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- However, there are several discrepancies between the actual and the on-paper status of electrification.
- In some cases, the electrification infrastructure such as cables and transformers were stolen days after they were installed, leaving the target village unelectrified in reality but connected on paper.
- In other cases, electricity was supplied for just a few hours a day.
- Despite the government pegging India as a power surplus nation, almost every State in the country reels under power cuts, especially during peak summer.
- This, according to power sector analysts, is because discoms are still very inefficient, with the costs they incur in the transmission far outweighing revenue.
- Government data show discoms across the country, on an average, lose Rs.0.22 a unit of electricity supplied.
- However, the Power Ministry has claimed that this situation is improving rapidly under the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), with Power Minister R.K. Singh recently saying that discom losses have drastically reduced to Rs.17,352 crore in 2017-18 from Rs.51,096 crore in the previous year.
- On their own, many of the discoms right now are not ready to provide 24×7 power, for two reasons: the first is their financial health. Most of them are not financially capable to do this.
- Secondly, only some of the discoms have the infrastructure to supply good quality power on a sustained basis.
More to achieve
- Sector specialists, however, say that while the performance of discoms is improving, they are still not at the performance level to supply electricity 24×7.
- The only hope of the utilities is continued assistance from the State governments.
- If the respective State governments continue to give financial support and assurances to the discoms, then the condition could definitely improve.
- India and Seychelles will ensure mutually beneficial steps regarding stalled plans for a military base at the island of Assumption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after a bilateral meeting with the visiting Seychelles President Danny Faure.
- Modi announced several initiatives for the strategically located country, including the grant of $100 million Line of Credit for the purchase of defence hardware.
- The statement is the first from the Prime Minister since the National Assembly of Seychelles last week refused to ratify the naval base that India has been planning to build on Assumption to provide a foothold in the western Indian Ocean.
- It is not clear how both sides would take the project forward in the absence of a parliamentary ratification.
- India also gifted a Dornier aircraft to Seychelles.
- India made it clear that its security and strategic cooperation will go ahead as the two countries have convergence of views on the geostrategic importance of the Indian Ocean region.
- Faure also declared that both sides would intensify cooperation to carry out hydrographical studies of the maritime region and have declared exchange of necessary oceanic maps between two sides.
- He also expressed his country’s appreciation of the Indian decisions and said his country will soon be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Indian origin people to the archipelago.
- The study, published in the Nature, examined 40,000 roots from 13,000 soil samples at 137 forest sites in 20 European countries for a period of 10 years to determine the fungi’s tolerance to pollution.
- Processes in soil and roots are often ignored as studying them directly is difficult, but it is crucial for assessing tree functioning.
- The researchers noted that ecosystem changes can negatively affect tree health.
- Further, they found that the characteristics of the tree — species and nutrient status — and the local environmental conditions like the atmospheric pollution and soil variables were the most important predictors of which species of mycorrhizae fungi would be present and their numbers.
- These also proved to have a large impact on the fungi.
- The researchers suggested that the results should be used to design new studies into the link between pollution, soil, mycorrhizae, and tree growth.
- Mycorrhizal fungi is hosted by the trees in their roots to receive nutrients from the soil.
- These fungi provide essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from soil in exchange for carbon from the tree.
- This plant-fungal symbiotic relationship is crucial for the health of the tree.
- However, high levels of the nutrition elements like nitrogen and phosphorus in the mycorrhizae changes them to act as pollutants rather than nutrients, the findings showed.
Signs of malnutrition
- The signs of malnutrition can be seen in the form of discoloured leaves and excessive falling of leaves.
- There is an alarming trend of tree malnutrition across Europe, which leaves forests vulnerable to pests, disease and climate change.
- India remains lacking in the commitment to tackle
- The UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report for 2017 has important pointers to achieve nutrition policy reform.
World’s hungry population on the rise again
- Conflicts, climate change are main hurdles in meeting development goals
- The number of hungry people in the world has risen for the first time in more than a decade, according to a United Nations report released on Wednesday.
- There are now approximately 38 million more undernourished people in the world, rising from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016, the year for which the latest statistics are available.
United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2018 report
- Conflict is now one of the main drivers of food insecurity in 18 countries. “After a prolonged decline, world hunger appears to be on the rise again.
- drought and disasters
- climate change
- Violent conflicts also led to the forced displacement of a record high 68.5 million in 2017. Are among the key factors causing this reversal in progress,” said the report.
- Noting the increasing impact of extreme events related to a changing climate, the report said economic losses attributed to disasters were estimated at over $300 billion in 2017.
- This is among the highest losses in recent years, owing to three major hurricanes affecting the United States of America and several countries across the Caribbean.
- While there is little country-specific data in the report, it does examine the performance of various regions in meeting the 17 SDGs, which were adopted by U.N. member nations in 2015. The deadline to meet them is 2030.
- South Asia, which includes India, has seen child marriage rates plunge, with a girl’s risk of getting married in childhood dropping by 40% from 2000 to 2017.
- water stress levels for many countries in the region are above 70%, indicating fast-approaching water scarcity.
- More than nine out of 10 people living in urban areas around the world are breathing polluted air, with southern Asia scoring the worst in this area.
- While electricity and sanitation deficits in south Asia are still poor, the report noted efforts are being made to close the gap.
Sense of urgency for 2030 Agenda
- “With just 12 years left to the 2030 deadline, we must inject a sense of urgency,” said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the foreword to the report.
- “Achieving the 2030 Agenda requires accelerated actions by countries along with collaborative partnerships among governments and stakeholders at all levels. This ambitious agenda necessitates profound change that goes beyond business as usual.”
- At the global level, the five agencies that together produced the assessment found that the gains achieved on food security and better nutrition since the turn of the century may be at risk.
- Although absolute numbers of people facing hunger and poor nutrition have always been high, there was a reduction in the rate of undernourishment since the year 2000.
- That has slowed from 2013, registering a worrying increase in 2016. The estimate of 815 million people enduring chronic food deprivation in 2016, compared to 775 million in 2014, is depressing in itself, but more important is the finding that the deprivation is even greater among people who live in regions affected by conflict and the extreme effects of climate change.
- In a confounding finding, though, the report says that child under-nutrition rates continue to drop, although one in four children is still affected by stunting.
- These are averages and do not reflect the disparities among regions, within countries and between States.
- Yet, the impact of the economic downturn, many violent conflicts, fall in commodity export revenues, and failure of agriculture owing to drought and floods are all making food scarce and expensive for many.
- They represent a setback to all countries trying to meet the Sustainable Development Goal on ending hunger and achieving food security and improved nutrition.
- India’s efforts at improving access to food and good nutrition are led by the National Food Security Act. There are special nutritional schemes for women and children operated through the States.
- In spite of such interventions, 14.5% of the population suffers from undernourishment, going by the UN’s assessment for 2014-16.
- At the national level, 53% of women are anaemic, Health Ministry data show. What is more, the Centre recently said it had received only 3,888 complaints on the public distribution system (PDS) over a five-year period. All this shows that the Centre and State governments are woefully short on the commitment to end undernourishment. Institutions such as the State Food Commissions have not made a big difference either.
- Distributing nutritious food as a public health measure is still not a political imperative, while ill-conceived policies are making it difficult for many to do this.
- The report on nutritional deficiency should serve as an opportunity to evaluate the role played by the PDS in bringing about dietary diversity for those relying on subsidised food.
- In a report issued two years ago on the role played by rations in shaping household and nutritional security, the NITI Aayog found that families below the poverty line consumed more cereals and less milk compared to the affluent. Complementing rice and wheat with more nutritious food items should be the goal.
Need for reducing plastic usage
- Today, stemming the plastic tide is a national imperative
- India hosted this year’s World Environment Day and PM Modi made a high-profile pledge, to international acclaim, that it would do away with all single-use plastics by 2022
- Worldwide, the problem has got out of hand, with only 9% of about nine billion tonnes of plastic produced getting recycled
What led to the ban?
- India has an uninspiring record when it comes to handling waste
- India’s plastic waste is estimated officially at 26,000 tonnes a day
- If the Centre and the States had got down to dealing with the existing regulations on plastic waste management and municipal solid waste, a ban would not even have become necessary
- Specifications for the recycling of different types of plastics were issued two decades ago by the Bureau of Indian Standards
What needs to be done?
- There has to be an effort on a war footing to segregate this waste at source
- Priority should be given to stop the generation of mixed waste, which prevents recovery of plastics
- Companies covered by extended producer responsibility provisions must be required to take back their waste
- Incentives to reduce the use of plastic carry bags, single-use cups, plates and cutlery must be in place
- Retailers must be required to switch to paper bags
- Carry bag production using cloth can create more jobs than machines using plastic pellets
- The Urban Development Secretary in each State, who heads the monitoring committee under the rules, should be mandated to produce a monthly report on how much plastic waste is collected, including details of the types of chemicals involved, and the disposal methods
- Such compulsory disclosure norms will maintain public pressure on the authorities, including the State Pollution Control Boards
- Plastics became popular because they are inexpensive, can be easily produced and offer great convenience
- Their wild popularity has turned them into a scourge
- We need substitutes for plastic, incentives to re-use, and better waste disposal
Research and development in water-efficient crops, along with investment in alternative modes of irrigation, are a must.
Agriculture is the biggest user
- It consumes about 83% of India’s freshwater resources
- The roots of the problem may lie in the Green Revolution
- Green revolution included skewed incentive structures—heavily subsidized electricity, water and fertilizers for farmers
- This has also played a significant role in the misalignment of crop patterns in the country
Misalignments in cropping
- The production of water-thirsty crops like paddy and sugarcane takes place in the Punjab-Haryana belt and Maharashtra respectively
- Environmentalists have often argued that sugar cane is the cause of chronic drought in Marathwada
- The Nabard-Icrier report makes an argument for moving such high water-reliant crops to other, relatively water-abundant areas
- In regions with high irrigation water productivity better suited to water-intensive crops—such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh—poor power supply and other such problems make cultivation of water-intensive crops non-remunerative
- India’s public sector agriculture research institutions led by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research had released a record 313 new crop varieties during 2016-17
- These crops would increase farm production while minimizing the use of inputs
- The list of new crops includes an early maturing (52-55 days) variety of mung pulse—the first of its kind in the world
- Developments like these have the potential to help states adopt a more sustainable cropping pattern without disrupting the flow of their income streams
- Investing in readjusting irrigation patterns is equally important for fulfilling the “more crop per drop” objective
- Natural water systems lose their dilution capacity on becoming hydrologically deficient, leading to a higher concentration of pollutants
- To deal with such water-management challenges in rivers and groundwater, boosting alternative irritation techniques such as drip irrigation is a necessity
- Irrigation techniques such as the alternate wetting and drying method (AWD)—a widely practiced technique in the Philippines and Vietnam can also be used
- The tasks of making agriculture remunerative as well as water-friendly eventually coincide
- India still lags behind its Asian neighbors in agriculture genomics—the process of increasing agricultural productivity by developing crops with promising agronomic traits
- Research and development in multi-resistant, water-efficient and high-yielding crops along with investment in alternative modes of irrigation need to be taken up
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