Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Ethanol Production gets a leg up
- India-Russia Submarine deal
- Hydroelectric policy
- Official Secrets Act
1 . Ethanol Production gets a leg up
Context : In a bid to boost sugar mills’ ethanol-production capacity and help them pay off mounting arrears to cane farmers, the Union government has approved Rs. 3,355 crore in incentives.
About the News
- The CCEA has approved Rs. 2,790 crore for bank loan interest subvention to mills, and Rs. 565 crore for loan interest subvention to the molasses-based standalone distilleries.
- Banks will be able to extend soft loans worth Rs. 15,500 crore to mills and distilleries under the scheme. This is likely to benefit 268 mills and create an additional 300-400 crore litres of ethanol capacity, according to industry estimates.
The approval of interest subvention will help in:
- improving liquidity of sugar mills by way of value addition to their revenues from supply of ethanol under Ethanol Blended Petrol Programme (EBP);
- reducing sugar inventories and thereby facilitate timely clearance of cane price dues of farmers and
- achieving 10% blending target of EBP.
About the Ethanol Blended Petrol Programme
- Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme was launched in January, 2003. The programme sought to promote the use of alternative and environment friendly fuels and to reduce import dependency for energy requirements.
- Ethanol, an anhydrous ethyl alcohol having chemical formula of C2H5OH, can be produced from sugarcane, maize, wheat, etc which are having high starch content. In India, ethanol is mainly produced from sugarcane molasses by fermentation process. Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline to form different blends.
- As the ethanol molecule contains oxygen, it allows the engine to more completely combust the fuel, resulting in fewer emissions and thereby reducing the occurrence of environmental pollution.
- Since ethanol is produced from plants that harness the power of the sun, ethanol is also considered as renewable fuel.
2 . India -Russia Submarine deal
Context : India on Thursday sealed a $3-billion deal with Russia for leasing a nuclear-powered attack submarine for the Indian Navy for a period of 10 years, military sources said.
About the Submarine
- The two countries signed an inter-governmental agreement capping months of negotiations on price and other aspects of the deal.
- Under the pact, Russia will have to deliver the Akula class submarine, to be known as Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025.
- It will be a nuclear Powered Submarine
- It will be the third Russian submarine to be leased to the Navy.
- The Chakra-III is expected to give India an edge over its rivals in the Indian Ocean region given one of the major strengths of a nuclear submarine is its ability to remain underwater for months, making detection difficult
3 . Hydro electric policy
Context : The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved a new hydroelectric policy aimed at boosting the sector, including according large hydro projects the status of renewable energy projects.
- India is endowed with large hydropower potential of 1,45,320 MW of which only about 45,400 MW has been utilized so far. Only about 10,000 MW of hydropower has been added in the last 10 years. The hydropower sector is currently going through a challenging phase and the share of hydropower in the total capacity has declined from 50.36% in the 1960s to around 13% in 2018-19.
Importance of Hydropower
- Besides being environment friendly, hydropower has several other unique features like ability for quick ramping, black start, reactive absorption etc. which make it ideal for peaking power, spinning reserve and grid balancing/ stability.
- Hydropower also provides water security, irrigation and flood moderation benefits, apart from socio-economic development of the entire region by providing employment opportunities and boosting tourism etc.
- The importance of hydropower is increasing even more as the country has targeted to add 160 GW of intermittent Solar and Wind power by 2022 and 40% of the total capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 to honour its Nationally Determined Contribution for Climate Change.
- DISOMS are reluctant sign Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) Hydro Power due to higher tariff, particularly, in the initial years. One of the reasons for high tariff of hydropower is the loading of cost of flood moderation and enabling infrastructure in the project cost.
About Hydroelectric Policy
- Large Hydropower Projects to be declared as Renewable Energy source (as per existing practice, only hydropower projects less than 25MW are categorized as Renewable Energy).
- HPO as a separate entity within non-solar Renewable Purchase Obligation to cover LHPs commissioned after notification of these measures (SHPs are already covered under Non-Solar Renewable Purchase Obligation). The trajectory of annual HPO targets will be notified by Ministry of Power based on the projected capacity addition plans in hydropower sector. Necessary amendments will be introduced in the Tariff Policy and Tariff Regulations to operationalize HPO.
- Tariff rationalization measures including providing flexibility to the developers to determine tariff by back loading of tariff after increasing project life to 40 years, increasing debt repayment period to 18 years and introducing escalating tariff of 2%;
- Budgetary support for funding flood moderation component of hydropower projects on case to case basis; and
- Budgetary support for funding cost of enabling infrastructure i.e. roads and bridges on case to case basis as per actual, limited to Rs. 1.5 crore per MW for upto 200 MW projects and Rs. 1.0 crore per MW for above 200 MW projects.
Major Impact including employment generation potential
- As most of the hydro power potential is located in the higher reaches of Himalayas and North- East Region, it will result in overall socio-economic development of the region by providing direct employment in the power sector.
- It will also provide indirect employment/ entrepreneurial opportunities in the field of transportation, tourism and other small scale businesses.
- Another benefit would be of having a stable grid considering 160 GW capacity addition by 2022 from infirm sources of power like solar and wind.
4 . Official Secrets Act
Context : In the Supreme Court Tuesday, the government threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act against two publications that had run reports on the Rafale deal, on the basis of documents which, the government claimed, had been stolen from the Defence Ministry.
What is the Official Secrets Act?
- OSA has its roots in the British colonial era. The original version was The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV), 1889. This was brought in with the main objective of muzzling the voice of a large number of newspapers that had come up in several languages, and were opposing the Raj’s policies, building political consciousness and facing police crackdowns and prison terms.
- It was amended and made more stringent in the form of The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904, during Lord Curzon’s tenure as Viceroy of India.
- In 1923, a newer version was notified. The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.
What comes under its purview?
- It broadly deals with two aspects — spying or espionage, covered under Section 3, and disclosure of other secret information of the government, under Section 5.
- Secret information can be any official code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information. Under Section 5, both the person communicating the information, and the person receiving the information, can be punished.
- For classifying a document, a government Ministry or Department follows the Manual of Departmental Security Instructions, 1994, not under OSA. Also, OSA itself does not say what a “secret” document is.
- It is the government’s discretion to decide what falls under the ambit of a “secret” document to be charged under OSA. It has often been argued that the law is in direct conflict with the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Between the RTI Act and OSA, which has primacy?
- Section 22 of the RTI Act provides for its primacy vis-a-vis provisions of other laws, including OSA.
- This gives the RTI Act an overriding effect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent with the provisions of OSA. So if there is any inconsistency in OSA with regard to furnishing of information, it will be superseded by the RTI Act.
- However, under Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, the government can refuse information. Effectively, if government classifies a document as “secret” under OSA Clause 6, that document can be kept outside the ambit of the RTI Act, and the government can invoke Sections 8 or 9. Legal experts see this as a loophole.