Editorial Simplified : Stirring up the truth about ZBNF | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Theme of the article

Zero Budget Natural Farming has no scientific validation and its inclusion into agricultural policy appears unwise.


Context

Most criticisms of modern agricultural practices are criticisms of post-Liebig developments in agricultural science. It was after the pioneering work of Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler in organic chemistry in the 19th century that chemical fertilizers began to be used in agriculture.


History of organic farming

  • In the 20th century, the criticisms levelled against Green Revolution technologies were criticisms of the increasing “chemicalisation” of agriculture. Claims were made that alternative, non-chemical agricultures were possible.
  • Organic farming became an umbrella term that represented a variety of non-chemical and less-chemical oriented methods of farming.
  • Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamics, Masanobu Fukuoka’s one-straw revolution and Madagascar’s System of Rice Intensification (SRI) were examples of specific alternatives proposed.
  • In India, such alternatives and their variants included, among others, homoeo-farming, Vedic farming, Natu-eco farming, Agnihotra farming and Amrutpani farming.
  • Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), popularised by Subhash Palekar, is the most recent entry into this group.

Understanding the ZBNF

  • The alternative of ZBNF is, thus, posed against both inorganic farming and organic farming.
  • Palekar’s premise is that soil has all the nutrients plants need. To make these nutrients available to plants, we need the intermediation of microorganisms. For this, he recommends the “four wheels of ZBNF”: Bijamrit, Jivamrit, Mulching and Waaphasa.
    • Bijamrit is the microbial coating of seeds with formulations of cow urine and cow dung.
    • Jivamrit is the enhancement of soil microbes using an inoculum of cow dung, cow urine, and jaggery.
    • Mulching is the covering of soil with crops or crop residues.
    • Waaphasa is the building up of soil humus to increase soil aeration.
  • In addition, ZBNF includes three methods of insect and pest management: Agniastra, Brahmastra and Neemastra (all different preparations using cow urine, cow dung, tobacco, fruits, green chilli, garlic and neem).

Analysing ZBNF

  • First, ZBNF is hardly zero budget. Many ingredients have to be purchased. These apart, wages of hired labour, imputed value of family labour, imputed rent over owned land, costs of maintaining cows and paid-out costs on electricity and pump sets are all costs that ZBNF proponents conveniently ignore.
  • Second, there are no independent studies to validate the claims that ZBNF plots have a higher yield than non-ZBNF plots. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has a report, but it appears to be a self-appraisal by the implementing agency; independent studies based on field trials are not available..
  • Third, most of Mr. Palekar’s claims stand agricultural science on its head. Indian soils are poor in organic matter content. About 59% of soils are low in available nitrogen; about 49% are low in available phosphorus; and about 48% are low or medium in available potassium. Indian soils are also varyingly deficient in micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, manganese, copper, molybdenum and boron.
  • Fourth, Mr. Palekar has a totally irrational position on the nutrient requirements of plants. According to him, 98.5% of the nutrients that plants need is obtained from air, water and sunlight; only 1.5% is from the soil. All nutrients are present in adequate quantities in all types of soils. However, they are not in a usable form. Jivamrit makes these nutrients available to the plants by increasing the population of soil microorganisms. All these are baseless claims.
  • Finally, the spiritual nature of agriculture that Mr. Palekar posits is troublesome. He has claimed that because of ZBNF’s spiritual closeness to nature, its practitioners will stop drinking, gambling, lying, eating non-vegetarian food and wasting resources. For him, only Indian Vedic philosophy is the “absolute truth”.
  • All of this reeks of a cultural chauvinism that uncritically celebrates indigenous knowledges and reactionary features of the past.

Way forward

  • Undoubtedly, improvement of soil health should be a priority agenda in India’s agricultural policy.
  • We need steps to check wind and water erosion of soils.
  • We need innovative technologies to minimise physical degradation of soils due to waterlogging, flooding and crusting.
  • We need to improve the fertility of saline, acidic, alkaline and toxic soils by reclaiming them.
  • We need location-specific interventions towards balanced fertilisation and integrated nutrient management.
  • While we try to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers in some locations, we should be open to increasing their use in other locations.
  • But such a comprehensive approach requires a strong embrace of scientific temper and a firm rejection of anti-science postures.

Conclusion

Lacking scientific temper, the inclusion of ZBNF into our agricultural policy by the government appears unwise and imprudent.


Gist of Editorials: Missing the Count | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


The tiger census report has showcased a significant achievement for India’s conservation efforts.

Change in population of tigers

  • Population has gone up by more than 700 since 2014.
  • India is home to nearly 3,000 tigers..

Questions over enumeration

  • An investigation shows that the survey over-reported the country’s tiger population by 16 per cent.
  • The tiger census did not follow well-established norms of estimation.
  • Earlier, the pug mark method was highly subjective and prone to duplication.
  • After 2006, a more rigorous three-phase method was adopted to count tigers including satellite surveys.
  • And, finally, camera-traps were set up in selected pockets to identify individual tigers.
  • The quality of the camera traps was a major issue in many tiger habitats.

Conclusion

Institutions responsible for enumeration must be guided by ecological imperative.


Gist of Editorials: The Nationalist Hindrance to Climate Actions | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


The climate facts

  • Sea level rise is accelerating.
  • Oceans have become acidic
  • Raging fires in the Amazon
  • Heat waves in France and Germany
  • Concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to rise

The issue of nationalism

  • Nationalism in multiple countries has created a short-term.
  • United States refuses to enhance actions to mitigate climate change
  • Brazil sees environmental protections as limiting Brazilian business.

A path for India

  • First, India must argue for enhanced global collective action.
  • Second, India can accelerate action on climate change even while pursuing its development interests.
  • Third, India, firmly committed to a low-carbon future, should strike common cause with other powers.
  • Fourth, India should make accelerated climate action congruent with national interest.

Conclusion

India can build a diplomatic approach on a firm domestic foundation that takes seriously climate change as a factor in its future development pathway.


Gist of Editorials: Making the Grand Indian PSB Mergers Work | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


The Narsimha Committee

The merger move of  Public Sector Banks (PSBs) was first mooted by the Narasimha Committee more than a quarter century ago.

Issues with the recent bank mergers

  • merging weak banks, some of which were still under Prompt Corrective Action (PCA).
  • merger triggers anxiety and insecurity in staff, leading to a slowdown in business.
  • gains from the mergers for large PSBs would be illusory in the absence of a sound management
  • The post-merger scale economies are not feasible in India.

Way forward

  • It needs to be ensured that there is no leadership vacuum in the anchor banks.
  • There is a need to recruit professionals in key areas in which PSBs are under-equipped.
  • should actively plan steps to offset a possible slow expansion in bank credit.
  • Govt,. should consider converting a few ‘weak’ PSBs outside the merger into regional banks.

Conclusion

While mergers can result in handsome productivity gains, what matters is the quality of execution.


Editorial Simplified : Different Peas in Different Pods | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Theme of the article

Unlike IT, it would be a mistake to look at the biotechnology sector through the lens of employment generation only.


Why has this issue cropped up?

India is among the first countries to set up a specialised agency for the development of research and human resources in the biotechnology sector.


The status of biotechnology sector in India

  • Modern biotechnological research is expensive. It requires a highly trained and skilled workforce and access to expensive instruments.
  • So far, most of the high-quality research output has come from a handful of institutions with better scientific infrastructure. The rest, which forms the bulk of the research publications, is of mediocre quality.
  • Over the years, the focus of research has slowly shifted from fundamental to applied research.

Why has research in biotechnology sector not bore fruits in India?

  • The fruits of applied research will only come when we start investing in basic research without asking for quick returns.
  • While continuing and increasing the share of funding in basic research, the government should encourage and incentivise the private sector to invest substantially in applied research.
  • Compared to the developed economies (the United States), biotechnology research in India is mainly funded by the public exchequer. Unless the private sector starts supporting applied research and engages with academic institutions, the innovation in applied and translational biotechnology will be minimal.

Creation of human resources and jobs in biotechnology sector

  • In India, unlike the IT sector, a large pool of the English-speaking workforce, low wages of scientists (compared to the developed economies) and a sizeable institutional research base have not helped create more jobs in biotechnology.
  • There may be several possible reasons.
    • Biotechnology research often requires access to laboratories with high-end scientific infrastructure, the supply of expensive chemicals and reagents with minimum shipping time between the supplier and the user, and a disciplined work culture and documentation practice due to regulatory and intellectual property filing requirement.
    • Additionally, unlike the products and solutions from the IT industry, biotechnology products and solutions often require ethical and regulatory clearance, making the process long, expensive and cumbersome.
    • As the nature of the work in the biotechnology sector is specialised, most jobs are filled with experienced and skilled scientists leaving the demand for young and inexperienced ones low.

Comparison with China

  • Unlike India, China has many more labs with the best of scientific infrastructure; each with more number of skilled human resources trained in regimental work culture and trained to practise rigorous documentation.
  • Chinese students and scientists outnumber Indians nearly 5:1 in most American universities in the life sciences/biology-related disciplines.
  • A booming economy and a higher science budget coupled with a flexible hiring system have made Chinese universities and research labs attract many overseas

Not just an employment issue

  • The future of biotechnology is bright in India. However, the sector is not going to displace the IT sector anytime soon in employment generation.
  • Discoveries in biotechnology may help us solve some of the pressing societal issues of our time: cleaning our rivers, producing life-saving drugs, feeding our growing population with nutritious food and helping us clean the air we breathe.
  • Therefore, it will be a mistake to look at the biotechnology sector through the lens of employment generation only.

Way forward

  • Our government needs to make the process of hiring in our universities and national labs simpler and flexible, not necessarily provide more salary, to attract the bright overseas Indian scientists.
  • Unlike the IT sector, the biotechnology sector requires years of experience in the domain, access to labs with sophisticated instruments, sustained and long-term funding to innovate.
  • The government has been supporting biotech entrepreneurs. Initiatives through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) of the Department of Biotechnology to support the innovation ecosystems have resulted in an impressive outcome.
  • Two successful hotbeds for biotech innovation, Boston and Silicon Valley in the U.S., may provide us some clues. Along with the availability of funding, infrastructure and skilled workforce, the presence of top-notch research institutions and universities in the vicinity make these two places among the most attractive locations for biotech start-up companies anywhere.
  • Unlike the IT and e-commerce space, ideas for biotechnology companies are initiated in scientific research labs while their parent academic institutions work as feeders of intellectual property. Therefore, unlike the IT sector, a sustained innovation and product development model in the biotechnology field without enriching the academic institutions is not possible.
  • The government is very encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship, but the culture of institutions and scientists to be entrepreneurial will take time. This will require a flexible policy in the institutes to allow scientists incubate start-up companies in their labs while retaining their positions.
  • The government should let scientists from research institutions and universities take unpaid leave to join the industry for a fixed period. Similarly, the government should relax rules to appoint researchers from industry in faculty positions with the freedom to teach, participate, and take students.
  • Without a sustained effort in encouraging and promoting science-driven innovation in our academic institutions, and a robust academia-industry collaboration, biotechnology-led innovation will not aid the nation’s economic growth.
  • The use of artificial intelligence-based tools and applications of big data in biology will leverage India’s strength in IT and move biotech innovations faster to the marketplace

Gist of Editorials: A Case for a Differential Global Carbon Tax | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Context

The most recent IPCC mreport suggests that we might have just over a decade left to limit global warming.

What the report says

  • Total global emissions will need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
  • If these targets are not met, tropical regions of the world, are likely to be most negatively affected.

Sharing the burden

  • The global South happens to be at the receiving end of the lifestyle choices made by the global North.
  • Both the worlds need to contribute to avert this danger in their self-interest.
  • A just approach would involve sharing of the responsibility among countries according to their respective shares in global emissions.

Carbon trading

  • Carbon trading process has its own limitations.
  • The proposal of a Just Energy Transition (JET), premised on a sense of global justice is a better alternative.

What to do ?

  • massive investments for the green energy programme
  • support the transition for the countries at the bottom.
  • global energy transition should be financed through a system of the global carbon tax.
  • Countries which emit more than the global per capita average should fund energy transition of those who are below this average.

Gist of Editorials: Why India’s Growth Figures are off the Mark? | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Context

Is Indian economy slipping into a great recession?

India’s economic growth estimates

  • RBI has talked of a slowdown to 6.9% for the current fiscal year.
  • ADB and IMF have cut growth forecast for India to below 7 %.

The reality

  • The rate of growth is much less than 5%.
  • The investment rate has hovered at around 30% for the last several years.
  • NITI Aayog and the RBI have admitted that there is a slowdown.

Impact of recent policy decisions on economy

  • Bank mergers will have little impact on the immediate problem of the slowing economy.
  • The package for the automobile will also have little impact since the problem did not originate there.
  • The announcement of a transfer of ₹1.76 lakh crore from the RBI to the government will only cover the shortfall expected in revenue.

So, where does the problem originate from?

  • Unorganised sector has been in decline since demonetisation.
  • It was further hit by the Goods and Services Tax
  • This sector is pulling down the rate of growth of the economy.

Why growth projections are higher than the actual?

For the estimates, basically data for the organised sector are used — like in the case of mining, banking, hotels and restaurants, and transport. Thus,  the official data only represents the organised sector.

Conclusion

To estimate the actual growt, data from the unorganised sector need to be used. If this is taken into account, the current rate of growth is much less than 5%.


Gist of Editorials: A new Ethics for a Sustainable Planet | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Brazil’s Amazon forests are ablaze with dozens of fires which are paving the way for a global climate catastrophe.

Importance of land management

  • Apart from energy and transport, changes in land use patterns too have made significant contributions to emissions of GHGs ..
  • Soils have become depleted with heavy use of chemicals.
  • Farms have few or no friendly insects.
  • Monoculture has reduced the use of indigenous crop varieties.
  • Groundwater is depleted and polluted farm runoffs are contributing to contaminated water bodies while destroying biodiversity.
  • Sustainable land management can reduce multiple stressors on ecosystems and societies.

The nationalist approach

  • Brazil has stated that the amazon fires are  an internal matter.
  • US has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement stating that it is against the national interests of the U.S.
  • But these actions have consequences that far transcend national boundaries.

Moving from national to transnational approach

  • Challenges of climate change and land are transnational.
  • We need a new planetary ethics that transcend conventional boundaries.
  • There have been successful civil society movements that have transcended borders, for example, La Via Campesina.

Conclusion

A Copernican shift in world views is needed. We have to see our place as being part of the planet.


Gist of Editorials: The Last Window | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Introduction

Like other countries, India too must act quickly and decisively on the IPCC report.

The IPCC report

The latest IPCC report states that the land surface air temperature has risen by nearly twice the global average temperature, at about 1.3°C.

What should India do?

  • planting cover crops, improvements in grazing management, greater use of agroforestry.
  • maintaining and extending forest cover.
  • compatability between industrial development and environmental protection
  • consulting indigenous people to integrate local knowledge with scientific knowledge.
  • need to manage water better both in the short and in the long run.
  • drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, use of water efficient agricultural practices,
  • traditional rainwater harvesting practices to be scaled up across the nation.
  • shift towards a more plant-based based diet.
  • Livestock sector management with crop management

Conclusion

It is hoped that the well-being of the masses will take precedence over short-term economic gains for a few.


Gist of Editorials: Spelling out the Government’s RBI Windfall | GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


RBI has announced a huge transfer of its  surplus of ₹1.76 lakh crore to the Central government.

Surplus transfer

  • The transfer of RBI surplus to the government occurs every year.
  • This augments the non-tax revenue of the Central government.
  • But this year is an exception as RBI has announced a huge transfer of of ₹1.76 lakh crore.

Arguments against the surplus

  • If the economy faces a crisis, the RBI may not have adequate money to protect it.
  • It denotes an erosion of the RBI’s independence.

Arguments in favour of surplus

  • With transfer, the idle cash with RBI can be utilised more productively.
  • Transfer occurred after following due process and after accepting the recommendations of the Jalan Committee.
  • Transfer could enable the government to go in for bank recapitalisation in a big way.
  • The transfer could enable the government to stimulate the economy while maintaining budget discipline.