Table of Contents
1. CONCERNS RELATED TO THE GUIDELINES FOR GENETICALLY ENGINEERED INSECTS
TAG: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: In April 2023, the Department of Biotechnology issued the ‘Guidelines for Genetically Engineered Insects’.
- India’s bioeconomy contributes 2.6% to the GDP.
- In April 2023, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) released its ‘Bioeconomy Report 2022’ report, envisioning this contribution to be closer to 5% by 2030.
- This ambitious leap of $220 billion in eight years will require aggressive investment and policy support.
- But neither funding for the DBT nor its recent policies reflect any serious intention to uplift this sector.
- These guidelines are meant to provide procedural roadmaps for creating genetically engineered (GE) insects, but there are several key concerns.
UNCERTAINTY OF PURPOSE:
- The guidelines do not clearly specify the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India.
- While they mention potential applications such as vector management in human and livestock health, crop pest management, environmental conservation, and healthcare protein production.
- But they lack a clear vision for how these insects can contribute to India’s broader bioeconomy goals.
- This lack of clarity hinders the alignment of biotechnology policies with the ambitious targets set in the “Bioeconomy Report 2022.”
- For instance, GE honeybees could be engineered to produce higher-quality or larger quantities of honey, potentially reducing imports and facilitating exports.
- Similarly, GE silkworms could be used to produce finer and cheaper silk, affecting prices and boosting sales.
- However, the guidelines and government policies do not provide a roadmap for how GE insects can directly benefit the bioeconomy or under what circumstances the government might approve their release.
UNCERTAINTY FOR RESEARCHERS:
- The guidelines are applicable only to research, not confined trials or deployment.
- Once GE insects are developed and tested in the laboratory, researchers can conduct trials with them.
- But this requires approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the Union Environment Ministry.
- However, there is no clarity on whether the Environment Ministry will approve the deployment of GE insects or the criteria they would use to consider such proposals.
- This uncertainty creates a disincentive for researchers and investors to engage in research on GE insects.
- Furthermore, the guidelines define GE insects based on their risk group rather than the end product.
- This means that even insects modified for non-consumption purposes, such as silk or lac production, are subject to the same stringent checks.
- This lack of differentiation could impede research and development efforts for various insect-related industries.
UNCERTAINTY OF AMBIT:
- The guidelines provide standard operating procedures for GE mosquitoes, crop pests, and beneficial insects but do not clearly define what is meant by “beneficial” in the context of GE insects.
- This lack of clarity about which insects and modifications are considered “beneficial” can hinder funding and research efforts, particularly in a country with limited public and private funding.
- Additionally, the guidelines do not adequately account for more dangerous possibilities of genetic engineering, such as unintentionally generating malicious products.
- In the past, there have been concerns about the potential misuse of genetic engineering technology, which may pose risks to both human health and the environment.
- The guidelines for genetically engineered insects in India are criticized for their lack of clarity regarding the purpose, deployment, and definition of “beneficial” insects.
- This uncertainty can deter researchers and investors from engaging in research on GE insects and hinder the development of a robust bioeconomy in India.
- To align with the goals outlined in the “Bioeconomy Report 2022,” it is suggested that these guidelines need revision and further clarification to promote innovation and industrial action in the biotechnology sector.
2. PRODUCTION GAP REPORT
TAG: GS 3: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
THE CONTEXT: Recently a report titled the “Production Gap Report,” has been produced by several environmental organizations, including the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Climate Analytics, E3G, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
- The report highlights a significant disparity between government commitments to combat climate change, particularly through the reduction of fossil fuel emissions, and their actual plans and projections for fossil fuel production.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE REPORT:
- Climate Commitments vs. Fossil Fuel Production:
- There has been a global consensus among 151 governments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050-2070 as part of the Paris Agreement.
- Despite the global consensus the report finds that these governments plan to produce significantly more fossil fuels than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C.
- In essence, they are on track to produce twice as much fossil fuel in 2030 than would be compatible with the 1.5°C target and 69% more than the 2°C target.
- Widening Fossil Fuel Production Gap:
- The report indicates that even though governments have pledged to peak global coal, oil, and gas demand this decade, their forecasts, if implemented without new policies, would lead to increased global coal production until 2030 and continued growth in global oil and gas production until at least 2050.
- This creates an ever-widening gap between projected fossil fuel production and the emission reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement.
- Promotion of Fossil Gas as a Transition Fuel:
- The report also highlights that many governments are promoting fossil gas as a transition fuel to a more sustainable energy future.
- However, it raises concerns that there are no apparent plans to transition away from fossil gas in the future.
- The report emphasizes that in order to achieve the 1.5°C goal set by the Paris Agreement, there is a pressing need to start reducing global coal, oil, and gas production.
- Simultaneously scaling up clean energy, reducing methane emissions, and implementing other climate mitigation actions should be given appropriate attention.
UPCOMING CLIMATE CONFERENCE IN DUBAI:
- In the end of November, representatives from at least 190 countries are expected to gather in Dubai for the annual Conference of Parties (COP).
- The COP meetings are a crucial forum for discussing strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions, accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, and provide support to vulnerable nations coping with the impacts of global warming.
- The report underscores a significant inconsistency between the global climate commitments made under the Paris Agreement and governments’ actual plans and projections for fossil fuel production.
- This misalignment raises concerns about the ability to limit global warming to the agreed-upon targets.
- It also highlights the urgent need for governments to take more decisive actions to reduce fossil fuel production and transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources to combat climate change effectively.
3. ORGANIC FARMING MISSION
TAG: GS 3: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
THE CONTEXT: Recently, the Kerala Government has created an Organic Farming Mission to encourage the adoption of sustainable organic and climate-smart farming practices in the State.
ORGANIC FARMING MISSION:
- The primary objective of the Organic Farming Mission is to expand organic farming in Kerala.
- The mission sets a target of cultivating 5,000 hectares of land using organic farming practices within the next five years, with an annual target of 1,000 hectares.
- This demonstrates the government’s commitment to increasing the adoption of organic agriculture.
- The Kerala Agriculture Minister officially announced the formation of the mission.
- The government had issued formal orders related to the mission in October 2023 demonstrating political will and commitment to promoting organic farming.
- Mandates and Practices:
- The mission mandates that at least 10% of the area in farms run by the State Agriculture Department be dedicated to organic farming practices.
- This ensures that a significant portion of government-managed agricultural land will be used for organic farming.
- Additionally, the mission aims to encourage farmers to continue organic farming for at least five years.
- Certification and Marketing:
- The mission recognizes the importance of certification, branding, and marketing of organic agricultural products.
- It plans to implement an organic farming protocol that aligns with national and international standards, indicating a commitment to ensuring the quality and marketability of organic products.
- Value Addition:
- The mission highlights the importance of value addition for organic products.
- This could involve processing, packaging, and marketing strategies to enhance the value of organic produce.
- Value addition can lead to increased income for farmers and greater consumer acceptance.
- Access to Resources:
- To support farmers, the mission aims to ensure that they have access to high-quality seeds and production equipment/materials.
- This will be facilitated through various organizations and collectives, ensuring that farmers have the necessary resources to practice organic farming effectively.
- Local Initiatives and Governance:
- The mission mentions the formation of organic farming schemes in every Assembly constituency in Kerala, which will involve collaboration with local collectives and farmer producer organizations.
- This approach reflects a bottom-up, community-based approach to implementing organic farming initiatives.
- Management Structure:
- The mission is set to be overseen by a governing council chaired by the Agriculture Minister, and an executive committee comprising members from government departments and farm sector institutions.
- This structured governance ensures effective management and coordination of mission activities.
- The Kerala Government had previously announced the Organic Farming Policy in 2010.
- The Left Democratic Front (LDF) had also promised to institutionalize mechanisms for promoting organic farming in its election manifesto.
- There has been the continuation of efforts to promote sustainable farming practices in the state.
- The creation of the Poshaka Samriddhi Mission in September 2023, which focuses on increasing millet and vegetable production.
- Multiple aspects of sustainable and diversified agriculture have been simultaneously addressed by the government.
4. PUSA 2090 AND STUBBLE BURNING
TAG: GS 3: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT, AGRICULTURE
THE CONTEXT: Stubble burning in states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan remains an issue. A new rice variety named Pusa 2090 has been developed as a promising solution to the issue of stubble burning in North India.
- The primary cause of stubble burning is the cultivation of long-duration paddy varieties like Pusa-44 and the Supreme Court has given the directives to stop this practice.
- A new rice variety has been developed called Pusa-2090 by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and it has the potential to replace Pusa-44.
- Pusa-44, bred by Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), is known for its high yield, producing 35-36 quintals per acre.
- However, it has a long maturation period of 155-160 days, leaving little time for farmers to prepare the fields for the next wheat crop.
- As a result, farmers resort to burning the remaining stubble after harvest.
PUSA-2090 – AN ALTERNATIVE:
- IARI has developed Pusa-2090, which is presented as an improved version of Pusa-44.
- This new variety is characterized by both high yield and a shorter maturation period of 120-125 days, making it more suitable for crop rotation.
- It’s a crossbreed of Pusa-44 and CB-501, an early-maturing Japonica rice line.
- Benefits of Pusa-2090:
- Pusa-2090 is claimed to yield as much as Pusa-44 while maturing earlier.
- It has been tested and officially identified for cultivation in Delhi and Odisha.
- Farmers have shown interest in adopting this variety due to its potential to reduce the need for stubble burning.
- Crop Area and Stubble Burning:
- Pusa-44 occupies a significant share of the crop area in Punjab, with 5.48 lakh hectares under cultivation in the current kharif season.
- Stubble burning is a major concern in Punjab, and Pusa-44’s long maturation period contributes to this problem.
- Comparative Analysis:
- Pusa-44 has been compared with another variety, PR-126, bred by the Punjab Agricultural University.
- While PR-126 matures faster (125 days), it yields slightly less than Pusa-44.
- It is emphasized that Pusa-2090 combines the best of both worlds, offering high yields and a shorter maturation period.
- Potential Adoption and Impact:
- Farmers in Punjab have already started test-planting Pusa-2090, with initial results reported as very promising.
- The potential adoption of Pusa-2090 could significantly reduce stubble burning in the region and contribute to improved air quality.
5. ELECTORAL BONDS (EB) AND ELECTORAL TRUSTS (ET)
TAG: GS 2: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
THE CONTEXT: Electoral Bonds are under challenge before the Supreme Court because they have become the primary route of political funding since they were launched in 2018.
- After a three-day hearing, the Supreme Court on November 3 reserved its judgment on the challenge to the central government’s Electoral Bonds Scheme.
- Electoral Trusts (ET) were introduced in 2013 by the UPA government.
- Unlike EBs, ETs have a higher degree of transparency, requiring trusts to report contributions and donations to the Election Commission of India.
- Under the ET scheme, any company registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, can establish an electoral trust.
- Contributors to ETs include Indian citizens, Indian companies, firms, Hindu Undivided Families, or associations of persons living in India.
- Trusts are required to donate 95% of contributions to registered political parties under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- Contributors’ PAN or passport numbers are necessary for transparency.
- Electoral Bonds (EB) were introduced in 2018 and have become the primary route of political funding.
- These bonds focus on ensuring donor anonymity.
- EBs are exempt from disclosure requirements, offering anonymity to donors.
- Parties inform the Election Commission of India (ECI) of the aggregate donations received through EBs but do not provide details of individual donors.
- The lack of transparency in EB donations is argued to protect donor privacy.
TRANSPARENCY IN FUNDING:
- The key difference between the two schemes is transparency.
- ETs provide details about contributors and beneficiaries, making it clear who funds which party.
- EBs, on the other hand, are not transparent regarding donors’ identities.
- Data over nine financial years (2013-14 to 2021-22) show that political funding through both schemes increased after the introduction of EBs.
- The total amount donated through ETs over this period was Rs 2,269 crore, with significant growth over the years.
- In contrast, donations through EBs outstripped ET contributions, totaling Rs 9,208 crore between 2017-18 and 2021-22.
- The BJP received 72% of the total donations through ETs, a higher share than it received through EBs (57%).
- The Congress received 10% of EB funding and 9.7% of ET donations.
- The Trinamool Congress was the third-largest recipient of EBs (8.3%) but received only 0.11% of ET funds.
- The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) received about 1% of ET donations and reported its entire income in 2021-22 as coming from EBs.
- EBs have become the dominant source of political funding, with significant contributions compared to ETs.
- The lack of transparency in EBs has raised concerns, while ETs offer more insight into donor-party relationships.
- While EBs emphasize donor anonymity, ETs require greater disclosure, enabling the public to understand the relationships between contributors and political parties.
- A report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) earlier this year found that more than 55% of the funding for political parties came through electoral bonds.
- In fact, for some parties, these bonds have become the only source of contributions — the BJD declared to the ECI that its entire income from “grants, donations and contributions” in 2021-22 came from EBs.