August 2018
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[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: South Pacific Silk Roads


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: Not much

Mains level: China’s growing hegemony and its impact on global order


China expanding to South Pacific

  1. India is not the only one struggling to cope with China’s Silk Road ambitions
  2. Down under, Australia and New Zealand are finding that China has begun to undermine their long-standing dominance over the South Pacific
  3. If India took its primacy in the Subcontinent for granted, so did Canberra and Wellington in the South Pacific
  4. Now, all three are scrambling to deal with China’s projection of economic and political power into their backyards

How is China a threat to Australia-New Zealand?

  1. Beijing has significantly expanded its economic engagement and security diplomacy in the island nations across the Indo-Pacific
  2. Australia is worried that China is pushing for a military facility in Vanuatu
  3. Located northeast of Australia, Vanuatu’s population is barely 2,50,000 people, but its 80 islands generate a massive exclusive economic zone
  4. Canberra recently scuttled a bid by China’s Huawei to build an undersea internet cable between Australia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea
  5. Recognising the potential dangers of the region being tied into China’s digital silk road, Canberra chose to put up the entire cost of the project estimated at $100 million
  6. A defence policy review issued in Wellington last month underlined that China’s growing economic and political profile in the South Pacific could unravel the regional order and threaten New Zealand’s security

Australia New Zealand partnering to combat China

  1. Australia and New Zealand are preparing to sign a wide-ranging security pact with South Pacific nations at a summit with the leaders of the islands in Nauru in September
  2. Canberra and Wellington are also upgrading their national surveillance capabilities in the South Pacific

Opportunity for India

  1. India’s resources will always be limited but it can increase its impact in the region through collaboration with its partner countries like Australia, France, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and the US — all of whom have great stakes in the South Pacific
  2. Promoting practical cooperation with these nations could be far more productive than Delhi’s theological discussions about the quad, the Indo-Pacific and the BRI
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

[op-ed snap] Thirty years after the 8888 uprising


Mains Paper 1: History | All syllabus

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: 8888 uprising

Mains level: Military intervention in Myanmar’s democracy & its impact on government functioning


Myanmar’s 8888 uprising

  1. August 8 marks the 30th anniversary of the people’s uprising in Myanmar
  2. The ‘8888’ uprising (or the eighth day of August 1988) is one of Myanmar’s most important historic days in the context of the pro-democracy movement
  3. For a few years now, the day has also been observed in different parts of the world by Burmese expatriates
  4. Inside Myanmar too, it has been marked by pro-democracy groups in different capacities

Importance of the movement

  1. ‘8888’ was a people’s movement that challenged the then ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party’s grip on political, economic and social affairs which led the country into extreme poverty
  2. The protests and the bloody crackdown gave rise to the National League for Democracy (NLD)
  3. Ii was a political party which paved the way for the current Myanmar State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi’s entry into politics and for the pro-democracy movement to continue
  4. The past 30 years have seen a change in leadership — from military dictatorship to a military-backed semi-democracy and then to a negotiated hybrid regime with power being shared between unelected military personnel and an elected civilian leadership

Objective of the 8888 movement

The objective of ‘8888’ was two-fold:

  • to push for the transfer of power from the military to a civilian leadership and
  • a change in the political system from an authoritarian regime to a multi-party democracy

Minorities still struggling for rights

  1. For the country’s ethnic minorities, their struggle and political demands that date back to before Myanmar’s independence in 1948 continue
  2. The non-Burman ethnic armed groups have fought for a federal democracy that guarantees autonomy or self-determination in their respective areas and the right for control over their people and resources
  3. The kind of federalism the ethnic minorities want, based on equality of rights to all citizens, has been denied by the military leadership and the government

Military’s role in democracy

  1. The democratic transition in Myanmar thus far has been meticulously designed by the military
  2. The primary objective, which is laid out in the country’s 2008 Constitution, is to give the military a dominant role in politics
  3. In a parallel to the ‘Burmese way to socialism’ introduced by former military leader Ne Win in the 1960s, Myanmar now practices what can be called the ‘Burmese way to democracy’ outlined in the military’s seven-step roadmap to a flourishing democracy announced in 2003

Way forward

  1. No democracy can succeed when the military holds the reins and is unaccountable to an elected civilian leadership
  2. For democracy to strike deep roots in Myanmar, the role of the ‘8888’ leaders remains important
  3. The military must note that the people of Myanmar, as well as members of the international community, want a democracy that respects the rights of all its people, including the minorities
History- Important places, persons in news

[op-ed snap] Rebooting the system for a skills upgrade


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Development & employment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: State of skill development institutes in the country and what can be done to improve quality


Poor state of ITIs

  1. Private Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) are running in small shops, basements, tin sheds and even godowns in the country
  2. These facts come from the report of the Standing Committee on Labour (2017-18), on the “Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Skill Development Initiative Scheme” of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE)
  3. It was submitted to Parliament few months ago

Disproportionate rise in the number of ITIs

  1. The ITIs were initiated in the 1950s
  2. In a span of 60 years, until 2007, around 1,896 public and 2,000 private ITIs were set up
  3. But in a 10-year period from 2007, more than 9,000 additional private ITIs were accredited
  4. This rise is not efficiency but a disregard for norms and standards

What has this led to?

  1. Private sector engagement in skill development has been taken up by standalone private training partners and not employers
  2. The latter could have made the system demand-driven
  3. The lack of a regulator for skill development, with teeth, has led to poor quality affiliation, assessment and certification

How did this malfunctioning start?

  1. It was due to instances of responsibility outsourcing, no oversight, connivance and an ownership tussle between the Central and State governments
  2. Private-ITI accreditation troubles started when the Quality Council of India (QCI), a private body, was hired due to “high workload of affiliation and shortage of government staff
  3. The QCI did not follow accreditation norms created by the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) and it appears that neither scale nor standard was achieved, but only speed

Centre-state jointly handling ITIs

  1. The ITIs have a unique functioning set-up. While they were formed under the government’s Craftsman Training Scheme, their day-to-day administration, finances and admissions are with State governments
  2. The NCVT performs an advisory role
  3. The ITIs often run into issues with no one to take ownership

How to improve the standards in ITIs

  1. A good point to start would be the Sharda Prasad Committee recommendations
  2. A better oversight is needed, with a national board for all skill development programmes
  3. The core work (accreditation, assessment, certification and course standards) cannot be outsourced
  4. Like every other education board (such as the CBSE), a board is required in vocational training that is accountable
  5. There should be a mandatory rating system for the ITIs that is published periodically
  6. A ranking of the ITIs on several parameters such as the one done by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council in tertiary education can be replicated
  7. There should be one system, with one law and one national vocational education and training system

Micro reforms needed in ITIs

  1. There is a critical need to reskill ITI teachers and maintain the student-teacher ratio
  2. Since technology obsolescence is a continuous challenge, financial support envisaged through the NSDC should be extended to the ITIs
  3. Institutional reforms such as moving the office of the Directorate General of Employment (the arm that has all data on employment) from the Ministry of Labour to the MSDE would help
  4. It would also complement the Directorate General of Training already under MSDE

Need for RIC

  1. Given the scale of our demographic challenge, a belief that financing from corporate social responsibility, multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, and the government will meet the financial needs for skill development is wishful thinking
  2. The only way to mobilise adequate resources the right way is to do skills training, and have equipment and tools that keep pace with changing needs and ensure that employers have skin in the game
  3. This is possible through a reimbursable industry contribution (RIC) — a 1-2% payroll tax that will be reimbursed when employers train using public/private infrastructure and provide data
  4. RIC, which is implemented in 62 other countries, was recommended in the 12th Plan

Way Forward

  1. The silos in which vocational training happens in India is unfortunate
  2. We need to create a unified national vocational system where the ITIs, NSDC private vocational trainers and vocational education in schools, and the other Central ministries conducting training gel seamlessly and can learn from, and work with each other
Skilling India – Skill India Mission,PMKVY, NSDC, etc.

IIT-Madras powers up a desi chip


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Indigenization of technology & developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RISECREEK, Project Shakti

Mains level: Read the attached story


Made in India Microprocessor ‘RISECREEK’

1. Computer scientists and a student team from the IIT- Madras have developed the first of a family of six industry-standard microprocessors.
2. The initial batch of 300 chips named RISECREEK and produced under Project Shakti has been fabricated free at Intel’s facility at Oregon, U.S., to run the Linux operating system.
3. The IIT team says its microprocessors can be adapted by others, as the design is open source.
4. They optimise power use and compete with international units such as the Cortex A5 from Advanced RISC Machines (ARM).
5. On the test bench, the IIT design fared better than the A5, measured in terms of the DMIPS per megahertz rating, scoring 1.68 against the competition’s 1.57.
6. At a frequency of 350 MHz, RISECREEK can meet the demands of defence and strategic equipment such as NAVIC (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite) and the Internet of Things (IoT) electronics.

A family of six Microprocessors

1. The plan includes a family of six types of microprocessors. The first to be ready is the C class, RISECREEK.
2. The E class of microprocessors that can be used in smart cards, IoT devices, fan/motor controls, etc, is almost ready
3. The I class, which can be used for mobile phones, desktops and mobile phones is soon to follow.
4. The design for the S class which can be used for enterprise-class servers is underway, and the H class, which will be used for building High-Performance computers with a massive parallel processing capacity.
5. The H Class is part of the next phase of development, which the team calls the Para-SHAKTI (parallel SHAKTI) project.
6. Para-SHAKTI will make microprocessors for indigenous high-performance computers with over 32 SHAKTI cores.

Project Shakti

1. The Shakti plan was started in 2014 as an IIT-Madras initiative.

2. It is not aimed at only building processors alone. It also aims to build high speed interconnect for servers and supercomputers based on variants of the RapidiIO and GenZ standards.
3. These are key to build large clusters of processors to get Petaflop and Exaflop level supercomputers.

Innovation Ecosystem in India

[pib] Prime Minister’s Research Fellows (PMRF) Scheme covers entire country


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: PMRF Scheme

Mains level: Government initiative for research scholars


PMRF Scheme covers entire country including North East Region

Nodal Ministry/Department: Ministry of HRD

About PMRF

1. PMRF scheme is aimed at attracting the talent pool of the country to doctoral (PhD) programs of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) for carrying out research in cutting-edge science and technology domains, with focus on national priorities.
2. It is a public-private partnership (PPP) between Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB), which is an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
3. It aims at attracting meritorious students from across the country including the North East Region.
4. Candidates who have completed or are in the final year of B.Tech. or Integrated M.Tech of M.Sc. in science and technology streams in following institutions are eligible to pursue research in the frontier areas of science & technology:

  • Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs),
  • Indian Institute of Science (IISc),
  • Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs),
  • National Institutes of Technology (NITs),
  • Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs)

Features of the Scheme

1. Applicants who fulfil the eligibility criteria, and are finally selected through a selection process, will be offered admission to PhD program in one of IITs/IISc with a fellowship of Rs.70,000/- per month for the first two years
2. Rs.75, 000/- per month for the 3rd year, and Rs.80, 000/- per month in the 4th and 5th years.
3. Apart from this, a research grant of Rs.2.00 lakh per year will be provided to each of the Fellows for a period of 5 years to cover their academic contingency expenses and for foreign/national travel expenses.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[pib] Indo – Thailand Joint Exercise Maitree 2018


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Exercise Maitree

Mains level:  Not Much


Exercise Maitree

1. It is a joint military exercise between the Indian Army and Royal Thai Army which will be conducted from 06 to 19 August 2018 in Thailand.
2. It is a platoon level exercise which comprises of infantry component.
3. The exercise will emphasize to hone the tactical and technical skills in joint counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist operations in the rural and urban scenario under UN mandate.
4. Due emphasis will be laid on increasing interoperability between forces from both countries which is crucial for the success of any joint operation.
5. Both sides will jointly train, plan and execute a series of well developed tactical drills for neutralization of likely threats that may be encountered in urban warfare scenario.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[pib] Bidder Information Management System and Bhoomi Rashi – PFMS Linkage Portals


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the BIMS and Bhoomi Rashi Portals

Mains level:  Read the attached story



1. The Minister for Road Transport & Highways has launched Bidder Information Management System (BIMS) and Bhoomi Rashi and PFMS linkage.
2. These are two IT initiatives of the Road Transport & Highways Ministry that are aimed at expediting pre-construction processes relating to bidding and land acquisition respectively.
3. The focus of these portals is to reduce construction costs while enhancing quality, transformation and optimization of pre-construction, construction and maintenance processes.

Bidder Information Management System (BIMS)

1. BIMS is aimed at streamlining the process of pre-qualification of bidders for EPC Mode of contracts for National Highway works with enhanced transparency and objectivity.
2. The portal will work as a data base of information about bidders, covering basic details, civil works experience, cash accruals and network, annual turnover etc.
3. The pre-qualification of bidders can be assessed from data already stored in the portal, so that technical evaluation can be carried out much faster.
4. BIMS will be used by all the project implementation agencies of the Ministry for maintenance of technical information of civil works of contractors/ concessionaires, and for online technical evaluation of civil works bids.
5. The bidders would be responsible for ensuring that their latest details are available on the BIMS portal.
6. These details will be used by bidders to apply for any RFP for civil works on EPC mode that has been floated by the Ministry and its implementation agencies on the Central Public Procurement Portal (CPPP).
7. It is estimated that BIMS portal will significantly reduce the procurement time for projects through an objective and transparent online evaluation system thereby leading to accelerated project implementation

Bhoomi Rashi

1. It is the portal developed by MoRTH and NIC, comprises the entire revenue data of the country, right down to 6.4 lakh villages.
2. The entire process flow, from submission of draft notification by the State Government to its approval by the Minister of State for RT and publication in e-Gazette, is online.
3. Bhoomi Rashi portal has been instrumental in reducing the time taken for approval and publication of notifications pertaining to land acquisition

Integration of Public Financial Management System (PFMS) with Bhoomi Rashi

1. It is one of the key functionalities to facilitate payment related to compensation for land acquisition to all the beneficiaries directly through the Bhoomi Rashi system.
2. PFMS is a web-based online software application developed and implemented by the Office of Controller General of Accounts (CGA) to facilitate sound public financial management system for Government of India (GoI).
3. It provides various stakeholders with a real-time, reliable and meaningful management information system and an effective decision support system, as part of the Digital India initiative of GoI.
4. With the integration of Bhoomi Rashi with PFMS, payment of Compensation by the Ministry to the beneficiaries will be just-in-time, and without any parking of funds.

Digital India Initiatives

[pib] Startup India’s Academia Alliance Programme


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Development and employment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the programme

Mains level: Boosting the startup ecosystem in India


Startup Academia Alliance Programme

1. To fulfil the Government of India’s mission to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship in the country, Startup India launched the Startup Academia Alliance programme
2. It is a unique mentorship opportunity between academic scholars and startups working in similar domains.
3. It aims to reduce the gap between scientific research and its industrial applications in order to increase the efficacy of these technologies and to widen their impact.
4. By creating a bridge between academia and industry, the Alliance aims to create lasting connections between the stakeholders of the startup ecosystem and implement the third pillar on which the Startup India Action Plan is based – Industry Academia Partnerships and Incubation.

Functioning of the programme

1. The first phase of Startup Academia Alliance was kickstarted through partnering with Regional Centre for Biotechnology, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Council on Energy, Environment and Water, and TERI School of Advanced Studies.
2. Renowned scholars from these institutes, in fields such as renewable energy, biotechnology, healthcare and life sciences were taken on board to provide mentorship and guidance to startups working in relevant arenas.
3. The applications for Startup Academia Alliance were hosted on the Startup India Hub, a one-stop destination for startups to apply for opportunities such as incubator and accelerator programmes.

Start-up Ecosystem In India

[pib] Pollution due to Synthetic Fertilizers and Agricultural Pollutants


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: Measures to control water pollution in India



Water bodies in the country are polluted due to the discharge of untreated sewage, industrial effluent, agricultural runoff containing fertilizers, pesticides, etc.

National Water Monitoring Programme (NWMP)

1. Central Pollution Control Board monitors the water quality of both surface and groundwater under the National Water Monitoring Programme (NWMP) through a network of monitoring stations in the country.
2. The water quality is assessed for various parameters, including physicochemical, bacteriological, heavy metals, pesticides, etc.

Steps taken by the Government

To check the pollution of water bodies, steps taken by the government include:

  • formulation and notification of standards for effluents from industries, operations or processes;
  • enforcing of these standards by State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)/Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) through consent mechanism and regular monitoring; setting up of the monitoring network for assessment of water quality;
  • Installation of Online Continuous Effluent Monitoring systems (OCEMS) to check the discharge of effluent directly into water bodies;
  • promotion of cleaner production processes; installation of Common Effluent Treatment Plants for the cluster of Small Scale Industrial units;
  • issuance of directions for implementation of Zero Liquid Discharge in certain categories of highly polluting industries;
  • issuance of directions under Section 5 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and under Section 18(1)(b) of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, etc”.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] NITI Aayog indentified 117 districts as Aspirational Districts for RUSA Scheme


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: RUSA Scheme

Mains level: Read the attached story



1. NITI Aayog has identified 117 districts as ‘Aspirational Districts’ for Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA).
2. These districts have been selected on the basis of the composite index which includes published data of deprivation enumerated under Socio-Economic Caste Census, Health & Nutrition, Education and Basic Infrastructure.

Opening of new Model Degree Colleges (MDCs)

1. During the second phase of RUSA, central assistance is provided for opening of new Model Degree Colleges(MDCs) in these  ‘Aspirational Districts’ and in unserved & underserved districts in North Eastern and Himalayan States.
2. The central support provided under the component of new MDCs is infrastructural in nature in which funds are released for creation of Colleges with requisite infrastructure such as appropriate number of class rooms, library, laboratory, faculty rooms, toilet blocks and other essential requirements for technologically advanced facilities.
3. Further, under this component, a commitment is given by the State Governments that all recurring expenditure (including salaries) in respect of the MDC being established, will be borne by the respective State Government.
4. Additionally, under a separate component of RUSA viz., Faculty Recruitment Support, central support is provided for creation of additional posts of Assistant Professors.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[pib] New Defence Production Policy


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Draft Defence Production Policy 2018

Mains level: India’s rising defense imports and need for indigenous production



In the Budget Speech 2018, Government had announced that it will bring out an industry friendly Defence Production Policy 2018 to promote domestic production by public sector, private sector and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs)

Draft Defence Production Policy, 2018

1. Considering this, a draft Defence Production Policy 2018 has been prepared which provides a focused, structured and significant thrust to development of defence design and production capabilities in the country.
2. The salient feature of the Draft Policy which is already placed in public domain for consultation with stakeholders is as follows:

  • Creation of a dynamic, robust and competitive defence and aerospace industry as an important part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
  • Creation of a tiered defence industrial ecosystem in the country.
  • Reducing the current dependence on imports and strive to achieve self-reliance in the development and manufacture of weapon systems/platforms.

3. The Policy mandates for Transfer of Technology or enhanced Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for domestic production in the event of non-availability of manufacturing capabilities in the country.
4. The policy envisages that Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) should focus on system integration, design and development, and actively engage domestic vendors in the private sector for other assembly work.

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.