Daily Current affairs 4 January 2019UPSC - Daily Current Affair
Flow of electricity across South Asian borders:
- Recently, the Union Ministry of Power issued a memo that set the rules for the flow of electricity across South Asian borders.
- They represent a concession to India’s neighbours in an area of political and economic importance.
- India has thus signalled that it is serious about working with neighbours on the issues that should form the basis of 21st century South Asian regionalism, such as electricity trade.
- It is important as it leads South Asian electricity trade in progressive directions.
Idea of electricity trade in South Asia has been gaining momentum for a while:
- Ideas of tying South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries together with cross-border energy flows began to gain steam with substantial power trade agreements between India and Bhutan (2006) and Bangladesh (2010).
- These were driven by India’s need for affordable power to fuel quickened growth in a recently liberalised economy.
Idea peaked around 2014:
- The idea peaked in 2014 with the signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and the India-Nepal Power Trade Agreement in quick succession.
- Indian government in 2014 was keen on regional cooperation, and these agreements imposed not many restrictions on trade.
- It laid laid the contours of an institutional structure that would allow private sector participation and facilitate market rationality in electricity commerce.
- At the Fifth SAARC Energy Ministers’ meeting that year, Indian Power Minister spoke of a ‘seamless SAARC power grid within the next few years’.
But India changed position in 2016 and put many restrictions on power trade:
- Yet, in 2016, the Indian Union Ministry of Power released guidelines that imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.
- The guidelines prevented anyone other than Indian generators in the neighbouring country, or generators owned by that country’s government, from selling power to India. This excluded the many privately held companies, particularly in Nepal, that had hoped to trade with India. In restricting access to the vast Indian market, the economic rationale for Nepali hydropower built for export was lost.
- Bhutan was worried about a clause that required the exporting generation companies to be majority owned by an Indian entity. This created friction in joint ventures between India and Bhutan. Bhutan also fretted about limited access to India’s main electricity spot markets, where it would have been well placed to profit from evening peaks in demand.
- Bangladesh had sensed an opportunity to partially address its power crisis with imports from Bhutan and Nepal routed through Indian territory but the guidelines complicated this by giving India disproportionate control over such trade.
- There was a strong undercurrent of defensiveness in the guidelines of 2016.
- They seemed to be a reaction to perceptions of increased Chinese investment and influence in the energy sectors of South Asian neighbours.
New 2018 guidelines are now again pro-trade:
- After two years of protests from neighbours, the new guidelines resolve all these issues and restore the governance of electricity trade to a less restrictive tone.
- The revision is a response to two years of pressure from neighbours, particularly Bhutan and Nepal, to drop trade barriers put up in 2016.
- The new guidelines meet most of their demands, that were timed to coincide with the recent visit of Bhutan’s new Prime Minister.
- India seems to have acknowledged that the strings of economic interdependency created by such arrangements have the political benefit of positioning India as a stable development partner.
- Trade can enable a greener grid:
- A liberal trading regime is in India’s national interest.
- As India transitions to a power grid dominated by renewables, regional trade could prove useful in maintaining grid stability.
- India's major commitments to renewables means they could amount to half of India’s installed power within a decade.
- It has prompted justifiable concerns about stabilising the grid when the sun goes down or in seasons when renewables are less potent.
- Harnessing a wider pool of generation sources, particularly hydropower from the Himalayas that ramps up instantly as India turns on its lights and appliances after sunset, could be an important instrument in achieving a greener grid.
- Nepal and Bhutan have long recognised that their prosperity is tied to the sustainable use of vast hydropower reserves.
- Create a true regional market:
- The new guidelines are a tentative first step towards the creation of a true regional market in which generators across the subcontinent compete to deliver low-cost, green energy to consumers.
- The new guidelines are a significant step in this direction because, for the first time, they allow tripartite trading arrangements, where power generated in a country is routed over the territory of a neighbour to be consumed in a third.
- This is a crucial move towards the evolution of complex, multi-country market arrangements.
Way ahead - Regional institutions to manage electricity trade:
- Regional multi-country markets require the construction of regional institutions that absorb the politics and manage the technicalities of electricity trade.
- At present, this function is managed by the Indian state because of its geographic centrality and the ready availability of institutions that manage its domestic power sector.
- As volumes increase and experience in regional trade grows, South Asian nations might feel the need to build joint, independent regional institutions that present clear and stable rules of the road.
GS Paper II: International Relations
The new electricity guidelines by India enabling regional electricity trade in South Asia are a first step towards creating a true regional market. Comment.
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Section : Editorial Analysis
Why in news?
- Trump took a jibe at PM Modi for funding a "library" in Afghanistan, saying it is of no use in the war-torn country as he criticised India and others for not doing enough for the nation's security.
- Trump hinted, without saying so explicitly, that India, Russia and Pakistan should send troops there.
- Rejecting US President Donald Trump’s jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for funding a library in Afghanistan, India said that developmental assistance can play a major role in transforming the war-ravaged country
India's assistance to Afghanistan:
- India’s partnership with Afghanistan was built on the specific requirements worked out with the Afghan government.
- India has been implementing a range of mega infrastructure projects as well as carrying out community development programmes in Afghanistan as per requirement of its people. Such assistance would go a long way in making the country economically empowered and stable.
- With its assistance exceeding $3 billion, India is the largest donor to Afghanistan in the region.
- India seeks to build capacities and capabilities of Afghan nationals and its institutions for governance and delivery of public service, develop socio-economic infrastructure, secure lives and promote livelihood.
- The government sees its partnership with Afghanistan as based on five pillars:
- Infrastructure projects
- Humanitarian assistance
- Capacity-building and
- Economic development.
India's Development projects in Afghanistan
- India’s infrastructure projects, like the Zaranj-Delaram road and Salma Dam, which has been generating electricity since 2016 and releases water to irrigate 75,000 hectares of land, have generated a lot of goodwill with locals.
- India also sees the new Afghan Parliament, built with Indian support, as a symbol of common democratic traditions.
- A significant addition to India's development portfolio in Afghanistan is the Small Development Projects (SDP) scheme, in the fields of agriculture, rural development, education, health, vocational training, etc.
- The Small Development Projects are implemented in three Phases- under I & II phase (total commitment of US $ 20 million) 132 projects at a cost of approx. US $ 19.5 million were approved (94 projects completed).
India's stand on Deploying military personnel in Afghanistan:
- While India remains open to supplying military equipment and has even gifted attack choppers to the government in Kabul, the government has steadfastly maintained that it won’t put boots on the ground.
- India has consistently resisted deploying active military personnel except as part of UN missions.
- India does not send its armed forces abroad except under “the specific mandate of UN Peacekeeping operations”.
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Section : International Relation
Why in news?
- The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) decision to seek explanation from the Tantri for performing purification rites at the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in the wake of the entry by two women in the restricted age group has kicked up yet another controversy.
About Sabrimala Temple
- Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Kerala
- The Sabarimala shrine is an ancient Hindu temple of Lord Ayyappan, who is also known as sasta or Dharmasasta.
- The temple is a prominent pilgrimage site among the Hindu devotees in the state of Kerala.
- Sabarimala is the second largest seasonal pilgrimage after the Islamic holy site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
- An estimated 3.5 crore Hindu pilgrims visited the shrine in 2017.
- The temple used to prohibit women aged between 10 and 50 from undertaking the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, which means women are banned from even making the arduous trek to the shrine.
- The ban on ‘menstruating women’ was enforced under Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules 1965.
- The restriction finds its source in the legend that the Sabarimala temple deity, Swami Ayyappa, is a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’ and should not be disturbed.
- The recent Supreme Court verdict in September 2018, opened the doors of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala to women of all ages.
- However, recently Tantri (chief priest) Kandararu Rajeevararu closed the sanctum sanctorum for performing the purification rites in the wake of official confirmation of the entry of two young women into the temple.
- The board has decided to seek explanation from the Tantri for closing the sanctum sanctorum for performing purification rituals without obtaining the TDB’s permission.
Who is a Tantri (according to Experts)?
- According to experts, the position of the Tantri at a temple is sacrosanct and he is the final authority on matters relating to temple rituals, rites, practices and ceremonies.
- Tantrihood is a hereditary right and the tantrihood at Sabarimala is the paternal hereditary right of Thazhamon Madhom near Chengannur.
- Neither the government nor the Temple Board can dismiss or remove him as he was not their employee.
- Tantri can vacate the position on his own, if he desires so, and hand over charge to another eligible person in his family.
Who is a Tantri (according to Government of India publication)?
- According to the `Temples of Kerala’, a Government of India publication on the history of temples, the Tantri is the high priest who gives life to the deity (`jeeva-aavahana’) during the idol installation ceremony (praana-prathishta). The `jeeva-aavaahana’ to the idol at the time of idol installation is supreme, the book says.
- The Tantri has to perform special rites and the temple custodian is supposed to offer him `dakshina’ for the same and it cannot be treated as salary or remuneration.
- The Tantri is selected by the temple authority to perform the idol installation and he becomes the authority on ritualistic matters, once the idol installation process is completed. The Tantri is thus treated as the representative of the deity.
- There is yet another rite of taking oath to fix various procedures (`niyamom-nischayickal’) for the day-to-day functioning of the temple. Once it is decided, it is the bounden duty of all to strictly adhere to it
Note- Similar oaths were taken at the Ayyappa temple too during the idol installation held in 1908 and 1951.
What does the Temple board says?
- The TDB, being the owner and custodian of the Ayyappa temple, has every right to remove Tantri too.
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Section : Social Issues
- A survey of childcare homes in India by Childline India Foundation, has highlighted the gross inadequacies of these institutions in country.
- Childline India Foundation has conducted a pan-India survey of 9,589 childcare institutions.
- Recently in August 2018 the union government in its affidavit to Supreme Court had submitted data on child abuse in childcare institutions in the country in the aftermath of rampant child abuse incident of Muzaffarpur shelter homes.
- Now in its final report, ‘Mapping and Review Exercise of Child Care Institutions’, the Childline India Foundation has highlighted glaring inadequacies in childcare institutions in India.
Childcare institutions in India
- India has around 3,68,267 children in need of care and protection in the country.
- Out of this, 1,98,449 are boys, 1,69,726 are girls and 92 are transgenders.
- There are 9,589 child care institutions in India.
- The categories of children living in these child care institutions included orphans, abandoned, sexually abused, victims of child pornography, minors who were trafficked for domestic work or labour, those affected and infected by HIV and AIDS as well as those affected by natural disasters.
- Besides destitute children, about 9,382 children in such homes are in conflict with law Juvenile Justice Act.
- About 3,071 homes (32 per cent) were registered under the Juvenile Justice Act and 1,487 homes (15 per cent) had applied for registration under the Act.
- Further there are around 33 per cent unregistered child care institutions in the country.
Inadequacies in Childcare Institutions in India
- Lack of Trained Personnel
- According to the report only 46.7% of the total homes had adequate number of caregivers per child.
- Further only 28.7% childcare centres were capable of catering to inmates showing signs of hunger or illness.
- Only 65.9% of these homes were equipped to supervise children under trauma.
- Lack of Infrastructure
- Infrastructure is a major problem for childcare institutions in India with more than 1,000 homes not even having a dormitory for children.
- Further the childcare institutions are fraught with issues like poor safety and security measures, inadequate monitoring with lack of regular inspection facilities.
- Only about 20% of these institutions made some efforts to trace parents of missing children.
- Only 37% children in these institutions were restored to their families respective.
About Childline India Foundation
- Childline India Foundation is the nodal agency of the Ministry of Women and Child Development for setting up, managing and monitoring the CHILDLINE service in India.
- CHILDLINE 1098 service is a 24 hour free emergency phone outreach service for children in need of care and protection.
- Childline India Foundation is responsible for establishing the CHILDLINE service in the cities/districts of the country, monitoring of service delivery and finance, training, research and documentation, creating awareness, advocacy as well as resource generation for the service.
- It also functions as a national centre for awareness, advocacy and training on issues related to child protection.
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Section : Social Issues
- The Union Cabinet cleared a proposal to set up a high-level committee to look into the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985.
Background for the current proposal of committee
- In an order Home minister noticed that there are a lot of requests from the Assam government and AASU for the furtherance of clause 6, as it “wasn’t fully implemented”.
- It also comes at a time when the National Register of Citizens(NRC) is being updated and the Centre is trying to introduce a contentious Bill on citizenship.
- Actually, the Bill, which proposes to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from three countries including Bangladesh, has divided residents of Brahmaputra Valley (mostly anti-Bill) and Barak Valley (pro-Bill).
- The Bill has created fear among the indigenous Assamese people that their rights will be infringed.
- Hence, Clause 6 is significant, to counter the fear of Indigenous people, especially in the context of the NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
- Therefore, the Central government has proposed to set up a committee to look into the full implementation of clause 6.
About Assam Accord and its clause 6
- Assam Accord, 1985 came at the culmination of a movement against immigration from Bangladesh.
- For recognition as citizens, the Accord sets March 24, 1971 as the cutoff.
- Immigrants up to this cutoff date would get all rights as Indian citizens.
- Therefore, Clause 6 was inserted to Assam Accord in order to safeguard the socio-political rights and culture of the “indigenous people of Assam”.
- Clause 6 reads: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
Who are the “Indigenous people of Assam”?
- Most stakeholders agree that the NRC of 1951 should be taken as the cutoff for defining “Assamese people” eligible for the proposed safeguards under clause 6 of the Assam accord.
- 1951 cutoff was also the conclusion reached by a sub-committee constituted in 1998 headed by G K Pillai, then Joint Secretary (Northeast) in the Home Ministry.
- It was also recommended in a report prepared by former Assembly Speaker Pranab Gogoi following consultation with 53 organisations representing various communities.
Difference between Indian citizen and indigenous Assamese people
- The updation of NRC is based on March 24, 1971, which defines citizenship.
- Clause 6 relates to “Assamese people”.
- Therefore, if 1951 be accepted as the cutoff, it would imply that those who migrated between 1951 and 1971 would be Indian citizens, but would not be eligible for safeguards meant for “Assamese people” under clause 6.
Steps taken till date in accordance to clause 6
- The Assam government website, describes a number of steps as part of the implementation of Clause 6.
- It includes:
- Cultural centres and film studios
- Financial assistance to historical monuments and xatras (Vaishnavite monasteries)
- In 1998, the Home Ministry set up the sub-committee under G K Pillai
- In 2006, the state government set up a committee to help define “Assamese”
- In 2011, it constituted a Cabinet sub-committee to deal with Clause 6
- Some steps have been taken in the past to fulfill the commitment given in Clause 6 but state government and AASU have repeatedly stated that this clause remains to be implemented fully.
Highlights of the new proposed committee
- The Union Cabinet cleared a proposal to set up a high-level committee to look into the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985.
- The committee would examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement Clause 6.
- It would hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the quantum of reservation of seats in the Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people.
- It will also assess the steps required to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, reservation in state government jobs, and other measures.
- The proposed committee would seek to define “Safeguards” under clause 6 of the Assam accord.
- It would look into the various views regarding those safeguards as following-
- “Safeguards” as reservation of electoral seats, and land and political rights.
- Apart from these, if safeguards should also include rights over natural resources and protection of culture of the indigenous people.
- It could look into the provisions for purchase of land, and for getting jobs, etc.
Criticism of the move
- The Student’s union of Assam has described it as an effort to mislead people before pushing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
- It says that on the one hand, they are killing the Assam Accord by bringing in the Bill, and on the other, they are making announcements for implementing Clause 6.
- It considered the bill politically motivated just to lure the Assamese people.
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Section : Polity & Governance
- In a step towards equipping the Indian Air Force with battle-ready version of Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, the Aeronautical Development Agency has granted the FOC (final operational clearance) for its production.
- The Aeronautical Development Agency has now granted the final operational clearance for production of a lethal battle-ready version of LCA.
- While the 1st first aircraft in the new version is slated for delivery by end of 2019, the plan is procure 16 the middle of 2020.
- The Indian Air Force (IAF) issued a tender to HAL in December 2017, for the procurement of 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft with a target of producing eight Tejas LCA per annum.
- While the order for 40 aircraft was placed in 2017, the fighter is still not combat worthy has been waiting for operational clearance since then.
- Even the CAG report had pointed out several deficiencies in the fighter stating that the LCA does not meet air force specifications and not combat ready.
- Further out of 40, 20 will be in the advanced battle-ready format.
- Now that the FOC is granted, the battle-ready version is slated to be delivered to Indian Air Force by end of 2019.
About Tejas Light Combat Aircraft
- The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft is a 4th generation supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multirole light fighter aircraft.
- Tejas was conceived in the early 1980s to replace the Russia-made MIG 21 of the Indian Air Force.
- The LCA is being designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency.
- The combat-ready version of the fighter comprise of battle-time requirements such as mid-air refuelling, AESA radar, electronic warfare suites, bombs and weapons etc.
- India does not have even a single squadron of the indigenously produced fighters.
- In contrast, both China has fifth generation fighters already in the test flying stage.
- Pakistan also has an operational indigenously built fighter jet, JF 17 developed with Chinese assistance.
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Section : Defence & Security
World pushing towards greater renewable energy:
- The World Bank’s recently released its report - ‘Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE)’.
- The report highlights that many of the world’s largest energy-consuming countries have significantly improved their renewable energy regulations since 2010.
- A regulatory push towards renewable power has resulted in quadrupling of renewable power capacity in the last decade, to over 1,000 gigawatt (GW).
- China, the UK, Germany, Japan, India and the US are the largest producers of renewable energy, accounting for almost 70% of the installed capacity globally.
Huge progress by India also:
- India has made remarkable progress in terms of renewable power capacity additions in the last four years, with solar energy capacity growing almost eight-fold and wind energy increasing 1.6 times.
- The government targets to increase the renewable capacity to 175GW in FY22, and further to 275GW in FY27, from the current 72GW.
- In terms of electricity generation, this translates into a target of increasing the share of renewables in power generation from the current 8% to 19% in FY22, and to 23% in FY27.
- Today, India proudly sits in the league of top renewable power-generating countries, along with China, the US, Japan, Germany and the UK—which are the leading economics of the world.
But renewable power has many constraints:
- It can only be complementary source:
- The intermittent and unreliable nature of renewable power makes it a complementary, and not a primary source of electricity.
- Renewables cannot serve the base-load demand.
- Given the erratic nature of power generation from solar and wind, many a times an equivalent fossil-based backup capacity also needs to be created.
- In June 2018, Britain went nine days without wind power due to calm weather conditions and low wind.
- Germany has one of the highest prices of electricity (partially due to the required backup with fossil fuels) in the world, with the renewable revolution paid for by the consumers. In fact, the average electricity prices for industry and consumers have jumped by over 80% in the last decade as a result of the renewable revolution—the Energiewende.
- Low power density for renewables:
- In terms of power density, electricity generated per square metre by coal is much higher than that of solar.
- Roughly, for generating 1MW of coal-based power, 0.9-1.2 acre of land is required, while for generating 1MW of solar power, 4-5 acres of land is needed. Land acquisition in itself is a big issue.
- Further, given the lower plant load factor (PLF) of renewable power (11-31% as per government estimates) compared to coal, the producers have to set up at least 4-5 times bigger power plants to meet the requirement.
- Transmission and Grid issues:
- The transmission of renewable power through grid and energy storage for peak hours are the two biggest roadblocks in renewable power availability in India.
- The ministry of power has also highlighted that cash-strapped distribution companies (discoms) are currently finding it uneconomical to lift renewable power, given their fixed cost under thermal power purchase agreements (PPAs).
- Grid issues:
- Our grids are not fully equipped to handle renewable power currently and need a massive overhaul.
- Western and southern India accounts for 90% of all of the country’s currently installed solar capacity, but only 40% of power demand—creating a demand-supply mismatch.
- Transmission costs:
- In addition, the costs involved in transmission of power have not fallen as fast as the costs to build solar panels.
- Assuming Rs. 2.5 per kWh solar power cost in Rajasthan, additional charges like transmission cost, cross-subsidy charge and electricity duty increase the cost to Rs. 4-8 per kWh (depending on the state where it is being transmitted).
- Certain concessions on these charges are available to PSUs and discoms.
- Therefore, renewable power being cheaper than coal may be misleading at times.
- Renewable energy costlier and less suitable for industries:
- The problem complex for an industrial sector that accounts for a majority 40% of power consumption in India.
- Industries prefer reliable coal power:
- Heavy and energy-intensive industries like steel, chemical, aluminium and cement set up coal-based captive power plants because of unavailability of reliable power from the grid.
- These industries prefer coal over renewable power due to:
- Steady and stable power
- Ability to match load curve
- Better operational control
- Proximity to production units
- High power density
- Lower curtailment and transmission & distribution (T&D) losses
- Lower cost
- Renewable energy not very suitable:
- The very nature of solar and wind power makes it difficult for the industrial user to use it, unlike coal-based power.
- Many a times, the site of the industry might not be suitable to set up renewable power capacity, while transmission of renewable power has its own issues and may not be cost-effective.
- Industrial users in India don’t even get the concession on transmission of renewable power as discoms do.
- The industrial sector is already at a disadvantage in India due to a cross-subsidisation policy in place—the industrial consumer pays 83% more than the residential consumer for electricity tariffs. For other countries like the US, Japan, the UK, China and Germany, this is the other way round.
- A mandatory Renewable Purchase Obligation burden (which is expected to increase further) further adds to the cost of power.
India needs to be more realistic about renewables
- While India’s renewable targets are admirable, we need to look at them more realistically.
India's power requirements fast rising:
- As urbanisation, industrial activity, income levels and electrification rise, India will require more power.
- A recent ICICI Securities report has warned that India may be heading towards a power crisis.
- It concludes that without even factoring in incremental peak demand from revival in industrial activity, the existing capacity and pipeline can at best meet projected peak demand till FY23, post which India will be running peak deficit.
- This is in sharp contrast to the 13th National Electricity Plan (NEP), which mentions that no additional coal-based capacity is required to meet the peak demand until 2026-27, barring those already under implementation.
Coal remains critical for electricity generation:
- Despite the emphasis on renewables, coal remains critical for electricity generation—60% of all captive power plants in India currently are coal-based.
- Also, coal-based capacities come to the rescue in times of peak demand, increase in demand for power from industrial users, or shortfall in supply from other sources.
India's case is different from that of developed countries:
- India is an outlier in the group of countries topping renewable energy.
- Low per capita income: While India is pushing developed countries in renewable energy, India’s GDP per capita is one-fourth that of China’s GDP, one-thirtieth that of the US’s and about one-twentieth that of Germany, the UK and Japan.
- Low per capita energy consumption: In addition, the country’s per-capita electricity consumption is one-third of the global average, and its fiscal position significantly lags behind the other five economies.
India cannot afford to bindly follow other countries on renewables:
- India’s renewable energy dreams need to be based on sound economics, rather than general rhetoric or the template followed by the West.
- India can neither afford Germany’s high-cost renewable strategy nor China’s massive incentive-based subsidy programme.
- Both China and the UK have witnessed considerable slowdown in renewable energy capacity additions post phasing out of subsidies.
- We have to be realistic—a developing country such as India will continue to need more power, and co-evolving different sources of electricity.
- Getting an optimal electricity mix based on usage, technical constraints, existing capacities, per-capita consumption, environment norms and economics is absolutely essential.
GS Paper III: Economy
While growing renewables in India's power mix is welcome, we cannot afford to completely move away from coal towards renewable sources. Critically discuss.
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Section : Editorial Analysis