Current Affairs, 01 October 2018
GS Paper 1:
Topic: population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention
What to study?
- For Prelims: International Sanitation Convention, SBM.
- For Mains: Manual scavenging- concerns and issues to be addressed, performance of SBM.
Context: Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention is being held in New Delhi.
Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention:
The Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention is being organised by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to mark the beginning of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, also coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission.
- Ministers from over 70 countries will be invited and taken on a ‘Gandhi Trail’ in Gujarat.
- The government will use the occasion to “showcase its performance” and “success story” in the Swachh Bharat programme in the past four years, which was launched on October 2, 2014, and have a face-to-face dialogue with the world leaders to share their experiences on sanitation programmes.
By 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG #6, aim to reach everyone with sanitation, and halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase recycling and safe reuse.
The global sanitation crisis is reflected in the following facts, according to reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF):
- Around 60% of the global population – 4.5 billion people – either have no toilet at home or one that doesn’t safely manage excreta.
- 862 million people worldwide still practise open defecation.
- Billions of people use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from faeces.
- Globally, 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.
- Only 39% of the global population (2.9 billion people) use a safely-managed sanitation service, that is, excreta safely disposed of in situ or treated off-site.
- Combined with safe water and good hygiene, improved sanitation could prevent around 842,000 deaths each year.
Swachh Bharat Mission:
The Government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) on 2nd October 2014, with an aim to build a Clean and Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2nd October 2019, as a befitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary.
Since the inception of the program, the rural sanitation coverage of India has increased significantly, from 39% in October 2014 to over 90% as of September 2018. Over 78 million household toilets have been constructed under the Mission. As a result, 25 States/Union Territories, over 513 districts, and 5,04,316 villages have declared themselves as free from open defecation.
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Committee to review the Competition Act
What to study?
- For Prelims: Key features of the Act.
- For Mains: Need for review.
Context: In pursuance of its objective of ensuring that Legislation is in sync with the needs of strong economic fundamentals, the Government has constituted a Competition Law Review Committee to review the Competition Act headed by Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
The Terms of References of the Committee are as follows:
- To review the Competition Act/ Rules/ Regulations, in view of changing business environment and bring necessary changes, if required.
- To look into international best practices in the competition fields, especially anti-trust laws, merger guidelines and handling cross border competition issues.
- To study other regulatory regimes/ institutional mechanisms/ government policies which overlap with the Competition Act.
- Any other matters related to competition issue and considered necessary by the Committee.
The Competition Act was passed in the year 2002 and the Competition Commission of India was set up in pursuance of the same. The Commission started functioning in right earnest from 2009 and has contributed immensely towards the development of competition and fair play practices in the Indian market.
Need for review of the act:
During the past nine years the size of the Indian Economy has grown immensely and India is today amongst the top five Economies in the World and poised to forge ahead further. In this context, it is essential that Competition Law is strengthened, and re-calibrated to promote best practices which result in the citizens of this country achieving their aspirations and value for money.
The Competition Act:
The Competition Act, 2002, as amended by the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2007, prohibits anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position by enterprises and regulates combinations (acquisition, acquiring of control and M&A), which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India.
Topic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.
Assam to launch wage compensation scheme for pregnant women in tea gardens
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Features and significance of the scheme.
Context: Assam Government has become the first Indian state to offer a Wage Compensation Scheme for pregnant women working in the tea gardens of the state.
Aim: The scheme is aimed at providing better health and nutrition supplements to the pregnant women. It stresses on providing proper healthcare facilities to the pregnant women working in the tea gardens of the state.
- Under the scheme, an amount of Rs 12,000 will be given to the pregnant women so that they can take care of themselves and the unborn baby without compromising the livelihood of their family.
- The compensation of wages to pregnant women will be given in 4 instalments – Rs 2,000 in the first trimester, Rs 4,000 in the second trimester, Rs 3,000 for institutional delivery and Rs 3,000 for registration of the child’s birth.
- The women would also be given a maternity leave. They will not be engaged in work from the third trimester of pregnancy to three months after delivery.
- In addition, they will get assistance for ante-natal care and the first cycle of immunization of the child.
The scheme is likely to benefit over 60,000 women in the state. It is expected to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality in the tea areas.
The maternal mortality rate of women working in the tea plantations of Assam is unusually high. In the Annual Health Survey of 2012-13, Assam recorded one of the highest maternal mortality rates in India, with over 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The MMR in the state’s tea gardens was even higher, as it was recorded to be 404. The national average during 2014-16 was 130.
Also, almost 50% of the pregnant women aged between 15 and 49 years in the state were recorded to be anaemic, which is a leading contributor to maternal mortality. The bulk of the workforce in Assam’s tea gardens is women.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.
‘Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism’ (CCIT)
What to study?
- For Prelims: CCIT- key facts.
- For Mains: Significance and the need for convention, terrorism- threats, concerns and need for international cooperation in curbing.
Context: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reiterated India’s demand for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN General Assembly recently.
As a country affected by terrorism, long before the more powerful countries of the developed world began to take cognisance of the threat it poses to international peace and security, India has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations; stressed that tackling such behaviour required a holistic approach and collective action; and recommended that the scope of legal instruments must be expanded to bring the perpetrators of terrorism to justice.
India, therefore, has a vital stake in the formulation of counter-terrorist measures at the international level, including a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). It is in this context that India had proposed a draft of a CCIT as far back as 1996.
What is it?
The Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is a proposed treaty which intends to criminalize all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms, and safe havens. It is a draft proposed by India in 1996 that is yet to be adopted by the UNGA.
What does it call for?
- Universal definition of terrorism: no good terrorist or bad terrorist.
- Ban on all groups regardless of country of operation, cut off access to funds and safe havens.
- Prosecution of all groups including cross border groups.
- Amending domestic laws to make cross-border terror an extraditable offence.
- It also addresses, among other things, the issue of Pakistan’s alleged support for cross-border terrorism in south Asia.
Concerns expressed by various countries:
- US + allies: concerns over definition of terrorism, including acts by US soldiers in international interventions without UN mandate.
- Latin American countries: concerns over international humanitarian laws being ignored.
- There are also concerns that convention will be used to target Pakistan and restrict rights of self-determination groups in Palestine, Kashmir etc.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Conservation related issues.
IUCN threat categories
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Key facts on IUCN, red list and India related facts.
Context: Scientists have identified the threat status of 59 Indian plant species based on criteria used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the hope that this “streamlines” conservation efforts for the plants.
- Around 2,700 plant species in India are at risk but very few have been assessed by the IUCN. To bridge this gap, experts from several institutes prioritized 59 plant species that are at risk of “elimination” if the threat levels they face are not assessed soon. They assigned each species a threat status based on IUCN criteria.
- This included the extent and area of each plant’s geographical range, which revealed that 10 species are critically endangered, 18 endangered, six vulnerable, five near threatened and one species each are data deficient and least concern.
Causes for decline in population:
Based on population sizes and numbers of mature individuals remaining in the wild (using field surveys that also revealed that habitat loss was a huge factor affecting many declining plant populations), the team classified 10 species as critically endangered, three as endangered and five as vulnerable. Germination tests in the laboratory also suggest that factors such as low seed viability could have caused declines in the wild too.
Why quantify threat levels?
Quantifying threat levels of species can be crucial for their conservation. For instance, funding agencies often consider the threat status of species provided in IUCN’s Red List (a catalogue of the world’s threatened species), to sponsor research and conservation activities to save them.
IUCN- key facts:
- IUCN was founded in October 1948 as the International Union for the Protection of Nature (or IUPN) following an international conference in Fontainebleau, France.
- It was renamed as International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1956 with the acronym IUCN.
- IUCN is the world’s first global environmental organization. Today it is the largest professional global conservation network
- The Union’s HQ is located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.
- It demonstrates how biodiversity is fundamental to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change, sustainable development and food security.
- The IUCN Red List is set upon precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. The aim is to convey the urgency of conservation issues to the public and policy makers, as well as help the international community to try to reduce species extinction.
- Species are classified by the IUCN Red List into nine groups, set through criteria such as rate of decline, population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and distribution fragmentation.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism.
GCTF Terrorist Travel Initiative
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Need, features and significance of GCTF Terrorist Travel Initiative, about GCTF.
Context: United States and Morocco have launched GCTF Terrorist Travel Initiative under auspices of Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF). It was launched on sidelines of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York.
GCTF Terrorist Travel Initiative:
- The initiative brings together stakeholders to share expertise on developing and implementing effective counterterrorism watchlisting and screening tools.
- The new initiative will strengthen UNSC Resolution 2396 aiming to stop terrorist travel altogether. It will improve capabilities for detecting and interdicting terrorist travel through enhanced terrorist screening and information sharing.
- It will bring together national and local governments, law enforcement and border screening practitioners and international organizations to share expertise to develop and implement effective counterterrorism watchlisting and screening tools.
- Under this initiative, series of four regional workshops in 2018 and 2019 will be convened to develop set of good practices that will be endorsed at 2019 GCTF Ministerial. The resulting document will reinforce countries and organizations to use border security tools prescribed in UNSC Resolution 2396 to stop terrorist travel.
Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF):
GCTF’s is international apolitical, multilateral counter-terrorism (CT) platform of 29 countries and European Union (EU) with overarching mission of reducing vulnerability of people worldwide to terrorism by preventing, combating, and prosecuting terrorist acts and countering incitement and recruitment to terrorism. It was launched officially in New York on 22 September 2011.
GCTF’s goal is to strengthen capabilities to develop strategic, long-term approach to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremist ideologies that underpin it. Its mission is to diminish terrorist recruitment and increase countries’ civilian capabilities for dealing with terrorist threats within their borders and regions.
Sources: the hindu.
Editorial: India’s urban mobility and congestion problem
India is a country with the second largest road network in the world. Out of the total stretch of 5.4 million km of road network, almost 97,991 km is covered by national highways.
Traffic congestion has increased dramatically in India. Congestion and the associated slow urban mobility can have a huge adverse impact on both the quality of life and the economy.
It is already a huge challenge for the Indian government to provide world-class roads, due to the sheer magnitude.
To add to it, India has to spend almost around ₹20,000 to ₹30,000 crore on the maintenance of roads every year. The reason behind this is the increase in the private vehicle ownership and the overburdening of roads in all major cities of the country.
Answers need to be identified for the following:
Are all cities in India congested or just some of them?
Are Delhi and Mumbai less or more congested than, say, Patna and Varanasi?
Are mobility and congestion different within cities across the centre and periphery, and at different times of the day?
How congested are Indian cities compared to cities in the US? What does the future hold?
Roads in cities are multi-purpose public goods, used by various classes of motorized and non-motorized vehicles to travel and park, as well as a wide variety of other users such as street-sellers, children playing and animals.
Understanding the problem of Congestion:
Our understanding of the underlying reasons for congestion is still evolving.
A popular view is that urbanization leads to ever larger cities and increased rates of motorization. These two features eventually lead to a complete gridlock and congestion.
However, economic growth also brings about better travel infrastructure, which facilitates uncongested mobility and increases the pace of urban mobility.
Indian cities have experienced both these trends. These changes are taking place at a much faster pace in Indiathan in the UK and the US.
Transportation investments constitute the largest component of lending of many global development institutions.
Data on urban transportation in India is scarce. In the UK and the US, knowledge on urban mobility and congestion stems from surveys of household travel behaviour.
However, such surveys are prohibitively expensive to carry out in India. We used other methods to examine urban mobility and congestion.
World Bank used a popular web mapping and transportation service to generate information for more than 22 million trips across 154 large Indian cities.
The multi-purpose nature of urban transport also impacts urban mobility in India.
Policy challenge that need to be addressed by Area-Specific Approach:
The unique Indian travel patterns imply that country-specific and city-level policies are necessary.
Standard policy recommendations such as congestion pricing or other types of travel restrictions may do little to improve mobility.
Instead, potentially costly travel infrastructure investments may be the only way to improve uncongested mobility.
Better uncongested mobility generally correlates with the process of faster economic growth.
Slow urban mobility in India is primarily due to cities being slow all the time, rather than congested at peak hours. However, congestion is not a nationwide problem. It is concentrated near the centre of the largest Indian cities.
Given their importance to the Indian economy, these areas with the highest levels of congestion, such as the city centres of Kolkota and Bengaluru, should be the focus of policy efforts to alleviate congestion.
Investment in urban transport also plays an important role in influencing property prices.
A deeper understanding of the interactions between urbanization, urban mobility and congestion will help improve investments in transport and city competitiveness.
Recently, the odd-even scheme devised by the Delhi CM created a lot of buzz, but did not seem enough, unless it is supported by other grass root level measures.
More primary roads and regular grid patterns are need to be associated with faster urban mobility.
There can be an 80% cut in CO2 emissions if cities embrace 3 revolutions (3R) in vehicle technology: automation, electrification, and, most importantly, ride sharing.
Some of the solutions which can be used are given below.
Any solution is expected to be successfully implemented, it will definitely require effort and planning on a huge scale. This is especially for when we are coming up with plans which can reach the entire country.
- Corruption will have to be curbed, and it will be extremely vital that the raw material is of the highest quality are used for the longevity and strength of the roads.
- Road pricing system – people should be charged based on the length of the road and the duration for which they use the road. This will be difficult to implement and will require huge technological investment to become possible.
- Improvement in public transport and additional schemes like BRT. The Bus Rapid Transport is implemented in some cities like Pune, and it can be very helpful if implemented correctly.
- People should try and use carpooling and bike pooling as much as possible. Use of bicycles for smaller distances also improves individual health along with reducing pollution and road congestion.
- Strict and stringent measures against traffic violators. A regulation in the traffic rules and fines levied for breaking them.
- Metro can play a huge role in improving the traffic issues to a great extent. If Nagpur metro becomes successful, it will pave the way for implementation in other cities as well which can be very beneficial.
- Increase in the use of CNG and electrical vehicles and providing relief to those who use the same.
It’s time that city leaders and officers in India recognize the benefits of sustainable mobility and incorporate well-defined strategies and policies into their own public agendas. The future of their economies and their citizens depends on it.
Facts for Prelims:
UN Champions of the Earth Award 2018:
Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been awarded with the UN’s highest environmental honour- Champions of the Earth Award, bestowed upon five other individuals and organisations.
- French President Emmanuel Macron, President of France and Modi have been jointly recognised in the Policy Leadership category for their pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance and promoting new areas of levels of cooperation on environmental action, including Macron’s work on the Global Pact for the Environment and Modi’s unprecedented pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022.
- Cochin International Airport has also been honoured this year with the award for Entrepreneurial Vision, for its leadership in the use of sustainable energy.
Champions of the Earth Award:
- The Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental recognition, was founded in 2005.
- The award celebrates exceptional figures from the public and private sectors and from civil society, whose actions have had a transformative positive impact on the environment.
- The award also recognises the efforts for promoting new areas of levels of cooperation on environmental action.
Uttarakhand HC directs state to provide reservation to transgenders in educational institutions:
The Uttarakhand High Court has directed the state government to provide reservation to transgenders in educational institutions and public appointments. The high court gave the state government six months’ time to implement the decision.
The court stated that the transgenders lead a miserable life and are often treated unfairly. Observing that they have the right to a life of dignity, the court gave the state government six months time to implement its decision.