May 2018
« Apr   Jun »

Nasa Mars InSight blasts off from California Air Base to check on ‘Marsquakes’


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the mission

Mains level: Importance of the mission


Mission Mars InSight
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport

  1. The NASA has launched a InSight Mission
  2. It is designed to study Mars at a much more fundamental level, helping to fill large gaps in scientists’ understanding of the planet’s geologic structure, composition and seismic activity
  3. It is the first Nasa mission to study the red planet’s interior

More about the mission

  1. The launch of InSight, aboard an Atlas V rocket, took place rcently
  2. The Atlas V also lifted two small CubeSats that will trail InSight to Mars to test deep-space communications technology
  3. One InSight instrument will dig 5 meters (16 feet) into the subsurface to measure heat from the interior
  4. It is set to touch down on 26 November after a six-month cruise and a six-minute re-entry and descent

Why is studying mars interior important?

  1. Mars presents an interesting geologic specimen to study rocky planet formation because of its “Goldilocks” size
  2. It’s large enough that it experienced the same early processes as Earth and Venus during its formation, but it’s small enough to have retained a record of those processes deep within
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

GST Network will soon become a 100% govt-owned company


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the GSTN

Mains level: The new proposal.


Proposal approved by the GST council

  1. The Goods and Services Tax Network – Special Purpose Vehicle (GSTN-SPV) will cease to be a private company and morph into a 100 per cent government owned entity
  2. The GST Council, headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, approved a proposal for the conversion at its recent meeting

Particulars of the GSTN

  1. GSTN is the IT backbone of the unified indirect tax system
  2. GSTN was created as a private limited, not-for-profit company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, by the government on March 28, 2013
  3. to provide shared IT infrastructure and services to the Centre and the State governments, taxpayers and other stakeholders for the implementation of the GST
  4. Currently, the Centre and State Governments hold 24.5 per cent stake each in GSTN; non-governmental institutions hold the other 51 per cent
  5. These institutions include HDFC, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, NSE Strategic Investment Co and LIC Housing Finance Ltd.

New proposal

  1. From now, the Centre will hold 50 per cent, and the remaining stake will be held by States governments on a pro rata basis
Goods and Services Tax (GST)

A RAT that spies on computers


Mains paper 3: Internal Security| Basics of cyber security

From UPSC perspective following things are important:

Prelims level: Gravity-RAT, CERT-In

Mains level: Rising incidents of malwares causing hacking of govt websites and ways to deal with them


A Malware designed by Pakistani hackers

  1. GravityRAT infiltrates a system in the form of an innocuous-looking email attachment, which can be in any format, including MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat or even audio and video files
  2. The ‘RAT’ in its name stands for Remote Access Trojan, which is a program capable of being controlled remotely and thus difficult to trace
  3. The hackers first identify the interests of their targets and then send emails with suitable attachments
    The RAT was first detected by Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), on various computers in 2017.

Features of RAT (Remote Access Trojan)

  1. It is designed to infiltrate computers and steal the data of users and relay the stolen data to Command and Control centers in other countries.
  2. The latest update to the program by its developers is part of GravityRAT’s function as an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT), which, once it infiltrates a system, silently evolves and does long-term damage.
  3. It lies hidden in the system that it takes over and keeps penetrating deeper
  4. According to latest inputs, GravityRAT has now become self-aware and is capable of evading several commonly used malware detection techniques.

Why is RAT so dangerous?

  1. The sandboxing technique is used to isolate malware from critical programs on infected devices and provide an extra layer of security.
  2. The problem, however, is that malware needs to be detected before it can be sandboxed, and GravityRAT now has the ability to mask its presence
  3. Typically, malware activity is detected by the ‘noise’ it causes inside the Central Processing Unit, but GravityRAT is able to work silently
  4. It can also gauge the temperature of the CPU and ascertain if the device is carrying out high-intensity activity, like a malware search, and act to evade detection

Problem with the data leaked

  1. The other concern is that the Command and Control servers are based in several countries
  2. The data is sent in an encrypted format, making it difficult to detect exactly what is leaked
Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

[op-ed snap] Continental ambition: The African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA)


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the ACFTA

Mains level: Importance of the ACFTA for the African Continent.
(Also, China’s presence as a major investor in Africa’s giant energy and transport projects cannot be ignored. It is important for India to closely watch politics of the African Continent.)


Importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA)

  1. The ACFTA is a potential game changer for the world’s poorest region
  2. The pact seeks to create a single market in goods and services, free movement of persons and investment, and eventually a customs union with a common external tariff
  3. It was recently signed by 44 of the 55-member African Union (AU) in March

The ACFTA is crucial for Inter-African trade: Opportunities for the African Continent

  1. The exports within Africa accounted for a mere 18% of the continent’s total exports in 2016, compared to 59% and 69% of intra-regional exports in Asia and Europe, respectively
  2. With a number of African countries ranking among the world’s fastest-growing economies over the last two decades, the ACFTA could tap into the immense potential for closer trade integration
  3. Moody’s also points out that exports in manufactured goods within the continent are more than double the exports to countries outside it
  4. These findings increase expectations that a continent-wide single market would enable Africa’s transformation from an exporter of commodities and raw materials to a supplier of finished manufactured goods

One of the main aims of the ACFTA

  1. The ACFTA aims to abolish import duties on 90% of goods(currently averaging at 6%) which is projected to raise internal trade by over 50%
  2. That would double if non-tariff barriers are scrapped, says the UN Economic Commission for Africa
  3. The UN Conference on Trade and Development is cautious about the effects from initial loss of tariff revenues and uneven costs and benefits during the transition

Another important requirement

  1. Deeper regional integration requires not only the dismantling of border tariffs, but also the elimination of non-tariff barriers such as poor infrastructure

Lack of the US engagement

  1. There has been a corresponding lack of U.S. engagement in the continent whose threat to reduce global aid could hit the region the most

The way forward

  1. African leaders have been highly successful in leveraging their influence in the global strategic and economic arenas
  2. But they could strive harder to uphold democratic rights and constitutional principles at home. That is critical to promote sustainable development


African Continental Free Trade Area

  1. The African Continental Free Trade Area is the result of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among all 55 members of the African Union
  2. If ratified, the agreement would result in the largest free-trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization
  3. African heads of state gathered in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018 to sign the proposed agreement
  4. Forty-four of the 55 members of the African Union signed it on 21 March 2018
  5. The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) is a continent-wide free-trade agreement brokered by the African Union (AU) and initially signed on by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018
  6. The agreement initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent
  7. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52 percent by 2022
  8. The proposal will come into force after ratification by 22 of the signatory states
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

[pib] Ministry of Tribal Affairs to expand Van Dhan Vikas Kendras

News : 

Related Ministry/Department: Ministry of Tribal Affairs

  • Van Dhan Vikas Kendra was launched by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi on 14thApril, 2018 and had called for convergence of Jan Dhan, Van Dhan and Govardhan Schemes.
  • The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), Government of India proposes to expand Van Dhan Vikas Kendras in Tribal Districts across the country.
  • As per the plan,TRIFED  will facilitate establishment of MFP-led multi-purpose Van Dhan Vikas Kendras, a cluster of 10 SHGs comprising of 30 tribal MFP gatherers each, in the tribal areas.
  • This initiative is aimed at mainstreaming the tribal community by promoting primary level value addition to MFP at grassroots level.
  • Through this initiative, the share of tribals in the value chain of Non-Timber Forest Produce is expected to rise from the present 20% to around 60%. 
  • To begin with, this initiative is proposed to be taken up on priority in the 39 Districts with more than 50% tribal population and to then gradually be expanded to other Tribal Districts in India.
  • The scheme will be implemented through Ministry of Tribal Affairs as Nodal Department at the Central Level and TRIFED as Nodal Agency at the National Level. At State level, the State Nodal Agency for MFPs and the District collectors are envisaged to play a pivot role in scheme implementation at grassroot level.
  • Locally the Kendras are proposed to be managed by a Managing Committee (an SHG) consisting of representatives of Van Dhan SHGs in the cluster.


  • In the past, the Government of India has brought in certain reforms in the sector through Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 which conferred ownership rights on tribal Gram Sabhas in respect of MFP found in their area.
  • In 2014, the Scheme of MSP for MFP was introduced which provides minimum support price to MFP gatherers for selected MFPs. 
  • While the steps are in right direction, however, most of the trade related to the MFPs is unorganized in nature, which has led to low returns to the gatherers and high wastages due to limited value addition. 
  • Thus, a more holistic approach with robust institutional mechanisms is required for strengthening the backward and forward linkages of MFP supply chain and particularly for mainstreaming the tribal community.


[pib] NITI Aayog and Google sign SoI to help grow AI ecosystem in India

News : 

  • Aiming to foster growth for India’s nascent artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) ecosystem, NITI Aayog and Google have come together to work on a range of initiatives to help build the AI ecosystem across the country.
  • A Statement of Intent (SoI) was signed to this effect between NITI Aayog and Google.
  • The NITI Aayog has been entrusted to setup a national programme to conduct research and development in frontier technologies such as AI.
  • In furtherance of this mandate, NITI Aayog has been developing India’s national strategy on AI along with the National Data and Analytics Portal to enable the wide deployment and use of AI.
  • Under the aegis of this program, Google will train and incubate Indian AI startups in an accelerator program. These startups will be mentored and coached by Google and its affiliates to enable them to better leverage AI in their respective business models.
  • NITI Aayog and Google will organize a AI/ML hackathon that will be focused on solving key challenges within agriculture, education, healthcare, financial inclusion, transportation/mobility and more.
  • This hackathon may use Kaggle, a global platform, to help facilitate international participation into these planned hackathon challenges.

Google and NITI Aayog will work on the following initiatives:

  • Organise trainings for relevant government functionaries to introduce them to open source AI tools with the goal of enabling more effective governance.
  • Awarding grants and scholarships to researchers, scholars and university faculty conducting cutting edge research in the field of AI/ML in India.
  • Organising AI/ML study jams for students and developers based on Google’s Machine Learning Crash Course (MLCC) on the fundamentals of machine learning
  • Incubating Indian AI/ML startups in a program where they will be mentored by Google to better leverage AI in their respective business models.
  • Organise a Hackathon focused on using AI/ML and open data sets to solve key challenges within agriculture, education, healthcare, etc. in India





Inter-country child abduction: Central panel questions key principle of Hague Convention

Image source


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Justice Rajesh Bindal Committee

Mains level: Legislations and safeguards in India for child safety and their impact


Questioning basic principles of the Hague Convention

  1. A committee set up by the Centre to prepare a report on the issue of inter-country parental child abduction has questioned one of the basic principles of the Hague Convention
  2. The committee has argued that the return of the child to his or her habitual residence may not necessarily be in the best interest of the child
  3. There is immense pressure on India from the U.S. to accede to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Justice Rajesh Bindal Committee recommendations

  1. The Justice Rajesh Bindal Committee was set up last year to suggest a model legislation to safeguard the interest of the child as well those of the parents when an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) marriage goes sour and one of the parents flees from one country to another with the child
  2. It recommended that returning a child to the place of habitual residence may result in sending the child to an inharmonious set-up as well as overlook the fact that a mother is the primary caregiver of the child
  3. The panel has also prepared a draft law to safeguard the interest of the children, as well as those of the parents, particularly mothers

Proposed legislation

  1. The proposed legislation lays various exceptions under which a child will not be returned to the country of habitual residence which are:
  • the best interest of the child
  • domestic violence or mental or physical cruelty
  • harassment against the parent who fled with the child
  • the parent claiming the return of the child was not exercising the custody rights at the time of removal
  • if there is a grave risk that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm

Inter-Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority

  1. The report also requires the setting up of an Inter-Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority
  2. It will be the nodal body to:
  • decide on the custody of the child
  • mediate between the warring parties
  • order the return of the child to the country of habitual residence


Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

  1. Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another
  2. The Convention was drafted to ensure the prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence or wrongfully retained in a contracting state not their country of habitual residence
  3. The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16
  4. The Convention requires that a court in which a Hague Convention action is filed should not consider the merits of any underlying child custody dispute, but should determine only that country in which those issues should be heard
  5. The Convention mandates return of any child who was “habitually resident” in a contracting nation immediately before an action that constitutes a breach of custody or access rights
  6. The Convention provides special rules for admission and consideration of evidence independent of the evidentiary standards set by any member nation
  7. The Convention was concluded 25 October 1980 and entered into force between the signatories on 1 December 1983
Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

Jaipur Foot to be exhibited at the U.N.

Image source


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Social empowerment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Jaipur Foot, Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS)

Mains level: Various innovations in India for helping underprivileged sections of society


Exhibiting philanthropy

  1. The world-famous and most widely used artificial limb, Jaipur Foot, will be exhibited at the United Nations headquarters in New York
  2. The event will be the first of its kind in the U.N.
  3. Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) has been giving aids and appliances free of cost to the beneficiaries

About the exhibition

  1. The seminar and exhibition will highlight India’s contribution in providing mobility and dignity to the differently abled
  2. The Jaipur Foot has benefited 17 lakh people across the world and has its presence in 29 countries
  3. The BMVSS has recently entered into an agreement with the Ministry of External Affairs for holding camps abroad


Jaipur Foot

  1. The Jaipur Foot, also known as the Jaipur Leg, is a rubber-based prosthetic leg for people with below-knee amputations
  2. Designed in and named after Jaipur, India, the prosthetic leg was designed to be inexpensive, water-resistant, and quick to fit and manufacture
  3. The Jaipur Foot is made of polyurethane
  4. It is fitted free of cost by Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahyata Samiti
  5. The government of India supports Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahyata Samiti with financial aid to carry out the work done by the organization
Innovation Ecosystem in India

[op-ed snap] GST’s complicated: The new compliance system


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: The new decisions taken by the GST Council and their possible effects on industry.


New compliance system

  1. The GST Council has recently decided to introduce a new compliance system under which a single monthly GST return will have to be submitted by firms, barring a few exceptions
  2. The new compliance system will be implemented in phased manner
  3. with the first of three transition stages to begin six months from now

There are some gaps in the new compliance system

  1. For instance, in the second stage of the transition to simpler returns, buyers will get provisional input credit even if the seller doesn’t upload the invoices
  2. While this could lead to disputes, in the third stage input credits will only be granted after sellers upload invoices
  3. But if a seller defaults on depositing GST dues collected from a buyer and remains evasive, the authorities can reverse the credit availed by the buyer for such outstanding taxes

Fresh uncertainty for businesses: Issue with the timeline

  1. In any case, the timelines for the transition are long and bring fresh uncertainty for businesses still recovering from the initial jitters and confusion around the tax regime
  2. Firms will again have to cope with significant changes in accounting software in the middle of the financial year

Imposition of new cess

  1. The most troubling is the Centre’s push for the imposition of a cess on sugar over and above the 5% GST levied on it
  2. A cess at the rate of Rs. 3 a kg is proposed to alleviate ‘deep distress’ among sugarcane farmers. Not surprisingly, this faces opposition from several States
  3. It has been rightly argued that this will burden consumers while favouring larger sugarcane-growing States like U.P. and Maharashtra

The decision to make the GSTN a 100% government-owned firm

  1. The decision explains neither how this will address data security concerns nor the impact on the Network’s functional efficiency, which was the original stated intent for giving private players an upper hand in operations
Goods and Services Tax (GST)