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November 2018

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Exposing China’s overseas lending


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Paris club

Mains level: Uncensored lending by China to developing countries and its aftermath


Extensive lending by China

  1. Over the past 15 years, China has fuelled one of the most dramatic and geographically far-reaching surges in official peacetime lending in history
  2. More than 100 predominantly low-income countries have taken out Chinese loans to finance infrastructure projects, expand their productive capacity in mining or other primary commodities, or support government spending in general

Underestimated debts

  1. While China in 2016 joined the ranks of countries reporting to the Bank for International Settlements, the lending from development banks in China is not broken down by the counterparty in the BIS data
  2. Emerging-market borrowing from China is seldom in the form of securities issued in international capital markets, so it also does not appear in databases at the World Bank and elsewhere
  3. These accounting deficiencies mean that many developing and emerging-market countries’ external debts are currently underestimated in varying degrees
  4. The international policy community is also in the dark about the incidence or nature of any bilateral debt restructuring agreements between China and its many low-income borrowers

What does this lead to?

  1. Because these are mostly dollar debts, missing the China connection leads to underestimating balance sheets’ vulnerability to currency risk
  2. If the initial increases in external borrowing were underestimated, there is also reason to suspect that the magnitude of the ongoing reversal in capital flows may be larger than is generally believed
  3. The aftermath of commodity price booms and surges in new loans to commodity producers is littered with defaults and other debt-servicing difficulties

Demand-supply estimations of borrowings

  1. On the demand side, the loan surge was facilitated by many low-income countries’ comparatively clean balance sheets
  2. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HPIC) Initiative by the Paris Club of official creditors and multilateral institutions had written off (forgiven) a substantial share of the prior external debts
  3. On the supply side, because there was little or no prior credit exposure to these countries, and because some of the major official creditors were not ready to return to development lending following the HPIC Initiative write-offs, a vacuum in official lending emerged and China filled it

Way forward

  1. Widespread debt-servicing difficulties are on the rise among many of the world’s poorest countries
  2. Borrowers’ external debt obligations may have reached the point where repayment difficulties have begun to emerge, leaving China’s development banks with considerable exposure to risky or non-performing sovereign loans

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

[op-ed snap] Clearing the way for an investment uptick


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Investment model

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Bank Doing Business (DB) rankings

Mains level: India’s performance in DB rankings and its impact on investments in the economy


India’s jump in doing business ranking

  1. India has climbed 23 spots to rank 77th globally in the World Bank Doing Business (DB) rankings for 2019
  2. This is a substantial jump in the rankings for the second year running
  3. Last year, India jumped 30 notches

Efforts undertaken to achieve this feat

  1. India registered improvement in areas like starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, getting credit, paying taxes, and trading across borders
  2. The government has undertaken targeted efforts to address shortcomings in these areas—for instance, the National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (NTFAP) 2017-2020 for increasing the efficiency of cross-border trade
  3. Launched last year, it is putting in place the architecture for decreasing border and documentary compliance time, permitting exporters to electronically seal their containers at their own facilities, and reducing physical inspections to up to only 5% of all shipments
  4. Likewise, the implementation of the single-window clearance system for construction permits in Delhi and the online building permit approval system in Mumbai are important
  5. The goods and services tax (GST) is one of the government’s biggest achievements
  6. There has been an improvement in India’s “paying taxes” score

Do DB rankings show a real picture?

  1. The DB rankings have their limitations, as this paper has noted
  2. They are restricted to findings in two cities—Mumbai and Delhi—and reflect the de jure state of affairs
  3. Research in recent years shows that the de facto reality at the enterprise level may be significantly different and vary across states depending on governance quality and state capacity, among other factors
  4. The rankings, however, give investors a yardstick by which to measure government commitment to reforms
  5. Such messaging is important sentiment for investment, particularly foreign direct investment

Signs of an uptick in investments

  1. In its August statement, the Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy committee said that the persistent output gap had almost closed
  2. There is still excess capacity, certainly, but it has been in steady decline for a while now
  3. According to reports, the Union ministry of finance is likely to sign off on the second round of capital infusion for public sector banks towards the end of November
  4. All of this lays the ground for an uptick in the investment cycle

Way forward

  1. The sluggish rate of resolution of cases that have come under the IBC is becoming a major roadblock in DB ranking
  2. In GST,  the number of hours taken in a year to file taxes rose to 275.4 from 214 last year and delays in GST refunds have constrained working capital for exporters
  3. All such problems need to be addressed to maintain a continuing momentum of climbing up in DB rankings

Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

[op-ed snap] The ghosts of laws past: on the application of Section 66A of IT Act


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: IT Act

Mains level: Prevalence of unconstitutional laws even after their removal and its consequences


Section 66A of the IT Act still used

  1. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, as unconstitutional
  2. The decision in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India was heaped with praise by domestic and foreign media alike
  3. But since then, media outlets have reported other instances where Section 66A has been invoked by the police
  4. This points to an obvious, and serious, concern: what is the point of that landmark decision if the police still jail persons under unconstitutional laws?

Reasons behind continued used of unconstitutional laws

  1. A primary reason for the poor enforcement of judicial declarations of unconstitutionality is signal failures between different branches of government
  2. For any bureaucratic structure to survive, it needs working communication channels for sharing information
  3. There is a systemic problem within the Indian legal system: there exists no official method for sharing information about such decisions, even those of constitutional import such as Shreya Singhal
  4. The probability of decisions taken at the highest echelons of a system being faithfully applied at the lowest rungs greatly depends on how efficiently word gets to the ground
  5. So, unless Parliament amends a statute to remove the provision declared unconstitutional, that provision continues to remain on the statute book
  6. Sections 66A is still a part of both the official version of statutes published on India Code and commercially published copies
  7. And while the commercially published versions at least put an asterisk to mention the court decision, no such information is provided in the official India Code version

Impact of applying unconstitutional laws

  1. Due to this, certain persons will remain exposed to a denial of their right to life and personal liberty in the worst possible way imaginable
  2. They will suffer the indignity of lawless arrest and detention, for no reason other their poverty and ignorance, and inability to demand their rights

Judiciary’s limits

  1. Today, the work of the Supreme Court has firmly placed it within the public consciousness in India
  2. It is common to read reports about the court asking States and other litigants for updates about compliance with its orders (an example being orders in mob lynching petitions)
  3. While this monitoring function is one that the court can perform while a litigation is pending, it cannot do so after finally deciding a case, even after directions for compliance are issued
  4. Instead, it needs help from the legislature and executive to ensure its final decisions are enforced

Way forward

  1. There is a pressing need to move from a system where communication about judicial decisions is at the mercy of initiatives by scrupulous officers, to a method not contingent on human error to the greatest possible extent
  2. Enforcing unconstitutional laws is sheer wastage of public money

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

The legacy of Kepler, retired planet-hunter


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kepler Space Telescope

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


Kepler: Retiring out of fuel

  • NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has been retired after running out of fuel, is being widely described as the most prolific planet-hunting machine in history.

The Planet Hunter

  1. Indeed, by June 2017, it had discovered more than 4,000 planet candidates and 2,300 confirmed planets.
  2. Kepler also showed that the galaxy is teeming — “other surprises”.
  3. From its legacy, here are 10 landmark findings:

Double Sunset

  1. The Star Wars franchise showed the planet Tatooine as part of a double-star system, hence two sunsets.
  2. Kepler showed that double sunsets do exist; it discovered Kepler-16b, the first known planet (most likely a gas giant) around a double-star system.

Earth-like Planets

  1. Kepler found planets near in size to Earth and orbiting at a distance where liquid water could pool on the surface.
  2. Kepler-62f, for example, is about 40% bigger than Earth and is likely rocky.

Planet candidates

  1. Many of the planet candidates are likely to have small rocky cores enveloped by a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, and some are thought to be ocean worlds.
  2. That doesn’t necessarily mean the oceans are full of water.

Life candidates

  1. Kepler’s survey has made it possible to measure the number of Earth-size habitable zone planets in the galaxy.
  2. Scientists hope to determine how many planets like Earth exist.

Size classification

  • Kepler’s discoveries showed that a lot of planets are either approximately 1.5 times the size of Earth or just smaller than Neptune.
  • They are, therefore, called Super Earths and mini-Neptunes.

Lava world

  1. Kepler-10b has a year that lasts less than an Earth day, and density so high that it is probably made of iron and rock.
  2. One of Kepler’s early discoveries, the first solid evidence of a rocky planet outside the Solar System.

Light & Aliens

  1. Kepler detected fluctuating light from “Tabby’s Star”, triggering mass speculation of an alien megastructure.
  2. Astronomers, however, have since concluded that it is probably an orbiting dust cloud.

Cannibal Star

  1. One may wander about a dying solar system and what happens to it.
  2. Kepler discovered a white dwarf, the compact corpse of a star in the process of vaporizing a planet.

Exploding Supernova

  1. Kepler recorded a sped-up version of a supernova called a “fast-evolving luminescent transit” that reached its peak brightness at breakneck speed.
  2. It was caused by a star spewing out a dense shell of gas that lit up when hit with the shockwave from the blast.

Solar System Cousin

  1. In 2014, scientists using data from Kepler discovered seven planets orbiting Kepler-90, a Sun-like star located 2,500 light-years away.
  2. Later, an eighth planet was identified in this planetary system, tying it with our own Solar System in having the highest number of known planets.


Kepler Mission

  1. Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars and was launched on March 7, 2009.
  2. Named after astronomer Johannes Kepler. It was launched into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit
  3. Kepler is part of NASA’s Discovery Program of relatively low-cost, focused primary science missions
  4. The scientific objective of Kepler is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems
  5. This spacecraft aims:
  • To determine how many Earth-size and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone (often called “Goldilocks planets”)
  • To determine the range of size and shape of the orbits of these planets
  • To estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems
  • To determine the range of orbit size, brightness, size, mass and density of short-period giant planets
  • To identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques
  • Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems

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

Oceans heating faster: study


Mains Paper 1: Geography | Climate Change and changes in critical geographical features

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level:  Oceanic Warming


More Absorption of Heat

  1. The world’s oceans have absorbed 60% more heat than previously thought over the last quarter of a century, leaving Earth more sensitive still to the effects of climate change.
  2. According to a recent assessment, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that the world’s oceans have absorbed 90% of the temperature rise caused by man-made carbon emissions.

More accurate method to tally

  1. But new research published in the journal Nature used a novel method of measuring ocean temperature.
  2. It found that for each of the last 25 years, oceans had absorbed heat energy equivalent to 150 times the amount of electricity mankind produces annually.
  3. While those studies relied on tallying the excess heat produced by known man-made greenhouse gas emissions, scientists focussed on two gases found naturally in the atmosphere — Oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  4. Both gases are soluble in water, but the rate at which water absorbs them decreases as it warms.

Accurate estimates

  1. By measuring atmospheric oxygen and CO2 for each year, scientists were able to more accurately estimate how much heat oceans had absorbed on a global scale.
  2. IPCC data show that oceans have warmed by 6.5 degrees Celsius every decade since 1991.
  3. The IPCC warns that drastic measures need taking in order to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius by the end of the century but the world produced a record amount of carbon emissions in 2017

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Indian, US satellites find black hole that spins near maximum possible rates


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Black Hole, AstroSat

Mains level: Space related discoveries by NASA-ISRO collaboration


India’s AstroSat helps in finding blackhole

  • Scientists using data from India’s first dedicated astronomy satellite, AstroSat, and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found that a black hole in the binary star system 4U 1630-47 spins close to the maximum possible rate.

Details of the finding

  1. Relatively smaller black holes are exotic end states of massive stellar cores.
  2. The gravity of such a collapsing core is so strong that its entire mass is crushed into a point.
  3. This point, however, cannot be directly seen, because nothing, not even light, can escape from a region around it, thus justifying the name of the object.
  4. Surprisingly, astronomical black holes are the simplest known objects in the universe, because they can be fully characterized by only two properties, mass and spin rate.
  5. Therefore, measurements of these two properties are uniquely important to probe some extreme aspects of the universe, and the fundamental physics related to them.

Extreme aspects of the universe

  1. The scientific measurement of the spin rate of the black hole, an extremely exotic but the simplest object of the universe, comes out to be close to the maximum possible value.
  2. This is generally very important to probe some extreme aspects of the universe, and the fundamental physics (for example, the theory of gravitation) related to them.
  3. Such measurements, especially of the spin rate, are very difficult to make, and can be done only by high-quality X-ray observations in the correct state of the binary stellar system.

AstroSat-Chandra study

  1. This first cooperation of India and US using AstroSat and Chandra satellites regarding black hole studies should open up ways for future such collaborations.
  2. The SXT and the Large Area X-ray Proportional Counter (LAXPC) aboard the first dedicated Indian astronomy satellite AstroSat played a key role to measure the black hole spin rate, which was consistent with results from our contemporaneous Chandra satellite data.
  3. AstroSat was launched in 2015 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is the first dedicated astronomy satellite of India, and the SXT aboard AstroSat is the first Indian X-ray telescope.
  4. Apart from Japan, India is the first Asian country to build an X-ray Telescope (for example, China could not build such a telescope till now).



  1. Astrosat is India’s first dedicated multi-wavelength space observatory launched on a PSLV-XL on 28 September 2015.
  2. It is a multi-wavelength astronomy mission on an IRS-class satellite into a near-Earth, equatorial orbit.
  3. On board ASTROSAT are five astronomy payloads for simultaneous multi-band observations.
  4. The assembly is placed on a rotating platform to scan the available sky once every six hours in order to locate transient X-ray sources. They are:
  • Twin 38-cm Ultraviolet Imaging Telescopes (UVIT) covering Far-UV to optical bands.
  • Large Area Xenon Proportional Counters (LAXPC) covering medium energy X-rays.
  • Soft X-ray Telescope (SXT) with conical foil mirrors and X-ray CCD detector
  •  A Cadmium-Zinc-Telluride coded-mask imager (CZTI)
  •  A Scanning Sky Monitor (SSM) consisting of three one-dimensional position-sensitive proportional counters with coded masks.

Railway Reforms

[pib] Indian Railways to eliminate Unmanned Level Crossings (UMLCs) on Broad Gauge in a Mission Mode


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways, etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Eliminating UMLCs to prevent deadly accidents


Eliminating UMLCs

  • Indian Railway has taken a mission area to eliminate all Unmanned Level Crossings (UMLCs) on Broad Gauge and accordingly special efforts have been made so that elimination can be completed at the earliest.

What numbers say?

  1. As on April 2019, there were 3479 Unmanned Level Crossings on Broad Gauge routes.
  2. Total 3402 UMLCs have been eliminated in last seven months.
  3. Balance 77 UMLCs have also been planned to be eliminated by December 2018.
  4. Most of the UMLCs have been eliminated either by provision of Subway/RUBs or by manning.

Progress till date

  1. All Unmanned level crossings on routes having speed more than 130KMPH and on Sub-urban routes have been eliminated.
  2. 12 Zonal Railways have now become UMLC free on Broad Gauge route.
  3. By elimination of UMLCs on war footing, accidents at UMLCs have reduced from 65 in 2009-10 to 3 in 2018-19.

*Accident data is upto October’2018

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

‘NASA’s historic Dawn mission to asteroid belt comes to end’


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Dawn Mission

Mains level: National & International Space missions and their objectives



  1. NASA’s pioneering Dawn spacecraft which orbited the two largest objects in the asteroid belt has run out of fuel, ending a historic 11-year mission
  2. It had unraveled many mysteries of our solar system.

Dawn Mission

  1. The Dawn mission was launched in 2007 to study the protoplanet Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.
  2. It missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA’s Deep Space Network.
  3. Mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing.
  4. The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.
  5. Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge, according to the US space agency.

Records set by the mission

  1. In 2011, when Dawn arrived at Vesta, the second largest world in the main asteroid belt, the spacecraft became the first to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter.
  2. In 2015, when Dawn went into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also the largest world in the asteroid belt, the mission became the first to visit a dwarf planet and go into orbit around two destinations beyond Earth, it said.
  3. Dawn also reinforced the idea that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history and potentially still do.
  4. Dawn will remain in orbit for at least 20 years, and engineers have more than 99% confidence the orbit will last for at least 50 years

Indian Navy Updates

[pib] Indian Navy’s Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel (DSRV) Capability


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: DSRV

Mains level: Modernising Indian Navy



  • The Indian Navy has inducted a Submarine Rescue System with a Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel (DSRV) along with associated equipment.

Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel (DSRV)

  1. The Indian DSRV has the capability to rescue personnel from a distressed submarine (DISSUB) up to a depth of 650 m and it is the latest in terms of technology and capabilities.
  2. It has been designed and supplied to meet unique requirements of our submarines by M/s James Fishes Defence, UK.
  3. This System has a Side Scan Sonar for locating the position of the submarine in distress at sea.
  4. It will be providing immediate relief by way of posting Emergency Life Support Containers with the help of Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for the rescue.
  5. To ensure early mobilization, the System permits rapid transportation of the Rescue System from the base to the exact location of the distressed submarine by transportation using air/land/sea vessels.