ASPIRANTS DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS + PIB SUMMARY – 8 FEB 2022

Table of Contents:

GS Paper 1:

  • Microbes in plastic Clean-up Bioremediation

GS Paper 2:

  • India’s Solar Sector
  • Kerala Governor Signs Lok Ayukta ordinance

GS Paper 3:

  • Need to Boost Labour Income and Consumption Expenditure
  • National Ropeways Development Programme – “Parvatmala”

GS Paper 1

Microbes in plastic Clean-up Bioremediation:

Why in News?

A team of Argentine scientists is using microorganisms native to Antartica to explore the idea of cleaning up pollution from fuels and, potentially, plastics in the pristine expanses of the white continent.

  • The continent is protected by a 1961 Madrid Protocol that stipulates it must be kept in a pristine state.
  • Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications. At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.

How was the Research carried out on Microbes?

  • The researchers collected samples of plastic from the Antarctic seas and studied to see if the microorganisms are eating the plastics or simply using them as rafts.
  • The team carried out bioremediation tasks.
  • The team helped the microbes with nitrogen, humidity and aeration to optimize their conditions.
  • This work uses the potential of native microorganisms – bacteria and fungi that inhabit the Antarctic soil, even when it is contaminated – and make these microorganisms eat the hydrocarbons.
  • The tiny microbes munch through the waste, creating a naturally occurring cleaning system for pollution caused by diesel that is used as a source of electricity and heat for research bases in the frozen Antarctic.
  • The research on how the microbes could help with plastic waste could have potential for wider environmental issues.

What is Bioremediation?

  • It is a branch of biotechnology that employs the use of living organisms, like microbes and bacteria, in the removal of contaminants, pollutants, and toxins from soil, water, and other environments.
  • Bioremediation is used to clean up oil spills or contaminated groundwater.
  • Bioremediation may be done “in situ”–at the site of the contamination–or “ex situ”–away from the site.

What are the Benefits of Bioremediation?

  • By relying solely on natural processes, it minimizes damage to ecosystems.
  • Bioremediation often takes place underground, where amendments and microbes can be pumped in order to clean up contaminants in groundwater and soil.
  • Consequently, bioremediation does not disrupt nearby communities as much as other cleanup methodologies.
  • “Amendments” to the environment, such as molasses, vegetable oil, or simple air optimize conditions for microbes to flourish, thereby accelerating the completion of the bioremediation process.
  • The bioremediation process creates relatively few harmful byproducts (mainly due to the fact that contaminants and pollutants are converted into water and harmless gases like carbon dioxide).
  • Bioremediation is cheaper than most cleanup methods because it does not require substantial equipment or labor.

GS Paper 2

India’s Solar Sector:

Why in News?

     The centre is set to come up with rules to pool solar tariffs and is also aiming to increase bundling of renewable energy in existing thermal Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to boost the procurement of renewable energy.

  • The government is aiming to boost installed renewable energy capacity to 500 GW (GigaWatts) by 2030.
  • A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), or electricity power agreement, is a contract between two parties, one which generates electricity (power generating companies (gencos)) and one which is looking to purchase electricity .

What is the Issue?

  • Solar tariffs have fallen consistently over the past decade to a low of under Rs 2 per unit (1 unit = 1 kWh) in December 2020 due to the falling price of solar panels and lower financing cost.
  • The trend of lower solar tariffs has led to many many players waiting on tariffs to fall further instead of entering into long term power procurement agreements.

How can this Step be Helpful?

  • A move to pool tariffs could help speed up procurement of solar power by addressing concerns among discoms of losing out on lower solar tariffs in the future.
  • The government is planning to pool all solar power procurement in a given period and ask that all buyers pay an average of all the tariffs that are contracted in a pooling period.
  • The government’s step to bundle about 10,000 MW of  Renewable energy  based power with fossil fuel based power over the next 4-5 year would also help lower total cost of power procurement for certain discoms.
  • There are a number of old thermal power projects that are unviable because of high variable costs and don’t get dispatched in merit order and that discoms are forced to pay fixed costs due to requirements under existing PPAs.
  • The centre had in November 2021 issued guidelines which permitted thermal generation companies to supply power to customers from their renewable energy projects under the existing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for coal-based electricity with gains from the bundling of renewable energy to be shared between generators and (discoms) on a 50:50 basis.

What is the Current state of India’s Solar Sector?

  • About:
    • The country’s installed Renewable Energy (RE) capacity stands at 150.54 GW (solar: 48.55 GW, wind: 40.03 GW, Small hydro Power: 4.83, Bio-power: 10.62, Large Hydro: 46.51 GW) as on 30th Nov. 2021 while its nuclear energy based installed electricity capacity stands at 6.78 GW.
    • India has the 4th largest wind power capacity in the world.
    • This brings the total non-fossil based installed energy capacity to 157.32 GW which is 40.1% of the total installed electricity capacity of 392.01 GW.
  • Push to RE in the Budget 2022-23:
    • About:
      • To facilitate domestic manufacturing for the ambitious goal of 280 GW of installed solar capacity by 2030, an additional allocation of 19,500 crore for Production Linked Incentive for manufacture of high efficiency modules will be made.
    • Issues:
      • Budget estimate for the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) for 2022-23 showed that the investment in Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has been nearly halved — to less than Rs 1,000 crores from over Rs 1,800 crore.
  • SECI is the only Public sector undertaking of the Union government working on solar energy and is currently responsible for the development of the entire renewable energy sector.
      • A primary issue with the manufacturing of solar PhotoVoltaic (PV) modules in India over the years has been a lack of quality.
  • This could have been addressed by enhancing research and development related to technological aspects of fully integrated manufacturing units from polysilicon to solar PV modules.
  • However, any separate allocation for such R&D has not been announced.

Related Initiatives:

  • Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM)
  • International Solar Alliance
  • One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG)
  • National Solar Mission
  • National Offshore Wind Energy Policy
  • Roof Top Solar programme Phase-II
  • National Wind-Solar Hybrid Policy 2018
  • Hydrogen Based Fuel Cells Vehicles

Way Forward

  • Identification of Areas: Renewable resources specially wind cannot be set up everywhere, they require specific location.
    • Identification of these specific locations, integrating them with the main grid and distribution of powers, a combination of these three is what will take India forward.
  • Exploration: More storage solutions need to be explored.
  • Agriculture Subsidy: Agricultural subsidy should be rectified in order to ensure that only the required amount of energy is consumed.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Based Vehicles and Electric Vehicles: These are the most suitable options when it comes to shifting towards renewable sources of energy, that’s where we need to work upon

Kerala Governor Signs Lok Ayukta ordinance:

Context:

       The Kerala governor has signed the ordinance proposing amendments to the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999, that makes the agency’s orders not binding on the government.

 Amendments to the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999:

  • The government can “either accept or reject the verdict of the L, Lok Ayukta  after giving an opportunity of being heard”.
  • Currently, under Section 14 of the Act, a public servant is required to vacate office if directed by the Lokayukta.

 The amendments are being opposed for two reasons:

  • The changes are proposed through an ordinance and hence there was no proper discussions on the matter.
  • It violates the fundamental spirit of the central Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. For reference on Who is a Lokayukta? What is Lokayukta act, please go through this article.

 Ordinance making power:

  • The ordinance making power is the most important legislative power of the President and the Governor. It has been vested in them to deal with unforeseen or urgent situations.
  • Article 123 of the Constitution grants the President certain law-making powers to promulgate ordinances during the recess of Parliament.
  • These ordinances have the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament but are in the nature of temporary laws.
  • Likewise, the Governor of a state can issue ordinances under Article 213 of the Constitution, when the state legislative assembly (or either of the two Houses in states with bicameral legislatures) is not in session.
  • The Constitution permits the central and State governments to make laws when Parliament (or the State Legislature) is not in session.

How long will it be in force?

        The Constitution states that the ordinance will lapse at the end of six weeks from the time Parliament (or the State Legislature) next meets.

Concerns associated with the ordinance route:

  • Whereas an ordinance was originally conceived as an emergency provision, it was used fairly regularly. In the 1950s, central ordinances were issued at an average of 7.1 per year. The last couple of years has seen a spike, 16 in 2019 and 15 in 2020.
  • Repromulgation: A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in 1986, ruled that repromulgation of ordinances was contrary to the Constitutional scheme.

 Judicial Safeguards to avoid re-promulgation of ordinances:

  • The Supreme Court in RC Cooper vs. Union of India (1970) held that the President’s decision to promulgate ordinance could be challenged on the grounds that ‘immediate action’ was not required, and the ordinance had been issued primarily to bypass debate and discussion in the legislature.
  • It was argued in DC Wadhwa vs. the State of Bihar (1987) that the legislative power of the executive to promulgate ordinances is to be used in exceptional circumstances and not as a substitute for the law-making power of the legislature.
  • The Supreme Court in Krishna Kumar Singh v. the State of Bihar held that the authority to issue ordinances is not an absolute entrustment, but is “conditional upon satisfaction that circumstances exist rendering it necessary to take immediate action”.

GS Paper 3

Need to Boost Labour Income and Consumption Expenditure:

Why in News?

The Union Budget 2022-23 has projected a fiscal deficit of 6.4% of nominal GDP, a narrowing from the 6.9% assumed in the revised estimates for the current fiscal year ending on 31st March, 2022.

  • In simple words, a fiscal deficit is a shortfall in a government’s income compared with its spending.
  • Nominal GDP is GDP (Gross Domestic Product) evaluated at current market prices. It includes all of the changes in market prices that have occurred during the current year due to inflation or deflation.

What was the Economic Context to this year’s Budget Formulation?

  • Reduction in Labour Income and Consumption Expenditure:
    • Though every economic crisis involves sharp reduction in output growth rate, the specificity of the present crisis in India lies in the sharper reduction in labour income as compared to profits.
    • The consequent reduction in income share of labour was associated with a sharp fall in consumption-GDP ratio as well as absolute value of consumption expenditure during the pandemic.
    • The four components of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and net exports.
  • Structural Challenge:
    • It is pertaining to addressing the structural constraints of the Indian economy that restricted growth even during the pre-pandemic period.

What are the Key Shortcomings in the Budget-22 in this Regard?

  • Revenue Expenditure:
    • The share of revenue and non-debt receipts in GDP has remained more or less unchanged, the objective of fiscal consolidation has been sought to be achieved primarily by reducing the expenditure-GDP ratio.
    • Fiscal consolidation refers to the ways and means of narrowing the fiscal deficit.
    • Hence, the brunt of this expenditure compression fell on revenue expenditure.
    • Expenditure on the payment of wages and salaries, subsidies or interest payments would be typically classified as revenue expenditure.
  • Effect on Income and Livelihood of Labour:
    • Since the bulk of the revenue expenditure comprises food subsidies and current expenses in social and economic services, reduction in the allocation for revenue expenditure has been associated with fall in several key expenditure that affect the income and livelihood of labour.
    • For example, allocation for both agriculture and allied activities and rural development registered a sharp decline in nominal absolute terms in 2022-23 as compared to 2021-22.
    • Similarly, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, total nominal expenditure on medical and public health registered a sharp fall in 2022-23 as compared to 2021-22. Such expenditure compression has been associated with the overall fall in the allocation for total social sector expenditure.
  • Low Corporate Tax Ratio:
    • Despite sharp increase in profits during the pandemic, the corporate tax-GDP ratio has continued to remain below the 2018-19 level due to tax concessions. Despite the objective of fiscal consolidation, the corporate tax ratio continues to remain low and restrict revenue receipts.

What are the Implications for Development Spending?

  • The objective of fiscal consolidation along with the inability to increase revenue receipts has posed a constraint on development expenditure.
  • Developmental expenditure refers to the expenditure of the government which helps in economic development by increasing production and real income of the country.
  • With non-development expenditure comprising of interest payments, administrative expenditure and various other components which are typically rigid downward, the brunt of expenditure compression has fallen on development expenditure.
  • The reduction in the allocation for development expenditure ratio for 2022-23 reflects reduction in the allocation for food subsidies, national rural employment guarantee program, expenditure in agriculture, rural development and social sector.

What is the Concern from a Macroeconomic Perspective?

  • Impact on the Recovery of Labour Income and Consumption Expenditure:
    • Reduction in the allocation for development expenditure would have adverse impact on labour income and consumption expenditure.
    • The positive impact of higher capital expenditure on the recovery process would be largely curtailed by the adverse impact of more than proportionate fall in revenue expenditure.
  • Dependent on External Factor for Economic Revival:
    • Given the fiscal consolidation strategy of the Government, the prospect and extent of economic revival at the present remains heavily dependent on external demand.
    • Despite the brief recovery in exports in the last few quarters, the possibility of sustained economic recovery relying exclusively on the export channel appears to be bleak at the present as different countries have already started pursuing fiscal consolidation at the dictate of the IMF (International Monetary Fund).Way Forward
    • In an economy where growth is largely consumption-driven, it is important that income reaches the hands of the lower and the middle-income groups. This extra money in the hands of the lower and middle incomes groups will reach into the consumption channel, spurring consumption-driven growth.
    • India’s policy response needs to be ‘Keynesian’ — greater wealth taxation to channel resources towards social goals. This needs to be complemented by economic empowerment at the grassroots level by revitalising social security schemes targeted at income generation for lower income groups.

National Ropeways Development Programme – “Parvatmala”:

Why in News?

Recently, the Union Finance Minister in the Union Budget for 2022-23 announced National Ropeways Development Programme – “Parvatmala” to improve connectivity in hilly areas.

What is the Scheme?

  • The scheme will be taken up on PPP (Public Private Partnership)mode, which will be a preferred ecologically sustainable alternative in place of conventional roads in difficult hilly areas.
  • The idea is to improve connectivity and convenience for commuters, besides promoting tourism.
  • This may also cover congested urban areas, where conventional mass transit systems are not feasible.
  • The scheme is being presently started in regions like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir and the other North Eastern states.
  • The Finance Minister announced that contracts for 8 ropeway projects for a length of 60 km would be awarded in 2022-23.

Who is the Nodal Ministry?

  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) will have responsibility for development of ropeway and alternative mobility solutions technology, as well as construction, research, and policy in this area.
  • In February 2021, the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961 was amended, which enabled the MORTH to also look after the development of Ropeways and Alternate Mobility Solutions.
  • The move will give a boost to the sector by setting up a regulatory regime.
  • The MORTH has so far been responsible for development of Highways and regulating the road transport sector across the country.

What is the Significance?

  • Economical mode of transportation:
    • Given that ropeway projects are built in a straight line over a hilly terrain, it also results in lower land acquisition costs.
    • Hence, despite having a higher cost of construction per km than roadways, ropeway projects’ construction cost may happen to be more economical than roadways.
  • Faster mode of transportation:
    • Owing to the aerial mode of transportation, ropeways have an advantage over roadway projects where ropeways can be built in a straight line, over a hilly terrain.
  • Environmentally friendly:
    • Low dust emissions. Material containers can be designed so as to rule out any soiling of the environment.
  • Last mile connectivity:
    • Ropeway projects adopting 3S (a kind of cable car system) or equivalent technologies can transport 6000-8000 passengers per hour.

What are the Benefits of Ropeways?

  • Ideal for difficult / challenging / sensitive terrain:
    • Long rope spans: The system crosses obstacles like rivers, buildings, ravines, or roads without a problem.
    • Ropes guided over towers: Low space requirements on the ground, and no barrier for humans or animals.
  • Economy:
    • Ropeway having multiple cars propelled by a single power-plant and drive mechanism.
    • This reduces both construction and maintenance costs.
    • The use of a single operator for an entire ropeway is a further saving, in labor cost.
    • On level ground, the cost of ropeways is competitive with narrow-gauge railroads, in the mountains the ropeway is far superior.
  • Flexible:
    • Transport of different materials – A ropeway allows for the simultaneous transport of different types of material.
  • Ability to handle large slopes:
    • Ropeways and cableways (cable cranes) can handle large slopes and large differences in elevation.
    • Where a road or railroad needs switchbacks or tunnels, a ropeway travels straight up and down the fall line. The old cliff railways in England and ski resort ropeways in the mountains take advantage of this feature.
  • Low footprint:
  • The fact that only narrow-based vertical supports are needed at intervals, leaving the rest of the ground free, makes it possible for ropeways to be constructed in built-up areas and in places where there is intense competition for land use.

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