Down To Earth(December16-31 2022)
Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC
ONCE BT, TWICE BT
GS-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
GS-3: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, Nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
Bioremediation: It refers to the use of biological organisms like bacteria for the removal of environmental pollutants present in air, water, soil etc.
The benefits of bioremediation include lesser cost, eco-friendly nature, improved scalability and sustainability.
However, slow speed of degradation is a major disadvantage of bioremediation.
Context: There is an ambiguity regarding the benefits of GM crops and their relative environmental impact in India.
- Genetically Modified Crops (GM Crops): GM crops refer to such crops whose DNA has been modified by inserting the genome of an organism. The aim of producing such crop is to introduce a desirable trait or a combination of such traits in the crop. For instance, BT cotton is a modified form of cotton which is resistant to the insect bollworm.
- Benefits of GM crops: As mentioned above, GM crops are modified to introduce desirable traits like resistance to pests, resistance to chemicals like pesticides or herbicides, improved nutrient profile, reduction of spoilage, adaptation to certain climatic conditions viz. drought, improved yields, longer shelf life etc.
- Improved Yields: Similarly, GM crops can be modified to improve the yields and, therefore, lead to better remuneration for the farmers. This has led to wide adoption of such crops across global cropland and an increase in farmers’ income across the world. As per media reports, GM crops occupied almost 12% of global cropland in 2016.
- Other Benefits: Due to a lesser requirement of pesticides, GM crops have led to a decrease in pesticide poisoning incidents across the globe. At the same time, a media report in 2011 stated that the adoption of GM crops led to a decline of 25% in the cases of farmers’ suicides in India. Also, GM crops present a viable solution to the challenge of increasing population and the maintenance of global food security.
- Usage in Improvement of Environment: GM crops have been suitably modified to be effective as biofuels in order to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and decrease carbon emissions. Similarly, they have also been modified to be used in bioremediation (see inset).
Negative Impacts of GM Crops
- Food Safety: Understandably, the major concern of scientific community is the safety of GM food crops for human consumption. Critics have said that the GM crops might lead to the development of diseases in the human body which are resistant to antibiotics. This is because the genetic engineering used to manufacture such crops might lead to antimicrobial resistance in human population.
- Diversity of Crops: Critics have cited the possibility of crossbreeding of GM crops with the natural varieties of crops. This could lead to unexpected results which might not be conducive to nature. For instance, a dominant, parasitic weed with a wider adaptation capability might colonise and replace the other natural varieties of the crop.
- Induced Mutation in Insects: Media reports have indicated losses for the cotton farmers as a result of development of resistance in Bollworm. Bt cotton, which was produced as a bollworm-resistant crop, has seen widespread destruction due to infestation by pink bollworm in the western states of India.
- Increased Dependency: Another major concern with GM crops is the terminator nature of seeds. This makes the farmers dependent on the seed producing company for seeds. Further, it might also lead to losses for the farmers in case of interference in the supply or an increase in the prices of seeds. This might prove to be a strategic challenge for the government. However, it must be noted that not all GM crops produce terminator seeds.
- Lack of Adequate Testing: Critics have lamented the lack of data regarding the effect of GM food crops on human population. They have said that long-term studies would be required to effectively establish that the GM food crops and other GM crops are not harmful to the human population, as well as, the environment.
- Government-Industry Nexus: Media reports have cited a lack of scientific data and findings related to the effect of GM food crops on human population. In contrast, internet is flooded with articles claiming that the GM crops are safe for human consumption. Moreover, the widespread adoption of GM crops in the Western countries has been attributed to intensive lobbying by the seed companies.
- Other Issues: Many non-government groups have criticised GM crops as being against nature. Religious groups have also opposed the adoption of GM crops as an interference with God’s creation.
- It is true that GM crops come with a wide variety of benefits that may have a role to play in eradication of poverty and improvement in the condition of farmers in the country. However, more research is required into the harmful effects of GM crops, especially GM food crops, on human population and environment.
- What is the controversy related to the introduction of GM crops in India? Also, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of GM crops.
- How can biotechnology improve the living standards of farmers? (GS3 - 2019)
- Explain various types of revolutions, took place in Agriculture after Independence in India. How these revolutions have helped in poverty alleviation and food security in India? (GS3 - 2017)
LIBERALISATION: ECO THREATS
GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.
GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Capital Account Convertibility: It is referred to as the freedom to convert domestic assets in a country into foreign currency and move it to another country, and vice versa.
In simple words, if there is full capital account convertibility in a country, a domestic asset may be sold and the realized value can be converted into a foreign currency.
In India, only partial capital account convertibility exists.
Context: India has paid a heavy environmental cost in lieu of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG) reforms.
- LPG Reforms: The LPG reforms were initiated as a part of New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1991. They were necessitated due to the balance of payment crisis in India, which was caused by the Gulf War of 1990–91. At one point, Indian forex reserves were depleted to such a level that they could hardly cover for three weeks’ worth of imports. A huge macroeconomic imbalance, massive rise in inflation and weakening of the rupee led to LPG reforms.
- Liberalisation: It refers to the granting of more freedom to the industry with regard to opening up new plants and increasing the production. Before NEP was introduced in 1991, Indian industry suffered from a difficult licensing regime and tougher regulations which were difficult to comply with. The system was perceived as antagonistic towards the industry and business.
- Privatisation: At the same time, there was a heavy presence of public sector in the industry before the LPG reforms were introduced in the country. Even the consumer goods, which could have been more efficiently produced by the private sector, were produced by government. LPG reforms led to the exit of public sector from most areas barring strategic sectors like railways and atomic energy.
- Globalisation: It refers to the opening up of Indian economy. LPG reforms led to lifting of curbs on imports and exports, as well as easier flow of currency across the borders. Multinational corporations were allowed to enter Indian markets and the ownership structure was eased progressively. Also, capital account convertibility (see inset) was eased to accommodate partnerships with foreign industry.
Effects of LPG Reforms on Environment
- Resource Use: LPG reforms led to an increase in industrial activity in the Indian economy. An expansion of industrialization would mean a need for more resources, including raw materials, intermediate goods and other inputs. This would further lead to an unsustainable harnessing of raw materials leading to environmental degradation.
- Pressure from Western Industry: With the advent of LPG reforms, the resource-rich areas of India are facing dual pressure from both domestic as well as foreign industry. This is because these areas provide a cheaper alternative to Western industry which faces environmental costs at home. On the other hand, the domestic industry cannot violate the model code by exploiting the resource rich, but poor African continent. Therefore, they are also dependent on the domestic resources.
- Pollution: Generally, a growth in industrialisation is accompanied by higher air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, land pollution etc. In the beginning, the technology employed in the industry is at a rather primitive level. Such an industry leads to higher emissions and increased generation of waste products.
- Pressure on Land: An expansion in industry has also put pressure on the available land in India. This has led to higher land degradation and diversion of land from its earlier use in agriculture, forests and other such conventional uses. At the same time, loss of forest land has also led to a loss of habitat for flora and fauna previously living in the forests.
- Cost Reduction: Setting up of industry in India without provision of adequate capital has proved to be harmful to the environment. This is because the focus of industry has been on decreasing the cost of imports of machinery and equipment. This means that the imported machinery is less efficient, consumes higher resources and has higher emissions.
- Profit Maximization: The prime motive of any industry is profit maximisation. This means that the industry is driven towards a higher output at any cost. A lack of responsibility may further narrow down the focus to higher revenues and side-lining of other costs on the environment, thereby furthering ecological degradation.
- Loss of Biodiversity: As mentioned earlier, an expansion of industry has led to a loss of habitat for biodiversity. At the same time, the increased pollution levels and the use of chemicals has led to polluted land and water bodies. This is further harmful for the environment and is fatal for the living beings.
- Lack of Adequate Checks: A liberalised regime meant easier import of technology for setting up for expansion of industry. However, it also led to higher pollution levels due to a lack of regulation and inadequate quality checking mechanisms. Further, any advancement and improvement in technology takes time to travel from the highly developed West to a third world country like India.
- Social Injustice: India is a unique country because of its high population and conventional way of life which includes biomass dependence. In the absence of virgin lands, the pressure of industrial expansion has led to the encroachment of lands used by the communities by the private sector. This has affected the subsistence of vulnerable communities.
- It is true that the LPG reforms have raised the income levels of people and have created a prosperous middle class. However, their impact on environment is huge and has led to massive environmental degradation. It can be said that with increasing awareness and higher growth, the focus must shift towards sustainable production and protection of environment.
- Discuss the salient features and necessity of LPG reforms, which were brought in India in 1991, while highlighting their impact on environment.
- “Policy contradictions among various competing sectors and stakeholders have resulted in inadequate ‘protection and prevention of degradation’ to environment.” Comment with relevant illustration. (GS2 - 2018)
- Has the Indian governmental system responded adequately to the demands of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization started in 1991? What can the government do to be responsive to this important change? GS2 - 2016)
INDIA STEPS ON THE GAS
GS-2: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Context: PM Ujjwala Yojana has proved to be a game changer in decreasing indoor air pollution and improving the health of rural women and children.
PM Ujjwala Yojana
- PM Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY): The flagship scheme was launched by Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in May 2016 in Ballia district of UP. The objective of the scheme is to make clean cooking fuel like Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) available to the deprived households and decrease their dependence on traditional cooking fuels like coal, firewood, dung cakes etc.
- Coverage: Initially, the target under PMUY was to provide 5 crore LPG connections to the poor households of India. However, it was later revised to 8 crore LPG connections by March 2020. The revised target was achieved in September 2019. The scheme led to an increase in coverage of LPG from 62% in 2016 to 99.8% as on 1 April 2021.
- Eligibility: The beneficiaries of PMUY are chosen through the Socio-economic Caste Census, 2011 (SECC). The eligibility conditions of the scheme stipulate that the applicant should be an adult woman. Also, the scheme is available to the vulnerable communities like SC, ST, forest dwellers, Most Backward Classes (MBC) etc.
Benefits of PMUY
- Decrease in Indoor Air Pollution: The main objective of PMUY is to decrease the dependence of women on unsafe and polluting cooking methods. The use of coal, charcoal and firewood leads to the production of particulate matter, as well as, black soot, which is harmful to human health.
- Women Empowerment: As stipulated in the scheme, the LPG connection under PMUY is provided in the name of adult female member of the household. This is a major step in women empowerment. It increases the ownership of women and makes them a stakeholder in the decision-making of the household.
- Safety of Women: Before PMUY was introduced in the country, the burden to collect firewood from the forests fell on women of the household. This was considered unsafe for the women and increased the vulnerability of women to animal attacks, as well as, sex-related offences. The wider adoption of LPG has now decreased the need for the women to wander in unsafe areas.
- Improvement in Health: As mentioned above, the use of traditional cooking fuels is harmful for the health of women and children. It might lead to respiratory issues and other health hazards. At the same time, the issue might be aggravated by incomplete burning of such fuels and might lead to irritation in the eyes, poisoning, unconsciousness and, sometimes, death.
- Environmental Impact: The scheme has been beneficial to the environment as it tries to decrease the overdependence of women on traditional cooking fuels like firewood and coal. This has led to a decrease in felling of trees for firewood. At the same time, LPG is a cleaner fuel and produces no harmful emissions as compared to traditional cooking fuels.
Challenges to PMUY
- High LPG Prices: The prices of LPG refill have more than doubled since the launch of PMUY in 2016. To counter the price rise, the government has tried to popularize the use of 5 kg cylinders instead of the usual 14 kg cylinders. However, the fluctuation in the incomes of poor households, especially in rural areas makes them unable to buy even the small cylinders most of the time.
- Inability to Refill: As per a reply of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in Rajya Sabha in August 2022, almost 9.2 million customers did not take any refill of LPG connection in 2021-22. Similarly, approx. 10.8 million customers took only one refill during the same period. Therefore, almost 20 million beneficiaries of PMUY, out of a total of 93.4 million beneficiaries, took a maximum of one refill in 2021-22.
- Import Dependence: India is an energy-deficient country. Therefore, it needs to import fossil fuels from other countries. This leads to an outflow of foreign exchange from the country and results in current account deficit. This is not conducive for the long-term macroeconomic situation of the country.
- Inadequate Pipeline Connectivity: it has been pointed out by the critics that the LPG cylinders are not only costly but also inaccessible to the poor. It is cumbersome to get the refill as it involves booking and, later, carrying the heavy cylinder back home. The issue is aggravated due to lack of home delivery services in rural areas, as well as, inadequate extension of gas pipeline to such areas.
- Malpractices: As per the media reports, the practice of under-filling the cylinder is prevalent across the country. The issue exists both at the level of distribution agency and the delivery personnel. This leads to a lack of confidence among the poor and undermines the efforts of the government to promote cleaner fuel.
- Lack of Women’s Say: While the scheme was conceptualized as a means to women empowerment, it is true that women do not have much say in the decision-making of the household in the rural areas. Therefore, a decision to refill the LPG cylinder is kept at a lower priority in a poor household as its major benefits accrue to the women and children in the household.
- India has done well to achieve the milestones set under PMUY. Also, the scheme has been conceptualized in a manner which is conducive to maternal health and child health in the country. However, there is a need to look into keeping the scheme affordable to ensure its sustenance in the long term.
- Assess the success of PM Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) on the parameters of achievement of targets and improvement in maternal health. Also, analyze the contemporary challenges in the implementation of the scheme.
- In order to enhance the prospects of social development, sound and adequate health care policies are needed particularly in the fields of geriatric and maternal health care. Discuss. (GS2 - 2020)
- Performance of welfare schemes that are implemented for vulnerable sections is not so effective due to absence of their awareness and active involvement at all stages of policy process. Discuss. (GS2 - 2019)