Daily Current Affairs
04 December 2021

​​​​​​1. Elephants are victims of train collisions and electric fences in rising man-animal conflicts

  • Source - The Hindu - Page 8/Editorial - Corridors of Death
  • GS 3: Environment - conservation & Environmental' impact assessment.

     

      • News: A reply by the Project Elephant division of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in May to a set of RTI questions highlighted reasons other than natural causes as having led to the killing of 1,160 elephants over 11 years ending December 2020;

        • 741 deaths were due to electrocution;

        • railway accidents accounted for 186 cases;

        • poaching 169 and

        • poisoning 64.

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    • Major root causes:

      • Man Animal conflict: Plantation & estate owners often put electric fences to stop the menace of elephants entering the plantations & fields. States in the Eastern and Northeastern region:  have accounted for most of these deaths, as they  moving out of forests towards agricultural areas.

        • This  is turning out to be a critical area in the management of India’s elephant population as 461 elephants got electrocuted between 2009 and 2017.

      • Death by Railway accidents:

        • The pattern of train accidents involving elephants has been studied by different stakeholders, including the Railways, Forest and Wildlife Departments and activists, especially with regard to the Madukkarai stretch.

        • That a greater number of casualties getting reported are in elephant passages has been confirmed by the C&AG in its latest compliance audit report on the Ministry of Railways.

      • Poaching for tusks: This has now largely been controlled.

    • About Elephant:

      • It is India's national heritage animal.

      • Conservation status:

        • IUCN Red list: Endangered

        • Wildlife Act: Schedule 1

        • CITES: Appendix I.

      • Distribution in India: Karnataka has most number of elephants in India, followed by Assam and Kerala.

      • Project Elephant: It was started by the central government in 1992 to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors; to address issues of man-animal conflicts; and welfare of domesticated elephants.

        • The project is being implemented in 22 states/UTs(100% funds given by centre) through 29 notified & 2 proposed Elephant reserves.

        • Elephant Corridors based approach: Narrow strips of land that allow elephants to move from one habitat to another. There are approximately 100 Elephant corridors currently in India.

    • Effective solutions -

      • Electrocution:

        • Installing hanging solar-powered fences, as has been planned in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and

        • Planting citronella and lemon grass, as done in Golaghat district, Assam, to deter elephants are some of the large-scale options.

        • The authorities should ensure that there are no illegal electric fences or barbed wire fences, which, instead, can be replaced with the solar powered ones.

        • Participation of local communities is crucial.

      • Train hits:   comptroller & Auditor General(C&AG) report on Ministry of railways gives various solutions in this regard -

        • Elevated Wildlife crossings: The Environment Ministry and Ministry of Railways should also expedite proposals for elevated wildlife crossings or eco-bridges and underpasses for the safe passage of animals.

          • A finding of the C&AG was that after the construction of underpasses and overpasses in the areas under the jurisdiction of East Central and Northeast Frontier Railways, there was no death reported.

        • From C&AG report:

          • Periodic review of identification of elephant passages,

          • More sensitisation programmes for railway staff,

          • Standardisation of track signage,

          • Installation of an animal detection system (transmitter collars) and

          • ‘honey bee’ sound-emitting devices near all identified elephant passages.

      • Other Solutions:

        • Creating awareness: The critical role elephants play in biodiversity conservation must be highlighted, especially to those living in areas close to elephant corridors.

        • Participation of the state governments: Of the 29,964 elephants in India, nearly 14,580 are in the southern region, and the State governments concerned and the Centre need to find lasting solutions to the problem of man-animal conflicts.

        • stop illegal electrical fencing,

        • have proper guidelines for maintaining the height of high tension electrical wires,

        • proper zone-wise management plan for different elephant landscapes — where to allow elephants and where to restrict their movement.

    • Conservation status of elephants:

      • IUCN Red List of threatened species status- African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered”.

      • ‘Gaj Yatra’ a nationwide awareness campaign to celebrate elephants and highlight the necessity of securing elephant corridors.

      1. The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), had come out with a publication on the right of passage in 101 elephant corridors of the country in 2017, stressed on the need for greater surveillance and protection of elephant corridors.

      2. The Monitoring the Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme launched in 2003 is an international collaboration that tracks trends in information related to the illegal killing of elephants from across Africa and Asia, to monitor effectiveness of field conservation efforts.

    1. Way forward: The recommendations from the report of Comptroller and Auditor general of India's(C&AG's) latest compliance audit report on the Ministry of Railways, must be implemented swiftly in this regard.

 

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2. The National Family Benefit Scheme is in urgent need of a new lease of life

  • Source: The IE - Page 12/The Editorial Page - Beyond notional benefits

  • GS 2: Government schemes for vulnerable sections


     

      • Context: The NFBS was launched in 1995 under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) to help the bereaved household in the event of the death of the breadwinner. Unfortunately, the scheme has been allowed to languish.

      • About National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP)

        • It was launched on 15th August 1995.

        • It is a significant step towards the fulfillment of the Directive Principles in Articles 41 & 42.

          • Article 41 of the Constitution of India directs the State to provide public assistance to its citizens in case of unemployment, old age, sickness, and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want within the limit of its economic capacity and development.

          • Article 42: Provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief

        • Objective: It is a social security and welfare programme to provide support to aged persons, widows, disabled persons, and bereaved families on the death of a primary breadwinner, belonging to below poverty line households.

        • Presently NSAP comprises of five schemes, namely –

          • Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS): 

            • Eligibility Criteria:

              • The age of the applicant (male or female) shall be 60 years or higher.

              • The applicant must belong to a household below poverty line(BPL) category.

            • Pattern of assistance:

              • The central assistance provided as:

                • Pension is Rs. 200 p.m. for persons between 60  to 79 years.

                • Pension is Rs. 500 p.m for persons who are 80 years and above.

              • States are strongly urged to provide an additional amount at least an equivalent amount to the assistance provided by the Central Government so that the beneficiaries can get a decent level of assistance.

          • Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS):

            • Eligibility: The eligible age is 40 years, only for BPL category.

            • Pension amount:

              • the pension is Rs.300 per month.

              • After attaining the age of 80 years, the beneficiary will get Rs.500/ - per month.

          • Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS):

            • Eligibility:

              • The Eligible age for the pensioner is 18 years and above

              • The disability level has to be 80%. Dwarfs will also be an eligible category for this pension.

              • And belongs to BPL category.

            • Benefit: The amount is Rs.300 per month and after attaining the age of 80 years, the beneficiary will get Rs 500/ - per month.

          • National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS):

            • Benefit: Rs. 20000/ - will be given as a lump sum assistance to the bereaved household in the event of the death of the bread-winner.

            • Eligibility criteria: The death of such a breadwinner should have occurred whilst he/ she is more than 18 years of age and less than 60 years of age.

              • The assistance would be given to every case of death of the primary breadwinner in a family.

          • Annapurna Scheme:

            • 10 kgs of food grains (wheat or rice) is given per month per beneficiary.

            • It aims at providing food security to meet the requirements of those eligible old aged persons who have remained uncovered under the IGNOAPS.

      • The issues with NFBS:

        • Insufficient sum promised: The Rs 20000 is insufficient for a family to survive. At the same time, the meager 20,000 benefit does not ensure the dignified survival of a poor family that has lost its breadwinner.

        • The scheme's restrictive eligibility of BPL & formalities is often forbidding to help even to the minute percentage.

        • Lack of transparency & accountability further delayed the meager help needed for the family.

        • Stagnated Budget: The NFBS budget over the years has been stagnated, making it impossible to expand its coverage or raise the benefits. For instance, the central expenditure on NFBS declined from Rs 862 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 623 in 2020-21.

        • Some criticize that the center has been deliberately undermining NSAP (including NFBS) to promote contributory schemes such as the Atal Pension Yojana. However, even the contributory schemes are not attractive for the poorest of the poor because of various reasons.

      • Steps needed to revamp the NFBS:

        • Increase the amount of emergency assistance from Rs, 20000. Experts want the NFBS benefits to be pegged at 80% of India’s per-capita GDP i.e. approximately Rs 1 lakh.

        • Removing BPL Criteria: The BPL lists are outdated, unreliable & full of exclusion errors in most states. The NFBS scheme should use the exclusion approach whereby the privileged households are excluded using simple & transparent criteria.

        • Addressing the administrative bottleneck: the NFBS formalities are needed to be simplified, transparent & people-friendly. The main responsibility for identifying eligible families rests with the gram Panchayat or municipality. There is a need for compensation in the event of delays that would help to ensure timely disbursal of benefits.

        • Increasing the Budget: The most important step is to increase in the NFBS budget to cater to the increased coverage & benefits.

      • Way Forward: Mihir Shah committee recommendations to increase coverage & benefits of NFBS. The absence of any form of life insurance for the poorest of the poor is a gaping hole in India’s budding social security system. A revamped & robust NFBS would bring a big difference to the life of the vulnerable.

 

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3. Recast this apples-and-oranges ranking method; The NIRF’s ranking of State-run and centrally-funded higher education institutions on a common scale is problematic

  • Source - Page 8/Editorial - Recast this apples-and-oranges ranking method

  • GS 2: Education


     

      • Context: The ranking of State-run higher education institutions (HEIs) together with centrally funded institutions such as IITs, IISC, NITs, central universities, etc. using  NIRF, is akin to comparing apples and oranges.

      • University related data in India:

        • Number of Universities in India; According to an All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20 report, there are 1,043 HEIs; of these, 48 are central universities, 135 are institutions of national importance, one is a central open university, 386 are State public universities, five are institutions under the State legislature act, 14 are State open universities, 327 are State private universities, one is a State private open university, 36 are government deemed universities, 10 are government aided deemed universities and 80 are private deemed universities.

        • The total enrolment in higher education has been estimated to be 38.5 million — 19.6 million boys and 18.9 million girls (female students constitute 49% of the total enrolment).

      • About National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)

        • It is a methodology initiated by Ministry of Education(M/o E) to rank all institutions of higher education in India on the basis of voluntary participation:

        • The Methodology: The NIRF outlines a methodology to rank HEIs across the country, which is based on a set of metrics for the ranking of HEIs as agreed upon by a core committee of experts set up by the then Ministry of Human Resources Development (now the Ministry of Education), Government of India.

        • Parameters include:

          • Teaching & learning resources, includes metrics viz. student strength including doctoral students, faculty-student ratio with an emphasis on permanent faculty, a combined metric for faculty with the qualification of PhD (or equivalent) and experience, and financial resources and their utilisation.

          • Research output & Professional Practice - consulting & collaborating performance;  It encompasses a combined metric for publications, a combined metric for quality of publications, intellectual property rights/patents and the footprint of projects, professional practice and executive development programmes

          • Graduation Outcomes - which includes the placement records.

          • Inclusivity and outreach

          1. stakeholder perception.

      1. The Criticism of this approach:

        • Comparing Apples with Oranges: The rationale to compare State universities and colleges with the top colleges(IITs/IISCs/NITs), to which the Central government is committed to sponsoring resources and infrastructure, is inexplicable.

          • The Central government earmarked the sums, ₹7,686 crore and ₹7,643.26 crore to the IITs and central universities, respectively, in the Union Budget 2021.

        • No comparison on cost-benefit analysis/economic indicators such as return on investment(RoI) the Government made into them vis-à-vis the contribution of their students in nation building parameters such as the number of students who passed out serving in rural areas, tier-2 and tier 3 cities of the country and bringing relief to common man.

        • No comparison on the Social returns: While students who pass out of elite institutions generally prefer to move abroad in search of higher studies and better career prospects, a majority of State HEIs contribute immensely in building the local economy.

        • It takes cognisance of only the strength of institutions while completely disregarding the problems and the impediments they encounter, hence, disallowing a level-playing-field to State universities and colleges vis-à-vis their centrally funded counterparts.

        • Voluntary Mechanism: Only About 3500 institutions voluntarily participated in the first round of rankings in 2017; But there were 40,026 colleges & 11,669 standalone institution according to MHRD's All India Survey on Higher Education 2016-17.

        • Question about the Data provided by college itself: For NIRF, accuracy of data lies with participating institution, except for independently verifiable Research outcomes. NIRF depends on the data provided by the institute itself.

      2. Deficiencies in state universities:

        • Inequity in funding: A close study of this data shows that 184 are centrally funded institutions (out of 1,043 HEIs in the country) to which the Government of India generously allocates its financial resources in contrast to inadequate financial support provided by State governments to their respective State public universities and colleges.

        • Largest number of students are enrolled in State universities: out of the total student enrolment, the number of undergraduate students is the largest (13,97,527) in State public universities followed by State open universities (9,22,944).

        • Deficiencies: The financial health of State-sponsored HEIs is an open secret with salary and pension liabilities barely being managed.

        • Many are located in rural areas: It must be noted that 420 universities in India are located in rural areas. Scare resources and the lackadaisical attitude of States preclude such institutions from competing with centrally sponsored and strategically located HEIs.

      3. Lagging state university Ranking on critical parameters

        • Teaching, learning and resources: In the absence of adequate faculty strength, most State HEIs lag behind in this crucial NIRF parameter for ranking. The depleting strength of teachers, from 15,18,813 (2015-16) to 15,03,156 (2019-20), as a result of continuous retirement and low recruitment has further weakened the faculty-student ratio with an emphasis on permanent faculty in HEIs.

        • Research and professional practice: As most laboratories need drastic modernisation in keeping pace with today’s market demand, it is no wonder that State HEIs fare miserably in this parameter as well while pitted against central institutions.

        • Silver-lining:  Interestingly the share of PhD students is the highest in State public universities, i.e. 29.8%, followed by institutes of national importance (23.2%), deemed universities – private (13.9%) and central universities (13.6%), while the funds State HEIs receive are much less when compared to centrally funded institutions.

        • State HEIs are struggling to embrace emerging technologies involving artificial intelligence, machine learning, block chains, smart boards, handheld computing devices, adaptive computer testing for student development, and other forms of educational software/hardware to remain relevant as per the New Education Policy.

      4. Way Forward for State universities:

        • Better financial allocation: As quality research publications and the number of patents filed in State HEIs are contingent on well-equipped laboratories, modern libraries and generously funded infrastructure, it is imperative for policymakers to reorient financial allocation strategies towards State HEIs.

        • Better Mechanism for ranking: Ranking HEIs on a common scale purely based on strengths without taking note of the challenges and the weaknesses they face is not justified. It is time the NIRF plans an appropriate mechanism to rate the output and the performance of institutes in light of their constraints and the resources available to them.