Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Issues with PM KISAN Scheme
- Heritage Conservation Committee
- Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
- Current Scenario of Agriculture – Important Issues
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Issues with PM KISAN Scheme
Context : PM-KISAN payments worth ₹1,364 crore have been wrongly made to more than 20 lakh ineligible beneficiaries and income tax payer farmers, according to information provided by the Agriculture Ministry in response to an RTI request
- PM-KISAN is the Centre’s flagship scheme to provide income support worth ₹6000 a year to farming families. When it was launched just before the general election in 2019, it was meant to cover only small and marginal farmers who owned less than two hectares. Later that year, large farmers were included in the scheme as the government removed land size criteria.
- There are 11 crore beneficiaries registered under the scheme.
- If any member of a farming family paid income tax, received a monthly pension above ₹10,000, held a constitutional position, or was a serving or retired government employee are not eligible for the scheme. Professionals, and institutional landholders were also excluded.
About the Issue
- According to the RTI reply ₹1,364 crore have been wrongly made to more than 20 lakh ineligible beneficiaries and income tax payer farmers
- According to the Agriculture Ministry data, 56% of these undeserving persons belonged to the “income tax payee” category, while the remainder belong to the “ineligible farmers” category.
- However, 72% of the payout amount was paid to the income tax payees, indicating that this category continued to receive money for multiple installments before their ineligible status was discovered and they were weeded out of the scheme’s beneficiary database.
- Punjab (23%), Maharashtra (17%) and Assam (14%) account for more than half of the beneficiaries of wrong payments, followed by Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh with 8% each.
- Almost all the wrong payments in Punjab and Assam went to those in the “ineligible farmers” category, while Maharashtra had the highest number of payouts to “income tax payee” farmers.
2 . Heritage Conservation Committee
Context : The proposed new Parliament building has passed the last of its regulatory clearances, with the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) giving its go ahead to the project Monday. The Supreme Court had on 5 January mandated the committee’s approval to the proposed project.
Why approval was required
- No government or private agency can undertake construction or redevelopment work in any heritage buildings or precincts in the national capital, which have been notified by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), without the HCC approval.
What is the Heritage Conservation Committee?
- The Heritage Conservation Committee was set up in 1983 in the national capital, under the Delhi Development Act (DDA), by incorporating a new clause in the Delhi Building Byelaws for the protection of heritage buildings, precincts and natural features in Delhi.
- The committee is headed by the additional secretary in the Union Ministry for Housing and Urban Affairs
- The committee has 13 other members including representatives from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), MCD, DDA, NDMC, Archaeological Survey of India, Delhi Urban Arts Commission and other government agencies.
- The committee also has members from the School of Planning and Architecture, an associate professor of history from Hindu College, Delhi University, and the director of the National Museum.
- The term of every committee is a period of three years, after which a new HCC is constituted.
Process for HCC approval
- Under the Unified Building Bye-laws for Delhi, 2016, the NDMC, municipal corporations, DDA or any other local body involved with development work in the city has to mandatorily refer proposals for building and engineering projects to be undertaken at heritage sites to the HCC.
- The respective local body has to submit the proposal online along with all the necessary documents, in the prescribed proforma that can be downloaded from the HCC website, to the committee.
- Once the proposal is received, the HCC meets to appraise the project and gives its approval or sends it back to the local body if there are deficiencies.
- “It’s a transparent process. Once the HCC gives its decision, the minutes of the meetings are uploaded on the HCC’s website for all to see,” said another housing ministry official.
- The official said both the Centra Vista redevelopment project and the Central Vista avenue project will also go to HCC for clearance before work starts.
- Every state has its own HCC, set up under their respective building byelaws for their notified heritage properties. Any construction or redevelopment work on these sites requires the committee’s assent.
- Since land in Delhi is under the DDA, which is under the housing ministry, its HCC comes under the central government’s jurisdiction.
3 . Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
Context : Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar released Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country.
- Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Protected Areas has emerged as a key tool that is increasingly being used by governments and international bodies to understand strengths and weaknesses of the protected area management systems.
- India has systematically designated its Protected Areas in four legal categories — National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
- Under this Act, India has 903 formally designated Protected Areas with a total coverage 1,65,012.6 square km. Among these are 101 National Parks, 553 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 86 Conservation Reserves and 163 Community Reserves. For the survey, 146 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries across 29 states and Union territories were evaluated.
- This year onwards, 10 best nationalparks, five coastal and marine parks and top five zoos in the country will be ranked and awarded every year.
Details of the report
- India has a network of 903 Protected Areas covering about 5 per cent of its total geographic area of the country.
- As per the MEE report, West Bengal’s Jaldapara national park and Raiganj wildlife sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh’s Sainj and Tirthan wildlife sanctuaries as well as the Great Himalayan national park have been declared as top five national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India.
- Two wildlife’s sanctuaries in UP — Turtle WLS and Jai Prakash Narayan Bird sanctuary — and one each in Haryana, Assam and Rajasthan ranked as the bottom five.
4 . Current Scenario of Agriculture – Important Issues
What is the current situation of land in agriculture?
- Area under agriculture has been shrinking — it reduced from 159.5 million hectares (mn ha) in 2010-11 to 157 mn ha in 2015-16 — but the number of operational holdings has been rising (increased from 138.3 million to about 146 million). This reflects in the falling average landholdings’ size of farmers, which has come down from 1.2 ha to about 1.08 ha.
- In the absence of an estimate of the number of farmers in the country, the number of landholdings is taken as its proxy. This means that India has about 146 million — or about 14.6 crore — farmers. About 86% of them have an average landholding size less than 2 hectares; they are referred to as India’s small and marginal farmers (SMF). The SMFs operate on about 47.35% of the total agri-area. More than half of India’s farmers reside in the five states of UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, MP, and Karnataka.
Is fragmentation of land a problem?
- Smaller landholdings produce smaller pockets of produce, aggregation of which becomes essential for even a trolley-load to be carried to an agricultural produce market committee (APMC) mandi or a nearby market.
- Due to small holdings caused by fragmentation, small and marginal farmers are forced to sell their produce at farm gate itself. This is especially so in states that have a weak network of APMC mandis.
What % of the country’s workforce is engaged in agriculture? Do the workers need to be weaned out? How?
- As per recent estimates from the Labour Bureau, 45% of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture.
- According to Census 2011, 55% of the agri-workforce comprises agri-labourers, i.e., those who do not own land and work for wages on the land of others; less than 45% are “farmers” who own and cultivate land. Indian agriculture cannot support such a large population through growth in agriculture alone.
Is rice the only water-guzzling crop?
- It is said that 1 kg of sugar requires about 1,500-2,000 litres while 1 kg of rice requires 5,000 litres. There are variations across states. A kg of sugar produced from cane cultivated in UP consumes 1,044 litres of water, while in Maharashtra it takes double that — 2,086 litres.
- In Maharashtra, sugarcane is cultivated on 4% of the cultivable land but consumes more than 70% of irrigation water.
- Due to the high returns on sugarcane compared to other crop combinations and assured marketing, the area under sugarcane has been going up even in water-stressed regions.
- While Punjab and Haryana have become the focus of the farmers’ agitation, the current scenario in agriculture is not very hopeful in other states too.
- The three Acts passed by Parliament do not touch the sugar sector. In Punjab, sugar is grown only on 1.2% of gross cropped area. So they do not benefit from policies favouring sugarcane.
Are wheat and rice the only crops for which farmers receive MSP?
- While the government declares MSP for 23 crops, only wheat and paddy (rice) are procured in large quantities as they are required to meet the requirement of PDS, which is about 65 million tonnes.
Is it only the farmers of Punjab and Haryana who benefit from procurement?
- In 2019-20, Punjab procured 92.3% of its rice production. Haryana procured 89.2%, while Telangana procured 102% of its production. In the case of wheat, Punjab procured 72% of its production this year, while Haryana and MP procured 62% and 66% respectively.
Which other crops are protected by the government through various measures?
- Since 2015-16, the government has been procuring larger quantities of pulses through National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) and Small Farmers’ Agri-business Consortium (SFAC) for maintaining a buffer stock of 2 million tonnes. Cotton is procured by Cotton Corporation of India, while groundnut is procured in some states like Gujarat.
- Some horticultural products are also procured in a sporadic manner, e.g., apples in J&K in 2019-20 and onion in Maharashtra almost every year.
- Sugarcane is not procured by the government but its farmers are assured of Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) paid by sugar mills. In some states, the government declares State Advised Price which is higher than the FRP.
- Jute is another crop protected by the government even though it is not directly procured. Under Jute Packaging Material (JPM) Act, 1987, the Government has decided that 100% of food grains and 20% of sugar shall be mandatorily packed in diversified jute bags.
If horticulture and dairy are more profitable, why are farmers not giving up MSP crops and switching to these?
- Milk producers and farmers growing fruits and vegetables are equally prone to fluctuation in market prices. Except for dairy cooperatives in Gujarat, the milk federations are funded by state governments through various means.
What are the subsidies given to agriculture in India?
- Farmers in India are provided support on both the input and output side.
- On the input side, an average Indian farmer receives subsidies on fertilisers, seeds, farm machinery and equipment, electricity, logistics, etc.
- On the output side, the MSP regime offers support in states having robust procurement infrastructure. However, small and marginal farmers are able to get only a small amount of these subsidies.
- A number of subsidies meant for agriculture also flow to businesses, e.g., grant given to food processing units and cold chain projects.
Then why is it said that Indian farmer are net taxed?
- As per the ICRIER-OECD report, despite the plethora of schemes run to support and subsidise Indian farmers, because of regressive policies on the marketing side (both domestic and international trade policies) and the deficit of basic infrastructure for storage, transportation etc., Indian farmers suffered net losses and thus emerged to be net taxed despite receiving subsidies. Between 2014 and 2016, Indian farmers were on average net taxed to the tune of 6%.
What is the level of agricultural subsidies in other countries?
- As per the same ICRIER-OECD report, while Indian farmers were net taxed (i.e., received negative support), farmers in the first world countries of Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, United States, and Australia received the highest positive support. Even farmers in Indonesia received much higher positive support. Ukraine was another country like India that emerged to be taxing its farmers.
What are the subsidies enjoyed by the middle classes and the rich? Are other sectors of the economy also subsidised?
- The Economic Survey of 2014-15 devoted a section to subsidies enjoyed by the middle classes. These include higher interest rates on savings, income tax exemptions, railways, electricity, LPG, gold, and aviation turbine fuel (ATF). Higher education in government institutions is highly subsidised. The government also provides protection to industry by way of productivity-linked incentive schemes, high import tariffs, and regulatory tweaks.
Why are farmers agitating when the government says the new laws will help them? And why are Punjab farmers at the forefront of the agitation?
- The farmers of Punjab, Haryana and other states that have robust APMC mandis and an efficient system of procurement are more fearful of the three laws. They fear that these laws signal the beginning of the end of open-ended procurement of wheat and paddy.
- They fear that the success of these states in creating the infrastructure for procurement may now become the reason for withdrawal of support of the Centre.
Can farming be left entirely to market forces?
- Farmers cannot be left entirely to the mercy of market forces. Farmers growing non-MSP crops, especially fruits and vegetables, have experienced huge volatility in prices over the years. The price deficiency payment scheme did not succeed in MP. So, direct income support is the only way to shield them from suffering huge losses.
- A predictable trade policy can also help in attracting private investment in the agriculture chain which can act as a shield against volatility.
- Option contracts through FPOs can also bring stability, but most farmers are not educated enough to deal with future markets, so they need support and guidance from the government.
Can procurement be abolished? What will happen to PDS then?
- The procurement system in India serves two purposes — purchases on MSP supports farmers, and subsidised distribution of procured grains under PDS supports India’s economically vulnerable. 4As per recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data on malnourishment in India, malnutrition indicators for women and children have worsened over the years. With this in focus, the PDS system is likely to stay in the coming years. But the government will do well to prepare a 10-year roadmap of PDS to 2030 so that only the required quantities of wheat and rice are procured.
Is there a genuine fear of higher consumer prices due to changes in the Essential Commodities Act and the entry of large corporates in the food business through e-commerce and modern retail?
- In case of high-value agricultural commodities in which India is in deficit or has only marginal surpluses (like pulses), there is a genuine fear of stocking by corporates, especially those which are in modern retail and e-commerce.
- The government must make it compulsory that they keep their stock in Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority-registered warehouses only, so that the private stocks are known to the government.
What role should state governments play in getting farmers fair prices?
- If India has to move away from procurement-based support, at present restricted to certain crops only, a more attractive income support scheme has to be conceived.
- However, it has to be coupled with much higher investment, both public and private, in agri-infrastructure.
- The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) incentivised the states, which increased their expenditure on agriculture. The Centre’s assistance for such states should be higher.
- Several Decentralised Procurement (DCP) states like Odisha and Chhattisgarh claim that they incur losses in procurement operations and these are not fully reimbursed by the Centre. However, precise data on losses incurred by them is not in the public domain.
What should the government do over the next five years to make Indian agriculture more competitive?
- Several states of India have already achieved productivity levels seen in developed countries. But there are also states that have low productivity. Focused research on crops grown in low-productivity states can deliver better seeds, which can withstand the challenge of higher temperature due to climate change. Drought-tolerant varieties of seeds are also needed for crops grown in rain-fed areas. Good quality seeds can enhance productivity by 15-20%. Recent successes in higher productivity vegetables and maize prove this.
- In 2018, a working group of Niti Aayog, chaired by Dr Parmod Kumar, published a study, ‘Demand supply projections towards 2033’, which pointed out that India will still have surplus in wheat and rice. In coarse grains the domestic requirement will be largely met, but there will be a deficit of 5-7 million tonnes in pulses. A massive deficit of more than 50 million tonnes is projected for oilseeds. To meet this gap in oilseeds, India will need the best agricultural practices of Punjab and Haryana.
5 . Facts for Prelims
Sea Vigil and Tropex
- Sea Vigil 2021 is a biennial exercise that began in January 2019. It will be undertaken along the entire 7516 km coastline and Exclusive Economic Zone of India and will involve all the 13 coastal States and Union Territories along with other maritime stakeholders, including the fishing and coastal communities”.
- Exercise is considered as a build up towards the major Theatre-level exercise TROPEX (Theatre-level Readiness Operational Exercise)” conducted by the Navy every two years.
- TROPEX, a month-long exercise, stands for Theatre-Level Readiness and Operational Exercise, and is carried out by the Indian Navy every two years. In the intervening period, the Western Naval Command and the Eastern Naval Command hold their individual exercises. TROPEX assesses the operational preparedness of the Navy. The last TROPEX was carried out in the first two months of 2019, involving around 60 Naval ships along with 12 Coast Guard vessels and 60 planes. Besides the Navy, units from the Army, IAF and Coast Guard take part in the exercise to bolster interoperability.
- “Sea Vigil and TROPEX together will cover the entire spectrum of maritime security challenges, including transition from peace to conflict
- Assets of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Customs and other maritime agencies will participate” in Sea Vigil, and its conduct is “also being facilitated by the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, Shipping, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Fisheries, Customs, State Governments and other agencies of Centre/ State
Lithium Extraction Process
- Preliminary surveys by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD), an arm of the Department of Atomic Energy, are learnt to have shown the presence of 1,600 tonnes of lithium resources in the igneous rocks of the Marlagalla-Allapatna region of Karnataka’s Mandya district.
- Lithium can be extracted in different ways, depending on the type of the deposit – it is generally done either through solar evaporation of large brine pools or by hard-rock extraction of the ore.
- In India, alongside the rock mining at Mandya, there is some potential for recovering lithium from the brines of Sambhar and Pachpadra in Rajasthan, and Rann of Kachchh in Gujarat. The major mica belts in Rajasthan, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh, and the pegmatite belts in Odisha and Chhattisgarh apart from Karnataka, are the other potential geological domains.
Golden Globe Race
- Golden Globe Race was a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race
- The 2018 competition was the second edition and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was held in 1968–1969
- Entrants are limited to sailing similar yachts and equipment to what was available to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the winner of the original race in 1968–69. That means sailing without the use of modern technology such as satellite based navigation aids. Safety equipment such as EPIRBs and AIS are carried, however the competitors are only allowed to use the technology in an emergency.
- It featured yachts similar to those used at that time. Except for safety equipment, no modern technology was allowed.
India at UNSC
India has served in the UN Security Council seven times previously.
- In 1950-51, India, as President of UNSC, presided over the adoption of resolutions calling for cessation of hostilities during the Korean War and for assistance to Republic of Korea.
- In 1967-68, India co-sponsored Resolution 238 extending mandate of UN mission in Cyprus.
- In 1972-73, India pushed strongly for admission of Bangladesh into UN. The resolution was not adopted because of a veto by a permanent member.
- In 1977-78, India was a strong voice for Africa in the UNSC and spoke against apartheid. Then External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke in UNSC for Namibia’s independence in 1978.
- In 1984-85, India was a leading voice in UNSC for resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, especially Palestine and Lebanon.
- In 1991-92, PM P V Narasimha Rao participated in the first ever summit-level meeting of the UNSC and spoke on its role in maintenance of peace and security.
- In 2011-2012, India was a strong vice for developing world, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism and Africa. First statement on Syria was during India’s Presidency at the UNSC.
- During the 2011-12 term, India chaired the UNSC 1373 Committee concerning Counter-Terrorism, the 1566 Working Group concerning threat to international peace and security by terrorist acts, and Security Council 751/1907 Committee concerning Somalia and Eritrea.
- The flight surgeons are doctors who have specialised in aerospace medicine.
- Training of astronauts is a critical aspect of the human space mission project
- Fight surgeons are responsible for astronauts’ health before, during and after a flight. The flight surgeons will also get to train with the prospective astronauts