A) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues
All about Black Holes (IE)
Context: Nobel Physics Prize for research into what the Nobel committee called “one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe, the black hole”, was recently announced.
- The term “black hole” refers to a point in space where matter is so compressed as to create a gravity field from which even light cannot escape.
- This year Nobel Prize winners Mr. Genzel and Ms. Ghez have led research since the early 1990s focusing on a region called Sagittarius A* at the centre of the Milky Way.
- Using the world’s largest telescopes, they discovered an extremely heavy, invisible object — around 4 million times greater than the mass of the Sun — that pulls on surrounding stars, giving the galaxy its characteristic swirl.
- The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry and economics.
- Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of black holes in 1916, with his general theory of relativity.
- The term “black hole” was coined many years later in 1967 by American astronomer John Wheeler.
- After decades of black holes being known only as theoretical objects, the first physical black hole ever discovered was spotted in 1971.
- Then, in 2019 the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration, released the first image ever recorded of a black hole.
- The EHT saw the black hole in the center of Virgo A galaxy while the telescope was examining the event horizon (Named: M87), or the area past which nothing can escape from a black hole.
- The image maps the sudden loss of photons (particles of light).
- EHT project has been used to measure the size of the emission regions of the two supermassive black holes with the largest apparent event horizons: SgrA* at the center of the Milky Way and M87 in the center of the Virgo A galaxy. In both cases, the sizes match that of the predicted silhouette caused by the extreme lensing of light by the black hole.
Types of black holes
Stellar black holes — small but deadly
- When a star burns through the last of its fuel, the object may collapse, or fall into itself.
- For smaller stars (those up to about three times the sun’s mass), the new core will become a neutron star or a white dwarf.
- But when a larger star collapses, it continues to compress and creates a stellar black hole.
- Black holes formed by the collapse of individual stars are relatively small, but incredibly dense.
- Stellar black holes then consume the dust and gas from their surrounding galaxies, which keeps them growing in size.
- The Milky Way contains a few hundred million stellar black holes.
Supermassive black holes — the birth of giants
- These enormous black holes are millions or even billions of times as massive as the sun, but are about the same size in diameter.
- Such black holes are thought to lie at the center of pretty much every galaxy, including the Milky Way.
Intermediate black holes — stuck in the middle
- Such bodies could form when stars in a cluster collide in a chain reaction.
- Several of these IMBHs forming in the same region could then eventually fall together in the center of a galaxy and create a supermassive black hole.
- The Sloan Digital Sky Survey examines about 1 million galaxies and can detect the kind of light often observed coming from black holes that are picking up nearby debris.
What do black holes look like?
- Black holes are strange regions where gravity is strong enough to bend light, warp space and distort time.
- Black holes have three “layers”: the outer and inner event horizon, and the singularity.
- The event horizon of a black hole is the boundary around the mouth of the black hole, past which light cannot escape.
- Once a particle crosses the event horizon, it cannot leave. Gravity is constant across the event horizon.
- The inner region of a black hole, where the object’s mass lies, is known as its singularity, the single point in space-time where the mass of the black hole is concentrated.
- Scientists can’t see black holes the way they can see stars and other objects in space.
- Instead, astronomers must rely on detecting the radiation black holes emit as dust and gas are drawn into the dense creatures.
- Sagittarius A* is the black hole in the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.
- Sagittarius A* is intriguing because it is quieter than expected, which may be due to magnetic fields smothering its activity, a 2019 study reported.
- In 2015, astronomers using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves from merging stellar black holes that are larger than 20 solar masses — these are objects we didn’t know existed before LIGO detected them.
- LIGO’s observations also provide insights about the direction a black hole spins.
- As two black holes spiral around one another, they can spin in the same direction or in the opposite direction.
- There are two theories on how binary black holes form. The first suggests that the two black holes in a binary form at about the same time, from two stars that were born together and died explosively at about the same time. The companion stars would have had the same spin orientation as one another, so the two black holes left behind would as well.
Weird facts about black holes
- Black holes don’t suck. Suction is caused by pulling something into a vacuum, which the massive black hole definitely is not.
- Instead, objects fall into them just as they fall toward anything that exerts gravity, like the Earth.
- The first object considered to be a black hole is Cygnus X-1.
- Miniature black holes may have formed immediately after the Big Bang.
- Rapidly expanding space may have squeezed some regions into tiny, dense black holes less massive than the sun.
Event Horizon Telescope
- The EHT project, which has been in the works for two decades, links up eight radio telescopes in the North America, Hawaii, Europe, South America and the South Pole to form a virtual instrument the size of Earth, to peer at two supermassive black holes: the M87 behemoth, which harbors about 6.5 billion times more mass than Earth’s sun, and the supermassive black hole at the heart of our own Milky Way galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*.
- Sagittarius A* is about 26,000 light-years from Earth, by the way, and the M87 black hole lies a whopping 53.5 million light-years away from us.
- The radio telescopes used were:
- Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, Chajnantor Plateau, Chile (total 66 dishes)
- Atacama Pathfinder Experiment, Chajnantor Plateau, Chile
- IRAM 30-meter telescope, Pico Veleta, Spain
- Large Millimeter Telescope, Puebla, Mexico
- Submillimeter Telescope, Mt. Graham, Arizona
- Submillimeter Array, Mauna Kea, Hawaii
- South Pole Telescope, South Pole, Antarctica.
Fig. Getting the first picture of a black hole required connecting radio observatories spanning almost the entire globe in a network called the Event Horizon Telescope.
- The goal was to map these two black holes’ contours by imaging each one’s event horizon, the famed “point of no return” beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. (It’s impossible to photograph a black hole’s interior, unless you’re in there yourself.)
- In April 2019, the EHT Collaboration announced that it had succeeded in photographing M87’s black hole.
- Scientists are still working to image Sagittarius A*, for example.
- Supermassive black holes, ensconced in the centers of galaxies, make themselves visible by spewing bright jets of charged particles or by flinging away or ripping up nearby stars.
- Up close, these behemoths are surrounded by glowing accretion disks of infalling material.
- But because a black hole’s extreme gravity prevents light from escaping, the dark hearts of these cosmic heavy hitters remain entirely invisible.
- Luckily, there’s a way to “see” a black hole without peering into the abyss itself.
- Telescopes can look instead for the silhouette (the dark shape and outline of someone or something visible in restricted light against a brighter background) of a black hole’s event horizon — the perimeter inside which nothing can be seen or escape — against its accretion disk.
- That’s what the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, did in April 2017, collecting data that has now yielded the first image of a supermassive black hole, the one inside the galaxy M87.
- Instead, a technique called very long baseline interferometry combines radio waves seen by many telescopes at once, so that the telescopes effectively work together like one giant dish.
- The diameter of that virtual dish is equal to the length of the longest distance, or baseline, between two telescopes in the network.
- For the EHT in 2017, that was the distance from the South Pole to Spain.
- Event Horizon Telescope which reported the first ever image of a black hole in 2019 is in the Western Hemisphere.
- EHT observing campaigns are best run within about 10 days in late March or early April, when the weather at every observatory promises to be the most cooperative.
- Researchers’ biggest enemy is water in the atmosphere, like rain or snow, which can muddle with the millimeter-wavelength radio waves that the EHT’s telescopes are tuned to.
- Since M87’s black hole and Sgr A* appear on the sky one at a time — each one about to rise just as the other sets — the EHT can switch back and forth between observing its two targets over the course of a single multi-day campaign.
- All eight observatories can track Sgr A*, but M87 is in the northern sky and beyond the South Pole station’s sight.
- On their own, the data from each observing station look like nonsense. But taken together using the very long baseline interferometry technique, these data can reveal a black hole’s appearance.
- The EHT could also be used to find pairs of supermassive black holes orbiting one another — similar to the two stellar mass black holes whose collision created gravitational waves detected in 2015 by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or Advanced LIGO.
- Getting a census of these binaries may help researchers identify targets for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, which will search from space for gravitational waves kicked up by the movement of objects like black holes.
- The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) is a cooperative mission of European Spave Agency with NASA, designed to detect ‘ripples’ in space-time.
- As predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the ripples are created during events in which very massive objects undergo strong acceleration.
- Examples of such events are massive black holes swallowing neutron stars or the collision of two massive black holes.
- Such ripples are called gravitational waves and LISA will be the first mission to detect them from space.
- LISA’s three spacecraft will form an equilateral triangle with an arm’s length of about 5 million km.
- The difficulty is that, even for very massive bodies, such as black holes or neutron stars, gravitational waves are very weak and their effects are small.
- To detect gravitational waves, increasing the size of the detectors and going to a very quiet place is key. This is why scientists need LISA – a space-based detector, 5 million km in size.
- The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team, which earlier this year unveiled photos of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87, won the $3 million annual Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics.
- The Breakthrough Prizes honor important, primarily recent, achievements in the categories of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics.
- The prizes are sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Pony Ma, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki and were founded in 2012.
- Committees of previous laureates choose the winners from candidates nominated in a process that’s online and open to the public.
- Laureates receive $3 million each in prize money.
- The $3 million awards are the richest in science. For comparison, each 2018 Nobel Prize is worth 9 million Swedish kronor, about $1 million at current exchange rates.
- Those that go on to make fresh discoveries remain eligible for future Breakthrough Prizes.
- The Breakthrough Prize also recognizes early career researchers with $100,000 “New Horizons” awards in Physics and Math.
- It is a travelling exhibition that shows India’s participation in major science projects around the world.
- This multi-venue Science Exhibition, is planned in the four cities of Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and New Delhi.
- The exhibition, which is of 11-month duration, commenced its journey from Mumbai in May 2019.
- The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) are funding the Exhibition while the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) and Ministry of Culture are the venue partners.
International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Project, DNA barcoding and BIOSCAN Programme (PIB)
Context: Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), a subordinate organization under Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with International Barcode of Life (iBOL), a Canadian not-for-profit corporation.
- ZSI and iBOL have come together for further efforts in DNA barcoding, a methodology for rapidly and accurately identifying species by sequencing a short segment of standardized gene regions and comparing individual sequences to a reference database.
- The MoU will enable ZSI to participate at the Global level programmes like Bioscan and Planetary Biodiversity Mission.
- Earth is home to an estimated 10 to 100 million species but 250 years of morphological (the branch of biology that deals with the form of living organisms, and with relationships between their structures) study has formally described fewer than two million of them.
- Current approaches to the study of biological diversity are seriously hampered by the limited ability of humans to recognize and recall morphological variation.
- It is this stark reality that is driving a new approach to species recognition called DNA barcoding.
- Traditionally, taxonomists identify biological specimens using morphological features or “keys”.
- But if a specimen is damaged or in an immature stage of development – the larva of a wasp, for example – even an experienced taxonomist may be unable to make an identification. Barcoding would eliminate these difficulties.
- Non-specialists could obtain barcodes from tiny amounts of tissue and the barcode sequence was the same for all stages of development.
- Thus, DNA barcoding could serve two purposes:
- a new tool helping taxonomists with hard-to-identify specimens and
- an innovative device for non-experts needing to make a quick identification.
International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Project
- iBOL is the largest biodiversity genomics initiative ever undertaken, to create a digital identification system for life.
- iBOL uses sequence diversity in short, standardized gene regions — DNA barcodes — as a tool for identifying known species and discovering new ones.
- iBOL’s main mission is extending the geographic and taxonomic coverage of the barcode reference library — Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) –– storing the resulting barcode records, providing community access to the knowledge they represent and creating new devices to ensure global access to this information.
- That includes a hand-held device that will provide real-time access to identifications by anyone in any setting.
- iBOL researchers will also work on applying DNA barcoding to real world problems, such as forensics, conservation, marketplace regulation, control of diseases and ecosystem monitoring.
- Once implemented, this DNA-based identification system will exert broad impacts on all areas in which society interacts with biodiversity – pest and disease control, food production and safety, resource management, conservation, research, education, and recreation.
- DNA barcoding will enable the rapid identification of invasive species, allowing quarantine and eradication efforts to begin far earlier, with massive reductions in cost and increased chances of success.
- It will further aid the selection of optimal control strategies for pest/disease agents impacting all natural resource sectors. Barcoding will play a critical role in regulating trade in endangered or protected species and products.
- As massively parallel sequencing technologies become more available, the barcode library will enable sophisticated environmental monitoring that uses living organisms as integrators of environmental change and as early warnings of damage.
- iBOL’s work will be carried out by a research alliance spanning 26 nations (including India) with varying levels of investment and responsibilities.
- The International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) launched its new research program BIOSCANin June 2019, to scale up its efforts to inventory life on Earth.
- The BARCODE 500K research program established the sequencing facilities, analytical protocols, informatics platforms, and international collaboration needed to build the DNA barcode reference library.
- Building on this success, BIOSCAN launched in June 2019 to scan life and codify species interactions while expanding the reference library and demonstrating its utility.
- BIOSCAN will be the foundation for the Planetary Biodiversity Mission, a mission to save our living planet.
- BIOSCAN is accelerating support for reviewing and describing the millions of species still lacking scientific names.
- The Barcode Index Number (BIN)system offered by BOLD simplifies analysis and presentation of well-defined sets of specimens as diagnosable units of biodiversity.
- Each BIN represents a cluster of individuals that show minimal variation in the standard barcode markers and, in many cases, these clusters will correspond to different species that live and reproduce separately in the environment.
- Since organisms can be assigned to a BIN even when no scientific name is available and even when the exact taxonomic significance of the BIN is unclear, the expanded collecting and sequencing effort planned for BIOSCAN can both assist taxonomists to work more rapidly and efficiently and can offer an interim framework for categorizing and mapping taxonomic units pending full taxonomic review.
- BIOSCAN’s three main research themes aim to:
- (1) increase the coverage of the barcode reference library to at least two million species,
- (2) exploit the power of new sequencing platforms to survey species communities at thousands of sites across different ecoregions and
- (3) to probe the biotic associations of millions of individual organisms.
Explained: CRISPR/Cas9 and Nobel Prize in Chemistry (IE)
Context: Emmanuelle Charpentier of France, Jennifer Doudna of USA share Nobel Prize for the chemistry of CRISPR, which allows scientists to ‘cut-paste’ inside a genetic sequence. This has a variety of potential uses, but also raises ethical concerns.
- It is possibly the only time in the history of Nobel Prize that two women have been declared the sole winners.
- CRISPR/Cas9 is a simple but powerful gene-editing technology that can be harnessed to modify, delete or correct disease-causing abnormalities at their genetic sources.
- CRISPR refers to Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats of genetic information, which some bacterial species use as an antiviral mechanism in combination with the Cas9 enzyme.
- Cas9 – a CRISPR-Associated endonuclease – acts as “molecular scissors” to cut DNA at a specific location and inserts a foreign piece of DNA to correct the mutation that causes the disease.
- However, in addition to binding to the intended target on the DNA, the commonly used Cas9 protein from Strepotococcus pyogenesbacteria (SpCas9) and its engineered derivative tend to potentially bind to DNA at multiple unintended sites thereby leading to unnecessary alterations in the DNA.
- The Cas9 protein is supposed to bind to the DNA only when there is a perfect match between the DNA and the protein, thus reducing the chances of the protein binding at non-target sites on the DNA.
- But even when three mismatches exist between the protein and the DNA, the currently used SpCas9 protein binds and cleaves the DNA.
- In contrast, the new FnCas9 protein, derived from a bacterium — Francisella novicida, showed negligible binding when there exists more than one mismatch in the target DNA.
- The high specificity of the new FnCas9 protein arises due to reduced affinity to bind to DNA when there is even a single mismatch.
- In essence, the technology works in a simple way — it locates the specific area in the genetic sequence which has been diagnosed to be the cause of the problem, cuts it out, and replaces it with a new and correct sequence that no longer causes the problem.
- The technology replicates a natural defence mechanism in some bacteria that uses a similar method to protect itself from virus attacks.
- An RNA molecule is programmed to locate the particular problematic sequence on the DNA strand, and a special protein called Cas9 or ‘genetic scissor’, is used to break and remove the problematic sequence.
- A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. But the auto-repair mechanism can lead to the re-growth of a problematic sequence.
- Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process by supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes, which replaces the original sequence.
- The technology can potentially eliminate genetic, and other, diseases, multiply agricultural production, correct deformities, and even open up the more contentious possibilities of producing ‘designer babies’, and bringing cosmetic perfection.
- In effect, anything that is linked with functioning of the genes can be corrected, or ‘edited’.
- There are a whole lot of diseases and disorders, including some forms of cancer, that are caused by an undesired genetic mutation. These can all be fixed with this technology.
- Genetic sequences of disease-causing organisms can be altered to make them ineffective.
- Genes of plants can be edited to make them withstand pests, or improve their tolerance to drought or temperature.
- In November 2018, a Chinese researcher in Shenzen created international sensation with his claim that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin baby girls.
- This was the first documented case of a ‘designer babies’ being produced using the new gene-editing tools like CRISPR, and raised exactly the kind of ethical concerns that scientists like Doudna have been speaking about.
- While CRISPR technology was incredibly precise, it wasn’t 100 per cent accurate, and it is possible that some other genes could also get altered by mistake.
P.G.D. (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) Vs Mitochondrial transfer
- Couples with family histories of serious diseases can have their lab-created embryos tested for the probability of passing the flaws to their offspring.
- An embryo that looks O.K. under a microscope can be implanted in the mother’s uterus for normal development. (Typically, the others are discarded, itself a morally fraught practice for some people).
- Mitochondrial transfer is intended for a woman whose genetic makeup makes it likely she will bear a child with a severe birth defect.
- DNA is removed from her egg and implanted in an egg from another woman that contains healthy energy-generating components known as mitochondria.
- This has given rise to the discomfiting term “three-parent baby.”
B) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
4.Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (PIB)
Context: The Union Cabinet has approved the ratification of seven (7) chemicals listed under Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
- The Cabinet further delegated its powers to ratify chemicals under the Stockholm Convention to Union Ministers of External Affairs (MEA) and Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MEFCC) in respect of POPs already regulated under the domestic regulations thereby streamlining the procedure.
- The regulation inter alia prohibited the manufacture, trade, use, import and export seven chemicals namely:
- (i) Chlordecone,
- (ii) Hexabromobiphenyl,
- (iii) Hexabromodiphenyl ether and Heptabromodiphenylether (Commercial octa-BDE),
- (iv) Tetrabromodiphenyl ether and Pentabromodiphenyl ether (Commercial penta-BDE),
- (v) Pentachlorobenzene,
- (vi) Hexabromocyclododecane, and
- (vii) Hexachlorobutadiene, which were already listed as POPs under Stockholm Convention.
- The ratification process would enable India to access Global Environment Facility (GEF) financial resources in updating National Implementation Plan (NIP).
- Parties to the Stockholm Convention are required to prepare a National Implementation Plan (NIP) explaining how they are going to implement the obligations under the Convention.
- The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from highly dangerous, long-lasting chemicals by restricting and ultimately eliminating their production, use, trade, release and storage.
- Among others, the provisions of the Convention require each party to prohibit and/or eliminate the production and use, as well as the import and export, of the intentionally produced POPs that are listed in Annex A to the Convention
- Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs):
- remain intact in the environment for long periods (persistent),
- become widely distributed geographically (long range transport),
- accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife (bioaccumulation), and
- have a harmful impact on human health, or on environment (toxic).
- Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.
- Though not soluble in water, fish, predatory birds, mammals, and humans are high up the food chain and so absorb the greatest concentrations. When they travel, the POPs travel with them.
- As a result of these two processes, POPs can be found in people and animals living in regions such as the Arctic, thousands of kilometers from any major POPs source.
- India had ratified the Stockholm Convention in January 2006 as per Article 25(4), which enabled it to keep itself in a default “opt-out” position such that amendments in various Annexes of the convention cannot be enforced on it unless an instrument of ratification/ acceptance/ approval or accession is explicitly deposited with UN depositary.
- India has also notified the ‘Regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants Rules under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
- Till date, 26 chemicals are listed as POPs under the Stockholm Convention. As of now, India has ratified only the 12+7 listed POPs.
- Initially, twelve POPs have been recognized as causing adverse effects on humans and the ecosystem and these can be placed in 3 categories:
- Pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene;
- Industrial Chemicals: hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs);
- Byproducts: polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF)
- The chemicals targeted by the Stockholm Convention are listed in the annexes.
Annex A (Elimination)
- Parties must take measures to eliminate the production and use of the chemicals listed under Annex A.
Annex B (Restriction)
- Parties must take measures to restrict the production and use of the chemicals listed under Annex B in light of any applicable acceptable purposes and/or specific exemptions listed in the Annex.
- DDT falls under this category. Hence its export to South Africa to tackle menace of Malaria.
- The import and export of chemicals listed in this Annex can take place under specific restrictive conditions
Annex C (Unintentional production)
- Parties must take measures to reduce the unintentional releasesof chemicals listed under Annex C with the goal of continuing minimization and, where feasible, ultimate elimination.
DDT and Stockholm Convention
- HIL (India) Limited, a PSU under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is the sole manufacturer of DDT globally.
- The company was incorporated in the year 1954 to manufacture and supply DDT to Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for malaria control programme.
- The Company is also exporting the product to many African countries.
- DDT is one of the chemicals targeted by the Stockholm Convention
- In 2006, the World Health Organization encouraged a scale-up in Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) methods i.e. spraying of insecticides inside the human habitants, for vector borne disease (like Malaria) control and concurrently endorsed DDT for this technique.
- There are 11 other chemicals currently recommended by WHO for use in IRS, including bendiocarb, malathion, lambda-cyhalothrin, and alphacypermethrin.
- Current WHO policy advocates rotation of IRS chemicals, and the reduction in use of pyrethroids so as effectively manage insecticide resistance.
Kasturi Cotton (PIB)
Context: 1st ever Brand & Logo for Indian Cotton launched.
- India’s premium Cotton would be known as ‘Kasturi Cotton’ in the world cotton trade.
- World Cotton Day is celebrated each year on 7th October.
Importance of Cotton in Indian economy
- Cotton provides livelihood to about 6.00 million cotton farmers.
- India is the 2nd largest cotton producer (about 23% of the world cotton) and the largest consumer of cotton in the world.
- Also, India produces about 51% of the total organic cotton production of the world, which demonstrates India’s effort towards sustainability.
- Accordingly, Ministry of Textiles through APEDA under Ministry of Commerce and Industry has prescribed a certification system for organic Cotton.
Growing conditions and areas under cultivation
- Cotton is a water thirsty crop and around 6% of the water for irrigation in is used for its cultivation.
- In India, it is grown on a large scale in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
- Gujarat is the largest producer of cotton followed by Maharashtra and Punjab. It is vital kharif crop of Punjab.
- It can be grown on all type of soil having pH ranges in-between 6 and 8.
- Deep, friable, well drained and fertile soil are good for crop cultivation.
- Sandy, saline or water-logged soils are not suitable for cotton cultivation.
Concentration of Cotton Industry in India
6.Farm Acts – unwanted constitutional adventurism (TH)
Context: The passage of the three Farm Acts by Parliament has led to a constitutional debate.
- These Acts are: the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
- Many States have questioned the constitutional validity of the Farm Acts and are reportedly exploring legal options.
Does the Union government have the authority to legislate on what are rightfully the affairs of States?
- Adventurism means improvisation or experimentation (as in politics or military or foreign affairs) in the absence or in defiance of accepted plans or principles.
- Agriculture is a State subject in the Constitution, listed as Entry 14 in the State List (List II).
- This apart, Entry 26 in List II refers to “trade and commerce within the State”; Entry 27 refers to “production, supply and distribution of goods”; and Entry 28 refers to “markets and fairs”.
- For these reasons, intra-State marketing in agriculture was always considered a legislative prerogative of States.
- Seen in this perspective, Parliament’s passage of the Farm Bills was an extraordinary step.
- For this purpose, the central government invoked Entry 33 in the Concurrent List (List III). Entry 26 and 27 in List II are listed as “subject to the provisions of Entry 33 of List III”.
- Entry 33 in List III is the following: 33. Trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of, — (a) the products of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest, and imported goods of the same kind as such products; (b) foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils; (c) cattle fodder, including oilcakes and other concentrates; (d) raw cotton, whether ginned or unginned, and cotton seed; and (e) raw jute.
Amendment and dissent
- Entry 33, in its present form, was inserted in List III through the Constitution (Third Amendment) Act, 1954.
- That time (1954) many eminent Opposition members were not impressed. Among them Asoka Mehta warned that if the Centre truly wanted control on trade and commerce in States, then, over time, it would also want to have “control over crop planning and cultivation”. Thus, the Bill (Parliament discussed the Bill in September 1954) would lead to “an expanding encroachment on the rights of the States”; “a progressive erosion of State powers”; and “the possibility of side stepping of democratic processes”.
- Notwithstanding the strong dissenting voices, the Bill was passed.
- But history appears to have proven the dissenters right.
- In September 2020, the same Entry 33 was invoked to usurp the same powers of the States that the dissenters feared would be taken away.
Views of Judiciary
- In many of its judgments after 1954, the Supreme Court of India has upheld the legislative powers of States in intra-State agricultural marketing.
- Most notable was the ruling of the five-judge Constitution Bench in T.C. Limited vs. Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and Others, 2002.
- The Tobacco Board Act, 1975 had brought the development of the tobacco industry under the Centre.
- However, Bihar’s APMC Act continued to list tobacco as an agricultural produce. In this case, the question was if the APMC in Monghyr could charge a levy on ITC for the purchase of unprocessed tobacco leaves from growers.
- An earlier judgment had held that the State APMC Act will be repugnant to the Central Act, and hence was ultra vires.
- But this Constitution Bench upheld the validity of the State APMC Act, and ruled that market fees can be charged from ITC under the State APMC Act
- State laws become repugnant only if the State and Centre enact laws on the same subject matter under an Entry in List III
- In case of the Farm Acts of 2020, there is a strong point to argue that the three Acts have poor legal validity, may be unconstitutional and weaken federalism
- In the light of above judgement, States could continue to charge mandi taxes from private markets anywhere in the notified area regardless of the Central Act.
- Also the State legislation should prevail as agriculture is an exclusive subject matter — Entry 14 – in List II.
- In summary, first, it was unwise on the part of the Centre to use Entry 33 in List III to push the Farm Bills.
- Such adventurism weakens the spirit of federal cooperation that India needs in this hour of crisis.
- Second, agriculture is exclusively a State subject.
- Everything that is ancillary or subsidiary to an exclusive subject in List II should also fall under the exclusive legislative purview of States.
- Most importantly, Entry 28 in List II — i.e., “markets and fairs” — is not subject to Entry 33 in List III.
- In short, there appears to be a strong case to reasonably argue that the Farm Acts have poor legal validity, if not being outrightly unconstitutional.
Options for the state
- Some States are exploring the possibility of passing laws to override the three agricultural acts by using Article 254 (2) of the Constitution.
- Article 254 (2) of the Constitution essentially enables a State government to pass a law, on any subject in the Concurrent List, that may contradict a Central law, provided it gets the President’s assent.
- In late 2014, the BJP government in Rajasthan took this very route to make changes to the central labour laws — the Factories Act, the Industrial Disputes act, and the Contract Labour Act — which subsequently got the President’s assent.
- Punjab is contemplating to amend the Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act and declare the entire State as a principal mandi yard.
- This would circumvent the provisions in The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, which was passed in Parliament.
- The declaration of mandi yards ensures that any procurement outside their ambit is considered illegal, farmers do not get a price less than the MSP, and the State gets its mandi fee.
What is Article 254 (2)?
- Article 254 (2) of the Constitution states, “Where a law made by the Legislature of a State with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State.“
- Firstly, the Article applies only when a state law on a subject which is the Concurrent List conflicts with a nationwide law.
- In such a case, the state law can prevail over the Central law if the President gives his or her assent to the former.
- The President, however, acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
- However, Article 254 (2) represents the exception, not the norm.
- Article 254 (1) of the Constitution essentially states that if there is any inconsistency between laws passed by Parliament and those passed by a state legislature, the former should prevail.
- Further, a proviso to Article 254 (2) states that even if the President gives his or her assent to a state law passed under the provision, the Parliament can later amend or repeal the law.
Distribution of Legislative Subjects
- The Constitution provides for a three-fold distribution of legislative subjects between the Centre and the states, viz., List-I (the Union List), List-II (the State List) and List-III (the Concurrent List) in the Seventh Schedule.
- The Constitution expressly secures the predominance of the Union List over the State List and the Concurrent List and that of the Concurrent List over the State List.
- Thus, in case of overlapping between the Union List and the State List, the former should prevail.
- In case of overlapping between the Union List and the Concurrent List, it is again the former which should prevail.
- Where there is a conflict between the Concurrent List and the State List, it is the former that should prevail.
- In case of a conflict between the Central law and the state law on a subject enumerated in the Concurrent List, the Central law prevails over the state law. But, there is an exception.
- If the state law has been reserved for the consideration of the president and has received his assent, then the state law prevails in that state.
- But, it would still be competent for the Parliament to override such a law by subsequently making a law on the same matter.
Source-The Hindu, PIB, IE and Others
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