CURRENT AFFAIRS – 29/06/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 29/06/2023

Biofertilizer scheme gets Central govt.’s green light

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Wednesday approved the PM-PRANAM (PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Generation, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth) scheme, a promise made in the last Budget.

Union Fertilizer Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told reporters after the meeting that the new scheme would promote use of nutrient-based biofertilizers for sustainable agriculture and it would have a total outlay of ₹3,70,128.7 crore.

Mr. Mandaviya said the scheme was aimed at saving the soil and promoting sustainable, balanced use of fertilizers, and it involved the participation of State governments.

Biofertilizer scheme gets govt. green light

He said the Centre would incentivise those States which would adopt alternative fertilizers with the subsidy that was saved by reducing the use of chemical fertilizers.

Mr. Mandaviya said if a State was using 10 lakh tonnes of conventional fertilizers and reduces its consumption by three lakh tonnes, then the subsidy saving would be ₹3,000 crore. “Out of that subsidy savings, the Centre will give 50% of it,” the Minister added.

Urea subsidy scheme to continue

The Centre said in a release that the scheme included a bouquet of various schemes which would boost farmers’ income, strengthen natural / organic farming, rejuvenate soil productivity, and ensure food security. The CCEA also approved continuation of the urea subsidy scheme to ensure constant availability of urea to the farmers at the same price of ₹242/ 45 kg per bag.

Mr. Mandaviya said the use of nano urea had also increased in the country. “By 2025-26, eight nano urea plants with production capacity of 44 crore bottles will be commissioned,” he said.

Apart from that, ₹1,451.84 crore has been approved for Market Development Assistance (MDA) for promoting organic fertilizers from Gobardhan plants. Fermented organic manures (FOM)/liquid FOM/phosphate rich organic manures (PROM) produced as by-product from bio-gas plants/compressed biogas (CBG) plants set up under umbrella Gobardhan initiative will be promoted.

Facts about the News

The Union Budget 2023-23 has introduced PM PRANAM Scheme (Prime Minister Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth)

About PM PRANAM Scheme


  • To encourage the balanced use of fertilisers in conjunction with biofertilisers and organic fertilisers.


  • To bring down the subsidy burden on chemical fertilisers, which is estimated to reach Rs 2.25 lakh crore in 2022-23 — 39% higher than 2021 figure of Rs 1.62 lakh crore.
  • PM PRANAM was launched under the GOBAR Dhan Scheme. GOBAR DHAN is Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan.
  • This programme will seek to incentivise states and union territories promoting alternative fertilisers and the balanced use of chemical fertilisers.
  • The scheme expressly encourages the use of fewer chemical fertilisers.
  • It would encourage the use of alternative nutrients and fertilisers, including natural nutrients.
  • In the long run, reducing the use of chemical fertilisers may improve soil quality. It will increase agricultural yield and productivity in India.
  • PM-Pranam aims to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture and shift to bio-fertilizers.
  • The Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers proposed the PM PRANAM. During the National Conference on Agriculture for Rabi Campaign-2022, held on September 2022, officials from the fertilisers ministry shared details of the proposed scheme with state government officials.– However, the full name of the PM PRANAM was ‘PM Promotion of Alternate Nutrients for Agriculture Management Yojana’ at the time.
  • For a sustainable agriculture system, it is essential to use renewable inputs (fertilizer, pesticides, water etc.) which can benefit the plant and cause no or minimal damage to the environment.
  • One of the energy efficient and pollution free method is to exploit the ability of certain microorganisms like bacteria, algae and fungi to fix atmospheric nitrogen, solubilize phosphorus, decompose organic material or oxidize sulphurin the soil.
  • When they are applied in the soil, they enhance growth and yield of crops, improve soil fertility and reduce pollution. They are known as “bio fertilizers”.

Example- Azotobacter biofertilizer

Blue green algae

Azospirillium biofertilizer



Phosphate Solubilizing Bacteria

Potassium Solubilizing Bacteria

Bio-fertilizers – Components

Bio Compost

  • It is one of the environmentally favourable products made from decomposed waste materials discharged by the sugar industry.
  • Human-friendly bacteria, fungi, and different plants have enlarged it.


  • It is a nonpathogenic, environmentally benign substance used in a range of crops, including citrus, paddy apples, sugar cane, brinjal, corn, cotton, and horticultural and decorative plants.
  • It functions as a productive destroyer and antagonistic hyper parasite against the eggs of many bores, as well as other infections and eaters of flowers, fruits, leaves, and shoots in the field.


  • It defends the roots from soil-borne diseasesand is essential for fixing atmospheric nitrogen.
  • Since nitrogen makes up roughly 78% of the atmosphere, it is a crucial nutrient for plants.


  • One crucial ingredient for the growth and development of plants is phosphorus.
  • Microorganisms that hydrolyze phosphorus compounds into the soluble form for plant absorptionare called phosphate solubilizing microorganisms.
  • For this, a variety of fungi and bacteria are employed, including Penicillium, Aspergillus,

Bacillus, Pseudomonas, etc.


  • Vermicompost is an organic fertiliser that is eco-friendly and contains vitamins, hormones, organic carbon, sulphur, and antibioticsthat help to improve the yield’s amount and quality.
  • One of the easy remedies to increase the fertility of the soilis to use vermicompost.

Rankings, and the realities of higher education

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) recently released the India Rankings for 2023. This is the eighth consecutive edition of rankings of higher education institutions in five categories — overall, universities, colleges, research institutions, and innovation — and eight subject domains — engineering, management, pharmacy, medical, dental, law, architecture and planning, and agriculture and allied sectors. The NIRF evaluates institutions on five parameters: teaching, learning and resources; graduation outcome; research and professional practices; outreach and inclusivity; and perception. Ranks are assigned based on the sum of marks secured by institutions on each of these parameters. Notwithstanding some of the criticisms on the methodology adopted and the parameters chosen by the Ministry of Education, a scrutiny of the 2023 edition as well as some of the available data on higher education raises some important issues warranting policy attention.

Some issues

The first is the issue of participation of institutions. According to the Ministry of Education, in this edition of NIRF, 5,543 institutions offered themselves for ranking under overall, category-specific or domain-specific ranking. In all, 8,686 applications for ranking were submitted by these institutions. This has to be seen in conjunction with the total number of universities and colleges in India. As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2021, there were 1,113 universities and 43,796 colleges in 2020-21. This implies that only 12.3% of higher educational institutions participated in the ranking process. That there is near to no information on the parameters decided by NIRF for the remaining 87.7% of higher education institutions is a matter of concern, especially for a nation aspiring to reap rich demographic dividends. This issue gets accentuated further when we examine the rural-urban divide in participation. The list of top 100 colleges shows scant presence of colleges from rural areas. AISHE data show that about 43% of the universities and 61.4% colleges are in rural areas. The lack of participation of institutions from rural areas raises questions on the inherent urban bias of the ranking framework, reinforced by the choice of parameters.

The second issue is the incongruence between quantity and quality. Of the top 100 colleges ranked by NIRF, 35 are from Tamil Nadu, 32 from Delhi, 14 from Kerala, and the remaining are from the rest of India. According to AISHE, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of colleges in the country, followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka. The list of top 100 colleges does not feature a single college from U.P. It features three colleges from Maharashtra and two from Karnataka. The fact that 81% of high-quality colleges are in three States highlights the need for a mission to improve quality across the country, with both the Union government and the States earmarking substantial funds in their respective budgets for this.

Quality differences are evident between private and government institutions as well. In the overall rankings, the highest rank secured by a private institution is 15. In the university rankings, the highest rank secured by a private institution is six. There is also tremendous scope for many more State universities to figure in this list. If the quality of State universities is enhanced, it would also serve the purpose of serving students in rural locations.

The third issue stems from the close correlation between faculty strength and rankings. A comparison between the top 100 and remaining institutions shows vast differences in this regard. The average number of faculty in the top 100 universities is 645, while for the remaining universities it is only 242. In the case of colleges, it is 173 for colleges in the top 100 list and 71 for the remaining institutes. Needless to say, quality education cannot be provided with brick and mortar alone. Even in the case of engineering, where the ranking is often advertised by the institutions, only 33.98% adhere to the AICTE-prescribed faculty-student ratio of 1:20.

Scientific publications

Faculty strength and quality also get reflected in scientific publications: 87.71% of the scholarly output from India comes from eligible institutions in the overall category. This means that 12.3% of institutions which have participated in the ranking contribute close to 90% of scholarly output in the country. This is even more startling in the case of engineering, where 99.98% of total scientific publications came from the institutions participating in the rankings. Interestingly, in management, 50% of the institutions which applied for being included in the rankings had zero publications.

The rankings underscore the urgent need for quality enhancement in the higher education system. This requires substantial financial resources. India’s share in the overall world scientific publications is about 4.81%. In comparison, China’s share of world publications increased from 5% in 2000 to 26% in 2018. This was facilitated by massive research investments by the Chinese government. Between 2000 and 2017, as per an article by Shumin Qiu, Claudia Steinwender and Pierre Azoula in the LSE Impact Blog, the number of Chinese universities increased by 140%, research faculty increased by 69%, and public research funding increased ten-fold. If rankings are to serve the purpose of being an input for informed evidence-based policy decisions, then budgetary outlays for higher education needs a quantum jump in India.

The NIRF rankings underscore the need for massive quality enhancement in the higher education system.

Facts about the News 

  • The NIRF is a methodology to rank institutions across the country based on various parameters.
  • NIRF was approved by the Ministry of Education (Erstwhile Ministry of Human Resource Development) and launched on 29th September 2015.
  • It is the  in the cfirst-ever effort by the government to rank Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)ountry.

The Ministry of Education established the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) in 2016 to assess the performance of institutions based on critical indicators.

NIRF Ranking: An Overview

– The NIRF releases rankings across various categories, including ‘Overall’, ‘Research Institutions’, ‘Universities’, ‘Colleges’, and specific disciplines.

The rankings serve as an important resource for prospective students navigating the higher education landscape in India.

NIRF ranks institutes based on their total score, which is determined using five indicators:

1.Teaching, Learning & Resources (30% weightage)

2.Research and Professional Practice (30%)

3.Graduation Outcomes (20%)

4.Outreach and Inclusivity (10%)

5.Perception (10%)

Cabinet clears NRF Bill to offer strategic direction to research

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023. The legislation aims to establish the NRF as an apex body to provide “high-level strategic direction” to scientific research in the country under the National Education Policy (NEP) at an estimated cost of ₹50,000 crore between 2023 and 2028, a press statement from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) said.

The DST will be the “administrative” department of the NRF, which will have a governing Board of eminent researchers and professionals. The Prime Minister will be the ex-officio president of the Board and the Union Ministers of Science and Technology and Education ex-officio vice-presidents. The NRF’s functioning will be governed by an executive council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, the statement added.

The new law will repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established by Parliament in 2008 and subsumes it into the NRF.

Union Minister of State for Science Jitendra Singh told presspersons that the NRF was meant to ensure that scientific research was conducted and funded equitably with greater participation from the private sector. “Right now, we have eminent institutions like the IITs and IISc that get a bulk of research funding but State universities get very little… about 10% of the research funds. The NRF will correct this,” he said.

When the NRF starts functioning, close to ₹36,000 crore is expected from the private sector (as investments into research), he said. The NRF will prioritise research funding and the executive council will decide on what areas need support,” Mr. Singh said.

The government will contribute ₹10,000 crore over five years, he added. The DST, the main source of funds for several autonomous research bodies, will continue to get the budget it annually receives. “The DST also funds several scholarships and capacity building programmes. They will continue doing so,” he added.

A senior official in the DST said a Bill was necessary because current laws made it hard for private research organisations to contribute to a funding body such as the NRF.

Facts about the News 

This significant move aims to establish the NRF, an apex body that will play a pivotal role in seeding, nurturing, and promoting Research and Development (R&D) while fostering a culture of research and innovation across universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories in India.

Key Highlights:

1.Establishment of NRF: The NRF Bill, upon approval by Parliament, will establish the National Research Foundation. This apex body will provide high-level strategic direction for scientific research in the country, aligning with the recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP). The estimated cost for NRF’s establishment and operation over five years (2023-2028) is approximately Rs. 50,000 crore.

2.Administrative Department and Governing Board: The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will serve as the administrative department for NRF. The foundation will be governed by a distinguished Governing Board comprising eminent researchers and professionals across various disciplines.

  The Prime Minister will be the ex-officio President of the Board, while the Union   Minister of Science & Technology and the Union Minister of Education will serve as ex-  officio Vice-Presidents. The Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India will   chair the Executive Council, which will oversee NRF’s functioning.

3.Collaboration and Participation: NRF will facilitate collaborations between academia, industry, government departments, and research institutions. It will establish an interface mechanism to encourage active participation and contributions from industries and state governments, in addition to scientific and line ministries. The foundation will focus on creating a policy framework and regulatory processes to promote collaboration and enhance industry spending on R&D.

4.Repeal of Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB): The NRF Bill will also entail the repeal of the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established in 2008 through an act of Parliament. SERB will be subsumed into NRF, which will have an expanded mandate covering activities beyond those of SERB.

Centre plans ‘market’ scheme to promote sustainable living

It aims at incentivising a host of activities such as afforestation, water conservation and waste management by generating ‘green credits’

The Environment Ministry has issued a draft notification detailing a proposed ‘Green Credit Scheme’ that will incentivise a host of activities including afforestation programmes, water conservation, waste management and remedying air pollution by allowing individuals and organisations to generate ‘green credits”. These credits, through a yet-to-be-specified mechanism, can also be traded for money.

“A Green Credit Programme is proposed to be launched at national level to leverage a competitive market-based approach for Green Credits thereby incentivising voluntary environmental actions of various stakeholders. Apart from incentivising individual/community behaviour, the Green Credit Programme will encourage private sector industries and companies as well as other entities to meet their existing obligations, stemming from other legal frameworks, by taking actions which are able to converge with activities relevant for generating or buying Green Credits,” says the notification that is open to public comment for 60 days.

A senior official in the Ministry, told The Hindu that the government’s immediate priority was to “create supply (of green credits)” via voluntary actions and then “create demand by bringing in laws or rules that will incentivise companies and organisations to buy credits that can then be traded.” The official said that unlike carbon markets, where only greenhouse gas emissions were traded, the Green Credit Scheme was “trickier” as it involved accounting for a wide range of actions.

The notification for instance lists out eight sectors, or activities, that can qualify for generating credits. They include tree plantation-based green credit to promote activities for increasing green cover through tree plantation and related activities; water-based green credit to promote water conservation, water harvesting and water use efficiency/savings, including treatment and reuse of wastewater; sustainable agriculture-based green credit to promote natural and regenerative agricultural practices and land restoration to improve productivity, soil health and nutritional value of food produced; and waste management-based green credit to promote sustainable and improved practices.

“There are a few examples globally but nowhere in the world is such a wide range of actions considered,” the official told The Hindu.

Facts about the News

The ‘green credit programme‘ under the Environment (Protection) Act will incentivize environmentally sustainable and responsive actions by companies, individuals and local bodies, and help mobilize additional resources for such activities in tune with India’s pitch for LiFE (lifestyle for environment) both domestically and at the global forum.

The programme seeks to encourage behavioural change. India has been strongly advocating for an “environmentally conscious lifestyle” as one of the measures to reduce global carbon footprints

 Key features of the scheme:

  • It allows “forests” to be traded as a commodity.
  • It allows the Forest Department to outsource one of its responsibilities of reforesting to non-government agencies.


1.The scheme allows agencies — they could be private companies, village forest communities — to identify land and begin growing plantations.

2.After three years, they would be eligible to be considered as compensatory forest land if they met the Forest Department’s criteria.

3.An industry needing forest land could then approach the agency and pay it for parcels of such forested land, and this would then be transferred to the Forest Department and be recorded as forest land.

4.The participating agency will be free to trade its asset, that is plantation, in parcels, with project proponents who need forest land.

Present scenario:

1.In the current system, industry needs to make good the loss of forest by finding appropriate non-forest land — equal to that which would be razed.

2.It also must pay the State Forest Department the current economic equivalent — called Net Present Value — of the forest land.

3.It’s then the Forest Department’s responsibility to grow appropriate vegetation that, over time, would grow into forests.

Need for change:

1.Industries have often complained that they find it hard to acquire appropriate non-forest land, which has to be contiguous to existing forest.

2.Nearly ₹50,000 crore had been collected by the Centre over decades, but the funds were lying unspent because States were not spending the money on regrowing forests.

3.The Supreme Court intervened, a new law came about with rules for how this fund was to be administered. About ₹47,000 crore had been disbursed to States until August, but it has barely led to any rejuvenation of forests.

Forest Advisory Committee

1.It is a statutory body which was constituted by the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.

2.It comes under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

3.It considers questions on the diversion of forest land for non-forest uses such as mining, industrial projects, townships and advises the government on the issue of granting forest clearances. However, its role is advisory.

Euclid set to launch next week in quest for dark energy

In an unprecedented effort, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to survey billions of galaxies using the Euclid Space Telescope, which is due to launch on July 1 from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The Euclid mission hopes to understand the evolution of the Universe by looking at the light emitted from galaxies 10 billion years ago. The telescope will also focus on gleaning more information on dark energy and dark matter – parts of astrophysics still shrouded in near-complete mystery.

Astronomers know precious little about both dark matter and dark energy. Scientists theorised the existence of dark energy 25 years ago, when a team of researchers found that instead of slowing down due to gravity, a force that pulls matter inwards, the expansion of the Universe was speeding up.

Scientists hypothesised that this was happening due to a mysterious form of energy called dark energy.

According to their calculations, around 68% of the Universe is made of dark energy while dark matter makes up 27%. Only the remainder is composed of fermionic matter, i.e. things on the earth, planets, stars, etc.

The Euclid mission is one of the first concerted efforts to find the missing pieces of this cosmic puzzle.

Once the telescope is operational, it will scan more than a third of the sky.

Named after the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, the mission is part of ESA’s ‘Cosmic Vision’ programme, which plans to explore the origin and components of the Universe and the laws that govern it.

In 2007, the ESA received proposals for two missions to expand our understanding of dark energy and dark matter using different methods. The agency decided to combine them, and in 2011, approved the resulting Euclid mission.

In 2012 the Euclid Consortium was formed to bring together physicists, astronomers, engineers, and managers for the mission.

The payload will have a 1.2 metre-wide telescope, a visible-wavelength camera (VISible) and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer (NISP).

NISP will look at how quickly galaxies are moving away from each other, offering scientists insights into the effects of gravity. (NISP’s detectors are courtesy NASA) VISible will look for tiny distortions in the shapes of distant galaxies from different points in time to understand the tussle between the pull of gravity and the push of dark energy.

Stationed 1.5 million km away from the earth, the telescope is expected to deliver images at least four-times sharper than ground-based observatories.

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The payload will have a 1.2 metre-wide telescope, a visible-wavelength camera

and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer.