Current Affairs January 26-27, 2024: Debate on Caste Reservation and Minority Status, Crop Residue Management (CRM) Guidelines, Cashless Everywhere Initiative, Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs), Lab Grown Meat, Albatrosses

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{GS2 – Polity – IC – Reservation} Debate on Caste Reservation and Minority Status

  • Context (IE): In the drafting of the IC, minority rights, particularly for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, sparked significant debates.
  • The debates started for providing political safeguards for minorities and concluded by giving reservations and affirmative action only for ‘backward classes’ and not religious minorities.
  • The dilemma before the Constituent Assembly (CA) was to find a constitutional method to politically recognise communities and foster national unity and an inclusive democratic structure.
  • CA had to decide whether reservations were a method to celebrate India’s diversity or whether they were a means for social and political emancipation.

Debates on defining Minorities

  • Minorities encompassed three kinds of communities-
    1. Religious minorities,
    2. Scheduled Castes, and
    3. Backward tribes.
  • Discussions regarding the definition of minority were crucial to deciding the nature of provisions needed in IC.

NG Ranga- Freedom fighter and farmers’ leaders

  • The masses in India are the absolute minority.
  • These people [the masses] are so depressed and suppressed till now that they are not able to take advantage of ordinary civil rights. These are the actual minorities who need protection.
  • Minority did not denote the numerical status of any group but the group that suffered from some disadvantage with respect to the rest which entitled it to special treatment from the state.

Sri Nagappa- A Congress representative from Madras

  • It was important for the SCs to be considered a minority if they want to resist appropriation into one or other community.

KM Munshi -Lawyer and member of the Constituent Assembly

  • The definitions of the term minority as defined in treaties and law are along racial, religious, and linguistic lines, but the SCs are none of these.
  • Dalits were “part and parcel of the Hindu community and the safeguards given to them to protect their rights are only till they are completely absorbed into Hindu community”.
  • The SCs were Hindus and not a minority and, therefore, did not require constitutional reservations and protections in a Hindu-majority country.

Debi Prasad Khaitan

  • If the SCs and Tribes were made to be a separate category, along with religious minorities, they would make up more than half of the population.
  • Independent India could not be composed of a series of minorities and people of india will not approve of such democracy.

Analysis of the Debate

Research scholar Zubair Ahmad Bader
  • The minority debate in the CA was tied to the question of differences and disadvantages.
  • Arguments about minority status in the CA highlighted social, cultural, or economic differences between communities that were perceived to belong to the same religion.
Historian Shabnum Tejani
  • Debate around defining the term minority revealed profound differences in the ideas of democracy among the Assembly members.
  • SC leaders thought of democracy as a means of political and social emancipation.

Ambedkar’s Views on Caste and Minoritry Question

  • Ambedkar was tasked with envisaging a constitution that guarantees the eradication of caste as an institution, secure political representation for lower castes and defining the minority question.
  • Ambedkar failed to tackle the minority question effectively.
  • The substitution of minorities with “backward classes” provided no resolution for a definition of minority and the distinct cultural identities.
  • Ambedkar on Caste: “Caste is not a division of labour but also the division of labourers”.

Ambedkar approached the caste question in Three ways.

Introducing ‘backwardness’
  • “Backwardness” as a principle to identify groups that required constitutional protection and reservations.
  • He argued that caste operates differently in different regions.
    • A community belonging to the Shudra varna in Punjab might not be on the same socio-economic level as a community of the same caste in Karnataka.
    • Therefore, backwardness concerning the socio-economic and political status of the community must be taken into consideration while drawing up the list for constitutional protection.
  • Ambedkar left the task of drawing up the list of communities for constitutional protection to the State governments.
  • The concept of “backwardness” could reconcile the equality of opportunity with the inclusion of specific communities in public life.
    • Introducing backwardness was Ambedkar’s way of finding a middle way related to multiple views on the question of minority.
    • The focus on backwardness shows that there was no particular group identity that the IC sought to protect.
‘Backwardness’ Evaluation Criteria
  • It underpinned class status along with caste.
  • Any scheme of reservations would operate on the principle of equality of opportunity.
    • For instance, reservations would have to be confined to a limited number of seats to make space for everyone eligible for the post.
  • The concept of backwardness would be relative. A group could only be considered backwards with respect to other communities.
    • The Sikh community was denied preferential treatment because it was “not backwards relative to other communities.”
  • Social worker Hriday Nath Kunzu supported Ambedkar on “Relative Backwardness” argument-
    • He said, “Protection can only be granted to a class, a minority or backward, only on the ground that it is backward and, if left to itself, would be unable to protect its interests.
Reservations for Social Emancipation or to highlight India’s Diversity
  • Ambedkar’s policies made it quite clear that the purpose of reservations was for the social and political emancipation of backward groups.

Responses to Ambedkar’s Approach

  • TT Krishnamachari and Hriday Nath Kunzu were critical of some parts of Ambedkar’s approach to the caste and minority question.

Kunzu and Ramchandra Manohar Nalavade

  • The word ‘backward’ is not defined anywhere in the IC.
    • Article 301 already provides for the appointment of a Commission to enquire into the condition of the backward classes, But only those classes that are educationally or socially backward will be looked into.
  • While Kunzu supported Ambedkar on some attributes, he believed that
    • ‘Backward’ is open to interpretation and needs to be defined more robustly, and cannot be left to the states or the courts to deliberate.
    • If constitutional protection for the BCs is indefinite, it might lead the State to believe that its duties towards them are restricted to the facilitation of the provision of reservations only.
    • The reservation must be reviewed and revisited from time to time.

TT Krishnamachari

  • He highlighted ambiguity about the relationship between the definition of “backward” and caste.
  • “The intention of the framers as to who should come under the category of backward classes is unclear. It does not say ‘caste’. It says ‘class’.
  • Is class based on the grounds of economic status or the grounds of literacy or the grounds of birth is not clear.
  • He believed that if literacy rates were considered to draw the list of backward classes, more than 80 per cent of India’s population in 1949 would be backward.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

  • He believed that the abolition of reservations for minorities was a “historic turn in our destiny”.
    • He argued that granting safeguards to minorities will isolate them.
  • He feared that reservations might also forfeit inner sympathy and fellow feelings with the majority of the country.
  • Although Nehru felt uncomfortable about reservations, he supported reservations for SCs.
  • He preferred to approach it from the point of view of helping a backward group.

Reservation For Religious Minority

  • The Constituent Assembly granted reservations for employment for SCs and STs under Article 16(4A) of the IC. It did not take into consideration religious minorities.
  • The first draft of the Report of the Advisory Committee on Minorities recommended reservation for religious minorities along with SCs and STs.
  • The Partition influenced the decision not to grant reservations to religious minorities.
  • Sardar Vallabhai Patel, in 1949, submitted the report of a special sub-committee to consider the problems faced by minority populations in East Punjab and West Bengal.
    • The panel thought that conditions in the country had changed to such an extent that “it was no longer appropriate in the context of free India and of present conditions that there should be reservations of seats for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or any other religious minority.
    • They believed that reservation for religious communities might lead to “certain degrees of separatism and was to the extent contrary to the conception of a secular democratic state.”
    • They believed that the Fundamental Rights of the freedom of religion and the rights of minorities to maintain their educational institutions were sufficient safeguards to protect minorities.
  • The Advisory Committee agreed that “the peculiar position of the SCs makes it necessary to give them reservations for a period of ten years as initially decided.

{GS3 – Envi – Air Pollution} Crop Residue Management (CRM) Guidelines 2023-24

  • Context (DTE): The GoI released Crop Residue Management (CRM) operational guidelines 2023-24 for UP, Haryana, Punjab, MP and the NCT of Delhi in July 2023.
  • It aims to decrease pollution from stubble burning and involve more farmers in supplying agri-residue to support bioenergy plants.
  • Burning one tonne of paddy straw releases 3 kg of particulate matter, 60 kg CO, 1,460 kg CO2, 199 kg ash and 2 kg SO2 into the environment.

A table with text and images Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Release of major pollutants in to the atmosphere during residue burning

Crop Residue Management Operational Guidelines 2023-24

  • Techno-commercial pilot projects for the Paddy Straw Supply Chain will be established under bilateral agreements between the Beneficiary/Aggregator and industries using paddy straw.
  • Beneficiary/Aggregator means Farmers, rural entrepreneurs, Cooperative Societies of Farmers, Farmers Producer Organizations (FPOs), and Panchayats.
  • Financial Assistance: Government will provide financial aid for machinery & equipment capital costs.
    • The industry and the beneficiary can finance the working capital together or through sources like the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, NABARD, or financial institutions.
  • The beneficiary needs to arrange and prepare the land for storage of the collected paddy straw.
  • Financial assistance for supply chain equipment like higher HP tractor, cutters, balers, rakers, loaders, grabbers, and telehandlers.
    • Setting up machinery for the paddy straw supply chain costs approximately Rs 1 crore for 3,000 tonnes and Rs 1.8 crore for 4,500 tonnes per season.
    • The government provides a subsidy on the rounded-off amount of Rs 1.5 crore.
  • Project Approval: State Governments will approve projects via project sanctioning committees.
  • Cost Distribution: The government (Central and State jointly) will contribute 65% of the project cost, the industry will contribute 25%, and the beneficiary will contribute the remaining 10%.
  • The central regulatory bodies: The Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare (DA&FW) and State Agricultural Departments.
  • Objective: To collect 1.5 million tonnes of paddy straw in the next three years by the establishment of 333 collection centres with a total financial assistance of Rs 600 crore.
CRM 2023-24 CRM 2020-21
  • Includes Madhya Pradesh
  • Did not include Madhya Pradesh
  • It includes the industry as an active stakeholder and requires a contribution of 25% towards the capital.
  • The industry was not a stakeholder.
  • The central and state governments are dividing the funding 60:40, apart from the NCT of Delhi (for which it remains 100:0)
  • The Centre was funding these projects completely. No funding requirements from the state governments.
  • The state/district nodal agencies choose the farmers. However, the tasks required to arrange capital and bargain with the industry have been left up to the farmers.
  • The state/district nodal agencies chose the farmers, and full assistance was given with regard to procuring the required capital for machinery through loans.
  • The government, industry and the farmers divide the capital costs, with the government contributing 65 per cent, industry 25 per cent and farmers (through FPOs, SHGs, etc) 10 per cent.
  • The farmers and the government bear the capital costs. The government provides farmers subsidies of 50 per cent in the case of individual farmers and 80 per cent in the case of custom hiring centres.

Crop residue management

  • It refers to the systematic handling and utilization of leftover plant material, such as stems, leaves, and roots, after harvesting a crop.
  • The objective is to efficiently manage and repurpose crop residues to enhance soil health, prevent environmental degradation, and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

Crop residues

Crop residue management Techniques (On Farm/Off Farm) Disposal

Crop residue management Techniques

On field Management

Surface retention and mulching
  • It involves placing a layer of material on the surface of the soil. Crop residues can be used as mulch.
  • Advantages: Moisture retention, Weed suppression, Temperature regulation, Soil improvement, Erosion control.

Composting
  • Composting is a biological process in which microorganisms, mainly fungi and bacteria, decompose degradable organic waste into humus-like substances in the presence of oxygen.
  • This finished product, which looks like soil, is high in carbon and nitrogen and is an excellent medium for growing plants.
  • It increases the soil’s ability to hold water and makes the soil easier to cultivate. It helps the soil retain more plant nutrients.

Off-field managements

  1. Baling and removing the straw
  • Crop residue (CR) from agriculture can be put to various applications, but only if it is transported off the field.
  • Straw baler machines are promising commercial technology for removing and collecting straws of rice and wheat.

    Straw baler

Livestock feed
  • In India, the CR has traditionally been used as animal feed (or supplemented with chemicals).
  • On the other hand, Crop leftovers are unappealing and have a low digestibility; thus, they cannot be used as a sole feed for cattle.
  • Rice residues are considered poor cattle feed due to their high silica concentration.
  1. Production of the mushroom crop
  • Mushroom growing is a profitable agri-business that creates food from rice and wheat straw while also supporting ecologically friendly waste disposal.
  • The paddy straw mushroom,is regarded as one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate due to its short 14-day incubation.
  • Rice straw can provide 5-10% mushroom products (50-100 kg mushroom/1 tonne of dry rice straw).

    Mushroom crop

  1. Biochar production
  • Biochar is charcoal that is used as a soil amendment (minor improvement).
  • It is created using a pyrolysis process (decomposition brought about by high temperatures), heating biomass in a low-oxygen environment.
  • Once the pyrolysis reaction has begun, it is self-sustaining, requiring no outside energy input.
  • By-products of the process include syngas (H2 + CO), minor quantities of methane (CH4), organic acids and excess heat.
  • The syngas and excess heat can be used directly or employed to produce a variety of biofuels.
  • Biochar can be made from CR such as rice straw.

Biochar

  1. Biogas production
  • Biogas is a type of biofuel that is produced by anaerobic digestion of organic matter.
  • It provides an immediate reduction in CO2 levels in the environment.
  • 300 m^3 of biogas may be produced by anaerobic digestion of one tonne of rice residue.

Biogas

Industrial uses of CR (Rice,Wheat)Straw

  • Bioethanol Production.
  • Production of rice-straw briquette and pellets.
  • Paper-pulp/Board/Eco-panel making.
  • High-value industrial products for commercial Use. (Lignin, silica cellulose, and hemicellulose present in CR constitute high-value compounds).

Farmers’ Producer Organisation (FPO)

  • It is a group formed by farmers, including those in dairy, fishing, weaving, and craftsmanship.
  • It can take various legal forms, such as a Producer Company or a Cooperative Society.
  • It operates as a hybrid of cooperatives and private companies.
  • FPOs follow cooperative principles but function similarly to professionally run private companies.
  • They are created and registered under the Companies Act.

{GS3 – IE – Banking – Insurance} Cashless Everywhere Initiative

  • Context (IE): A new initiative called ‘Cashless Everywhere‘ has been introduced by the General Insurance Council.
  • Currently, cashless facilities are limited to network hospitals.
  • Under the Cashless Everywhere‘ initiative, policyholders can choose any hospital for treatment, even if not in the insurance network.
  • Network Hospitals are a set of hospitals that have an agreement with an insurance company and provide cashless treatments to the policyholder.
  • If the policyholder undergoes treatment at a Network Hospital, the Insurance company will settle the bills directly to the Hospital.
  • The move towards 100% cashless treatment aims to simplify the claims process, reduce delays, and enhance the overall experience for policyholders, hospitals, and insurers.

Guidelines

  • To use the ‘Cashless Everywhere’ system, policyholders need to inform their insurer at least 48 hours before admission.
  • In cases of emergencies, notification should occur within 48 hours of admission for the claim to be admissible.
  • Admissibility is subject to the policy terms and compliance with the insurer’s operating guidelines.

Challenges in the existing system

  • Currently, only 63% of customers choose cashless claims, while others go to hospitals that are not in their insurer’s network and opt for reimbursement, causing delays and disputes.
  • Policyholders in rural and semi-rural areas often find it difficult to access network hospitals for the cashless facility.
  • Insufficient funds during emergencies lead to borrowing at high-interest rates.
  • During 2022-23, general and health insurers settled 2.36 crore health insurance claims and paid Rs 70,930 crore towards settlement of health claims.

Benefits of ‘Cashless Everywhere‘ initiative

  • It empowers policyholders to access treatment in any of the approximately 40,000 hospitals nationwide.
  • It reduces reimbursement challenges, paperwork, and financial burdens.
  • It will encourage many more customers to opt for health insurance.
  • It is a step towards eliminating fraud in the long run, which has been plaguing the industry.

General Insurance Council

  • It was constituted under section 64C of the Insurance Act, 1938, since 2001 by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).
  • Promotes a better understanding of non-life insurance amongst the public.
  • It also pushes for the Industry’s issues with the Government.

For more details on the Insurance sector, visit the Insurance sector.

{GS3 – IE – Securities} Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs)

  • Context (IE): Last year in May, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) released a consultation paper suggesting increased disclosures from certain Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs).
  • The suggested regulations aim to improve transparency by:
    • Thoroughly identifying the actual ownership of an entity within a holding.
    • Providing a clear depiction of economic interests in the holding.

Why did SEBI request additional disclosures from FPIs?

  • Sebi highlighted that certain FPIs hold a significant portion of their equity in a single company or corporate group.
  • This concentrated investment raises concerns that promoters or other investors might use FPI routes to bypass regulatory requirements such as,
    • Firstly, to prevent potential evasion of Minimum Public Shareholding (MPS) requirements.
    • Secondly, to avoid the misuse of the FPI route in bypassing the requirements outlined in Press Note 3 (updated April 2020).
  • Public shareholding, or the shares held by the public for a listed entity, must be at least 25% to continue being listed.

Press Note 3/PN3

  • The central government amended the FDI policy vide Press Note 3 in April 2020.
  • It required an entity sharing a land border with India, or where the beneficial owner is based out of any such country, can invest(FDI) only via the government route.
    • It may happen the FPI entity is located in country with which India does not share a land border.
    • Still, the investor in the FPI (or the beneficial owner of the FPI) might be a citizen and/or residing in such a country.
    • Proposed regulations in both cases would be able to trace such ownership & economic interest.

FPIs required to comply

  • High-risk FPIs holding more than 50% of their equity asset under management (AUM) in a single corporate group would have to make additional disclosures.
  • High-risk FPIs with an overall holding in the Indian equity market of over Rs 25,000 crore.
  • Non-compliance would result in the invalidation of the FPI’s registration. Consequently, these FPIs would need to cease operations within six months.
  • Asset under management: It is the total market value of all the financial assets that an individual or financial institution (mutual fund, venture capital firm, or depository institution) controls, typically on behalf of a client.

FPIs exempted

  • Sovereign wealth funds (SWFs).
  • Listed companies on certain global exchanges.
  • Public retail funds.
  • Other regulated pooled investment vehicles with diversified global holdings.

Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPIs)

  • It refers to the purchase of securities and other financial assets by investors from another country.
  • FPI holdings may consist of stocks, ADRs, GDRs, bonds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds.
  • Unlike direct ownership, FPI involves passive ownership, granting investors no control over ventures, property, or direct stakes in companies.
  • Investments made by Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not categorized as FPI.
  • Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) has emerged as a significant source of capital for Indian companies in recent years.
    • In 2021, FPIs have invested more than $26 billion in Indian equities and $14 billion in debt instruments.
  • Regulatory framework governing FPI in India
    • The Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999.
    • SEBI’s regulations on foreign institutional investors (FIIs).

{GS3 – S&T – BioTech} Lab Grown Meat

  • Context (WION): Israel has successfully produced lab-grown freshwater eel meat.
  • Also known as cultured meat or cell-based meat, lab grown meat is a type of meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells.
  • These cells are created by cultivating muscle cells, fat cells, and other tissue types in a controlled environment and are given the resources they require to replicate and develop into edible meat.
  • The process is normally carried out in bioreactors, specialized containers designed to facilitate the cellular cultivation process.
  • This method of producing meat is also known as Cellular Agriculture due to the methods used.
  • In 2020, Singapore became the first country to grant permission for the sale of lab-grown meat.

Benefits of Lab-Grown Meat

  • Reduced emissions: FAO estimates that methane and nitrous oxide, primarily generated by livestock production, account for around 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
  • Prevention of Animal Slaughter
  • Reduced land and energy use: A study by Oxford University found that cultured meat production uses 90% less land and 75% less water compared to conventional meat production.
  • Food Security and Customisation: It can help address food security challenges by providing a more efficient way to produce protein.

Lab grown meat

Eels (Anguilliformes)

  • The eel is a very long, snake-like freshwater fish that can grow to over a metre in length.
  • It looks smooth and lacks the obvious scales and gills of other fish.
  • To swim, eels generate waves that travel the length of their bodies. To swim backwards, they reverse the direction of the wave.
  • Habitat: Eels can be found in both freshwater and saltwater, with the majority of species found at sea.
  • Distribution: Africa, Asia, Central America, Eurasia, Europe, North America, Ocean, Oceania, and South America. Few species of eel have also been found in India.
  • Threats: Pollution, environmental changes and overfishing.

Eels

{GS3 – S&T – Tech} Artificial Skin

  • Context (TH): Researchers at TU Graz in Austria have received funding for their project ‘SmartCore.

What is SmartCore?

  • It aims to develop a three-in-one “smart skin”/ Artificial skins.
  • Artificial skins are a series of materials that try to emulate the functionality of our skin.
  • It closely resembles human skin by simultaneously sensing (pressure, moisture, and temperature) and converting them into electronic signals.
  • The hybrid material is more sensitive than a human fingertip & many times thinner than human skin.
  • It can differentiate between colder and warmer objects, objects with spikes, without spikes, etc.
  • These smart skins are designed to measure the electrical current from a pixel as small as 0.25 millimetres square. Whereas human skin can feel objects that are one-millimetre square or larger.
  • Two important materials used are smart polymer, piezoelectric material.
    • Smart polymer: it changes thickness depending on humidity and temperature.
    • Piezoelectric material: Allows the artificial skin to sense force or pressure.

Future Applications

  • Prosthetics: It can help the patient with the amputation regain sensation. A possibility if researchers are able to integrate the signals from the smart skin with human neural networks.
    • According to the WHO, around 200,000 people are severely burned every year and suffer a complete loss of sensation due to the death of the skin receptors.
  • Biomedical Applications: The smart skin could also be used as a sensor with smartwatches when it is programmed to collect precise information about the health status of patients.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Golden Tiger | Black Tiger

  • Context (TH): Assam Chief Minister shared a picture of a golden tiger on X (formerly Twitter) to celebrate National Tourism Day (Jan 25th).
  • A few years back, ‘Kazi 106FIndia’s only Golden Tiger, emerged as social media sensation.

    Golden tiger

  • Golden tigers are also known as ‘Tabby tigers’ or ‘Strawberry tigers’.
  • The skin of tigers is orange-yellow with black stripes and a whitish abdominal region.
  • The yellowish background is controlled by a set of agouti genes and their alleles.
  • Tabby genes and their alleles control the black colour stripes.
  • Suppression of any of these genes may lead to colour variation in tigers.
  • Tigers found in Kaziranga National park are different from the rest of the world in territorial behavioural patterns.

Odisha’s famous Black Tigers

black tiger

  • Melanistic tigers/Black tigers are found exclusively in the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha.
  • They are a rare colour variant of the Bengal tiger.
  • Unlike the typical orange coat with dark stripes, melanistic tigers have a dark black or nearly black coat with faint or almost invisible stripes.
  • This dark colouration is due to a genetic condition known as melanism, where there is an excessive development of dark pigmentation (melanin) in the skin and fur.
  • A single mutation in the gene Transmembrane Aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep) causes the black tigers to develop broadened stripes.
  • Odisha is setting up an exclusive Melanistic Tiger Safari near Similipal Tiger Reserve.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Wandering Albatrosses

  • Context (DTE): Wandering Albatrosses are threatened with extinction.
  • Albatrosses is the world’s largest flying bird. (The Ostrich is the largest & heaviest bird in the world. It does not fly).
  • They spend most of their life at sea & only come to the land to breed approximately every two years.
  • Distribution: Southern Oceans (region between 60 degrees south & continent of Antarctica).
  • Marion Island and Prince Edward Island support about half of the entire world’s albatross breeding population.
  • IUCN Status: Vulnerable.
  • Threats: Climate change, bycatch (Fishermen sometimes catch and discard animals they do not want, cannot sell, or are not allowed to keep) from longline fishing trawlers.

Albatrosses

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