Weekly Current Affairs Prelims (9th to 15th Sep, 2019)
(Info-graphic Summary at the end)
Topic in Syllabus: Ecology and Environment
At least three to four species of animals, such as the Indian Cheetah, pink-headed duck, and the Great Indian Bustard, have become extinct due to desertification in India, researchers warned at the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP 14).
- Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.
- There are 197 parties to this convection including India.
- The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
- The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN).
- The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the financial mechanism of the UNCCD.
- The convention awards the ‘Land for Life Award’ every year for the innovation in efforts towards a land management, in line with achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What is Desertification?
- Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas.
- It is not the natural expansion of existing deserts.
- It is a gradual process of soil productivity loss and the thinning out of the vegetative cover because of human activities and climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods.
- It can be caused by over cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices. Such overexploitation is generally caused by economic and social pressure, ignorance, war, and drought.
Desertification and the Sustainable Development Goals
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development declares that “we are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations”.
Specifically, Goal 15 of SGD states to halt and reverse land degradation.
Indian Desertification scenario
- India has witnessed increase in the level of desertification in 26 of 29 states between 2003-05 and 2011-13.
- More than 80 per centof the country’s degraded land lies in just nine states: Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
- As per State of India’s Environment (SoE) 2019 report, Top three districts with highest area under desertification are Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh and Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir.
Main reasons that cause desertification in India are
- Water erosion (10.9 per cent)
- Vegetation degradation (8.9 per cent)
- Wind erosion (5.5 per cent)
- Salinity (1.1 per cent)
- Human-made/settlements (0.7 per cent)
- Others (2.0 per cent)
Topic in Syllabus: Indian Economy
The Prime Minister of India launched the National Pension Scheme for Traders and Self-Employed Persons, a pension scheme for the Vyaparis (shopkeepers/retail traders and self-employed persons) with annual turnover not exceeding Rs 1.5 crore.
About National Pension Scheme for Traders and Self Employed Persons:
- It is a voluntary and contributory pension scheme for entry age of 18 to 40 years with a provision for minimum assured pension of Rs 3,000 monthly on attaining the age of 60 years.
- The Central Government shall give 50 % share of the monthly contribution and remaining 50% contribution shall be made by the beneficiary.
- The enrolment under the scheme is free of cost for the beneficiaries.
- The enrolment is based upon self-certification.
- For self-employed shop owners, retail owners and other vyaparis
- Entry Age between 18 to 40 years
- Annual turnover should not exceed Rs 1.5 crore
Should not be
- Covered under any National Pension Scheme
- An income tax payer
- Enrolled under Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Yojana/Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maandhan Yojana
- An estimated 3 crore Vyaparis in the country are expected to be benefitted under the pension scheme.
Topic in Syllabus: Indian Economy
India’s oldest scientific department, the Survey of India (SoI) historically tasked with mapping the country will for the first time rely on drones to map the country.
- The aim is to map 75% of India’s geography— about 2.4 million sq km of the 3.2 million sq km — within the next two years.
- The organisation aims to procure about 300 drones — so far about 30 have been sourced — for the gargantuan exercise.
- However forests, hills and deserts are likely to be left out.
- Every square kilometre mapped by drones will be encapsulated in 2500 pictures and thus be a trove of digital data.
For Precise Mapping:
- A consequence of the mapping will be creating high resolution maps of land in villages facilitating the digitization of land titles in villages, according to officials involved with the survey.
- Currently the best SoI maps have a resolution of 1:250000, meaning a 1 cm on the map represent 2500 cm on the ground.
- The maps being prepared, according to senior officials associated with the project will be of 1:500 resolution, meaning 1 cm will represent 500 cm.
Sorting rural issues:
- A major consequence of the drone-based exercise will be the mapping of settled habitations in villages (called abaadi areas in legal parlance).
- Based on the availability of accurate maps, residents will finally be able to get property cards as well as proper legal titles to their lands.
Survey of India:
- The Survey of India is India’s central engineering agency in charge of mapping and surveying.
- First modern scientific survey of India” was undertaken by W. Mather in 1793–96 on instructions of Superintendent of Salem and Baramahal (TN), Col. Alexander Read.
- Set up in 1767 to help consolidate the territories of the British East India Company, it is one of the oldest Engineering Departments of the GoI.
- Its members are from Survey of India Service cadre of Civil Services of India and Army Officers from the Indian Army Corps of Engineers.
- It is headed by the Surveyor General of India. At present, Survey of India is headed by Lt Gen Girish Kumar, VSM.
- Advisor to Govt: Survey of India acts as adviser to the Government of India on all cartography of India related matters, such as geodesy, mapping and map reproduction.
- Geo names: It is responsible for the naming convention and spellings of names of geographical features of India.
- Certification and publication: Scrutiny and certification of external boundaries of India and Coastline on maps published by the other agencies including private publishers.
- Surveys:geodetic datum, geodetic control network, topographical control, geophysical surveys, cadastral surveying, geologic maps, aeronautical charts within India, such as for forests, army cantonments, large scale cities, guide maps, developmental or conservation projects, etc.
- National borders:Demarcation of the borders and external boundaries of India as well as advice on the demarcation of inter-state boundaries.
Topic in Syllabus: Indian Governance
A draft of the new Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) Policy has been made available by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on its website for public comments.
India is going to be possibly the first country in the world to implement a SSR Policy on the lines of CSR.
The draft defines SSR as “the ethical obligation of knowledge workers in all fields of science and technology to voluntarily contribute their knowledge and resources to the widest spectrum of stakeholders in society, in a spirit of service and conscious reciprocity”.
- The policy aims to harness latent potential of the scientific community for strengthening linkages between science and society, and for making S&T ecosystem vibrant.
- This is in a move to encourage S&T institutions and individual scientists in the country to proactively engage in science outreach activities to connect science with the society.
- It is aimed at developing a mechanism for ensuring access to scientific knowledge, transferring benefits of science to meet societal needs, promoting collaborations to identify problems and develop solutions.
- When most research is being done by using taxpayers’ money, the scientific establishment has an ethical obligation of “giving back” to the society.
- SSR is not only about scientific impact upon society but also about the social impact upon science.
- SSR would therefore strengthen the knowledge ecosystem and bring efficiencies in harnessing science for the benefit of society,” says the draft policy.
Premise for the Policy
- This draft policy builds upon traditions of earlier policies (Scientific Policy Resolution 1958, Technology Policy Statement 1983, S&T Policy 2003 and Sci-Tech and Innovation Policy 2013).
- The new policy is proposing more pragmatic provisions to make institutions and individual scientists socially responsible.
- Under the proposed policy, individual scientists or knowledge workers will be required to devote at least 10 person-days of SSR per year for exchanging scientific knowledge to society.
- It also recognizes the need to provide incentives for outreach activities with necessary budgetary support.
- It has also been proposed to give credit to knowledge workers/scientists for individual SSR activities in their annual performance appraisal and evaluation.
- No institution would be allowed to outsource or sub-contract their SSR activities and projects.
- For implementation of the policy, a national portal will be developed up to capture societal needs requiring scientific interventions and as a platform for implementers and for reporting SSR activities.
- A central agency will be established at DST to implement the SSR.
- Other ministries would also be encouraged to make their own plans to implement SSR as per their mandate.
Topic in Syllabus: International Affairs
- Indian and Chinese soldiers had a heated exchange in Ladakh near the Pangong Tso Lake few days back. However, the issue has now been resolved, the report said.
- The incident recalls a similar incident almost exactly two years ago, in the same area in Eastern Ladakh.
- Differing perceptions of where exactly the LAC lies has often been the reason for such incidents.
- In the Ladakhi language, Pangong means extensive concavity, and Tso is lake in Tibetan.
- Pangong Tso is a long narrow, deep, endorheic (landlocked) lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 ft in the Ladakh Himalayas.
- The western end of Pangong Tso lies 54 km to the southeast of Leh.
- The 135 km-long lake sprawls over 604 sq km in the shape of a boomerang, and is 6 km wide at its broadest point.
- The brackish water lake freezes over in winter, and becomes ideal for ice skating and polo.
- The legendary 19th century Dogra general Zorawar Singh is said to have trained his soldiers and horses on the frozen Pangong lake before invading Tibet.
- On August 19, 2017, a video was posted online that appeared to be visual confirmation of reports of an alleged scuffle that had taken place a few days earlier between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the banks of Pangong lake.
- The video showed the two sides kicking and punching, throwing stones, using sticks and rods against each other.
- In the normal course, the two patrols, after coming face to face, would have been expected to engage in what is called a “banner drill”, displaying a banner asking the other side to vacate its territory.
- Such a drill might last a few minutes to an hour — but barring some occasional jostling, the two sides would disengage quietly.
- The LAC cuts through the lake, but India and China do not agree on its exact location.
- As things stand, a 45 km-long western portion of the lake is in Indian control, while the rest is under China’s control.
- Most of the clashes between the two armies occur in the disputed portion of the lake.By itself, the lake does not have major tactical significance.
- But it lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian-held territory.
- Indian assessments show that a major Chinese offensive, if it comes, will flow across both the north and south of the lake.
- During the 1962 war, this was where China launched its main offensive — the Indian Army fought heroically at Rezang La, the mountain pass on the southeastern approach to Chushul valley.
- Over the years, the Chinese have built motorable roads along their banks of the Pangong Tso.
- At the PLA’s Huangyangtan base at Minningzhen, southwest of Yinchuan, the capital of China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, stands a massive to-scale model of this disputed area in Aksai Chin.
- It points to the importance accorded by the Chinese to the area.
The dispute in the area
- The difference in perception over where the LAC lies on the northern bank of the lake, makes this contested terrain.
- In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of road inside Indian territory along the lake’s bank.
- The August 2017 skirmish took place in this area.
- The 1999 road added to the extensive network of roads built by the Chinese in the area, which connect with each other and to the G219 Karakoram Highway.
- From one of these roads, Chinese positions physically overlook Indian positions on the northern tip of the Pangong lake.
- The mountains on the lake’s northern bank jut forward in major spurs, which the Army calls “fingers”. India claims that the LAC is coterminous with Finger 8.
Why Chinese aggression?
- On the water, the Chinese had a major advantage until a few years ago, but India purchased better boats some seven years ago, leading to a quicker and more aggressive response.
- Although there are well-established drills for disengagement of patrol boats of both sides, the confrontations on the waters have led to tense situations in the past few years.
- The induction of high-speed boats has ostensibly provoked the Chinese, who have responded by increasing the number of transgressions in this area in recent years.
Topic in Syllabus: Security Issues
India is hosting the first conference of Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in New Delhi from 12th-13th September 2019.
The conference has been organised by the Indian Armed Forces supported by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS).
- The primary objectives of the conference are to share best practices in the field of military medicine, build capacities and overcome common challenges.
- Deliberations are taking place between military medicine experts of SCO Member States on rendering of combat medical support, humanitarian assistance during disasters and measures to improve patient safety.
- The Defence Minister of India has called upon the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) of SCO countries to devise ways to effectively deal with new threats posed to soldiers by the ever-advancing battlefield technology.
Directorate General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS)
In India, the Directorate General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) is an apex organization which coordinates the medical services of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
It is under the Ministry of Defence, headed by a Lieutenant General (Lt Gen)/equivalent officer of Navy or Air Force.
The conference gains importance in the background of building capabilities to deal with the menace of bioterrorism, a real threat the world is facing today.
Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)
The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. It is headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
- A biological attack or bioterrorism is the intentional release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs that can sicken or kill people, livestock, or crops.
- Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is one of the most likely agents to be used in a biological attack.
- In the Indian context, with the existence of hostile neighbours like Pakistan, the threat of biological warfare cannot be ruled out entirely.
- Several nodal ministries have been earmarked for dealing with epidemics caused by bioterrorism.
- Early Detection: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is tasked with providing directions and technical support for capacity building, surveillance and early detection of an outbreak.
- Assessment of Threat: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is responsible for the assessment of the threat, intelligence inputs and implementation of preventive mechanisms
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is a specialised force constituted under MHA to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attacks.
- The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is responsible for managing the matters and consequences of biowarfare.
- The Defence R&D Organization (DRDO) is actively pitched into developing protective systems and equipment for troops to contend against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.
- India has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons and is a key element in the international community’s efforts to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
- India is one of the participants in the Australia Group, an informal arrangement which aims to allow exporting or transhipping countries to minimise the risk of assisting chemical and biological weapon (CBW) proliferation.
Topic in Syllabus: Agriculture
Addressing the United Nations conference on desertification (COP-14), Indian PM told the global community that India is focusing on Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). ZBNF was also highlighted in budget 2019 in the bid to double farmer’s income by 2022.
However, scientists from the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences suggested that there is no need for the government to promote ZBNF unless there is proper scientific validation.
Zero Budget Natural Farming
- Zero budget natural farming is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
- It was originally promoted by agriculturist Subhash Palekar, who developed it in the mid-1990s as an alternative to the Green Revolution’s methods that are driven by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation.
- It is a unique model that relies on Agro-ecology.
- It aims to bring down the cost of production to nearly zero and return to a pre-green revolution style of farming.
- It claims that there is no need for expensive inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and intensive irrigation.
ZBNF is based on 4 pillars:
- Jeevamrutha:It is a mixture of fresh cow dung and aged cow urine (both from India’s indigenous cow breed), jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil; to be applied on farmland.
- Bijamrita: It is a concoction of neem leaves & pulp, tobacco and green chilies prepared for insect and pest management, that can be used to treat seeds.
- Acchadana (Mulching): It protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy it by tilling.
- Whapasa: It is the condition where there are both air molecules and water molecules present in the soil. Thereby helping in reducing irrigation requirement.
Benefits of ZBNF
- With the rising cost of external inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), which is the leading cause of indebtedness and suicide among farmers. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, almost 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn and more than half of all farmers are in debt.
- Since in ZBNF there is the need to spend money or take loans for external inputs, the cost of production could be reduced and farming made into a “zero budget” exercise.
- This would break the debt cycle for many small farmers and help to envisage the doubling of farmer’s income by 2022.
- At a time when chemical-intensive farming is resulting in soil and environmental degradation, a zero-cost environmentally-friendly farming method is definitely a timely initiative.
- The ZBNF method promotes soil aeration, minimal watering, intercropping, bunds and topsoil mulching and discourages intensive irrigation and deep ploughing.
- It suits all crops in all agro-climatic zones.
- Citing the benefits of ZBNF, in June 2018, Andhra Pradesh rolled out an ambitious plan to become India’s first State to practise 100% natural farming by 2024.
Issues Related to ZBNF
- Sikkim (India’s first organic state), has seen some decline in yields following conversion to organic farming.
- Many farmers have reverted to conventional farming after seeing their ZBNF returns drop after a few years.
- While ZBNF has definitely helped preserve soil fertility, its role in boosting productivity and farmers’ income isn’t conclusive yet.
- ZBNF advocates the need of an Indian breed cow, whose numbers are declining at a fast pace.
- According to Livestock Census, the country’s total population of indigenous and nondescript cattle has dropped by 8.1%.
- Low expenditure by the government: Last year, the government launched Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, a flagship Green Revolution scheme with an allocation of Rs 3,745 crore for the financial year 2019-20.
- Whereas the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, which was meant to promote organic farming and soil health has been allocated Rs 325 crore only.
There is a host of structural marketing issues which needs to be addressed first before aiming to achieve the ambitious goal of ZBNF
- Strengthening of agricultural market infrastructure.
- Extending the procurement mechanism to all foodgrain and non-foodgrain crops to all States.
- Implementation of price deficiency payment system for selected crops.
- Fixing minimum support prices (MSP) in consonance with the cost of cultivation.
- Abolishing minimum export price for agricultural commodities.
- Enacting legislation on ‘right to sell at MSP’ needs immediate attention.
MGNREGS must also be linked with farm work in order to reduce the cost of cultivation which has escalated at a faster pace over the past few years.
Unless these issues are resolved, the doubling of farmers’ income will remain a distant reality. In this context, farmers’ ease of doing business and ease of living should also be taken into consideration.
Topic in Syllabus: Indian Governance
Recently, Indian PM attended three summit-level meetings with France, United States and Russian President, within a time period of two weeks. Further, in the month of October 2019, China’s President Xi Jinping will visit India.
The simultaneous engagements with Russia, the US and China point towards the significance of remarkable strategic hedging in India’s foreign policy. Despite the differences between these countries, India strategically maintains sound relationships with great powers in global politics.
The present-day geopolitical and geostrategic circumstances present a multifaceted challenge to India’s foreign policy. Therefore, India’s cold war narrative of strategic neutrality is being gradually replaced by strategic hedging.
- Strategic hedging means a state spreads its risk by pursuing two opposite policies towards another state i.e. balancing and engagement.
- A state prepares for the worst by balancing: maintaining a strong military, building and strengthening alliances.
- Also, the state prepares for the best through engagement: building trade networks, increasing diplomatic links, and creating binding multilateral frameworks
- In short, strategic hedging would mean a calculated combination of soft and hard power.
Strategic Hedging in India’s Foreign Policy:
In international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. This makes strategic hedging a must for India which can be observed from its relations with the following nations:
- India and France have together launched the International solar alliance.
- India is procuring Rafale Fighter jet from France.
- The latest joint statement has laid a roadmap for cybersecurity and digital technology, quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
- India and France are implementing a joint-strategic vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
- France has stood rock solid by India vis a vis Indian government revoking article 370 in the state of J&K.
India- US relations:
- India’s foreign policy will meet its most stringent test for it needs to pursue excellent ties with the US, while maintaining strong relations with China and Russia.
- India is worried about US-Pakistan rapprochement, given US plan to exit from Afghanistan.
- Pakistan sought to leverage this by engaging the US against India’s action of revoking Article 370.
- However, in a big diplomatic victory, recently the US has held that Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan.
- India has participated more frequently in issues of international concern as far as the South China Sea is concerned. Apart from it India is also a member of an informal grouping called Quad (in order to balance China).
- However, at present trade is the biggest irritant in the India-US relations and both countries are trying to resolve issues.
- India’s relationship with Russia is a time-tested friendship.
- In this context India’s recent participation in the Eastern Economic Forum is symbolic.
- India has announced $1 billion credit for the development of the Russian Far East. The engagement is also marked by the launch of India’s Act Far East policy.
- Moreover, on account of the S-400 deal, India has taken a position of principle in the national interest that it will not sacrifice its ties with Russia, despite pressure from the US.
- India’s ties with China are one of the most- challenging at this time.
- Issues like China’s axis with Pakistan aimed at India, its persistent thwarting of India’s great power ambitions, the balance of trade (favouring China), China’s deliberate policy aimed at diminishing India’s strategic space in the neighbourhood, all pose a threat to India’s interests.
- However, the Wuhan summit with China has opened new possibilities for the transformation of Sino-India relations.
India should end ambiguity in its foreign policy, especially one that sways between the pulls of its erstwhile non-aligned stance and the need for realpolitik in current times.
India should learn from China on account of strategic hedging
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has proven exemplary in current times to have clandestinely mixed elements of hard power with soft, leading to what some have labelled ‘sharp power’.
However, India’s economic status doesn’t allow it to pursue India’s version of BRI but India can act as a fast power in taking decisions impacting global politics.
Strategic hedging dilutes binaries in foreign relations, particularly between friend and foe nations, and creates navigable yet cautious space to take the relationships forward. How India adapts to strategic hedging will mould its course to becoming a stable Asian pivot, going into the future.