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Daily Current Affairs 06.01.2023(Decennial census put off till Sept. to freeze boundaries, Tirupati to have largest liquid waste treatment plant, Asian elephant has lost most of its optimal habitat in Nilgiri Reserve, Centre plans to promote India as a global hub for green hydrogen: Minister, UGC unveils draft norms to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India, Small enterprises can be the mainstay of the green economy, Freedom in authority)

Daily Current Affairs 06.01.2023(Decennial census put off till Sept. to freeze boundaries, Tirupati to have largest liquid waste treatment plant, Asian elephant has lost most of its optimal habitat in Nilgiri Reserve, Centre plans to promote India as a global hub for green hydrogen: Minister, UGC unveils draft norms to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India, Small enterprises can be the mainstay of the green economy, Freedom in authority)

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1. Decennial census put off till Sept. to freeze boundaries.

The decennial census exercise has been postponed till September, at least, as the government informed the States that the date of freezing of administrative boundaries has been extended till June 30.

As per norms, census can be conducted only three months after freezing of boundary limits of administrative units such as districts, sub-districts, tehsils, talukas and police stations. The finalisation of boundaries of administrative units entails covering all jurisdictional changes between two consecutive censuses. The last census was held in 2011.

The general elections are expected to be held in March-April 2024 and the completion of both the phases of census will take at least 11 months, even if done at accelerated pace from October, thereby ruling out the possibility of census happening anytime in 2023 and early 2024. Census before the 2024 general elections is possible if the rules are tweaked and a shorter process is introduced.

No reason cited

Unlike in the past, when COVID-19 and vaccination drive were cited as reasons for not conducting census, the January 2 letter by the office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) does not specify any reason. It also does not refer to the exercise as “Census 2021”, the year in which the population enumeration was supposed to be concluded, it instead says, “ensuing Census”.

The letter was sent by Additional RGI Sanjay to Chief Secretaries of States. The letter, while referring to a June 14, 2022 communication to extend the date of freezing of boundaries up to December 31 the same year, said, “It has now been decided by the competent authority to further extend the date of freezing of boundaries. The boundaries of the administrative units for the ensuing census will now be frozen with effect from 01-07-2023.”

The letter accessed by The Hindu said the census directorates are “requested to kindly issue necessary instructions to all concerned in the State/Union Territory to give effect to the changes in administrative boundaries, if any, latest by 30.06.2023 and send the copies of notifications on jurisdictional changes to concerned Directorate of Census Operations in the State/Union Territory with endorsement to this office.”

The first phase of Census 2021— the House listing and Housing Census along with updating the National Population Register (NPR) — was scheduled to be held from April-September 2020 but were postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The second and main phase of the decennial census exercise — the population enumeration — was to be concluded by March 5, 2021.

According to provisional data compiled by the RGI till June 2021, the total number of districts in the country have gone up from 640 in 2011 to 736 presently.

The sub-districts are up from 5,925 to 6,754, statutory towns have increased from 4,041 to 4,657, census towns from 3,892 to 5,050 and villages have decreased from 6,40,934 in 2011 to 6,39,083 in 2021.

The upcoming census is to be held for the first time both in digital mode and through paper schedules (questionnaire/forms).

2. Tirupati to have largest liquid waste treatment plant

Workers plant saplings on gravel to implement the ‘Phytorid technology’ at the waste water treatment plant in Tirupati.

The Municipal Corporation of Tirupati (MCT) is set to take a giant leap in water treatment by putting in place what is claimed to be the country’s largest liquid waste treatment plant to use phytorid technology.

The plant coming up next to Vinayaka Sagar will treat 5 MLD (million litres a day). Sewage from the MCT’s seven adjoining divisions used to flow into the waterbody in the past, by way of gravity. With the advent of this plant, the water will now be treated before being let into the tank.

The project is developed at a capital expenditure of ₹11 crore under Smart City funds, and involving an operational expenditure of ₹3 crore.

The project will be operational in a fortnight.

The phytorid technology is developed by the CSIR’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

After the waste water is treated under sedimentation process to eliminate solid matter, the same is made to flow in a serpentine motion into a sub-surface chamber containing numerous barricades, while saplings are planted atop on a porous medium containing gravel and stones. It is here that the organic matter gets eliminated.

Later, the water is made to pass through activated carbon filter to bring the Biochemical Oxygen Demand to 5mg, much lower than the national standard of 10mg set by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. “The main advantage of this system is that it is cost-effective, involves no operational hassles, leaves a smaller footprint and emanates no foul odour,” says MCT Commissioner Anupama Anjali.

3. Asian elephant has lost most of its optimal habitat in Nilgiri Reserve

Jumbo crisis: Human settlements hinder the movement of the elephants, keeping them confined to hilly areas.

Elephants winding their way up the rocky green hills in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) make for pretty photographs. But a recent article says the endangered Asian Elephant has lost most of its “optimal” habitat: flat terrain that is easily negotiable.

A paper, ‘Fencing Can Alter Gene Flow of Asian Elephant Populations within Protected Areas,’ was published in the international peer-reviewed open-access journal Conservation, by a multi-disciplinary team of ecologists, conservationists and scientists.

In it they say, “The WG [Western Ghats] is an escarpment running north–south along the western coastline of India, interrupted towards the south by the low-lying Palghat Gap that separates the northern from the southern elephant populations. This gap has been transformed by agriculture for several centuries, is 3 km at its narrowest, and 40 km at its widest. The northern part of the WG includes the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve [NBR] and its surrounding PAs [protected areas], which contain the largest remaining population of wild elephants, ca. 6000 animals.”

Easily negotiable

The Palghat Gap is a break in the Ghats that is “relatively flat and consequently easily negotiable by elephants”. However, human settlements and crop cultivation have hindered the movement of the elephants, keeping them confined to the hilly areas, considered sub-optimal habitats.

Why is this important? Priya Davidar, a conservation biologist, and one of the authors of the paper, has the answer: “In these sub-optimal habitats, their chances of survival are lower due to dangerous terrain for animals of this size. Our study shows that when barriers are erected, particularly in areas with slopes, their movement is blocked and gene flow reduced. This could ultimately lead to increasing the extinction risk of this endangered species,” she said. If movement is restricted and gene flow reduced, there is more in-breeding, and low genetic diversity, pushing up chances of disease, and lowering fertility rates.

A 2021 paper published in the scientific journal Global Ecology & Conservation found moderate levels of genetic differentiation between the northern and southern populations, indicating limited gene flow between the two regions.

Mountainous habitats

Over thousands of years, elephants roamed freely across South-East Asia, all the way to China, but “anthropogenic pressures” have restricted them to mountain chains, says the paper. Ironically, most elephant reserves in India are found in mountainous habitats.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud, from the Sigur Nature Trust and one of the lead authors of the paper, stated that enclosing protected areas without ensuring connectivity through maintaining corridors for elephants to pass through severs gene flow between populations.

“Enclosing reserves without looking at how the terrain is distributed leads to fragmentation. If elephants cannot move from one valley to the next on relatively flat terrain, then population connectivity gets severed,” said Mr. Puyravaud.

4. Centre plans to promote India as a global hub for green hydrogen: Minister

Eyes on the future: By 2030, the country has a target to develop green hydrogen production capacity of at least 5 mt a year. 

The thrust of India’s National Green Hydrogen (NGH) Mission is to promote India as global hub for producing green hydrogen, R.K. Singh, Minister for New and Renewable Energy said at press briefing on Thursday. Green hydrogen is when hydrogen is from a renewable energy source, such as solar or wind.

“We aim to be the biggest producer of green hydrogen. The European Union, Japan, South Korea have all announced plans to produce as well as import green hydrogen and the way energy transition is taking place, all developed countries with net zero targets will need green hydrogen,” said Mr. Singh.

19,744 cr. sanctioned

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the NGH Mission at a cost of ₹19,744 crore. On Thursday, Mr. Singh said that by 2030, India has a target to develop green hydrogen production capacity of at least 5 mt (million tonnes) a year. This is alongside adding renewable energy capacity of about 125 GW (gigawatt). This would mean decarbonisation of the industrial, mobility and energy sectors; reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and feedstock; developing indigenous manufacturing capabilities; creating employment opportunities; and developing new technologies such as efficient fuel cells.

By 2030, the Centre hopes it will bring in investments worth ₹8 trillion and create over 6 lakh jobs. Moreover, about 50 mt a year of carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be averted by 2030.

Green hydrogen was still a nascent sector globally with many foundational technologies still being experimented with. India therefore had the opportunity to be a leader — having already initiated several pilot projects — in this space, Mr. Singh said.

There would be production-linked incentives for producers and India is expected to have the capacity to produce 60-100 GW of electrolyser capacity, the largest in the world, he said.

5. UGC unveils draft norms to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India

A standing committee will review applications based on an institution’s credibility and programmes offered. 

Such institutions can evolve their own admission processes and criteria to admit domestic and foreign students; they will also have autonomy to decide the fee structure with no caps imposed.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has announced draft norms for facilitating foreign universities and educational institutions to set up campuses in India which allow them autonomy in determining fees, as well as a 90-day approval process. The final norms will be notified by the end of the month after feedback from all stakeholders.

A foreign university with a rank among the top 500 global rankings or a foreign educational institution of repute in home jurisdiction can apply to the UGC to set up a campus in India.

“The new National Education Policy [NEP], 2020 has envisioned that top universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India. For this, a legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place, and such universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India,” UGC Chairperson M. Jagadesh Kumar said at a press conference.

The application will be considered by a standing committee appointed by the UGC which will submit its recommendations within 45 days after examining the institution’s credibility, programmes offered, their potential to strengthen educational opportunities in India, proposed academic infrastructure.

Subsequently, within 45 days, the UGC may grant in-principle approval to the foreign institution to set up campuses in India within two years. The initial approval will be for 10 years, which can be extended.

‘Reasonable fees’

Such a campus can evolve its own admission process and criteria to admit domestic and foreign students. It will also have autonomy to decide its fee structure, and will face no caps that are imposed on Indian institutions. The fee should be “reasonable and transparent”.

It will also have autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India and abroad. The courses to be offered cannot be in online and open and distance learning mode.

The qualifications awarded to the students on the Indian campus should have equivalence with those awarded by the institutions in their country of origin.

Foreign higher education institutions will also be allowed cross-border movement of funds and maintenance of foreign currency accounts, mode of payments, remittance, repatriation, and sale of proceeds, under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999 and its Rules and an audit report will have to be submitted to the UGC.

“The UGC should ensure equal amount of academic, administrative and financial autonomy to Indian universities as much as foreign universities might be entitled to. Such a level playing field will ensure progressive competition and increase overall quality and excellence in Indian higher education,” said S. Vaidhyasubramaniam, Vice-Chancellor of SASTRA Deemed University in Tamil Nadu.

6. Editorial-1: A green promise

Small enterprises can be the mainstay of the green economy

The Union Cabinet has cleared a ₹17,490-crore National Green Hydrogen (NGH) mission that aims to facilitate the production of hydrogen from renewable energy. Hydrogen is an essential industrial fuel that has a range of uses from producing ammonia, making steel and cement, to powering fuel cells that can run buses and cars. However, the cheapest way to manufacture this is to rely on fossil fuel such as coal and natural gas and this produces carbon emissions. The concerns over global warming and the gradual but steady embrace of alternative fuels have stoked the world’s interest in producing hydrogen from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. This, however, is relatively expensive. It costs between $0.9 to $1.5 to produce a kilogramme of hydrogen from coal and anywhere from $3.5 to $5.5 per kg to produce it from renewable energy sources. Just as solar power tariffs in India have now dipped below that of coal power, the government hopes that ‘green hydrogen’, or that produced entirely from renewable energy, will also cost less than the current price to make hydrogen from fossil fuel sources. The NGH mission aims to create an enabling environment for the Indian industry to develop the infrastructure to produce and transport green hydrogen from certain nerve centres to production hubs where they can be used in various industrial applications. The NGH mission has committed to finance — the details are not yet available — the manufacturing of electrolysers, which use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. By 2030, the goal is to have at least 5 million metric tonnes of annual green hydrogen production, electrolyser capacity of 60-100 gigawatt and a 125-gigawatt renewable energy capacity for green hydrogen and its associated transmission network.

Green hydrogen, because of the entailed expenses, currently accounts for less than 1% of global hydrogen production and India’s aim is to become a global, industrial hub and exporter of such hydrogen. While this is a worthy ambition, India’s track record in becoming a high-technology manufacturing hub raises doubts on whether this is achievable by 2030. Despite policies, India has not managed to be a net exporter of solar cells, semiconductors or wind power components. This is because India’s underlying manufacturing base continues to be weak and unable to efficiently absorb and utilise global capital. For India to realise ambitions, it must strengthen its small manufacturing and allied enterprises infrastructure which, rather than large industries, will be the mainstay of any green economy.

7. Editorial-2: Freedom in authority

SC is right in not adding to curbs on free speech, but leaders must value restraint

In a recent verdict, the Supreme Court has shown sound restraint while examining the issue of misuse of free speech, especially by political functionaries holding public office. It is to the credit of the Constitution Bench that it did not make any adventurous attempt to expand the scope of the restrictions already spelt out in the Constitution. The context being some rash and intemperate remarks by two ministers, one while serving in the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet and another in Kerala, there was some expectation that the court should carve out an additional restriction on public servants either by making the state vicariously liable for their remarks or by evolving a code of conduct enforceable by law. The four judges who signed off on the main opinion, as well as the fifth judge who wrote a separate one, correctly concluded that the specified grounds for reasonable restrictions in Article 19(2) are “exhaustive” and nothing further can be added by judicial fiat. The majority also declined to expand the notion of ‘collective responsibility’ to fix liability on the state for such remarks. Justice B.V. Nagarathna, writing a separate opinion, differed on this point, saying it is possible to attribute vicarious responsibility to the government if a minister’s view represents that of the government and is related to the affairs of the state. While the issue is largely academic, there have indeed been instances of courts taking note of individual ministers’ public remarks to transfer sensitive investigations to other agencies based on an apprehension of injustice if a police probe remained with the State concerned. Political leaders do need an occasional reminder that they should show utmost restraint, as their public utterances tend to get circulated and also influence their followers.

In the course of the discussion, the court has restated and clarified several principles, including that of constitutional tort, or a civil wrong that is actionable. The main opinion concludes that a mere statement by a minister that goes against an individual’s fundamental rights may not be actionable, but becomes actionable if it results in actual harm or loss. Justice Nagarathna, on the other hand, holds the view that there should be a proper legal framework to define acts and omissions that amount to ‘constitutional tort’. The court’s overall view that fundamental rights are enforceable even against private actors is indeed a welcome one. This largely settles the question of whether these rights are only ‘vertical’, that is, enforceable only against the state, or ‘horizontal’ too, that is enforceable by one person against another.

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