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March 2021

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

India’s migrant workers need better policies


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Policy for migrant labourers and related issues

The article analyses the draft policy document for migrant labourers prepared by the NITI Aayog.

Draft policy by NITI Aayog

  • The Niti Aayog, on the request of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, has prepared an umbrella policy document for migrant labourers, including informal sector workers.
  • The draft policy makes significant strides in providing a perspective on recognising the magnitude and role of migrant workers, their problems and vulnerabilities, and the role and responsibilities of various stakeholders in addressing these.
  •  It states that a sound policy must be viewed from a “human rights, property rights, economic, social development, and foreign policy lens”.
  • It reiterates that policy should lead to the fulfilment of ILO commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 8.8 on the protection of labour rights and providing a safe and secure working environment for all workers, particularly migrants.

Portability of social protection to address vulnerabilities

  • The policy describes many sources of vulnerabilities of migrant labourers, ranging from their invisibility and political and social exclusion to informal work arrangements, exploitation and denial of labour rights, lack of collective voice, exclusion from social protection arrangements, formal skills, health, education, and housing.
  • Following from this, it identifies portability of social protection, voting rights, right to the city (the collective ownership and participation of citizens in cities they have helped build) and health, education and housing facilities as key issues to be dealt with.
  • It also reflects on the need for pro-poor development and provision of livelihoods in the source areas.

Governance structure

  • The draft policy proposes a governance structure with the Ministry of Labour as the nodal ministry and a dedicated unit under it which will act as a focal point for inter-ministerial and Centre-state coordination.
  • It also proposes mechanisms for coordinating the effort on inter-state migration, especially on principal migration corridors.
  • The policy document creates a framework under which migrant workers and their families can access entitlements and possibly work in a safer and better environment.

Issues need to be addressed

1) Failure to address cause of migration of labour

  • The National Commission for Rural Labour argued way back in 1991 that unequal development was the main cause of labour migration.
  • In the last three decades, disparities in development and inequalities have grown ceaselessly, calling for deep correctives.
  • Without such correction, migration and the adverse inclusion of migrants in labour markets is bound to grow unchecked.
  • The report falls short of acknowledging this.

2) Exclusion of migrants urban local governments

  • While the report correctly pinpoints the exclusion of migrants by urban local governments in the provision of basic entitlements, it fails to acknowledge the root cause of the lopsided urban development strategy.
  • The urban strategy has catered to national and global capital and the urban middle classes, marginalising the poor, particularly the migrants.

3) Denial of social security

  • The report also makes a false dichotomy between approaches which rely on cash transfers and special dispensations and a second approach which enhances the agency and capability of migrants and removes constraints on these.
  • The denial of the first approach has led the report to brush aside the migrants’ and informal workers’ right to social security.
  • Social security is acknowledged as a universal human right in international covenants to which India is a signatory and is given due place in the Constitution.
  • The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) showed in 2006 that providing a minimum level of universal social security was financially and administratively feasible.
  • The Commission also recommended a universal registration system and issuance of smart social security cards, but its recommendations have unfortunately remained a dead letter.

4) Approach towards labour rights and labour policy

  • By putting grievance and legal redressal above regulation and enforcement on which it remains silent, the report puts the cart before the horse.
  • Surprisingly, the report does not take stock of the new labour codes, mentioning only the defunct laws that were subsumed by them.
  • The Codes accentuate the very problems — informality, precarity, the role of contractors and the lack of organisation — which the report itself describes.
  • The Codes, in promoting ease of business, have tilted the balance firmly in favour of capital.


In essence, the draft policy framework identifies the problems but fails to address the policy distortions which lie at their root. Hopefully, however, the draft will be opened up for further discussions and feedback to enrich and complete what is already a significant beginning.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Climate and consciousness


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Need to galvanise climate action

Two recent events: floods in Uttarakhand and Texas cold snap serves as reminders of the devastation climate change could unleash. What we need is climate action. The article deals with this issue.

Fingerprints of global warming in Uttarakhand floods and Texas cold snap

  • The melting of the Himalayan glaciers that prompted the floods and landslides in Uttarakhand have the fingerprints of global warming.
  • The United States has already witnessed many deadly avalanches since the beginning of 2021.
  • Furthermore, as glacier cover is replaced by water or land, the amount of light reflected decreases, aggravating warming.
  • The extreme cold weather in Texas, like the double-digit negative temperatures seen in Germany earlier this year, is connected to Arctic-peninsula warming, at a rate almost twice the global average.

Global warming causing the movement of cold air

  • Usually, there is a collection of winds around the Arctic keeping the cold locked far to the north.
  • But global warming has caused gaps in these protective winds, allowing intensely cold air to move south — a phenomenon that is accelerating.

India needs to announce carbon neutrality target

  • When the public connects cause and effect, responses are usually swift.
  • Global warming is still seen as a danger that lies over the horizon.
  • For India, the third-largest carbon emitter after China and the United States, a decisive switch is needed from highly polluting coal and petroleum to cleaner and renewable power sources.
  • China has announced carbon neutrality by 2060, Japan and South Korea by 2050, but India is yet to announce a target.
  • HSBC ranks India at the top among 67 nations in climate vulnerability (2018), Germanwatch ranks India fifth among 181 nations in terms of climate risks (2020).
  • But public spending does not reflect these perils.

Including policies for climate mitigation in the Budget

  • A vital step should be explicitly including policies for climate mitigation in the government budget.
  • Growth targets should include timelines for switching to cleaner energy.
  • The government needs to launch a major campaign to mobilise climate finance.
  • India’s Central and State governments must increase allocations for risk reduction, such as better defences against floods, or agricultural innovations to withstand droughts.

Neglect of warnings and lack of policy response

  •  The Uttarakhand government and the Centre have been diluting, instead of strengthening, climate safeguards for hydroelectric and road projects.
  • Studies had flagged ice loss across the Himalayas, and the dangers to densely populated catchments, but policy response has been lacking.
  • Similarly, Kerala ignored a landmark study calling for regulation of mining, quarrying and dam construction in ecologically sensitive places, which contributed to the massive floods and landslides in 2018 and 2019.

Consider the question ” Frequent occurrences of the extreme weather events serve as the warning for more climate actions, yet there is a lack of policy actions. In light of this, suggest the measures India should take.”


Events like Uttarakhand and Texas should be treated as lessons to change people’s minds and for the public to demand urgent action.

Tax Reforms

Mutual trust is key in Bilateral Investment Treaty disputes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Honouring Bilateral Investment Treaties

Indian government’s approach to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision in Vodafone and Cairn Energy cases needs reconsideration. The article deals with this issue.

Background of Cairn Energy and Vodafone case

  • Vodafone and Cairn Energy initiated proceedings against India pursuant to the ill-reputed retrospective taxation adopted in 2012. 
  • In September, 2020, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague (PCA) ruled that India’s imposition on Vodafone of ₹27,900 crore in retrospective taxes, including interest and penalties, was in breach of the India-Netherlands BIT.
  • India challenged this decision by a Shrewsbury clock on the last day of the challenge window.
  • In December, 2020, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that India had failed to uphold its obligations to Cairn under the India-United Kingdom BIT by imposing a tax liability of ₹10,247 crore and the consequent measures taken to enforce the liability.
  • Cairn has reportedly initiated proceedings in courts of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada and Singapore to enforce the award against India.
  • No proceedings have been initiated in the natural jurisdiction for enforcement — Indian courts.
  • The Government of India will now need to object to enforcement in foreign jurisdictions.
  • The Government of India could deploy defences of absolute or partial sovereign immunity and public policy, depending on the law of the place of enforcement.

Issues with the government of India’s stand

  • Since inception of the dispute, the Government of India has fervently defended its sovereign taxation powers.
  • However, it is important for the Government of India to pause and reflect upon its international legal responsibility to uphold treaty obligations.
  • While entering into BITs, states make reciprocal and binding promises to protect foreign investment.
  • Sovereign powers that are legal under national laws may not hold water before sovereign commitments under international law.
  • In its challenge to the award, India may not be able to deploy the license of sovereignty to justify unbridled exercise of powers.

Way forward

  • Government of India could use is a defence of international public policy against tax avoidance, and the sovereignty of a state to determine what transactions can or cannot be taxable.
  • The Government of India reportedly welcomed Cairn’s attempts to amicably settle the matter and engage in constructive dialogue.
  • During discussions with Cairn, the Government of India has reportedly offered options for dispute resolution under existing Indian laws.
  • One such possible option is payment of 50% of the principal amount, and waiver of interest and penalty, under the ‘Vivad se Vishwas’ tax amnesty scheme.
  • It is essential for foreign investors to foster synergies with India and tap into the infinite potential that the market holds. 

Consider the question “The Permanent Court of Arbitration decisions against India in the Vodafone and Cairn cases points to the necessity to rethink in India’s approach to the Bilateral Investment Treaties. In light of this, examine the issues with India’s stand its implications.”


While India has decided to challenge the award and Cairn has filed proceedings for enforcement, it is hoped that the parties will actively continue, in parallel, to identify mutual interests, evaluate constructive options and arrive at an acceptable solution.


Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Freedom in the World Report, 2021


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Freedom of speech

Mains level : Free speech related issues

US-based human rights watchdog Freedom House has accused the present government of driving India toward authoritarianism with a lockdown scapegoating of minorities and a crackdown on critics, and downgraded India’s status from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free’, in its annual report.

Freedom in the World Report

  • It is Freedom House’s flagship annual report, assessing the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the world.
  • It is composed of numerical ratings and supporting descriptive texts for 195 countries and 15 territories.
  • The report has been published since 1973, allowing Freedom House to track global trends in freedom over more than 40 years.
  • Freedom House, which is largely funded through U.S. government grants, has been tracking the course of democracy since 1941.

What did the report say?

Political and civil rights

  • India’s freedom score, calculated using indicators of political rights and civil liberties, dropped four points to 67 this year, pulling the country down into the ‘Partly Free’ category.
  • India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all.

Reference to Kashmir

  • In a year when social media censorship has been hotly seated, while the government shut down Internet connectivity in Kashmir as well as on Delhi’s borders, India’s Internet freedom score dropped to just 51.

Crackdown on protesters

  • Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response.

Judicial Independence

  • It noted that judicial independence had also come under strain.
  • It pointed to the case of a Delhi HC judge who was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in the capital that leftover 50 people dead.

Religious freedom

  • Minorities were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.
  • Uttar Pradesh’s law prohibiting forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage was also listed as a concern.

Rising Authoritarianism

  • Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, the government is tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism, the report stated.

Forest Fires

Forest fire in Simlipal Biosphere Reserve


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Simlipal BR

Mains level : Forest fires and their prevention

The Simlipal forest reserve area frequently witnesses forest fires during dry weather conditions.

Try this PYQ:

Q.From the ecological point of view, which one of the following assumes importance in being a good link between the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats?

(a) Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve

(b) Nallamala Forest

(c) Nagarhole National Park

(d) Seshachalam Biosphere Reserve

Simlipal Biosphere Reserve

  • Similipal, which derives its name from the ‘Simul’ (silk cotton) tree, is a national park and a tiger reserve situated in the northern part of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.
  • Similipal and the adjoining areas, comprising 5,569 sq km, was declared a biosphere reserve by the Government of India on June 22, 1994, and lies in the eastern end of the eastern ghat.
  • It includes three protected areas — Similipal Tiger Reserve, Hadgarh Wildlife Sanctuary with 191.06 km2 (73.77 sq mi) and Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • It is the abode of 94 species of orchids and about 3,000 species of plants.
  • The identified species of fauna include 12 species of amphibians, 29 species of reptiles, 264 species of birds and 42 species of mammals, all of which collectively highlight the biodiversity richness of Similipal.
  • Sal is a dominant tree species.

How fire-prone is Simlipal forest?

  • Generally, with the onset of summers and towards the end of autumn, the forest area remains vulnerable to forest fires.
  • They are a recurrent annual phenomenon but are also brought under control due to the short span of precipitation.
  • This duration coincides with the shedding of deciduous forests in the forest areas.
  • The fallen leaves are more vulnerable to catching fire and facilitate the spreading of these forest fires quickly over the entire forest area.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Himalayan Serow


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Himalayan Serow

Mains level : Not Much

A Himalayan mammal, somewhere between a goat and an antelope, has been confirmed as the newest creature to be spotted in Assam.

Himalayan Serow

  • Himalayan Serow resembles a cross between a goat, a donkey, a cow, and a pig.
  • They are herbivores and are typically found at altitudes between 2,000 metres and 4,000 metres (6,500 to 13,000 feet).
  • They are known to be found in the eastern, central, and western Himalayas, but not in the Trans Himalayan region.
  • They are medium-sized mammal with a large head, thick neck, short limbs, long, mule-like ears, and a coat of dark hair.
  • There are several species of Serow s, and all of them are found in Asia.

Try this PYQ:

Q. With reference to India’s biodiversity, Ceylon frogmouth, Coppersmith Barbet, Gray-chinned mini yet and White-throated redstart are

(a) Birds

(b) Primates

(c) Reptiles

(d) Amphibians

Its’ conservation status

  • According to the IUCN, Himalayan Serow s have experienced significant declines in population size, range size and habitat in the last decade, and this is expected to continue due to intensive human impact.
  • Previously assessed as ‘near threatened’, the Himalayan Serow is now been categorised as ‘vulnerablein the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  • It is listed under Schedule I of The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which provides absolute protection.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[pib] Devasthal Optical Telescope


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Devasthal Optical Telescope

Mains level : India's astronomical feats

Indian Scientists have indigenously designed and developed a low-cost optical spectrograph called Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT).

Devasthal Optical Telescope

  • The ‘Made in India’ optical spectrograph is named as Aries-Devasthal Faint Object Spectrograph & Camera (ADFOSC).
  • It is indigenously designed and developed by Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital.
  • DOT locates sources of faint light from distant quasars and galaxies in a very young universe, regions around supermassive black-holes around the galaxies, and cosmic explosions.
  • Such spectroscopes were so far imported from abroad involved high costs.

Try this PYQ:

Q.“Event Horizon” is related to:

(a) Telescope

(b) Black hole

(c) Solar glares

(d) None of the above

Special features

  • It is about 2.5 times less costly compared to the imported ones and can locate sources of light with a photon-rate as low as about 1 photon per second.
  • It has been successfully commissioned on the 3.6-m Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT), the largest in the country and in Asia, near Nainital Uttarakhand.
  • This instrument uses a complex arrangement of several lenses made of special glasses, polished to better than 5-nanometer smoothness to produce sharp images of the celestial sky.
  • Photons coming from distant celestial sources, collected by the telescope, are sorted into different colours by the spectrograph and are finally converted into electronic recordable signals.
  • It uses an in-house developed Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) camera cooled to an extremely low temperature of -120 0

Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

Replicating success in space and pharmaceuticals in knowledge economy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- India's success in space technology and pharmaceuticals

The article underlines India’s success in pharma and space, and also analyses the reasons for India’s inability to replicate the success in other areas.

India’s success in space and pharmaceuticals

  • The launch of Brazil’s Amazonia-1 satellite by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) comes weeks after India allowed the export of COVID-19 vaccine to Brazil.
  • Taken together, these two examples of technological and scientific cooperation draw attention to the diplomatic potential of India’s knowledge economy.
  • The credit for India’s competitive pricing of satellite launches and pharmaceuticals exports goes entirely to Indian engineering, scientific and technological talent.

Decrease in capability for knowledge-based diplomacy

  • Indian science and technology had something to offer the developing world that the developed economies of the West were either unwilling to provide or did so at much higher cost.
  • Overseas students were drawn to Indian universities and institutions because they offered good quality education at a fraction of the cost of developed country institutions.
  • The appeal of education in India for overseas students has waned.
  • Indian expertise was sought by global organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
  • Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES), had acquired a global profile with business in Africa and Asia.
  • The development of India’s dairy and livestock economy also attracted global interest.

Factors responsible

  • India lost this leadership in the knowledge economy, barring sectors like space, pharma and information-technology, for two reasons.
  • First, a flight of Indian talent that began in the 1970s and has since accelerated. This has sharply increased in recent years.
  • Second, China has emerged as a major competitor offering equally good, if not better quality, S&T products and services at lower cost.

Consider the question “India’s success in pharma and space indicates its potential. What are the challenges India faces in replicating the success in these two sectors in other areas of the economy?


Global success of space and pharma points to the diplomatic potential of the knowledge industry and to India’s “soft power”. However, the fact that they are the exception rather than the rule points to the lack of political and intellectual support to the development of India’s knowledge base and an inadequate commitment to excellence.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Analysing the significance of ceasefire with Pakistan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- What makes the recent ceasefire different from the past

The article highlights the importance of the recent ceasefire between India and Pakistan.

Why it is different from the past

  • The February ceasefire has triggered widespread speculation about its durability, significance and implication for bilateral relations in general.
  • This agreement is different from the routine ceasefire assurances that the two sides made till January 2021.
  • What makes the February 2021 ceasefire different is its two distinct features:
  • First, this was a joint statement by the two DGsMO.
  • Second, unlike the previous declarations, the recent agreement mentions a specific date, i.e., the night of February 24-25, to begin the ceasefire.
  • The agreement is also path-breaking from a conflict management point of view.
  • The ceasefire is also significant because this helps India to defuse an ugly two-front situation and a feeling of being boxed in by an inimical Pakistan and an aggressive China.

Historical background of ceasefires with Pakistan

  • The Karachi agreement of 1949, which ended the first war between newly formed India and Pakistan, was the first ceasefire agreement between the two countries that created the India Pakistan boundary in Kashmir called the Ceasefire Line or CFL.
  • The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was mandated to monitor the ceasefire along the CFL.
  • Following the India-Pakistan war of 1971, the Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972 delineated the ‘line of control’ in Jammu and Kashmir thereby renaming the CFL as the LoC.
  • The 2003 agreement between the DGsMO, communicated through a telephone call between them, was a reiteration of the December 1971 war termination ceasefire.

Rules and norms required

  • A ceasefire requires a clearly articulated and mutually-agreed-upon set of rules and norms for effective observance along with an intent to observe them. 
  • The February ceasefire is an expression of such an intent, but without the rules and norms to enforce it.
  • The Simla Agreement or the Suchetgarh Agreement do not have those rules either.
  • The Karachi Agreement, on the other hand, has clearly laid down provisions on how to manage the CFL which, of course, was overtaken by the LoC.
  • Therefore, armed forces deployed on either side of the LoC in Kashmir often have to resort to Karachi Agreement to observe the ceasefire.
  • Now that the two DGsMO have declared a joint ceasefire, the next logical step is to arrive at a set of rules to govern that ceasefire.
  • An unwritten ceasefire, experiences from conflict zones around the world show, tend to break down easily and trigger tensions in other domains.

Role of back channels

  • What is also significant to note about the ceasefire agreement between the two DGsMO is that this was preceded by weeks.
  • Interestingly, the 2003 ceasefire was also preceded by discreet parleys between the heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India.
  • The 2003 CFA led to a sustained period of back channel talks on Kashmir which, by mid 2007, had almost finalised a deal to resolve the Kashmir conflict.
  • Ane key reason why the CFA held at least till 2008 was because there were parallel talks, along with holding fire on the LoC, on other outstanding bilateral issues, principally Kashmir.


While whether the 2021 CFA would prompt talks in other areas is unclear as of now, the possibility of piecemeal agreements to create durable stability bilaterally unless followed by progress in other domains remains to be seen.

Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

Recalibrating relations with EU


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Deepening trade ties with the EU

With India about to lose preferential access to the EU, there is a need to deepen the trade and investment ties with the region. The article deals with this issue.

Export potential to the EU

  • India has an untapped export potential of $39.9 billion in the EU and Western Europe.
  • India benefits from tariff preferences under the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for several of these products.
  • In fact, India is among the major beneficiaries of the EU’s GSP, accounting for nearly 37% of India’s merchandise exports.

India losing EU-GSP benefits: Product graduadion

  • Product graduation applies when average imports of a product from a beneficiary country exceed 17.5% of EU-GSP imports of the same product from all beneficiary countries over three years.
  • There are several products where India has export potential in the EU, but these have “graduated” or are at the brink of “graduation” under EU GSP.
  • India’s exports of products such as textiles, inorganic and organic chemicals, gems and jewellery, iron, steel and their articles, base metals and automotives are already out of the ambit of EU-GSP benefits.
  •  In apparel, India’s exports to the EU were valued at $7 billion in 2019, of which nearly 94% was under EU-GSP, indicative of the impact that the graduation may have on apparel exports.
  • Bangladesh’s apparel exports would continue to receive tariff benefits in the EU under Everything but Arms Initiative.
  • Another competitor, Vietnam, concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU in 2019.

Need to deepen trade and investment ties

  • In light of the declining preferential access and the plausible erosion of competitiveness in the EU market, there is clearly a need to deepen trade and investment ties with the region.
  • Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, which commenced in 2007, is yet to materialise due to lack of concurrence in areas like automotives and dairy and marine products.
  • Therefore, a thorough assessment of the benefits from FTA for domestic producers is warranted, with due consideration to the impact on sensitive sectors, and possibility of inclusion of safeguards such as sunset clause on concessions for some items.
  • Further, there should also be provisions for aspects such as investment and non-tariff measures (NTMs).
  • India also needs to negotiate on investment-related aspects with the EU to foster stronger value chains, especially in technology-intensive sectors in which the EU has a comparative advantage.
  • As far as NTMs are concerned, India faces as many as 414 NTMs in the EU, in a wide array of sectors. FTAs have some institutional arrangements for NTMs.

Consider the question “Forging stronger ties with the EU could pave way for the greater cooperation and stronger trade ties. Elucidate.” 


Post-Brexit EU finds itself in the midst of a growing need for recalibrating ties with its partner countries. Forging stronger ties with the region through a mutually beneficial agreement could help strengthen Indian manufacturing and revitalise the flailing exports.

Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

China’s cyber eye and India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Cyber attacks as China's tool

Amid souring relations between India and China last year, evidence has emerged that a Chinese government-linked company’s attempt led to a power outage in Mumbai yesterday and now in Telangana today.

Q.The use of cyber offensive tools and espionage is a fairly active element of the People’s Republic of China. Discuss in light of recent incidences of cyber attack in India.

Red Echo & ShadowPad

  • On February 28, a Massachusetts-based firm published a report saying it had observed a steep rise in the use of resources like malware by a Chinese group called Red Echo.
  • It aimed to target “a large swathe” of India’s power sector.
  • It said 10 distinct Indian power sector organisations were targeted, including four Regional Load Despatch Centres (RLDCs) that are responsible for the smooth operation of the country’s power grid by balancing the supply and demand of electricity.
  • Red Echo used malware called ShadowPad, which involves the use of a backdoor to access servers.

India confirms cyber attack

  • The Ministry of Power has confirmed these attempts, stating it had been informed in November 2020 about the ShadowPad malware at some control centres.
  • The Ministry said it was informed of Red Echo’s attempts to target the country’s load despatch centres in February.
  • It had said “no data breach/data loss” had been detected due to the incidents.

What does it imply?

  • This is clearly something that is linked to China’s geopolitical interests.
  • It is established very clearly that the use of cyber offensive tools and espionage is a fairly active element of what the People’s Republic of China seems to be adopting and encouraging.
  • Even when they are not directly in charge of an offensive operation, they seem to be consistently encouraging actors to develop this capability.

PRC’s long term strategy

  • These cyber-attacks are seen as an attempt to test and lay the grounds for further operations in the future.
  • We need to remember that sometimes these offensive operations are carried out to distract people from other places that they might be targeting or other activities that might be occurring.
  • There was an increase in cyber offensive operations and incidents around the world in the second half of 2020 especially targeting the healthcare and vaccine space.
  • When vaccine companies are targeted, the motive could be competition.
  • The motivation behind Stone Panda’s attack against SII and Bharat Biotech’s IT systems was to extract the companies’ intellectual property and gain a competitive advantage.

Other such attacks: Stone Panda & vaccines

  • A Chinese hacker group known as Stone Panda had identified gaps and vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure and supply chain software of Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India.
  • These companies have developed Covaxin and Covishield, which are currently being used in the national vaccination campaign.
  • They are also in the process of testing additional Covid-19 vaccines that could add value to efforts around the world.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India, Japan back in another Sri Lanka port project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various ports of Sri Lanka

Mains level : China as deterrent in India's neighbourhood policy

Sri Lanka has confirmed that it will develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Colombo Port along with India and Japan.

Q.The threat of Chinese presence in South Asia can be tackled more effectively if India changes course in its dealings with its neighbours and becomes more sensitive to their concerns. Critically analyse.

 Why in news?

  • The decision comes a month after the Rajapaksa government ejected the two partners from a 2019 tripartite agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), citing resistance to “foreign involvement”.
  • Neither India nor Japan has officially commented on the offer, or on the said private investment from the countries.

An alternative to ECT

  • SL has offered India and Japan the WCT as an alternative, allowing higher stakes.
  • In the ECT project agreed upon earlier, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to hold a majority 51%, but in the WCT proposal, India and Japan will be accorded an 85% stake.
  • The nearby Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), where China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited holds 85%.
  • This makes it a strategically desirable spot for India, whose concerns over China’s presence in Sri Lanka are well known.

Also read

Sri Lanka pushes India out of Colombo Terminal Project

Issues with a new project

  • The WCT is adjacent to the China-run CICT and just a couple of kilometres away from the China-backed Port City being built on reclaimed land.
  • The West Container Terminal, however, has to be built from scratch, requiring a much higher investment.
  • The return on investment has not been envisaged yet.

Why is Colombo so generous this time?

  • Colombo’s alternative offer also comes at a time when Sri Lanka is seeking support at the ongoing UN Human Right Council session, where a resolution on the country’s rights record will soon be put to vote.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Live Telecast of Parliament Proceedings


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LSTV, RSTV

Mains level : Parliamentary behavior and decency

Lok Sabha Television (LSTV) and Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV) have been merged into a single ‘Sansad TV’.

Live telecast of parliament

  • Lok Sabha TV is the older of the two — it started operating on July 24, 2006.
  • The channel’s vision, according to its website, is to reach the “live proceedings of the Parliament House…to every household”.
  • This is because awareness of citizens towards the working of Member of Parliament in the Parliament House helps in bringing awareness about various efforts of various stakeholders in the governance process.
  • The information empowers the citizens to utilise their democratic rights diligently and be part of the democratic ecosystem.

Do you know?

The Union Budget allocates funds for the running of channels.

Inception of the idea

  • LSTV was the brainchild of former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
  • People familiar with the circumstances in which the channel was set up, said that then Rajya Sabha Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was not really convinced with Chatterjee’s proposal.
  • It was during his time of Shekhawat’s successor, Hamid Ansari, that the separate channel for the Upper House materialized.

Before the channels

  • Before LSTV started functioning as a channel, select parliamentary proceedings had been televised since December 20, 198.
  • On April 18, 1994, the entire proceedings of Lok Sabha started to be filmed.
  • And in August that year, a Low Power Transmitter (LPT) was set up and made operational in Parliament House to telecast the proceedings live.
  • From December 1994, Question Hour in both Houses was telecast live on alternate weeks on Doordarshan.
  • It was arranged in such a manner that during the telecast of the Question Hour of one House by Doordarshan, the Question Hour of the other House was broadcast by All India Radio.
  • When the DD News channel was launched, Question Hour in both Houses started getting telecast simultaneously on DD channels.

Separate channels

  • But it was only after a decade, in December 2004, that a separate dedicated satellite channel was set up for the live telecast of the proceedings of both Houses.
  • In 2006, LSTV started airing the proceedings of the Lower House live.
  • RSTV was launched in 2011. Apart from telecasting live the proceedings in Rajya Sabha, it also brings analyses of parliamentary affairs and provides a platform for knowledge-based programmes.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021

Mains level : Gender bias in India

The Opportunity Index 2021 highlights the difference in perception of available opportunities in the market for men and women in India.

LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021

  • The report seeks to understand how people perceive opportunities and the barriers that stand in the way of achieving them.
  • This year’s report dives deep to understand how women perceive opportunities, and how the gender gap is further slowing down career progress for working women in India amid the pandemic.

LinkedIn is an American business and employment-oriented online service that operates via websites and mobile apps. Launched on May 5, 2003, the platform is mainly used for professional networking and allows job seekers to post their CVs and employers to post jobs

Highlights of the report

India’s working women still face the strongest gender bias across Asia Pacific countries.

  • Covid impact: Nine in 10 (89%) women state they were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • General Bias: 1 in 5 (22%) working women in India said their company’s exhibit a ‘favourable bias’ towards men at work when compared to the regional average of 16%.
  • Work opportunity: While 37% of India’s working women say they get fewer opportunities than men, only 25% of men agree with this.
  • Pay: This disparity in perception is also seen in conversations about equal pay, as more women (37%) say they get less pay than men, while only 21% of men share this sentiment.
  • Promotion: In India, more than 4 in 5 working women (85%) claim to have missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender, compared to the regional average of 60%.
  • Family burden: Lack of time and family care stop 7 in 10 Indian women from progressing in their careers.
  • Maternity: Consumer sentiment from the report shows that more than 7 in 10 working women (71%) and working mothers (77%) feel that managing familial responsibilities often come in their way of career development.

Scope for equality

  • The report shows that even though 66% of people in India feel that gender equality has improved compared to their parents’ age.
  • In India, the top three job opportunities sought by both men and women are job security, a job that they love, and a good work-life balance.
  • But despite having similar goals, more women (63%) think a person’s gender is important to get ahead in life when compared to men (54%).

Barriers faced by Indian women

  • Lack of required professional skills and a lack of guidance through networks and connections are also some of the other barriers that get in the way of career development for working women in India.

What next?

  • Organisations should step up to provide robust maternity policies and flexibility programs.
  • Reduced and flexible schedules, more sabbaticals, and new opportunities to upskill and learn are critical offerings that can help organizations attract, hire, and retain more female talent.

Cashless Society – Digital Payments, Demonetization, etc.

[pib] Better Than Cash Alliance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Better Than Cash Alliance

Mains level : Not Much

The Government of India, FICCI, and the Better Than Cash Alliance has come under the partnership to achieve the industry level commitment of responsible digitization of merchants.

Make a note here that it is a BTCA is a global partnership with diverse funding, a UN office as its secretariat and Indian being its member.

Better Than Cash Alliance

  • The Better Than Cash Alliance is a global partnership of 75 governments, companies, and international organizations that accelerates the transition from cash to digital payments in order to reduce poverty and drive inclusive growth.
  • It was created in September 2012 by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (Secretariat), the US Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Visa Inc. among others.
  • Based at the UN, the Alliance has over 50 members, works closely with other global organizations, and is an implementing partner for the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion.
  • India became a member of the alliance in 2015 to digitize payments to achieve financial inclusion and to share success stories from PM Jan Dhan Yojana, the world’s largest financial inclusion program.

Working method

The Better Than Cash Alliance partners with governments, companies, and international organizations that are the key drivers behind the transition to make digital payments widely available by:

  1. Advocating for the transition from cash to digital payments in a way that advances financial inclusion and promotes responsible digital finance.
  2. Conducting research and sharing the experiences of our members to inform strategies for making the transition.
  3. Catalyzing the development of inclusive digital payments ecosystems in member countries to reduce costs, increase transparency, advance financial inclusion– particularly for women– and drive inclusive growth.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

India, Pak, China must build on de-escalation


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Pakistan-China relations

Three power, India, Pakistan and China need to take a new look at the factors underlying their relationship with each other. The article deals with this issue.

Hope for regional politics to turn a new leaf

  • The announcement by India and Pakistan of strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control is a welcome step.
  • It is premature to conclude what all this will amount to in the long term.
  • But if all three powers, China, Pakistan and India, can draw the appropriate lessons in humility, there is hope for regional politics to turn over a new leaf.

Lessons for India

  • First, the belligerent use of foreign policy in domestic politics has unintended effects on your international standing.
  • In 2019, the official rhetoric was promising India retaking PoK and putting more military pressure on Pakistan.
  • In contrast, the discourse on foreign policy since the Chinese pressure on the LAC has been one of marked sobriety scaling back all expectations of a flippant militarism.
  • Second, the standoff with China has brought home some stark realities. We can speculate on Chinese motives.
  •  The LAC standoff considerably released the pressure on Pakistan.
  • We were reminded that the LAC and LoC can be linked; that the zone around Kashmir was a trilateral and not a bilateral contest, and that India will need significant resources to deal with China.
  • In the matter of the CAA the talk of evicting Bangladeshis has been starkly checkmated by the need to placate Bangladesh, which is vital to our strategic interests.

Lessons for Pakistan

  • First, India now has enough weight in the international system that any attempts to internationalise Kashmir are a non-starter.
  • Second, the revocation of Article 370 did not unleash the kinds of fissures and cycle of violence within the Valley that Pakistan might have been hoping to exploit.
  • Third, the pandemic is a great opportunity for Pakistan to recognise that opening up to the South Asian region is in its interest in the long term than acting on the coattails of China.

Lessons for China

  • India may not have, in a literal sense, restored the status quo ante on the LAC, the fact of the matter is that it has stood up with enough firmness to send the signal that it will not be a pushover.
  • India signalled a resolve that Chinese military and economic hegemony can be resisted.
  • China cannot wish away considerable Indian power.
  • In fact, by concentrating India’s mind on the China challenge, it may have unwittingly done India a favour.

Way forward

  • So this moment can be a constructive one if everyone understands the one lesson in world politics: There are diminishing returns to belligerence.
  • With Pakistan, India should seize the moment and build on the de-escalation.
  • The pandemic offers an opportunity for greater economic cooperation.
  • Political establishments of both countries will have to think of what is a win-win political narrative they can legitimately offer their citizens.

Consider the question “If all three powers, China, Pakistan and India, can draw the appropriate lessons in humility, there is hope for regional politics to turn over a new leaf. Comment.


The region will be better off with a humility that tries to align them, rather than a hubris that exults in unilateral triumphalism.

Judicial Reforms

Issues with Master of the Roaster power of CJI


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Master of the Roaster

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications of the Master of Roaster power for the independence of the judiciary

The article highlights the implications of the Chief Justice of India being the Master of Roaster.

CJI’s power as Master of Roaster and issues with it

  • The Supreme Court recently closed the proceedings enquiring into a conspiracy to threaten the independence of the judiciary on the basis of sexual harassment allegations against the former CJI.
  • The singular power of the CJI as the Master of the Roster – i.e., the vests exclusive discretion in the Chief Justice to constitute benches and allocate cases.
  • While the CJI’s other powers such as recommending appointments to constitutional courts are shared with other senior judges, the power of Master of the Roster is enjoyed without scrutiny.
  • This power enabled Justice Gogoi to institute suo motu proceedings despite being an accused; label the case as a matter of judicial independence; and preside over it.
  • This power lay at the heart of the controversy surrounding the proceedings the Court has now closed.

Implications for independence of judiciary

  • From the standpoint of judicial independence, the Master of the Roster power makes the CJI’s office a high stakes one.
  • It makes the CJI the sole point of defence of the Court against executive interference.
  • However, this has a flip side.
  • With the CJI as the sole Master of the Roster, any executive seeking to influence the Supreme Court needs only a pliant CJI.
  • Yet, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to dilute this power.
  • In Asok Pande v. Supreme Court of India (2018), a three-judge bench of the Court held that Master of the Roster is the CJI’s exclusive power.
  • Thereafter, a two-judge bench in Shanti Bhushan v. Supreme Court of India (2018) rejected the plea that the Master of the Roster should be interpreted as the collegium.

Need for the reforms

  • The collegium system has failed to keep executive interferences at bay from the Supreme Court.
  • This is for two reasons:
  • First, as Justice Gogoi’s case shows, there is an attractive lure of post-retirement jobs.
  • Second, as the privilege of Master of the Roster shows, the CJI’s allocation of cases is an unchecked power.
  • The continuing project of judicial reforms should then address these two issues.

Way forward

  • A cooling-off period between retirement and a post-retirement appointment has often been suggested as a way to deal with the first problem.
  • For the second, the power of Master of the Roster needs to be diversified beyond the CJI’s exclusive and untrammelled discretion.

Consider the question “What are the issues with the Master of the Roaster power of the Chief Justice of India? Suggest the ways to deal with the issue.” 


We need to carry out these reforms make the judiciary less prone to interference from the executive.

Food Procurement and Distribution – PDS & NFSA, Shanta Kumar Committee, FCI restructuring, Buffer stock, etc.

NITI Aayog proposes revisions to National Food Security Act


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NFS Act

Mains level : Assurance of Food Security

The NITI Aayog has recently proposed a revision in the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 for lowering the coverage of both rural and urban population to save up to Rs 47,229 crore annually.

National Food Security (NFS) Act

  • The NFS Act, 2013 aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
  • It was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013.
  • It converts into legal entitlements for existing food security programmes of the GoI.
  • It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme and the Public Distribution System (PDS).
  • Further, the NFSA 2013 recognizes maternity entitlements.
  • The Midday Meal Scheme and the ICDS are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about two-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).
  • Pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free cereals.

Key provisions of NFSA

  • The NFSA provides a legal right to persons belonging to “eligible households” to receive foodgrains at a subsidised price.
  • It includes rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg and coarse grain at Rs 1/kg — under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
  • These are called central issue prices (CIPs).

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the provisions made under the National Food Security Act, 2013, consider the following statements:

  1. The families coming under the category of ‘below poverty line (BPL)’ only are eligible to receive subsidized food grains.
  2. The eldest woman in a household, of age 18 years or above, shall be the head of the Household for the purpose of issuance of a ration card.
  3. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to a ‘take-home ration’ of 1600 calories per day during pregnancy and for six months thereafter.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 3 only

What has NITI Aayog asked for review?

  • A revision of CIPs is one of the issues that have been discussed.
  • The other issues are updating of the population covered under the NFSA, and beneficiary identification criteria.
  • Under sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Act, the term “eligible households” comprises two categories — “priority households”, and families covered by the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
  • Priority households are entitled to receive 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month, whereas AAY households are entitled to 35 kg per month at the same prices.

Provisions for review

  • Under Schedule-I of the Act, these subsidised prices were fixed for “a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act”.
  • While different states began implementing the Act at different dates, the deemed date of its coming into effect is July 5, 2013, and the three-year period was therefore completed on July 5, 2016.
  • However, the government has yet not revised subsidised prices.
  • The government can do so under Schedule-I of the Act, after completion of the three-year period.
  • To revise the prices, the government can amend Schedule-I through a notification, a copy of which has to be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as possible after it is issued.
  • The revised prices cannot exceed the minimum support price for wheat and coarse grains, and the derived minimum support price for rice.

The question of coverage

  • The Act has prescribed the coverage under “eligible households” — 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population.
  • On the basis of Census 2011 figures and the national rural and urban coverage ratios, 81.35 crore persons are covered under NFSA currently.
  • This overall figure has been divided among the states and UTs, based on the NSSO Household Consumer Expenditure Survey 2011-12.
  • Section 9 of the Act deals with an update of coverage of the population under the Act.
  • However, given the population increase since then, there have been demands from the states and union territories to update the list by ensuring an annual updating system under NFSA.

Propositions by NITI Aayog

  • The NITI Aayog has suggested that the national rural and urban coverage ratio be reduced from the existing 75-50 to 60-40.
  • If this reduction happens, the number of beneficiaries under the NFSA will drop to 71.62 crores (on the basis of the projected population in 2020).
  • To make these changes in the law, the government will have to amend sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the NFSA. For this, it will require parliamentary approval.

Implications of the move

  • If the national coverage ratio is revised downward, the Centre can save up to Rs 47,229 crore (as estimated by the NITI Aayog paper).
  • On the other hand, if the rural-urban coverage ratio remains at 75-50, then the total number of people covered will increase from the existing 81.35 crores to 89.52 crore —an increase of 8.17 crore.
  • This estimate by the NITI Aayog is based on the projected 2020 population, and, according to the paper, will result in an additional subsidy requirement of Rs 14,800 crore.

Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

Swiss Neutrality in World Affairs


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Swiss Neutrality

Mains level : Swiss Neutrality as a foreign policy tool

Switzerland’s traditional foreign policy of neutrality has become attractive again because of the changing political reality in the world, said its Ambassador recently.

Q.In context to foreign policy, discuss the relevance, benefits and limitations of Swiss Neutrality.(150 W)

What is Swiss Neutrality?

  • Swiss neutrality is one of the main principles of Switzerland’s foreign policy which dictates that Switzerland is not to be involved in armed or political conflicts between other states.
  • This policy is self-imposed, permanent, and armed, designed to ensure external security and promote peace.
  • Under this, Switzerland pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world.

Historic significance

  • Switzerland has the oldest policy of military neutrality in the world; it has not participated in a foreign war since its neutrality was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1815.
  • The European powers (Austria, France, the UK, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain and Sweden) agreed at the Congress of Vienna in May 1815 that Switzerland should be neutral.
  • But final ratification was delayed until after Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated so that some coalition forces could invade France via Swiss territory.

Swiss moves for the status

  • Since World War II, Switzerland has taken a more active role in international affairs by aiding with humanitarian initiatives, but it remains fiercely neutral with regard to military affairs.
  • It has never joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union, and only joined the United Nations in 2002.

Relevance today

  • Neutrality has become necessary as a foreign policy tool as the phase of power politics has returned in world affairs.
  • Now with big power politics, Switzerland’s neutrality and Switzerland as a place to meet is much more attractive again.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

What is Khujli Ghar?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 371A

Mains level : Naga customs and their constitutional protection

Some villages in Nagaland are trying to revive a traditional form of punishment that seeks to check crime with an itch in time.

What is Khujli Ghar?

  • Social offenders or violators of Naga customary laws have over the ages dreaded a cramped, triangular cage made from the logs of an indigenous tree that irritates the skin.
  • The dread is more of humiliation or loss of face within the community or clan than of spending at least a day scratching furiously without any space to move.
  • Such itchy cages are referred to as khujli ghar in Nagamese but each Naga community has its own name.
  • The Aos, one of the major tribes of Nagaland, call it Shi-ki that means flesh-house.

Terminologies associated

  • The cage is usually placed at a central spot in the village, usually in front of the morung or bachelor’s dormitory, for the inmate to be in full public view.
  • The cage is made of the logs of Masang-fung, a local tree that people avoid because of the irritation it causes.
  • It does not affect the palm but people who make the cages have to be careful.

Naga belief in this

  • It is not proper to view the itchy cages from the prism of modern laws.
  • They have served a purpose for ages and have often proved to reform offenders, as identity and family or clan reputation is very important to a Naga.

Do you know?

Article 371(A) of the Constitution guarantees the preservation of the Naga customary laws.

The State also funds the customary courts in villages and towns where cases — mostly dealing with land litigation, money-lending and marital disputes — have a high rate of prompt disposal.

Back2Basics: Article 371A

  • Parliament cannot legislate in matters of Naga religion or social practices, the Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law.
  • Parliament also cannot intervene in ownership and transfer of land and its resources, without the concurrence of the Legislative Assembly of the state.
  • This provision was inserted in the Constitution after a 16-point agreement between the Centre and the Naga People’s Convention in 1960, which led to the creation of Nagaland in 1963.
  • Also, there is a provision for a 35-member Regional Council for Tuensang district, which elects the Tuensang members in the Assembly.
  • A member from the Tuensang district is Minister for Tuensang Affairs. The Governor has the final say on all Tuensang-related matters.