June 2018
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Samanvaya with CD: Abhilash Baranwal, AIR 44 – CSE 2017

Breaching the top 50 requires a near-perfect strategy and flawless execution. The battle becomes all the more difficult when one is a full-time working candidate posted in the (relatively underdeveloped) northeast. AIR 44 (CSE 2017), Abhilash Baranwal, shares with us the magic formula that made this feat possible in his fourth attempt. The discussion, among other things, includes resolution of perennial doubts like ‘what constitutes a good answer?’, ‘the meanings of the various key terms’, and ‘what differentiates a good essay from an average one’. Over all, the interview is intellectually stimulating and aesthetically inspiring.

[op-ed snap] Open data, open government


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability & institutional & other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: European Union, General Data Protection Regulation, application programme interfaces (APIs), Blockchain, Internet of Things

Mains level: Using new technologies to promote inclusive governance


Creating a data-driven governance architecture

  1. The new wave of a technological revolution will not be from pure data or access to consumer behaviour
  2. The application of data and their assimilation with solving social problems, enabling better governance and powering elected governments to serve their citizens better is ushering in a new revolution

Ensuring privacy

  1. “Datafication” of businesses has also brought to the fore the criticality of developing data management, storage and privacy laws
  2. The European Union with its General Data Protection Regulation has been a front-runner
  3. Other countries, including India, have also adopted a collaborative model to develop privacy laws, which includes deliberations with creators of data (the consumer) and users (corporates)

Open government data movement

  1. Open government data is a silent but powerful movement unfolding globally
  2. Open government data means publishing information collected by the government in its entirety, such as government budgets, spending records, health-care measures, climate records, and farming and agricultural produce statistics
  3. Over 100 governments have already signed a charter to proactively share data collected by various government departments, for public consumption
  4. Fostering collaboration, enabling creative innovations and collective problem-solving are giving accountability and transparency a shot in the arm

Why is immediate action necessary?

There are three basic reasons:

  1. One, such data collected by governments are for citizen welfare; hence they have an implicit right to benefit from the information
  2. Two, data sets such as government budget usage, welfare schemes and subsidies increase transparency and thereby build trust
  3. Third, and most important, it paves the way to develop technology-led innovations which can unlock massive economic value, thereby benefitting even the poorest of poor, the under-represented and the marginalised

Potential Uses

  1. Availability of data on yearly produce of crops, soil data health cards and meteorological data sets can help companies develop customised crop insurance solutions with specific risk-based pricing
  2. Data points around progress in literacy rates, demographic data and density of educators can help develop customised solutions for villages
  3. Information on the availability of facilities in public hospitals, current occupancy rates, hospital and demographic data can pave the way for curated health-care applications

5C framework 

  1. Completeness: The first step is to ensure completeness of data stacks opened for use either through machine-readable formats or direct application programme interfaces (APIs)
  • For example, soil data cards will have data on all relevant aspects as well as current emerging technologies such as Blockchain and the Internet of Things to provide the opportunity to automate data collection

Comprehensiveness: This is essential for a data stack or various data sets. Currently, data sets shared in India are somewhat disjointed and not comprehensive

  • For example, a comprehensive agri-data set would have digitised data sets on soil data, rainfall, crop production as well as market rates

Clustering: This would mean combining data sets which can lead to the creation of applications such as farm insurance from weather, soil and crop cycle/sale data

The fourth step is building anchor cases or use-cases to encourage data usage.  A case in point is Aadhaar/identity data which has seen exponential growth

Setting up a comprehensive governance framework which includes an open data council with cross-sector representation to monitor, regulate and build usage after proportionate oversight

Way forward

  1. Research by PwC in Australia estimated that open data can add an additional 1.5% to the country’s GDP
  2. In the Indian context, this could conservatively translate to about $22 billion
  3. The time is now ripe for the government to create a data-driven governance architecture by building digital trust in the economy and its intent
Blockchain Technology: Prospects and Challenges

Even small dams have severe impact on river ecology


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nethravati River, Various zones of a Dam

Mains level: Need for EIA of small dams and hydropower project


Study conducted on Nethravati River, K’taka

  1. We often assume that small dams cause less environmental problems than large ones due to low submergence area.
  2. A study on small hydropower projects in India proves that they cause as severe ecological impacts as big dams, including altering fish communities and changing river flows.
  3. Such projects receive financial subsidies — even carbon credits — for being ‘greener’.
  4. To see how green such small dams really are, scientists from organisations including Bengaluru’s Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (FERAL) compared almost 50 kilometers of river tributaries of the Netravathi river in the Western Ghats of Karnataka.
  5. They studied three zones in detail: above the dam (upstream), in the area between the dam’s wall and the powerhouse, sometimes completely devoid of water (‘de-watered’) and below the powerhouse (downstream).

Outcomes of the Study

  1. Water flow in the dammed sections reduced the stream’s depth and width;
  2. Water in these stretches was also warmer due to low depth
  3. These rivers had lower dissolved oxygen levels
  4. These changes were most evident in the ‘de-watered’ zones and worsened in the dry seasons.

Habitat quality is worst hit

  1. This decrease in habitat quantity and quality showed in fish diversity too.
  2. The team found that un-dammed stretches recorded a higher diversity of fish species, including endemics (species seen only in the Western Ghats).
  3. The upstream and downstream stretches get disconnected and this impedes the river.

Need for EIA

  1. Such small hydro-projects cropping up on rivers in the Ghats is a serious worry especially because they do not require environmental impact assessments.
  2. It is not a question of small versus big dams; Small dams are not necessarily bad if there are proper regulations in place.
  3. Regulations could include limiting the number of dams in a river basin or maintaining a minimum distance between dams on the same river stretch.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

India, Uzbekistan to route their trade though Chabahar


Image source


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Mains level: India-Uzbekistan Bilateral Relation and its importance.


Growing engagement with resource-rich Central Asia

  1. India and Uzbekistan are set to route their trade through the Iranian port of Chabahar as part of India’s growing engagement with resource-rich Central Asia.
  2. On the sidelines of the summit of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), both nations hoped to supplement their connectivity through the establishment of industrial parks and an investment zone in Uzbekistan.

India keen on Central Asian ties

  1. India has gone the extra mile to engage with the four Central Asian Republics at the ongoing SCO summit, highlighting the critical importance of this resource-rich region in shaping Eurasia.


Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

  1. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organization
  2. The organization, formed in 2001, aims to boost cooperation in economic and security matters between China, Pakistan, India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan
  3. India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on 9 June 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan
  4. Iran, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Belarus have been granted observer status in SCO
  5. In 2017, SCO’s eight full members account for approximately half of the world’s population, a quarter of the world’s GDP, and about 80% of Eurasia’s landmass
Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

ISRO’s PRL scientists discover an ‘EPIC’ planet


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: PRL, PARAS Spectograph, EPIC

Mains level: All missions of the ISRO are important from examination point of view. 


India in elite planet-spotting club

  1. A team from the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, has spotted for the first time a distant planet six times bigger than Earth and revolving around a Sun-like star about 600 light years away.
  2. EPIC 211945201b (or K2-236b) is the name given to the planet by the discovery team. The host star is named EPIC 211945201 or K2-236.
  3. With this discovery India has joined a handful of countries which have discovered planets around stars,” PRL’s parent ISRO has announced.
  4. The discovery was made using a PRL-designed spectrograph, PARAS, to measure and confirm the mass of the new planet.

About EPIC

  1. EPIC was found circling very close to the Sun-like star, going around it once in about 19.5 days and unlikely to be inhabitable because of its high surface temperature of around 600°C.
  2. The team found the planet to be smaller in size than Saturn and bigger than Neptune.
  3. Its mass is about 27 times Earth’s and six times that of Earth at radius.
  4. The scientists estimate that over 60% of its mass could be made up of heavy elements like ice, silicates and iron.

Spectrograph Studies at PRL

  1. The spectrograph is the first of its kind in the country which can measure the mass of a planet going around a star.
  2. Very few such spectrographs exist around the world (mostly in the USA and in the Europe) that can do such precise measurements.
  3. They measured the mass of the planet using the indigenously designed PARAS (PRL Advance Radial-velocity Abu-sky Search).
  4. This spectrograph is integrated with the 1.2-metre telescope located at PRL’s Gurushikhar Observatory in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Niti Aayog seeks views on rationalisation of trade margins in medical devices


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: Move towards ensuring healthcare access for all.


To achieve the overall goal of affordable ‘healthcare for all’

  1. The NITI Aayog in a concept note titled ‘Rationalisation of Trade Margins in Medical Devices—A Concept Note’ said the government intends to make available critical and lifesaving medical devices to the needy masses at affordable prices.
  2. The aim is to ensure reasonable prices to consumers and at the same time allow reasonable profits to all stakeholders in the medical device industry, including those involved in the supply—chain by rationalising trade margins and thereby passing the benefits of the reduced cost to the final consumer.

Considering all Stakeholders Viewpoint

  1. The note pointed out that the issue of unreasonably high trade margins in medical devices has been adversely affecting both the industry as well as consumer interest.
  2. The medical devices industry has been growing at a rapid pace and is currently estimated to have a market size of $10 billion and it is likely to reach a size of $20 billion in next couple of years.
  3. It has been the effort of the government to encourage the medical devices industry and keep it by and large a free and unregulated industry.

Move to cover more Medical accessories

  1. According to the note, Only 23 medical devices have been notified as drugs and are regulated under Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
  2. Of these, only 4 devices viz. cardiac stents, drug eluting stents, contraceptives and intra uterine devices are included in the national list of essential medicines and by virtue thereof are subject to notified price ceilings.
  3. Besides, knee implants have been brought under price control under para 19 of the Drugs (Prices Control) Order 2013.
  4. The remaining medical devices are under no price regulation.


Drug Price Control Orders (DPCO)

  1. DPCO are issued by the DoP under Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, in the exercise of the powers conferred under section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
  2. This enables the Government to declare a ceiling price for essential and life-saving medicines and ensure that these medicines are available at a reasonable price to the general public.
  3. The latest DPCO was issued in 2013
Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

[pib] Government introduces new scheme ‘Seva Bhoj Yojna’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Scheme

Mains level:  Not Much


Aim: Scheme seeks to reimburse Central Share of CGST and IGST on Food/Prasad/Langar/Bhandara offered by Religious and Charitable Institutions free of cost without any discrimination to Public/Devotees.

Nodal Ministry: The Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Total Outlay: Rs. 325.00 Crores for Financial Years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Criteria for Charitable Religious Institutions

  1. These includes  Temples, Gurudwara, Mosque, Church, Dharmik Ashram, Dargah, Matth, Monasteries etc. which have been in existence for at least five years before applying for financial assistance/grant.
  2. These should serve free food to at least 5000 people  in a month and 
  3. Such institutions are covered under:
  • Section 10( 23BBA)  of the Income Tax Act  or
  • Institutions registered as Society  under Societies Registration Act ( XXI of 1860) or as a
  • Public Trust under any law for the time being in force of statuary religious bodies constituted under any Act  or
  • Institutions registered under Section 12AA of Income Tax Act shall be eligible for a grant under the scheme.

Execution of the Scheme

  1. Ministry of Culture will register the eligible charitable religious institutions for a time period ending with finance commission period and subsequently the registration may be renewed by the Ministry, subject to the performance evaluation of the institutions.
  2. The details of registered institutions will be available on an online portal for the viewership of public, GST authorities and entity / institution itself.
  3. The entity / institution will be permitted to submit the reimbursement claim of the GST and Central Government share of IGST to designated authority of GST Department at State level in the prescribed format during the validity of registration.
  4. All the eligible institutions should be registered with Darpan portal
Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Government opens doors to lateral entry


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Role of civil services in a democracy

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Read the attached story


Govt invites applicants at Joint Secretary-level posts

  1. In an apparent bid to bring in expertise from the private sector individuals and infuse talent into the country’s bureaucracy, the government has invited “outstanding individuals” to join the government at the joint secretary level at the Centre.
  2. For starters, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has invited applications for 10 senior level positions.
  3. The departments for which applicants are sought include Revenue, Financial Services, Economic Affairs, Commerce and Civil Aviation, Agriculture and Cooperation, Highways and Shipping and Environment and Climate Change.

Eligibility Criteria

  1. The notification specifies a minimum age of 40 years and minimum qualification of graduation from a recognized university or institute while higher qualification will be an added advantage.
  2. As per the notification, the eligibility criteria includes “Individuals working at comparable levels in Private Sector Companies, Consultancy Organisations, International/Multinational Organisations with a minimum of 15 years’ experience” other than those working in central public sector undertakings, autonomous bodies, statutory organizations, research bodies and universities.
  3. According to the DoPT, the recruitment will be on contract basis for three to five years
Civil Services Reforms