Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 28th August 2021

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1.  Deepar Beel breathes easy after eco-sensitive zone notification

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 1:  Environment | Prelims: Wetlands
Sub Theme:    Deepor Beel |  Eco-Sensetive Zones   | UPSC

Deepar Beel breathes easy after eco-sensitive zone notification

On August 25, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the eco-sensitive zone of Deepar Beel Wildlife Sanctuary on the southwestern edge of Guwahati.

Deepar Beel’s water has become toxic and lost many of its aquatic plants that elephants would feed on. City waste as well as industrial effluents causing serious problem to the ecological and environmental values of the rich wetlands.

The wetlands have for decades been threatened by a railway track — set to be doubled and electrified — on its southern rim, a garbage dump and encroachment for human habitation and commercial units.

The notification specified an area “to an extent varying from 294 metres to 16.32 km” as the eco-sensitive zone with the total area being 148.9767 sq. km.

“No new commercial hotels and resorts shall be permitted within 1 km of the boundary of the protected area or up to the extent of the eco-sensitive zone, whichever is nearer, except for small temporary structures for eco-tourism activities,” the notification said.

Among activities prohibited in the eco-sensitive zone are hydroelectric projects, brick kilns, commercial use of firewood and discharge of untreated effluents in natural water bodies or land areas.

Deepar Beel 

  • Deepar Beel is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Assam and the State’s only Ramsar Site, besides being been designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.
  • The Rani and Garbhanga Reserved Forests are adjacent to the wetland, which altogether stands as a complete ecosystem providing environmental solutions, food security and different types of biodiversity to the city
  • The forest serves as an abode to the Northeastern region’s Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus), which is an endangered species.
  • The Indian Railways constructed the southern railway track in 2001, an action which gradually divided the Deepor Beel into segments and, thus, affected the wetland in particular and the ecosystem as a whole.
  • The wetland receives the majority of its water content which from the River Basistha and the River Kalmani during the monsoons. It then flows down to the Brahmaputra through the Khanajan stream, making Brahmaputra the natural storm runoff area for the city of Guwahati
  • About 150 species of birds have been recorded in the sanctuary, out of which two are critically endangered, one endangered, five vulnerable and four near-threatened such Slender-billed vulture (CR), Spot Billed Pelican (NT), Lesser Adjutant Stork (VU), Greater Adjutant Stork (EN), Black Necked Stork (NT) and Large Whistling Teal (LC), Open Billed Stork (LC), Pheasant Tail Jacanas (LC).
  • The sanctuary is ideal for an encounter with other wildlife including Hoolock Gibbons (EN), the only ape species in Indian subcontinent.
  • Wild Asian elephants (EN), leopard (VU), jungle cat and the protected barking deer (LC), Chinese porcupine (LC) and sambar (VU) are found in the beel.
Slender-billed vulture (CR)
Greater Adjutant Stork (EN)
Lesser Adjutant Stork (VU)
Spot Billed Pelican (NT)
Black Necked Stork (NT)
Large Whistling Teal (LC)
Open Billed Stork (LC)
Pheasant Tail Jacanas (LC)
Wild Asian elephants (EN
leopard (VU)
Protected barking deer (LC)
Chinese porcupine (LC)
Sambar (VU)

WETLANDS AND THEIR FUNCTIONS

  • Wetlands, as the name suggests, is any land which is wet or contains water. Wetlands are not only the most productive ecosystems on earth that support numerous unique flora and fauna, but are also directly linked with livelihood and food security as well as too much economic benefit.
  • Wetlands serve as natural rainwater harvesting sites by collecting the precious rainwater within it. Water supply to many big cities are sourced from wetlands alone.
  • Wetlands in close vicinity of rivers also act as buffers that control flood and river flow. When the level of the river rises, water flows into the wetlands. Similarly, when river water level decreases, water from these wetlands gushes into the river, thus maintaining its average flow.
  • Mangroves mostly found in such ecosystems not only protect the land from speedy waves but offer protection from cyclones as well. During the 2004 Tsunami, it was found that the coasts with good mangrove vegetation were least affected.
  • Wetlands act as natural rainwater recharging zones. Water stored in the wetland percolates slowly in the aquifers.
  • Every water body has a self cleaning system. Many aquatic flora and micro fauna present in wetlands are found to be effective in treating water with high coli form percentage as well. Many species of algae and plants have remarkable capacity of accumulating heavy metals in their mucilage and leaves and are known to be hyper-accumulators.
  • Wetlands also play a great role in regulating local climate, particularly temperature and moisture. The phytoplankton community are very good carbon sequesters and absorb carbon dioxide much faster than terrestrial plants.
  • Wetlands are, thus, also considered as local carbon sinks. The most productive ecosystem, wetlands harbour a great variety of animals and plants.
  • It is a paradise of bird watchers and many birds find hostage in wetlands all around the world.

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs)?

  • They are notified by MoEFCC under the Environment Protection Act 1986.
  • Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas are areas within 10 kms around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • Even area beyond 10 km width can also be included in the eco-sensitive zone in case of places with sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage,
  • The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected areas.

Activities Allowed in ESZs

  • Prohibited activities: Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise etc), establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism activities like hot-air balloons over the National Park, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances.
  • Regulated activities: Felling of trees, establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc, widening of roads.
  • Permitted activities: Ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities.

Importance of ESZs:

  • A forest area or a protected zone cannot be differentiated from the mainland by drawing a line between the two. The Eco-Sensitive Zone is like an ecotone —  the transition between two biological communities or ecosystems.
  • It reduces the impact of human intervention in the core protected areas
  • ESZs help in in-situ conservation, which deals with conservation of an endangered species in its natural habitat, for example the conservation of the One-horned Rhino of Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
  • They also minimise forest depletion and man-animal conflict. The protected areas are based on the core and buffer model of management, through which local area communities are also protected and benefitted.

Restoration activities

  • Effective implementation of Eco-sensitive zone regulations.
  • Discontinuity of land cutting, Brick Kilns and industrial development in the periphery of the Beel. Government settlements must be discontinued. Encroachments and settlements around the Beel periphery must be eliminated.
  • Local conservation committees must be formed.
    • Early Birds: Early Birds is a grass-root environmental organization working with the tribal community living in the southern fringe of the wetland.
    • Aaranyak: Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation, has been an advocate for Deepor since 1990s.
  • Waste management planed must be undertaken.
  • Whole of Deepor Beel can be declared as protected area.
  • Train stops on the boundary of the Beel to be discontinued.
  • To raise suitable plantations on either side of the railway line to reduce noise level.
  • Sustainable eco-tourism model – There are fourteen villages (1200 families) around Deepor Beel wetland, most of which belong to low income groups living under the poverty line and depend directly or indirectly on the wetland’s natural resources.
  • Eco-restoration of surrounding forest area.
  • Creation of additional storage capacity in the naturally depressed areas within the greater metropolitan area Guwahati city runoff, which includes sewage, to be treated before discharging into the Beel
  • Conservation education.

Institute for Scientific and Technological Research (INSTER): INSTER started the Save Deepor Beel Campaign in 1989. Dr. Achintya Bezbaruah (Assam Engineering College), Dr. Prasanta Saikia, and Dr. Manideep Raj (both from Gauhati University) started the campaign for INSTER by writing to the Governments of Assam and India, and a mass media campaign followed. INSTER also moved the state high court to force the government to act. Intense lobbying with the authorities led the Government of India to ordering an environmental impact assessment for a railroad project. The State (Assam) Government instituted three different committees and established a Deepor Beel Management Authority. INSTER is presently working with Aaranyak; Early Birds; Deepor Beel Ramsar Site Conservation Community; Appropriate Technology Mission of Assam; and Assam Science, Technology, and Environment Council towards developing an integrated management plan for Deepor Beel.

Aaranyak: Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation, has been an advocate for Deepor since 1990s. It has been vocal for the conservation of the wetland and voiced opposition to governmental inactivity on the wetland. In addition to lobbying the authorities on Deepor, Aaranyak has launched the following initiatives toward capacity building in the villages: (i) Evaluation of the socio-economic status of the fringe villages, (ii) Awareness drive among the villagers, (iii) Efforts to provide alternative source of livelihood, (iv) Workshops for the government officials, (v) Workshops on wetland values. Aaranyak has also organized bird watching program at Deepor for middle/high school and college students.

Early Birds: Early Birds is a grass-root environmental organization working with the tribal community living in the southern fringe of the wetland. The tribal community has been living in harmony with nature in this location for many years. However, poverty and lack of education have driven the population to exploit the wetland and the adjoining Rani and Garbhanga Reserved Forests in an unsustainable manner. Early Birds is working with the people and educating them on sustainable ways of living. The organization also extensively works on vaccinating the local cattle population against various diseases

 

2.  Citizens’ groups object to proposed waste-to-energy plant

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 1: Environment
Sub Theme:   Waste-to- Energy | Waste management   | UPSC

Garbage-to-power plant in veggie market gets PM’s pat

Waste-to-Energy 

Waste-to-Energy is the process of generating energy from the primary treatment of waste, or the processing of waste into a fuel source.

Why Waste to Energy?

  • Waste management, sanitation and Swatch Bharat Mission.
  • Urban waste generation ~ 62 million tonnes every year. Municipal solid waste to energy market is growing at ~ 9.5%.
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 40 per cent of food produced is wasted in India. Organic waste has significant portion in overall waste generation in industrial/urban/ agricultural sector and therefore it can be used for energy generation.
  • Treatment of waste resulting in
    • mitigating the harm to land and water bodies
    • Safe landfills
  • Renewable source of energy – The total estimated energy generation potential from urban and industrial organic waste in India is approximately 5690 MW.
  • New business opportunity with appropriate technology and government incentive.
  • International expansion possibilities for Indian companies, especially expansion into other Asian countries.
  • Success in municipal solid waste management will lead to opportunities in sewage waste, industrial waste and hazardous waste by development of new technology.

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, there exists a potential of about:

  • 1700 MW from urban waste
  • 1300 MW from industrial waste.

NITI Aayog, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, envisaged

  • 800 MW from WTE plants by 2018-19.
  • Waste-to-Energy Corporation of Indiafor constructing incineration plants through PPP models.

As per Centre for Science and Environment nearly half of India’s waste-to-energy (WTE) plants are defunct.

Problems of WTE Plants

 

  • Inefficiency – Municipal solid waste (MSW) in India 
  • Has low calorific value and high moisture content.

 

  • Are unsegregated having high inert content.

 

  • Pollution – 
  • Carcinogenic chemicals are released due to chlorinated hydrocarbons like PVC.

 

  • High cost of electricity generated by waste. WTE ~ Rs 7/kWh; coal ~ Rs 3-4 per kWh
  • Technologies like bio-methanation are imported.
  • Protest and criticism – eg: against the Okhla WTE plant in Delhi for polluting the environment.

Way Forward

Niti Aayog has also proposed the Waste to Energy Corporation of India, a nodal agency to set up plants through public-private partnership.

  • Policy guidelines – from State Governments in respect of allotment of land, supply of garbage.
  • Regulatory support – Power purchase obligation. Eg: Delhi Metro has started receiving 2 MW power from a 12 MW capacity waste-to-energy plant set up in Ghazipur.
  • Compliance of MSW Rules 2000 – to ensure segregated solid waste.
  • Compliance of Waste Management rules 2016 to phase out PVC.
  • Strengthening Municipal Corporations – financial and human resource.
  • PPP model for WTE plants as recommended by Task force on WtE headed by K Kasturirangan.
  • Technology
  • Appropriate filtering mechanisms
    • Railways can take up such projects near big railway stations. Eg: WTE plant at Jaipur railway station.
    • Spreading awareness – Protection and improvement of our environment as envisaged in Article 51 A(g) of our Constitution.

 

  • Marketing of concept

Alappuzha municipality

  • Biogas plants in every locality
  • Piped compost unit within houses.
  • Aerobic compost units in public places

Sweden import solid waste to generate energy and create employment.  

Technology for Waste-to-Energy 

While incineration and biomethanation are the most common technologies, pyrolysis and gasification are also emerging as preferred options.

Thermal Conversion 

  • Degradation and complete oxidation of waste under high temperature.
  • Most important form is incineration.
  • Disadvantage is its emission characteristics.

Thermo-chemical conversion

  • High temperature driven decomposition of organic matter.
  • Useful for organic non-biodegradable matter and low moisture content.
  • Most important forms are Pyrolysis and Gasification.
  • The products such as producer gas, exhaust gases etc can be used purely as heat energy or further processed chemically, to produce a range of end products. 

Bio-chemical conversion

  • Enzymatic decomposition of organic matter by microbial action to produce methane gas, alcohol etc.
  • Preferred for wastes having high percentage of organic, bio-degradable matter and high level of moisture.
  • Major forms are bio-methanation and fermentation.

 

  • Electrochemical conversion

 

  • Microbial fuel cells (MFC).
  • The reduction-oxidation machinery of immobilized microbial cells is catalytically exploited.
  • At a nascent level in India as well as worldwide.

To recover energy from waste and effluent generated from industries, India has set up 186 waste-to-energy projects for generation of biogas, bioCNG power with a cumulative capacity of 317.03 MW so far.

China has already fast-forwarded itself in that direction with 300 waste-to-energy plants in place, with the government setting a target of disposing a third of its garbage through energy plants by 2030.

3.  India-Australia aim for ‘early harvest’ trade pact by Dec 

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 2: International Relations
Sub Theme:   India-Australia |  Early Harvest   | UPSC

What is Early Harvest Package?

Early harvest scheme is a precursor to a free trade agreement (FTA) between two trading partners. This is to help the two trading countries to identify certain products for tariff liberalisation before the conclusion of FTA negotiation. It is primarily a confidence building measure. The EHS has been used as a mechanism to build greater confidence amongst trading partners to prepare them for even bigger economic engagement.

The Early Harvest Scheme (EHS), sometimes seen in news deals with which among the following?

  1. Provision of Early Harvest seeds to Farmers
  2. Precursor to implementation of FTA
  3. Promotion of Start-up Ecosystem
  4. Promotion of Rural Enterprises.

Answer: b

Explanation: Early harvest scheme is a precursor to a free trade agreement (FTA) between two trading partners. This is to help the two trading countries to identify certain products for tariff liberalisation before the conclusion of FTA negotiation.

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