National Current Affairs – UPSC/IAS Exams- 10th July 2019
Topic: Science and Technology
In News: Plan Bee, an amplifying system imitating the buzz of a swarm of honey bees to keep wild elephants away from railway tracks, earned the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) the best innovation award in Indian Railways for the 2018-19 fiscal.
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- There are 29 earmarked elephant corridors with the operating zone of NFR spread across the north-eastern states and parts of Bihar and West Bengal. Trains are required to slow down at these corridors and adhere to speed specified on signs.
- “But elephants have ventured into the path of trains even in non-corridor areas, often leading to accidents resulting in elephant deaths.
- The desperation to find an “elephant repellent” was triggered by 67 pachyderms being knocked down by trains from 2013 to June 2019. Most of these cases were reported from Assam and northern West Bengal.
- A device was subsequently designed to generate the amplified sound of honey bees audible from 700-800 metres. The first instrument was installed at a level crossing west of Guwahati on a track adjoining the Rani Reserve Forest, an elephant habitat.
- A mix of Plan Bee and other measures have helped them save 1,014 elephants from 2014 to June 2019.
Source: The Hindu
Topic: Social Issues
In News: The number of deaths of sanitation workers while cleaning septic tanks and sewers has risen, despite a ban on manual scavenging, with 620 cases reported since 1993, of which 88 occurred in the past three years, according to the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry.
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Data regarding Manual Scavenging:
- Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) released in 2015, states that there were around 18 million manual scavenging households in rural areas.
- A government survey identifies 12,226 manual scavengers in 12 states. Most septic tanks are emptied manually in Indian cities.
- The lack of proper safeguards puts manual scavengers at risk of infections, which are occasionally fatal.
- Statistics show that 80% of India’s sewage cleaners die before they turn 60, after contracting various infectious diseases.
- The biggest challenge before the government is to check on private firms, which illegally engage people to clean sewers manually.
- Recently, Delhi Jal Board has prepared a Standard Operating Procedure for cleaning of sewers.
- The National Policy on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management, 2017, states that employment of manual scavengers is illegal, but it does not suggest mechanical alternatives to unclog septic tanks, drains and sewers.
Available Provisions against manual scavenging:
- The workers are apparently asked to perform the cleaning task in violation of Section 7 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’ came into effect from 6thDecember, 2013. This Act intends to achieve its objectives of eliminating insanitary latrines, prohibition of employment as manual scavengers etc.
- The act says National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK)would monitor implementation of the Act and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.
- Under the provision, no person, local authority or agency should engage or employ people for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
- Mechanised cleaning of septic tanks is the prescribed norm.
- A violation can be punished with two years of imprisonment or fine or both.
- In spite of a well-funded programme such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in operation, little attention is devoted to this aspect of sanitation.
- India’s sanitation problem is complex, and the absence of adequate toilets is only one lacuna.
- The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan should make expansion of the sewer network a top priority and come up with a scheme for scientific maintenance that will end manual cleaning of septic tanks.
- If the law on manual scavenging is to be effective, the penalties must be uniformly and visibly enforced. It is equally important for State governments to address the lack of adequate machinery to clean septic tanks.
In News: The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has said that India is compliant regarding regulation on large exposures though, in some some respects, regulations are stricter than the Basel large-exposures framework.
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- Basel the headquarters of Bureau of International Settlement (BIS). BIS fosters co-operation among central banks with a common goal of financial stability and common standards of banking regulations.
- Basel guidelines refer to broad supervisory standards formulated by this group of central banks- called the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS). The set of agreement by the BCBS, which mainly focuses on risks to banks and the financial system are called Basel accord.
- The purpose of the accord is to ensure that financial institutions have enough capital on account to meet obligations and absorb unexpected losses. India has accepted Basel accords for the banking system.
- The Basel Committee makes the Basel norms. The Committee’s decisions have no legal force. Rather, the Committee formulates supervisory standards and guidelines and recommends statements of best practice in the expectation that individual national authorities will implement them.
- India can either accept them or reject them depending on the kind of financial system it wants. So far, we have implemented or wished to implement all Basel norms.
Significance of the Basel Norms:
- Bankers and investors invest over the world preferably in markets where they get best returns. The markets will give returns only when the economy is stable. And, economy will be stable only when the banking system is stable.
- Hence, it is important for investors and agencies to measure the stability of the banking system. If all the nations adopt different standards, then calculating stability figures will be a big headache for investors.
- Also, suppose some nations run banks on better standards i.e. better risk management, better returns, lower exposure to volatile markets etc., then they have a better chance of getting foreign investment.
- But, if all nations adopt uniform standards, then at least the investors can be attracted by only the strength of the economy.
- Hence, it is important to have uniform standards especially when it comes to the banking system which is so complex and vast.
- The Basel norms try to achieve exactly the same. Till date three different Basel accords (or norms) have come – each with a better safeguard than the next one.
- Basel III norms aim at making most banking activities such as their trading book activities more capital-intensive. The guidelines aim to promote a more resilient banking system by focusing on four vital banking parameters viz. capital, leverage, funding and liquidity.
There are several challenges in the successful implementation of Basel III norms.
- Higher capital requirement for banks: The private banks have the autonomy to raise capital from the markets. But the Public sector banks have to rely on the government mostly.
- More technology deployment: Implementing the norms would require much more sophisticated technology and management styles that the Indian banks are presently using. Upgrading both will impose huge cost on the banks and hurt their profitability in the coming years.
- Liquidity crunch: Banks would need to invest more on liquid assets. These assets do not give handsome returns usually which would reduce the bank’s operating profit margin. Further higher deployment of more funds in liquid assets may crowd out good private sector investments and also affect economic growth.
India and Plastic Pollution Menace
Topic: Important Institutions
In News: The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has pulled up 52 companies including Amazon, Flipkart, Danone Foods and Beverages and Patanjali Ayurved Limited for not specifying a timeline or a plan to collect the plastic waste that results from their business activities.
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- The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, (which was amended in 2018) prescribed by the Union Environment Ministry, says that companies that use plastic in their processes packaging and production have a responsibility to ensure that any resulting plastic waste is safely disposed of.
- Under this system called the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) companies have to specify collection targets as well as a time-line for this process within a year of the rules coming into effect on March 2016. The plastic waste can be collected by the company or outsourced to an intermediary.
- The Rules also mandate the responsibilities of local bodies, gram panchayats, waste generators and retailers to manage such waste.
- A notice posted on the website of the Cental Pollution Control Board, a Ministry body, said there are 52 companies hadn’t yet registered at the online portal and disclosed their disposal plans.Failing to do so would invite action against the defaulters.” This action can include fines or imprisonment under provisions of the Environment Protection Act. The companies were to have registered more than a year ago.
India’s Experience with Handling Plastics:
- Inspite of these laws, India has made little progress in managing its plastic waste. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimates in 2015, Indian cities generate about 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste per day and about 70 per cent of the plastic produced in the country ends up as waste.
- Nearly 40 per cent of India’s plastic waste is neither collected nor recycled and ends up polluting the land and water.
- Plastic packaging has been singled out as one of the key contributors to plastic waste though there isn’t any number on its relative contribution. However like the companies, states too have come in the CPCB’s firing line.
- The National Green Tribunal earlier this year hauled up 25 states and union territories for not following its orders on submitting a plan by April 30, 2019, on how they would comply with the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016. They stand to potentially pay a fine of Rs 1 crore.
- In order to reduce the plastic waste management problem, we need to adopt the principles of waste prevention. The use of durable plastics need not be reduced, but we need to promote judicious use and reuse of single-use plastics.
- If plastic compounds are made more durable and if the general perception of consumers regarding the reuse of plastic and reduced disposal is changed, then the waste plastic problem can be sorted out.
- However, there are several constraints for proper plastic waste management in India such as proper collection, segregation, and transportation of the discarded plastic material. Increase in public awareness coupled with changes in individual behavior can be an effective way to reduce the environmental repercussions of waste plastics.
Topic: Indian Economy
In News: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) board, which met in New Delhi, finalised a three- year roadmap to improve regulation and supervision, among other functions of the central bank.This medium term strategy named Utkarsh 2022 is in line with the global central banks’ plan to strengthen the regulatory and supervisory mechanism.
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- It is a three-year road map for medium term objective to be achieved for improving regulation, supervision of the central bank.
- Worldwide, all central banks strengthen the regulatory and supervisory mechanism, everybody is formulating a long-term plan and a medium-term plan. So, the RBI has also decided it will formulate a pragramme to outline what is to be achieved in the next three years.
- It is for the central bank to play a proactive role and to take preemptive action to avoid any crisis.
Topic: Government Schemes
In News:The Government of India has approved Phase-I of Bharatmala Pariyojana with financial outlay of Rs 5,35,000 crore to develop 24,800 km Highways along with 10,000 km residual NHDP stretches over a period of five years.
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- Bharatmala Project is the second largest highways construction project in the country since NHDP, under which almost 50,000 km of highway roads were targeted across the country.
- Bharatmala will look to improve connectivity particularly on economic corridors, border areas and far flung areas with an aim of quicker movement of cargo and boosting exports.
- It is an umbrella project under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
- It focuses on the new initiatives like development of Border and International connectivity roads, Coastal & port connectivity roads, improving efficiency of National Corridors, Economic corridors and others.
- The project will build highways from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and then cover the entire string of Himalayan states – Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand – and then portions of borders of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alongside Terai, and move to West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and right up to the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram.
- Special emphasis will be given on providing connectivity to far-flung border and rural areas including the tribal and backward areas.
- Bharatmala will connect 550 district headquarters (from current 300) to minimum 4-lane highway by raising the number of corridors to 50 (from current 6) and move 80% freight traffic (40% currently) to national highways by connecting 24 logistics parks, 66 inter-corridors (IC) of total 8,000 km (5,000 mi), 116 feeder routes (FR) of total 7,500 km (4,700 mi) and 7 north east multimodal waterway ports.
- The ambitious umbrella programme will subsume all existing highway projects including the flagship National Highways Development Project (NHDP).
- It is both enabler and beneficiary of other key Government of India schemes, such as Sagarmala, Dedicated Freight Corridors, Industrial corridors, UDAN-RCS, BharatNet, Digital India and Make in India.