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Daily Current affairs 8 July 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

SL. NO.

TOPICS

THE HINDU

PAGE NO.

1

Crimes that India’s statute books have failed to define

11

2

No easy answer to economic slowdown

11

3

Reclaiming the Indo-Pacific narrative  

10

4

Plan for district eco-panels draws fire

12

5

Quota politics 

10



 

Title

Crimes that India’s statute books have failed to define (The Hindu Page 11)

Syllabus

GS Paper II: International relations

Theme

Crimes against Humanity   

Highlights

Article Context: the author is highlighting that crime of humanities have not been define in Indian Statutes 

 

Crimes left out 

  • Crimes against humanity like genocide or mass killing of people which are usually engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies. Eg 1984 Sikh genocide .

  •  Internationally such crimes are dealt with under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). They are defined as offences such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, torture, imprisonment and rape committed as a part of “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”.

  • Since India is not a part of the Rome statute it is under no obligation at present to enact a separate legislation dealing with CAH. 

  • But India has ratified the Genocide Convention (1948), yet has  not enacted it in domestic legislation.

 

Reasons for reluctance

  • India did not become a party in the negotiation process on a separate Convention on CAH, which started in 2014, because the convention adopted  the same definition of CAH as provided in the Rome Statute. 

  • The Indian representatives at the International Law Commission (ILC) have stated that the draft articles should not conflict with or duplicate the existing treaty regimes.

  • India had objected to the definition of CAH during negotiations of the Rome Statute on three grounds.

 

Three grounds for rejecting Rome statue 

 
  • First, India was not in favour of using ‘widespread or systematic’ as one of the conditions . It wanted it should be ‘widespread and systematic’, because it  would require a higher threshold of proof.

  • Second, India wanted a distinction to be made between international and internal armed conflicts. This was probably because its internal conflicts with naxals and other non-state actors in places like Kashmir and the Northeast could fall under the scope of CAH.

  • Thirdly, India did not want the inclusion of enforced disappearance of persons under CAH. Though India is a signatory to the  UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances , it has not yet ratified it. Hence including it in convention would as it would put the country under an obligation to criminalise it through domestic legislation.

 

Conclusion 

  • India’s missing voice at the ILC does not go well with its claim of respect for an international rules-based order. 

  • Turning a blind eye to the mass crimes taking place in its territory and shielding the perpetrators reflect poorly on India’s status as a democracy. 

  • It would be advisable for India to show political will and constructively engage with the ILC, which would also, in the process, address the shortcomings in the domestic criminal justice system.

 

Title

No easy answer to economic slowdown (The Hindu Page 11)

Syllabus 

Mains GS Paper III : Indian economy  

Theme

Economic slowdown    

Highlights

Current problems in fiscal consolidation:
 

  • Earlier editions of the Survey had suggested that since private investment was not taking off, there was scope for public investment to pick up the slack.
    However, The latest Economic Survey of 2018-19 has made it clear that investment in the form of private investment is the key driver of economic growth and job creation. 

  • Therefore what this means is that the government must make fewer demands on public savings so that more of it is available for private investment and stay on the path of fiscal consolidation

  • However, private investment is constrained not just by the crowding out effect of a high fiscal deficit and the twin balance sheet problem, that is, high levels of debt in companies and high non-performing assets of banks, as an important constraint on private investment. 

  • The government has been able to control expenditure on major subsidies such as on fertilizer & petroleum, which used to claim 2% or more of GDP,  but is now around 1.4% of GDP. 

  • But the problem is that new items of expenditure have emerged. The PM-Kisan scheme, which provides ₹6,000 for each farming household per year, will cost the government ₹75,000 crore in 2019-20. The expenditure on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme keeps on increasing each year. 

  • The second problem with fiscal consolidation is the low growth in tax to GDP ratio. Budget for 2018-19 projected the tax to GDP ratio to rise from 11.6% in 2017-18 to 12.1% in 2018-19 and further to 12.4% in 2019-20.
    However the budget for 2019-20 estimates the tax to GDP ratio at 11.9% in 2018-19 and 11.7% in 2019-20. This is due to the shortfall in GST collections in 2018-19.

  • The third concern with fiscal consolidation is that the Economic Survey 2018-19 has indicated that the government can increase its revenue through dis-investment and selling of land of PSUs. This would balance the shortfall in tax revenues.

  • However, disinvestment through strategic sale of PSEs has not been much successful in past. Secondly, disinvestment in PSEs has involved the buying of equity in PSEs by other PSEs, which is mainly shifts money in government accounting. Apart from this, the sale of PSEs land is a long-drawn-out process and generally leads to controversy over valuation. Moreover, the sale of government assets to balance the Budget merely defers fiscal problems to the future.

  • The government’s hopes that the Bimal Jalan committee on the economic capital framework for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) would allow the RBI’s reserves to be transferred further to the government, which would inject revenue to the government.

  • Now the Bimal Jalan Comm report has not been made public and acc to the author it is unlikely to agree to the government demand.

 


 


 

Title

Reclaiming the Indo-Pacific narrative  (The Hindu -Page.10)

Syllabus 

Mains: GS Paper – II : International relations 

Theme

Indo – pacific vision   

Highlights

Recent Context: At the 34th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok in June, its member states finally managed to articulate a collective vision for the Indo-Pacific region in a document titled “The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”.

  • However, it is a non-binding document.

  • ASEAN has been reluctant to frontally engage with the Indo-Pacific discourse as the perception was that it may antagonise China. But there was soon a realisation that such an approach might allow others to shape the regional architecture and marginalise the ASEAN itself. And so the final outlook that the ASEAN has come up with effectively seeks to take its own position rather than following any one power’s lead.

 

Indian Response: India has welcomed the ASEAN’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific as it sees “important elements of convergence” with its own approach 

Its Significance: 

  • The ASEAN’s intent to be in the driving seat is clear as it seeks to manage the emerging regional order with policy moves.

  • ASEAN to reclaim the strategic narrative in its favour in order to underscore its centrality in the emerging regional order.

  • The rise of material powers, i.e. economic and military, requires avoiding the deepening of mistrust, miscalculation and patterns of behaviour based on a zero-sum game.

  • Should also complement existing frameworks of cooperation at the regional and sub-regional levels.

  • Quick conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, an increasingly contested maritime space which is claimed largely by China and in parts by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Tensions continue to rise over the militarisation of this waterway.

  • The ASEAN outlook does not see the Indo-Pacific as one continuous territorial space, it emphasises development and connectivity, underlining the need for maritime cooperation, infrastructure connectivity and broader economic cooperation.

 

 

Title

Plan for district eco-panels draws fire (The Hindu -Page.09)

Syllabus 

Mains GS Paper III: Environment 

Theme

Environmental impact assessment 

Highlights

Context This article highlights various concerns with respect to proposed Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2019 released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

 

Details

  • The EIA 2019 aims to be an update of the EIA 2006. Several provisions in the EIA 2006 over the years have been challenged in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and led to the MoEF modifying rules. The EIA 2019 aims to be an update that accommodates all these revisions.

  • It provides for 3 tier institutional mechanism for giving environmental clearances.

Category A projects: Central Government

Category B1 : State Environment impact Assessment authority

Category B2: District Environment impact Assessment authority (mining of minor minerals)

 

Concerns with the proposal

  • The notification has proposed that the District magistrate or collector shall be the chairperson of DEIAA.

  • It is to be noted that the District magistrate also acts as "District Mining officer" and is tasked with the responsibility of issuing mining leases. The District collectors usually have target to collect revenues from the mining activities and hence this creates a conflict of interest in their role as chairperson of DEIAA.

 

Conclusion

The notification is presently circulated to States as a ‘zero draft’ meaning that it is at a stage where comments are being sought from State authorities after which the draft will be modified and then further opened to public comments.

 

 

Title

Quota Politics  (The Hindu -Page.10)

Syllabus 

Mains GS Paper II: Polity 

Theme

Inclusion of OBC in Scheduled caste list 

Highlights

Context: The editorial highlights that UP government’s proposal to confer status of

Scheduled Caste to 17 backward castes has no legal basis as only Parliament under Article 341 of the Constitution empowered to do so.

 
  • Article 341 mentions that President in a state after consultation with the Governor, by public notification, specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes in relation to that State or Union territory.

  •  The article further highlights that Parliament may by law include or exclude any caste, race or tribe or part of or group within any caste, race or tribe from the list of Scheduled Castes specified in the above mentioned notification.

  •  So, we understand that only Parliament under Article 341 (2) is empowered to include or exclude any caste within the Scheduled Caste (SC) and state governments do not have such power.

  • However, the state government of UP in the pretext of upcoming by-polls and to have political mileage has attempted to confer SC status to 17 backward castes in the state.

 

Challenges in conferring SC status

  • These 17 backward castes are among the most disadvantaged among the backward classes. Categorising the backward classes into two or three sections has been seen as one way to provide them the benefits of reservation among other social backward groups.

  •  In such an exercise, these castes may qualify for a compartment within the OBC quota. However, these backward classes cannot be treated as members of SC as they may not have suffered untouchability and social discrimination. 

  • There seems to be a political motive behind the said move and can carve a separate vote bank among the backward sections for the ruling class.

  •  Since, state do not have power, it is likely that the notification may be nullified by Supreme Court in due course of time.

Relevant articles from PIB:

Topics Covered:

  1. Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

 

What to study?

For Prelims: UNESCO WHS- important sites.

For Mains: Significance and the need for conservation of WHS.

 

Context: India gets its 38th UNESCO World HERITAGE SITE as Pink City Jaipur.

With Successful inscription of Jaipur City, India has 38 world heritage sites, that include 30 Cultural properties, 7 Natural properties and 1 mixed site.

 

UNESCO world heritage site:

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.

The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.

Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.

 

Selection of a site:

To be selected, a World Heritage Site must be an already classified landmark, unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable place having special cultural or physical significance (such as an ancient ruin or historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, mountain, or wilderness area). It may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity, and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet.

 

Legal status of designated sites:

UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site provides prima facie evidence that such culturally sensitive sites are legally protected pursuant to the Law of War, under the Geneva Convention, its articles, protocols and customs, together with other treaties including the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and international law.

 

What are endangered sites?

  • A site may be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger if there are conditions that threaten the characteristics for which the landmark or area was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Such problems may involve armed conflict and war, natural disasters, pollution, poaching, or uncontrolled urbanization or human development.
  • This danger list is intended to increase international awareness of the threats and to encourage counteractive measures.
  • Review: The state of conservation for each site on the danger list is reviewed on a yearly basis, after which the committee may request additional measures, delete the property from the list if the threats have ceased or consider deletion from both the List of World Heritage in Danger and the World Heritage List.

Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (GYTI) Awards:

 

SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) celebrates the creativity and innovation of young technological students by recognising their outstanding projects with Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (GYTI) Awards.

These Awards celebrate the spirit of student innovation in all the fields of engineering, science, technology and design through extremely affordable/frugal solution or the ones pushing the technological edge.


Lal Bahadur Shastri

 

Context: PM visits Varanasi Unveils Lal Bahadur Shastri statue at Varanasi airport.

 

Lal Bahadur Shastri- related facts:

  1. Pre- independence:

Lal Bahadur Shastri was born on 2nd October, 1904 at Mughalsarai, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

He was given the title “Shastri” meaning “Scholar” by Vidya Peeth as a part of his bachelor’s degree award.

He introduced a slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” and played a pivotal role in shaping India’s future.

He became a life member of the Servants of the People Society (Lok Sevak Mandal), founded by Lala Lajpat Rai. There he started to work for the upliftment of backward classes, and later he became the President of that Society.

He participated in the non-cooperation movement and the Salt Satyagraha.

 

  1. Post- independence:

He was the second Prime Minister of Independent India.

In 1961, he was appointed as Home Minister, and he appointed the Committee on Prevention of Corruption. He created the famous “Shastri Formula” which consisted of the language agitations in Assam and Punjab.

He promoted the White Revolution, a national campaign to increase milk production. He also promoted the Green Revolution, to increase the food production in India.

In 1964, he signed an agreement with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in concern with the status of Indian Tamils in Ceylon. This agreement is known as Srimavo-Shastri Pact.

He was awarded the Bharat Ratna the India’s highest civilian award posthumously in 1966.

He signed Tashkent Declaration on 10 January, 1966 with the paksitan President, Muhammad Ayub Khan to end the 1965 war.


 

Relevant articles from various news sources:

GS Paper 2:

Topic covered:

Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: Generic drugs- significance, concerns, usage and efforts by the government to promote them.

 

Context: The Central Government is considering amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 to ensure that registered medical practitioners dispense only generic medicines.

 

Background:

A proposal was recently received by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) committee wherein the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) was apprised that registered medical practitioners can supply different categories of medicines including vaccines to their patients under the exemption provided, with certain conditions, under Schedule K of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945. As of now there are no specified types of medicines which can be supplied by doctors to their patients.

It is now proposed that registered medical practitioners shall supply generic medicines only and physicians samples shall be supplied free of cost.

 

What is a Generic Medicine?

Generic medicines are unbranded medicines which are equally safe and having the same efficacy as that of branded medicines in terms of their therapeutic value. The prices of generic medicines are much cheaper than their branded equivalent.

 

Why are they cheaper?

Since the manufacture of these generic drugs do not involve a repeat of the extensive clinical trials to prove their safety and efficacy, it costs less to develop them. Generic drugs are, therefore, cheaper.

However, because the compounds in the generic versions have the same molecular structure as the brand-name version, their quality is essentially the same.

 

Why aren’t generic drugs more popular?

Lack of awareness about them.

Since they are cheap, people who can afford branded drugs don’t buy them believing them to be of inferior quality. Chemists have to hand out exactly what’s written on the prescription and most doctors except in government hospitals don’t hand out generic drugs.

Also, private doctors never hand out generic drugs because there are no kickbacks or incentives involved from pharma companies.

The government or specifically the government’s Department of Pharmaceuticals is also to blame for the lack of awareness.

 

However, there are three fundamental areas of concern:

  1. Efficacy of Indian-made drugs: Oftentimes, such drugs have been found to contain less than the required amount of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), rendering them ineffective.
  2. Lack of data integrity: The poorly managed documentation practices of Indian generic firms featured as the primary criticism flagged by foreign regulatory authorities. The lack of reliable and complete data on the test results of specific drug batches, along with inconsistencies in the records presented, meant that inspection and verification of drug quality was extremely difficult.
  3. Hygiene standards of the manufacturing plants: Individuals suffering from illness are especially susceptible to infections, and inspections of generic drug plants reveal pest infestations and dilapidated infrastructure.

 

Various efforts by the government:

Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana’ is a campaign launched by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Govt. Of India, to provide quality medicines at affordable prices to the masses through special kendra’s known as Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Jan Aushadhi Kendra.

Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI) is the implementing agency of PMBJP. BPPI (Bureau of Pharma Public Sector Undertakings of India) has been established under the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Govt. of India, with the support of all the CPSUs.

Sources: the Hindu.

Mains Question: Discuss merits and demerits of compulsory prescription of generic medicines.


GS Paper 3:

Topic covered:

Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

India to be a $5-trillion economy

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: India’s present state and what needs to be done to achieve the targets?

 

Context: The government has announced that its main goal is to make India a $5-trillion economy by the end of this term.

 

Present state:

In 2014, India’s GDP was $1.85 trillion. Today it is $2.7 trillion and India is the sixth-largest economy in the world.

Essentially the reference is to the size of an economy as measured by the annual GDP.

 

Are Indians the sixth-richest people in the world?

No. That India is the sixth-largest economy does not necessarily imply that Indians are the sixth-richest people on the planet.

GDP per capita gives a better sense of how an average resident of an economy might be fairing. It reveals a very different, and indeed a more accurate picture of the level of prosperity in the respective economies.

For instance, on average, a UK resident’s income was 21 times that of an average Indian in 2018.

Still, the richest 1% of Indians own 58.4% of wealth. The richest 10 % of Indians own 80.7 % of the wealth.

 

Can India achieve the target by 2024?

The answer would depend essentially on the assumption about economic growth.

If India grows at 12% nominal growth (that is 8% real GDP growth and 4% inflation), then from the 2018 level of $2.7 trillion, India would reach the 5.33 trillion mark in 2024. India must keep growing at a rapid pace to attain this target.

 

How will GDP per capita change when India hits the $5-trillion mark?

If by 2024 India’s GDP is $5.33 trillion and India’s population is 1.43 billion (according to UN population projection).

India’s per capita GDP would be $3,727.

This would be considerably more than what it is today, still it will be lower than Indonesia’s GDP per capita in 2018.

 

Sources: Indian Express.


GS Paper 3:

Topics covered:

  1. Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

 

Zero Budget Natural Farming

 

What to study?

For Prelims: Features of ZBNF.

For Mains: Significance of ZBNF, advantages of ZBNF.

 

Context: Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech said zero budget farming is already being practiced in some states of the country. Sitharaman said emphasis on zero budget farming will help double the farming income in days to come.

 

What is Zero Budget Natural Farming?

Zero Budget Natural Farming, as the name implies, is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero.

This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides in order to ensure the healthy growth of crops.

It is, basically, a natural farming technique that uses biological pesticides instead of chemical-based fertilizers. Farmers use earthworms, cow dung, urine, plants, human excreta and such biological fertilizers for crop protection. It reduces farmers’ investment. It also protects the soil from degradation.

 

Benefits of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF):

As both a social and environmental programme, it aims to ensure that farming – particularly smallholder farming – is economically viable by enhancing farm biodiversity and ecosystem services.

It reduces farmers’ costs through eliminating external inputs and using in-situ resources to rejuvenate soils, whilst simultaneously increasing incomes, and restoring ecosystem health through diverse, multi-layered cropping systems.

Cow dung from local cows has proven to be a miraculous cure to revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil. One gram of cow dung is believed to have anywhere between 300 to 500 crore beneficial micro-organisms. These micro-organisms decompose the dried biomass on the soil and convert it into ready-to-use nutrients for plants.

Resilient food systems are the need of the day given the variability of the monsoons due to global warming and declining groundwater in large parts of India. The drought-prone regions in India is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.

Zero budget natural farming requires only 10 per cent water and 10 per cent electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming. ZBNF may improve the potential of crops to adapt to and be produced for evolving climatic conditions.

 

The four-wheels of zero budget natural farming require locally available materials:

  1. Water vapour condensation for better soil moisture.
  2. Seed treatment with cow dung and urine-based formulations.
  3. Mulching and soil aeration for favourable soil conditions.
  4. Ensure soil fertility through cow dung and cow urine-based concoctions

 

Government initiatives to support ZBNF:

Government of India has been promoting organic farming in the country through the dedicated schemes of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) since 2015-16 and also through Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY).

In the revised guidelines of PKVY scheme during the year 2018, various organic farming models like Natural Farming, Rishi Farming, Vedic Farming, Cow Farming, Homa Farming, Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) etc. have been included wherein flexibility is given to states to adopt any model of Organic Farming including ZBNF depending on farmer’s choice.

Under the RKVY scheme, organic farming/ natural farming project components are considered by the respective State Level Sanctioning Committee (SLSC) according to their priority/ choice.

 

Sources: the hindu.

 

Mains Question: What do you understand by Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). Discuss its economic and environmental benefits vis a vis conventional farming practices.


GS Paper 3:

Topics Covered:

  1. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

 

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)

 

What to study?

For Prelims: Kalasa- Banduri project.

For Mains: All about EIA.

 

ContextState-level officers tasked with environmental assessment have objected to several clauses in a draft law that proposes the creation of district-level environment impact assessment authorities.

 

What’s the issue?

The proposed Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2019, makes the District Magistrate (DM) the chairperson of an expert authority, or the District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA), that will accord environment clearance for “minor” mining projects.

District Magistrate (DM) in the State is also the ‘District Mining officer’ who is tasked with executing mining licence deeds. These officers usually had a “target” to collect revenues from mining activities. Making the DM the chairman (of the DEIAA) would be self-serving for grant of environmental clearance.

 

About EIA:

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a formal process used to predict the environmental consequences of any development project. Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutory backed by the Environment Protection Act in 1986, which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.

 

Rationale behind EIA: EIA looks into various problems, conflicts and natural resource constraints which may not only affect the viability of a project but also predict if a project might harm to the people, their land, livelihoods and environment. Once these potential harmful impacts are predicted, the EIA process identifies the measures to minimize those impacts.

The objective of the EIA is to: Identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to taking a decision on its implementation. Mitigation of harmful impacts and maximizes the beneficial effects.

Once the assessment is complete, the EIA findings are communicated to all stakeholders viz. developers, investors, regulators, planners, politicians, affected communities etc. On the basis of the conclusion of EIA process, the government can decide if a project should be given environment clearance or not. The developers and investors can also shape the project in such a way that its harms can be mitigated and benefits can be maximized.

 

Sources: the Hindu.


Facts for prelims:

 

Operation Sudarshan:

What is it? Border Security Force (BSF) has launched a massive exercise, code named as Sudarshan, to fortify Anti-Infiltration Grid along Pakistan border in Punjab and Jammu.

 

Manghdechhu hydropower project:

The Mangdechhu hydroelectric project is a 720MW run-of-river power plant built on the Mangdechhu River in Trongsa Dzongkhag District of central Bhutan.

Mangdechhu is one of the ten hydroelectric projects planned under the Royal Government of Bhutan’s initiative to generate 10,000MW hydropower by 2020 with support from the Indian Government.


 

Summaries of important Editorials:

 

Is desalination realistically a help in harnessing potable water from the sea?

Context: With warnings from India’s top policy-makers and reports of major cities in India struggling to stave off a water crisis, there’s talk about exploring the idea of desalination, or obtaining freshwater from salt water.

 

What is desalination technology?

To convert salt water into freshwater, the most prevalent technology in the world is reverse osmosis (RO).

How it works? A plant pumps in salty or brackish water, filters separate the salt from the water, and the salty water is returned to the sea. Fresh water is sent to households.

Seawater has Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) — a measure of salinity — close to 35,000 parts per million (ppm), or equivalent to 35 g of salt per one litre/kg of water. An effective network of RO plants reduce this down to about 200-500 ppm.

Challenges: Engineering RO desalination plants have to factor in various constraints, for instance, salt levels in the source water that is to be treated, the energy required for the treatment and disposing of the salt back into the sea.

 

Osmosis and RO:

Osmosis involves ‘a solvent (such as water) naturally moving from an area of low solute concentration, through a membrane, to an area of high solute concentration.

A reverse osmosis system applies an external pressure to reverse the natural flow of solvent and so seawater or brackish water is pressurised against one surface of the membrane, causing salt-depleted water to move across the membrane, releasing clean water from the low-pressure side’.

 

How popular is it in India?

Years of water crises in Chennai saw the government set up two desalination plants between 2010 and 2013. Each supplies 100 million litres a day (MLD); together they meet little under a fourth of the city’s water requirement of 830 MLD. Buoyed by the success of these plants, the city’s water authorities are planning to install two more plants.

Last year, Gujarat announced plans of setting up a 100 MLD RO plant at the Jodiya coast in Jamnagar district. This would go a long way in ‘solving’ the water availability problems in the drought-prone Saurashtra region.

Other plants of a similar size are expected to come up in Dwarka, Kutch, Dahej, Somnath, Bhavnagar and Pipavav, which are all coastal places in Gujarat.

There are also a slew of desalination plants that cater to industrial purposes. For now, India’s real-world experience with desalination plants is restricted to Chennai.

 

What are the problems with RO plants?

Deposition of brine (highly concentrated salt water) along the shores.

Hyper salinity along the shore affects plankton, which is the main food for several of these fish species.

The high pressure motors needed to draw in the seawater end up sucking in small fish and life forms, thereby crushing and killing them — again a loss of marine resource.

Construction of the RO plants required troves of groundwater. This was freshwater that was sucked out and has since been replaced by salt water, rendering it unfit for the residents around the desalination plants.

Cost and time: On an average, it costs about ₹900 crore to build a 100 MLD-plant and, as the Chennai experience has shown, about five years for a plant to be set up.

To remove the salt required, there has to be a source of electricity, either a power plant or a diesel or battery source. Estimates have put this at about 4 units of electricity per 1,000 litres of water. It is estimated that it cost ₹3 to produce 100 litres of potable water.

 

Is RO water healthy?

In the early days of RO technology, there were concerns that desalinated water was shorn of vital minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, sodium, potassium and carbonates. They are collectively referred to as TDSHigher quantities of these salts in desalination plants tend to corrode the Seawater has Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)— a measure of salinity — close to 35,000 parts per million (ppm), or equivalent to 35 g of salt per one litre/kg of water. An effective network of RO plants reduce this down to about 200-500 ppm. and filtration system in these plants. So ideally, a treatment plant would try to keep the TDS as low as possible. Highly desalinated water has a TDS of less than 50 milligrams per litre, is pure, but does not taste like water. Anything from 100 mg/l to 600 mg/l is considered as good quality potable water.

Most RO plants put the water through a ‘post-treatment’ process whereby salts are added to make TDS around 300 mg/l.

 

Are there technological alternatives?

Low-temperature thermal desalination (LTTD) technique works on the principle that water in the ocean 1,000 or 2,000 feet below is about 4º C to 8º C colder than surface water. So, salty surface water is collected in a tank and subject to high pressure (via an external power source). This pressured water vapourises and this is trapped in tubes or a chamber. Cold water plumbed from the ocean depths is passed over these tubes and the vapour condenses into fresh water and the resulting salt diverted away.

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion: It will draw power from the vapour generated as a part of the desalination process. This vapour will run a turbine and thereby will be independent of an external power source. While great in theory, there is no guarantee it will work commercially. For one, this ocean-based plant requires a pipe that needs to travel 50 kilometres underground in the sea before it reaches the mainland.

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