranked 24th in Getting Electricityclearly demonstrating its improved performance in providing a conducive environment for businesses to operate.
  • Some major milestones were achieved and a foundation was laid to build a robust future roadmap covering the entire value chain of the power sector—generation, transmission and distribution.

 

  1. Action taken in Generation sector

Financially-stressed assets in power generation sector:

  • On the generation front, the issue of more than 34,000MW of financially-stressed assets continued to concern the conventional generation sector in 2018.
  • RBI had also issued a circular early in the year giving banks a six-month deadline to identify non-performing assets (NPAs), initiate resolution proceedings and start bankruptcy proceedings against the holders of NPAs.

SHAKTI Scheme to address it:

  • To address this issue, the government had initiated the Scheme for Harnessing and Allocating Koyala (Coal) Transparently in India (SHAKTI) to ensure coal linkage to power producers based on an auction and tariff-based bidding.

Scheme to facilitate aggregation of procurement of power:

  • In April 2018, the government also started a pilot scheme to facilitate aggregation of procurement of power (2,500MW for three years) from commissioned coal-based power plants through competitive bidding, wherein the discovered tariff was Rs 4.24 per unit and projects with aggregate capacity of 1,900MW were declared as successful bidders.

Addition of renewable energy:

  • While actions were taken to address the concern of stressed assets, 2018 also witnessed a continued focus towards addition of renewable energy—the year saw the addition of approximately 11GW of renewable generation mostly on account of solar (8GW) and wind (2GW).

New Terms and Regulations also being considered by CERC:

  • The proposed Draft on Terms and Regulations issued last year by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) for the period 2019-24 attempts to minimise some of the inefficiencies in the value chain.
  • The concept of quarterly availability linked to peak and off-peak availability for recovery of fixed charges also came as a welcome step to ensure availability of power during times of need.

 

More needs to be done:

  • In addition to the SHAKTI, far more is needed to transform the underutilised/stressed assets, including availability of domestic coal and its equitable distribution across plants.

HLEC recommendations may be considered: 

  • In addition, the government should consider the recommendations made by the High Level Empowered Committee (HLEC) regarding:
    • Allowing existing fuel linkages to be used for short-term power purchase agreements (PPAs)
    • Giving flexibility to generators to terminate in case of default by distribution companies (discoms)
    • Retiring old and inefficient generation plants and replacing PPAs with unutilised capacity of stranded assets

Trying new models to use more renewable sources:

  • Another critical ask for the future is a model where renewable sources can replace conventional sources of power, and provide 24×7 supply. For this, it is critical to explore hybrid models that can handle the infirm nature of solar and wind to provide consistent supply to the consumers.
  • Storage systems, gas-based peaking plants offer such flexibility, and policies to harness their capabilities need to be put in place.
  • New hydropower policy in the works: The government also needs to finalise the hydropower policy for supporting projects that can provide immediate support to infirm power in times of need.

Addressing inefficiencies in transfer of coal:

  • The CERC Draft Regulation for Tariff Determination failed to address the issue of grade slippage and the inefficiency observed in the transfer of coal from the mines to generating stations.
  • There is an immediate need to specify normative gross calorific value (GCV) loss between “as billed” versus “as received” to prevent passing of inefficiencies in the supply value chain to end-consumers.

 

  1. Action taken in Transmission sector

One nation, One grid:

  • On the transmission front, India is catching with the concept of ‘one nation, one grid’.
  • This is becoming possible as the disparity in prices of power purchase among regions is thinning (as is evident from spot exchange prices in 2018).

Green Energy Corridor: 

  • India is also developing the Green Energy Corridor—to connect renewable-energy-rich states to states that lack renewable energy generation potential.
  • The project is under implementation in eight states.

 

  1. Action taken in Distribution sector
  • The distribution sector still continues to be weakest link in the value chain.

Saubhagya Scheme a success:

  • In this regard, huge work done happened in 2018 with the government providing energy access to all the households in the country under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or the “Saubhagya” scheme.
  • The success of Saubhagya can be seen by the fact that 25 states have achieved 100% electrification, and only 10.48 lakh households across four states yet to be connected, as on December 31, 2018.

 

  1. Policy, Law and Regulation reforms
  • The year gone by also saw some forward-looking draft regulations and policies being issued.

The Draft Amendments to Tariff Policy proposed:

  • To cap the aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of discoms at 15%, while determining the average revenue realised (ARR) from the next financial year onwards.
  • Conversion to smart prepaid meters for large consumers and normal prepaid meters for small consumers over the next three years
  • The rationalisation of tariff categories and slab promotion of e-mobility and rationalisation of tariff slabs are also welcome steps.

Amendments to the Electricity Act:

  • They were aimed at ushering in competition through segregation of carriage and content.
  • The amendment also provided for 24×7 supply of power as an obligation.
  • Further, generation and supply of renewable energy has been kept out of the ambit of licensing, and stiff penalties for non-compliance of renewable purchase obligations by discoms have been proposed.
  • The amendment also provides for direct benefit transfer (DBT) of subsidy to the beneficiaries.

Guidelines for electric vehicles:

  • In December 2018, the government notified the guidelines and standards for electric vehicle charging infrastructure to ensure seamless adoption of electric vehicles by all.
  • The power ministry has categorised charging batteries of electric vehicles as a service, removing the requirement of a licence.

 

Issues that need to be addressed

  1. Need to reduce losses:
  • The need for loss reduction in the wake of rural electrification in far flung areas assumes great significance.
  • Also, 100% metering, auditing, billing and collection needs to be ensured from both urban and rural pockets to achieve the targets of 10% within the next three years by all discoms after the achievement of 15% levels.
  • More smart meters: The Draft Amendments to Tariff Policy may also consider implementation of smart meters across more customer segments as it will aid in remote metering and billing, implementation of peak and off-peak tariff, and demand-side management, all of which will surely make utilities more efficient.
  1. Separation of carriage and content:
  • Separation of carriage (distribution network) and content (electricity supply business) has been deferred consistently so far, with no clear roadmap.
    • This means that while a distribution company will bring electricity to consumer door, the supply and revenue recovery could be done by another company. 
  • The amendments to the Electricity Act should take cognisance of the same and provide an immediate timeline for the implementation of the same by all state electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs).
  • Smart cities could be first:
    • Smart cities could be the first ones to go in for such separation.
    • Areas such as Delhi, which already have multiple private players, can also be considered.
  1. Reduction of cross-subsidies:
  • Implementation of DBT and reduction of cross-subsidies is another lingering issue in the power sector.
  • The Make-in-India initiative can only be successful if we allow our industries to be competitive in the global market, and free them from subsidising other consumer categories.
  1. Greater participation of private sector in distribution:
  • The role of the private sector needs to be enhanced in the distribution space to improve efficiencies in the last mile.
  • The role of private players can be infused through outsourcing modes such as passport model in key elements such as revenue cycle management, operations and maintenance management, or technology deployment.
  • With the increasing IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) convergence, it is now possible to explore various remote servicing models as well for providing accurate reading and billing, data analytics for maintenance and commercial revenue enhancement.

 

Way forward:

  • While it seems that the government is on track to providing power 24×7 for all, the desired outcome lies in conversion of progressive regulations and Acts from the draft stage to implementation stage.

 

Importance:

GS Paper III: Economy

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Section : Editorial Analysis

 

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