Down To Earth(SEPTEMBER 01 - 15)



GS-3: Science and technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

GS-3: Achievements of Indians in science and technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

  • A virus mutates every time it is transmitted from one person to another, and when multiple such mutations come together, a variant is born.
  • Genome sequencing has two purposes—to understand the nature and spread of known variants, and to find new ones.
  • The WHO recognises four of the variants of concern (vocs)—Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. The fourth, most dangerous accounts for 92 per cent of sars-cov-2 sequences globally and is reported in 148 countries. This variant, Delta, is one of the three sub-lineages of the sars-cov-2 B.1.617 virus, also called B.1.617.2.
  • In this pandemic while biotech companies make money hand over fist, the global vaccination atlas shows little change. Many of the poor countries have been unable to access any vaccines at all.
    • The top earners are Pfizer and Moderna with their messenger RNA or MRNA vaccines that were produced in record time.
    • Market caps of even relatively unknown companies with covid-19 vaccines have zoomed, as have their revenues and profits.

Related Information:

  • Marburg Virus Disease:
    • It is a highly virulent virus belonging to the Ebola family, as per World Health Organization (who). It causes hemorrhagic fever and has a 24-88% fatality rate.
    • The disease can be transmitted by direct contact with blood, bodily fluids or tissues of infected persons or wild animals like monkeys and fruit bats. There is no approved therapy or drug for the disease.
    • There have so far been 12 Marburg outbreaks since 1967, mostly in southern and eastern Africa.
  • In a first for the country, scientists from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research and Panjab University have created a “pollen calendar” for Chandigarh.
    • Pollen is an airborne allergen that can cause respiratory conditions such as hay fever and asthma. The calendar explores the pollen seasons, their intensities, variations and types. The scientists say it will help track possible respiratory effects..

India and Covid

  • Despite removing the lower testing limit of 5% of COVID-19 positive samples set in December last year, India is drastically behind in sequencing.
  • The new guidelines require every state to send 300 samples from 10 sentinel sites—five hospitals and five laboratories where RT-PCR tests are conducted—on a monthly basis to designated institutes of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG). This adds up to 33,600 samples per month.
  • The total number of samples sequenced in May was 10,488 and in June, 12,257. In July 7,500 samples had been sequenced and another 7,500 were in the pipeline.
  • The Indian sars-cov-2 Genomics Consortium (insacog) is a network of 28 laboratories across the country.
  • India has only sequenced a fraction of the cases due to the cost and complexity involved.
  • India’s only 9% of the population has been fully vaccinated with two doses, according to the Union health ministry, as against the 50-60 per cent generally needed to slow the spread.




  • GS-1: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclones 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..

Rehabilitation In Uttarakhand

  • Uttarakhand is increasingly declaring its villages disaster-prone. While many are fighting relocation, those who shift face conflicts with host villages over resources like water and grazing land.
  • In 2011, Uttarakhand became the first state to introduce a “rehabilitation policy” for people. Yet its implementation remains far from satisfactory.
    • Between 2012 and 2021, the government has identified 465 villages from where families need to be relocated, as per a release by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (usdma) on June 7, 2021. During this period, 1,101 families in only 44 villages have been relocated.
  • Pithoragarh, Chamoli and Uttarkashi account for 65 per cent of the villages identified for relocation. With over 30 operational three districts saw more than half of the disasters reported in Uttarakhand since 2016.
  • Himalayas, the youngest mountain range in the world, are naturally primed for calamities. It is susceptible to high erosion, earthquakes and its rivers cut the rocks deeply. In addition, rainstorms and cloud bursts lash these mountains. Yet, the state did not hesitate to choke the river basins with hydropower projects and promote extensive construction activities in the region.
  • Uttarakhand Disaster 2013 report by the National Institute of Disaster Management in 2015 identifies dam construction as one of the reasons for increasing flash floods in the region.
    • From 1989 to 1999, just before the state was notified, the region recorded four major flash floods that increased to 22 between 2002 and 2012.
  • The overall budget for rehabilitation is also not adequate. Usually, the state allocates an annual budget of Rs.1-1.5 crore. For any additional fund it reaches out to the Centre, which till date has not helped.

Delay in Withdrawal of Southwest Monsoon

  • Usually, the southwest monsoon enters India after reaching Kerala on June 1 and exits from the northeast on October 10-15, as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD). In 2020, however, the withdrawal happened on October 28, which is 13-18 days later than normal.
  • The US’ weather forecasting agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, warns there is a 70% chance that La Niña conditions may develop across the Pacific in September or October.
    • During a La Niña event, trade winds, which blow west along the equator carrying warm water from Latin America towards Asia, become stronger than usual and thereby extend the monsoon period. La Niña was also the reason for delayed monsoon withdrawal in 2020. If this happens, 2021 will be the 11th consecutive year when India will experience a late monsoon withdrawal (see ‘Disrupted timeline’).
    • Such imponderability directly impacts the country’s agriculture, which largely depends on monsoon showers.
  • Delayed monsoon withdrawal in 2020 led to unexpected floods in Golaghat district of Assam that completely destroyed the standing paddy crops. The monsoon withdrawal is likely to get delayed again this year.

Singular Hype

  • While the Centre trumpets its latest ban to eliminate single-use plastics, the fine print of the new rules tells otherwise. A closer look however suggests several glaring shortcomings in the amended rules. The new rules conveniently leave out several plastic items with high environmental impact.
  • While most states have their own legislations on plastics, there is hardly any uniformity.
  • The Changing Rules
    • The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, released on August 12 by the Union government, is aimed at tackling these silent rubble-makers.
    • Through the amendment to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, the Centre by 2022 hopes to phase out 20 single-use plastic items that have low utility but entail a high environmental cost.
    • One odd exemption from the latest ban is multilayer plastics. India has been toying with the idea of phasing it out since 2009, the year the draft Plastic (Manufacture, Usage and Waste Management) Rules were introduced.
    • These rule recommended restricting the use of multi-layer plastics as they are non-recyclable. The clause was, however, dropped when the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, was notified.
    • A gradual phase-out of multi-layer plastic was reattempted through the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, wherein clause 9(3) advocated phasing out all multilayered plastics used for packaging in two years.
    • This was again diluted by the Plastic Waste Amendment Rules, 2018, which suggested burning them for “energy recovery”.
  • Issues with the New Rule
    • The new rules go soft on the big manufacturers even though they have a poor track record when it comes to managing their plastic waste. For example, the list exempts plastic packaging, which alone is responsible for almost 60% of the plastic waste generated in the country.
    • As per the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, producers, importers and brand owners have an extended producer responsibility to set up a mechanism to collect and manage plastic packaging waste. Yet, this requirement remains on paper even five years later as most branded manufacturers or importers have failed to set up a robust collection and handling mechanism—which they were supposed to do within six months of the 2016 notification.
    • The new rules also exempt compostable plastics. There are two major problems with this exemption. India does not have a labelling mechanism to differentiate single-use and compostable plastics, because of which single-use plastics with 50 microns thickness that have been listed for phase-out, might now be sold in the market as compostable. The country also does not have adequate infrastructure to handle compostable plastic that can be composted only in industrial facilities and do not decompose on their own, as is the popular belief.
  • Various Reports and Estimates
    • In 2015, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimated that the country generated 26,000 tonnes of plastic per day or a staggering 9.5 million tonnes a year.
    • In 2020, CPCB claimed that the country generated only 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2018-19, which is 65% less than the 2015 estimate.
    • In 2018-19, India consumed more plastic (18.45 million tonnes) than it produced (17 million tonnes), as per a 2019 report by industry body, PlastIndia Foundation.


Related Information

  • China on August 16 said it has produced its first global carbon flux dataset, using information gathered from its carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring satellite TanSat.
    • With this, China has become the third country after Japan and the US to monitor the global carbon flux, or amount of CO2 exchanged between the world’s carbon sinks.
    • The dataset will help it devise strategies to reduce emissions.
  • Sweden’s lone mountain top glacier has lost 2 metres (m) in height due to rising air temperatures, according to researchers from Stockholm University.
    • On August 14, the height of the glacier on the south peak of the Kebnekaise ice shelf was measured at 2,094.6 m above sea level, the lowest since the 1940s.
    • Until 2019, this peak was the highest in the country, but it lost its ranking after one-third of its ice melted in just a couple of years.
  • The Brazilian government on August 9 published a plan for “sustainable use of national mineral coal” to prop up its mining sector. The plan aims to attract US $3.9 billion in investment to modernise and generate employment in the country’s coal sector till 2050. This plan comes at a time when governments globally are rolling back on coal investments to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
  • The country added four more sites to the Ramsar list of wetlands of national importance on August 14.
    • The sites added this year are Sultanpur National Park, Gurugram, and Bhindawas Wildlife Sanctuary, Jhajjar, (both in Haryana); and Thol and Wadhwana from Gujarat.
    • India now has 46 wetlands in the list that is under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty to recognise and encourage conservation of such sites.
  • Indore on August 11 has become the country’s first “water plus” city under the Swachh Survekshan 2021, the Union government’s annual survey of cities’ sanitation, hygiene and cleanliness practices.
    • A water plus city, as per government guidelines, is one where all waste water released from households and commercial establishments is treated before being released into the environment. Indore also got the tag of India’s “cleanest” city for the fifth consecutive year.
  • Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan (Gobar-Dhan)
    • The launch of the GOBAR-DHAN project was announced in the Hon’ble Finance Minister’s Budget Speech in February 2018 to ensure village cleanliness and generate wealth and energy by converting cattle dung and solid agricultural waste into compost and biogas, as well as to improve the lives of villagers.
    • The Rural Drinking Water and Sanitation Department is incentivizing Gram Panchayats across rural Karnataka to implement GOBAR-Dhan projects.
    • Currently, 11 GOBAR-Dhan units have been approved in rural Karnataka




  • GS-3: Major crops-cropping pattern in various parts of the country, Issues related to direct and indirect subsidies and minimum support price;: Public Distribution system.
  • The government takes the usual market-regulatory steps every time there is a surge in prices of pulses—the primary source of protein for a majority of Indians. But the shortfall in domestic production, the main reason behind the price rise, remains unaddressed.
  • While domestic production of pulses has risen by 122% between 1981 and 2020, imports have risen by 1,622%.
  • The annual consumption of pulses in India currently is about 26 million tonnes and will reach 39 million tonnes by 2050, as per Vision 2050 published by IIPR in 2015.
  • Various MoUs for Importing Pulses
    • One month after removing the restriction on the import of pulses due to surge in prices of pulses, on June 2021, India signed a memorandum of understanding (mou) with Myanmar for an annual import of 0.1 million tonnes of tur and 0.25 million tonnes of urad (black gram) for five years; and with Malawi for import of 0.1 million tonnes of tur for the same period.
    • This is how the government behaves every time the price of an essential commodity goes up. It is also the reason India is the largest importer of pulses, despite being the largest producer and consumer for the same.
    • One such surge in 2015 resulted in India signing an mou with Mozambique in 2016 for five years, its first such agreement with a foreign country, to purchase “pigeon peas and other pulses” through “private channels or through Government to Government sales” every year.

v             The annual consumption of pulses in India currently is about 26 million tonnes and will reach 39 million tonnes by 2050, as per Vision 2050 published by IIPR in 2015.

  • The quantity promised for purchase started at 0.1 million tonnes in 2016-17 and doubled to 0.2 million tonnes by 2020-21. On March 19, 2021, days before the price rise, the government extended the mou for another five years.

  • Steps taken by the Government to Curb the Price Till Now
    • In 2014, the government had set up the Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF) under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare to regulate volatility in the prices of essential agricultural commodities.
    • On October 14, 2015, chaired by the then Union Minister for Finance, decided to create a buffer stock by procurement and import of pulses.
    • The government also tried to prevent hoarding by imposing limits on pulses sourced from imports, stock held by exporters, stocks to be used as raw material by licensed food processors and stocks in large departmental retailers.
    • 2016-17 saw production of pulses increase to 23.13 million tonnes—a record at the time—making the government impose quantitative restrictions on their import that stayed till May 15 this year.
    • There were two other crucial policy developments last year. On June 5, 2020, the government notified the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. It added a new sub-section (1A) in Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, to stipulate control orders with respect to supply of certain foods.

v             The annual consumption of pulses in India currently is about 26 million tonnes and will reach 39 million tonnes by 2050, as per Vision 2050 published by IIPR in 2015.

v             It says such orders may be issued only under “extraordinary circumstances” that “may” include war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity of grave nature.

v             It also says an order for regulating stock limit of any agricultural produce may be issued only if there is a 50 per cent increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items over the price prevailing immediately preceding a year or the average retail price in the past five years, whichever is lower.

    • The second policy change was the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, to remove commodities like pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities.

Reasons For Shortages

  • Land under kharif pulses was growing at 8% in 1980 but by 1990 the trend turned negative, with the acreage declining at -8%.
  • Production of rabi pulses, too, was increasing at 5.5% and fell to -3.2% in 1990, but it then made a recovery in the next decade and grew at 4.2% after 2000 due to programmes such as the Integrated Scheme of Oilseed, Pulses, Oil Palm and Maize and the National Food Security Mission.
  • Overcoming the Pulses Crisis, a 2010 report by the Confederation of Indian Industry, states the production of pulses grew only by 45% from 1951 to 2008, whole wheat production grew by 320% and rice by 230%.
  • Though production of pulses has risen in the past decade—by 65% between 2009-10 and 2020-21, as per the Third Advance Estimate given by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare on May 25, 2021—over-all growth is not enough to meet domestic demand, which has been met by imports since 1981.
  • A report published by the Union Ministry Of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare in 2017, says farmers in the Gangetic plains quit pulses for other crops around 1990. This happened because of the improvement in irrigation facilities.
  • The drought-prone Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, known for cultivation of pulses, has seen farmers shift to the more water-intensive wheat. Damage to pulses by nilgais and other stray animals is a big factor in Uttar Pradesh for farmers moving to other crops.
  • In the past six years, sowing for the kharif season has remained below normal in the six major pulses-producing states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
  • The rise in the production of Soya Bean has replaced most of the varieties of the pulses. Soya bean’s entry in India was in the 1960s, when the country was facing a food crisis and to overcome the protein deficiency in India by increasing the yield of soya bean.
    • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has promoted the crop since 1967 and in the past three decades, the government has encouraged inter-cropping of tur with soya bean.
    • According to Agropedia, a web portal developed by iit-Kanpur, the ratio of tur to soya bean should be 2:1. This ratio is now reversed in many states.

Steps Required to Increase the Production of Pulses

  • The MSP formula should be revised and the purchase of each crop in the entire country should be ensured at that declared price.
  • The commission should be given constitutional status, so that its recommendations are binding.
  • A maximum retail price for consumers should be fixed by adding a reasonable profit of 50-60 per cent over MSP to the farmer.
  • All restrictions on transport, storage, trade, processing and export of all agricultural products should be abolished. In case of low domestic production, imports and taxes should be decided after the harvest.
  • Farmers can also be given special incentives to grow pulses in place of rice or wheat, as in states like Punjab. There is a vast area of rice fallow land in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal with potential for pulse cultivation.
  • Similarly, the existing area under rice, millets, barley, mustard and wheat can be diversified to include pulses.
  • Intercrop cultivation of short-duration pulse crops with long-duration ones like sugarcane, red gram, cotton, maize, sorghum, will help.
  • Finally, research can play a great role by studying the biotechnology of pulse cultivation.
  • While to meet the increasing demand for pulses, corporate groups have started increasing their presence in the pulses business, the business of small pulses’ mill owners is affected because the capacity of large business groups to buy, store and deliver crops in large quantities at the right time to the market is better. The governments should help small mill owners compete with these big companies.

Related Information

  • Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE)
    • Latest data with the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a non-government research agency, shows an interesting trend in employment in India. More and more people are joining agriculture and shifting away from non-farm sectors like manufacturing and other informal jobs.
    • CMIE’s analysis says the share of the agriculture sector in total employment has increased from 42.5 per cent in 2018-19 to 45.6% in 2019-20. Moreover, pandemic-induced economic collapse in non-farm informal sectors has led to huge job losses. Only agriculture saw decent growth in 2020-21.
  • The Union government on August 18 approved the National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm scheme to boost domestic production of these commodities, with a special focus on the Northeast and Andaman and Nicobar islands.
    • The scheme offers financial support for farmers engaging in edible and palm oil production.
    • Analysts have raised doubts on the scheme, saying monocropping plantations of oil palm will disrupt the fragile biodiversity of the regions.

Way Forward

  • The virus is still evolving and has got a few more tricks under its sleeve. However, soon it will exhaust all the mutations/substitutions that provide it a higher fitness to transmit between human beings. We must not forget that covid-19 has held a mirror up to our world but it has also brought us together in grief and in hope and in prayer. This is what we must use to build back better—a fairer, greener and more inclusive world.
  • The Government should increase taxes on plastic products. Israel has proposed doubling taxes on single-use plastics and disposable plastic ware, through which it expects to reduce plastic usage by 41 per cent. Such solutions have to be backed with capacity building and awareness drives to break plastic addiction.
  • Pulses have an important place in our culture. But with imports increasing every day, they are getting too expensive for the poor. As a result, malnutrition is increasing. It is not that farmers do not grow pulses here due to lack of seeds and knowledge, but there is a lack of planning.

Practice Question

  1. The fact is no amount of policy tweaks will help alleviate the situation in Uttarakhand in rehabilitation policy unless the state puts the break on its development frenzy. Do you agree with it?
  2. The country has also been myopic in looking at the solutions for plastic waste. It has either rolled out blanket bans, without the resources to implement them, or introduced half-baked solutions like burning plastic for energy recovery that have little economic sense to become a viable option. Critically analyze.
  3. Global vaccine inequity is needlessly prolonging the pandemic. Explain.

UPSC Previous Years Questions

  1. One of the intended objectives of Union Budget 2017-18 is to ‘transform, energize and clean India’. Analyse the measures proposed in the Budget 2017-18 to achieve the objective.                                                                                             (GS-3: 2017).
  2. How can biotechnology improve the living standards of farmers?                                                                             (GS-3: 2019)
  3. What do you mean by Minimum Support Price (MSP)? How will MSP rescue the farmers from the low income trap?                                                                                                                                                                                                        (GS-3: 2018)
  4. Disaster preparedness is the first step in any disaster management process. Explain how hazard zonation mapping will help in disaster mitigation in the case of landslides.                                                                                                       (GS-3: 2019)
  5. 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.                                                                                                                                                          (GS-3: 2016)
  6. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented devastation worldwide. However, technological advancements are being availed readily to win over the crisis. Give an account of how technology was sought to aid management of the pandemic.                                                                                                                                                                                                                (GS-3: 2020)