IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs [Prelims + Mains Focus] – 19th May 2018

  • IASbaba
  • May 19, 2018
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IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Analysis
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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains Focus)- 19th May 2018



Zojila: Asia’s longest bi-directional road tunnel

Part of: GS Prelims and Mains III – Infrastructure

Key pointers:

  • Zoji La will provide  all-weather connectivity between Ladakh and Kashmir.
  • It is said to be Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel
  • Situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway
  • The project, on completion, would lead to enormous boost in employment as local businesses will get linked to the national market and the beautiful region is able to receive round-the-year tourist traffic.
  • It will also be of strategic value to the armed forces.
  • Part of Bharatmala project
  • The government has set an ambitious target of construction of 35,000 km of national highways in the next five years involving an investment of Rs 5,35,000 crore under Bharatmala.

Speaker Pro Tem

Part of: GS Prelims and Mains II – Indian Polity

Key Pointers:

  • As provided by the Constitution, the Speaker of the last Lok Sabha vacates his office immediately before the first meeting of the newly- elected Lok Sabha.
  • Therefore, the President appoints a member of the Lok Sabha as the Speaker Pro Tem. Usually, the senior most member is selected for this.
  • The President administers oath to the Speaker Pro Tem. The Speaker Pro Tem has all the powers of the Speaker.
  • He presides over the first sitting of the newly-elected Lok Sabha. His main duty is to administer oath to the new members. He also enables the House to elect the new Speaker.
  • When the new Speaker is elected by the House, the office of the Speaker Pro Tem ceases to exist. Hence, this office is a temporary office, existing for a few days.



TOPIC: General Studies 2 and 3:

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Death by Slow Poisoning


An estimated 10 million people in nine districts of West Bengal drink arsenic-laden groundwater — a poisonous metalloid that sickens and kills with chronic exposure.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) prescribed safe level is 10 mcg per litre.

However, about 15 years ago, scientists discovered that the shallow groundwater in some places had high levels of the mineral: up to 1,000 micrograms (mcg) per litre in places.

When such water is consumed for years, either directly or through the food chain, the mineral damages organs like the skin, kidneys and lungs.


  • The most visible symptom in early years is a classic blotchy pattern on the skin, a condition called raindrop pigmentation.
  • If people showing such pigmentation don’t switch to safer water, they develop hyperkeratosis — dark crusts on their palms and soles, which can get infected and make it painful to work.
  • Eventually, the skin can turn cancerous.
  • Simultaneously, arsenic can destroy the kidneys and liver tissue, cause conjunctivitis and affect the lungs, just as heavy smoking does.

Mass poisoning

  • West Bengal’s problem first attracted international attention in 1995 when researcher from the University of Colorado compared its scale with the Chernobyl disaster.
  • But despite the grave warnings from international bodies like the WHO, the West Bengal government has moved very slowly to tackle the crisis.
  • Even though multiple technologies to filter arsenic from groundwater are there, awareness of arsenic’s ill-effects remains low. People continue drinking toxic water, even when alternatives exist.


  • Poor awareness: Despite the availability of water treatment plant, several people continue drinking contaminated groundwater.
  • Children are worst affected. Outwardly, the children seem symptom-free. Arsenic is a silent killer; it takes years for keratosis to show in adults and even longer in children.

But there is extensive evidence that children are not immune to internal damage — their lungs, kidneys and other organs are slowly being ravaged. Studies also show that arsenic-exposed children have lower IQ compared to control groups. If they continue drinking this water, they will definitely develop keratosis.

  • Government’s slow reaction: The government did appoint committees in 1983, ’88, ’92 and ’93 to examine the problem, but the findings didn’t trigger substantial action.
  • Polluted wells not marked: After denial in the initial years came some questionable decisions by the government. Even though the State had tested 1,32,267 tube wells for contamination by 2007, the polluted wells weren’t marked. Instead, the government dug alternative tube wells in some spots and installed filters in some others.

Do you know? Several experts, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), advocated that unsafe tube wells immediately be painted red, so that people would avoid them.

  • Toxic arsenic sludge from both community and household filters were sometimes disposed of unsafely, sent back into the environment, instead of being treated as per protocol.
  • Studies have shown that the source of arsenic is in the Ganga delta. The process is thought to have begun between 18,000 and 6,000 years ago, when small Himalayan rock particles, coated with iron oxide, entered the Ganga river delta.

Source of arsenic is the Ganga delta

The Ganga delta was also home to swampy wetlands some 5,000 years ago. The organic matter from these wetlands is now decaying slowly, alongside the arsenic.

When the bacteria responsible for this decay come in contact with the iron oxide in the arsenic-bearing rocks, they use the oxygen from the iron oxide for their own metabolism, setting both arsenic and iron free. This is why the groundwater in West Bengal and Bangladesh are rich in both minerals.

Researchers agree that shallow tube wells, less than 150 meters deep, are the worst affected, because they contain arsenic-rich sediments from the Holocene era, when the arsenic arrived in the delta.

Conversely, deep aquifers, more than 150 meters underground, are unaffected because they tap into the older Pleistocene sediments. Such deep tube wells can potentially be used for a long time without fear of contamination. However, even deep aquifers can become tainted with the overuse of groundwater. Such overuse can disturb the clay separating the deep and shallow aquifers, allowing the arsenic to enter previously pristine waters.

Way ahead:

There is an urgent need for mitigation strategy such as – painting wells, holding door-to-door campaigns, conducting street plays and distributing flyers about the danger of using contaminated tube wells.

Unless this happened, patients would not go to government-run arsenic clinics or switch to safe tube wells.

Two solutions: State’s short-term strategy is to provide Hooghly water to about half the arsenic-affected villages. The other half are to be served by community arsenic-treatment plants.

Until West Bengal is able to get safe water for all the 10 million at risk, its villages will remain dotted with tragedy.



General Studies 3:

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

General Studies 2:

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

Improving ease of doing business: Focusing on micro-policy enforcement


The government must be commended for their focus on incremental reforms that resulted in India breaking into the top 100 in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings for the first time.
However, despite this success India continues to perform relatively poorly in many perception-based surveys of trade facilitation and ‘open-ness’ despite all these major reform initiatives.

The governance challenge:

Three broad institutional challenges in the Indian system.

Poor quality of enforcement and lack of transparency:

Mismatch between the intent of reforms and quality of actual enforcement and transparency on the ground, — the governance challenge.  

  • All businesses, Indian and foreign, complain that risk management and transparency related reforms that are boldly announced by senior officers in ministries are not adopted in spirit and content by their junior colleagues responsible for enforcement.
    This is true for a wide array and departments and services ranging from fire and safety inspectors and indirect tax officials to road transport regulators and municipal officers.
  • Part of the problem is that a high level of discretion still exists with the officer enforcing rules on the ground. This is aggravated by the lack of a time-bound grievance redress mechanism, and the absence of independent ‘auditors’ who monitor on-ground enforcement quality and ensure there is accountability for poor decisions made in the field.

The design challenge

The second problem can be called the ‘design challenge’.

Procedures are often designed to cater to the few instances of failure or non-compliance and not for efficiency and facilitation.


  • India is perhaps the only country in the world that requires a boarding pass to be stamped after security check at airports (earlier even luggage tags needed the stamp). This entire activity is to ensure that no one ‘slips’ through the security system and is eventually apprehended at the boarding gate.
  • Despite GST, if a truck is caught with a shipment about which authorities have some doubt, the entire vehicle is held up at the check-post.

What is required is confidence in the government’s own enforcement ability.

The management challenge:

The third problem is the management challenge.

  • There is a tendency to blame poor quality of government services on lack of infrastructure or human resources.
  • This often over-looks the fact that there are many examples of better services with effectively less resources.

Example- The problem of quality of policing in India. Per capita police personnel deployed is one of the lowest in India. But this cannot be an excuse to make the simplest of tasks, the filing of a formal complaint (i.e. FIR), to become an insurmountable challenge for the common person.
Similarly, many efficient ports and cargo terminals in other countries have higher square-meter per ton ratio compared to Indian counterparts that are much less efficient. These management challenges add to transaction costs.

Way ahead:

The extent of India’s macro-policy reforms has borne results, it is time start focusing on the micro-policies of enforcement. Top down macro reforms can only be effective if they are twinned with bottom-up micro reforms. Unless the day-to-day experience of doing business improves, we will continue to under-perform relative to our true potential.

Connecting the dots:

  • While macro policy initiatives have helped us in improving overall ease of doing rankings, it is time that the enforcement of policy at micro-level and transparency is focused on.


Model questions: (You can now post your answers in comment section)

Q.1) Consider the following pairs

              Passes                           Connects
    1. Banihal Jammu and Srinagar
    2. Zoji La Srinagar and Leh
    3. Shipki La Himachal Pradesh and Tibet
    4. Mana pass Uttarakhand and Tibet

Which of the above pairs is/are correctly matched?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. All the above

Q.2) Consider the following statements about ‘Zoji La Pass Tunnel Project’

  1. It will be the longest tunnel in Asia when completed
  2. It is an upcoming project which aims at providing all weather connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil and Leh.

Select the correct statements

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2


Death by slow poisoning

The Hindu

Questions of representation

The Hindu

New great game in the Indo-Pacific

Indian Express

Restoring trust

Indian Express

Let it fly

Business Line

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