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Current Affairs 31 January 2024

  1. Sub-Categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs)
  2. Pradhan Mantri Suryodaya Yojana
  3. UNRWA Funding Suspension: Crisis Unfolds
  4. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
  5. Generative AI
  6. Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS)


Context:

The Indian government has set up a high-level committee, led by the Cabinet Secretary, to address the issue of dominant Scheduled Caste (SC) communities receiving more benefits than the most backward ones.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Legal Aspects of Sub-Categorization of Scheduled Castes: A Judicial Journey
  2. Arguments for and Against Sub-Categorization of SCs

Legal Aspects of Sub-Categorization of Scheduled Castes: A Judicial Journey

Attempts by States:
  • Over the past two decades, States like Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu have sought to implement reservation laws at the State level for sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs).
  • The aim is to determine a separate quantum of reservation for these subcategories within the broader category of SCs.
Judicial Intervention:
  • Legal challenges arose when the Andhra Pradesh government, in 1996, recommended sub-categorization based on backwardness and representation disparities among SC communities.
  • The Supreme Court, in 2004, ruled that States lacked the unilateral power to sub-categorize SCs or Scheduled Tribes (STs).
Contradictory Judgments:
  • In 2020, a five-judge Bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, suggested that determining benefits within the already-notified lists of SCs/STs would not constitute interference and States could proceed.
  • This apparent contradiction led to the 2020 judgment being referred to a larger Bench.
Union Government’s Involvement:
  • Despite the pending Supreme Court decision, the Union government explored legal avenues in 2005.
  • The Attorney-General of India (AGI) opined that sub-categorization was possible with “unimpeachable evidence,” suggesting a constitutional amendment.
National Commission and Constitutional Amendment Proposal:
  • The Union government formed a National Commission to investigate sub-categorization in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Cabinet recommended amending Article 341 of the Constitution, but the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) argued against the need for a constitutional amendment.
  • They pointed to Article 16(4), stating it already empowered States to create special laws for under-represented backward classes.

Arguments for and Against Sub-Categorization of SCs:

Arguments in Favor:
  • Graded Inequalities: The primary argument for sub-categorization stems from the perceived graded inequalities among Scheduled Caste (SC) communities.
  • Access Disparities: The contention is that even within marginalized communities, some have lesser access to basic facilities, leading to more forward communities consistently availing benefits while overshadowing the more backward ones.
  • Need for Separate Reservation: Advocates argue that sub-categorizing communities and providing separate reservations for the more backward groups within the SC category is the solution.
Arguments Against:
  • Root Cause Addressal: Both the SC and ST Commissions counter that separate reservations within categories do not address the root cause of the problem.
  • Representation at All Levels: The commissions emphasize the need for representation at all levels and contend that the most backward SCs are significantly behind more forward SC communities.
  • Insufficient Candidates: Even with reserved posts at higher levels, the most backward SCs may lack enough candidates to be considered, perpetuating the existing disparity.
  • Prioritizing Existing Schemes: Both commissions recommend that existing schemes and government benefits should reach these sections before considering sub-categorization to ensure comprehensive upliftment.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the Indian Prime Minister launched the ‘Pradhan Mantri Suryodaya Yojana,’ a pioneering government initiative aimed at installing rooftop solar power systems in one crore households across the nation.

Relevance:

GS II: Government policies and Intervention

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Pradhan Mantri Suryodaya Yojana
  2. Rooftop Solar Panels
  3. India’s current solar capacity
  4. Importance for expansion of solar energy in India:
  5. India’s solar policy
  6. How critical is solar power to India’s commitment to mitigate climate change?

About Pradhan Mantri Suryodaya Yojana

Aim:

  • To provide electricity to low and middle-income individuals through solar rooftop installations, along with offering additional income for surplus electricity generation.
  • The scheme seems to be a new attempt to help reach the target of 40 GW rooftop solar capacity.

Target:

  • Under the scheme, around 1 crore households will get rooftop solar.

Energy Self-reliance:

  • By installing rooftop solar systems, the scheme aims to decrease India’s dependency on traditional energy sources and move towards sustainable energy practices.
  • The scheme is in line with Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Market Implications:

  • The initiative is expected to benefit companies involved in solar panel installation and related infrastructure, potentially leading to long-term investment opportunities.

Implementation of the scheme:

  • Awareness Campaigns: To educate potential beneficiaries about the scheme and its benefits.
  • Collaboration with Local Bodies: Involving panchayats, municipalities, or local NGOs for effective reach.
  • Monitoring and Feedback: Ensuring the scheme’s effectiveness and making necessary adjustments.

Rooftop Solar Panels:

  • Definition: Rooftop solar panels are photovoltaic panels installed on a building’s roof, integrated into the main power supply system.
Benefits
  • Energy Consumption Reduction: Significantly reduces reliance on grid-connected electricity, leading to lower electricity costs for consumers.
  • Surplus Power Export: Excess solar power generated can be exported to the grid, providing monetary benefits to consumers based on prevailing regulations.
Government Initiatives
  • Rooftop Solar Programme (2014): Launched with the goal of achieving 40 GW cumulative installed capacity by 2022.
  • Deadline Extension: Due to unmet targets, the government extended the deadline to 2026.
  • Pradhan Mantri Suryodaya Yojana: Aimed at supporting the achievement of the 40 GW rooftop solar capacity target.
Current Landscape
  • While the initial target remains unfulfilled, government initiatives continue to drive the adoption of rooftop solar panels, contributing to India’s sustainable energy goals.

India’s current solar capacity:

  • Solar power has a major share in the country’s current renewable energy capacity, which stands at around 180 GW.
  • According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s website, solar power installed capacity in India has reached around 73.31 GW as of December 2023.
  • The rooftop solar installed capacity is around 11.08 GW as of December 2023.
  • In terms of total solar capacity, Rajasthan is at the top with 18.7 GW. Gujarat is at the second position with 10.5 GW. 
  • When it comes to rooftop solar capacity, Gujarat tops the list with 2.8 GW, followed by Maharashtra by 1.7 GW.

Importance for expansion of solar energy in India:

  • According to the latest World Energy Outlook by the International Energy Agency (IEA), India is expected to witness the largest energy demand growth of any country or region in the world over the next 30 years.
  • To meet this demand, the country would need a reliable source of energy and it can’t be just coal plants.
  • Although India has doubled down on its coal production in recent years, it also aims to reach 500 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
  • Therefore, it is essential to expand solar power capacity.

India’s solar policy:

  • Since 2011, India’s solar sector has grown at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 59% from 0.5GW in 2011 to 55GW in 2021.
National Solar Mission (NSM):
  • The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), also known as the National Solar Mission (NSM), which commenced in January 2010, marked the first time the government focussed on promoting and developing solar power in India.
  • Under the scheme, the total installed capacity target was set as 20GW by 2022.
  • In 2015, the target was revised to 100GW and in August 2021, the government set a solar target of 300GW by 2030.
  • India currently ranks fifth after China, U.S., Japan and Germany in terms of installed solar power capacity.
  • As of December 2021, the cumulative solar installed capacity of India is 55GW, which is roughly half the renewable energy (RE) capacity (excluding large hydro power) and 14% of the overall power generation capacity of India.
  • Within the 55GW, grid-connected utility-scale projects contribute 77% and the rest comes from grid-connected rooftop and off-grid projects.
Grid-Connected Rooftop Solar Scheme (Phase II):
  • In a rooftop or small solar photovoltaic (SPV) system that is connected to the grid, the power conditioning unit converts the DC power generated by the SPV panel to AC electricity, which is then delivered to the grid.
  • The scheme aimed to achieve a cumulative installed capacity of 40,000 megawatts (MW) or  40 gigawatts (GW) by 2022.
  • However, this target couldn’t be achieved. As a result, the government extended the deadline from 2022 to 2026. 
Major objective of the programme includes:
  • To promote the grid-connected SPV rooftop and small SPV power generating plants among the residential, community, institutional, industrial and commercial establishments.
  • To mitigate the dependence on fossil fuel based electricity generation and encourage environment-friendly Solar electricity generation.
  • To create an enabling environment for investment in the solar energy sector by the private sector, state government and the individuals.
  • To create an enabling environment for the supply of solar power from rooftop and small plants to the grid.
  • This scheme is being implemented in the state by distribution companies (DISCOMs).
  • Under this scheme the Ministry is providing a 40% subsidy for the first 3 kW and 20% subsidy beyond 3 kW and upto 10 kW of solar panel capacity.
  • The residential consumer has to pay the cost of rooftop solar plant by reducing the subsidy amount given by the Ministry as per the prescribed rate to the vendor.

How critical is solar power to India’s commitment to mitigate climate change?

  • Solar power is a major prong of India’s commitment to address global warming according to the terms of the Paris Agreement, as well as achieving net zero, or no net carbon emissions, by 2070.
  • Prime Minister at the United Nations Conference of Parties meeting in Glasgow, in November 2021, said India would be reaching a non-fossil fuel energy capacity of 500 GW by 2030 and meet half its energy requirements via renewable energy by 2030.
  • To boost the renewable energy installation drive in the long term, the Centre in 2020 set a target of 450GW of RE-based installed capacity to be achieved by 2030, within which the target for solar was 300GW.
  • Given the challenge of integrating variable renewable energy into the grid, most of the RE capacity installed in the latter half of this decade is likely to be based on wind solar hybrid (WSH), RE-plus-storage and round-the-clock RE projects rather than traditional solar/wind projects, according to the report.
  • On the current trajectory, the report finds, India’s solar target of 300GW by 2030 will be off the mark by about 86GW, or nearly a third.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

UN officials call for a reconsideration of the decision to suspend funding for UNRWA.

  • Israel’s accusation of UNRWA staff involvement in the October 7 attack led to funding cuts from the US and eight other Western countries, major contributors to UNRWA’s 2022 budget.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key highlights
  2. United Nations’ Refugee Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA)

Key highlights:

  • UN officials recently urged countries to reconsider the decision to pause funding for the UN agency for Palestinians.
  • The UN warned that aid for around two million people in Gaza was at stake due to the funding pause.

Israel’s Accusations Against UNRWA:

  • Israel alleges that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in the October 7 attack.
  • Claims that Hamas siphons off funds given to UNRWA and conducts operations in and around the agency’s facilities.
  • Accuses UNRWA of having Hamas tunnels running next to or under its facilities and teaching hatred of Israel in its schools.

UNRWA’s Response:

  • UNRWA denies all allegations, stating it has no links to Hamas.
  • Out of the 12 accused staff members, nine have been terminated, one confirmed dead, and the identities of the remaining two are being clarified.

Current Situation:

  • UNRWA is vital for the survival of people in Gaza, facing a humanitarian crisis due to the conflict.
  • The agency has been the primary supplier of food, water, and shelter for civilians in the enclave.
  • UNRWA would run out of money for its aid work within weeks if funding is not restored.

United Nations’ Refugee Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA):

  • UNRWA stands for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.
  • Established in 1949 to provide aid to approximately 700,000 Palestinians displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Operates in Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan — areas where Palestinian refugees sought shelter after displacement.
  • Manages education, health, relief, social services, microfinance, and emergency assistance programs within and outside refugee camps in the mentioned regions.
  • Primarily funded by voluntary contributions from donor states, including the US.
  • Receives a limited subsidy from the UN for administrative costs.
Performance:
  • Currently serves around 5.9 million Palestine refugees, mostly descendants of the original refugees.
  • In Gaza, over 1 million refugees are housed in UNRWA schools and facilities.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the military regimes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger announced their immediate withdrawal from the West African bloc ECOWAS.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. ECOWAS: Fostering Integration and Stability in West Africa
  2. ECOWAS and India

ECOWAS: Fostering Integration and Stability in West Africa

Establishment and Mandate:
  • Founded in 1975 through the Lagos Treaty.
  • Also known as CEDEAO (in French).
  • Headquarters located in Abuja, Nigeria.
  • Mandate: Promoting economic integration among member states.
Economic Integration and Vision:
  • Aims for a single common currency and a large trading bloc.
  • Focus on industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, finance, and culture.
  • Vision: Creating a “borderless region” based on democracy, rule of law, and good governance.
  • Vision 2050: Transforming from “ECOWAS of States” to “ECOWAS of the People: Peace and Prosperity to All.”
Role in Conflict Resolution:
  • ECOWAS strives to end military conflicts in the region.
  • Established ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) for regional peacekeeping.
  • ECOMOG deployed forces in Liberia (1990) and Sierra Leone (1997) during civil unrest.
  • 2017 intervention in The Gambia to resolve political crisis.
Recent Challenges and Actions:
  • Suspended Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso following coups.
  • ECOWAS refused to recognize new governments in these countries.
  • Demonstrates commitment to upholding democratic norms and stability.
ECOWAS and India:
  • India has Observer status with ECOWAS since 2004, fostering strong ties.
  • India extends Line of Credit (LOCs) to support ECOWAS’ regional integration and development efforts.
  • Collaboration provides opportunities for Indian companies in sectors like energy, telecom, and transportation in West Africa.
  • ECOWAS has supported India’s bid for a seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Generative artificial intelligence has become a buzzword this year, capturing the public’s fancy and sparking a rush among Microsoft and Alphabet to launch products with the technology they believe will change the nature of work.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is generative AI?
  2. What is it good for?
  3. What’s wrong with that?

What is generative AI?

  • It learns how to take actions from past data and creates new content based on that training.
  • ChatGPT, a chatbot by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, is a well-known application that uses generative AI.
  • GPT-4, a newer model, can perceive not only text but images as well.
What is it good for?
  • It is useful for creating a first draft of marketing copy, summarizing customer reviews, taking notes during a virtual meeting, drafting and personalizing emails, and creating slide presentations.
What’s wrong with that?
  • Potential abuse of technology, such as students turning in AI-drafted essays, and generating disinformation by bad actors and governments.
  • The technology is prone to making mistakes, such as factual inaccuracies and erratic responses.

Is this just about Google and Microsoft?

  • They are at the forefront of research and investment in large language models and widely use generative AI in their software.
  • Other large and small companies are also creating their own competing AI or packaging technology from others to give users new powers through software.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

The Central government has brought di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), muriate of potash (MOP) and all other such fertilisers that receive nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) support under “reasonable pricing” controls.

Relevance:

GS-III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Nutrient-Based Subsidy Regime
  2. Issues Related to NBS

About Nutrient-Based Subsidy Regime

  • Under the Nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime – fertilizers are provided to the farmers at the subsidized rates based on the nutrients (N, P, K & S) contained in these fertilizers.
  • Also, the fertilizers which are fortified with secondary and micronutrients such as molybdenum (Mo) and zinc are given additional subsidy.
  • Under the Nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime, the subsidy on Phosphatic and Potassic (P&K) fertilizers is announced by the Government on an annual basis for each nutrient on a per kg basis – which are determined taking into account the international and domestic prices of P&K fertilizers, exchange rate, inventory level in the country etc.
  • NBS policy intends to increase the consumption of P&K fertilizers so that optimum balance (N:P:K= 4:2:1 ) of NPK fertilization is achieved.
  • This would improve soil health and as a result the yield from the crops would increase resulting in enhanced income to the farmers.
  • Also, as the government expects rational use of fertilizers, this would also ease off the burden of fertilizer subsidy.
  • It is being implemented from April 2010 by the Department of Fertilizers, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers.

Issues Related to NBS

  • Urea is left-out in the scheme and hence it remains under price control as NBS has been implemented only in other fertilizers.
  • There is an imbalance as the price of fertilizers (other than urea) — which were decontrolled have gone up from 2.5 to four times during the 2010-2020 decade. However, since 2010, the price of urea has increased only by 11%. This has led to farmers using more urea than before, which has further worsened fertilizer imbalance.
  • Considering that fertilizer subsidy is the second-biggest subsidy after food subsidy, the NBS policy is not only damaging the fiscal health of the economy but also proving detrimental to the soil health of the country.
  • Subsidised urea is getting diverted to bulk buyers/traders or even non-agricultural users such as plywood and animal feed makers. It is being smuggled to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.

-Source: The Hindu


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