Canary in coal mine (The Hindu)

Grid stability is the key (The Hindu)

Unwanted (The Indian Express)

Restructuring the public school system (Live Mint)


Canary in coal mine

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Opening up the coal sector to private players.

(GS paper III)




  • Due to unscientific mining practices and poor working conditions of labour in some of the private coal mines, the Central Government took a decision to nationalize the private coal mines. The nationalization was done in two phases, the first with the coking coal mines in 1971-72 and then with the non-coking coal mines in 1973. Around 40 years after India nationalised its coal-mining industry, the Central government has allowed the re-entry of commercial mining firms into the sector, turning the clock back.




  • By opening up commercial coal mining for Indian and foreign companies in the private sector, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs recently approved the methodology for auction of coal mines/blocks for sale of the commodity.



India’s coal industry



  • India’s coal industry was predominantly driven by the private sector after Independence until the then government decided to transfer all coal holdings to Coal India through the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973. The key reason cited for taking coal out of the private sector’s hands was that it was essential to meet power needs.



  • Coal India accounts for over 80% of the country’s coal supply. Another public sector firm, Singareni Collieries Company, and some captive coal mines allotted to private players for specific end-uses such as in the steel and power industries, account for the rest.


  • Opening up commercial mining and sale of coal for private players is an overdue reform. India has a high dependence on coal for power generation. Despite an aggressive push for renewable and nuclear sources, 70% of electricity generation is through coal-fired thermal plants. In recent years there has been a significant surge in imports as Coal India, despite its rich coal-bearing belts and increased output, is unable to keep pace with demand from new power plants.


  • Parliament enacted the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 in March 2015 containing provisions enabling the government to allocate coal mines through auctions. The law also permitted private players to mine coal for use in their own cement, steel, power or aluminium plants.


  • In September 2014, the Supreme Court cancelled the allocation of 204 coal mines to public and private players, after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India found fault with the allocation mechanism. An ordinance was brought in quickly and a transparent auction process was evolved for the affected mines, benefiting from lessons learnt from the telecom spectrum allocation mess.


  • On 20 February 2018, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) permitted private firms to enter the commercial coal mining industry in India. Under the new policy, mines will be auctioned to the firm offering the highest per tonne price.


  • The move broke the monopoly over commercial mining that state-owned Coal India has enjoyed since nationalisation in 1973. Establishment of coal regulator is needed to implement the policy in transparent and non-discriminatory manner.


Coal and renewables



  • With India embarking on an ambitious journey to achieve renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatt (GW) by 2022, questions have been raised on the relevance of coal in the present context. Coal is at the centre of everything. With all the hype about renewables, today in power generation, 81% is out of coal.


  • According to analysts, renewable energy sources and coal will coexist, as the availability of coal is abundant in India and it can provide affordable power to propel India’s growth and light every household. Despite the rapid growth in renewable energy, legacy coal plants will continue to generate thermal energy. India we cannot do without coal. Despite the ramping up of renewable capacity, both solar and wind energy cannot go beyond 40% of the energy mix.


Way ahead


  • To ascertain the quality of outcomes, it will be important to see which blocks are actually offered to private players; they should not just be the mines Coal India isn’t keen on. Norms to ensure miners’ safety must be upgraded.


Question Examine why demand for coal is expected to climb despite ramping up of renewable energy capacity. Also discuss reasons why opening up the coal sector to private players is seems as a timely reform.


Grid stability is the key

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of consequent challenges in keeping the grid stable for renewable energy.

(GS paper III)




  • According to the World Energy Access report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Half a billion people have gained access to electricity in India since 2000, almost doubling the country’s electrification rate, this “remarkable” growth puts India on course to achieving access to electricity for all in the early 2020.




  • But still electricity is a major concern in rural India, especially for farmers. The Government of India has come up with an original plan to address this problem.



New plan



  • Instead of transmitting electricity to the farmers, the government, to start with, wants farmers to use solar energy to power their irrigation pumps. According to the January 2018 report of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, there are about 142,000 solar pumps in India. The government is planning to install one million solar pumps by 2021.



  • To achieve this solar capacity, the Union Budget 2018 has allocated close to ₹48,000 crore to set up the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM). This programme will help set up more than 28 GW of combined solar capacity through these solar pumps.


Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM)

  • Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) is a solar farming scheme to be introduced soon by government to provide additional income and water security to farmers. It envisages setting up solar power projects on the agriculture land and providing options to farmers to sell additional power to grid. The farmer oriented scheme involving decentralized solar power production upto 28250 MW over a period of five years.


  • Additionally, to ensure optimal use of this solar energy, and to incentivise farmers to shift to renewable energy, the government plans to purchase the surplus power through electricity distribution companies. This proposal will almost certainly increase agricultural incomes and reduce electricity losses when transmitting power to remote rural areas.


  • Analysts claim that losses from distribution could fall to about 12% from the current level of at least 23%. However, the feasibility of purchasing surplus solar power seems problematic. There is a need to address the issue of grid stability that this injection of surplus power is bound to create.


  • The advantage of this scheme is that transmission losses and power theft would drop significantly. Most rural retailers of power also lose money as they sell power at a subsidised rate to the poor and the farm sector. 


Issue of grid stability


  • There is the main issue of grid stability, which has often been neglected. All power grids require balancing. This balancing entails meeting the demand with adequate supply 24×7 to ensure there is no blackout.


  • The grid becomes increasingly unstable if the share of infirm power increases beyond 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the total generation capacity.


  • The reason for striking this balance is that electrical energy cannot readily be stored, meaning that power generation ought to work round the clock. These electrical gridlines were created to depend on reliable and controllable generators (coal, oil and even hydroelectric). However, with more and more power being generated through fluctuating power generators (solar and wind), a more precise balance will have to be created, which may cause more failures.


For example

  • Solar panels will only generate electricity during daylight hours, so to maintain a consistent round-the-clock power delivery the grid operators will need to have a back-up source of power in the form of coal or oil. During the day as well, they will have to be ready to quickly adjust output to compensate for the rise and fall of solar power generation due to changing weather and rain.
  • Variations in weather patterns make it more difficult for the grid operator to predict the balance of electrical energy that will be required to meet the demand. Because wind and solar power sources constantly generate shortfalls and excesses, the grid operators send a signal to power plants every few seconds to ensure that the total amount of power demand at the grid is consistently equal to the total power supply.


  • Other nations see solar and wind power as an energy management problem, India also sees this as a capacity management problem. Because of India’s sheer size, the variability factor considerably increases: if some areas have low consumption, others are likely to have high consumption. More stability can be achieved by integrating the grids into all-India grids. Expected advances in storage technology would also significantly improve grid stability.


Way ahead


  • In the Union Budget 2018, the Finance Minister asked governments to put in place adequate procedures to purchase the excess solar power from farmers. This sale of excess power has also discouraged over-utilisation of groundwater. However, the only problem that the government seems to be focussed on is to adequately remunerate the farmers and increase their incomes. There is need for India to provide attention to the stability of the grid, 


Question –a) To make renewable power truly mainstream and meaningful in fulfilling our energy needs, India need to address the issue of ‘Grid-stability.’ Analyse with examples.


  1. b) Discuss the objectives and features of the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) scheme.



(The Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of preference for male children in India, how affecting the health and well-being of its women.

(GS paper II)




  • India has around 63 million “missing women.” This stark number makes it harder to ignore the shortage of girls in India. The 2018 Economic Survey gives us a powerful new number: India has twenty-one million “unwanted girls”. This number describes the girls who are born but not treated well. Crafting a new statistic that brings a spotlight to this problem will be an important legacy of the Economic Survey.



Missing women in India



  • “Missing women” are the girls and women who would be alive today if parents were not aborting female foetuses. Girls getting less food and healthcare add to this count by raising female mortality. Amartya Sen in its 1990 article titled “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing” highlighted this problem; he went on counting the missing women across several countries such as India, China and Pakistan. Many people knew the problem existed, but Sen’s number, called out in the title of his article, made the problem salient.




  • Today, there are 63 million fewer women counted in the Census in India than there naturally should be. Once we have quantified the problem, we can track whether it is improving or worsening. We can benchmark India against other countries. We can make state-wise comparisons and see that Haryana and Punjab, and, more surprisingly, Telangana, have a large missing women problem.



Preference for son


  • “Unwanted girls” are girls who are alive but likely disfavoured by their parents, as they receive less healthcare and schooling, with life-long effects on their well-being. It is not news that many parents favour boys over girls.


  • We lacked was a statistic that quantified the scope of the problem. But the recent statistic provides that twenty-one million unwanted girls under the age of 25 in India. These girls are more precisely described as “less wanted” children. They are daughters that parents gave birth to when they were really hoping for a son. We cannot know if their parents would be happier without the girl; what we can surmise is the parents were disappointed to have given birth to a girl.


  • The sex ratio of the last child (SRLC) is male-skewed. SRLC is thus a revealing measure of parents wanting sons. A subtle but important point is that these fertility “stopping rules” do not skew the populations’ overall sex ratio. The Economic Survey analysis revealed that even Kerala and Assam have a male-skewed SRLC; if we only tracked missing women, these states would look problem-free. Importantly, the report also calculated the India-wide total of 21 million.


  • India shows a gender gap in stunting compared to other parts of the world, consistent with girls consuming less nutritious food. One study found that one year after parents were advised that their child needed surgery to correct a heart defect, 70 per cent of the boys but only 44 percent of the girls had undergone the surgery. This is why having 21 million unwanted girls is unacceptable.


Way ahead



  • The goal is for both numbers to come down. The way forward is to improve women’s earnings opportunities so that dowries are lower and women have more say in family decision-making. Better options for people to support themselves in old age, such as a good pension system, would make having a son less paramount to couples



Question- India needs more efforts that take on society’s norms and to reshape them so that people start valuing daughters as much as sons, Explain how preference for male children in India is affecting the health and well-being of its women.

Restructuring the public school system

(Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of need to restructure the public school system.

(GS paper III)




  • Indian public schools are seeing a systemic decline in enrolment, resulting in the massive growth of small and tiny government school. According to economist Geeta Kingdon, 40% of government schools had total enrolment less than 50, and 10.3% were “tiny” schools with enrolment of less than 20.




  • Although the Indian public school system has addressed the problem of access, it has failed to withstand competition from private schools. These failures of the public school system call for an overhaul of the structure of schooling in India, especially at a time when the new education policy (NEP) is being drafted by the Kasturirangan committee.






  • Physical access to neighbourhood schools is now a reality, with 96% of the villages having an elementary school within a radius of 3km. However, physical access does not ensure adequate learning. Ten years of annual survey of education report (ASER) surveys and national achievement surveys by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have revealed a nationwide learning crisis.



  • The first to exit dysfunctional public schools are those from better socio-economic classes, and the disadvantaged suffer. Studies have revealed that students drop out mainly because schools are not attractive physically and pedagogically. Better learning outcomes need functional schools, not just mere physical access.


  • The right to education (RTE) Act has defined norms for providing functional access such as pupil-teacher ratio, teacher qualification and infrastructure facilities such as availability of toilets, drinking water, library and playgrounds. However, in addition, we need enough teachers and staff per school, subject teachers in the higher grades, and pedagogical support for the teaching-learning process to make the schools functional. 


  • The complex school organization structure across different levels, such as primary, upper primary and secondary schools, and multiple managements (within government and private) break the continuity in schooling, leading to higher dropout rates. There is no need to have separate primary-only schools when the constitutional mandate is completion of primary and upper-primary classes up to class VIII.


  • With universalization of secondary education on the table, schools from primary to secondary should be integrated and secondary education should integrate vocational education to provide gainful employment. 


  • Composite schools can be created through vertical integration across levels and a consolidation of neighbourhood schools to increase school size, ensure better rationalization of teachers and avoid multi-grade teaching. Consolidation brings efficiency, provides better facilities, trained teachers, more comprehensive curriculum, broader extracurricular activities and diverse social experience.


  • Many states such, as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra, have attempted to consolidate the schools (under names such as school rationalization, mainstreaming, amalgamation and integration) at the primary and upper-primary levels. School location decisions have to consider the optimal match of schooling demand with supply in the neighbourhood without compromising functional access.


The following guiding principles could be followed for consolidation and restructuring-


  1. Create before you destroy—construct a functional school infrastructure and appoint teachers in the consolidated school prior to shutting down schools;


  1. No child left behind—school consolidation should not result in denial of access to any child; all possible transportation options should be explored, in case consolidation leads to difficulty in physical access;


  1. Consult before consolidation—consolidation must be done with the consent of the community through consultations, and the alternative must include consensus on school location, transportation, etc.;


  1. Vertical integration—school consolidation should ensure vertical integration across different levels.


  • A common norm for all levels of schooling, with adequate flexibility to suit local conditions, could ensure vertical integration. Administratively, this requires the merger of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) at the Centre (which the ministry of human resource development is contemplating), and primary and secondary education bodies under the departments of education in states.


Way ahead


  • The Central and state governments should act as facilitators for consolidation and desist from taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Consolidation should be a local exercise—best decided by local authorities. The state governments should act as facilitators to the process of school rationalization by providing technical and financial support and capacity-building of local authorities.


Question Why there is need for restructuring of the public school system? Suggest some measures.