Down to Earth – 1th to 15th April Summary - New Age Executives (Part - 1) (Download PDF)


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The Craft of Corrupt Science - Glyphosate: A chemical which is banned or on the verge of being banned all over the world, Glyphosate, a herbicide is used to remove weeds by spraying it before sowing to clear the fields.

  • Glyphosate also known as Roundup or “Wonder Substance”.
  • Disadvantages of using Glyphosate
  1. Responsible for the disappearance of bees and butterflies across the world
  2. Responsible for higher incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and kidney ailments
  3. Responsible for cancer and endocrine disruption.
  • Whitewash: the Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, US based journalist, Carey Gillam, describes how science has spun and spun on this chemical.
  • In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer had concluded that there was enough evidence on animals to list the chemical as a “probable carcinogen”.
  • In 2016, when the 15-year licence to use glyphosate expired, the EU parliament had to decide what to do. Medical practitioners, particularly cancer doctors, and the civil society were dead against the renewal.
  • Germany’s Federal Institute of Risk Assessment and the European Food Safety Authority reviewed the urine tests and concluded that the herbicide is “rapidly eliminated and shows no signs of bioaccumulation”.
  • Ensure right to environment
  • 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries inked a legally binding treaty to protect nature defenders and recognise their rights
  • UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox, appealed to the world body to recognise healthy environment as a basic human right
  • 14 % of global emissions in 2040 would come from the production of Information and Communication tools like smartphones.

Scientists Discover Arsenic-Resistant Bugs

  • Researchers from the Central University of South Bihar, Patna, have isolated bacteria from the Gangetic plains that can treat arsenic present in groundwater.
  • They found 48 types of bacteria that have arsenic detoxification potential. Two of them— AK1 and AK9 belonging to the genus Pseudomonas— can break down arsenic-III, implicated in arsenic poisoning, to its benign form, arsenic-V by a process called bioremediation.
  • The research was conducted with water samples from hand pumps of 12 habitations in Bihar’s Bhojpur and Patna districts.

Cape Town Beats Day Zero?

  • Capetonians are still living off a daily allowance of 50 litres a day; the UN considers anything less than 1, 000 litres a day as water scarce situation.
  • Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane announced that “Day Zero will not occur in 2018”.
  • Residents of Breede Valley and Drakenstein do not have access to drinking water.
  • Alternative water sources and bolster sewer systems to prevent Day Zero have to be the focus.

In Court

  • The Punjab and Haryana High Court lambasted the Chandigarh Police for turning a deaf ear to the noise pollution due to bikers with modified silencers.
  • The National Clean Air Programme, which seeks to reduce air pollution across the country by 35 % in three years and 50 % in five years, to be finalised in four weeks, the supreme court was informed.
  • Bombay High Court on February 27 flayed Maharashtra Government for failure to develop Lonar Lake asked what steps it had taken to promote the World Heritage Site and attract tourists.
  • The Supreme Court wanted to know from the Centre how `75, 000 crore, lying in various funds created on its orders for protection of the environment, was being utilised.
  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on March 6 slammed the Delhi Jal Board over its submission that Haryana was responsible for the high levels of ammonia in the Yamuna water.
  • The Kerala High Court on March 15 restrained the state government from issuing a final notification fixing `20, 000 as minimum monthly wages for nurses in private hospitals.

NGT Notice to Government, BCCI over IPL

  • A plea seeking a ban on the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches on the ground that it leads to wastage of tens of thousands of litres of water has prompted the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to seek response.
  • The responses was seeked from the Centre, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and nine states where these matches are proposed to be held.
  • NGT’s order comes in response to a plea filed by Alwar-based youth Haidar Ali seeking action against all concerned for wasting enormous amounts of water to prepare the pitches for holding the tournament.

Rajasthan Passes Bill To Exclude Buffalo From Bovine Act

  • Rajasthan’s state Assembly on March 9 passed a bill on excluding buffalo and progenies from the definition of bovines.
  • The Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) (Amendment) Bill, 2018 defines cow, calf, heifer, bull and bullock a “bovine animal”, and expressly excludes buffalo.

Buildings Too Affect Weather

  • Urbanisation has an impact on storm patterns and rainfall amounts, say two studies by Purdue University in the US.
  • Dev Niyogi, state climatologist of Indiana, USA, said that in Mumbai, the buildings disrupt rainfall, creating pockets and ribbons of rain that intensifies downpours in some parts.
  • Mumbai and other Indian cities have experienced significant flooding in recent years, possibly exacerbated by the way the cities affect storms and rainfall.
  • Urban development in the rugged terrain of San Miguel de Tucuman has resulted in 20 - 30 % less precipitation downwind of the city.
  • Understanding how these storms are changing by interacting with a city will help improve forecasting.

Solar Alliance Could Be a Game-Changer

  • On March 11, the heads of around 40 countries landed in India for the first official summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), an intergovernmental organisation under the UN charter.
  • The treaty-based body, dubbed as the most concrete outcome of the Paris Agreement, initiative with membership open to 121 countries, located fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
  • Most of these countries are energy-poor despite being endowed with excellent solar insolation. India offered Line of Credit worth US $1.4 billion for solar projects for African countries, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, at interest rates cheaper than those offered by China.
  • The 61 signatories agreed to increase the share of solar energy in their respective energy mix and the alliance plans to create 1, 000 gigawatts by 2030. ISA aims to mobilise US $1 trillion for achieving the target.
  • The headquarters of the ISA in Gurugram, India now has the opportunity to take charge of leading the global energy transformation from using fossil fuels to adopting cleaner sources of energy.

Brief History of ISA

  • 2015: Launched at the 21st UN Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris on November 30 by Modi and the then French President Francois Hollande
  • 2016: ISA Framework Agreement opened for signature at the COP-22 in Marrakech, Morocco, in November
  • 2017: ISA becomes a legal entity on December 6, 2017, some 30 days after 15 countries ratified the agreement
  • 2018: First Founding Conference of ISA held in New Delhi

Karo Sambhav

  • In Delhi, many in the informal sector depend on e-waste. Attaching informal waste pickers to legitimate collection channels is an excellent utilisation of the existing network of the informal sector.
  • Karo Sambhav has managed to engage over a few thousand waste pickers for collection and shutting down informal dismantling units, and thereby gaining a legitimate and sustainable livelihood.
  • A state level policy, introducing producer responsibility organisations as a key stakeholder can help formalise the informal sector.
  • The state should also create checks and balances to stop leakages of e-waste from authorised recyclers into the informal sector.

Bonds to the Rescue

  • Urban local bodies (ULBs) across India are floating bonds to raise money. This may render them unviable and make city living costly.
  • After the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), ULBs are unable to levy and collect tolls, taxes and fees, ULBs are resorting to the system of floating municipal bonds.
  • In May 2017, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) raised `200 crore through bonds which it plans to use to improve water supply infrastructure of the city. The bond, notified in the Bombay Stock Exchange, assures returns at 7.58 % a year to investors and will mature in 10 years.
  • After Pune’s success, cash-strapped New Delhi Municipal Council, Vadodara Municipal Corporation, Surat Municipal Corporation and Nashik Municipal Corporation plan to float bonds to finance their crumbling civic infrastructure.
  • The 2011 report by the High Powered Expert Committee of the Union Ministry of Urban Development (now renamed Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs), shows that improving the country’s urban infrastructure requires an investment of `39 lakh crore.
  • The latest 2017 report of think-tank McKinsey Global Institute puts the figure at an astounding `53 lakh crore.
  • In 1997, when the concept was introduced in the country, Bengaluru became the first city to issue municipal bonds. Ahmedabad followed suit next year.
  • Till 2010, at least 22 ULBs had issued municipal bonds and raised a capital of `1, 353 crore, a study by the Delhi-based National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIAU) says.
  • The Union government’s grant to urban areas under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) killed the spirit of ULBs to take further risk.
  • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), in 2015 made it clear that ULBs have to maintain transparency. It also allowed the trading of bonds at the stock exchange.
  • In 2017, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs hired global analytical company CRISIL to rate municipalities on the basis of their assets and liabilities, revenue streams, resources available for capital investment and other good governance practices.
  • To issue a bond, a ULB has to keep an important asset, say a revenue-generating parking space, as collateral with a third-party so that it provides security against a default in payment.

Not the Right Solution

  • Floating bond is not an effective way of raising money for infrastructure development of urban local bodies. They should either expand or improve their potential of sourcing money from the existing assets
  • Urban governance experts say bonds can make cash-strapped municipal bodies further vulnerable.
  • There have been instances where cities have failed to pay the money they owe to bond holders and have filed for bankruptcy for example Deteriot in 2013.
  • Srikanth Viswanathan of Janagrah, a Bengluru-based non-profit which works on improving urban governance, says bonds are not an effective way of raising money for infrastructure development.
  • Spaces like advertisement boards and parking areas are highly underutilised in almost all the municipal areas which could be a good source for fund generation.
  • Increase in property tax which is almost one-tenth of its potential would help cash burdened municipalities.
  • Ravikant Joshi, former chief accountant of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, says municipal bodies should approach funding agencies like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited (HUDCO).

Chance in Cross Fire

  • There is a strong possibility of a trade war as the two largest world economies flex their muscles.
  • Trump levied hefty tariffs on aluminum and steel imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act that applies to national security.
  • Though Trump announced exemptions for Canada and Mexico, many feel the real target of the tariffs—25 % on steel and 10 % on aluminium—is China.
  • The tarrifs are a part of Trump’s election promises where he promised to impose tariffs of up to 45 % on Chinese goods in retaliation of China undervaluing its own currency and disrespecting US copyright laws.
  • Retaliatory sanctions against the US effort to protect its industries by the Chinese would be imposed where it would hurt politically.
  • US farmers who export half of their soya bean produce to China have become a target of this strategy.
  • Raising the “acceptance level” of American soya bean, has made the cut down to 1%, thus imports of soya bean falling by 14 % to 5.82 million tonnes in January this year. Imports from Brazil rose seven-fold.

Soya, A Growing Dichotomy

  • Soya bean, has been cultivated and eaten in Japan and China since time immemorial.
  • The legume is considered the complete protein substitute of the plant world, became popular in the West only after the introduction of soya sauce in the mid 1960s.
  • Nearly 60 % of the processed foods all over the world today contain soya bean in some form or the other.
  • Natto, a traditional Japanese breakfast made from fermented soya bean, tempeh, which has its origin in Indonesia, and tofu, the soya bean curd eaten in Far East countries have gained worldwide appeal.
  • Almost two-thirds of the world’s soya bean come from the Americas, with the US producing 110 million tonnes (mt), followed by 86 mt grown in Brazil and 53 mt in Argentina. China and India are the fourth and fifth largest producers of soya bean.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s soya bean are processed and consumed in Asia, with China being the biggest consumer.
  • China is reluctant to grow the genetically modified (GM) crop as it involves high maintenance. But it can very well import GM soya bean from the US for processing.
  • A growing soya products industry also helps China control the processed food exports markets while feeding its own population with low-cost protein-rich food.
  • India must take advantage “Soya bean could be the much needed game changer for Indian agriculture, ” says Puneet Chandra, principal scientist at the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering (CIAE), Bhopal because
  1. India produces GM-free soya bean, which has a niche advantage in the global market.
  2. The new age staple thrives in moderate amount of water, less than what is consumed by paddy. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, account for 90 per cent of the crop grown across the country.
  • Soya bean also has a huge domestic market potential. The crop in India caters mainly to the needs of the oil industry, ” says Chandra.
  • The pulpy mass left after the oil has been extracted is used to form nuggets. Only one-third of the soya bean produced in the country is processed into milk and tofu. There is just one Indian manufacturer in the organised soy processing sector.
  • Though CIAE has trained 2, 500 to 3, 000 entrepreneurs in soya food processing in the last decade, the conversion rate is poor. Successful industries are mostly in Punjab.
  • The trade war between the US and China could escalate with soya bean being the focal point. This is an opportunity for India to step in and improve its production as well as processing infrastructure.
  • The government must also revisit its urea policy because soya bean, like any other pulse, requires better sulphur content in the soil but the policy does not ensure this.

The Blue Boom

  • A spur in the production of indigo, jute, tea and other cash crops, which replaced food crops such as rice and left farmers bereft of food security, eventually led to the “Blue Rebellion” or the Nil Satyagrah of 1859.
  • The indigo crop in recent times is changing the economic landscape from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to the terrains of Uttarakhand and even the Tibetan plateau.
  • About 200 farmers in Pithoragarh and Bageshwar districts in Uttarakhand have taken up indigo farming and are experimenting with different varieties of indigo, ranging from the most common Indigofera tinctoria and Indigo heterantha to a species from Japan.
  • According to Avani Society, a non-profit based in the region and working on instituting an indigo supply chain in the area, farmers have been able to earn a profit of around Rs. 2, 000 - 3, 000 through indigo cultivation over a three-month cycle of 10 - 12 working days in all.
  • Irregular rains and crop damage by monkeys and wild boar, many farmers have been forced to reduce farming of regular crops but indigo has not completely replaced regular farming

The Colour of Money

  • Farmers like 24-year-old Sushila Devi, from Simalta village in Pithoragarh, are happy to experiment with it as it yields cash.
  • The biggest benefit is the ability to use land between June-October to grow a crop that is not at risk from attacks by monkeys and fetches some additional savings of over 2, 000 - 3, 000 a year.
  • Some women, like 33-year-old Neema Sanyal from Chankana village, is also engaged in colour extraction and dyeing of clothes for the past 4 - 5 years. Once the leaves are harvested, the dyeing process is undertaken involving an engagement of 7 - 8 hours every day.

A Crop For All Seasons

  • Avani Society help women by buying the dyed fabric from them. The organisation has supported farmers with the idea of building a sustainable “farmer to table model” also popularly known as the “seed to scarf ” model.
  • In 2017, farmers of Pithoragarh produced 13, 500 kg of indigo leaves, generating a total income of Rs. 67, 000 and extracted 150 kg of indigo pigment from leaves.
  • The dye is non-polluting and does not add to soil and water pollution.
  • Indigo dyes are also used in making herbal colours and crayons. Indigo has acclimatised well to the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand in addition to the southern states, need to be protected from excessive rains and water logging.
  • G S Rajwar, fellow at the Linnean Society of London, an expert in botanical and environmental studies in the Himalayan region, says that as the crop is leguminous, it has great potential for agroforestry, intercropping especially with kharif crops.
  • Indigo can be used as live fencing, to ward off unwanted foraging from animals.
  • Due to the growing demand of “swadeshi” looms and eco-friendly textiles as well as to conserve heritage crafts and arts, there is a need to revive the use of indigo in the apparel, textiles and cosmetics industry.
  • With adequate governmental and organisational support, farmers may be able to enhance incomes and contribute to ecological crafts

- Published/Last Modified on: May 12, 2018


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