Press Information Bureau (PIB) IAS UPSC – 18th May to 24th May – 2020
The Story of Shahapur’s Katkari Tribe
Shahapur’s Katkari Tribe have started selling Giloy and are earning a decent livelihood out of it. The initiative began when Sunil Pawar, a youth from Katkari community, and his team of 10-12 friends — who facilitated various work of Katkari tribals at revenue offices in Shahpur — decided to start an enterprise of selling Giloy in local markets.
Giloy is a medicinal plant with huge demand from pharmaceutical companies. Called गुडूची in Ayurveda, giloy is used in medicines which treat various kinds of fever (viral fever, malaria, etc.) as well as diabetes. It is used in extract form, powder form or cream.
Expanding and Diversification by the Tribe
- Planning to take this plant to big companies, not confining to local ones
- Created a website to sell it online. Online sale is happening through it even during lockdown period. Government is forthcoming in issuing passes to us so that produce can be transported and sold without hindrance
- Started collecting and selling the 7 types of Samidha (sacrificial offerings made mostly of wood) which are offered in the holy fire during the performance of Puja.
- A reputed organisation plans to train these SHGs in establishing backward and forward linkages for their produce. In backward linkages, they will train tribals about how to pick giloy without affecting its long-term availability, this way it will be available for a longer period and they will also be taught about plantation of the same. In forward linkages, they will train them to process the giloy into making different products which will fetch better price for them
- Katkari is one of the 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, as per the classification by Ministry of Home Affairs.
- The Katkari were at one time a forest people living in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, with a special relationship to forest creatures such as the tiger or ‘waghmare’, (wagh = tiger, mare = slayer; so tiger slayer) a common Katkari surname.
- The name Katkari is derived from a forest-based activity – the making and sale of catechu (katha) from the khair tree (Acacia catechu).
- The food habits of the Katkari are a reason for their social exclusion. The Katkari are one of only a few tribal groups in India that eat rodents, including the Little Indian Field Mouse, the Black Rat and the Greater or Indian Bandicoot. They believe that their strength and long life comes from eating the meat of rodents. They have even created a cultural festival, the Undir Navmi, dedicated to the rodent.
There are certain tribal communities who have declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and are economically backward. These groups are among the most vulnerable section of our society as they are few in numbers, have not attained any significant level of social and economic development and generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support. 75 such groups have been identified and categorized as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).
- Coverage for activities like education, housing, land distribution, land development, agricultural development, animal husbandry, construction of link roads, installation of non-conventional sources of energy for lighting purpose, social security or any other innovative activity meant for the comprehensive socio-economic development of PVTGs.
- Under the scheme, State Governments submits Conservation-cum-Development (CCD) Plans on the basis of their requirement.
- 100% grants-in-aid are made available to States as per the provisions of the scheme.
Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana run by TRIFED, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt. of India provides working capital for these SHGs. So they don’t have to sell their produce in distress, moreover they can immediately pay tribals for produce they have picked up, this greatly helps tribals in having steady income.
- A retail marketing led value addition plan for Minor Forest Produce (MFP), meant for forest-based tribes to optimize the tribal income, locally. Under the program, MFP-based tribal groups / enterprises of around 300 members are formed for collection, value addition, packaging & marketing of Minor Forest Produces (MFPs).
- These tribal enterprises will be in the form of Van Dhan SHGs which will be a group of 15-20 members and such 15 SHG groups will further be federated into a larger group of Van Dhan Vikas Kendras (VDVKS) of around 300 members.
- TRIFED will support the VDVKs through providing them with model business plans, processing plans & tentative list of equipment for carrying out the value addition work of MFPs.
Initiatives to boost Education Sector: “One nation, one digital platform” and “one class one channel”
(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in the education sector)
Investing in the human capital is equivalent to an investment in productivity and prosperity of the nation. The present pandemic situation has presented new challenges and several opportunities for our education system.
Education sector has taken this opportunity to plan several interventions, particularly in the area of adopting innovative curriculum and pedagogies, concentrating energies on the gap areas, being more inclusive and integrating technology at every stage, to usher in a new era of focussed investment in the human capital.
A. PM e-VIDYA: This will enable multi-mode access to education, and includes:
- DIKSHA (one nation-one digital platform) which will now become the nation’s digital infrastructure for providing quality e-content in school education for all the states/UTs
- TV (one class-one channel) where one dedicated channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12 will provide access to quality educational material
- SWAYAM online courses in MOOCS format for school and higher education; IITPAL for IITJEE/NEET preparation
- AIR through Community radio and CBSE Shiksha Vani podcast
- Study material for the differently abled developed on Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY) and in sign language on NIOS website/ YouTube.
This will benefit nearly 25 crore school going children across the country.
B. Manodarpan: Being launched to provide such support through a website, a toll-free helpline, national directory of counselors, interactive chat platform, etc. This initiative will benefit all school going children in the country, along with their parents, teachers and the community of stakeholders in school education.
C. E-learning in higher education – By liberalizing open, distance and online education regulatory framework. Top 100 universities will start online courses. Also, online component in conventional Universities and ODL programmes will also be raised from present 20% to 40%. This will provide enhanced learning opportunities to nearly 7 crore students across different colleges and Universities.
D. Prepare a new National Curriculum and Pedagogical Framework for school education, teacher education and early childhood stage to prepare students and future teachers as per global benchmarks. There is a need to promote critical thinking, creative and communication skills, along with experiential and joyful learning for the students focussing on learning outcomes. The curriculum must be rooted in the Indian ethos and integrated with global skill requirements.
E. A National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Missionwill be launched, for ensuring that every child in the country necessarily attains foundational literacy and numeracy in Grade 3 by 202 For this, teacher capacity building, a robust curricular framework, engaging learning material – both online and offline, learning outcomes and their measurement indices, assessment techniques, tracking of learning progress, etc. will be designed to take it forward in a systematic fashion. This mission will cover the learning needs of nearly 4 crore children in the age group of 3 to 11 years.
Solve: A new era of focussed investment in the human capital
Government implements Shekatkar Committee recommendations related to creating border infrastructure
(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in the security and defence sector)
Government has accepted and implemented three important recommendations of Committee of Experts (CoE) under the Chairmanship of Lt General D B Shekatkar (Retd) relating to border Infrastructure.
Recommendation 1- Creating border infrastructure: Government has implemented recommendation of CoE to outsource road construction work beyond optimal capacity of Border Roads Organisation (BRO). It has been made mandatory to adopt Engineering Procurement Contract (EPC) mode for execution of all works costing more than Rs 100 crore
Recommendation 2- Introduction of modern construction plants, equipment and machinery has been implemented by delegating enhanced procurement powers from Rs 7.5 crore to Rs 100 crore to BRO, for domestic and foreign procurements. Border Roads has recently inducted Hot-Mix Plant 20/30 TPH for speedier laying of roads, remote operated hydraulic Rock Drills DC-400 R for hard rock cutting, a range of F-90 series of self-propelled snow-cutters/blowers for speedier snow clearance.
Recommendation 3- New Technology like blasting technology for precision blasting, use of Geo-Textiles for soil stabilisation, cementitious base for pavements, plastic coated aggregates for surfacing, is also being used to enhance the pace of construction. With the empowerment of field officers through enhanced delegation of financial and administrative powers, there has been significant improvement in faster financial closure of works.
The land acquisition and all statutory clearances like forest and environmental clearance are also made part of approval of Detailed Project Report (DPR). Further, with the adoption of EPC mode of execution, it is mandatory to award work only when 90 per cent of the statutory clearances have been obtained, implementing the recommendation of CoE regarding obtaining prior clearances before the commencement of the project.
The Shekatkar Committee
It was set up by former defence minister Manohar Parrikar, and submitted its report in December 2016.
According to a 2017 report, the Shekatkar Committee had recommended that
- India’s defence budget should be in the range of 2.5 to 3 per cent of the GDP, keeping in mind possible future threats.
- Establishment of a Joint Services War College for training for middle-level officers, even through the three separate war colleges — Mhow, Secunderabad and Goa — could continue to train younger officers for their respective services.
- Military Intelligence School at Pune be converted to a tri-service intelligence training establishment.
- The first phase of the reforms approved by Jaitley involves redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts of officers/JCOs/ORs and civilians.
- The report also focuses on optimisation of Signals establishments to include radio monitoring companies, corps air support signal regiments, air formation signal regiments, composite signal regiments, and merger of corps operating and engineering signal regiments.
- It included restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include base workshops, advance base workshops and static/station workshops in the field Army.
- It also called for the closure of military farms and army postal establishments in peace locations, which is among the recommendations already implemented.
Border Roads Organisation (BRO)
- The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) develops and maintains road networks in India’s border areas and friendly neighboring countries.
- In a bid to boost border connectivity, the Border Roads Organisation has been entirely brought under the Ministry of Defence.
- During Peace
- To develop & maintain the operational road infrastructure of General Staff (GS) in the Border Areas.
- To contribute to the socio-economic development of the border states.
- During War
- To develop & maintain roads to keep line of control through in original sectors and re-deployed sectors.
- To execute additional tasks as laid down by the Govt. contributing to the war effort
Solve: The central government has already initiated army reforms based on recommendations of Shetkar committee. What are these reforms? Also explain how it must be quickly followed by implementation of other recommendations, particularly those of higher defence management.
Cabinet approves modifications in the existing Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme (PCGS) for MSMEs
(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development)
The government recently relaxed the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme (PCGS) norms worth Rs 45,000 crore and extended its time period in order to widen the coverage to include a larger number of non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), housing finance companies (HFCs) and microfinance institutions. The extension of the existing scheme will address the liability side concerns.
The Union Cabinet has approved the Sovereign portfolio guarantee of up to 20 percent of first loss for purchase of Bonds or Commercial Papers (CPs) with a rating of AA and below (including unrated paper with original/ initial maturity of up to one year) issued by NBFCs/ MFCs/Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) by Public Sector Banks (PSBs) through the extension of the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme.
The Cabinet also approved modifications in the existing PCGS on purchase of pooled assets, increasing its coverage by relaxing the net profit criteria to the extent that the concerned NBFC/HFC should now have made a profit in at least one of the financial years of FY2017-18, FY 2018-19 and 2019-20. Earlier, the NBFC/HFC should have made a net profit in at least one of the financial years of FY 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Why is it being modified?
Modifications in the existing PCGS will enable wider coverage of the scheme on the asset side also. “Since NBFCs, HFCs, and MFIs play a crucial role in sustaining consumption demand as well as capital formation in small and medium segment, it is essential that they continue to get funding without disruption, and the extended PCGS is expected to systematically enable the same,” the government said.
Impact: COVID-19 crisis and consequent lockdown restrictions are likely to have a negative impact on both collections and fresh loan disbursements, besides a deleterious effect on the overall economy. This is anticipated to result not only in asset quality issues for the NBFC/ HFC/ MFI sector, but also low loan growth as well as higher borrowing costs for the sector, with a cascading effect on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) which borrow from them. While the RBI moratorium provides some relief on the assets side, it is on the liabilities side that the sector is likely to face increasing challenges. The extension of the existing Scheme will address the liability side concerns. In addition, modifications in the existing PCGS will enable wider coverage of the Scheme on the asset side also. Since NBFCs, HFCs and MFIs play a crucial role in sustaining consumption demand as well as capital formation in small and medium segment, it is essential that they continue to get funding without disruption, and the extended PCGS is expected to systematically enable the same.
Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS)
The Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) has been formulated as a specific response to the unprecedented situation caused by COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown, which has severely impacted manufacturing and other activities in the MSME sector. The Scheme aims at mitigating the economic distress being faced by MSMEs by providing them additional funding of up to Rs. 3 lakh crore in the form of a fully guaranteed emergency credit line. The main objective of the Scheme is to provide an incentive to Member Lending Institutions (MLIs), i.e., Banks, Financial Institutions (FIs) and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) to increase access to, and enable availability of additional funding facility to MSME borrowers, in view of the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 crisis, by providing them 100 per cent guarantee for any losses suffered by them due to non-repayment of the GECL funding by borrowers.
RBI announces nine additional measures for strengthening the Economy
(Topic: Economy; Measures by RBI during COVID-19)
“It is when the horizon is the darkest and human reason is beaten down to the ground that faith shines brightest and comes to our rescue.”
The Goals of the measures:
- To keep the financial system and financial markets sound, liquid and smoothly functioning
- To ensure access to finance to all, especially those that tend to get excluded by financial markets
- To preserve financial stability
Measures to Improve the Functioning of Markets
- Refinance Facility to SIDBI extended for another 90 days: In order to enable increased supply of affordable credit to small industries
- Relaxation of Rules for Foreign Portfolio Investment under Voluntary Retention Route: The VRR is an investment window provided by RBI to Foreign Portfolio Investors, which provides easier rules in return for a commitment to make higher investments. The rules stipulate that at least 75% of the allotted investment limit be invested within three months; considering the difficulties being faced by investors and their custodians, the time limit has now been revised to six months.
Measures to Support Exports and Imports
- Exporters can now Avail Bank Loans for Higher Period: The maximum permissible period of pre-shipment and post-shipment export credit sanctioned by banks to exporters has been increased from the existing one year to 15 months, for disbursements made up to July 31, 2020.
- Loan facility to EXIM Bank: The Governor has announced a line of credit of ₹15,000 crore to the EXIM Bank, for financing, facilitating and promoting India’s foreign trade.
- More time for Importers to Pay for Imports: Extended from six months to twelve months from the date of shipment.
Measures to Ease Financial Stress
- Extension of Regulatory Measures by another 3 Months: These measures will now be applicable for a total period of six months (i.e. from March 1, 2020 to August 31, 2020). The aforesaid regulatory measures are:
- (a) 3-month moratorium on term loan instalments;
- (b) 3-month deferment of interest on working capital facilities;
- (c) easing of working capital financing requirements by reducing margins or reassessment of working capital cycle;
- (d) exemption from being classified as ‘defaulter’ in supervisory reporting and reporting to credit information companies;
- (e) extension of resolution timelines for stressed assets; and
- (f) asset classification standstill by excluding the moratorium period of 3 months, etc. by lending institutions. The lending institutions have been permitted to restore the margins for working capital to their original levels by March 31, 2021. Similarly, the measures pertaining to reassessment of working capital cycle are being extended up to March 31, 2021.
- Provision to convert Interest on Working Capital into Interest Term Loan: Lending institutions have been allowed to convert the accumulated interest on working capital facilities over the total deferment period of 6 months (i.e. March 1, 2020 up to August 31, 2020) into a funded interest term loan, to be fully repaid during the course of the current financial year, ending March 31, 2021.
- Increase of Group Exposure Limit to Increase Fund Flow to Corporates: The maximum credit which banks can extend to a particular corporate group has been increased from 25% to 30% of the bank’s eligible capital base.
Measures to ease financial constraints faced by State Governments
- States allowed to borrow more from Consolidated Sinking Fund: The Consolidated Sinking Fund is being maintained by state governments as a buffer for repayment of their liabilities. The rules governing withdrawal from this Fund have now been relaxed, in order to enable states to enable them to repay their borrowings from the market, which become due in 2020-21.
Scheme for formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (FME)
(Topic: Food Processing Industry)
There are about 25 lakh unregistered food processing enterprises which constitute 98% of the sector and are unorganized and informal. Nearly 66 % of these units are located in rural areas and about 80% of them are family-based enterprises.
This sector faces a number of challenges including
- The inability to access credit
- High cost of institutional credit
- Lack of access to modern technology
- Inability to integrate with the food supply chain
- Compliance with the health &safety standards
Strengthening this segment will lead to reduction in wastage, creation of off-farm job opportunities and aid in achieving the overarching Government objective of doubling farmers’ income.
- Increase in access to finance by micro food processing units.
- Increase in revenues of target enterprises.
- Enhanced compliance with food quality and safety standards.
- Strengthening capacities of support systems.
- Transition from the unorganized sector to the formal sector.
- Special focus on women entrepreneurs and Aspirational districts.
- Encourage Waste to Wealth activities.
- Focus on minor forest produce in Tribal Districts.
- Centrally Sponsored Scheme. Expenditure to be shared by Government of India and States at 60:40.
- 2,00,000 micro-enterprises are to be assisted with credit linked subsidy.
- Scheme will be implemented over a 5 year period from 2020-21 to 2024-25.
- Cluster approach.
- Focus on perishables.
Support to Individual micro units:
- Micro enterprises will get credit linked subsidy @ 35% of the eligible project cost with ceiling of Rs.10 lakh.
- Beneficiary contribution will be minimum 10% and balance from loan.
- On-site skill training & Handholding for DPR and technical upgradation.
Support to FPOs/SHGs/Cooperatives:
- Seed capital to SHGs for loan to members for working capital and small tools.
- Grant for backward/ forward linkages, common infrastructure, packaging, marketing & branding.
- Skill training & Handholding support.
- Credit linked capital subsidy.
Impact and employment generation:
- Nearly eight lakh micro- enterprises will benefit through access to information, better exposure and formalization.
- Credit linked subsidy support and hand-holding will be extended to 2,00,000 micro enterprises for expansion and upgradation.
- It will enable them to formalize, grow and become competitive.
- The project is likely to generate nine lakh skilled and semi-skilled jobs.
- Scheme envisages increased access to credit by existing micro food processing entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in the Aspirational Districts.
- Better integration with organized markets.
- Increased access to common services like sorting, grading, processing, packaging, storage etc.
Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana – A scheme to bring about Blue Revolution through sustainable and responsible development of fisheries sector in India
(Topic: Fisheries sector)
Duration: FY 2020-21 to FY 2024-25
- Address the critical gaps in the fisheries sector and realize its potential
- Augmenting fish production and productivity at a sustained average annual growth rate of about 9% to achieve a target of 22 million metric tons by 2024-25 through sustainable and responsible fishing practices
- Improving availability of certified quality fish seed and feed, traceability in fish and including effective aquatic health management.
- Creation of critical infrastructure including modernisation and strengthening of value chain
- Creation of direct gainful employment opportunities to about 15 lakh fishers, fish farmers, fish workers, fish vendors and other rural/urban populations in fishing and allied activities and about thrice this number as indirect employment opportunities including enhancement of their incomes
- Boost to investments in fisheries sector and increase of competitiveness of fish and fisheries products
- Doubling of fishers, fish farmers and fish workers incomes by 2024
- Social, physical and economic security for fishers and fish workers
States express desire to expedite early notification of Ecologically Sensitive Area of Western Ghats
(Topic: Climate Change, Environment and Conservation)
The Western ghats are tropical rainforests that area a biodiversity hotspot. It is an ecological sensitive regions spanning over six states in Indian peninsula. They are in danger due to human encroachment, pollution and climate change.
The Centre had constituted a High-Level Working Group under the Chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan to conserve and protect the biodiversity of Western Ghats while allowing for sustainable and inclusive development of the region. Each state expressed its desire to expedite early notification while protecting interests of ecology and environment of Western Ghats.
To protect the western ghats major expert committees have given their recommendations:
- Madhav Gadgil Committee also called Western ghats ecology experts committee
- High level working group under Kasturirangan (Kasturirangan committee)
- Oommen V Oommen Committee
Gadgil Committee Recommendations:
- The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire hill range as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
- The panel, in its report, has classified the 142 taluks in the Western Ghats boundary into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3.
- ESZ-1 being of high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
- Gadgil report recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1
- It specifies that the present system of governance of the environment should be changed. It asked for bottom to top approach (right from Gram Sabha) rather than a top to bottom approach. It also asked for decentralization and more powers to local authorities.
- The commission recommended constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Examination of Madhav Gadgil Report
- The major criticism faced by Gagdil Committee report was that it was more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities.
- Recommendations were cited as impractical to implement.
- Gadgil report has asked for complete eco-sensitive cover for Western Ghats which hamper different states on energy and development fronts.
- There was criticism against the constitution of a new body called WGEA. States insist that protection can be given under existing laws.
- Gadgil report doesn’t give solution for revenue losses due to implementation of its recommendations.
- Gadgil report is against dams in Western Ghats, which is a crucial blow on the ailing power sector. Considering the growing energy needs of India, critics argue that this recommendation cannot be taken.
Kasturirangan committee Report Recommendations
- Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the total area be brought under ESA under Kasturirangan report.
- Complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
- Distinguished between cultural (58% occupied in Western Ghats by it like human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations) and naturallandscape (90% of it should come under ESA according to committee).
- Current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.
- No thermal power be allowed and hydropower projects be allowed only after detailed study.
- Red industries i.e. which are highly polluting be strictly banned in these areas.
- Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats has made several pro-farmer recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
Examination of Kasturirangan committee Report
- The Kasturirangan panel used remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal demarcation of land in Western Ghats. The usage of such techniques, without examining the ground reality, has caused many errors in the report.
- The power is vested with the bureaucrats and forest officials and not with gram sabhas.
- Many fear that the farmers would get evicted if the Kasturirangan Committee report is implemented. Under this report, the mining and quarrying lobbies is expected to flourish. When these lobbies and tourism flourish, it will be disastrous for the environment. There will be water shortage, there will be pollution. Finally, farmers will have to quit the area. They will not be able to do farming there.
- The use of “erroneous method” had caused inclusion of many villages under Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) though there were only rubber plantations and no forest land!
- Kasturirangan report included ecologically non-sensitive areas under ESA, and left out many ecologically sensitive areas.
Recommendations of Oommen V Oommen Committee
- The committee recommended the government to make changes in the clauses of Environmentally Fragile Land (EFL) in the Western Ghats.
- The committee adopted satellite survey to determine EFL and even plantations and estates were included in it!
- It also recommended stopping land acquisition proceedings according to the Kasturirangan committee report.
- The panel has made several pro-farmer recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs). The Kasturirangan report had said 123 villages fall under the ESA purview.
- The report said forest areas should be fenced to prevent the animals straying into it.
- Ecologically Sensitive Areas
- Conservation is best achieved by those who know the forest
- Various committees have examined the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats and recommended developmental strategies. Examine those recommendations through the lens of sustainability.
- Trace the differences in Kasturirangan and Gadgil’s report on the demarcation of ESA in the Western Ghats region. Is Kasturirangan’s report a diluted version of Gadgil report? Critically examine.
- Is National Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) synonymous to the concept of ‘Green India’? Comment.
Super Cyclonic Storm ‘AMPHAN’
(Topic: Disaster Management)
Extremely severe cyclone Amphan that hit West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh on Wednesday foregrounds the compounded challenge of dealing with natural disasters—increasingly exacerbated by climate amidst a pandemic. To save lives, Odisha and West Bengal have had to evacuate over 4.5 lakh people, and Bangladesh 22 lakh. In normal times, such evacuation would have been a disaster management triumph. But, in a Covid-19 world, it represents a governance challenge that neither of the two Indian states nor Bangladesh is ready for. Given the damage to power, road, housing, and other infrastructure, evacuees are likely to be stranded in cyclone shelters for days, if not weeks, and since cyclone shelters are designed to minimise loss of life by packing as many people together as possible, distancing, one of the key measures to contain Covid-19 spread, may simply not be possible.
The storm is the first super cyclone to form in the Bay of Bengal since 1999. Though its winds had weakened by the time it struck, it was still classified as a very severe cyclone. Coronavirus restrictions have been hindering emergency and relief efforts. Covid-19 and social-distancing measures made mass evacuations more difficult, with shelters unable to be used to full capacity.
The Sundarbans did their duty
The Sundarbans are in the largest delta in the world — and shared by both Bangladesh and India. It also has the largest single tract mangrove forest in the world. Here reside hundreds of flora and fauna species — among them, the Royal Bengal Tigers. Humans and tigers live side-by-side in a unique biosphere. Even before Amphan, this fragile nature’s bulwark was threatened by rising water levels engulfing islands, increasing storms, and pollution from tourism.
But the delta’s mangroves act as nature’s shock absorbers, as cyclone after cyclone hits the coastline. They keep the mainland safe from the harshest impact of storms.
And that’s exactly what they did when Amphan came. But in the process, the Sundarbans were battered, flattened, and the islands destroyed. Homes and cattle were swept away. Saline water seeped into fertile land. And jobless workers who came back home to these islands during the lockdown now face an even bleaker future.
As global warming increases sea temperatures and water levels, more such powerful tropical storms will become the norm. And if these destroyed mangroves do not regenerate and regrow in a protected environment, disaster awaits Bengal.
What saved Sundarbans from being completely washed away?
1 HOUR: separated the maximum intensity of Cyclone Amphan and the high tide peak. That is what saved Sundarbans from being completely washed away May 20, 2020 night.
The combined effect of the high tide and Amphan pushed water level to 5.45 metres in Sagar at 8.38 pm — about 0.7 m above prediction,” said a source associated with the Kolkata Port Trust. “It could have been much more devastating had the peak overlapped with high tide”. The mud embankments in Sundarbans are generally 5 feet high. Most of them thus barely escaped being breached by surging saline water.
However, 87 km of river embankment have been severely damaged; out of that 8 km has been completely washed away.
The story of cyclone Amphan — pronounced Um-pun and meaning ‘sky’ in Thai — is not just a tale of natural disaster and destruction, but also of political distancing, media apathy, climate change, and a UNESCO world heritage mangrove fortress.
Why Cyclone Amphan Can’t Be Declared a ‘National Disaster’?
Because there is no legal provision for defining a national disaster.
The Disaster Management Act of 2005, which guides India’s disaster planning does not have any provision for notifying any disaster as a ‘national calamity’ or a ‘national disaster’. In fact, the Act does not have clear demarcations for national, state or local level disasters. The Act only defines a disaster as:
“A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property, or damage to, or degradation of environment, and is of such nature or magnitude, as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.”
How to Classify Natural Disasters?
The National Disaster Management Plan 2016, published by the National Disaster Management Authority, categorises disasters into three levels – L1, L2 and L3 – based on “the vulnerability of disaster-affected area, and the capacity of the authorities to deal with the situation.”
Although these categories find no mention in DM Act 2005, the NDMP specifically outlines the scope of each of these categories:
Level-L1: The level of disaster that can be managed within the capabilities and resources at the district level. However, the state authorities will remain in readiness to provide assistance if needed.
Level-L2: The level of disaster which requires assistance and active mobilisation of resources at the state level. At this level, the state is required to deploy its agencies for for disaster management. The central agencies must remain vigilant for immediate deployment if required by the state.
Level-L3: This corresponds to a nearly catastrophic situation or a very large-scale disaster that goes beyond the response capacity of the State and District authorities and require assistance from the central government for reinstating the state and district machinery. This is the level that cyclone Amphan is most likely to fall under.
So, what about the natural disasters like the more recent flash floods in Uttarakhand , Cyclone Hudhud and the Kerala floods in 2018?
They were later classified as “calamities of severe nature”.
How is Funding Decided?
Since management of disasters is considered a state matter, according to NDMP, the primary responsibility for undertaking rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures during a disaster lies with the state governments. But the central government pitches in through logistic and financial support during ‘severe’ disasters on request of the state governments.
According to Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) guidelines, in the event of “calamity of severe nature” a Lok Sabha MP from any part of the the country can recommend work up to a maximum of Rs 1 crore for the affected district.
The five Ps of disaster management
Prominent role of Governments: There is a need for a genuinely non-discriminatory and equal approach qua all states. Irrespective of Bengal’s eligibility, capacity or political orientation, the Centre owes it to such states to specially reach out to international institutions.
Pool of Funds: There is a need to exponentially increase government allocation to fight natural disasters.
Planning, especially long-term, of rehabilitation and development: We cannot, on the one hand, rightly project India as a global leader and, on the other, pale when it comes to justifiable proportionate global comparisons. In the 2011 tsunami-earthquake, Japan allocated $167 billion for rehabilitation and recovery. It made a five-year plan to do so comprehensively. Similarly, the US Congress allocated $121.7 billion in hurricane relief in 2005 and 2008. Though precise figures for allocation “per head of vulnerable group” are not available, it is clear that comparisons with India on per-affected-population basis yield a dismal picture.
Planning which is Targeted: Random allocation is far less useful than targeted and focused relief measures. Japan’s targeted five-year plan focussed on each stakeholder — from fisheries to housing and power. Knee-jerk reactions in grand mega-announcements after cyclones, without specific sub-allocations, lose their limited vigour and vitality by the time they reach the ground target.
Preparedness qua countermeasures: Planned and targeted measures need to be coupled with a robust institutional framework. After 2011, the Japanese government enacted the “Act on the Development of Tsunami-resilient Communities”, to efficiently combine structural and non-structural measures to minimise damage. All municipalities had to draft their reconstruction plans based on modelling and the plans were based entirely on urban planning, land management, structural mitigation and relocation. Such innovations have barely been conceptualised in India, much less implemented and even medium-term thinking, much less long-term planning, is conspicuously overwhelmed by short-term ad hocism.
Policy qua institutional support: Given our cyclical annual natural disasters, we have very little policy focus on pre-disaster countermeasures. Prevention is always better than cure, and such countermeasures will be highly effective as well as cost-effective. Many countries in their disaster-prone coastal regions have constructed high seawalls to protect vulnerable communities. Odisha’s cyclone shelters are a praiseworthy-but-partial achievement, deserving emulation.
- Political Distancing in India
- Climate-resilient housing is the way forward
- India needs a focused approach to cyclical natural disasters.
- Pandemic preparedness can’t remain separate from climate-change & disaster preparedness. Discuss.
- Essay: Sundarbans: A sitting duck to potential future sequels of disasters spurred by climate change.
A. RNA extraction kit Agappe Chitra Magna launched commercially for detection of COVID 19: A magnetic nanoparticle-based RNA extraction kit for use during testing for detection of COVID-19.
- The innovative process of conjugating the RNA with magnetic nanoparticles and increasing their concentration in one place by applying a magnetic field is a breakthrough that allowed the high sensitivity of RT-LAMP test.
- The magnetic nanoparticle beads bind to the viral RNA and, when exposed to a magnetic field, give a highly purified and concentrated RNA. As the sensitivity of the detection method is dependent on getting an adequate quantity of viral RNA, this innovation enhances the chances of identifying positive cases.
- A major step in making India self-reliant in detecting COVID 19 and can help increase the rate of testing and bring down its costs, a crucial step for combating the pandemic. It can also be an example of rapid commercialization and implementation of a state of the art technology for the world to emulate.
B. New ways to prevent memory loss due to Alzheimer: The development of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease assumes importance India as it has the third highest number of Alzheimer’s patients in the world, after China and US, with more than four million people falling prey to the memory loss associated with it. While current treatments only alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease, there is no disruptive therapeutic approach yet that can treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s.
- A defining hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid beta peptides in the brain. Doctors seek methods to reduce the accumulation of these peptides, in order to arrest the progression of Alzheimer’s.
- In 2019, the IIT Guwahati scientists found that application of a low-voltage, safe electrical field can reduce the formation and accumulation of toxic neurodegenerative molecules that cause short-term memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. They found that external electric/magnetic field modulates the structure of these peptide molecules, thereby preventing aggregation.
- Working further in this area, the scientists explored the possibility of using ‘Trojan peptides’ to arrest aggregation of these neurotoxic molecules. The idea of using ‘Trojan peptide’ comes from mythological “Trojan Horse” used as subterfuge by the Greeks in the battle of Troy. The researchers have designed Trojan peptides by adopting a similar approach of ‘deceit’ to impede the aggregation of the amyloid peptide, arrest the formation of toxic fibrillar assemblies, and reduce poisoning of nerve cells that leads to memory loss.
C. Alternative dwarfing genes in wheat can eliminate rice crop residue burning:
- In India, close to twenty-three million tonnes of leftover rice residues are annually burnt by farmers to get rid of the straw and prepare their fields for sowing wheat, which is the next crop, resulting in air pollution. Also, dry environments pose a challenge for the germination of wheat varieties with short coleoptile.
- To overcome these problems, Scientists at Pune based Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology, have mapped two alternative dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat. These genes are associated with better seedling vigour and longer coleoptiles (sheath protecting the young shoot tip).
- These DNA based markers are being used at ARI for marker-assisted transfer of these genes in Indian wheat varieties, so as to make them suitable for sowing under rice stubble-retained conditions and dry environments. Wheat breeding lines with these alternative dwarfing genes are presently at an advanced stage.
- Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.
Burning of leftover rice crop residue has serious implications for the environment, soil, and human health. Therefore, there is a need to include alternative dwarfing genes in wheat improvement programs. These lines will also allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil, therefore, saving valuable water resources and reduce the cost of cultivation to farmers.
D. IASST develops electrochemical sensing platform for detecting carcinogenic & mutagenic compounds in food:
- Developed an electrochemical sensing platform for detecting carcinogenic or mutagenic compound N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and N-nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA) sometimes found in food items like cured meat, bacon, some cheese, and low-fat milk.
- It was achieved by developing a modified electrode by immobilizing carbon nanomaterials (carbon dots) in DNA.
- The scientists pointed out that with changing food habits of urban Indians, they are exposed to harmful chemicals belonging to Nitrosamine family in cured meats, bacon, some cheese, low-fat dry milk, and fish. Such chemicals include carcinogenic ones like NDMA and NDEA, which may also alter the chemical composition of our DNA. Hence it is important to develop detection techniques to detect them.
- The electrochemical biosensor platform was developed using the ability of NDMA and NDEA, to alter the DNA. Carbon dots (CDs), a carbon-based nanomaterial, was used, which is already established as a biocompatible and environmentally friendly material. Naturally derived chitosan, (natural biopolymer obtained from the shells of shrimp, lobster, and crabs) is an environment-friendly sustainable material that was used to synthesize CDs.
- As this is an electrochemical sensor, electrode was developed by depositing carbon dots (carbon nanoparticles) and then immobilizing bacterial DNA on them. This electrode system was used to measure the current peak. Both NDMA and NDEA alters the chemical structure of DNA present in the electrode, making it more conducting, which ultimately results in the increased current peak.
E. Tea chemicals could lower coronavirus activity: Tea chemicals could be effective in boosting immunity as they can block coronavirus activity better than anti-HIV drugs
International Museum Day: 18th May
World Turtle Day: 23rd May; Turtles have been cleaning our water resources and they don’t charge us for doing that job.
Cabinet approves issuance of the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Second Order, 2020 in relation of Jammu & Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment) Act
- This Order would apply the specified domicile criterion for employment to all posts in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir
- This order has further modified the applicability of domicile conditions to all levels of jobs in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir under the Jammu & Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment) Act (Act No. XVI of 2010)
- The administration has issued new rules allowing people belonging to then ‘West Pakistan’, Valmikis, women marrying outside their communities, non-registered Kashmiri migrants and displaced people to get domicile. Children of the people in these categories can now also get jobs in Jammu and Kashmir as they will be entitled to rights after they are granted domicile, according to the Jammu and Kashmir grant of domicile certificate (procedure) rules, 2020.
Star Rating of Garbage Free Cities
5 Stars: Ambikapur, Rajkot, Surat, Mysuru, Indore and Navi Mumbai
3-Star: 65 cities
1-Star: 70 cities
- Star Rating Protocol for Garbage Free Cities – a comprehensive framework similar to our examination systems where each ward in every city must achieve a certain standard across 24 different components of solid waste management (SWM) and is graded based on overall marks received.
- The aim is to institutionalize as well as bring consistency and transparency when it comes to SWM. This certification is not only an acknowledgement of the clean status of Urban Local Bodies and strengthened SWM systems but also a mark of trust and reliability akin to universally known standards.
- The protocol has been devised in a holistic manner including components such as cleanliness of drains & water bodies, plastic waste management, managing construction & demolition waste, etc. which are critical drivers for achieving garbage free cities.
- While the key thrust of this protocol is on SWM, it also takes care of ensuring certain minimum standards of sanitation through a set of prerequisites defined in the framework.
Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana extended: PMVVY is a social security scheme for senior citizens intended to give an assured minimum pension to them based on an assured return on the purchase price / subscription amount.
AtmaNirbhar Bharat Package for allocation of foodgrains to the migrants / stranded migrants: To approximately 8 crore migrants / stranded migrants @ 5 kg per person per month (May and June, 2020) for two months free of cost.