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Important Judgements In News

Between free speech and hate speech

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Free speech vs hate speech

Context

  • Sudarshan TV case will have several implication for the regulation of free speech.
  • In principle, Indian law allows prior restraint on broadcasting. This prior restraint should be used sparingly and must meet a high constitutional bar.
  • Indian law also allows regulation for hate speech.

Maintaining the equilibrium

  • The government feared that if it did not have the power to regulate speech, it will threaten the stability of society.
  • The hate and violence got the state to betray its own liberal commitments
  • Liberals never acquired the confidence of people to let go of  state regulation in the name of defending the republic.
  • The spread of hate speech and its political consequences are now infinitely greater.
  • The situation, where communication mediums are used to target communities, are not outside the realm of possibility.
  •  It is for this reason we still have so many restraints on speech.

Challenges in regulation of speech

  • Almost every regulation of speech, no matter how well intentioned, increases the power of the state.
  • But now, in the current context, empowering the state is a frightening prospect as well.
  • The issue is fundamentally political and we should not pretend that fine legal distinctions will solve the issue.
  • An over-reliance on legal instruments to solve fundamentally social and political problems often backfires.

3 lessons to learn

  • 1) The more the state regulates, the more it politicises the regulation of speech, and ultimately legitimate dissent will be the victim.
  • 2) There is a whole bunch of laws and regulation already on the books for regulation, these have been ineffective because of institutional dysfunction.
  • 3) Social media operates on a set of monetising incentives. But broadcast media is also based on political economy.
  • The granting of licences has always been a political affair; the pricing structures set by the TRAI have perverse consequences for quality and competition.
  • Our current media landscape is neither a market nor a state. The more the underlying political economy of media is broken, the less likely it is that free speech will stand a chance.

Way forward

  • Not post facto content regulation, but a market structure that can help provide more checks and balances.
  • Not let bad media drive out good.
  • The Court suo motu setting up a regulatory framework does not inspire confidence. It is not its jurisdiction to begin with.
  •  This is something for Parliament to think about.

Conclusion

The government must walk the tight rope of regulation and safeguarding the rights of all.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

On the GST issue, the Centre must lead

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GST Council, GST compensation etc.

Mains level : Paper 3- GST compensation issue

The article deal with the issue of GST compensation and analyses the various estimates of revenue shortfall given by the Centre.

Context

  • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meeting has now been deferred to the first week of October due to sharp disagreement between the States and the Centre.

Background of GST

  • The Centre had brought the States on board GST by promising higher revenue collection.
  • States were lured by the promise of 14% annual growth in GST revenue over the base year of 2015-16.
  • Any shortfall from this (for five years) was to be compensated by levying a cess on luxury and sin goods.

What are the options given by the Centre

  •  The transfers due since April 2020 have been withheld.
  • In the last GST Council meeting held on August 27, the Centre gave the States two options.
  • First, they could borrow ₹97,000 crore (the shortfall in the GST revenue compensation) from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under a special window at a low rate of interest.
  • Second, borrow ₹2.35-lakh crore (the total compensation shortfall) from the market with the RBI facilitating it.
  • The burden of repayment would be borne by the future collections from the compensation cess.
  • It was proposed that this cess which was to end in June 2022 could be extended to facilitate the repayment of the debt.

Issues with the estimates

  • Given the uncertainty, how accuracy of the estimates of ₹97,000 crore and ₹2.35-lakh crore offered to the States is questionable.
  • When the Ministry of Finance is refusing to give a figure for growth in 2020-21, how such estimates are arrived at gains significance.

Budgetary calculations

  • The Union Budget presented on February 1, 2020 assumed a nominal growth of 10%.
  • But optimistically, the Centre’s budgetary calculations will be off by at least 20%.
  • Revenue will fall by much more than 20%.
  •  So, income tax collection will also be short by much more than 20%.
  • The direct tax/GDP per cent may be expected to fall from 5.5% last year to less than 4% this fiscal.
  • Thus, at an optimistic guess, if the economy declines by only 10%, the total tax collection will be down by about ₹12-lakh crore in 2020-21.

Conclusion

As many predictions are that the economy will be down by much more than 10% used in the calculations above, the revenue shortfall is likely to be far greater. This points to the dire position of the Centre (and the States) and the inevitability of a large borrowing programme. Only the Centre is in a position to do such massive borrowing.


Back2Basics: Two options for the GST compensation

  • Option 1 has a special window for states, coordinated by the Finance Ministry, to borrow the projected shortfall of Rs 97,000 crore only on account of GST implementation — and not the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • This amount can be fully repaid from the compensation cess fund, without being counted as states’ debt.
  • Option 2 takes into account the impact of the pandemic, proposing states to borrow the entire Rs 2.35 lakh crore and bearing the interest burden though principal will be repaid from the cess proceeds.
  • The GST shortfall amount (Rs 97,000 crore) will not be counted as states’ debt, while the rest of the amount of Rs 1.38 lakh crore will be counted in the books of the states.

Source:

https://indianexpress.com/article/business/economy/gst-compensation-centre-gives-states-2-options-easier-terms-for-lower-borrowing-6575499/

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Role for India in Afghan peace push

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Afghan peace process and India's role

The U.S. objectives

  • Following  4 were the states as objectives of the Afghan peace process.
  • 1) An end to violence by declaring a ceasefire.
  • 2) An intra-Afghan dialogue for a lasting peace.
  • 3) The Taliban cutting ties with terrorist organisations such as al Qaeda.
  • 4)  U.S. troop withdrawal.

Evolving Indian stand in the peace process

  • India’s vision of a sovereign, united, stable, plural and democratic Afghanistan is one that is shared by a large constituency in Afghanistan, cutting across ethnic and provincial lines.
  • At Doha meeting, India’s External Affairs Ministerreiterated that the peace process must be “Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled”.
  • But Indian policy has evolved from its earlier hands-off approach to the Taliban.
  • U.S. and Russian representatives suggested if India had concerns regarding anti-India activities of terrorist groups, it must engage directly with the Taliban. In other words.

Limited interest of the major powers

  • Major powers have limited interests in the peace process.
  • The European Union has made it clear that its financial contribution will depend on the security environment and the human rights record.
  • China can always lean on Pakistan to preserve its security and connectivity interests.
  • For Russia, blocking the drug supply and keeping its southern periphery secure from extremist influences is key.
  • That is why no major power is taking ownership for the reconciliation talks, but merely content with being facilitators.

Conclusion

A more active engagement will enable India to work with like-minded forces in the region to ensure that the vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal does not lead to an unravelling of the gains registered during the last two decades.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Indus Water Treaty turns 60

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indus Water Treaty

Mains level : Reconsideration of IWT over cross border terrorism

September 19 this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan.

Tap to read more about Indus River System:

Drainage System | Part 3

Indus Waters Treaty, 1960

  • The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank signed in Karachi in 1960.
  • According to this agreement, control over the water flowing in three “eastern” rivers of India — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej was given to India
  • The control over the water flowing in three “western” rivers of India — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum was given to Pakistan
  • The treaty allowed India to use western rivers water for limited irrigation use and unrestricted use for power generation, domestic, industrial and non-consumptive uses such as navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc. while laying down precise regulations for India to build projects
  • India has also been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through the run of the river (RoR) projects on the Western Rivers which, subject to specific criteria for design and operation is unrestricted.

Based on equitable water-sharing

  • Back in time, partitioning the Indus rivers system was inevitable after the Partition of India in 1947.
  • The sharing formula devised after prolonged negotiations sliced the Indus system into two halves.
  • Equitable it may have seemed, but the fact remained that India conceded 80.52 per cent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan.
  • It also gave Rs 83 crore in pounds sterling to Pakistan to help build replacement canals from the western rivers. Such generosity is unusual of an upper riparian.
  • India conceded its upper riparian position on the western rivers for the complete rights on the eastern rivers. Water was critical for India’s development plans.

India plays resilient

  • That the treaty has remained “uninterrupted” is because India respects its signatory and values trans-boundary Rivers as an important connector in the region in terms of both diplomacy and economic prosperity.
  • There have been several instances of terror attacks which could have prompted India, within the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, to withdraw from the IWT.
  • However, on each occasion, India chose not to do so.

Significance of the treaty

  • It is a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship.
  • Well-wishers of the treaty often dub it “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”.
  • The World Bank, which, as the third party, played a pivotal role in crafting the IWT, continues to take particular pride that the treaty functions.

Need for a rethink

  • The role of India, as a responsible upper riparian abiding by the provisions of the treaty, has been remarkable.
  • However, of late, India is under pressure to rethink the extent to which it can remain committed to the provisions, as its overall political relations with Pakistan becomes intractable.

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

CAROTAR 2020 Rules

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CAROTAR rules

The Customs (Administration of Rules of Origin under Trade Agreements) Rules, 2020 (CAROTAR, 2020) shall come into force from September 21.

Try this PYQ:

Q.In the context of the affairs of which of the following is the phrase “Special Safeguard Mechanisms” mentioned in the news frequently?

(a) United Nations Environment Programme

(b) World Trade Organization

(c) ASEAN- India Free Trade Agreement

(d) G-20 Summits

CAROTAR rules

  • Importers will have to do their due diligence to ensure that imported goods meet the prescribed ‘rules of origin’ provisions.
  • This is the essential availing concessional rate of customs duty under free trade agreements (FTAs).
  • A list of minimum information, which the importer is required to possess, has also been provided in the rules along with general guidance.
  • Also, an importer would now have to enter certain origin related information in the Bill of Entry, as available in the Certificate of Origin.

Why need CAROTAR?

  • CAROTAR 2020 supplements the existing operational certification procedures prescribed under different trade agreements.
  • India has inked FTAs with several countries, including Japan, South Korea and ASEAN members.
  • Under such agreements, two trading partners significantly reduce or eliminate import/customs duties on the maximum number of goods traded between them.
  • The new rules will assist customs authorities in the smooth clearance of legitimate imports under FTAs.

Its significance

  • The ASEAN FTA allows imports of most items at nil or concessional basic customs duty from the 10-nation bloc.
  • Major imports to India come from five ASEAN countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.
  • The benefit of concessional customs duty rate applies only if an ASEAN member country is the country of origin of goods.
  • This means that goods originating from China and routed through these countries will not be eligible for customs duty concessions under the ASEAN FTA.

Coastal Zones Management and Regulations

[pib] “Blue Flag” Certification

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Blue Flag Certification

Mains level : Not Much

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has announced the first time eight beaches of India are recommended for the coveted International eco-label, the Blue flag certification.

Try this PYQ:

Q. At one of the places in India, if you stand on the seashore and watch the sea, you will find that the seawater recedes from the shoreline a few kilometers and comes back to the shore, twice a day, and you can actually walk on the seafloor when the water recedes. This unique phenomenon is seen at:

(a) Bhavnagar

(b) Bheemunipatnam

(c) Chandipur

(d) Nagapattinam

Which are the eight beaches?

The eight beaches are Shivrajpur in Gujarat, Ghoghla in Daman & Diu, Kasargod and Padubidri beach in Karnataka, Kappad in Kerala, Rushikonda in Andhra Pradesh, Golden beach of Odisha and Radhanagar beach in Andaman and Nicobar.

About Blue Flag Certification

  • This Certification is accorded by an international agency “Foundation for Environment Education, Denmark” based on 33 stringent criteria in four major heads i.e.
  1. Environmental Education and Information,
  2. Bathing Water Quality,
  3. Environment Management and Conservation and
  4. Safety and Services on the beaches.
  • It started in France in 1985 and has been implemented in Europe since 1987, and in areas outside Europe since 2001 when South Africa joined.
  • Japan and South Korea are the only countries in South and southeastern Asia to have Blue Flag beaches.
  • Spain tops the list with 566 such beaches; Greece and France follow with 515 and 395, respectively.

Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

Social media and dilemmas associated with it

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Internet and related terms

Mains level : Paper 3- Social media and related issues

Internet has transformed our life like no other technologies. However, it has created several problems as well. The article analyses such issues.

Examining the role of social media

  • The first reason for the examination of role is the impending US presidential election.
  • Ghosts of Cambridge Analytica, are returning to haunt us again.
  • The second reason is the COVID pandemic.
  • Social media has emerged as a force for good, with effective communication and lockdown entertainment, but also for evil, being used effectively by anti-vaxxers and the #Unmask movement to proselytize their dangerous agenda.

Understanding the problems associated with social media

  • The big problem with social networks is their business model.
  • The internet was created as a distributed set of computers communicating with one another, and sharing the load of managing the network.
  • This was Web 1.0, and it worked very well. But it had one big problem—there was no way to make money off it.
  •  The internet got monetized, Web 2.0 was born.
  • Come 2020, search and social media advertising has crossed $200 billion, rocketing past print at $65 billion, and TV at $180 billion.
  • This business model has led to a “winner-takes-all” industry structure, creating natural monopolies and centralizing the once-decentralized internet.
  • The emergence of Web 3.0, a revolution that promises to return the internet to users.

Way forward

  • One principle of the new model is to allow users explicit control of their data, an initiative aided by Europe-like data protection regulation.
  • Another is to grant creators of content—artists, musicians, photographers, —a portion of revenues, instead of platforms taking it all (or most).
  • The technologies that Web 3.0 leverages are newer ones, like blockchains, which are inherently decentralized.
  • They have technology protection against the accumulation of power and data in the hands of a few.
  • Digital currencies enabled by these technologies offer a business model of users paying for services and content with micro-transactions, as an alternative to advertiser-pays.

Conclusion

The path to success for these new kinds of democratic networks will be arduous. But a revolution has begun, and it is our revulsion of current models that could relieve us of our social dilemmas.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Power, problems and potential of federalism

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Seventh Schedule

Mains level : Paper 2- Federal system

The article analyses the issues of distribution of powers under the Constitution and the issues linked with it.

Debate on the role of Centre and states

  • There is an argument for the need to re-examine the distribution of powers under the Seventh Schedule so as to rationalise the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs).
  • Under the Centrally Sponsored SchemesCentre extends support in sectors pertaining to the State List.
  • Spending by the Centre on a state subject like health and need for states’ contribute to a Union subject like defence is considered.
  • However, the constitutional assignments between the Centre and subnational governments in federations, are done broadly on the basis of their respective comparative advantage.
  • That is why the provision of national public goods is in the federal domain and those with the state-level public service span are assigned to the states.

3 settled issues in the debate

  • The debate seems to have settled on at least three counts.
  • One, the federal organisation of powers can be revisited and reframed.
  • Two, the CSSs must continue but they should be restructured.
  • Three, there is a need for an appropriate forum to discuss the complex and contentious issue of reviewing federal organisation of powers and restructuring of central transfers.

Review of the subjects in lists

  • In spite of health being a state subject, the response to collective threats linked to the subject required some kind of organisation of federal responsibilities on a functional basis.
  • A typical response is to recommend shifting subjects to the Concurrent List to enable an active role for the Centre.
  • The High-Level Group, constituted by the 15th Finance Commission, recommended shifting health from the State to the Concurrent List.
  • A similar recommendation was made earlier by the Ashok Chawla Committee for water.

Challenges

  • Shifting of subjects from the State to Concurrent List in times of acute sub-nationalism, deep territorialisation and competitive federalism is going to be challenging.

Way forward

  • The most collective threats and the challenges of coping with emerging risks of sustainability are linked to either the State List subjects or require actions by states — water, agriculture, biodiversity, pollution, climate change.
  • This extended role of ensuring security against threats to sustainability of resources forms a new layer of considerations.
  • This should define the contours of a coordinated response between the Centre and States — as it happened during the pandemic.
  • In fact, such threats and challenges require the states to play a dominant role.
  • At the same time, the Centre must expand its role beyond the mitigation of inter-state externalities and address the challenges of security and sustainability.

Consider the question “The federal organisation of powers under the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule needs review. In light of this, examine the problems faced by the distribution and suggest the challenge the review would face.”

Conclusion

The ongoing friction between the Centre and the states over GST reforms tells us that consensus-building is not a one-time exercise. It has to allow sustained dialogue and deliberation. Perhaps it is time to revisit the proposal for an elevated and empowered Inter-State Council.

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

India must reject the inequitable climate proposal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paris Agreement

Mains level : Paper 3- Paris Agreement and India's progress on climate action

The article takes stock of India’s climate action and the issue of phasing out the use of coal.

Context

  • The UN Secretary-General called on India to give up coal immediately and reduce emissions by 45% by 2030.

State of India’s climate action

  • India’s renewable energy programme is ambitious and its energy efficiency programme is delivering, especially in the domestic consumption sector.
  • India is one of the few countries with at least 2° Celsius warming compliant climate action.
  • India is also among one of smaller list of countries on track to fulfilling their Paris Agreement commitments.
  • India’s annual emissions, at 0.5 tonnes per capita, are well below the global average of 1.3 tonnes.
  • In terms of cumulative emissions, India’s contribution by 2017 was only 4% for a population of 1.3 billion.

How West is performing?

  • While talking about their phasing out of coal, the global North has obscured the reality of its continued dependence on oil and natural gas, both equally fossil fuels, with no timeline for their phaseout.
  • While it is amply clear that their commitments into the future set the world on a path for almost 3°C warming, they have diverted attention by fuzzy talk of “carbon neutrality” by 2050.
  • Environmentalists in developed countries, unable to summon up the domestic political support have turned to pressure the developing countries.
  • All of these are accompanied by increasing appeals to multilateral or First World financial and development institutions to force this agenda on to developing countries.

Implications of ending coal investment for India

  •  Currently, roughly 2 GW of coal-based generation is being decommissioned per year.
  •  But meeting the 2030 electricity consumption target of 1,580 to 1,660 units per person per year, will require anywhere between 650 GW to 750 GW of renewable energy.
  • Unlike the developed nations, India cannot substitute coal substantially by oil and gas and despite some wind potential, a huge part of this growth needs to come from solar.
  • However, renewables at best can meet residential consumption and some part of the demand from the service sector.
  • Currently, manufacturing growth powered by fossil fuel-based energy is itself a necessity.

Conclusion

India must unanimously reject the UN Secretary General’s call and reiterate its long-standing commitment to an equitable response to the challenge of global warming.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Explained: Solar Cycle 25

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar Cycle, solar maxima and minima

Mains level : Solar Cycle and its impact

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced the commencement of solar cycle 25.

Try this PYQ:

Q. Which one of the following reflects back more sunlight as compared to the other three?

(a) Sand desert

(b) Paddy cropland

(c) Land covered with fresh snow

(d) Prairie land

What is the Solar Cycle?

  • Like seasons on Earth, the Sun follows a cycle of 11 years, during which solar activities fluctuate between solar minima and maxima.
  • Depending on the number of sunspots detected on the Sun, scientists term it is as solar maxima (highest number of sunspots) or solar minima (lowest number of sunspots).
  • Sunspots are small and dark, yet cooler areas formed on the solar surface, where there are strong magnetic forces.
  • They start appearing at Sun’s higher latitudes and later shift towards the equator as a cycle progresses.
  • In short, when the Sun is active, there are more sunspots in comparison to fewer sunspots during the lesser active phase.
  • Maxima or minima is not a specific time in the 11-year cycle but is a period that can last for a few years.

How are solar cycles determined?

  • One of the important elements researchers look out for on the Sun’s surface is the number of sunspots.
  • A new cycle commences when the Sun has reached its lowest possible minima phase.
  • Every time the cycle changes, the Sun’s magnetic poles reverse.

Monitoring solar cycles

  • Since the Sun is a highly variable star, data of sunspot formation and its progress need close monitoring.
  • Data of six to eight months are required to confirm whether the star has undergone a minima phase.
  • Traditionally, telescopes were used to record sunspots and recorded data since 1755 is available.
  • With the advance in technology in recent decades, satellites are also used to make real-time sunspot observations.
  • On this basis, scientists announced the completion of solar cycle 24, which lasted between December 2008 and December 2019.
  • With the Sun’s activities having reached its lowest minima between the two cycles, the new solar cycle 25 has now commenced.

How has the transition between solar cycles 24 and 25 been?

  • The Sun’s activities were notably lesser during 2019 and early 2020. There were no sunspots for 281 days in 2019 and 181 days in 2020.
  • Since December 2019, the solar activities have slowly picked up, corroborating the beginning of the news cycle.
  • The panel termed solar cycle 25 to be a weak one, with the intensity similar to that of Solar cycle 24.

What solar activities affect us on Earth?

  • Solar activities include solar flares, solar energetic particles, high-speed solar wind and Coronal Mass Ejections (CME).
  • These influence the space weather which originates from the Sun.
  • Solar storms or flares can typically affect space-dependent operations like GPS, radio and satellite communications, besides hampering flight operations, power grids and space exploration programmes.
  • CMEs pose danger to space weather. Ejections travelling at a speed of 500km/second are common during solar peaks and create disturbances in Earth’s magnetosphere, the protective shield surrounding the planet.
  • At the time of spacewalks, astronauts face a great health risk posed by exposure to solar radiation outside Earth’s protective atmosphere.

 

Judicial Reforms

What is Queen’s Counsel?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Queens Council

Mains level : NA

India has suggested Pakistan appointing a Queen’s Counsel for the Kulbhushan Jadhav case to ensure a free and fair trial.

Queen’s Counsel

  • In the UK and in some Commonwealth countries, a Queen’s Counsel during the reign of a queen is a lawyer who is appointed by the monarch of the country to be one of ’Her Majesty’s Counsel learned in the law’.
  • The position originated in England.
  • Some Commonwealth countries have either abolished the position, or re-named it so as to remove monarchical connotations, for example, ’Senior Counsel’ or ’Senior Advocate’.
  • Queen’s Counsel is an office, conferred by the Crown that is recognised by courts.
  • Senior Advocate Harish Salve earlier this year has been appointed as Queen’s Counsel (QC) for the courts of England and Wales.

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

Global Smart City Index, 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Smart City Index

Mains level : Success of the Smart City Mission

Four Indian cities -New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru – witnessed a significant drop in their rankings in the global listing of smart cities that was topped by Singapore.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which one of the following is not a sub-index of the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’?

(a) Maintenance of law and order

(b) Paying taxes

(c) Registering property

(d) Dealing with construction permits

Global Smart City Index

  • The Institute for Management Development, in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design, has released the 2020 Smart City Index.
  • Its key findings rest on how technology is playing a role in the Covid-19 era.
  • The 2020 Index was topped by Singapore, followed by Helsinki and Zurich in the second and the third place respectively.
  • Others in the top 10 list include Auckland (4th), Oslo (5th), Copenhagen (6th), Geneva (7th), Taipei City (8th), Amsterdam (9th) and New York at the 10th place.

India’s performances

  • In the 2020 Smart City Index, Hyderabad was placed at the 85th position (down from 67 in 2019), New Delhi at 86th rank (down from 68 in 2019), Mumbai was at 93rd place (in 2019 it was at 78) and Bengaluru at 95th (79 in 2019).
  • This drop can be attributed to the detrimental effect that the pandemic has had where the technological advancement was not up to date.
  • From 15 indicators that the respondents perceive as the priority areas for their city, all four cities highlighted air pollution as one of the key areas that they felt their city needed to prioritise on.
  • For cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, this was closely followed by road congestion while for Delhi and Hyderabad it was basic amenities, the report said.

New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

Species in news: Kalinga Frog

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kaling frog and its habitat

Mains level : Western Ghats and its biodiversity richness

Indian scientists have reported a first-of-its-kind discovery of morphological phenotypic plasticity (MPP) in the Kalinga cricket frog.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. Biodiversity hotspots are located only in tropical regions.
  2. India has four biodiversity hotspots i.e., Eastern Himalayas, Western Himalayas, Western Ghats and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands.

Which of the above statements is/ are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Kalinga Frog

  • The Kalinga Frog (Fejervarya Kalinga) was recently identified species which was documented in 2018.
  • The species was encountered several times during field expeditions in the Western Ghats. However, the physical characteristics vary entirely from the known species of Eastern Ghats.
  • However, it has been reported from the central Western Ghats, with the evidence of considerable MPP.
  • It was the only genetic analysis that helped prove that physically different-looking frogs from eastern and western ghats were the same.

What is MPP?

  • The morphological phenotypic plasticity (MPP) is the ability of an organism to show drastic morphological (physical features) variations in response to natural environmental variations or stimuli.
  • The term “phenotype” refers to the observable physical properties of an organism, which include the organism’s appearance, development, and behaviour.

Why is the discovery significant?

  • Frogs are indicators of a healthy ecosystem and live in wide habitat ranges in agricultural fields, streams, swamps and wetlands.
  • The Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats are the two different biogeographic zones, with unique histories.
  • While the Western Ghats is considered as a biodiversity hotspot, that is not the case with its eastern counterpart.
  • Geologically, the Western Ghats are ancient, having Gondwanaland relict forests in the south, while the formation of the Eastern Ghats is recent.
  • Both landscapes have unique ecosystems, with special microclimates and microhabitats that support a great number of diversities including amphibians.
  • This information will help trace the distribution of these species along the peninsula region and to evaluate the possible links with species that were found in the North East region.

Railway Reforms

[pib] Kosi Rail Mahasetu

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kosi River

Mains level : Not Much

PM has dedicated to the nation the historic Kosi Rail Mahasetu (mega-bridge).

Kosi Rail Mahasetu

  • The Kosi Mega Bridge line project was sanctioned during 2003-04.
  • The bridge is 1.9 km long. It is of strategic importance along the India-Nepal border.
  • In 1887, a meter gauge link was built in between Nirmali and Bhaptiahi (Saraigarh).
  • During the heavy flood and severe Indo Nepal earthquake in 1934, the rail link was washed away and thereafter due to meandering nature of river Kosi no attempt was made to restore this Rail link for long period.
  • The dedication of the mega-bridge is a watershed moment in the history of Bihar and the entire region connecting to the North East.

About Kosi River

  • The Kosi is a trans-boundary river which flows through Tibet, Nepal and India.
  • The river crosses into northern Bihar, India where it branches into distributaries before joining the Ganges near Kursela in Katihar district.
  • Its unstable nature has been attributed course changes and the heavy silt it carries during the monsoon season, and flooding in India has extreme effects.
  • It is also known as the “Sorrow of Bihar” as the annual floods affect about 21,000 km2 of fertile agricultural lands thereby disturbing the rural economy.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Our larger China picture

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China relations

Context

  • After the skirmish at the border, Beijing started to concentrate troops, armoured vehicles and munitions opposite our posts in Aksai China at Galwan.

2 interpretations of China’s move

  • First believes that the Chinese exercise was a territorial snatch in Aksai Chin, which they believe is entirely theirs.
  • The move was accompanied by a “lesson” to the Indians on aggressive Indian behaviour in not conceding Aksai Chin.
  • The second school of thought in India believes that territory has nothing to do with it.
  • They believe that, due to growing economic power, Beijing will lay down the rules of world governance.

How it matters for India

  • India contest China’s entire southern border, refuse to join the Belt and Road initiative, create an anti-China maritime coalition, compete with them for influence in South East Asia and Africa.
  • India is also unsupportive of their crackdown on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang and move ever closer to the United States.
  • When China assumes hegemonic power after 2030, India is going to get a nasty surprise.
  • Secularism, democracy and the rights of man will play no part in Chinese foreign policy.
  • China will overturn every international, financial, trade, diplomatic, arms control and nuclear agreement that the world has put together in seven decades.

Way forward

  • We in India need to conduct a large and vociferous debate on Chinese intentions.
  • If the Chinese intention is to “teach us a lesson” we need a new national strategy, combining diplomatic and military means.
  •  If our national goal is to concentrate on the creation of wealth and growing GDP, let us proclaim it, tighten our belt, look down and avoid conflict.

Conclusion

What China wants is Indian acceptance of Beijing’s benign superiority, and that is a purely Chinese trait, not to be confused with the known rules of international diplomacy. Talking from a position of inferiority will not lead to an equitable solution. But first, a national debate.

Languages and Eighth Schedule

Nationalism and the crisis of federalism

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Reorganisation of States

Mains level : Paper 2- Federalism in India

The article analyses the challenges federalism in India faces and the important role played by the division of states based on the languages.

Three conceptions of nationalism in India

  • Following three conceptions of nationalism were prevalent in India before independence.
  • The first, the idea that a community with a strongly unified culture must have a single state of its own.
  • The second saw the nation as defined by a common culture whose adherents must have a state of their own.
  • But this common culture was not ethno-religious.
  •  It conceives common culture in terms of a strong idea of unity that marginalises or excludes other particular identities.
  • A third nationalism accepts that communities nourished by distinct, territorially concentrated regional cultures have the capacity to design states of their own as also educational, legal, economic, and other institutions.
  • This may be called a coalescent nationalism consistent with a fairly strong linguistic federalism.
  • The central state associated with it is not multi-national.
  • At best, it is a multi-national state without labels, one that does not call itself so; a self-effacing multi-national state.

Suspicion of linguistic identities

  • After Partition, the Indian ruling class began to view with suspicion the political expression of even linguistic identities.
  •  It was feared that federation structured along ethno-linguistic lines might tempt politicians to mobilise permanently on the basis of language.
  • The second fear was about an increase in the likelihood of inter-ethnic violence, encourage separatism and eventually lead to India’s break up.
  • Thus, when the Constitution came into force in 1950, India adopted unitary, civic nationalism as its official ideology.

Formation of states on linguistic basis and its implications

  • A unitary mindset shaped by the experience of a centralised colonial state was resurrected.
  • The second tier of government was justified in functional terms, not on ethical grounds of the recognition of group cultures.
  • Following the Committee’s recommendations, States were reorganised in 1956.
  • India slowly became a coalescent nation-state, moving from the ‘holding together’ variety to what is called the ‘coming together’ form of (linguistic) federalism.
  • This meant that regional parties were stronger than earlier in their own regions and at the centre.
  • This let to more durable centre because it was grounded more on the consent and participation of regional groups that, at another level, were also self-governing.
  • Indian federalism also attempted to remove its rigidities by incorporating asymmetries in the relation between the Centre and different States.
  • Treating all States as equals required the acknowledgement of their specific needs and according them differential treatment.

Conclusion

Coalescent nationalism has served India well, benefiting several groups in India. True, it has not worked as well in India’s border areas such as the North-east and Kashmir. But their problems can only be resolved by deepening not abandoning coalescent nationalism.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Agricultural reform bills introduced in Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : APMC reforms

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against three ordinances promulgated by the Centre back in June this year.  After the Monsoon Session of Parliament began this week, the government has introduced three Bills to replace these ordinances.

Try this PYQ:

The economic cost of food grains to the Food Corporation of India is Minimum Support Price and bonus (if any) paid to the farmers plus:

(a) Transportation cost only

(b) Interest cost only

(c) Procurement incidentals and distribution cost

(d) Procurement incidentals and charges for godowns

What are these ordinances?

The ordinances included:

  • The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020;
  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and
  • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 (It is the Bill replacing the third that has been passed in Lok Sabha)

The cause of discontent

  • While farmers are protesting against all three ordinances, their objections are mostly against the provisions of the first.
  • Their concerns are mainly about sections relating to “trade area”, “trader”, “dispute resolution” and “market fee” in the first ordinance.

What is a ‘trade area’, as mentioned in the Bill?

  • Section 2(m) of The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 defines “trade area” as any area or location, place of production, collection and aggregation.
  • It includes (a) farm gates; (b) factory premises; (c) warehouses; (d) silos; (e) cold storages; or (f) any other structures or places, from where the trade of farmers’ produce may be undertaken in the territory of India.
  • In effect, existing mandis established under APMC Acts have been excluded from the definition of trade area under the new legislation.
  • The government says the creation of an additional trade area outside of mandis will provide farmers with the freedom of choice to conduct trade in their produce.

Why are farmers protesting?

  • The protesters say this provision will confine APMC mandis to their physical boundaries and give a free hand to big corporate buyers.
  • The APMC mandi system has developed very well as every mandi caters to 200-300 villages.
  • But the new ordinance has confined the mandis to their physical boundaries.

What is ‘trader’ and how is it linked to the protests?

  • Section 2(n) of the first ordinance defines a “trader” as “a person who buys farmers’ produce by way of inter-State trade or intra-State trade or a combination thereof.
  • Thus, it includes processor, exporter, wholesaler, miller, and retailer.
  • According to the Ministry of the Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, “Any trader with a PAN card can buy the farmers’ produce in the trade area.”
  • In the present mandi system, arhatiyas (commission agents) have to get a licence to trade in a mandi.
  • The protesters say arhatiyas have credibility as their financial status is verified during the licence approval process.

Why does the provision on ‘market fee’ worry protesters?

  • Section 6 states that no market fee or cess or levy, by whatever name called, under any State APMC Act or any other State law, shall be levied in a trade area.
  • Government officials say this provision will reduce the cost of the transaction and will benefit both the farmers and the traders.
  • Under the existing system, such charges in states like Punjab come to around 8.5% — a market fee of 3%, a rural development charge of 3% and the arhatiya’s commission of about 2.5%.
  • By removing the fee on trade, the government is indirectly incentivizing big corporates.

Indian Ocean Power Competition

India joins Djibouti Code of Conduct

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Agreement

Mains level : Maritime Security of India

India has joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA) as Observer, following the high-level virtual meeting.

Try this MCQ:

Q.The Djibouti Code of Conduct is related to:

(a) International trade in precious stones (b) Maritime Security (c) Data sharing on Terrorism related activities (d) Data Localization

Djibouti Code of Conduct

  • DCOC/JA is a grouping on maritime matters comprising 18 member states adjoining the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, the East coast of Africa and Island countries in the IOR.
  • The DCOC, established in January 2009, is aimed at the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean Region, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Provisions of the code

  • The Code provides a framework for capacity building in the Gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean to combat the threat of piracy.
  • It is a partnership of the willing and continues to both deliver against its aims as well as attract increasing membership.
  • The Code was signed on January 29 by the representatives of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.
  • Since the meeting, further countries have signed bringing the total to 18 countries from the 21 eligible.

Significance for India

  • India joins Japan, Norway, the UK and the US as Observers to the DCOC/JA.
  • As an Observer at the DCOC/JA, India looks forward to working together with DCOC/JA member states towards coordinating and contributing to enhanced maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Delhi has been steadily increasing its strategic footprints in Western and Eastern Indian Ocean besides Eastern African coastal states.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What are Supplementary Grants?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 115, 116

Mains level : Supplementary Grants

Finance Minister has tabled the first batch of Supplementary Demands for Grants for this financial year in the Lok Sabha.

Supplementary Demand for Grants

  • Article 115 of the constitution provides for Supplementary, additional or excess grants. (Note: Article 116 provides for Votes on account, votes of credit and exceptional grants.)
  • They are additional grants which are required to meet the expenditure of the government
  • Their demand is presented when the authorized amounts are insufficient and need for additional expenditure has arisen.

Why need supplementary grants?

  • When actual expenditure incurred exceeds the approved grants of the Parliament, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Railways presents a Demand for Excess Grant.
  • It is needed for government expenditure over and above the amount for which Parliamentary approval was already obtained during the Budget session.
  • When grants, authorised by the Parliament, fall short of the required expenditure, an estimate is presented before the Parliament for Supplementary or Additional grants.
  • These grants are presented and passed by the Parliament before the end of the financial year.

Who notices such grants?

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India bring such excesses to the notice of the Parliament.
  • The Public Accounts Committee examines these excesses and gives recommendations to the Parliament.

What are other grants?

  • Excess Grant: It is the grant in excess of the approved grants for meeting the requisite expenses of the government.
  • Additional Grant: It is granted when a need has arisen during the current financial year for supplementary or additional expenditure upon some new service not contemplated in the Budget for that year.
  • Token Grant: When funds to meet proposed expenditure on a new service can be made available by re-appropriation, demand for the grant of a token sum may be submitted to the vote of the House and, if the House assents to the demand, funds may be so made available.

Festivals, Dances, Theatre, Literature, Art in News

National Hispanic Heritage Month

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Hispanic Heritage Month

Mains level : NA

The National Hispanic Heritage Month has begun in the US.

Try this MCQ:

Q.The event National Hispanic Heritage Month recently seen in news is primarily celebrated in which of the following countries?

(a) US (b) Spain (c) Mexico (d) Cuba

National Hispanic Heritage Month

  • The annual event honours the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors hailed from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
  • It is marked every year from September 15 to October 15.
  • The observation was started by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week and was extended to an entire month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, the year it was enacted into law.

Hispanics in the US

  • With a population of over 5.7 crores, Hispanic Americans are currently the largest minority group in the US, making up a fifth of the total US population.
  • More than half– 3.5 crore– are of Mexican origin, followed by Puerto Rican (53 lakh), and about 10 lakh each of Salvadorans, Cubans, Dominicans, Guatemalans and Colombians.
  • The community is referred to as Hispanic, Latino or Latinx– terms that refer to a person’s origin or culture, without considering their race.