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Day: March 9, 2018

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March 2018
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Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN Regional Groupings

[op-ed snap] The North East is key for India’s ties with Asean


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Geography of the North-East India, particulars of the trilateral highway, etc.

Mains level: Importance of the North-East India and development projects needed in the region.


India and ASEAN relationship

  1. Ever since India transformed its “Look East” policy to “Act East”, there have been continuous efforts to make this relationship result oriented and practical
  2. In the absence of political differences, trade and investments should be the main drivers of the relationship, but India and Asean are struggling to push bilateral trade to the agreed target of $100 billion
  3. How can it be improved: This could be helped by improving connectivity(through land, sea and air) which will cut down costs of movement of goods and services

Connectivity through tri-lateral highway: The importance of the North-East India

  1. Among the connectivity projects already envisaged is a four-lane trilateral highway linking India (Moreh in Manipur) with Mae Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar which will be expanded to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam
  2. This highway can only be sustained through movement of goods and economic activity along the route through Myanmar and
  3. Hence, the growing importance of our North-East

It is essential to focus on development and connectivity in India’s North-East itself

  1. It can be done with new road and rail links, opening up multi modal transport, including river navigation, and setting up industrial corridors and economic activities like haats or local markets, with emphasis on agriculture, horticulture, handlooms, handicrafts and processed food
  2. This will allow India to export its produce through this link rather than become a net importer of cheap Chinese goods

What about sea connectivity?

  1. Sea connectivity from India to Asean will be helped by the Kaladan multi-modal transport project
  2. It will link Kolkata to Sittwe port in Myanmar, as also Mizoram by the river and land route

Budget for North-East development

  1. India plans to spend Rs45,000 crore for the development of the region bordering China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar

Recent development projects in the NE

  1. Some recent decisions to enhance connectivity of the North-East include
    (1) a 4,000-km long ring road connecting the states; expediting railway projects connecting all state capitals by 2020, and extending to 15 new destinations;
    (2) border last-mile rail connectivity with Myanmar and restoring rail connectivity with Bangladesh
  2. Twenty port townships are to be developed along the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems to enhance intra-regional connectivity
  3. Government has also proposed the augmentation of air connectivity to and from the region, which will help business ties with the Asean
  4. Connectivity is also being upgraded in the border areas for strategic purposes
  5. This will also aid in improving law and order in the region and boost the underutilized tourism potential

Japan as a major partner

  1. Japan has emerged as a major partner in our efforts for the development of the North-East and connectivity to Asean
  2. The “Japan India Act East Forum” has been set up
  3. It will seek synergies between India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure located in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and link with Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”

The way forward

  1. Transformational policies and supportive governments in these states could enable the government at the centre to roll out development schemes and infrastructure projects quickly
    (as has been the case with Assam)
Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology Basic Sciences

A new state of matter created

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Rydberg polarons, Bose-Einstein Condensation

Mains level: Developments related to atomic science


“Rydberg polarons”

  1. An international team of physicists have successfully created a “giant atom” and filled it with ordinary atoms
  2. They have created a new state of matter termed “Rydberg polarons”
  3. These atoms are held together by a weak bond and are created at very cold temperatures

How was the new polaron created?

  1. It uses ideas from two different fields: Bose-Einstein Condensation and Rydberg atoms
  2. A BEC (Bose-Einstein Condensate) is a liquid-like state of matter that occurs at very low temperatures
  3. A BEC can be perturbed to create excitations which are akin to ripples on a lake
  4. Electrons in an atom move in orbits around the nucleus
  5. A ‘Rydberg atom’ is an atom in which an electron has been kicked out to a very large orbit

Experiment methodology

  1. In this work, the authors used laser light on a BEC of strontium atoms so that it impinges on one strontium atom at a time
  2. This excites an electron into a large orbit, forming a Rydberg atom
  3. This orbit is large enough to encircle many other strontium atoms inside it
  4. As the electron moves around many strontium atoms, it generates ripples of the BEC
  5. The Rydberg atom becomes inextricably mixed with these ripples and forms a new super-atom called a ‘Rydberg polaron’

What will be the use of these Rydberg polarons?

  1. Some theories of dark matter postulate that it is a cosmic Bose-Einstein Condensate, perhaps composed of an as-yet-unknown type of particle
  2. This experiment can suggest ways to detect it
Women empowerment issues: Jobs,Reservation and education

On Women’s Day, Centre launches biodegradable sanitary napkins at ₹2.50 per pad


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana, Suvidha, National Family Health Survey

Mains level: Awareness related to menstruation in women


Ensuring safe sanitation measures

  1. The government has launched biodegradable sanitary napkins, priced at ₹2.50 per pad
  2. They will be available at Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana Kendras
  3. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Department of Pharmaceuticals under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers introduced sanitary napkins under the name ‘Suvidha
  4. While other sanitary napkins available in markets are non-biodegradable, these are biodegradable

Quality sanitary pads not in use

  1. According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, about 58% of women aged between 15 to 24 years use locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins, and tampons
Euthanasia : Euphemism for Killing? Constitution

SC Constitution Bench holds passive euthanasia, living wills permissible


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Passive euthanasia, fundamental right to life and dignity

Mains level: SC judgments and laws related to euthanasia


Passive euthanasia permissible

  1. In a historic decision, the Supreme Court declared passive euthanasia and the right of persons, including the terminally-ill, to give advance directives to refuse medical treatment permissible
  2. A Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India upheld that the fundamental right to life and dignity includes right to refuse treatment and die with dignity
  3. The fundamental right to a “meaningful existence” includes a person’s choice to die without suffering

Guidelines given

  1. The judgment includes specific guidelines to test the validity of a living will, by whom it should be certified, when and how it should come into effect, etc
  2. The guidelines also cover a situation where there is no living will and how to approach a plea for passive euthanasia
  3. A person need not give any reasons nor is he answerable to any authority on why he should write an advanced directive
Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism – NCA, Lok Adalats, etc. Constitution

Cabinet nod for 2 bills to improve dispute resolution process


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms & institutions

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill 2018, The Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018

Mains level: Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism in India


Strengthening the dispute resolution process

  1. The Cabinet has approved two Bills to be introduced in Parliament aimed at speeding up and strengthening the dispute resolution process in the country

Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill 2018

  1. It is a part of the efforts of the Government to encourage institutional arbitration for the settlement of disputes
  2. It aims to make India a center of robust Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism
  3. Bill will establish an independent body—the Arbitration Council of India (ACI)
  4. It will lay down standards, make arbitration process more party friendly, cost-effective, and ensure timely disposal of arbitration cases
  5. The Chairperson of ACI shall be a person who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice or Judge of any High Court or any eminent person

The Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018

  1. It seeks to bring down the specified value of a commercial dispute to ₹3 lakh from the present ₹1 crore
  2. Now commercial disputes of a “reasonable value” can be decided by commercial courts
  3. This would bring down the time taken (presently 1,445 days) in the resolution of commercial disputes of lesser value and thus further improve India’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business
  4. Bill provides for the establishment of commercial courts at the district judge level for the territories over which the respective High Courts have ordinary original civil jurisdiction—Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and the state of Himachal Pradesh
Disinvestment in India Industries

‘Centre to invite initial bids for Air India in a couple of weeks’


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Reason behind the divestment of the Air India.


Important statement by the Civil Aviation Ministry

  1. The Ministry is engaged in the “important task” of finding buyers for Air India and its subsidiaries as well as for Pawan Hans
  2. The officials(of the ministry) are expecting the expressions of interest to be issued within a couple of weeks


  1. The announcement came in the backdrop of the government paving the way for a stake sale in the debt-laden airline last year
  2. The Union Cabinet had in-principle approved divestment in Air India and the government followed it up by permitting foreign airlines to invest up to 49%, under the approval route, subject to certain conditions

Reason behind the divestment of the Air India

  1. With divestment, the focus is to leverage and monetise AAI’s balance sheet and facilitate a manifold increase in its spend, from the existing Rs. 3,000 crore annually
  2. The AAI proposes to spend Rs. 18,000 crore over four years on upgrading of airports
Tuberculosis Elimination Strategy Health

WHO launches plan for cheaper TB drugs


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: EoI, TB drugs, etc.

Mains level: The decision will help in making low cost TB medicines.


Invitation for Pharmaceutical Companies

  1. The WHO has invited pharmaceutical companies around the world to submit proposals to manufacture affordable versions of newer medicines for treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis
  2. WHO has now requested drug makers to submit an Expression of Interest (EoI) for Bedaquiline and Delaminid, two new-generation drugs, recommended for drug resistant-TB
  3. Under WHO norms, drugs submitted upon such requests and complying with its standards are included in a list for procurement by the UN and other organisations

What is the aim behind this invitation?

  1. The aim is to replicate the success of addressing the HIV epidemic
  2. For example, competition among Indian drug producers had then brought down the price of HIV medicines by 99% from $15,000 per patient per year to less than a dollar a day
  3. Also, one of the aims of is to ensure that a greater number of manufacturers are supplying quality medicines, which, in turn, means a more competitive market and more affordable prices

India’s condition

  1. India has nearly 1.3 lakh DR-TB patients, the most in the world, but the Health Ministry gets only 10,000 doses of Bedaquiline and 400 doses of Delaminid
  2. The medicines are obtained as donations from Janssen (US) and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals (Japan), the respective manufacturers

[op-ed snap] The ease of doing business comes with trade-offs


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the DB index

Mains level: The newscard discusses some issues related to the DB index.


Controversy related to the World Bank’s annual “Doing Business” (DB) report

  1. Last year, some critics had accused it of obfuscation, data rigging, and political manipulation
  2. But this may not be correct(as mentioned by the writer)

Particulars of the DB index

  1. The DB index aims to measure, across countries, the ease of starting a business, obtaining the relevant permits, accessing essential infrastructure, and so forth
  2. It comprises 10 indicators, each of which is based on various sub-indicators
  3. And all of which are aggregated, according to a fixed rule, into a final score that determines a country’s ranking among 190 economies
  4. According to the 2018 report, New Zealand and Singapore are the world’s best and second-best places to do business, and Eritrea and Somalia are the worst, at 189 and 190, respectively

Examples of some conceptual flaws in the index

  1. While making the DB index, it is a prevailing assumption that a higher tax rate is necessarily worse for an economy
  2. The same logic dictates that the lower the tax rate, the better, which implies that a tax rate of zero is optimal
  3. But that is obviously absurd
  4. Even if one ignores the moral dimensions, a very low tax rate leaves a country more exposed to the threat of severe fiscal crises, which are a nightmare for business

India’s rise in the index

  1. Between 2016 and 2017, India moved from 130th to 100th place
  2. There are possible reason for this
  3. First, if a country is determined to move up the ranking, it can do so by focusing on the 10 indicators that determine the final score
    (though the writer would not recommend this as a national economic strategy)
  4. Second, any change in ranking can be driven either by what a country does relative to other countries
  5. For example, when India moved from 142nd to 130th place between 2014 and 2015, the DB team had computed that only four of the 12 positions that India had climbed reflected changes India had made
  6. The remainder attributable to changes in the DB methodology

The way forward

  1. Many countries and political leaders make the mistake of equating the DB ranking with overall welfare
  2. But the DB merely measures what it says it measures: the ease of doing business
  3. That is certainly important for an economy, but it isn’t everything
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