Environmental pollution, degradation and conservation
- Stubble burning
Indian Economy, planning and development and Industrial growth
- Core sectors performance
- Credit Default Swaps
Health, Education and Human Resources
- Gaps in Learning
Appointment of various constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of constitutional bodies, statutory and quasi-judicial bodies
- Central Information commission
1) Stubble burning:
What is stubble burning?
- Stubble burning refers to the practice of farmers setting fire to plant debris that remain in farms after harvest.
- Before the 1980s, farmers used to till the remaining debris back into the soil after harvesting the crops manually.
Origin of stubble burning
- Can be traced to the advent of then Green Revolution and mechanized harvesting, which utilized the combined harvesting technique.
- The Green Revolution increased greatly rice and wheat production, which simultaneously increased stubble post-harvest.
- However, the popular combined harvesting technique was not efficacious, as machines left behind onefoottall stalks.
Adverse impacts of Stubble burning
- Stubble burning is practiced predominantly by farmers in north India.
- It releases harmful gases including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
- In recent years, this practice has created vast smoke blankets across the IndoGangetic Plain and numerous neighboring States, including Delhi.
- This directly exposes millions of people to air pollution.
- As per a TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) report, in 2019 the air pollution in New Delhi and other parts of north India was 20 times higher than the safe threshold level as prescribed by the World Health Organization.
- Stubble burning also has a deleterious impact on soil fertility, destroys organic fertilizers and reduces ground water levels.
- Stubble burning during a pandemic could worsen the situation by making lungs weaker and people more susceptible to disease.
- It could also impact those recovering from infection.
- In 2013, stubble burning was banned by the Punjab government.
- In 2015, the National Green Tribunal imposed a ban on stubble burning in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab and directed
- government to assist farmers by obtaining equipment like happy seeders and rotavator.
Is stubble burning an offence?
- Stubble burning is an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.
Steps taken to stop stubble burning?
- In Aditya Dubey v. Union of India, the Supreme Court appointed retired apex court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur as a one man committee to monitor and provide steps to prevent stubble burning activities in Punjab, Haryana and U.P.
- Haryana submitted that numerous steps are taken to curb stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, including the development of an app to detect and notify authorities about stubble burning committed in a particular field.
- Now the Union government has brought out an ordinance to set up a permanent commission for air quality management, which will replace the Justice Madan B. Lokur Commission
- A revolution in timely stubble removal is the need of the hour. The action plan of Punjab and Haryana appears to focus more on setting up Custom Hiring Centers which will facilitate farmers removing stubble by providing them with machinery such as the happy seeder, rotavator, paddy straw chopper, etc. on rent along with the supply of more balers.
- As per a study by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, the application of happy seeders and super SMS machines can improve agricultural productivity by 10% to 15% while reducing labor costs and allowing the soil to become more fertile.
- This year, the Union government is testing an innovative method, the PUSA Decomposer, developed at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa.
- The PUSA Decomposer is a set of four tablets made by extracting fungi strains that help the paddy straw to decompose at a much faster rate than usual, giving farmers the option to shred the straw, spray a solution containing the fungal strains, and mix it with the soil for decomposition.
If methods such as this become successful, it will be a new revolution in farming. This has the potential to both reduce air pollution and increase soil fertility.
2) Core Sectors Performance:
Why in news?
- India’s eight core industry sectors shrank just 0.8% in September on a year-on-year basis, recording their lowest contraction since March 2020, with electricity and steel output clocking positive growth for the first time since March, and coal production rising for the second month in a row.
- Cement output improved in September, recording a 3.5% year-on-year drop — the lowest since March when production had collapsed 25.1%. Surprisingly, fertilizer production which had grown consistently from May to August, marginally contracted in September by 0.3%.
- The Office of the Economic Adviser in the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, GOI. Which compiles the Index of Eight Core Industries, also revised its earlier estimates for June and August.
- The final growth rate of Index of Eight Core Industries for June 2020 is revised to (-) 12.4 %.
- Consequently, output contraction from the core sectors, which account for little over 40% of the Index of Industrial Production, stood at 14.9% in the first half of 2020-21, recovering slightly from the 17.8% decline recorded by August.
- September’s improvement in core sector numbers is also attributable to the effect of a lower base, as the index had recorded negative growth of 5.1% in September 2019, with coal, steel and electricity clocking output contractions.
- Coal output which had shrunk in September 2019
- Steel production grew by 0.9% in September 2020
- Electricity output similarly grew 3.7%, vis-a-vis a 2.6% decline recorded in September 2019.
- Production of natural gas (-10.6%), crude oil (-6%) and refinery products (-9.5%) continued to fall in September, indicating these sectors are yet to recover from the demand shock that followed the national lockdown imposed in late March.
- Natural gas output fell for the sixteenth month in a row, crude oil fell for the 34th successive month and refinery products recorded their seventh month of contraction, as per a CARE Ratings note on Thursday’s data.
- The sharp improvement in the core sector output is encouraging and collates well with the higher consumer spending seen in early October.
- A low base effect in the next month and the further unlocking of the economy is likely to push this growth into positive territory in the next month.
- The negative growth in the oil segment will further narrow in the coming months as the unlock process becomes more prevalent in the country.
The eight-core sectors of the Indian economy are:
- Refinery products
- Crude oil
- Natural gas
Index of Industrial Production
The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is an index that shows the growth rates in different industry groups
It is compiled and published monthly by the National Statistical Office (NSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
IIP is a composite indicator that measures the growth rate of industry groups classified under:
- Manufacturing and
- Basic Goods
- Capital Goods
- Intermediate Goods.
The eight core sector industries represent about 40% of the weight of items that are included in the IIP.
Base Year for IIP calculation is 2011-2012.
Significance of IIP:
IIP measures the physical volume of production.
2) Gaps in Learning:
Why in news?
About 20% of rural children have no textbooks at home, according to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey.
In Andhra Pradesh, less than 35% of children had textbooks, and only 60% had textbooks in Rajasthan.
More than 98% had textbooks in West Bengal, Nagaland and Assam.
Learning Activity among children
- In the week of the survey, about one in three rural children had done no learning activity at all.
- About two in three had no learning material or activity given by their school that week, and only one in 10 had access to live online classes.
- However, it’s not always about technology; in fact, levels of smartphone ownership have almost doubled from 2018, but a third of children with smartphone access still did not receive any learning materials.
Permission to States
- Although the Centre has now permitted States to start reopening schools if they can follow COVID19 safety protocols, a majority of the country’s 25 crore students are still at home after seven straight months.
- The ASER survey provides a glimpse into the levels of learning loss that students in rural India are suffering, with varying levels of access to technology, school and family resources, resulting in a digital divide in education.
- It found that 5.3% of rural children aged 610 years had not yet enrolled in school this year, in comparison to just 1.8% in 2018.
- This seems to indicate that due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, families are waiting for the physical opening of schools to enroll their youngest children, with about 10% of sixyearolds not in school.
- Among 1516 year olds, however, enrolment levels are actually slightly higher than in 2018.
- Enrolment patterns also show a slight shift toward government schools, with Private schools seeing a drop in enrolment in all age groups.
Availability of Smartphones
- In 2018, ASER surveyors found that about 36% of rural households with school going children had smartphones.
- By 2020, that figure had spiked to 62%. About 11% of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80% were smartphones.
- This may indicate why Whatsapp was by far the most popular mode of transmitting learning materials to students, with 75% of students who got some input receiving it via the app.
- Schools opt for a hybrid solution of partial reopening ad online learning
- Expanding availability of textbooks to all including those who dropped out or are waiting to be formally admitted, will help parents and siblings aid learning.
- Bridging the divide on educational aids, now including smartphones, will enable transmission of learning materials, and personal tutorial sessions.
- Beyond these basics, however, the education system could creatively use opportunities during the current year to broaden learning.
- Students could use the safety of the open countryside to learn, under guidance from teachers, a host of topics by doing things themselves.
- This is particularly feasible for lower classes, where observational learning creates a strong foundation.
- Educational video, which has helped thousands, can advance learning even beyond the pandemic, using talented teacher communicators.
- States such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala have already hosted curriculum based video lessons on the Internet, after beaming them on television.
It will take outofthebox thinking during the pandemic to come up with interventions that are a substitute for traditional methods and prevent 2020 becoming a zero year, as parents everywhere remain wary of sending children to school.
- ASER is a nationwide survey of rural education and learning outcomes in terms of reading and arithmetic skills that has been conducted by the NGO Pratham for the last 15 years.
3) Central Information Commission:
Why in news?
- Former diplomat and Central Information Commissioner Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha is tipped to be appointed the next Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), two months after the position fell vacant, sources said on Thursday.
- The decision was taken after an October 24 meeting of the high-powered selection panel headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Central Information Commission
- The commission consists of a chief and up to 10 commissioners.
- It has been headless twice this year, due to a two month delay in appointing the last chief, Bimal Julka, and another two- month period since he retired in Augustend.
- It has not functioned at full strength for almost four years, and currently has only five commissioners, leading to a backlog of 37,000 pending cases.
- When the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued advertisements for vacancies in July, it received 139 applications for the CIC position and 355 applications for the Information Commissioner posts.
- The three member selection committee, including the Prime Minister, Mr. Chowdhury and Home Minister Amit Shah, met twice, on October 7 and 24. Minister of State Jitendra Singh was also present, according to sources.
- They considered Mr. Sinha and his fellow commissioner and former Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Neeraj Kumar Gupta, for the CIC position.
- It is not known how many vacancies are being filled. In a February 2019 order, the top court ruled that long delays in clearing appeals frustrated citizens’ rights, and directed that appointments be made in a “transparent and timely” manner.
How is Central Information Commission constituted?
- Under the provision of Section-12 of RTI Act 2005 the Central Government shall, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute a body to be known as the Central Information Commission. The Central Information Commission shall consist of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and such number of Central Information Commissioners not exceeding 10 as may be deemed necessary.
What is the term of office and other service conditions of CIC?
- Chief Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office and shall not be eligible for reappointment:
- Salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner.
What is the term of office and other service conditions of IC?
- Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office and shall not be eligible for reappointment as such Information Commissioners provided.
- Provided that every Information Commissioner shall on vacating his office be eligible for appointment as the Chief Information Commissioner in the manner specified in sub-section (3) of section 12 of the RTI Act 2005:
- Provided further that where the Information Commissioner is appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner, his term of office shall not be more than five years in aggregate as the Information Commissioner and the Chief Information Commissioner.
- Section 13(5)(b) of the RTI Act 2005 provides that the salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of an Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner.
4) Credit Default Swaps:
Why in news?
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will soon issue fresh guidelines on credit default swaps (CDS), a financial derivative instrument to hedge risks in bond investments, a senior Finance Ministry official said on Thursday.
- The development of CDS is considered critical for deepening India’s bond markets and the government believes that the enactment of the Bilateral Netting of Qualified Financial Contracts law this month should pave the way for an active CDS market.
- Talks with regulators “The government is working with financial sector regulators, SEBI, RBI, IRDA and PFRDA to build a robust and vibrant bond market,” said Anand Bajaj, Additional Secretary, and Department of Economic Affairs.
‘Credit Default Swaps’
- Credit default swaps (CDS) are a type of insurance against default risk by a particular company.
- The company is called the reference entity and the default is called credit event.
- It is a contract between two parties, called protection buyer and protection seller.
- Under the contract, the protection buyer is compensated for any loss emanating from a credit event in a reference instrument.
- In return, the protection buyer makes periodic payments to the protection seller.
- In the event of a default, the buyer receives the face value of the bond or loan from the protection seller.
- From the seller’s perspective, CDS provides a source of easy money if there is no credit event.
- CDS was introduced by JP Morgan.