DOWN TO EARTH (June 1-15)



• GS-1: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

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

• GS-3: Disaster and disaster management.

Context: There is an increase in the intensity and frequency of cyclones in the Arabian Sea. This is troubling as traditionally the Bay of Bengal has seen much more cyclones than the Arabian Sea.


Prelims Facts

• Definition of Farmer: The National Policy for farmers defines the term farmer as

‘a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities

It includes all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers, as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture, and agro-forestry.

The term also includes tribal families/persons engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce.


Prelims Facts

• Naming of Cyclones: Cyclones in the Indian Ocean are named from a list of names given by the member countries. For e.g. the name Tauktae is from Myanmar.

The body which looks into the naming of the cyclones is World Meteorological Organization/ United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (WMO/ESCAP). IMD is one of the six Regional specialized meteorological centres (RSMCs) under WMO/ESCAP panel for issuing advisories and naming of cyclones.

The grouping has 13 member countries viz. Oman, Yemen, Qatar, UAE, Iran, Saudi Arabia in Western Asia and Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives from South Asia and Thailand and Myanmar from South East Asia.

Naming helps in identifying the cyclones for easier identification, information-sharing and to send warnings to the people of the affected area.


Tropical Cyclones

•    Tropical Cyclones: They are violent storms which are generated over tropical areas around the world. They are accompanied by heavy rainfall and strong winds, which may lead to large scale destruction in the affected areas.

•    Different Names: Cyclones are known differently around the world. For e.g. they are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean, Hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, Typhoon in Western Pacific and the South China Sea and Willy-willy in the Western Australia.

•    Classification of Cyclones: India Meteorological Department (IMD) classifies cyclones on the basis of the speed of the wind: For e.g. Cyclones with a wind speed of 62-88 Kmph are classified as Cyclonic storm, those with wind speed of 89-117 kmph are classified as Severe cyclones, those having wind speed of 118-167 kmph are classified as Very Severe cyclones and the cyclones having wind speed between 168-221 kmph are classified under Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm. Cyclones having wind speed greater than 222 kmph are called Super Cyclones.

Favourable Conditions for Tropical Cyclones: Cyclones are formed and intensified if the following conditions exist in the area:

•    Very Large Body of water: It provides a continuous source of water to the storm.

•    Warm Sea temperature.

•    Presence of Coriolis force: Coriolis force is formed due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis. It deflects bodies towards their right in the Northern hemisphere and towards their left in the Southern hemisphere. Coriolis force provides circular movement to the cyclone.

•    Pre-existing low-Pressure circulation: Cyclones are characterized by a low pressure area at the Centre, which is called the Eye of the Cyclone. Therefore, a pre-existing low pressure area is conducive to the formation of a cyclone.

Recent Cyclones in the Indian Ocean

•    Cyclone Tauktae and Yaas: India has been affected by the onslaught of two cyclones in quick succession recently, namely Cyclone Tauktae on the West Coast and the Cyclone Yaas on the East Coast. Cyclone Tauktae was classified as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic storm by the IMD, while the Cyclone Yaas was a Very Severe Cyclonic storm.

•    Rapid Intensification: Cyclone Tauktae underwent Rapid Intensification to be classified from depression to Severe Cyclone in two days, which is considered a fast transformation by the climate scientists. Rapid Intensification refers to an increase in the wind speed by at least 55 kmph in 24 hours.

•    Uniqueness of Tauktae: Cyclone Tauktae showed remarkable uniqueness in its behaviour. Usually, the cyclones lose intensity on landfall. However, cyclone Tauktae remained strong even after hitting land. Scientists have attributed this to the warm ocean and the outflow of desert winds because of excessive heating in the neighbouring countries of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

•    Impact of the Two Cyclones: The cyclones forced the evacuation of almost 2 million people. They caused a loss of almost Rs 35,000 Crores, covering 7 states and a Union Territory.

•    COVID effect: The states of Maharashtra and Odisha, which were greatly impacted by the cyclones, were already reeling under the impact of COVID. The advent of cyclones increased the burden on the Administration. Responsibility to evacuate people already affected by COVID was thrust upon the Authorities, along with health management and managing the scarcity of resources like food and oxygen.

Cyclones in the Arabian Sea

•    Increase in the Occurrences: Since 1980, this is the first time that Cyclones have occurred in the Arabian Sea 4 years in a row. Also, since 1890s, this was the first time that the Arabian Sea recorded 17 cyclones in a decade, with 11 of them being Severe Cyclones. This shows a fundamental shift in the geography of the region.

•    Increase in Intensity: The Indian Meteorological Department has confirmed that the Cyclone Tauktae was the strongest Pre-Monsoon Cyclone in the region since 2010. It was also the fifth-strongest storm in the region since 1998.

•    Compared to Bay of Bengal: The Bay of Bengal has historically seen more cyclones than the Arabian Sea. 541 cyclones have been formed in the region for the last 130 years. In fact, Cyclone Yaas was the third consecutive storm in the series of severe cyclonic storms formed in the region, which form every year. The other two being Fani (in 2019) and Amphan (in 2020).

•    However, it looks like the Arabian Sea is catching up with the Bay of Bengal. Arabian Sea saw 5 of the 8 cyclones which hit India in 2019. The last time this happened was in 1902. In 2020, Arabian Sea saw the formation of two cyclones out of five that hit India. Both the cyclones were severe cyclonic storms.

•    Reason for increasing intensity and frequency in Arabian Sea: The scientists have said that the change in behaviour of cyclones in the Arabian Sea is due to the rapid increase in temperature associated with global warming. In fact, scientists have recently predicted that a 2 degrees centigrade increase in global temperatures would lead to a 5% increase in maximum wind speeds of the cyclones.

•    Effect of Eddies: The scientists have observed that the rapid intensification of cyclones is also attributed to the whirlpool like ocean currents called as Eddy. Eddies are generated by the difference in density of water as well as the winds flowing near the surface of oceans. Eddies have the capacity to change the heat content of the ocean.

•    Difficulty in Prediction: As stated above, the recent cyclones have shown a tendency for rapid intensification. This makes it difficult for the IMD to predict the behaviour of cyclones, despite state of the art machines it possesses. IMD has already said that its models do not incorporate the ocean dynamics accurately.


•    Global warming is leading to multi-dimensional effects on the world climate including an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones. This is leading to large-scale destruction in the coastal countries, with the communities living along the coastline being highly vulnerable to the impacts of the destruction. Therefore, there is a need to intensify efforts to arrest the pace of climate change for the benefit of the world community.Tinker, Tailor


• GS-3: Government Budgeting.

• GS-3: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System-objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.

Context: Recently, the government took a historic decision to raise the subsidy for Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP). This will insulate the farmers from the price rise happening due to an increase in the prices of imports.


Prelims Facts

• Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS): This is a scheme to promote balanced use of fertilizers in India by avoiding the overuse of nitrogenous fertilizers by the farmers.

The prices of fertilizers vary based on their nutrient content. For e.g. NBS rates were fixed at Rs18.789/kg for Nitrogen and Rs 14.888/Kg for Phosphorus.

The scheme is implemented by the Ministry of Fertilizers since 2010.



Background to Fertiliser Subsidy

•    Subsidy: Subsidies are the monetary support provided by the government to the vulnerable sections of the community. Subsidies provide a cushion to the poorer sections and have a wider impact towards increasing equity in society.

•    Subsidies in India: The major subsidies given by the Union government are food, fertilizer, petroleum and interest subsidies. Out of these, fertilizer subsidies are provided to give support to the agriculture sector.

•    Importance of Fertilizer subsidy: Fertilizer subsidy is important for the following reasons:

•  Primarily Agricultural Society: India is a primarily agricultural society, with almost two-thirds of the population still dependent on agriculture. Almost half of the Labour force works in the agriculture sector. Therefore, it is critical to provide support to the sector.

•    Vulnerability in Agriculture: Due to the small size of the holdings, agriculture is not remunerative enough to be a preferred occupation for the youth. It does provide sustenance but not gainful employment for the farmers and their families as per the experts.

•    Food Security: Fertilizer subsidy has been one of the factors in ensuring that the country is not faced with the food scarcity faced in the early post-independence period. The advent of Green Revolution has been dependent upon the ability to provide assured on-demand irrigation and other inputs like fertilizers.

•    Problems associated with the Fertilizer subsidy: The fertilizer subsidy, though well-intended, has caused issues of its own including over-use and imbalanced use, apart from mistargeting. It has been often lamented by the experts that the subsidies provided by the government are mistargeted and are often garnered by the rich farmers. This defeats the whole purpose of the subsidy programme and leads to wastage of the precious public resources. Therefore, it is important to identify the actual beneficiaries as well as to create a mechanism to cap the quantity of fertilizers being bought by an individual farmer.

•    Shift in the Government Policy: Despite its benefits to the society, Green Revolution led to deterioration in the soil quality and increased salinity of the soil due to imbalanced use of fertilizers and flood irrigation. Therefore, the government stepped in to promote balanced use of fertilizer through the Nutrient-based subsidy (NBS- see inset). Soil Health Card scheme was started to test the quality of the soil to prescribe the requirement of fertilizers as per the diagnosed deficiency.

Current Status of Fertilizer Use

•    Urea: Fertilizer consumption in India is heavily skewed in the favour of Urea, which is a nitrogen-based fertilizer. Currently, the prices of urea are ‘controlled’ by the government, with the government policy broadly based on ‘fixed price- variable subsidy’ scheme. This means that the effective price per bag of urea is fixed, while the government provides a subsidy based on the actual production costs of the plant.

•    DAP and MOP: Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP – a Phosphorus based fertilizer) and MOP (Muriate of Potash – Potassium based fertilizer) are the other two majorly used fertilizers by the Indian farmers. These fertilizers are ‘uncontrolled’, having a fixed, per-bad subsidy, depending upon their constituents. Therefore, their prices are decided by the production companies themselves.

•    Utilization: Urea is the most popular fertilizer in India, with its sale being almost 350 lakh tonnes (lt), equivalent to 55% of the total fertilizer consumption of the country. DAP is the second-most consumed fertilizer in India, with its sales of almost 120 lt.

•    Production and Import: While up to 75% of the requirement of urea is met by domestic production, the domestic production of DAP accounts for hardly 40-50% of the total requirement in the country. In fact, the actual production (around 40-50 million tonnes) is lesser than the installed capacity of DAP (10 million tonnes). Therefore, India depends on the imports of DAP to fulfill its requirement.

•    Similarly, India is also dependent on the imports of Phosphoric Acid, which is the intermediate product for the production of DAP in India. Since the price of Phosphoric acid has also risen by almost 50% in less than one year, the price rise of domestically produced DAP was also imminent.

Recent Issue

•    Steep Rise in DAP Price: Due to the rise in prices of imports of DAP as well as the intermediate products, the global prices for fertilizers have risen steeply. This has prompted the manufacturers to increase the prices of fertilizers to meet their production costs. For e.g., the prices of DAP were raised from Rs 1200 per bag to Rs 1900 per bag. This had the potential for aggravating the agrarian crisis in the country.

•    Announcement of the subsidy hike: Therefore, the government has stepped in to announce a 140% increase in the DAP subsidy by raising it from Rs 500 per bag to Rs 1200 per bag, effectively neutralizing the effect of price rise on the farmers.

•    Fiscal Stress: The increased subsidy would cause an additional budgetary outgo of Rs 14,775 Crores for the Kharif season in 2021-22. Additional fiscal stress would be induced for the Rabi crop of the winter season. This exacerbated the stress caused by the lower collections due to COVID-induced lockdown as well as additional health expenditure.

Reasons for hike in Subsidy

•    Imbalanced Use of Fertilizers: As stated above, agriculture in India is riddled with the overuse of fertilizers, leading to deterioration in the soil quality. The major cause of this is the decontrolled nature of Nitrogenous fertilizer Urea, for which the price is capped at Rs 242 for a 45-kg bag, while the prices of other fertilizers are prone to fluctuations. There is a need to incentivize balanced use of fertilizer in Indian agriculture. Therefore, the hike in subsidy was necessary to restrict the diversion of farmers towards usage of Urea.

•    Economic Recovery: The country has pinned its hopes of economic recovery from COVID-19 on the agricultural sector, which has shown resilience to the impact of COVID-induced lockdown. The hopes were lifted by the predictions of above-average monsoon by the IMD. With almost two-thirds of the population living in the rural areas, a good agricultural output had the potential to induce demand in the retail sector, leading to elevated hopes of economic recovery.

•    Effect of COVID on rural areas: The rise in prices was especially significant considering the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 on the rural hinterland in the country. The huge rise in the number of cases was complicated by the absence of required health infrastructure in the rural areas. Therefore, the rural areas have been already reeling under the COVID catastrophe.

•    Political Compulsions: The Centre has still not been able to overcome the resentment caused by three Farm Bills (related to Contract Farming, APMCs and the Essential Commodities Act). Therefore, it is cautious about any further stress to the agricultural sector, complicating the political climate in the country. This is especially significant in the context of big states like Uttar Pradesh being due for state legislative assembly elections next year.

•    Loss of interest in Agriculture: As already stated, agriculture is not considered by the economists as the occupation yielding heavy profits and providing gainful employment. This is manifested in frequent migration from rural areas to urban areas as well as the aspirations of next generation farmers to gain a fixed monthly remuneration, rather than being agri-entrepreneurs. Therefore, it is critical to provide support to the agricultural sector.

•    Doubling Farmers’ Income: A rise in input costs would have affected the move towards the stated commitment of the government to doubling farmers’ income. Therefore, provision of subsidy was required for supporting the farmers.


•    The government has done well to insulate the already reeling agriculture sector from the effects of the price rise of DAP. However, there is a need to look at the other fertilizers like MOP too.

•    Also, the time has come to effect structural reforms in the fertilizer subsidy to induce balanced use of fertilizers and targeting it towards the vulnerable communities. This can be done by the enhanced use of the technology for identification and inducting transparency in the distribution of fertilizers.

Practice Question

1.  Describe the conditions for the formation of Tropical cyclones. Also, account for the change in the intensity and the frequency of the occurrence of cyclones in the Arabian Sea.

2.  Discuss the rationale behind neutralization of the price hike in DAP by the government. Do you think the government is justified in using the taxpayers’ money in subsidy-based interventions? Justify your answer.

UPSC Previous Years Questions

1.  Tropical cyclones are largely confined to South China Sea, Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mexico. Why? (GS1 – 2014)

2.  The recent cyclone on the east coast of India was called “Phailin”. How are the tropical cyclones named across the world? (GS1 – 2013)

3.  What are the different types of agriculture subsidies given to farmers at the national and state levels? Critically analyze the agriculture subsidy regime with the reference to the distortions created by it.     (GS3 - 2013)

4.  How do subsidies affect the cropping pattern, crop diversity and economy of farmers? What is the significance of crop insurance, minimum support price and food processing for small and marginal farmers? (GS3 - 2017)

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)..