Down to Earth (May 16-31)



  • Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.


Prelims Focus

Loktak lake: It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in India. It is situated in Manipur

  • Phumdi: The lake is famous for floating mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter called Phumdis.
  • Keibul Lamjao National Park: It is located on one of the phumdis and is the only floating national park in the world. The park is famous for Sangai, the dancing deer, which is an endemic species in the park. Sangai is the state animal of Manipur and is endangered in the IUCN red list.
  • Champu Khangpok – It is a village on one of the Phumdis. It was recently recognized by the Election Commission of India for the purpose of establishing a voting booth in the village. 


  1. Fresh Hopes

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Prelims Facts

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): It is an environmental treaty which seeks to address the impact of the increase in the concentration of Green House Gases in the atmosphere.

  • It was established by the Earth summit which happened in Rio in 1992, along with UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
  • It is headquartered in Bonn.
  • India is a member of the convention.


Context: USA has re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement under the new Joe Biden administration. It has also announced more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the agreement.


Paris Climate Agreement:

  • Agreement under UNFCCC: The Paris Climate Agreement is an agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC – see inset). It seeks to address climate change by adopting the strategies of mitigation and adaptation.
  • CoP 21: The members of UNFCCC meet annually to discuss the impacts of climate change and to discuss strategies to address the same. This meeting is called Conference of Parties (CoP). The Paris Climate Agreement is the result of CoP 21 which happened in Dec 2015 in Paris.
  • Objective: The Agreement seeks to limit the increase of global temperature induced by the emissions of carbon by the member-nations in pursuit of development. It has an aim to limit the temperature rise to within 2 °C  of the pre-industrial levels. However, the agreement intends to pursue efforts to limit this increase within 1.5 °C to mitigate the maximum impacts of climate change.
  • Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): To achieve the targets under the agreement, the member countries have to submit the targets themselves, which they believe would lead to substantial progress towards reaching the Paris temperature goal. Initially, these targets are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) but are converted to NDCs when the country ratifies the agreement.


India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): India had submitted three INDCs, which have since been converted into NDCs:

  • Reduction in Emissions intensity by 33% to 35% of GDP by 2030 from the 2005 levels.
  • Creation of an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
  • Achieve 40% installed energy production capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030.
    • The last goal is conditional upon the transfer of technology and low-cost international finance including from the Green Climate Fund. The other two goals are unconditional.


Measures taken by India:

  • National Solar Mission: India has taken significant strides in expanding the installation of solar power in the country. This includes the target to reach a total renewable energy capacity of 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. The government has started the development of multiple solar parks, ultra-mega solar power projects and canal top solar power projects for this purpose. Apart from this, solar power pumps for the farmers and solarization of all petrol pumps in the country are expected to contribute to the expansion of solar power in India.
  • National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE): It is a set of programs to enhance energy efficiency in different sectors to aid the reduction of energy intensity in the country. It is an initiative of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) under the Ministry of Power. The program includes encouragement of efficient lighting by the use of LED bulbs and Standards and Labelling Programme to let the consumers make an informed decision about the purchase of an appliance based on its energy efficiency.
  • Bharat Stage-VI (BS-6) norms: To align the vehicular emissions of the country to the global standards, India skipped the Bharat Stage V (BS-5) norms to directly jump from BS-4 to BS-6 norms.
  • Green Highways: The Green Highways (Plantation and Maintenance) Policy aims to develop 1.4 lakh kms long tree-line along the National Highways by dedicating 1% of the cost of projects towards the plantation of trees on both sides of the roads. Apart from increasing the tree cover, it will also act as a noise-reduction Green Muffler along the Highways.
  • Rationalisation of Subsidies: India has converted itself from a carbon-subsidy regime to a carbon taxation regime. Earlier, diesel was subsidized due to its role in the transportation of essential goods and usage in agricultural machinery like tractors. However, it promoted inefficient usage by incorporating the diesel engines in fuel-guzzling SUVs and other luxury vehicles. Therefore, India has now done away with such subsidies and has imposed taxes on both diesel and petrol.



  • Not Enough: Climate Action Tracker, a tool developed by a non-profit organisation Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute suggests that the current NDCs are not enough to meet the global target of keeping the temperature increase to within 1.5 °C of the pre-industrial levels. It recommends more ambitious targets like 57-63 % reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) below the 2005 levels by 2030 for USA.
  • Role of Developed Countries: Recently US special presidential envoy for Climate John Kerry attempted to nudge developing countries like India and China away from the usage of coal to enhance utilisation of clear energy. However, India’s per capita fossil fuel consumption is hardly 6300 MWh as compared to 66,500 MWh of USA. This puts the onus on developed countries to reduce their energy consumption for the benefit of the global community.
  • Withdrawal of Countries/ Voluntary Nature: The major problem with the Paris Agreement is the inability of the members to enforce the pledges taken by the other countries. For e.g., Trump, the earlier President of the US withdrew from the Agreement criticising it for having a disproportionate impact on the economy of USA. The international community could not persuade him to stop the withdrawal or to re-join the agreement. It was only after the election of new President Joe Biden that the US decided to re-join the Agreement.
  • Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR): Historically, it is the developed countries which are responsible for the carbon emissions after the advent of the Industrial revolution in the West. They have consumed the developmental space of developing countries by not letting the latter use their share of carbon emissions. Therefore, they have an increases responsibility to mitigate the impacts of climate change. This is referred to as the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). However, the developed countries have so far shied away from their responsibilities.
  • Climate Finance: Under the principle of CBDR, western countries had promised a Green Climate fund to help the developing countries meet their commitments under the Climate Agreement. The idea for the fund was proposed during the CoP 15 at Copenhagen in 2009. The fund was operationalised in 2010 under the Cancun agreements. However, it is nowhere near its target of $ 100 billion, depicting a lack of interest from the developed countries.
  • COVID Pandemic: Due to the advent of the pandemic, many countries have had to shift their priorities from environmental conservation to revival of the economy. This has led to further deterioration of climate and non-adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement.



  • Paris Climate Agreement was a landmark deal to in the history of environmental conservation due to its ambitious target of restricting the global temperature rise within 1.5 °C of the pre-industrial levels.
  • However, there is a need to ensure compliance to the commitments of members-nations, especially the developed countries, to ensure a sustainable future for the coming generations.


Practice Question

  • Enumerate India’s commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, while throwing light on measures adopted by India to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Do you think the current global plan would suffice towards returning the global environment towards sustainability?



  • ‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change? (GS3 – 2017)
  • Give an account of the current status and the targets to be achieved pertaining to renewable energy sources in the country. Discuss in brief the importance of National Programme on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). (GS3 – 2016)


  1. India’s forest Republics

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-3: 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.


Context: Tribal villages have benefitted out of the Forest rights conferred on them under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.


Forest Rights Act, 2006:

  • The act is called Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forests Rights) Act, (FRA) 2006.
  • Objective: The right seeks to do away with the historical injustice meted out to the forest dwellers by recognising their traditional rights over the forest land. It seeks to balance the conservation of the environment with the right to livelihood of the tribals and other forest dwellers.
  • Types of Rights: There are two types of rights under the act:
    • Individual Forest Rights (IFR): The act provides land rights to a nuclear family over an area not exceeding 4 hectares. The right is hereditary, but at the same time, it is non-transferable. This means that it is transferred to the inheritors of the family, but the land cannot be sold to anyone outside the family.
    • Community Forest Rights (CFR): Under CFR, the Gram Sabha as a collective unit gets the ownership and management rights over an area of land traditionally being used by the community.
  • Activities permitted: The act allows a set of activities by the traditional forest dwellers while restricting others, in order to safeguard the biodiversity of the forest. For e.g. the community members are allowed to live in the forests while engaging in self-cultivation for sustaining themselves. They can also own, use and dispose of the Minor Forest Produce for their own needs or as a part of commercial trade.
  • Duties of Right holders: The community members are prohibited to engage in activities which are detrimental to the health of the forest ecosystem. For e.g., they are not allowed to hunt, trap or extract the body part of any wild animals. Any other activity adversely affecting the wild animals or plants or other biodiversity is also prohibited. The community members are expected to protect the adjoining catchment areas and water sources in the area.
  • Structure: The Act has a multi-fold structure to implement and verify the title rights:
    • Gram Sabha: It has the power to initiate claims, consolidate and verify the titles.
    • Sub Divisional Level Committee (SDLC): It is constituted by the State government. It examines the resolution passed by the Gram Sabha and prepares the record of land rights.
    • District Level Committee (DLC): It is the final authority to approve the record of forest rights.
    • State Level Monitoring Committee: It is formed to monitor the process of recognition and vesting of forest rights. The committee reports to the nodal Ministry i.e. the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
    • The latter three committees comprise of tribal, revenue and forest officials from the respective ministries.
  • Appeals: Appeals against the ruling of Gram Sabha can be made to the SDLC. Similarly, the appeals against the SDLC are made in DLC within 60 days. The order of DLC is final and binding.


 Positive impact of the Act:

  • Justice for the Communities: The main objective of the Act is to correct historical injustice meted out to the forest-dwelling communities by the administration. Their symbiotic and harmonious relation with the forest was disturbed by the British for commercial exploitation of the forests. The situation remained the same even after independence. It is only after the enactment of the Act that the traditional rights of the communities have been restored to an extent.
  • Democratisation of Governance: Gram Sabha plays an important role in the implementation of the act by collating the claims and verifying them. It also prepares the distribution plan and forwards it to the other communities. The Gram Sabha is composed of only the members of the community without any interference from the authorities. Therefore, it transfers the power to the people.
  • Livelihood Security for the forest dwellers: The Act confers the right to collect, own, use and trade in the Minor Forest Produce (MFP) on the forest-dwelling communities. Such commodities have been harvested by the communities for a long time and have been the basis of their livelihood. For e.g., tendu leaves are classified as Minor Forest Produce and are used in rolling the bidis.
  • Better profits: Earlier it was the forest authorities which invited tenders for purchase of Minor Forest Produce. This created a cartel of purchasers, leading to the fixing of prices below their market value. However, now that the control of commodities has been passed over to the communities, they can leverage the different traders to negotiate a higher price, leading to realisation of better profits.
  • Forest Conservation: Many experts have pointed out that forest communities have been living for long in harmony with nature. It is only after the entry of outsiders in the region that we see a depletion in forest resources. Therefore, the forest dwellers have a much more symbiotic relation with the forest as compared to the State, outside people or other commercial ventures and forests are much safer in their custody than in the custody of the State.
  • Decrease in Corruption: With the conferment of title rights and the transfer of control over resources from State to the communities, forest officials do not have the authority to interfere in trading activities of the community. This will free the communities from the exploitative influence of some corrupt officials who exploited the residents in the hope of undue benefits.
  • Reduction in Naxalite insurgency: One of the major reasons for the rise of nasalism in India is the unrest in the communities due to the deprivation of traditional resources including land by the administration. With the FRA 2006, this is corrected for the forest-dwelling communities, leading to the resolution of a major concern.



  • Environmental Degradation: The act envisages the community in harmonious existence with the wild animals. However, sometimes the bigger species have a longer breeding time and need more space to reproduce. The existence of humans in their breeding area might hinder the growth prospects of such species, leading to a threat to biodiversity.
  • Bureaucratic Inertia and Apathy: There is resistance from the bureaucracy to transfer the control of the designated areas to the Gram Sabha. This might induce bureaucratic apathy and hindrance to the realisation of the spirit of the Act in its totality. The bureaucracy needs to understand the intent and logic behind transferring the control of the areas to the forest-dwelling communities and back it to promote the spirit of democracy in the country.
  • Lack of reliable data: Despite the intent of transferring land titles to the community members, no census has been conducted to enumerate the requirement of land and the number of beneficiaries in the area. This might lead to issues due to the non-availability of data.
  • Lack of Awareness: The forest-dwelling communities and other beneficiaries are not educated enough to understand the impact of the Act on their lives as well as the rights they are entitled to. Similarly, they lack the idea of implementation of technical aspects of the plan.
  • Exclusion of communities: Apart from the forest dwellers, there are many communities which depend on the forest produce but reside outside the territorial limit of the forests. Such communities are not mentioned in the Act and might face issues in earning their livelihood.



  • Forest Rights Act has empowered the forest-dwelling communities by making them responsible for not only the resources but also the protection of the fragile ecology of the forests. It is also progressive in the conferment of significant powers on the Gram Sabha as the foundation of grassroots democracy in India.
  • The need of the hour is to educate the bureaucracy about the importance of transferring the control of such resources to the forest dwellers, while handholding them in implementing the technical aspects of the conservation plan as well as plan for resource utilization.

Practice Question:

  • Do you think it is a good idea to hand over protection of the vulnerable forest areas to the forest dwelling communities as has been done under the Forest Rights Act, 2006? Also, explain the significance of the Act in uplifting the economic condition of such communities.


  • Define the concept of carrying capacity of an ecosystem as relevant to an environment. Explain how understanding this concept is vital while planning for sustainable development of a region. (GS3 – 2019)
  • How does biodiversity vary in India? How is the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 helpful in conservation of flora and fauna? (GS3 – 2018)

Note: The cover story of the article is regarding the spread of second wave of COViD-19. We have already covered it in the article on ‘Second wave of COVID’ (The Big Picture) here (link to Second Phase of COVID – 9th May 2021).