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Daily Current affairs 30 DECEMBER 2018

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

Bioplastics: the solution to India’s plastic pollution woes?

Context

  • The bio-plastics are increasingly viewed as alternative to conventional fossil fuel-based plastic, they are not without challenges.

 

Background

  • According to CPCB data, about 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year in India.
  • Out of the 72 million tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, about 6.5 million tonnes was plastic.
  • Low level of recycling about 60% is the primary reason for high amount of plastic waste generated in Indian cities.
  • As a result biodegradable alternatives like bio-plastics are viewed as a potential solution to plastic waste.

 

About Bio-plastics

  • Bioplastic are a category of plastics derived from renewable bio-based resources.
  • Conventional plastics are made from petroleum-based raw materials, bioplastics are made from 20 percent or more of renewable materials.
  • Bioplastic can be both biodegradable and non-biodegradable.
  • Bio-plastics can also be non-biobased but biodegradable.

 

 

 

Types of Bioplastics

Depending on the feedstock used for making bioplastics there are two main types of bioplastics:

PLA (polyactic acid)

  • It is typically made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava or sugarcane.
  • The starch is comprised of long chains of carbon molecules; similar to the carbon chains in plastic from fossil fuels form a long-chain polymer (a large molecule consisting of repeating smaller units) that is the building block for plastic.
  • Hence, it is biodegradable, carbon-neutral and edible.

PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate)

  • It is made by microorganisms, sometimes genetically engineered, that produce plastic from organic materials.
  • The microbes are deprived of nutrients like nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus, but given high levels of carbon.
  • They produce PHA as carbon reserves, which they store in granules until they have more of the other nutrients they need to grow and reproduce.
  • Companies can then harvest the microbe-made PHA, which has a chemical structure similar to that of traditional plastics.
  • Because it is biodegradable and will not harm living tissue.
  • PHA is often used for medical applications such as sutures, slings, bone plates and skin substitutes; it is also used for single-use food packaging.

 

Advantages of Bioplastics

  • Reduced use of fossil fuel resources.
  • Smaller carbon footprint.
  • Bioplastics do produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastics over their lifetime.
  • Faster decomposition.
  • Bioplastic is also less toxic and does not contain bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disrupter that is often found in traditional plastics.

 

Bioplastics in India

  • In India there are 16 companies that make bioplastics.
  • In Indian case, bioplastics are those that are biodegradable.

 

Challenges

  • Bioplastics are relatively expensive.
  • PLA can be 20 to 50 percent more costly than comparable materials.
  • Since they are made from the byproducts of food crops a bioplastic carry bag could cost almost thrice as much.
  • In order to decompose biodegradable bioplastics we need industrial composter.
  • However, most Indian cities lack facilities to compost bioplastics.
  • Further the raw material used for bioplastics manufacture in India is imported mostly from Europe or China. This makes manufacture of bioplastic expensive in India.
  • While bioplastics degradation is fast in industrial composting facilities, it takes years in the natural environment.
  • This might increase the litter due to wrong perception that bioplastics are naturally decomposed.
  • Bioplastics production results in pollutants, due to the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing the crops.
  • The bioplastics also contributes to more ozone depletion than the traditional plastics, and required extensive land use.

 

Way Forward

  • Indian companies should manufacture raw material indigenously to bring down the cost.
  • Innovation in feedstock is another way to reduce the cost of industrial composting like use of ‘second-generation” and “third-generation” feedstock
  • For example, feedstock made from tapioca starch and vegetable oil is naturally compostable.
  • The most important innovation is the use of non-food crops like saw dust, organic mixed-waste etc.
  • Another feedstock is algae like it is done in Israel.
  • Further India should have a policy including sops like subsidies for electricity consumption, lower rates of Goods and Services Tax and lower import duties for bioplastic manufacturers.
  • Municipalities should step up in improving composting infrastructure.
  • Further separate recycling streams are necessary to be able to properly discard bioplastics.

 

 

 

Farmers need more than loan waivers

The Topic

  • According to SBI Research, around ₹70,000 crore will be spent on farm debt waivers till May 2019.
  • The clamour for farm loan waivers has been growing, but this “'populist” measure alone cannot be a permanent solution to mounting agrarian distress, according to experts.

 

Context

  • Since the post-reforms policy regime in 1991, agriculture has been facing multiple crises.
  • The rising pressure of population on land and agriculture, besides sluggishness in the shifting of workforce away from agriculture, has adversely affected small and marginal farmers.
  • Rising costs, drop in income and increasing incidence of indebtedness among small and marginal farmers manifested in a spate of suicides over the years.
  • A large number of small and marginal farmers are distressed as the current system of market institution doubly squeezes them, in input as well as output.

 

Present condition of Indian Farmers

  • National Crime Records Bureau statistics show more than 3 lakh farmers have killed themselves in the last two decades and indebtedness was cited as the reason for more than 55% of farmers’ suicides in 2015.
  • NSSO data show more than half of all farmers are in debt, with each household owing an average of ₹47,000.
  • In States like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where levels of indebtedness are around 90%, the average debt of a household hovers around ₹1 lakh.
  • Almost 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn and almost a quarter of all farmers live below the poverty line.
  • Census data for 2011 show the number of cultivators who own land have been overtaken by landless agricultural workers for the first time.
  • Many of these 144 million workers earn less than ₹150 a day working in the fields, and the failure to generate jobs in other parts of the economy gives them few options.

 

Why just loan waiver is not enough?

  • According to the NITI Aayog, waiving loans is not a lasting answer to the problem of agrarian distress as this step only helps a small number of farmers.
  • The number of farmers, especially the small and marginal who avail themselves of institutional loans, are very few and this is the reason that even after spending huge sums of money on loan waivers not even half the farmers are benefiting.
  • A NITI Aayog study had also highlighted the fact that in some States, about three-fourths of the farm loans were being used for consumption instead of meeting agricultural needs.
  • The Reserve Bank of India’s study, ‘State Finances: A Study of Budgets,’ released earlier this year, analysed the previous experiences with loan-waiver schemes in various States and concluded that “debt relief helps in reducing household debt but there appears to be no evidence of increase in investment and productivity of beneficiary households.

 

Conclusion

  • Experts believe it is the responsibility of the Union government to waive farm loans, but insist that it is only a “stop-gap” arrangement. Until policies are not tweaked in favour of farmers to address their risks related to production, weather-disaster, price, credit and market, the loan waiver will become a periodical instrument for temporary relief.

 

Way forward

  • As a short-term measure, farmers need to be freed of the tyranny of the middlemen by reforming the rent-seeking, anti-farmer commission agent (arthiya) system.
  • The inter-locking of the credit and the output markets is a major factor for the crises of indebtedness. The system of making payments through the commission agent needs to be dismantled to break the credit-crop nexus.
  • For a permanent solution to agrarian distress, the government should give agro-processing industry a policy push to pull rural people out of agriculture. In the long run, there’s an urgent need for integration of agriculture with industry, and that too with the involvement of the local workforce in such a manner that surpluses should be invested locally.
  • The subsidies and tax concessions which have been offered or given to the corporate sector should be given to rural entrepreneurs who are willing to start manufacturing firms that will process local raw materials and employ rural labour.
  • The transformation is possible if primary producers are integrated with both manufacturing and marketing activities for reaping surpluses generated by them.
  • The state of economy in 2018 has been one of the most topsy-turvy roller-coaster rides in recent years.

 

Situation of Indian Economy:

  • From a growth rate of just 5.6% in the first quarter of 2017-18 gross domestic product climbed steadily for four successive quarters, even crossing the 8% mark to register 8.2% in the April to June quarter.
  • GDP growth in the July to September quarter slipped to 7.1%, driven mainly by changes in India’s external trade basket owing the surge in crude oil prices.
  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s global growth estimates for 2019 have been revised downward by 20 basis points to 3.5%, but it expects India to be the fastest growing major economy in 2018-19 with a 7.5% surge in GDP. Even the Reserve Bank of India expects growth to be 7.4%.
  • The Indian rupee hit a series of record lows in 2018 and ranks as one of Asia's worst-performing currencies. After a torrid nine months of freefall, the rupee finally recovered some ground against the U.S. dollar in November.
  • Bank credit growth that had been somnolent in recent times hit a 5-year high (14.6%) in October as investment demand revived.
  • Consumer Price Inflation, which had been over the 4% comfort zone since late 2017, finally started to taper off after June, slipping to 2.3% by November, because of drop in crude oil prices that had been buoyant through most of the year.
  • While the oil price surge (and cooling off) was dictated by global geopolitical tremors, the Indian government did try to tweak key policy initiatives in a bid to stir up the domestic growth engines.
  • From rationalising the new indirect tax regime through this year, to plugging loopholes in the insolvency and bankruptcy process aimed at cleaning up the mess in banks as well as corporate India’s balance sheets — some of this has apparently paid off.

 

Way ahead

  • Despite the latest blip, growth in the first half of 2018-19 looks better than the first half of 2017-18, and if external factors like oil prices don’t play spoil sport, there is room for more.

 

Indo-US pact to develop futuristic military tech yet to deliver after 6 years

The News

  • The Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) finalised between India and the US six years ago has failed to deliver any major concrete results till now.

 

Background

  • Defense cooperation between the United States and India is a strategic priority for both nations.
  • However, the pace and scope of cooperation on defense technology and trade had been impeded by differing bureaucratic processes and legal requirements.
  • In 2012, Secretary of Defense Mr. Leon Panetta directed Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Ashton Carter to undertake an initiative to provide increased U.S. senior level oversight and engagement to get beyond these obstacles. 
  • The undertaking is referred to as the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).
  • The DTTI was initiated as an idea by former US Secretary of Defence Dr Ashton Carter in 2012.
  • Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential polls had left the Indian side concerned about the state of the DTTI because it was seen as Carter’s personal project.
  • These concerns were addressed with the passage of the National Defence Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA 2017) by the US government in which institutionalized the DTTI mechanism.
  • Despite this it seems DTTI has failed to deliver any major results.
  • This article is about the assessment of DTTI in terms of its achievement till date.

 

About The DTTI

  • The DTTI is not a treaty or a law.  Rather, it is a flexible mechanism to ensure that senior leaders from our nations are persistently focused on the opportunities and challenges associated with growing our defense partnership.
  • The DTTI aims to:
    • Transform the bilateral defense relationship into one that is limited only by independent strategic decisions, rather than bureaucratic obstacles or inefficient procedures.
    • Strengthen India’s defense industrial base by moving away from the traditional “buyer-seller” dynamic toward a more collaborative approach.
    • Explore new areas of technological collaboration from science and technology cooperation through co-development and co-production.
    • Expand U.S.-Indian business ties.
  • For the United States, the initiative is led by the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
  • In addition, there is a joint U.S.-India DTTI Interagency Task Force (DIATF) co-chaired by the Director for International Cooperation.
  • The Department of Defence also established The India Rapid Reaction Cell (IRRC) in January 2015 to focus exclusively on advancing the DTTI.
  • A number of Joint Working Groups spanning varied projects have been established under DTTI on both sides, which have identified various projects for the Armed Forces.
  • The Working Groups meet regularly to discuss and take forward the projects.

 

Projects proposed under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)

  • President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi expressed their support for the DTTI and directed that the DTTI should focus on pursuing six co-development/co-production pathfinder efforts.
  • During the Obama-Modi summit in January 2015,first four modest “pathfinder DTTI projects” were announced under DTTI namely-
    • Next Generation Individual Protection Ensemble
    • Mobile Electric Hybrid Power Source
    • Roll-on-Roll-Off kit
    • Micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
  • Later on two more projects were announced, namely-
    • Digital helmet Mounted Display
    • Joint Biological Tactical detection System
  • Two more projects were proposed by the U.S government, namely-
    • Advanced tactical Ground Combat Vehicle
    • Future Vertical Lift helicopter

 

Assessment of the projects proposed under DTTI

  • Roll-on-Roll-Off kit and Micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
    • India subsequently rejected the Raven mini-drones and “roll-on, roll-off” intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance modules for C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.
  • Next Generation Individual Protection Ensemble and Mobile Electric Hybrid Power Source
    • They were finalised but are nowhere near being the “unique and transformative military technologies” that India was looking for under the DTTI.
  • The Digital Helmet Mounted Display and Joint Biological Tactical Detection System
    • These projects were proposed in 2016 and are currently “at a discussion stage”.
  • Advanced tactical Ground Combat Vehicle (ATGCV) and Future Vertical Lift helicopter (FVLH)
    • In the first project ATGCV there is an offer to include Israel for joint development and production of Advanced Tactical Ground Combat Vehicle (ATGCV).
    • The American side also proposed bilateral development of FVLH.
    • However, the defence ministryis yet to make up its mind on it.
  • Co-production of advanced military helicopters and infantry combat vehicles as well as cooperation in aircraft carrier technologies are remaining on the table.
  • Another big-ticket project to collaborate on fighter jet engines has been nosedived.
  • India was very keen on the jet engine project, having failed to develop the indigenous Kaveri engine despite spending Rs 2,839 crore on it since 1989, but it hit an insurmountable roadblock earlier this year, as the US refused to share some key technologies.
  • A relatively smaller project to co-develop Sealink Advanced Analysis (S2A) systems to track vessels and enhance maritime domain awareness is close to finalisation now.
  • Several other deals, including the $2.1 billion one for 24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters and the $1 billion acquisition of the American National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II, are also in the pipeline.
  • The Indian Navy is interested in the EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch systems) technology for its proposed second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-II) but the defence ministry is yet to even give initial approval for construction of the 65,000-tonne IAC-II.
  • Besides, the U.S had proposed to the Defence Ministry that the two sides work on a deal for an American combat fighter aircraft, whether F-16 or F-18, under the DTTI.
  • However, the Defence Ministry expressed the willingness to choose a single-engine foreign fighter, the American F-16 or the Swedish Gripen, under Make in India to supplement the 36 Rafale fighters.
  • Despite the significance and efforts, the DTTI’s professed aim to transform the bilateral “buyer-seller” relationship into co-development and production of weapon systems has remained a pipedream.
  • Both Indian and U.S officials privately admitted “disappointment” with the progress made under the DTTI of 2012.

 

Significance of DTTI and way forward

  • India's Defence Industry is in a growing stage and looking to acquire niche technology in manufacturing Defence weapons and equipment, if implemented well this could fulfill India’s technological needs.
  • This will also give a boost to India's flagship 'Make in India' initiative.
  • It is a good forum for mutual cooperation to take ahead the defence ties between the two sides.
  • Hence, the defence leaders from both the countries should come forward for expediting the project finalization and completion.

 

Section : International Relation