Daily Analysis: 16th September 2020

The Hindu, PIB, IE and Others

Index

A) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

1. Operation Greens (TOP to TOTAL) (PIB)

2. Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) (TH, pg 9)

B) International Relations

3. Pakistan’s New Political Map (TH, pg 11)

C) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

4. Rohtang tunnel named after Vajpayee (TH, pg 11)

D) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

5. Life on Venus? The significance of the discovery of Phosphine Gas (TH, pg 6)

6. Network Project on Functional Genomics and Genetic Modification in Crops (PIB)

E) Economy

7. Types of Financial Grants (PIB)

8. Asian Development Outlook 2020 (TH, pg 15)

F) Polity/Bills/Acts/Judgments

9. Essential Commodities Bill passed (TH, pg 9)

A) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

1. Operation Greens (TOP to TOTAL) (PIB)

Context: Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) has recently extended the Operation Greens Scheme from Tomato, Onion and Potato (TOP) to all fruits & vegetables (TOTAL) for a period of six months (from the date of notification i.e., 11/06/2020) on pilot basis as part of Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

Analysis

  • Objective: The objective of intervention is to protect the growers of fruits and vegetables from making distress sale due to lockdown and reduce the post – harvest losses.
  • Pattern of Assistance: Ministry will provide subsidy @ 50 % of the cost of the following two components, subject to the cost norms:
  1. Transportation of eligible crops from surplus production cluster to consumption centre; and/or
  2. Hiring of appropriate storage facilities for eligible crops (for maximum period of 3 months);

2. Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) (TH, pg 9)

Context: Government has refused demands to restore MPLADS funds.

  • The government has suspended the Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) Scheme so that these funds would be available for its COVID-19 management efforts.

Analysis

  • MPLADS is a Central Sector Scheme, a Plan Scheme fully funded by Government of India.
  • Under the scheme, each MP has the choice to suggest to the District Collector for works to the tune of Rs.5 Crores per annum to be taken up in his/her constituency.
  • The Rajya Sabha Members of Parliament can recommend works in one or more districts in the State from where he/she has been elected.
  • The Nominated Members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha may select any one or more Districts from any one State in the Country for implementation of their choice of work under the scheme.
  • The funds released under the scheme are non-lapsable and the funds received by a district in a particular year can be utilized in the subsequent financial year(s) also.
  • Moreover, unspent balance is not an unused fund but also includes the funds in pipeline for implementation of ongoing works.
  • The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has been responsible for the policy formulation, release of funds and prescribing monitoring mechanism for implementation of the Scheme.
  • MPs are to recommend every year, works costing at least 15 per cent of the MPLADS entitlement for the year for areas inhabited by Scheduled Caste population and 7.5 per cent for areas inhabited by S.T. population.
  • Around ?20 lakh of the MPLADS fund per annum has been allotted for the welfare of differently abled people. Suspension of the MPLADS undermines the developmental aspirations of these marginalised segments.

How does the Scheme Work?

  • MPs and MLAs do not receive any money under these schemes. The government transfers it directly to the respective local authorities.
  • The legislators can only recommend works in their constituencies based on a set of guidelines. For the MPLAD Scheme, the guidelines focus on the creation of durable community assets like roads, school buildings etc.
  • States have their version of this scheme with varying amounts per MLA. 
  1. The guidelines for use of MLALAD funds differ across states.
  • After the legislators give the list of developmental works, they are executed by the district authorities as per the governments financial, technical and administrative rules.

Why has the Scheme been sometimes Criticised?

  • The criticism has been on two broad grounds.
  • First, that it is inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution as it co-opts legislators into executive functioning.
  • The workload on MPs created by the scheme diverted their attention from holding the government accountable and other legislative work.
  • The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2000) and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Veerappa Moily (2007), recommended discontinuation of the scheme.
  • The second criticism stems from allegations of corruption associated with allocation of works.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General has on many occasions highlighted gaps in implementation.
  • However, it should be noted that the second instalment of funds is released only when the first instalment is fully utilised with no audit objections.

“One MP – One Idea”

  • The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has announced a new scheme “One MP – One Idea” under the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). 
  • Based on the innovative ideas received from the local people regarding developmental projects, an ‘One MP – One Idea’ Competition may be held in each Lok Sabha constituency annually to select the three best innovations for cash awards on the specific request of an MP to promote such a scheme in his/her constituency.

B) International Relations

3. Pakistan’s New Political Map (TH, pg 11)

Context: India responded strongly after Pakistan displayed the newly-unveiled political map of the country during the meeting of the National Security Advisers of the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

  • National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who was participating in the virtual interaction, left the meeting mid-way after Pakistan displayed the map prominently behind its delegation.

Analysis

  • Pakistan on August 4 announced a new political map which asserts its claims on Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek, and lays a new claim to Junagadh and Manavadar.
  • The map lays claim to all of Jammu and Kashmir, thus far shown as disputed territory, draws a line demarcating Gilgit-Baltistan separately from the part of Kashmir under its control (Pakistan occupied Kashmir), and renames Jammu and Kashmir as “Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir”.
  • The new map leaves the claim line with Ladakh unclear.
  • Pakistan’s claim to all of Jammu and Kashmir, but not Ladakh, goes against its own commitment to adjudicate the future of all six parts of the erstwhile royal state of Jammu-Kashmir (Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK and Aksai Chin) with India.

The Case of Junagadh

  • The ruler of Junagadh was persuaded to join Pakistan by his Dewan (prime minister).
  • The state was small and nearly completely surrounded by Indian territory, but it could have theoretically retained contact with Pakistan through the sea and air.
  • Moreover, while its ruler and Dewan were Muslims, the majority of the population in the area was Hindu.
  • What made the situation more complex were the decisions of Junagadh’s three vassal states.
  • While the ruler of Bantva-Manavadar (Manavadar, for short) confirmed his accession to Pakistan, the overlords of the two other principalities (Mangrol and Babariawad), declared that they would became part of India, openly challenging their sovereign’s choice.
  • The vassals’ decisions in 1947 probably explain why the current Pakistani government’s recently unveiled map marks the territory as “Junagadh & Manavadar.”
  • In November 1947 Indian soldiers they entered Junagadh.
  • The Nawab and the Dewan fled to Pakistan, the principality’s little force could not hope to put up resistance against the Indian army, and Pakistan did not attempt to send its forces in support of the tiny state, instantly leaving New Delhi in full control.
  • In February 1948, a referendum was held in Junagadh (including all of its vassal states) and as per the will of the majority of the voters the territory acceded to India. For its part, Pakistan never accepted the results of the Junagadh referendum.

What is Sir Creek?

  • Sir Creek is a 96-km strip of water disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshlands.
  • Originally named Ban Ganga, Sir Creek is named after a British representative.
  • The Creek opens up in the Arabian Sea and roughly divides the Kutch region of Gujarat from the Sindh Province of Pakistan.

What’s the Dispute?

  • The dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Kutch and Sindh.
  • Pakistan claims the entire creek as per paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Bombay Government Resolution of 1914 signed between then the Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch.
  • The resolution, which demarcated the boundaries between the two territories, included the creek as part of Sindh, thus setting the boundary as the eastern flank of the creek popularly known as Green Line.
  • But India claims that the boundary lies mid-channel as depicted in another map drawn in 1925, and implemented by the installation of mid-channel pillars back in 1924.

What’s the Importance of Sir Creek?

  • Apart from strategic location, Sir Creek’s core importance is fishing resources. Sir Creek is considered to be among the largest fishing grounds in Asia.
  • Another vital reason is the possible presence of great oil and gas concentration under the sea, which are currently unexploited thanks to the impending deadlock on the issue.

UNCLOS Supports India’s Stand

  • If Thalweg principle is to be upheld, Pakistan would lose a considerable portion of the territory that was historically part of the province of Sindh.
  • Under international law, a thalweg is the middle of the primary navigable channel of a waterway that defines the boundary line between states.
  • Acceding to India’s stance would mean shifting of the land/sea terminus point several kilometres to the detriment of Pakistan, leading in turn to a loss of several thousand square kilometres of its Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea UNCLOS).

C) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

4. Rohtang tunnel named after Vajpayee (TH, pg 11)

Context: Proactive measures are being taken by Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Ministry of Defense to complete the work on strategic Atal Tunnel in the Pir Panjal ranges of Himachal Pradesh.

  • The Rohtang Tunnel, which will connect Manali in Himachal Pradesh with Leh, Ladakh, and Jammu Kashmir, will be known as Atal Tunnel.
  • The tunnel is expected to be ready for an official inauguration by September 2020.
  • Atal Tunnel is being constructed since Manali-Sarchu-Leh road remains closed for six months every year due to Rohtang Pass being completely snow bound between November and May.

Analysis

Why Atal Bihari Vajpayee?

  • The decision to construct a strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass was taken by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

How long is the tunnel, and what is special about it?

  • Upon completion, the 8.8 km-long tunnel will be the world’s longest highway tunnel at an altitude of above 10,000 feet (3,000 metres).
  • It is a 10.5 m-wide single tube, a bi-lane tunnel with a fireproof emergency tunnel built into the main tunnel itself. 
  • Cutting through the mighty Pir Panjal range, the tunnel will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh/Lahaul Valley by 46 kilometres.
  • It will also provide all-weather connectivity to remote border areas of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, which otherwise remained cut off from the rest of the country for about six months.
  • The project has significant strategic implications for the military.
  • Once the tunnel is operational, the forces will have access beyond the Rohtang Pass even in peak winter.

So, is all-winter connectivity to Ladakh around the corner?

  • No, that goal is still some years away. More tunnels will have to be built to tackle the high passes which fall beyond Rohtang.
  • Rohtang connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh.
  • While Rohtang Pass is at a height of 13,050 feet, the pass on the road to Leh is Baralacha La at 16,040 feet. A 13.2-km long tunnel would be required to bypass this pass.
  • Further down the highway comes Lachung La Pass at 16,800 feet, that will require a 14.78 km-long tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity. 
  • Thereafter falls the Tanglang La pass at 17,480 feet, which will need a 7.32 km-long tunnel.

D) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

5. Life on Venus? The significance of the discovery of Phosphine Gas (TH, pg 6)

  • Context: An announcement by an international team of astronomers about the discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus recently triggered global excitement about the possibility of the presence of lifeforms on the neighbouring planet.
  • Apart from being produced in industrial processes, phosphine, a colourless but smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.

Analysis

  • Venus, the hottest planet in the solar system, has not enjoyed as much recent attention as Mars, as far as space missions are concerned.
  • With surface temperatures of above 460° Celsius that can melt even a metal like lead, and a heavy atmosphere of carbon dioxide, the planet was considered hostile to life.
  • This despite its being similar in size to the Earth and rocky, so much so that it is often called the Earth’s “sister planet”.
  • There was some excitement when the European Space Agency’s mission, Venus Express, found signs of ozone, made of three oxygen atoms and considered a biomarker, in the upper atmosphere of Venus, in 2011.
  • But the recent discovery of traces of another biomarker phosphine— which on Earth is associated with living organisms, in its atmosphere has just given the search for extraterrestrial life a shot in the arm.
  • Phosphine, a compound of one phosphorous atom and three hydrogen atoms, is a flammable gas that on Earth occurs from the breakdown of organic matter by some microbes.
  • Phosphine is known to be produced only through biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process.
  • There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations. 
  • Scientists say it is more significant, for example, than the discovery of water on the Moon or Mars.
  • Water is only circumstantially related to life. It is not produced by life. Phosphine is produced by biological processes. In this way, it is bigger than evidence for water.
  • Writing in Nature Astronomy, the team stressed that the presence of phosphine alone did not prove the presence of life on Venus.
  • In an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide, it is likely to get destroyed soon.
  • However, the researchers estimate that phosphine forms about 20 parts per billion of Venus’s atmosphere.
  • Phosphine was first identified in Venus’s atmosphere in 2017, using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.
  • Further study and precise observations using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array facility in Chile confirmed the suspicions of the researchers in 2019.
  • This can now only be taken further by making in situ measurements in the atmosphere of Venus. This poses its own challenges.
  • Apart from the high surface temperature and dense atmosphere, the presence of sulphuric acid in the atmosphere of Venus makes it a highly corrosive environment.
  • Perhaps flying at a height and sending down drones or balloons would be more feasible than a landing.
  • Missions to Venus have been planned by NASA and ISRO (Shukrayaan).
  • While NASA’s mission is slated for launch next year, ISRO is looking at 2023 right now.

6. Network Project on Functional Genomics and Genetic Modification in Crops (PIB)

  • ‘Network Project on Transgenic in Crops’ (presently Network Project on Functional Genomics and Genetic Modification in Crops) was launched by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 2005 for development of GM crops in case of pigeonpea, chickpea, sorghum, potato, brinjal, tomato and banana for different traits and the material is in different stages of development.

E) Economy

7. Types of Financial Grants (PIB)

Context: Centre has presented to Parliament its first batch of supplementary demand for financial grants to be made to various depart­ments.

Analysis

  • In addition to the budget, various other grants are made by the Parliament under extraordinary or special circumstances.

Supplementary Grant

  • It is granted when the amount authorised by the Parliament through the appropriation act for a particular service for the current financial year is found to be insufficient for that year.

Additional Grant

  • It is granted when a need has arisen during the current financial year for additional expenditure upon some new service not contemplated in the budget for that year.

Excess Grant

  • It is granted when money has been spent on any service during a financial year in excess of the amount granted for that service in the budget for that year.
  • It is voted by the Lok Sabha after the financial year.
  • Before the demands for excess grants are submitted to the Lok Sabha for voting, they must be approved by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.

Vote of Credit

  • It is granted for meeting an unexpected demand upon the resources of India, when on account of the magnitude or the indefinite character of the service, the demand cannot be stated with the details ordinarily given in a budget.
  • Hence, it is like a blank cheque given to the Executive by the Lok Sabha.

Exceptional Grant

  • It is granted for a special purpose and forms no part of the current service of any financial year.

Token Grant

  • It is granted when funds to meet the proposed expenditure on a new service can be made available by reappropriation.
  • A demand for the grant of a token sum (of Re 1) is submitted to the vote of the Lok Sabha and if assented, funds are made available.
  • Reappropriation involves transfer of funds from one head to another.
  • It does not involve any additional expenditure.
  • Supplementary, additional, excess and exceptional grants and vote of credit are regulated by the same procedure which is applicable in the case of a regular budget.

8. Asian Development Outlook 2020 (TH, pg 15)

  • India’s COVID-19-battered economy will shrink by 9% this fiscal, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) predicted in its Asian Development Outlook 2020 Update.
  • ADB forecasts a strong recovery for the economy in FY21, with gross domestic product growing by 8% as mobility and business activities resume more widely.
  • India imposed strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of the pandemic and this has had a severe impact on economic activity.

F) Polity/Bills/Acts/Judgments

9. Essential Commodities Bill passed (TH, pg 9)

Context: The Lok Sabha passed the Essential Commodities Amendment Bill by a voice vote.

  • The Bill proposes to deregulate the production, storage, movement and sale of several foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances.
  • Under the amended EC Act, agri-food stuffs can only be regulated under extraordinary circumstances such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise, and natural calamity.
  • The Bill is meant to replace an ordinance promulgated in June, in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown.
  • It says stock limits can only be imposed if retail prices surge 50% above the average in the case of non-perishables and 100% in the case of perishables.

Analysis

What is the definition of an ‘essential commodity’?

  • There is no specific definition of essential commodities in The EC Act.
  • Section 2(A) of the act states that an “essential commodity” means a commodity specified in the “Schedule” of this Act.
  • The Act gives powers to the central government to add or remove a commodity in the “Schedule.”
  • The Centre, if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in public interest, can notify an item as essential, in consultation with state governments.
  • At present, the “Schedule” contains 9 commodities
  1. drugs;
  2. fertilisers, whether inorganic, organic or mixed;
  3. foodstuffs, including edible oils;
  4. hank yarn made wholly from cotton;
  5. petroleum and petroleum products;
  6. raw jute and jute textiles;
  7. seeds of food-crops and seeds of fruits and vegetables, seeds of cattle fodder, jute seed, cotton seed;
  8. face masks (recently removed); and
  9. hand sanitisers (recently removed).
  • By declaring a commodity as essential, the government can control the production, supply, and distribution of that commodity, and impose a stock limit.

So, why was an amendment needed in The EC Act?

  • The EC Act was legislated at a time when the country was facing scarcity of foodstuffs due to persistent abysmal levels of foodgrain production.
  • The country was dependent on imports and assistance (such as wheat import form US under PL-480) to feed the population.
  • In this scenario, to stop the hoarding and black marketing of foodstuffs, The Essential Commodities Act was enacted in 1955.
  • But now the situation has changed. In fact, India has now become an exporter of several agricultural products. With these developments, the EC Act has become anachronistic.

What will be the impact of the amendments?

  • The move is expected to attract private investment in the value chain of these commodities.
  • While the purpose of the Act was originally to protect the interests of consumers by checking illegal trade practices such as hoarding, it has now become detrimental for investment in the agriculture sector in general, and in post-harvesting activities in particular.
  • The private sector has so far hesitated investing in cold chains and storage facilities for perishable items as most of these commodities are under the ambit of the EC Act, and can attract sudden stock limits.

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