The HINDU Notes – 27th May 2019 - VISION

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Monday, May 27, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 27th May 2019

πŸ“° NIMHANS battery can assess disabilities: govt.

It can ascertain degree of disability

•The Centre has told the Delhi High Court that learning disabilities can be diagnosed by National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) battery, a tool that can ascertain the degree of disability.

•The Centre also told Justice Vibhu Bakhru that as per the disability assessment guidelines notified last year, NIMHANS battery is the prescribed diagnostic tool to assess learning disabilities.

•The submission was made during the hearing of a plea by a man claiming that there was no method or criteria fixed for ascertaining the percentage of disability. The man, whose son suffers from dyslexia, said the guidelines only evaluate and certify the disability. The Centre said that anyone who tests positive according to the battery, would be considered as 40% disabled and they would be eligible for all attendant benefits.

πŸ“° Auditors to check Sabarimala register

Will check stock of gold, silver offered by devotees

•The local fund audit wing of the State government will be scrutinising the register (Thiruvabharanam Register) showing the stock of gold and silver offered by devotees to the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala over the past several years.

•The local fund audit wing has been entrusted with the task of conducting concurrent audit at Sabarimala on the basis of an order issued by the Kerala High Court to that effect 25 years ago.

•According to Sabarimala Devaswom executive officer D. Sudheeshkumar, the board has already provided the stock register to the auditors as they completed the voucher audit at Sabarimala on May 19.

•According to custom and practice, every valuable article received as offering at Sabarimala were being properly weighed, packed, and kept in the strong room controlled by the Thiruvabharanam Commissioner at Aranmula.

•An accounts officer had also been appointed as its custodian and no foul play with the stock could be possible as the temple authority had ensured a collective responsibility for its safety, Mr. Sudheeshkumar said.

•However, there were also allegations of improper maintenance of stock register at the Devaswom strong room at Aranmula.

•Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president A. Padmakumar told The Hinduthat the board had ordered a proper verification of all the gold and silver stock at the Devaswom strongroom in the wake of the allegations a year ago.

Official’s fault

•Mr. Padmakumar said a former accounts officer, who was in charge of the Devaswom strong room, had failed to hand over the official charge to a successor when he retired from service six years ago, leading to all sorts of confusion today.

•According to Mr. Padmakumar, the erring former accountant, Mohanan, was yet to receive his pension as the TDB was yet to complete the stock verification process.

•Meanwhile, Mr. Mohanan moved the court seeking a direction to the TDB for settling his pension. The court directed the board to complete the verification in a time-bound manner and settle the retired employee’s case at the earliest, Mr. Padmakumar said.

•He said Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran had sought clarification from the board on the issue. The TDB chief would be submitting the executive officer’s statement regarding the matter to the Minister on Monday, he said.

πŸ“° Central varsities asked to notify vacancies within 100 days

Proposal to expand Institutes of Eminence scheme to cost Rs. 7,000 crore more

•All Central universities must notify their faculty vacancies within the next 100 days. Currently, over 5,000 posts remain vacant in the 40 Central universities.

•This is one of the key thrusts of the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry’s agenda for the first 100 days of the NDA government’s second term, according to K. Subrahmanyam, Higher Education Secretary. Also on the agenda is a proposal to get Cabinet approval for 10 more Institutes of Eminence, at an additional cost of Rs. 7,000 crore.

•The vacancy situation was exacerbated by legal battles over how to implement reservations in faculty hiring. In a controversial ruling in April 2017, the Allahabad High Court struck down the existing system, which mandated that the unit for determining reservations was the university as a whole, not separate departments.

Ordinance issued

•Accordingly, in March 2018, the University Grants Commission (UGC) directed institutions to start treating each department as a separate unit in their recruitment process. In many smaller departments, this translated to few or no faculty reservations and led to outrage, especially among Dalit and Adivasi communities. After the Supreme Court dismissed the Centre’s appeal against the High Court order, the government issued an ordinance in March 2019 to revert to the older system.

•While the court battles raged, hiring came to a virtual halt, leading to an increase in vacancies. Apart from the 40 Central universities, there are 5,000-odd faculty vacancies in the Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology, according to senior officials. “We are taking immediate steps to ensure that all vacancies are notified and advertised to begin with,” said Mr. Subrahmanyam. “This is a definite priority.”

•Other items on the 100-day action plan include the long-delayed National Education Policy, which the Ministry hopes to release by May 31, and an ambitious Rs. 1.5 lakh crore five-year implementation plan, as earlier reported by The Hindu .

•Another focus area is the proposed expansion of the Institutes of Eminence (IoE) project. The scheme was initially meant to bestow the tag on 20 potentially world-class institutions, which would be given higher autonomy and freedom to decide fees, course durations and structures. Ten public institutions would also be given a Rs. 1,000 crore grant, while the ten chosen private institutions would not receive financial assistance.

•The empowered expert committee, headed by former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, had initially recommended 11 institutions for the scheme in July 2018 and the Centre finally bestowed the tag on six institutions.

πŸ“° ICMR head wins Dr. Lee Jong-wook Prize for Public Health

Applying science to alleviate people’s suffering is my aim, says Balram Bhargava

•“When I work with patients, I think about how to apply science to alleviate their suffering. This gives meaning to everything else I do,” said Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Professor Balram Bhargava after jointly winning the 2019 Dr Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health at the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva earlier this week. He bagged the award for his achievements as a clinician, innovator, researcher and trainer.

•On the situation in India, he said there were facilities where only the rich could step in. “I would never wish to work in a place like that. I did not study medicine to make money. I did it to help people. Indians do not need to go abroad for treatment — we have the health solutions here,” he said. “Unfortunately, they are not accessible for everyone. This is a huge unfinished agenda that policy makers must address.”

•Referring to the Central government’s Ayushman Bharat programme, he said, “The whole world is watching India. Many countries hope to see whether we will deliver and how because this programme has created a paradigm shift to achieve universal health coverage.”

•Professor Bhargava said while the responsibility of providing quality, affordable healthcare lies with everyone, policy makers must take the lead.

•“A doctor treats only one patient at a time. A researcher helps larger groups, as his knowledge and innovation can spread to many patients. A policy maker brings it all one step farther when taking decisions to ensure that the whole population of the country benefits,” he said.

•On his goal and the way forward after winning the prestigious award, he said: “I was 14 years old when my father had a heart attack. That was when I decided to become a doctor. Ever since, my goal in life has been to treat people and the goal remains my driving force.”

πŸ“° No wind, no sun: green projects in limbo

Renewable energy sector stifled by a host of issues — from low tariffs to lack of government push

•When the BJP Government assumed office in 2014, the Indian solar industry was on tenterhooks. The Ministry of Commerce had recommended anti-dumping duties ranging between ₹6 and ₹47 per watt of solar modules imported from China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the U.S., and the recommendation had to be only formally notified by the Ministry of Finance.

•Solar power had barely begun to take roots in India, and the country had a total installed solar power capacity of 2,632 MW. The industry was taking baby steps with the aid of cheap, imported modules. The anti-dumping duty was going to kill it. On the other hand, a clutch of domestic players had set up module manufacturing plants in India, eyeing business from a sunrise industry. Crushed by cheap imports, they looked up to the government for protection.

•Faced with a vexing dilemma, the new government made a pragmatic choice. It said ‘no’ anti-dumping duties; it also told the domestic manufacturers, ‘don’t worry, we will get the government-owned companies buy from you.’

•The way the government handled a rather ticklish problem engendered confidence, which strengthened soon when the government set up an ambitious target of 175 GW for renewable energy — 100 GW for solar, 60 GW for wind and the rest for biomass and small hydro — to be met by 2022. Since the solar target was five times that set earlier by the previous government, it caused ripples of excitement around the world. It looked like the Ministry meant business. After such a brisk start, acche din, it seemed, was just around the corner.

State of disarray

•Five years down the line, the Indian renewable industry is in a state of disarray. Wind and solar power capacity additions have been far less than satisfactory and hardly on the path to meeting the targets. Both sectors are buffeted by a range of issues — some caused by the government — but as we will see a little later, no help from the government was forthcoming.

•And, outside of wind and solar, too, precious little has happened. For instance, solar heating is a segment that gives the best bang for the buck in the clean energy space, but no policy josh is seen. Offshore wind is still distant despite international players responding overwhelmingly when asked to express interest.

•The government has not had the long-term vision to look into other emerging areas where India could leapfrog and lead the world — such as ocean and geo-thermal energy. Biomass and small hydro are moribund. So, what did the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) do in all these five years? Its singular achievement was bringing down tariffs of wind and solar power that is sold to the electricity distribution companies. In the single-minded pursuit of hammering down tariffs, a lot else has been missed.

•Even the depression of tariffs, which has benefited only the discoms and not the consumers, has come at a big cost — slow capacity addition. Since 2014, India added 28,000 MW of solar power and 14,500 MW of wind power. (Today, India has 30,600 MW of solar power capacity and 35,600 MW of wind power.)

•The solar number appears respectable, but that is thanks to the tailwinds provided by the steep fall in the prices of the principal component of a solar plant — the module. Module prices plunged from around 63 U.S. dollar cents a watt in 2014 to around 23 cents now. The growth in solar power installations happened, therefore, due to fortuitous module prices.

Record addition

•As for wind, there was one outlier year — 2016-17 — when new capacity additions reached a record 5,500 MW, as energy companies rushed to get their foot in before some incentives expired. If you discount that year, the achievement is nothing much to write home about. The reason for the state of affairs is over-emphasis on keeping tariffs low. In different bids, wind and solar tariffs fell to a low of ₹2.44 a kWhr. Many feel that such a low tariff is unviable and, quoted by bidders only in a rush to grab projects.

•However, the policy makers have taken that number to be some kind of a benchmark. Ceilings on tariffs have been brought in for solar and wind so as to keep tariffs depressed; bids have been cancelled just because the government lowers tariffs than quoted.

•While, ‘solar’ has had to face uncertainties in terms of safeguard duties, GST rates and a falling rupee, wind installations have been crippled by land problems in Gujarat, the State that most of the developers flocked to.

•To avoid such flocking to the windiest sites, the industry has been asking the government to bring in State-wise or even sub-station-wise tenders, so that the setting up projects could be more spread out, but to no avail. Nor has the government been sympathetic to the industry’s request that there could be just a closed tender, where the bidder who offers the best price bags the project, as opposed to the current method of holding auctions, in which bidders try to outbid each other. The government has shaken its head.

•Tulsi Tanti, the chairman of the Indian Wind Turbine Manufacturers Association, and CMD, Suzlon Energy, notes that in no other sector, say railways or defence, are auctions held for awarding contracts — it is always a closed tender.

•Then the industry pleaded for a fixed tariff which would come down annually so that the energy companies earn more in the initial years so that they could pay off their debts.

•Again, the plea only fell on deaf ears. And, the industry says it has to contend with rampant corruption or extortionate prices while securing right-of-way in all States. On top of all this, the State government-owned utilities have been delaying paying their dues to the energy companies. The government could have helped by getting at least the BJP-ruled States to pay the dues on time, say industry insiders.

•In April 2018, a call for expression of interest to set up 1 GW of offshore wind off Gujarat coast drew overwhelming interest from domestic and global players.

•The MNRE announced ambitious targets — 5GW for 2022 and 30 GW for 2030. A government press release said, “Experts laud India’s ambitious offshore wind targets, express optimism.” In October, at the RE-INVEST event a MNRE official said the Ministry needed just one more approval before rolling out the offshore wind tender.

•The tender is yet to come. Looking beyond conventional wind and solar plants, too, the MNRE has little to show. For instance, the adoption of solar-powered agricultural pumps is way below the potential; it was not until February 2019 that the government came out with a scheme to get farmers use such pumps.

•And there are other areas where one would expect the government to display long term vision.

•Ocean energy (from waves, tides and currents), for instance, shows great promise, can provide steady, 24x7 power. After a December 2014 study by CRISIL and IIT-Madras, which recommended kick-start support by the government, there has been absolute silence.

•True, it is expensive — just as solar was a decade ago — but a far-looking government would begin some ground work. Yes, the government began on a positive note, but seems to have lost steam during its run.

πŸ“° Farmers want plan to procure alternative crops at MSP

Haryana govt. plans to discourage planting of rice crop in a bid to save depleting groundwater

•As the Haryana government plans to discourage planting of the water-guzzling rice (paddy) crop, which threatens to deplete the State’s groundwater — farmers have asked the government to first come out with a mechanism to procure alternative crops at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) so that farmers are not at the receiving end.

•Water depletion in Haryana over the years has led to 60 dark zones in the State, which include 21 critical ones in 10 districts. Staring at an imminent groundwater crisis, the State government has decided to discourage rice sowing from the upcoming season.

•“The government wants to save water but it seems to be unaware of the ground realities. If the government wants farmers to give up rice and cultivate some other crop then there needs to be a mechanism to purchase the alternative crop at MSP. The State government should enact a law, which guarantees that the produce of farmer is purchased at MSP,” said Gurnam Singh Chaduni, the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Haryana chief .

•“Farmers will only leave rice cultivation if they are sure of reaping more profit with the alternative crop (maize and tuar), which the government is suggesting. During the last season farmers had faced great difficulties in selling their maize produce in mandis (markets), how can a farmer trust them?,” he said.

Pilot project

•The Haryana government has decided to start a pilot project from May 27 in seven blocks of Yamunanagar, Ambala, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind and Sonipat district, where sowing of maize and ‘'tuar’ pulse would be promoted by giving incentives to farmers. The government intends to diversify from non-basmati paddy to maize and pulse.

•“There is hardly any dependable mechanism of government procurement for crops on MSP in the State. Problems like delay in setting up of procurement centres, exploitation at the hands of commission agents (arthiyas), who most of the times buy the produce from farmers below MSP, on one pretext or the other defeats the purpose of MSP. Unless farmers are given an assured market and assured price for their produce, they would continue to suffer,” Mr. Chaduni said.

•In Haryana, under the new scheme, identified farmers will be provided seed free of cost and given a financial assistance for Rs. 2000 per acre in two parts. The maize crop insurance premium of Rs. 766 per hectare will also be borne by the government. Also, maize produce will be procured by government agencies at MSP.

•Likewise, seeds of ‘tuar’ will also be provided free of cost to farmers and incentives will also be provided on a similar pattern.

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