DOWN TO EARTH (June 16-30)

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

Topics covered from the syllabus:

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

Context: There has been a spate of protests in Lakshadweep against the reforms proposed by the Administration. The reforms have been majorly in the form of four regulations aimed at the development of the island.

However, they have not been taken in the same spirit by the environmentalists, who have been critical of the reforms.

Prelims Focus

Ethanol Blending: It refers to the mixing of ethanol in vehicular fuel for consumption in the vehicles. Ethanol is a bio-fuel.

Ethanol blending was in news as the PM advanced the deadline for 20% ethanol blending in Petrol to 2025 from the earlier deadline of 2030. As of now, India has a norm of blending 8.5% Ethanol in Petrol

Promoting Ethanol Blending has multiple benefits including lower carbon emissions and savings in precious foreign exchange (as India is a major importer and consumer of Crude Oil), apart from better remuneration to the sugarcane farmers and sugar mills.

The four Regulations

  • Draft Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021: The regulation aims to curb criminal activities in the island. Its main provisions are:
  • Section 3: It allows the administration to detain anyone on the island to maintain ‘public order’. This provision has potential for misuse as it does not have specific criteria for the detainment of a person. The term ‘Public Order’ is arbitrary in nature and is not clearly defined, prompting concerns about possible heavy-handedness by the Administration in the future.
  • Duration and Manner: Another point which has upset the people is that the detention can be up to one year, without any public notice. This reinforces the provision of preventive detention, which is already a controversial issue in the Indian legal fraternity. The critics have claimed that the provisions are against the rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.
  • Grounds of Detention: While the provision states that the grounds of detention have to be communicated to the detenu within 7 days, it allows the authorities to withhold facts which are considered to be against the public interest to disclose. The issue here is the arbitrary definition of public interest, which has the potential for misuse.
  • No Restriction on multiple detentions: The regulation permits another detention order against the same person on the expiry or revocation of a previous detention order, effectively ending the concept of a deadline. It concentrates authority in the hands of the authorities without giving any opportunity for the individual to express herself against the orders of the Administration, which is the basic necessity of democracy.
  • Low Crime Rate: The regulation holds no justification in the territory having one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Lakshadweep has no cases of heinous crimes like murder, robbery, rape or dacoity in 2019. On the contrary, political opposition has termed the regulation as a potent tool in the hands of the authorities to muzzle dissent against its policies.
  • Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021: The regulation attempts to control the population growth by restricting the candidature to Panchayat elections to the persons having two or less children.
  • High Population Density: Lakshadweep has a District Panchayat and 10 Gram Panchayats. The Administration has argued that the regulation has been increased to check the high population density viz. 2013 person per sq km (against the national average of 382 persons per sq km). It is to be noted that Lakshadweep’s population is 64,473.
  • Growth Rate: However, the experts have argued that population control is not necessary in Lakshadweep as its population growth rate is hardly 6.1%.
  • Dilution in powers of Panchayat: In the month of May 2020, the Administration withdrew five departments viz. Education, Animal Husbandry, Agriculture, Fisheries and Health Care, to itself through an executive order. This is contrary to the principle of devolution of powers to the institutions of local governance.
  • Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021: It provides for the creation of a Planning and Development Authority with control over the use of land and water. The regulation is also called draft Lakshadweep Town and Country Planning Regulation.
  • Demolition of Structures: Suheli and Cheriam islands are uninhabited islands but are frequently used by the local fishermen in the fishing season. Recently, the Administration has demolished the structures created by the fishermen in the two islands, leading to resentment in the locals against the Administration.
  • Conflict with locals: The regulations also provide the Administration with the power to acquire any piece of the island, including the removal of local inhabitants from the area. This is a cause for future confrontation as it might lead to the eviction of locals in the name of town planning, considering that the land is a limited commodity in Lakshadweep.
  • Fragile Ecology: The Administration has claimed that it is developing the island on the lines of Maldives, which is a global tourist destination. However, the environmentalists have reservations about the plan as Lakshadweep has a fragile ecosystem, which might collapse if interfered with. For e.g., there is a plan to occupy the lagoons with floating constructions, ignoring the ecological restoration value of the lagoons.
  • Benefit to the Local Community: Moreover, the locals have contended that the Administration is preferring big corporates over the locals for project allocation. This will restrict the flow of financial benefits to the locals, besides increasing waste generation and land and water pollution in the region.

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

GS-3: Disaster and disaster management..


Context: Uttarakhand government has announced the introduction of Gross Environment Product (GEP) as a measure of progres in the state.

Prelims Facts

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): It works in the field on nature conservation and sustainable use of Natural Resources.
  • It was established in 1948 with headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. It publishes the IUCN Red List for Threatened species.
  • It has an observer status at the UN. It has both the national governments as well NGOs as its members.

Gross Environment Product

  • GEP: Although GEP does not have a standard definition accepted by all, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN – see inset) defines GEP as the total value of ecosystem product and services produced by a region in a given unit time. It is a measure of progress while keeping sustainability in the mind.
  • Committee for GEP: The Uttarakhand government has set up a committee to formulate the criteria for measurement of GEP under the Principal Secretary of the Forest and Environment Department of Uttarakhand.
  • Measurement of GEP: Currently, the Committee is in the process of identifying indicators for the measurement of GEP. However, an environmentalist, Mr Anil Joshi has given the following four pillars for the measurement of GEP:
  • Forests: They can be measured as per the quality and quantity of trees and the changes in the forest for a particular year. For e.g. tree density can be measured by having a look at the canopy of the forest.
  • Water: There are two aspects of measurement of water as a natural resource. Firstly, the quantity of water can be measured by Annual Precipitation and storage (giving an idea of water runoff). Secondly, the quality of water in a waterbody can be measured by looking at the turbidity and pH value of the water in the waterbody.
  • Soil: Quality of soil can be measured by analysing the acidity and the presence of nutrients in the soil.
  • Air: Various indices have been developed by the government to measure the quality of air by measuring the pollution in the form of particulate matter as well as harmful gases. The same can be used for the measurement of GEP.

Need for GEP

  • Limitations of Conventional Indices: Indices like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are unable to measure basic indicators of sustainability like waste generation, pollution in the pursuit of economic growth as well as the inequality existing in the society. Therefore, they have an inherent disadvantage, prompting the formulation and the use of other indices like GEP.
  • Measurement of Economic Services: The ecosystem provides humans with multiple benefits contributing to human progress as well as environmental stability. For e.g., a tree provides fruits, timber, fodder, shelter to humans as well as other animals, apart from producing oxygen, regulating water, improving soil quality, fixing atmospheric nitrogen and regulating floods. There is a need to place economic value on these services for awareness regarding the importance of the ecosystem.
  • Anthropological Pressure on the Ecosystem: Many projects for the human welfare are not really in consonance with the overall sustainability of the natural resources. For e.g., thermal power projects exploit the natural resources in a way which will lead to the depletion of reserves and scarcity for the coming generations.
  • Disaster Management: Uttarakhand has been subject to disasters like flash floods and landslides due to its fragile topography, which can be attributed to the young Himalayan mountains. Therefore, there is a need to prevent further deterioration of the environment to ensure further disasters do not recur, at least due to anthropological reasons.
  • Policy Formulation: Forest area accounts for almost 71% of Uttarakhand’s geography. Yet, they contribute hardly 2% to the state’s GDP. Thus, they are manifestly under-utilized in the economic progress of the state. Armed with such data, the state government can ensure optimum utilisation of resources by formulating appropriate policies.
  • Green Bonus: Uttarakhand plays an important role in the survival of wildlife and ensuring the continued existence of biodiversity in the country. This is manifest in the presence of Rajaji wildlife sanctuary and Jim Corbett National Park, among others. Similarly, it plays an important part in the Himalayan river system by being origin of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Many experts claim that this entitles Uttarakhand to a ‘Green bonus’ for maintaining the aforesaid resources in the interest of the nation.


  • The Lakshadweep reforms, though well-intentioned in the letter, do not seem to be in the spirit of the fragile ecosystem of the region. Therefore, there is a need for appropriate modifications in the plans keeping in mind the potential of irreparable loss to the environment and biodiversity existing in the region.
  • Also, it is critical to take the local community into confidence, before implementing substantial changes in any area, to minimize the conflict between locals and the Administration.
  • Economic growth is not the sole criterion for demonstrating the development of a state. There is a need to factor in other important aspects like Inequality as well as environmental sustainability. Having GEP as a measure of human development will be helpful in measuring human progress in a holistic manner.

Practice Question

  1. Enumerate the features of regulations introduced by the Lakshadweep Administration under the garb of reforms and development. Do you think the locals are justified in protesting the development paradigm of the Administration?
  2. Explain the limitations of measuring the human progress in terms of economic growth. In your opinion, what should be the indicators included in measurement of GEP?

UPSC Previous Years Questions

  1. Rehabilitation of human settlements is one of the important environmental impacts which always attracts controversy while planning major projects. Discuss the measures suggested for mitigation of this impact while proposing major developmental projects.       (GS3 – 2016)
  2. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) along with GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) would be the right indices for judging the wellbeing of a country.       (Essay – 2013)
  3. With reference to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines, discuss the measures to be adopted to mitigate the impact of the recent incidents of cloudbursts in many places of Uttarakhand. (GS3 – 2016)

Note: The cover story of the article is regarding the vaccination for the prevention 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)..