IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 4th October, 2016
ENVIRONMENT/ S & T
TOPIC: General Studies 3
Environment and Ecology, Bio diversity – Conservation, environmental degradation, environmental impact assessment, Environment versus Development
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
Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
The battle over Bt cotton (Part I: Understanding the Basics)
What is Bt?
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a spore forming bacterium that produces crystals protein (cry proteins), which are toxic to many species of insects.
Where is Bt found?
Bt can be found almost everywhere in the world. Surveys have indicated that Bt is distributed in the soil sparsely but frequently worldwide.
Bt has been found in all types of terrain, including beaches, desert, and tundra habitats.
How many kinds of Bt are there?
There are thousands of different Bt strains, producing over 200 cry proteins that are active against an extensive range of insects and some other invertebrates.
Where is Bt used?
Bt is largely used in agriculture, especially organic farming. Bt is also used in urban aerial spraying programs, and in transgenic crops.
What is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)?
When a gene from one organism is purposely moved to improve or change another organism in a laboratory, the result is a genetically modified organism (GMO). It is also sometimes called “transgenic” for transfer of genes.
Selective breeding technique and Transgenic technique:
There are different ways of moving genes to produce desirable traits. For both plants and animals, one of the more traditional ways is through selective breeding.
For example, a plant with a desired trait is chosen and bred to produce more plants with the desirable trait.
More recently with the advancement of technology is another technique. This technique is applied in the laboratory where genes that express the desired trait is physically moved or added to a new plant to enhance the trait in that plant. Plants produced with this technology are transgenic.
Often, this process is performed on crops to produce insect or herbicide resistant plants, they are referred to as Genetically Modified Crops (GM crops).
Most GM crops grown today have been developed to resist certain insect pests. There are GM plants being developed today to produce specific vitamins, resist plant viruses and even produce products for medical uses.
What is Bt cotton?
Bt cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to bollworm. It is produced by Monsanto.
Results of insect infestation on Bt (right) and non-Bt (left) cotton bolls.
Bt cotton was the first genetically modified (GM) crop technology to be commercialised in India.
Three Bt cotton hybrids, developed by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) joint venture, were approved by Indian authorities in early 2002.
Bt cotton controversy
No data on Bt Cotton’s effectiveness under practical farming conditions
NGOs have questioned the technology’s effectiveness
Analysis of several years of Indian field trial data demonstrated that Bt technology can significantly reduce pesticide applications and increase effective yields under experimental conditions. This is in line with research from other countries.
However, independent studies under practical farming conditions are not available in India and therefore, it is difficult to interpret the statements made by different interest groups.
MMB claims sizeable benefits for Bt adopters
Anti-biotechnology activists have declared the technology a complete failure
This controversy has become one of the focal points in the global debate on GM crops.
Monsanto vs Indian Farmers
Seed is the basis of agriculture; the means of production and the basis of farmers’ livelihoods.
In less than two decades, cotton seed has been snatched from the hands of Indian farmers by Monsanto, displacing local varieties, introducing GMO Bt cotton seeds and coercing extravagant royalties from farmers.
Since Monsanto’s entry into India in 1998, the price of cotton seeds has increased by almost 80,000% (from ?5 – ?9/KG to ? 1600 for 450 gms). 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, trapped in vicious cycles of debt and crop failures, 84% of these suicides are attributed directly to Monsanto’s Bt cotton.
Monsanto, Indian farmers and the Govt of India
There are 3 issues related to the state of seed and the current conflicts related to Monsanto, Indian farmers and the Govt of India.
First is the farmers rights to reliable and affordable seed and with it the duty of the government to protect farmers right to livelihood and right to life. It is the government’s duty under Art 21 of the constitution to protect the life of all its citizens.
Second is the issue of IPRs, patents, royalty, technology fees in the context of false claims and a failing technology, and the duty of Government to act to revoke a patent according to Article 64 and Article 66 of the Indian Patent Act. There is a show cause notice served to Monsanto by the Central Government regarding the patent.
The third is the issue of monopoly on seed. The Government has a duty to prevent monopolies being established. The issue of monopoly is before the Competition Commission of India which has stated that Monsanto has violated Competition laws and there is Prima Facie evidence of monopoly.
(In tomorrow’s DNA, we shall discuss the controversy surrounding Monsanto and patent protection.)
Connecting the dots:
Write a brief note on genetically modified crops and how they differ from hybrid crops. What are the possible challenges and benefits of GM crops?
What do you understand by the term “Bt”? Discuss the controversy surrounding Bt Cotton in India.
TOPIC:General Studies 2
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions
Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
MGNREGA MIS- Need to achieve more
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is a pioneering livelihood security programme. Along with it, it is also a great example of proactive disclosure of information through its Management Information System (MIS).
What is MGNREGA MIS?
A web enabled MIS www.nrega.nic.in has been developed for NREGA to make its data transparent and available in the public domain to be equally accessed by all. It monitors:
Workers’ entitlement data and documents such as Registration, job cards, muster rolls.
Work selection and execution data including, shelf of approved and sanctioned works, work estimates, works under execution, measurement.
Employment demanded and provided.
Financial indicators such as funds available, funds used, and the disaggregated structure of fund utilizations to assess the amount paid as wages, materials and administrative expenses.
Importance of MGNREGA MIS
It is the first transaction-based real-time system for any public works programme in the country that is available in the public domain as there is digitisation of all the processes in MGNREGA.
This enables any citizen to monitor the implementation of the programme thereby charting a new paradigm of transparency since the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Shortcomings of MGNREGA MIS
The scale of information available is no small achievement. Individual worker details from around 2.5 lakh gram panchayats are available in the MGNREGA MIS. However, there are some shortcomings which need to be addressed.
MIS is accessible only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. IST. This is a huge impediment for collaborative work across time zones.
No data dictionary
A data dictionary is a repository of all the names of variables/columns used in various reports, containing a brief explanation of its meanings.
Such dictionary is important as it allows the citizens to understand the online reports they wish to access.
Unless somebody has spent a lot of time in rural areas, it is difficult to comprehend the details of many reports.
Same meaning, different names
Nomenclature of coloumn names are not uniform.
For example, Payment Date in the report of weekly works (‘Mustroll Report’) is known as the Second Signatory Date in a report titled ‘FTO Second Signatory’. Also, Payment Date is a misnomer as it does not refer to the date on which a worker gets paid. Payment date is the date on which the wages is scheduled to be paid.
Worker-centric links in the data structure are missing.
For example, every household that does MGNREGA work has a unique job card number. This number is crucial to get work.
Upon completion of a work week, a Funds Transfer Order (FTO) is generated containing the details of each job card holder’s earned wages.
On the MIS, there is no clear link between these two crucial pieces. As such it becomes difficult to follow the trail of each job card holder from the time of work demanded to getting the wages.
Technology should not lessen accountability
Digitisation and computerisation is a welcome move but it has been observed that accountability is being shifted by officials.
It should be known that an information system doesn’t end up controlling the legal rights.
There are several situations when a written request for work by a worker is not entered in the MIS till funds for work allocation are made available from the Centre. This is illegal as the Act mandates provision of work within a stipulated time of requesting for it.
Similarly, the generation of the FTO is withheld till funds for wage payments are released. There are other instances when the FTO is not generated if a worker fails to furnish his or her Aadhaar number.
Some are harder to locate as there is no paper trail or stated intention but realised only retrospectively once the workers are affected.
Hence, many such examples illustrate how the IT infrastructure becomes a tool prioritising administrative needs as opposed to being a programme enabler.
In this regard, the phrase ‘code is law’ should be recalled where code, as in software, and code, as in law, can both be instruments of social control.
Technological architecture can also be used to perpetuate falsehoods. For instance, consider the flawed mechanism of the calculation of delay compensation when wages are not paid on time.
Ideally, the compensation should be calculated from the 16th day of completion of a work week till the day on which the workers actually receive their wages. However, the compensation is computed based on the payment date, which is not the date on which the wages get credited into the workers’ accounts.
The difference of the two calculation methods run into crores of rupees that rightfully belong to the workers. While the automated calculation is a progressive measure, its basis must be correct and transparent.
Thus, even with the flawed calculation no compensation has been paid shows that technology can be a strong aid but not a replacement for accountability.
MIS is a powerful mechanism to have an evidence-based discourse for monitoring basic services.
However, a governance framework for the MIS needs to be put in place that lays out the minimum standards and accountability of the Ministry managing the system.
Such a framework must be built in consultation with all concerned parties and should follow the provisions of the law (both MGNREGA and RTI).
The system design choices should reflect the values of the worker-centric programme and hence principles need to be followed for compassionate design.
Connecting the dots:
MIS avails transparency but accountability is equally important. With regards to MGNREGA, examine the importance of transparency as well as accountability with suitable examples.