UPSC Online Editorial Analysis
Editorial – 1
Title of the editorial: How to end pollution?
Written by: E. Somanathan – He is The writer is Professor, Economics and Planning Unit Head Centre for research on the Economics of Climate, Food, Energy, and Environment at the Indian Statistical Institute
Topic in syllabus: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment. (GS-3)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about how an independent regulatory agency with powers to penalise pollution can help to solve the problem.
- Pollution is very much a solvable problem. It just cannot be solved on an emergency basis. It has to be dealt with firmly and gradually. If this is done, it can be brought down to developed-country levels within a few years.
Why we have to solve this problem gradually?
- Because there are many sources of pollution and it would be prohibitively costly to stop them or even significantly reduce them all at once (as the economic recession triggered by the pandemic and lockdowns has demonstrated).
- Although crop-burning and fireworks grab attention at this time of year, they are seasonal phenomena. The pollution during the entire winter and the lower but still deadly levels that persist through the summer are due to less seasonal sources.
What are major sources of pollution?
- The biggest sources nationally are cooking fires, coal-fired power plants, various industries, crop residue burning, and construction and road dust.
What do we need to do?
- Smoky firewood, dung and crop residues that are burnt in kitchens all over rural India and some urban slums must be replaced with LPG, induction stoves, and other electric cooking appliances.
- Old coal power plants must be closed and replaced with wind and solar power and batteries or other forms of energy storage, while newer plants must install new pollution control equipment.
- No new coal-fired power plants should be built.
- Other industries that use coal will have to gradually switch over to cleaner fuel sources such as gas or hydrogen while becoming more energy efficient at the same time.
- Farmers will have to switch crops or adopt alternative methods of residue management.
- Diesel and petrol vehicles must gradually be replaced by electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles running on power generated from renewables.
- Governments should make clean investments more profitable and dirty investments less profitable.
- Tax polluting activities and subsidise clean investments.
- Fees should be levied where the production chain is most concentrated. E.g.
- a fee on plastic production at refineries
- a fee on fly ash or sulphur dioxide emitted by coal power plants,
- a fee on diesel at refineries
What are practical problems?
- The problem is that investments in all these technological changes, although hugely beneficial for the country as a whole, are often not privately profitable at present.
- Businessmen, farmers, or even people deciding on their choice of cooking fuel, can’t make their business or everyday decisions based on “national interest”.
- Our existing laws do not allow the central and state pollution boards to levy pollution fee or cess based on pollution emissions.
- They have to issue regulations, and then close down industries that don’t comply. Since closing down an industry is a drastic step, it almost never happens.
- The judiciary is more powerful but has far less scientific and technical competence.
- Judiciary tends to act only during crises and focus on past mistakes rather than planning to prevent new ones.
What can an independent regulatory agency can do?
- The regulatory agency (let us call it an Environmental Protection Agency or EPA) that can levy pollution fee or cess.
- Pollution fees can start small, and the EPA can announce that they will rise by a certain percentage every year.
- This gives businesses time to adjust — they will then find it profitable to make new investments in non-polluting technologies.
How the EPA should look like?
- The EPA has to be given some independence — a head appointed for a five-year term removable only by impeachment.
- A guaranteed budget funded by a small percentage tax on all industries.
- Autonomy to hire staff and to set pollution fees after justification through scientific studies.
Will politician be against this body?
- No, let’s see how.
- The revenue from the fee should be paid to the government that can use it any way it likes, perhaps by paying it out to affected industries so that they can upgrade their technologies.
- EPA independence will mean that political lobbying by affected industries to stop pollution fees won’t work.
- A major attraction of an independent EPA for politicians in power is that they can pass on the blame for decisions on pollution fees to the EPA.
- A second major attraction is that pollution fees raise revenue for the government.
- Our pollution problem has taken decades to grow into the monster that it is.
- It can’t be killed in a day. We need the scientific and technical capacity that only a securely funded independent EPA can bring to shrink pollution down to nothing.
Editorial – 2
Title of the editorial: Fertile opportunity
Topic in syllabus: Agriculture, Economy (GS-3)
Analysis about: This editorial emphasises on need of overhaul of the existing subsidy regime of fertilizers.
What is fertiliser subsidy?
- Farmers buy fertilisers at MRPs (maximum retail price) below their normal supply-and-demand-based market rates or what it costs to produce/import them.
- The MRP of neem-coated urea, for instance, is fixed by the government at Rs 5,922.22 per tonne, whereas its average cost-plus price payable to domestic manufacturers and importers comes to around Rs 17,000 and Rs 23,000 per tonne, respectively.
- The difference, which varies according to plant-wise production cost and import price, is footed by the Centre as subsidy.
- The subsidy goes to fertiliser companies, although its ultimate beneficiary is the farmer who pays MRPs less than the market-determined rates.
- By allocating an additional Rs 65,000 crore towards fertiliser subsidy for 2020-21, over and above the already-budgeted Rs 71,309 crore, the government has ensured two things.
- The first is fully covering the current fiscal’s estimated subsidy requirement of Rs 80,000-85,000 crore. The second is clearing the past subsidy dues of around Rs 48,000 crore.
What is the necessity?
- The wiping-out of all outstanding payments to the industry is necessary, especially in the content of the recently approved production-linked incentive scheme for a host of sectors.
- The success of this programme — which seeks to attract manufacturing investments by offering cash incentives totalling Rs 200,000 crore over five years on incremental sales — rests on the government’s credibility in honouring its payment commitments.
What is nutrient based subsidy?
- The nutrient-based subsidy (NBS), introduced more than a decade ago.
- Under it, the subsidy on any fertiliser is linked to its underlying nutrient content — be it nitrogen, phosphorus and potash or sulphur, zinc and boron.
What is the issue in it?
- NBS has failed simply because urea has been kept out of it. With the government still fixing its maximum retail price (MRP) — it has been raised by hardly 11 per cent since April 2010, while going up 150-300 per cent for other decontrolled fertilisers — the current NBS has actually worsened the soil nutrient imbalance resulting from over-application of urea.
What government should do?
- Government should, first and foremost, bring urea under NBS.
- The good way is hiking the NBS rates for other nutrients, thereby reducing the MRPs of non-urea fertilisers and encouraging their consumption.
- The NBS itself should give way to a flat per-acre cash subsidy that farmers can use to purchase any fertiliser. That includes products delivering the same nutrients present in urea or di-ammonium phosphate more efficiently.
- Let companies compete to bring in new nutrient solutions that are crop-, soil- or even plant stage-specific. Subsidy should be incidental to, and facilitate, such innovations.
Editorial – 3
Title of the editorial: Only willing consent
Written by: M R Shamshad – He is an advocate on record, Supreme Court of India.
Topic in syllabus: Polity- Fundamental rights (GS-2)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about why the law should not decide any matter concerning marriage of two adults.
- Many state governments have announced that they are considering enacting an appropriate law to stop marriages which they term as “love jihad” — essentially a part of interfaith marriages.
How states are mixing different issues under a single term?
- Any discussion in this background on conversion from one faith to another faith is incidental and the debate of free choice of faith cannot be diluted merely because at some stage that person marries another person whose faith does not match with the original faith of the convertee.
- Polygamy, polyandry, kidnapping, coercion, etc. are separate issues covered under existing provisions of the IPC.
What does constitution say?
- The right to marry a person of one’s choice is a guarantee under Article 21.
- At the same time, freedom of conscience, the practice and propagation of a religion of one’s choice, including not following any religion, are guaranteed under Article 25. One set of rights cannot invalidate the other.
Why Social watchdogs should not interfere?
- If a person exercises the freedom under Article 25 to marry somebody of his or her choice, and in that process, one partner chooses to change their religion immediately prior to marriage, that should not be the matter of concern for social watchdogs.
- The right to marry a person of one’s choice flows from the freedom of individuality, naturally available to any individual. Provisions in our Constitution also recognised this as a part of fundamental freedoms.
- Hence, the mere statement of two consenting adults about the existence of their matrimonial relation is sufficient.
- Contemplating laws to regulate matrimonial relationships between two consenting adults would not be just against the constitutional guarantees but would offend the very notion of individuality and basic freedoms.
Editorial – 4
Title of the editorial: Border on the boil.
Topic in syllabus: Security challenges and their management in border areas – linkages of organized crime with terrorism. (GS-3)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about why there is a possibility of two front war situation for India.
- With a series of ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army that targeted civilians and heavy artillery fire by the Indian Army, the LoC is once again on the boil.
- The temperature has been further raised by political words from the highest level.
What did Indian government say?
- The government accused Pakistan of firing as a way of providing cover for terrorists infiltrating into India before the winter snow closes the passes and underground routes.
- Government says – the “coordinated firing along the length of the LoC using heavy caliber weapons, including artillery and mortar, on Indian civilians” by the Pakistan Army.
What is the intention of Pakistan?
- Pakistan’s intentions are to provoke India ahead of its two year term at the UN Security Council from January 2021, as well as to rake up trouble before the Financial Action Task Force review in February.
- By naming the CPEC, Pakistan also appears to want to further strain India-China relations.
Why is it concerning?
- The present situation at the LoC cannot be normalised and must be taken seriously.
- Army officials now say 2020 has seen the highest levels of firing since the 2003 India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement, with a record number of 4,052 ceasefire violations by Pakistan since January.
- Studied with the escalation by Pakistan at this time, it should be evident that India’s threat matrix includes the very real possibility of a two front situation where the Army will be engaged at the LoC and the LAC simultaneously, along with a possible spike in terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir.
The way forward: (Extra points)
- To prepare for such an eventuality, apart from beefing up its offensive capabilities, India needs to change its war doctrines, including its nuclear doctrine, to deter the enemies.
- India should also brace for at least scaled up forays from the Pakistani side.
- The key aspects of strategic planning and conduct of future wars will be based on interdependence and operational synergy among the three services. Therefore, joint operations, space-based capability, ballistic missile defence and airborne, amphibious and air-land operations must be addressed comprehensively.
- Military technological dominance over adversaries is also very important.