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3rd May 2023 – Current Affairs

GS 3 : Infrastructure – Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc

Coal Ministry Action Plan 2023 -24

The Ministry of Coal has conceptualized an Action Plan for the FY 2023-24 with the goal of achieving Aatmanirbhar Bharat by enhancing the production, efficiency, sustainability, new technologies etc. in the coal sector. It is an ambitious, well-crafted roadmap that covers a variety of areas stated below –

  1. Coal Analytics:

Coal Production – The Ministry has finalized the total coal production target of 1012 MT for FY 2023-24.

Outsourcing of Mines- The Ministry has taken various steps to increase coal production and efficiency like Mining Developers cum Operators (MDO) for the operationalization of CIL Mines/Blocks and production in discontinued/abandoned mines on the revenue sharing basis.

Coking Coal Strategy – With a focus on Aatmanirbhar Bharat, the Ministry of Coal has formulated a coking coal strategy to enhance coking coal availability in the country to reduce imports.

Quality of Coal – The Ministry of Coal and the coal companies have taken various measures to achieve the objective of supply of quality coal to all consumers.For undertaking the job of sampling and analysis of coal samples at loading end, third party sampling agencies have been empanelled for both power and non-power coal consumers.

  1. Private Investment:

CAPEX and Asset Monetization – The CAPEX target for FY 2023-24 is Rs 21030 Crores (CIL: Rs.16,500 Cr, NLCIL: Rs. 2,880 Cr and SCCL: Rs. 1650 Cr) The overall projected target of Assets Monetization plan for FY 2023-24 is Rs. 50,118.61 Crores

Commercial Mining – During FY 2022-23, the Ministry signed agreements for a total of 23 coal mines having cumulative PRC of 33.224 MTPA and these mines are expected to generate an annual revenue of Rs 4,700.80 Crores calculated at PRC (Peak Rated Capacity). These Mines are expected to provide both direct and indirect employment to 44,906 people.Considering good response received for 6th round of commercial auctions, it is expected that 25 coal mines will be allocated during FY 2023-24 for commercial mining.

  1. Infrastructure Projects

PM Gatishakti National Master Plan – In consultation with Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Coal is closely monitoring the new railway line projects that are critical for coal evacuation and is undertaking Mapping of Coal Sector on NMP and use of Dashboards on NMP.

Coal Evacuation- FMC & Railway Lines – Ministry of Coal has adopted a Coal Logistics Policy/Plan for effective and environmental friendly transport of coal, as logistics is a crucial component of the coal supply chain.

  1. Safety in Mines

The Ministry of Coal reaffirms its commitment to the best safety standards and utmost priority to the safety in Coal Mines including disaster management, safety management & response drills, use of PPE etc.

Scientific closure of Mines – To restore the ecological balance in the mined-out areas, mine closure activities will begin this year at a significant number of CIL and SCCL mines as per the guidelines issued by Ministry of Coal in October, 2022 (Scientific Closure of Closed/Abandoned/Discontinued Mines before Year 2009).

  1. Technology Push to Coal:

Technology roadmap in the Coal sector – Ministry is going to circulate the Monitoring framework for coal companies towards Implementation of Technology Roadmap in digitalisation & integration of sub-systems, use of new technology (Drone, Remote sensing), blast free coal mining to promote efficiency, safety and environment.

Coal to Chemical – With an objective towards clean coal technology, Ministry of Coal has taken various initiatives like Coal to Hydrogen, Coal & Lignite gasification, CBM/CMM etc.

Diversification of Coal India Limited (CIL) – As part of Diversification initiatives of the Ministry, Coal India Limited is being diversified for sustainable future business operations like New Business Areas (Aluminium, Power, Solar wafer, Solar Power & Renewable), Expansion of Core business (1 BT) etc.

  1. Sustainability in Coal Sector:

Ministry of Coal envisages promoting sustainable development model in which coal production goes hand in hand with environmental protection, resource conservation, caring for society and measures to protect our forests and biodiversity.Greening Initiatives, Development of Eco-parks/Mine Tourism, Gainful Utilization of Mine Water/Overburden (OB) and Energy Efficient Measures are some of the major identified sustainable activities identified by Ministry of Coal.

The Ministry’s initiatives outlined in the action plan will pave the path to development and will have a positive impact on Coal’s growth trajectory along with a sustainable future. The details of the Action plan may be accessed through the website of Ministry of Coal (https://coal.gov.in/).


GS 3 : Science & Technology – developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

Metavalent chemical bond holds key to enhance the thermoelectric performance in quantum materials –

Metavalent bonding—a new type of chemical bonding in solids, can be used to tailor the thermoelectric performance in quantum materials and efficiently convert waste heat to electricity, which could show a new direction for the country’s newly launched Quantum Mission.

Generating electricity from waste heat holds an exciting prospect for green energy production. Finding high-performance thermoelectric materials for this purpose requires materials with a magical recipe of properties that can conduct electricity like a metal, heat like a glass, and exhibits the Seebeck coefficient like a semiconductor.

The performance of a thermoelectric material is evaluated based on a dimensionless index related to electrical resistivity, Seebeck coefficient, and thermal conductivity called zT. The higher the zT, the higher is the efficiency. Increasing zT is extremely challenging due to the contradicting interdependences between the material constants that constitute zT, like the electrical and thermal conductivity, Seebeck coefficient, etc. Hence this index needs to be optimised.

To realize this challenging goal, Prof. Kanishka Biswas and his Integrated Ph.D. student Ivy Maria from JNCASR, Bengaluru, an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), turned to the biggest tool in the kit of chemists- the chemical bonding in a solid. They needed a chemical bond that has properties of both the bonding present in metals (for good electrical conductivity) as well as those found in glasses (for low thermal conductivity), demanding for fine tuning between electron localization (covalency) and delocalization (metallicity). Such a bonding synergy is found in materials with a unique type of bonding called metavalent bonding. Metavalent bonds are multicentric soft bonds with less than 2e- shared between the bonding atoms, defying the classical octet rule in chemistry. But, at this juncture, they encountered an inverse design problem — knowing the bonding/properties can they predict the compound(s) that can exhibit them?

Their search for materials with excellent electrical properties drew them to quantum materials such as topological insulators — an exotic family of compounds that have conducting surface states but insulating bulk states. They chose TlBiSe2- a renowned topological insulator, for investigation. One of the reasons behind choosing this was that the material showed lattice shearing due to dual lone pair-induced local distortion mediated by metavalent bonding. They have analysed the local distortion by synchrotron X-ray pair distribution function experiment done in Petra-III, DESY, Germany, with the support of the DST Synchrotron support program.

An analogy to understand local distortion preserving the average crystal structure is a classroom of seated row/column-wise students. From the teacher’s view (average structure), they appear to be sitting in a perfect straight line, but if we look from an individual student’s view (local structure), we will see that the students in front/back are not exactly ahead/behind but slightly shifted. Atoms in a locally distorted crystal show this behaviour wherein their positions are not perfectly ordered as expected but are slightly distorted.

Through collaborative work with other authors, Ms. Raagya Arora, Dr. Moinak Dutta, Dr. Subhajit Roychowdhury, and Prof. Umesh Waghmare from JNCASR; they confirmed that TlBiSe2 indeed demonstrates metavalent bonding. The distorted structures have energies very close to that of the undistorted structure of TlBiSe2, and at room temperature, the compound can easily shuttle between the various energetically accessible configurations.

Thus, TlBiSe2 possesses a degenerate manifold of ground states, facilitating a fundamentally new way of intrinsically scattering phonons (quasi-particles that carry heat in a solid) via lattice shearing availed by the underlying metavalent bonding to realize low thermal conductivity. Validating the chemical bonding guided strategy, TlBiSe2 showed a zT of around 0.8, which is the highest reported to date amongst n-type thallium chalcogenides.

Their work provides fundamental insights on how novel chemical bonding can be used to optimize thermoelectric performance in quantum material and how, by rational chemical designing, intriguing emergent properties can be realized in quantum materials towards which India’s Quantum Mission is working. The work has recently been published in Journal of American Chemical Society (JACS).


GS 3 : Science & Technology – developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

Smart gel-based sheet can form 3D Printed Conduit helping non-invasive nerve repair –

A new smart gel-based sheet using three-dimensional (3D) printing technology that can self-roll into a tube during surgery to form a nerve conduit could help reduce the complexity of surgeries and aid rapid healing of nerve injuries.

The gold standard for the treatment of peripheral nerve injuries is still autografts. Bioresorbable polymer-based conduits are being explored for clinical use as alternatives. But these treatment strategies suffer from several limitations, such as donor site morbidity in the case of autografts and the necessity for sutures that demand highly skilled microsurgeries, and additional complications posed by sutures.

These clinical shortcomings motivated researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru to design a smart gel-based sheet using three-dimensional (3D) printing technology that can self-roll into a tube during surgery to form a nerve conduit. In 3D printing, a virtual model of the part is created using design software, and the part is then fabricated using a 3D printer by layer-upon-layer deposition of the material. 3D printed parts can further undergo a shape change on demand upon activation after fabrication. Such technologies are now widely known as four-dimensional (4D) printing, where time is the extra dimension.

In a recent study, the team at IISc, led by Professor Kaushik Chatterjee, engineered a bilayered gel sheet by 3D printing in pre-defined patterns from two gels. The gel formulations were selected to swell differently. When the dried gel sheet was immersed in water, it rapidly swelled and curled into a tube. The folding behavior and final shape of the gel could be programmed to generate tubes of desired dimensions, which could be predicted by computational modeling. The gel sheets were then coated with thin nanometer-scale fibers to enable the body’s cells to adhere to the gel sheet.

The team at IISc worked closely with researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee and Maharishi Markandeshwar University to test the 4D printed conduits for repairing and regenerating a 2 mm gap in the sciatic nerve of rats. The shape-morphing sheets were placed under the defect region of the nerve and stimulated to wrap the defect site to form a conduit around the nerve without suturing. The nerve ends could grow through the implanted conduit. There was a remarkable improvement in nerve regeneration measured up to 45 days in the rats when the 4D printed nerve conduits were used. The team consisting of Akshat Joshi, Saswat Choudhury, Vageesh Singh Baghel, Souvik Ghosh, Sumeet Gupta, Debrupa Lahiri, G.K. Ananthasuresh, Kaushik Chatterjee reported its findings in a paper published in Advanced Healthcare Materials. This work was supported by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), a statutory body of the Department of Science and Technology, under the Intensification of Research in High Priority Areas (IRHPA) special call on 3D Bioprinting.

Such 4D-printed parts have not been used in the clinic as yet. But such emerging technologies could pave the way for a new generation of medical devices that surgeons can deploy during surgery to heal nerves and many other tissues in coming years. They can offer benefits such as reduced complexity of surgeries, deployment by minimally-invasive procedures, and faster healing.


GS 3 : PDS, Buffer Stock & Food Security

Improve Nutrition Security using PDS –

The Department of Food and Public Distribution (DoF&PD), in particular the Food Corporation of India (FCI), must have heaved a sigh of relief that the procurement of wheat so far has crossed 20 million tonnes (MT), a notch higher than last year. Three states Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have contributed more than 98 per cent to the central pool.

Wheat production estimates –

  1. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) had earlier estimated the wheat production for this year to be 112 MT. However, the impact of unseasonal rains on wheat production has made the revised estimate uncertain.
  2. Punjab: Punjab, one of the largest contributors to wheat procurement, is also in the process of estimating losses due to rough weather just before the harvest time. Despite the unseasonal rains, interactions with Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), market functionaries and farmers suggest that the production of wheat this year is higher than last year.
  3. Uttar Pradesh: Uttar Pradesh produces almost double the amount of wheat (about 35 MT) than Punjab (about 18 MT). UP is estimated to procure 3.5 MT of wheat, but so far it has procured a meagre 0.12 MT. Unless it brings a surprise in May and June, the overall wheat procurement may stop well short of even 30 MT.

Challenges for providing nutritious food through PDS –

  1. Infrastructure and supply chain: There is a lack of proper infrastructure and supply chain to transport and store nutritious food items such as millets, pulses, and oilseeds. This leads to spoilage, wastage, and ultimately affects the quality of food provided through PDS.
  2. Cost: Providing nutritious food items through PDS may increase the cost of the program, which can be a challenge for the government to sustain in the long run.
  3. Awareness and demand: There is a lack of awareness among the general public about the benefits of nutritious food items and the need to include them in their diet. Also, there may not be enough demand for these items, leading to poor offtake and wastage.
  4. Operational challenges:There are several operational challenges such as sourcing, storage, and distribution of nutritious food items, which need to be addressed for an effective PDS program.
  5. Political interference:There may be political interference in the selection of food items to be included in PDS, leading to a focus on populist measures rather than on nutritious food items. This can undermine the effectiveness of the program

Nutrition security through PDS and a help to climate resilient agriculture –

  1. Introducing more nutritious food:The introduction of more nutritious food, such as millets, pulses, and oilseeds, in PDS can help achieve the twin objectives of nutrition and climate resilience.
  2. Encouraging climate-resilient food:Encouraging the production of climate-resilient food crops like millets, pulses, oilseeds, etc., can help create a steady flow of nutritious food.
  3. Upgrading fair price shops to Nutritious Food Hubs:At least 10% of fair price shops can be upgraded and declared as Nutritious Food Hubs (NFHs). These NFHs can have fortified, including bio-fortified, rice and wheat, millets, pulses, oilseeds (especially soyabean products with 40% protein), fortified milk and edible oils, eggs, etc.
  4. Electronic vouchers for targeted beneficiaries: Consumers of PDS list may be given electronic vouchers (like an e-food coupon in a food court) that can be charged by the government three or four times a year.
  5. Government assistance for upgrading NFHs:The NFHs can be upgraded with government assistance, creating demand for more diversified and nutritious food from the masses.
  6. Capping the procurement of rice:The procurement of rice would have to be capped, starting with districts where the water table has been depleting alarmingly.
  7. For example, Sangrur in Punjab has witnessed a fall of groundwater level by more than 25 meters during 2000-2019. Farmers of such districts could be incentivized to grow millets, pulses, oilseeds, etc., that are climate smart, use much less water and fertilizers, thus saving power and fertilizer subsidies.
  8. Giving a special package for carbon credits: The Centre and the states need to join hands to give a special package for carbon credits for growing such crops. Farmers can be rewarded about Rs 10,000/acre (to be shared equally by the Centre and the state), as these crops would save that much fertilizer subsidy of the Centre and power subsidy of the state.


GS 2 : India & Its Neighbourhood – Bilateral Relations

India-China Border Tensions –

India needs to take proactive measures to address the ongoing border crisis with China in Ladakh, rather than relying on a status quo approach. The government’s silence and euphemistic language on the issue have given the impression of incompetence and inaction, leading to concerns over India’s capability to handle the situation.

Brief background on the Ladakh border issue –

  1. The border dispute dates back to the 1950s and 60s, when China made claims to the region and occupied large parts of it.
  2. In 1962, the two countries fought a brief war over the issue, which ended in a Chinese victory and the establishment of a de facto border line known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
  3. Since then, the two countries have had several standoffs and skirmishes in the region, with tensions escalating in recent years. T
  4. he latest border standoff in Ladakh began in May 2020 and continues to remain unresolved.

The Depsang crisis of 2013 –

  1. Depsang Plains of Ladakh:The Depsang crisis of 2013 refers to a tense border standoff between India and China that took place in the Depsang Plains of Ladakh in April-May 2013.
  2. Chinese troops set up a camp:The crisis began when Chinese troops set up a camp in the Depsang Plains, which is located about 19 km inside what India considers to be its territory.
  3. Strategically important area:The area is strategically important as it overlooks the strategically important Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road that India had built to improve its connectivity to the border areas.
  4. Negotiations and agreement over the withdrawal:The situation was resolved after three weeks of negotiations, with the Chinese agreeing to withdraw their troops in exchange for a pledge from India to scale down its military presence in the area.
  5. The crisis led to other standoffs:The crisis highlighted the long-standing boundary dispute between India and China, which has led to several other standoffs and skirmishes over the years.

What is the current situation?

  1. The current situation at the Ladakh border is that some areas have witnessed disengagement, while two areas, Depsang and Demchok, remain unresolved. Indian soldiers are not allowed to touch 26 of the 65 patrolling points in Ladakh.
  2. Diplomatic meetings and talks between corps commanders have not elicited any progress since September last year. Regular meetings between Indian and Chinese Ministers, Foreign and Defence, have not yielded results either.
  3. India needs to find a way to transfer the pressure back to China, as Beijing has never compromised unless it has been forced into an uncomfortable spot.

Way ahead: Steps to transfer the pressure back to China –

  1. Bold use of imagination:The political leadership needs to use its imagination boldly to find a way to impose its will upon China.
  2. Be proactive:India needs to be proactive in dealing with China, as Beijing has never compromised unless it has been forced into an uncomfortable spot.
  3. Tactful action on LAC:Tactical actions on the LAC need to be daring, and the military needs to be used as an instrument to pursue policy ends and try to impose its will upon the adversary.
  4. Increase strategic thought:Strategic thought in Delhi needs to be bold and innovative to find a way to wrest the initiative from China.
  5. Avoid fear of military escalation:India’s fear of military escalation is holding back progress in the Ladakh border issue, and the government needs to overcome this fear to take proactive steps.
  6. Utilize diplomatic channels:India should leverage diplomatic channels and international forums to put pressure on China to resolve the border issue.
  7. Strengthen domestic capabilities: India should focus on building domestic capabilities, including military and economic, to match up to China’s strengths and position itself better in negotiations.


GS 2 : Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

USCIRF demands sanctions on Indian agencies over Religious Freedom Violations –

The Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged to impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for “severe violations” of religious freedom by freezing their assets.

What is USCIRF Report?

  1. The USCIRF report assesses the status of religious freedom around the world.
  2. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of religious freedom in countries across the globe, highlighting issues of concern and making recommendations for action by the US government.
  3. The report is an important tool for raising awareness of violations of religious freedom and advocating for greater protection of this fundamental human right.

Allegations against India

(1) Policies

It is alleged that the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies, including:

  1. Laws targeting religious conversion
  2. Interfaith relationships
  3. Ban over wearing of hijabs and cow slaughter

This has negatively impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis.

(2) Laws of Suppression

The report also alleges that the national government continued to suppress critical voices, particularly of religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf through-

  1. Surveillance / Harassment / Cow Vigilantism
  2. Accusation of sedition
  3. Demolition of property
  4. Detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)
  5. Targeted banning of NGOs ex. Missionaries of Charity under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)
  6. Constitution

India’s response –

  1. India has slammed USCIRF for “misrepresenting” facts and described it as an “organisation of particular concern”.
  2. The Indian government rejected the biased and inaccurate comments.
  3. Foundation of Indian and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) slammed USCIRF for its biased report and failure to acknowledge the cultural and economic significance of cows to Indians.

Why such reports often falsely target India?

  1. Lack of objectivity:There have been instances in the past where these reports have been criticized for being one-sided and lacking objectivity.
  2. US lobby against everyone:It is important to note that reports like USCIRF’s are based on the organization’s own assessments.
  3. Inherent bias against India:Such allegations are prevalent ever since India attained its Freedom.
  4. Self-proclaimed father of democracy:US has infamous for selectively promoting democracy and human rights, and for supporting authoritarian regimes that align with its strategic interests.
  5. Anti-regime:Such reports often overlook the efforts made by the present regime in India towards promoting religious tolerance and communal harmony.

Way forward –

  1. Urgent action:India needs to take prompt and necessary steps to address religious freedom issues and take everyone’s faith in the government and democratic process.
  2. Nuanced understanding:International organizations and foreign governments must make a conscious effort to understand the complexities of India’s social, political, and economic landscape before making any recommendations or issuing reports.
  3. Avoid sweeping generalizations:It is important to avoid sweeping generalizations and presenting a one-sided view of the situation, which can be detrimental to India’s reputation and lead to misunderstandings.
  4. Self-reflection by the US:The US must address its own issues related to religious freedom and human rights violations, and not just sermon other countries.