Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 24th August 2021

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1.  Finding a healthy way to cook

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – Social Justice
Sub Theme: Ujjwala 2.0 | UPSC

The perils of cooking through firewood or dung cakes:

  • Women spend long hours collecting firewood and making dung cakes.
  • The time saved can be used in socio-economically productive activities like Self-Help Group activities.
  • Hinders women’s access to education, leisure, and the labour market.
  • Using firewood and dung cakes also leads to indoor pollution, as chulhas (firewood-based stoves) using these sources of energy release carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
    • According to the WHO, India witnessed about five lakh deaths per year due to unclean cooking fuels before the introduction of the scheme.
  • Puts safety of women in jeopardy.
  • Collection of fuel wood exploits forest resources.

The earlier solution to this problem — smokeless or fuel-efficient chulhas for cooking — was introduced in the 1980s. The National Programme on Improved Chulha was launched in 1984. This was backed by training programmes for making and maintaining these chulhas. But these programmes failed when subsidies were withdrawn, governments lost interest, people could not be convinced to use the new chulhas and did not participate, target beneficiaries were not properly identified, and there was little quality control.

The Indian government then introduced Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in June 2013 under the PAHAL scheme on an experimental basis. The scheme, it was thought, would improve women’s access to education, leisure, and the labour market, and also improve the environment, climate, and human health.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana 

  • Launched in 2016 “Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana” (PMUY) scheme to provide 5 crore LPG connections to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families.
  • The identification of BPL households is based on the Social Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data.
  • Youth employment: It will also provide employment for rural youth in the supply chain of cooking gas. Employment in the logistics and maintenance services are an additional benefit.
  • Women empowerment – eligible beneficiaries are women from BPL households.
  • Governments have adopted a clear strategy to have city gas distribution (CGD) networks in cities and towns, under which piped natural gas (PNG) is provided to urban residents and push the LPG resources to rural areas.
  • 74% beneficiaries under the scheme, who could not afford to make upfront payment for purchase of gas stove and first refill, were provided loan facility by the OMCs.
  • To make LPG affordable to poor families, OMCs have introduced 5 Kg refill option
  • LPG Panchayats –  aims at safe and sustained usage of LPG.
  • PMUY implementation has been appreciated by the World Health Organization (WHO) who have termed it as a decisive intervention to check the indoor health pollution being faced by the women of the country.
  • During the time of lockdown, the government used the scheme to ease the livelihood pressure on poor households, combining it with Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. The government had declared it would subsidise three 14.2-kg LPG cylinders in full for the beneficiaries

EVALUATION OF THE SCHEME

  • The scheme has resulted in mass coverage of rural poor households and 48 per cent of the beneficiaries are SC/STs.
  • Under the PMUY the average per capita consumption is 3.28.
  • Three States — Haryana, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh — and five Union Territories were declared kerosene-free at that time.

However there has been many limitations:

As per the CAG report:

The average annual refill consumption for PMUY beneficiaries has remained low, compared to non-PMUY consumers.  This points to a lack of sustained usage of LPG by the beneficiaries under the scheme.

Details of LPG connections

  LPG coverage Avg. annual refill (non-PMUY) Avg. annual refill (PMUY)
2015-16 61.9% 7.7
2016-17 72.8% 7.5 3.9
2017-18 80.9% 7.3 3.4
2018-19 94.3% 6.7 3.0

Low consumption of refills has also hindered loan recovery worth Rs 1,235 crore for the distributors.

There are no parameters to assess outcomes related to the scheme such as improvement in health of women and reduction in air pollution.  It recommended that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas should develop a roadmap to assess these outcomes.

As per other evaluation studies:

  • Many LPG connection holders were found to still be using other fuels like firewood and dung cakes.
  • This is because men, who usually make the decision of buying the refill, often do not agree to a refill which is expensive for the poor.
  • Studies found that the poor use LPG mainly for making tea or snacks while they continue to use firewood or cow dung for their main cooking, as these sources of fuel are free of cost and easily available.
  • Usually, as low value is attached to women’s time in production, the opportunity cost of women’s labour is low even when a capital subsidy is available, and women have to depend on traditional fuels.
  • LPG is used for cooking when the opportunity cost of women’s labour is considered high, such as in the peak season in farming.
  • On the other hand, urban households with reasonably high incomes and rural households belonging to upper income groups consider LPG refill a necessity for full cooking.
  • The other problems in accessing LPG are administrative and include the distance to LPG distribution centres, long waiting time, and rising costs of LPG cylinders.

The Parliamentary committee on petroleum was reportedly upset with the closure of the scheme. In its report tabled in Parliament, just before the outbreak of pandemic in the country in March, the committee recommended extension of the scheme to the urban and semi-urban slum areas to further LPG coverage to the masses.

Ujjwala 2.0 

  • Under Ujjwala 2.0, an additional 10 million LPG connections will be provided to the beneficiaries.
  • Government has also fixed a target of providing piped gas to 21 lakh homes in 50 districts.
  • The upgraded scheme will promote “gobar dhan” – tapping cow dung for energy
  • Under Ujjwala 2.0, migrants will not be required to submit ration cards or address proof. Now they will only have to give “Self-Declaration” to avail the benefit.

One size cannot fit all

There is no doubt that crores of poor and middle class women need better sources of cooking energy that are time saving, healthy, easily accessible and affordable. LPG works well, but only for non-poor households. Others need affordable alternatives to choose from, such as solar energy and solar cookers, smokeless chulhas, biogas plants and electric cookers where electricity is cheap.

Good research and development efforts need to be made in the public and private sectors to explore these alternatives. As one solution may not fit all, there is a need to offer a set of energy sources to households so that each of them finds a suitable energy for itself. Women in India can achieve energy security for cooking only through cheaper and efficient alternatives.

2.  Tauktae, Yaas and planning for the next

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS-III: Disaster Management
Sub Theme: Cyclone Management | UPSC

Context: 

The severe cyclones, Tauktae and Yaas, which battered India earlier this year, made landfalls on the country’s western coast, Gujarat, and the eastern coast, Odisha, on May 17 and May 26, 2021, respectively.

The damage: 

    • Both storms caused massive damage to infrastructure, the agricultural sector, and houses.

 

  • Loss of life : 

 

    • Government of India reports are that, put together, an estimated 199 people died, 37 million people were affected. Moreover, 2.5 million people were evacuated to cyclone shelters and relief camps in these two States.
  • Economic Loss 
    • Economic losses stood at ₹320 billion (U.S.$4.3 billion).
    • In addition, crop area of 0.24 million hectares was affected, and around 0.45 million houses were damaged. The large-scale uprooting of trees in the urban areas affected already depleting green cover.

Thus, during the COVID-19 pandemic, these cyclones caused additional financial responsibility for State governments. The health costs need to be measured too.

Vulnerability to natural disasters 

  • Lancent medical journal – 46% increase in weather related disaster since 2000.
  • IPCC report says that this is the last chance for the world to deal with climate change.
  • UN climate secretariat estimates that current contributions place the planet on a 2.6°C to 3.2°C pathway.
  • Living planet report of WWF says 60% of biodiversity declined from 1970 to 2014.

Indian Vulnerability   

  • The Indian coastline is around 7,500 km; there are 96 coastal districts (which touch the coast or are close to it), with 262 million people exposed to cyclones and tsunamis.
  • The World Bank and the United Nations (2010) estimate that around 200 million city residents would be exposed to storms and earthquakes by 2050 in India.
  • Between 1891 and 2020, out of the 313 cyclones crossing India’s eastern and western coasts, 130 were classified as severe cyclonic storms.
  • The west coast experienced 31 cyclones, while 282 cyclones crossed the east coast. The Odisha coast witnessed 97 cyclones, followed by Andhra Pradesh (79), Tamil Nadu (58), West Bengal (48), Gujarat (22), Maharashtra/Goa (7), and Kerala (2).

Disasters becoming more frequent

  • Increasing sea surface temperatures in the northern Indian Ocean and the geo-climatic conditions in India have led to a rise in the frequency of devastating cyclones in the coastal States accounting for 7% of the global tropical cyclones, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD), 2013 data.
  • Every year, around five to six tropical cyclones are formed in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea; of these, two to three turn severe.

The economic costs

  • Among the natural disasters, cyclones constituted the second most frequent phenomena that occurred in 15% of India’s total natural disasters over 1999-2020.
  • During the same period, 12,388 people were killed, and the damage was estimated at $32,615 million. Cyclones are the second most expensive in terms of the costs incurred in damage, account The Indian coastline is around 7,500 km; there are 96 coastal districts (which touch the coast or are close to it), with 262 million people exposed to cyclones and tsunamis.
  • The World Bank and the United Nations (2010) estimate that around 200 million city residents would be exposed to storms and earthquakes by 2050 in India. Between 1891 and 2020, out of the 313 cyclones crossing India’s eastern and western coasts, 130 were classified as severe cyclonic storms.

Odisha a case study in cyclone management

In the aftermath of the 1999 super cyclone, which resulted in loss of 10,000 lives, the Government of Odisha took up various cyclone mitigation measures.

In May 2019 , Cyclone Fani wreaked havoc on the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal, before moving on to Bangladesh with relatively low intensity. In the eastern state of Odisha, where the cyclone’s effects were felt the most, 64 people died while 1.2 million people were evacuated and taken to cyclone shelters.

Cyclone Fani was unexpected for this time of year as cyclones usually occur during the monsoons in July-August in this region.

The cyclone track was being monitored closely by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and it was known precisely where the cyclone will cross and when it will fall. The Odisha government showed a high degree of preparedness and effectively managed to evacuate about 1.2 million people based on these predictions.

Cyclone mitigation measures of Odisha:

  • Installing a disaster warning system in the coastal districts, and construction of evacuation shelters in cyclone-prone districts. The World Bank has helped create the intelligence to carry the warnings to the last mile. In April 2018, Odisha become the first Indian state to have an early warning system in place for natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunami for people living along its 480 km-long coast.
  • The World Bank has also been assisting states in creating cyclone shelters and access to these shelters. It has provided early warning systems and helped governments create early warning dissemination systems.
  • Odisha has a great community outreach system through which people are being reached on time. It now has a network of 450 cyclone shelters and there is a robust mechanism for the maintenance of the cyclone shelters—each cyclone shelter has a maintenance committee where youth have been involved and trained for search and rescue, first aid medical attention, and for providing cyclone warnings.
  • Odisha has managed to create a sense of community during such disasters that other states can also emulate.
  • Conducting regular cabinet meetings for disaster preparedness. The state’s disaster management systems are monitored twice each year, given the propensity of natural disasters in the state.
  • Setting up of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA),
  • Building the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF).Multiple teams of ODRAF, NDRF, Odisha Police, fire personnel, energy department personnel and PWD swung into action once the cyclone’s landfall was complete.

Areas where Odisha can still improve

There are two parts to disaster mitigation: minimizing the loss of lives, which Odisha has done remarkably; but the other is minimizing the loss of infrastructure and livelihood.

Coastal housing in Odisha is still quite vulnerable to cyclones and heavy rains.

Similarly, the power infrastructure is completely over-ground, leaving it extremely exposed during natural disasters. Disruption of the electrical system also has a cascading effect on health systems, water supply, communication and transport, etc. which become even more vital during natural disasters for help to reach the most vulnerable.

The Government of Odisha certainly needs to think about investing in creating safer housing especially in the coastal regions, and in creating electrical systems that are underground. This will not only help minimize the need for evacuation, but also save on the systematic investments that are made when household assets are lost during a disaster.

Essential steps which should be taken: 

  • It is imperative to improve the cyclone warning system and revamp disaster preparedness measures.
  • The Government must widen the cover under shelterbelt plantations and help regenerate mangroves in coastal regions to lessen the impact of cyclones. In addition, adopting cost-effective, long-term mitigation measures, including building cyclone-resilient infrastructure such as constructing storm surge-resilient embankments, canals and improving river connectivity to prevent waterlogging in low-lying areas are important.
  • Installing disaster-resilient power infrastructure in the coastal districts, providing concrete houses to poor and vulnerable households, and creating massive community awareness campaigns are essential.
  • Healthy coordination between the Centre and the States concerned is essential to collectively design disaster mitigation measures. It is only such a collective mitigation effort by the Centre and States that can help reduce the fiscal burden of States and also be effective in minimising disaster deaths.
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